Pretty and Practical

I sat at a bar with two friends the other day taking about new cars.

All of our vehicles have been on life support—two pushing 200,000 miles. One, mine, a youngish 79,000 miles has been ill—at the shop 16 times in the past six months. Towed. Twice. (My husband’s 1992 Toyota pickup truck is also in the near 200,000 club. We plan to have a 20-year, 200Thou Tailgate Party if it gets there. Toyota could use the good publicity. Maybe they’ll chip in for a new bumper. We’ll provide the beer.)

For now, though, we are all grappling with the same question: What to buy?

The two moms in the group were struggling with Practical vs. a bit of Sporty/Sleek/Sexy, i.e. the wagon/minivan vs. . . . what exactly?

The third in our trio that evening was salivating for a Porsche, albeit a pre-owned one. We debated the Sportiness Factor of spoilers (even on a Camry!). We put our heads in our hands, and keened for the unique. It’s not that we are shallow, exactly. But I can’t help but feel you are what you drive.

Am I really a Suburban Minivan Mom? Am I?

My one friend, whose 1992 Acura was just back from the shop, had decided to put another $2,000 into his car to buy more time. He had it detailed recently, and is ordering a bottle of touch-up paint from California.

“What kind of car is it?” I asked.

“An Integra,” he said.

“Oooooh, I had one of those,” I said. “I loved it!”

A beautiful blue 1993 Acura Integra I bought in Florida.

Later in the conversation I asked: “What color?”

I think I knew.

“Captiva blue,” he said.

We both gushed about the now near-historic car (cars qualify for Historic license plates at 20 years in Maryland). The Integra, which has sadly been discontinued, was lovely, with sharp, angular lines, unlike the stubby Ford Taurus look-alikes of today. Yet practical, too—reliable, with a respectable 35 mpg. And, at the time of purchase, when the Honda Civic cost about $11,000, this upgrade was only about $15,000. Today, stepping up to a sporty car means spending tens of thousands more.

So I, like my friends, feel kind of stuck as I look around.

I think it’s okay to love your car. My dad, a rural mail carrier, always named his International Scouts, usually Bessie. And our red Subaru, despite its recent nervous breakdown, is named Rojo.

Still, sometimes I think about that powerful blue car that I sold when we had our first child. It was a two-door. It represented another self.

I never did name it.

Yet it was so blue, a friend of mine once said, it made the sky jealous.


Why We Have Class

During the blizzard of 2010 many area schools shut down for a week or more.  Delivery trucks couldn’t get to the cafeterias, and, by the end of the week, the food was running so low people were rationing the General Tso’s chicken.  Because students were trapped on campus many hung out in lounges and cafeterias, generating a great deal of dialogue.  The following story is a short conversation I overheard in the upperclassman cafeteria, midway through Snow Week.      – Benjamin Nelson

Why We Have Class

“Dude, I don’t know what to do with myself, I actually miss having class.  I don’t really want the work, but it’s almost worse just being bored.”

Most of the group nodded in agreement.  The five young men, all upperclassmen at the Johns Hopkins University, were sitting in Nolan’s Cafeteria on the evening of the second blizzard of 2010.  They had come for smoothies but, due to a lack of supplies, they now sat around with cups of soft-serve chocolate, vanilla, and chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream.

“Nah, class sucks, I hope we can get Friday off, too,” one student said, smirking.  “This “snow week” has been awesome.”

“Well, anyways, what do you want to do tonight?”

“I don’t know,”  Another said. “We should prank someone.”

“Yeah.  But how and who?”

“Let’s build a snowman outside Kenny’s room.”

“Let’s build a giant block of snow that covers his entire door.”

The group’s creative juices started flowing, and all five students huddled closer around the table.  One student dumped his ice cream on top of his brownie, instantly creating a brownie a-la-mode.  The four others commented on his ingenuity before getting back to their clandestine task.

“Man, if only there was some way to get into Kenny’s room. We could flip over all his furniture.”

“Or make a giant snow penis right next to his bed.”

“That would be great.”  One student laughed as he leaned back in his chair.

“Or how about leaving him an ‘Upper Decker’?” asked another student.

“What’s that?”  The other four furrowed their brows.

“It’s when you drop a deuce in the upper part of the person’s toilet, so when they flush, it all comes out as dirty water.”

Four of the students laughed hysterically and rocked back in their chairs.  One student in the group, however, had finished his ice cream and tried to pass off his cookies to the others around the table.  He began to shift uncomfortably in his chair.  He looked around the cafeteria to make sure no one was listening.

“I think I’m going to head out, I’m getting tired,” he said as he stood up.

“Dude, we’re not actually going to do any of these things,” said the creator of the brownie a-la-mode.  Yet the rest of the group looked at each other. Eyes hinted the contrary.

“I know, but I think I’m going to take off,” he mumbled. He checked his phone and started to leave, giving a dramatic yawn.

The group resumed the debate. Finally, one said: “How about we call Lindsey’s room every 10 minutes and just hang up. That would really freak her out.”

The four friends contemplated the prospect of a few more days without school. Then, after a break in the conversation, one of the students rocked back slowly in his chair and said, with a wide grin, “I guess this is why we have class.”

A Spell of Snow

The following is an immersion story written during the February 2010 snowstorms, which  walloped Baltimore and much of the Mid-Atlantic Region with nearly four feet of snow. Here, a retrospective moment of amusement amid shared inconveniences–JCS

By Tony L. He

A Spell of Snow

It is an unlikely place for a barber shop. You would have trouble finding it even if someone directed you to cross the street from Charles Village Pub, walk down a small trail of steps (no need to be nervous), go through a glass door, knock on the second one, and wait for Marion, the silver-haired owner, to let you in after she makes sure that you are not a burglar.

Despite the odd location, Just Cut It has been around for some twenty years. It is a one-woman show, so Marion chooses freely when she wants to work. And no way was she going to drive to work with that snowstorm piling slush and ice all over Baltimore in the past few days.

When Friday arrives and drags along the sun, Marion finally reopens her one-room studio, a gem among many in Charles Village. Inside, overhead lamps give the black-and-white checkered tiles a clean shine. Posters of classics like A Woman’s Face decorate the walls, carrying customers to a time when movie promos featured hand-drawn artwork. On a receptionist’s desk, Marion keeps a booking calendar, two pencils, and a telephone. The answering machine must have collected more than fifty messages in the past few days—filled with clients canceling and changing dates and asking for availabilities.

One of those callers, a college kid badly in need of a haircut, squeezed into Marion’s 3:30 p.m. He arrives just on time, at 2:29, eager for Marion to snip away some of the weight resting on his head. As Marion seats him at the barber station, a woman in her forties—with ginger hair down to her shoulders—knocks on the door. Marion excuses herself to let in the customer. The woman appears to be a regular, giving a warm hello to Marion as she sits down in the waiting area.

A multi-disk player, which had been playing Jimi Hendrix, now switches to a Nina Simone album. Nina begins to sing “I Put a Spell on You.”

“So where’d ya park?” Marion asks.

“Oh, I found that space…” the woman responds, proudly detailing how she maneuvered her minivan into a small area vacated by another car. In these days after the storm, the nitty gritty of how people manage to get from place to place has become a staple of local conversation.

The woman’s eyes were half-closed and a little red. On a couple of occasions, she tries to relax the tense muscles in her neck by twisting her head slowly to one side while inhaling a deep breath. It’s been a rough few days. On top of shoveling snow out of her driveway, she had to work at home and spend long hours with the computer. Then, there is the husband who caught a cold, the disruptive kids who stayed home, and the hair that needed to be cut yet had to wait because only Marion “gets it right.”

“I know what ya mean,” Marion complains, “I had to come yesterday to shovel that snow.” Because the video rental people next door apparently piled their slush in front of the shop’s walkway, Marion spent a whole day creating a path for customers.

“So then I got over to the pub to grab lunch,” Marion continues, “but they…”

“…got nothing except chili and french fries,” the college kid says. He knows that the pub had run out of food because he went there yesterday, too.

The master barber, the college kid, and the ginger-haired woman share a laugh.


The Odyssey Behind the Odyssey

Top Three Best Sequels Ever

The Odyssey – Homer

The Godfather, Part II – Francis Ford Coppola

The Cat in the Hat Comes Back – Dr. Seuss

Also, soon to be released on Litdeadline: The Hopkins IFN Writers Part II, the second semester installment of retrospectives from the 2010 Snowstorms of Historic Proportions.