Monday, January 28, 2008

Nathan's Secret

I hate going into Victoria’s Secret stores.

This hatred goes beyond the fact that I’m a man and Victoria’s Secret is a store for women. This is personal.

I force my girlfriend, Camille, to watch me look at PlayStation 3 games at Best Buy, so I keep my feelings of disgust and despair to myself when she tells me she needs to run into Victoria’s Secret “for a few minutes.” I know that if I am going to be a good boyfriend, despite my personal resentment towards Victoria’s Secret, I have to perform boyfriend duties and hold her purse while she looks at pajamas. Or at least, until recently, that’s what I thought.

A few months ago, Camille pulled me into the Victoria’s Secret store in Pasadena. At the front of the store was a gigantic bin of panties labeled “Panty Party!”
“Are these edible?” I asked a little too loudly.
Camille turned bright red at my stupid joke and punched me in the arm.
“Shut up!” she said, “People can hear you!”

I had unwittingly stumbled upon a plan. On the next visit to Victoria’s Secret, Camille showed me a teddy.
“What do you think of this?” she asked me.
“I told you I’m not going to wear that!” I said, as loudly as possible.
Camille blushed and told me to wait outside.

(It worked in other stores I hated too. When Camille thought it would be fun to go into a maternity store and look at baby clothes, I said at top volume, “Camille, we don’t even know if you’re pregnant yet!” We walked right back outside.)

Now, Camille absolutely refuses to take me inside any Victoria’s Secret. Every time we pass one, I even try to drag her inside. “Come on. It will be fun!” I tell her.

I know. It seems immature. But when I was in my early teens the Victoria’s Secret catalogues actually showed women in lingerie, partially naked women in lingerie. It was like reading a Cinemax after Dark novelization. And it was wonderful. The generation before me had the Sears catalogue. I had Victoria’s Secret.

And then, not long after my fifteenth birthday, Victoria’s Secret sold out, and the bastards started airbrushing away all the naughty bits. The catalogue became tame. They started selling sweatpants for Christ’s sake. The thrill was gone. Victoria’s Secret became dead to me. What was once titillating was now so damn humdrum.

Now Victoria’s Secret has become the Starbucks of lingerie stores. The company produces a special every year on network television. There is a store in every mall in America. It’s lingerie for the whole family. I’m surprised Disneyland doesn’t have a branch.

So I embarrass my girlfriend not because it’s fun (which it is), but because Victoria’s Secret Inc. took away a special part of my puberty. And that is something no man with any self-respect should put up with.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Gym Jeremiad

I really can’t stand my gym. I belong to Bally’s which is to gyms what Sizzler is to steakhouses. In many ways the Bally’s in Westwood is no less annoying than any gym in Los Angeles. There is always some woman walking on the treadmill, talking on her cell phone: “Oh my God. I’m totally working out!” Some dude full of steroids is grunting through his reps in the free weights area. And then there is the douche-knuckle who wears sunglasses as though his eyes are sensitive to the florescent lighting reflecting off his large, shiny arms.

But only my gym has the floating Band-Aid. It’s there every time I get in the pool to swim. It’s shaped like a finger. I don’t know if it’s the same person forgetting to take it off before getting in the pool or some kind of reappearing phantom Band-Aid. It’s almost as disgusting as the layer of dirt, hair, and unidentifiable muck that collects in the corners of the pool. I wince every time I accidentally swallow water and immediately wonder if I’ll end up in the hospital with skin-melting-off disease.

Of all the people who use the pool, maybe 20% actually swim laps. The rest have no qualms about wading right in front of you or taking up lanes while you are trying to swim. You never know when you are going to slam into an elderly person in mid-stroke. (Either your stroke or hers.) Others float around in strange clothing, most of which hardly qualifies as swimming attire. There’s a bald, fat guy at my gym who wears something that looks like a big mesh diaper. And yes, it is completely see-through. Once there was a girl in the pool in a skirt and tank top, apparently reenacting some sort of flash-flood scenario.

The sauna is for the people who have no intention of actually exercising. I absolutely refuse to let anyone I love go in there. Who knows what kind bodily-fluid puddles collect there? It should be the next Fear Factor setting.

The locker room is almost as bad. It’s not that I don’t like old people. It’s that I don’t like them standing in front of my locker completely naked. Are towels a recent invention? I’ll be sitting on the bench putting on shoes, and I’m suddenly three inches away from being tea-bagged by a World War 2 veteran. I understand that it’s hard for some of these seniors to bend over and actually put on underpants, but if you can’t dress yourself, you probably shouldn’t be at the gym.

Sure, I know what you’re thinking: “Join a different gym.” I wish it were that simple. The only reason I joined Bally’s in the first place is because my roommate, Rita, got me an incredible deal. No contract. No initiation fee. $20 a month. When I inquired about joining the 24 Hour Fitness down the street they offered me membership at $25 a month... so long as I committed to three years and paid up front. It was like agreeing to marry a prostitute.

I suppose I sound like some sort of snobby gym fascist. “Let’s get rid of all the old and weird people.” Not true. They have as much of a right to be at Bally’s as I do. But there’s really no common sense or courtesy at my gym. There’s even less shame.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I Dream of Millions

It all started with a dream on my birthday that I won the lottery. This was one of those horribly disappointing dreams where I thought to myself while dreaming, “I’m not dreaming this time. I’ve really won the lottery. My life is going to change significantly. Isn’t that right, Weird Al Yankovic?” I woke up before having a chance to pay off my student loans or ask Weird Al to be my swimming partner.

I’m usually a very practical person, but I’m also a gambler by nature (bad at math, don’t like to shower.) My girlfriend hates gambling. She ruins the fun of losing all my money by pointing out that I don’t have any money to lose in the first place, to which I say, “Well what’s the harm of losing more of nothing?” But even she couldn’t argue with a dream on my birthday. This was a sign from deep in my subconscious, an example of what scientists like to call ASLP or Advanced Subconscious Lottery Perception*. That and I didn’t tell her my plans until after I bought the tickets.

“I think I won $14!” I told Camille later that night, comparing my ticket to the winning numbers on the California Lottery website. I had hit three out of five numbers.
“Great. You’re up. Cash out.”
“Well, I spent $16 total, so I’m actually down. I think I’ll just buy more lottery tickets. Besides, I’m really in this to win $200,000 or more.”

And so began the vicious cycle. Every time I would try to quit buying tickets I would either win a free ticket or there would a huge jackpot the next day that I couldn’t miss out on. The Mega Millions prize one Tuesday was $163,000,000. And if I would win a free ticket, I would have to buy at least four more because what kind of idiot plays less than five tickets at a time?

Just looking at the math, you can see how ridiculous playing the lottery really is. In the Mega Millions the odds of simply hitting a mega number are 1 in 75. If you manage to somehow pull this off you are rewarded with $2. Now let’s look at the worst odds in Vegas, the roulette table. Say you take your dollar and put it on 4. The odds of that little steel ball rolling onto your number are 37 to 1, almost twice as good as hitting a mega number, and you win $35! To win $10 in the Mega Millions you would have to hit the mega ball, plus 2 numbers. The odds-- 1 in 844. To hit three numbers and the mega, the odds are 1 in 13,780 for a payout of $169. That’s right; going to Vegas is a much better investment for your money than playing the lottery.

Of course Vegas will never give you a chance at $163,000,000 for $1 either.

Someone once told me, “You know, people who win the lotto go broke within five years.” Well, I’m broke now. If I have to live life as an irresponsible millionaire for five years only to end up poor again, I’ll take it. If anything, the lottery gives us an excuse to dream about what it would be like to win millions of dollars. Who wants to even think about being rich while they toil away at their day jobs, knowing that no matter how hard they work it will be years before they even get close to making one million dollars? When you buy a lotto ticket, you have an actual, legitimate, 1-in-175,711,536 chance of winning big. And you don’t have to do anything except sit around and talk about the first thing you would do when you won. (I’d go to Vegas ironically enough.)

I quit playing on New Year’s after I saw a study in the New England Journal of Medicine questioning the veracity of Advanced Subconscious Lottery Perception* (and I had gone two weeks without even winning a free ticket.) My New Year’s resolution was to save money and stop dreaming of an easy way to get rich. I’ve decided to make money the hard way, by not blowing it.

* Okay, so I made ASLP up.

Monday, January 7, 2008


This weekend California made national news when we got “socked” with a four day rain storm. For those of you living in places where it really rains, we’re talking about a few days of sprinkles and light to moderate rain, enough to send the good people of Los Angeles into hysterics. The natives are the worst. “Four days of rain! Board the windows! Prepare for puddles!” These are the same people that wear scarves when it’s 50 degrees outside, yet laugh in your face when you tell them you are frightened of earthquakes.

Ask anyone in Los Angeles, native or not, what the worst thing about precipitation is, and every single person will tell you that it’s the other drivers on the road. In the rain, people swerve in front of you without signaling. They drive in two lanes at once. They run lights. I’d like to point out that the drivers here do these things whether it’s raining or not. It’s not like we should expect the people of L.A. to suddenly learn how to drive a car just because of a moderate downpour. What is really bothering people who complain about traffic in the rain is that drivers go 20 miles per hour slower. In Los Angeles, this means everyone is driving the speed limit. We all know how irritating that is.

I moonlight as a delivery driver on Sundays, mostly because I enjoy the irony of delivering food with 7 years of college education. Usually people treat me with a kind indifference, but when it rains they actually thank me for my job. “I really appreciate this. Thank you so much,” they tell me as though I had just jumped into a river and saved their drowning dog. My tips increase exponentially depending on the amount of rain, so I like to play along by standing outside for a few minutes just before every delivery to give myself the “freshly deluged” look. Next time I work in the rain I may drag around an oar to make it look like I’m rafting to each house.

There is some validity to this rain paranoia. Just because it hardly rains in Los Angeles, doesn’t mean it never rains. So why aren’t the streets built to dispense rainwater? I hit puddles on Santa Monica last night the size of Lake Erie. There was so much standing water on Robertson that I needed an airboat, not a Daewoo.

And it’s not just the streets. Try walking down the sidewalk without breaking an ankle. The Walk of Fame in Hollywood is tiled, and in the rain it’s the closest thing to ice skating you’ll ever get in Southern California. You’re risking life and limb just to get that snapshot of Weird Al Yankovic’s star. (I’m assuming that if you’re walking in Los Angeles, you’re a tourist.)

Despite the small annoyances, most of us from the Mid-West enjoy a little rain now and then. It is a nice break from the constant sun and warmth. It reminds us of home, even if there is never thunder or lightning. Sure, I get wet when I go outside, but after thirty-two years I’ve learned the finer points of drying myself. So I say bring the rain. I’ll worry about stuff like those silly little earthquakes.