Yoga 1

Now that I’m done with my college volleyball career, I have an insatiable desire to fill my sudden abundance of free time with all sorts of novel athletic pursuits. Thus, it was only a matter of time before I would decide to participate in a yoga class. My roommate and I agreed to start a free week at a local CorePower studio (you didn’t think we could actually afford yoga classes, did you?), and we picked a Yoga/Barre class with “simple and precise movements” that sounded feasible for a beginner like me.  To be honest, I believed that I was on a different level from other “beginners” due to my background in competitive athletics. After four years of killer workouts and marathon matches, how hard could this be?


When the day finally arrived, I entered the class feeling poised and confident.  Our young instructor strutted into the room and turned to face us; she had a small, tan, compact body and crazy bleached blond hair in a ponytail that stuck straight out from her head.  After flying through the compulsory introductions and explanations, she immediately ran us through a series of warm-up positions, and before I could figure out what was going on I found myself in a sort of modified downward dog pose, crossing one leg behind my back, craning my neck to see what everyone else was doing, and nearly throwing out my back in the process.  Instructor was over by the speakers turning up her music and counting out loud: “Just six more! And one, two, three, four…”  I let my head fall forward so that I was looking at her upside down between my legs.  I thought we were just holding this pose…were we supposed to be doing reps of something…?  I felt my face turning red as the blood rushed down to my head.  Instructor jogged to the front of the room and began shouting “Breathe in! Breathe out!” in a very authoritative voice.  I put my leg down on the floor tentatively.  I had always imagined a yoga instructor as having a mellifluous voice, murmuring pose suggestions as the sound of harps and waterfalls played in the background.  This image was quickly being destroyed by this peppy specimen of a woman – perhaps she had a background as a zumba instructor?

Yoga 5

Instructor ordered us to stand up, place our feet shoulder-width apart, and begin squatting in time to the music.  I scrambled to my feet and squatted appreciatively – this was a familiar exercise.  Instructor then shouted “Move your feet three more steps apart, and squat, and squat, and squat…”  My feet were already sweating, so as I rushed to slide them apart I narrowly escaped slipping straight down into the splits.  After wobbling magnificently for a moment, I regained control and looked at myself in the floor-to-ceiling studio mirror.  I was peeved to find that, instead of a look of serenity, my face wore the expression of a terrified child.  Next, we were ordered to move to a seated position with our backs to the wall, where we could reach up and hold on to the barre to assist us in an ab exercise.  While we students sweated and shook our way through the reps, Instructor sat in the middle of the room and performed them easily without a wall or a barre.  When she turned to look at one of the other students, I glared at her.  Just for a second.

Yoga 6

After muddling through the ab portion of the class, I followed Instructor’s directions and positioned myself next to the barre in such a way that I could stand on one leg, rest the majority of my weight on the barre, and lift my other leg up behind me repeatedly in time to the music.  Ultimately, this exercise allows the muscles of the hamstring and buttocks to feel as though they are being stabbed repeatedly and roasted over a fire – like marshmallows, I guess.  I kept looking down at my supporting leg, which was shaking uncontrollably, but Instructor would always catch me: “Look up! Open your collarbone!”  I forced my chin upward and focused on the thermostat on the wall.  It was turned off.  Sweat dripped into my eye.  I continued to kick up my other leg behind me as the instructor counted off the reps.  The barre was wobbling as I clung to it for support and my mind wandered: How much could I sue the studio for if the barre ripped out of the wall suddenly?  What was this pose, anyway?  The modified poison dart frog?  Or maybe the ninja II…  My leg was trembling even more violently and my foot was slipping sideways across the floor.  “Look up!” Instructor startled me out of my reverie; crap, she caught me looking down again.  She moved back to the middle of the room and yelled “How’s everyone doing??”  Silence.  Either no one had enough breath to produce a response, or no one could bring themselves to voice their true feelings.

Yoga 7

One of our final leg exercises involved standing with the barre to one side and lifting up the leg opposite the barre so that it looks as though you are forming half of the indian-style siting position, but in the air.  This turned out to be impossible for me, since an inexplicable absence of flexibility in my right hip has prevented me from ever being able to sit indian-style, even in my youth.  Instructor came over to correct my leg position, of course.  She grabbed my shin with both hands and began to force it upwards: “See? Try to hold it like this.”

I nearly fell over as her well-meaning attempts threatened to wrest my hip from its very socket.  “My hip just doesn’t move that way,” I explained apologetically after jerking away from her.  “It’s always been like that – I don’t know why.”  Inside I was screaming “I’M SORRY I’M INCOMPETENT!”

Instructor just smiled and said, “No worries, it could be worse!”  I thought back to what would have happened if I had slipped into the splits a few minutes ago.

Yes, it definitely could have been worse.

If you’re looking for me, I’ll be doing the corpse pose.


(Images adapted from Show Me How by Lauren Smith)


Dude, Where’s My Car?

Last winter, my car was stolen.  Or was it…?

I had been holed up in my apartment for two days as the latest snowstorm raged outside, dumping white powder all over the city and causing the sky to go dark at 4pm.  I curled up on my couch to watch the snowflakes blowing diagonally in front of our windows, and I thought to myself that the extra charge for underground parking was finally paying off, since my car was being protected from the savage elements.

After two days, the clouds finally vanished and allowed the sun to make its daily appearance.  Since I can handle snow that has settled the ground far better than I can handle it when its airborne, I decided to venture outdoors, perhaps even drive to the grocery store to replenish my food supply. I took the elevator down to the garage and stepped out, fiddling with my keys.  When I looked up towards my designated parking spot, I stopped in my tracks – literally – because it was EMPTY.

My mind started working overtime as my body stood frozen; I knew that I had obviously not driven anywhere in the last two days, but the garage could be accessed by anyone who lived in the building, and there had been many recent reports of bikes being stolen from the garage, so…. clearly, someone from my building had STOLEN MY CAR.  My mind latched onto this horrifying conclusion as I fumbled with my phone and managed to place a call to my roommate.  When she picked up, I was still standing in the exact same spot in the garage, still staring at my miserably vacant parking space.


“Um, Laura? I’m in the garage, and…my car’s not here.  It’s GONE.”

Laura told me later that at this moment she was trying not to burst out laughing.  She delicately encouraged me to retrace my steps. “When did you last drive it?”

“I haven’t gone anywhere for two days!  I’ve been in the apartment!  The last time I drove anywhere was before the snowstorm, when I went to the locker room to – oh.”

It all came back to me.  I had driven to the gym straight from a doctor appointment and parked on a nearby street. When I left the gym, I had walked back to my apartment, which was only a couple blocks away. I had left my car parked on that street for two days, alone in the cold as the snowstorm raged, alone outside as I sat on my couch and patted myself on the back for having underground parking.

I hung up on Laura and ran out of the garage and across the street (ok that’s such a falsehood, I just walked really fast) and found my poor little mini-SUV parked right where I left it. It was covered in snow. I placed my hand on the hood – or rather, slightly above the snow-covered hood – and apologized. “I’m sorry, Chester…” (My car’s name is Chester.) I then brushed off all the snow with my bare hand to punish myself for being so absent-minded.

I wish I could say this is the only time I’ve misplaced something and immediately assumed it’s been stolen. Just this week I came into my living room and discovered that my laptop had disappeared from the coffee table where I left it. My heart dropped because I knew the only explanation was that my home must have been invaded while I was in the shower. I checked my purse on the couch and was relieved to find that the burglars had not taken my wallet. I decided to have a look around the house just to make sure everything else was in order. When I returned to the living room I did a double take at the coffee table because there, covered in its tasteful array of stickers, was my laptop. I pondered this for a moment and decided not to worry myself with what had actually happened (cough nothing cough cough). I then returned to what had been occupying my time before I came into the living room in the first place: searching for my phone. Maybe that girl I ran into at the coffee shop snagged it…


Weekly Writing Challenge: Collecting Detail

Stuck in traffic on a freezing winter evening, I stare at the endless line of cars until it becomes a blur in front of my eyes.  My hands, clutching the ice-cold steering wheel, are slowly going numb in my oversized gloves as the blood moves out of my fingertips and retreats into the warmth of my arms.  I turn up the heater one more notch and attempt to adjust the black vents so that they blow onto my hands, but they swivel downwards again on their loose plastic hinges.  The line of cars inches forward, then comes to a stop.  I frown at the brocade of ice crystals that has not yet melted from my driver side window.  Where am I going again?

My attention snaps back to the automobiles stretched out in front of me.  The steam from their exhaust pipes is translucent white in the frigid air; it billows across the road, cloaking vehicles in fog.  As I continue to stare, the exhaust begins to resemble clouds of smoky breath hanging in the air, the kind that burst from the nostrils of snorting horses.  I squint and the line of cars morphs into a cavalry, horses panting and stamping as they head towards a wintry battlefield.  I open my eyes and laugh, then sit on my hands, which have lost feeling.

I look at the cars again, but this time the red glare of brake lights dominates my vision.  Each pair of lights becomes a pair of red demon eyes, piercing the darkness with their evil gaze and glinting maliciously off the ice that clings to the road surface.  The clouds of exhaust cannot shroud their malevolence.  I suck in my breath and shake my head to make the vision disappear.  The lights all blink off and happily turn into innocent yellows and whites as the vehicles creep forward again, only to stop and flick back to red just seconds later.  I peel off one glove to examine my pale, bloodless fingertips.  I can’t remember where I’m going.

Portrait of a British Band


Four young men strut onto the stage to the tune of I Want You Back by Jackson 5. They all sport varying lengths of floppy, middle-parted hair: the bassist’s goes to his cheekbone, the lead singer’s and the other guitarist’s reaches the jaw-line, and the drummer’s is just past the chin.  Lead Singer steps up to the microphone center-stage and addresses the crowd with his heart-melting accent:

“We are Peace.  We come from the United Kingdom.  We are here to do things to you.  With music.”

Cue enraptured screams.  Is this the next British Invasion?

Lead Singer is a skeleton figure in a form-fitted shirt and pants; in fact, his long-sleeved shirt is so tight that, under the harsh glare of the spotlights, one can clearly see the nipples on his concave chest all the way from the balcony seats.  His confident mannerisms are captivating: easy/unaffected twirling, quick flicks of the wrist and waves of the hand in between chord strums on his electric guitar, hands clapping briefly and rapturously behind his head during an interlude.  He is lost in his own music.  He breathes “thank you” into the mic after each song.

The band members experiment with sounds, making their guitars mimic the snarls of a wildcat or the thin island sound of a ukulele.  Their lyrics range from cutesy pop – “I wanna get lovesick,” “You vibe so hard” – to cleverly sexual – “You could be my ice age, sugar/Lay me down and make me shiver” – to dark and convoluted – “We spit blood in the sun,” “If you don’t climb atop the Eiffel,/You’ll never fall or die.”  Every so often, Lead Singer will dedicate a song “to the leddeeezzz,” and the female crowd-members accept it ecstatically.

Near the end of the set, Lead Singer whispers into the mic: “Well. It’s a Monday night. Anything could happen…”  Indeed.  Or perhaps something already has…

Posted on December 13 by Cassie

Why Squirrels Are My Worst Nightmare

Quite often when I’m browsing through my Facebook news feed I see various pictures of squirrels frozen in adorable poses (I’m assuming others must think they are adorable – I don’t) with text overlays that imply the squirrel is a sentient being capable of, say, dramatically dancing and singing the lyrics to “I Will Survive.”

You’re probably looking at this picture and laughing and thinking that this squirrel is so cute and you wish squirrels could be pets and other nonsense.  When I see pictures like this, I shudder and keep scrolling to escape the gaze of that beady little black eye.  Many have asked me why I am so distrustful of these furry rodents, so I’ve decided to explain the reasons behind my hate affair with squirrel.

It all began during my freshman year at DU, when I was making my way back to the freshman dorms via a tunnel walkway between the soccer field and lacrosse field.  I was the only person in the tunnel that afternoon, so unfortunately there is no one else to corroborate the story of my horrific encounter.  I was just about halfway through the tunnel when I heard a strange noise: a cross between the high-pitched whining of remote control helicopter rotors and the violent “CH-CH-CH” of a rotating sprinkler head, with some scratching thrown in for good measure.  I spun around anxiously, seeking the source of the noise, which I finally located as coming from directly above me.  There, jumping up and down on the top of the chain link fence separating the tunnel from the soccer field, was a very angry squirrel.

I could tell it was angry because its tail was completely rigid, its fur stood out in every direction, and it jumped stiff-legged along the top of the fence instead of calmly putting one paw in front of the other.  Through all of this, it continued chattering and screeching while making DIRECT EYE CONTACT with me.  My heart began to pound and I backed away towards the opposite tunnel wall, inching my way away from the little devil and towards safety, but I was unable to turn my gaze away.  The squirrel sensed my terror and began to follow me, jumping sideways along the fence and gradually emitting louder and more frenzied noises.  All of a sudden it froze and crouched down – limbs tense, tail trembling – and my throat tightened as I realized it was poised to jump.  I had no doubt that it possessed the strength and energy to clear the distance between us, so I fell back on my survival instincts: I turned and ran.  To this day, I have no idea what I did to threaten this squirrel’s territory.

Since then, the encounters have unfortunately increased in frequency, while also decreasing in distance between the squirrels and me.  On five separate occasions, squirrels have darted kamikaze-style in front of my bike as I’m riding through campus, causing me to swerve frantically to avoid it and then swerve back to keep from crashing into one of our many lily-pad-filled Koi ponds; I then spend the rest of my ride gagging at the thought of the mess that would have been left on my bike tire had the squirrel succeeded in its suicide mission.  Squirrels also have a way of sneaking up on me when I least expect it.  I’ll be walking along a brick pathway, admiring the trees and breathing in the fresh air, when there is suddenly an explosion of noise next to me that sends a huge rush of fight-or-flight hormones surging through my system.  Without fail, the source of the noise is always squirrels: two squirrels chasing each other across the path for no reason…one squirrel jumping out of a trash can and running away from nothing, in circles, at top speed…two squirrels leaping out of the bushes and clawing their way up a tree before scurrying back down and into the same bushes they just exited…

Along with giving me my daily dose of adrenaline, these encounters have allowed me to view these creatures up close, further reinforcing my repulsion.  Their tails may look cute and furry and soft from a distance, but move closer and you will see that hiding beneath the fur, the actual tail is strangely thin and glistens in its inky blackness; in fact, if it weren’t for the fur, it would look alarmingly like a shiny black snake.  Then there are those eyes… They are solid black orbs, lacking visible irises or pupils, and while they may have eyelids, I have never seen a squirrel blink.

It may sound like I’m pretty set in my beliefs about squirrels, but if I’m being honest, there was one encounter that almost made my change my mind about the creatures.  Almost.

This time it was the end of my sophomore year, on a gorgeous spring day.  I was in a fantastic mood, one of those moods that has you soaking in nature and really appreciating things like individual blades of grass and cloud shapes and tree scents (I can’t smell, but I’ve heard trees smell great).  I was walking towards one of said trees with plans to sit on the ground beneath its branches, when I noticed a squirrel had already beaten me to the spot.  Having a wealth of negative experiences with squirrels already under my belt, I stopped in my tracks and waited to see if the squirrel was as bad as all the others.

Something seemed different about this one: it stood there calmly, nose wriggling, head cocking towards me, but making no sudden movements or noises.  I was in such a good mood that I decided to move closer.  Rather than scurrying away, the squirrel sat back on its haunches and clasped its hands patiently, watching me.  When I got to be several feet away, I crouched down to reach its eye-level.  I admired its tiny, dexterous paws; I watched it how its whiskers moved with its quick breathing; I observed its twitching ears and flicking tail.  I felt like the next Audubon or Thoreau, and I began to smile.  In that moment, the squirrel decided I was too close.  It bolted towards me and I fell backwards into the grass, scrambling to my feet to escape its unheralded fury.  The illusion had been shattered.  I ran all the way back to my dorm.

So you see, my fear of squirrels is perfectly rational.  I’ve been shuddering as I write this, and I continue to shudder imagining what the creatures will do next; I can’t shake the feeling that they have something terrible in store for me…

Pagans in the Park

I walk towards Civic Center Park with butterflies in my stomach.  I can see dozens of display booths set up in a large sort-of rectangle with their canopies fluttering in the wind, and a hundred yards from me two elaborately tattooed middle-aged belly dancers are practicing their art with the aid of finger tambourines and strange foreign-sounding music.  Among the people watching them gyrate and spin is a grey-bearded man in a brown wizard hat and robe, carrying a green marbled staff.  He is not the only one sporting the iconic tall pointed hat with a wide brim.  It is a staple accessory, seen poking up out of the crowd in every color and style imaginable – black, grey, brown, translucent red, blue-brimmed, white with faux fur, and even some with attached veils.  I suck in my breath and keep walking towards them all and to the event in which they are enthusiastically participating: Denver’s Pagan Pride Day.

I stroll through the booths, trying to only look vaguely interested.  The wind blows over a rack of patterned hand-bags right in front of me, so I stop to help pick up the fallen bags and Celtic cross medallions.  I ask the vendor if the bags are handmade.  “I’m not sure, they’re from Turkey,” she says hurriedly as she scoops up the items and then returns to drum-playing with a man in the back of the booth.  Their drumming becomes my personal soundtrack and I subconsciously walk to the beat as I explore what the other vendors have to offer.  The most popular items are herbs, candles, and jewelry; many of the earrings and necklaces sport ancient pagan symbols like the pentagram, the Celtic cross, and the Egyptian ankh.  There is also an abundance of booths advertising Tarot card, tea leaf, palm, and eye readings.  A woman trying to give a tea leaf reading wears a plastered smile on her face, trying to hide her exasperation as her client rambles on and on about what she hopes to learn about her future.

I am unable to hide my quizzical look as I pass by the table for My Path, “the most advanced pagan social networking site.”  I wonder if there are other pagan social networking sites…?  If so, they are apparently hopelessly primitive.  A woman with a painfully screechy voice walks by hawking her wares and screaming random announcements: “COME TO OUR BOOTH! DRUMS, READINGS, FASHIONABLE CLOTHING!  THE WITCHES’ BALL IS IN TWO WEEKS – YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS IT!”  The pagan prison ministry booth is taking donations and selling used books for very reasonable prices.  Somber music issues from the booth advertising albums and auditions for the Orpheus Pagan Chamber Choir. Two robed women chat behind a table displaying books of Druid songs and poems.  I nod at the representative for the Coven Grove drugstore, who is ready to provide “for all your metaphysical needs.”  At the next booth over, a tall man wearing Mickey Mouse’s costume from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is showing kids how to make colored ornaments from fused glass.

Arriving at the end of the booths, I stop in my tracks, mouth agape at the strange sight on the lawn in front of me.  A pair of garishly red-colored lips smiles out at me from a bespectacled harlequin face caked with purple and white paint.  The face belongs to a man wearing a nuns’ habit who is sitting with folded hands on a long cushioned bench inside a homemade structure that must be seen to be believed.  It is in the shape of a small chapel but is constructed of chain link fence parts that have been spray-painted purple.  A rainbow-colored Magick energy star is displayed over the entrance, which is framed in purple fringe, and a giant bronze-colored chime hangs inside the chain-link chimney.  A colorful sandwich sign is propped up to the right of the entrance; it reads “Please come in for a moment of peaceful reflection.”  I want to go see him about this peaceful reflection, but my courage does not match my curiosity.  I take three laps around the lawn trying to work up the nerve to enter his domain, but every time I pass by the makeshift purple pagan chapel it is swamped with people who want to smoke with him, exchange medallion necklaces, and take pictures.

After my third lap I collapse on a bench near the booth where the man and woman are still passionately drumming.  I jump startled as the female hawker screeches from behind me: “AN EVENT FOR EVERY SEASON! THIS WINTER IT IS THE YULETIDE CELEBRATION GALA! YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS IT!”  When she moves away I look down at my notes; when I look up, an average-looking guy with a duck-tail of blond hair sticking out of his baseball cap is staring back down at me.

“Hello, how are you?” he says carefully.

“Good, how are you?”

“I am well.  So kind of you to ask.”

Silence.  I stare at him with eyebrows raised.  He fumbles in his large messenger bag and produces a hardcover book with an unpronounceable title.  “You look like you might appreciate this book.  It’s considered to be the sequel to the Bhagavad Gita – the most influential book of philosophy ever written.”  His hand dives into his bag again and emerges holding a paperback copy of the sacred text, which he also hands to me.  “Actually, Gandhi read this book every day.”

I stare at the books.  “Oh wow.  Very interesting.”

Silence.  He pauses uncomfortably before saying anything, as if he is meditating on the correct response.  “Believe it or not, I’m actually a monk.”  He sits down on the bench beside me.  “I live in a temple.  We hand out these books as a sort of service.”

“For free?!”

Pause.  “Well yes.  They are free.  But, most people try to give a donation.”

Silence.  “I’m so sorry, I don’t have any cash.”  I hand back the hardcover.  “Can I just keep this one?”  I hold up the Bhagavad Gita.

“Yes.  Actually, Gandhi read that every day.”  Pause.  “Also, please come to our temple.  We have festivals and feasts every Sunday at 5.”

“You have festivals every Sunday?!”

“Yes.”  Pause.  “Sometimes we have festivals that last a week long.”  Silence.  “So, are you sure you can’t make a donation?”

“I’m really sorry, I honestly don’t have any money on me.”

He ponders.  “We also accept used gift cards.”

After escaping from the monk, I head towards a booth that is offering coffee and chocolate but as I approach it I notice a tall guy walking towards me – he is dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt, but he carries a thick wooden staff that stands up to his neck and is topped with a crystal ball held in place by four silver blades.  Intimidated, I pull an about face and nearly run right into two men, maybe in their early sixties, who are looking extremely confused.  The first one, who I soon learn is named Frank, addresses me immediately: “Excuse me, but do you know what is going on here?!”

“Um yes, I think it’s Pagan Pride Day.”  I immediately wonder why I said “I think” when I am quite certain of the fact that it is Pagan Pride Day.

“Pagan.  Pride Day.”  He shakes his head and smiles in amused disbelief.

His friend Robert jumps in: “We thought they had beer here!”

I direct them to the American Beer Festival taking place in the Convention Center.  They laugh and throw up their hands at their foolishness, then Frank stops and turns back to look at me curiously.  “Are you pagan?” he asks incredulously.

I pause, considering whether I should maintain my cover, but his pained expression makes me answer truthfully.  “No I’m not – just observing!”

I learn Frank is a Colorado native and that Robert used to live here also: “I had a house up in Edgewater.”

I have no idea where that is but feign familiarity:  “Oh, very cool!”

Frank sees right through me: “Do you even know where Edgewater is?”

He grins and looks off into the trees.  But before he can say anything else Robert grabs him by the shoulder and pushes him off in the general direction of the American Beer Festival.

I turn slowly back around and notice that there is an open chair at the iridology booth, so I step forward to have my eyes read by Shelly: Natural Health Practitioner, Certified Iridologist and Herbalist.  We immediately bond over how cold it is in the shade, and she invites me to open my eyes wide so she can shine her tiny light onto my irises.  She analyzes my left and right eyes and keeps track of her findings on a detailed eye map: I have inherited good health and longevity from both sides of my family (true),  I have asthma (true – she has me try some peppermint oil in the back of my throat to open up my airways), I’ve previously injured my hand and leg (true – dislocated finger and torn ACL), and I also need to look out for possible kidney and colon problems in the future (slightly concerning, but she promises I won’t die from it.)  When she gives me the map with her notes, I ask her how she became an iridologist.  I learn that she had her first heart attack at 24 and was told the damage to her heart was irreparable.  Desperate to see her 5-year-old son grow up, she sought out natural medicinal solutions and was told that hawthorn berries can have heart-reparative qualities.  She ate massive amounts of them for three months before going in to see her Western doctor again, and her next EKG came back completely clean.  “Now I have cancer,” she explains to my astonishment.  “I beat it back in ’08 using only natural methods, but it came back.  I’m gonna beat it again though.”  She smiles with a calm confidence.  I wish her the best of luck as I shake her hand and get up to leave.  She brushes off my obvious concern: “Oh, I’m gonna be fine!”

I walk up a couple steps and lean against a stone bannister, looking down at the sunken lawn where people are still milling through booths.  The rhythmic drumming has not stopped.  I open my notebook again to jot down some more thoughts, and this time when I look up there is a grey-haired man standing right below the stone railing looking back up at me.

“Excuse me? Are you writing a story?”

I’m concerned and caught speechless for a moment.  Is he going to be offended by my response?  “Um, sort of.”

“It’s just that I saw you three different times writing in your notebook, so I was wondering if you were writing a story.”  I explain that I’m writing down my thoughts and observations for an assignment.  He chuckles.  “Observations on all the strange people here?”

“There’s definitely a lot to observe,” I respond vaguely.

He nods.  “You know, some of these people are pretty neat once you talk to them for a bit.”

I agree heartily and then notice the high-quality camera hanging from his shoulder.  “Are you a photographer?”

He smiles broadly.  “It’s pretty much all I do.”  I learn that he has been photographing “whatever strikes my fancy” for seven years, that he likes the grittiness of black and white, and that his most emotional project was a photo study of the homeless population on the 16th street mall.  The conversation comes to an end, but we are both smiling.  “Well, it was nice to meet you,” he says as he holds onto his camera with one hand and shakes my hand with the other, then begins to turn back towards the festivities.  As he walks away, he calls back “I wish you well!”  I wave, then close my notebook and head back towards my car, leaving behind the pagans in the park.

Posted October 25 by Cassie

Humans Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

The world is a dangerous place, fraught with peril.  Interestingly, much of this peril seems to stem from the actions of other human beings…  My hope is that after reading the following blog post you will realize how true this is, and you will subsequently be paranoid of any and all encounters with other members of your species.

Just today I was nearly run down on two separate occasions by adolescent males on bicycles.  The first cyclist I encountered while walking downhill on a four-foot-wide footpath; he came barreling up towards me, dinging his little handlebar bell frantically to signal his approach.  I’m not sure what course of action he expected me to take, as there were people to my left and a fence to my right preventing any and all lateral movement…perhaps there was a hidden trapdoor at my feet that he was desperately trying to direct my attention to?  In any case, I managed to save myself by pressing dramatically up against the fence to my right, thereby escaping without injury.  (Side note: I chose not to press dramatically up against the people to my left, for obvious reasons.)  

The next bicyclist appeared just a couple hundred yards later, jumping BMX-style down to my footpath from an elevated sidewalk.  I must admit I was impressed by his incredible accuracy, as he somehow managed to land just inches from me, and I was the only human on the entire 100-foot-stretch of brick path.  I escaped with my life by freezing in place and assuming a facial expression of shock and disdain.  These anecdotes just go to show – you never know which moment may be the moment you are unceremoniously plowed down by a cyclist.

If you aren’t concerned for your life yet, don’t worry – the madness does not end here.  Just last week I witnessed a motorcyclist in front of me trying to light a cigarette while riding in moving traffic (read: “Look Ma, no hands!”)  This kid embodied the “Rebel Without a Cause” persona, or at least he probably thought he did: 19 or 20 years old, wearing a jean vest with a large Boy Scout-type emblem on the back (but he would be mortified that I just compared it to a Boy Scout patch), head wrapped in a black and white bandana, and apparently lacking the ability to grow facial hair…

I wasn’t inclined to judge him for smoking, except he went and decided to make his habit dangerous to others by slowing almost to a dead stop while he tried to light the cigarette in his mouth, then suddenly grabbing the handlebars and speeding up again just before his bike was about to fall over, finally releasing the handlebars once more to return to his cigarette and lighter.  He seemed to be having difficulty with his hand-eye coordination because even after three start/stop attempts, the cigarette remained unlit… I contemplated running into him with my mini-SUV, but I realized that I simply didn’t have the time or energy to deal with a vehicular manslaughter charge, so I resorted to a honk.  That did the trick: his cig immediately took the flame, allowing him to gracefully turn and flip me the bird before riding off into the sunrise.

If you’re not terrified yet, just wait.  I haven’t even mentioned one of the most dangerous people out there: me.  This summer I was babysitting some kids and took them to their gymnastic lessons at the local rec center.  I was sitting meekly in the gift shop (why did they have a gift shop?) minding my own business while the children cartwheeled and tumbled and somersaulted and jumped in foam pits and sometimes just fell over for no reason at all.  Suddenly, I looked to my right and saw one of the top five most adorable toddlers I have ever seen in my life. He was standing on his own, a little wobbly, and he was smiling at me!  I couldn’t help but smile back and wave.  He took a few unsure steps towards me and garbled some unintelligible greeting.  I said hello back and held my hands out for him to walk over.  He smiled even bigger and began to run towards me.  This had the potential to be one of the best days of my life.  

Then suddenly I stuck my foot out into his path and the poor child, unable to clear the obstacle in time, sprawled headlong onto the ground in front of me.  I stared in horror while he burst into tears and his mother ran over to rescue him.  I had just tripped a baby.  I would swear in a court of law that it was an accident, but who knows, it could have been a reflexive action emanating from my subconscious, in which case I should probably consider seeking psychiatric care.  I only tell this story to warn you that I am indeed a human you should watch out for.

I hope I’ve succeeded in making my point.  What was it again? … Oh yes.  Beware of humans: they can be hazardous to your health.

This has been a Public Service Announcement from Cassie
(Originally posted 9/26/13)

Why You Should Celebrate Next Independence Day in Surf City, USA

This past Fourth of July, at about 7:30pm Pacific time, I was moving at a snail’s pace through a churning mass of people on bikes and scooters and longboards and on foot, wearing variations on the classic combination of jean cutoff shorts and the American flag-emblazoned wifebeater.  A biker several yards away sporting the flag on his top hat seemed to be making some progress through the crowd, but he lost control and face-planted after a kid ran in front of him shouting to all the passersby “Happy Independence Day to you, sir! And to you and your family!”  I stared bewildered at the wannabe Tiny Tim as he ran off to spread his patriotic good cheer elsewhere, and then I continued to press forward in a general westerly direction.  This was Main Street, Huntington Beach, California on Independence Day, and I was just trying to make my way to the beach before the fireworks show started.

The Pacific Coast Highway was completely shut down for blocks so that the red white and blue horde could reach the coast, but even without cars in the equation the crossing proved perilous due to the presence of countless other wheeled contraptions.  With bikes zipping past in either direction, a high-stakes game of Frogger ensued as I haltingly made my way towards the opposite sidewalk: five running steps forward, full stop, jump back, jump left, 12 running steps forward, etcetera…  Several harrowing minutes later, I made it to the sand and ran to the nearest open space to set up camp – as far as the eye could see in either direction there were beach towels and tents and canopies and volleyball nets and glow sticks and sparklers and PEOPLE.

The fireworks show was adequate: rockets were shot off the end of the pier so that they burst over the ocean, their explosions semi-rhythmically coordinated with the obligatory Beach Boys and “God Bless the USA” songs.  Unfortunately, the wind picked up about halfway through the show and began blowing all the smoke towards the spectators, so that by the finale all one could see were ominously large smoke clouds that would intermittently glow red or blue or gold as the fireworks behind them desperately tried to make their presence known.  But no matter, because the real show took place after the finale, when the horde of patriots covering the beach stood up to head home.

Some scenes from the evening:

-Two teen bikers sit in the left turn lane of an empty intersection on the shut-down PCH, leaning lazily on their handlebars.  Masquerading as drivers stuck in traffic, one of them hollers “Hey, can we get a green light?” while smirking at the passersby and the amused police officers on the corner.

-A long-haired dude is sitting next to an amp in an apartment balcony.  He screams to anyone who is listening: “Are you folks ready for this?!” Greeted by cheers and whoops, he whips out an electric guitar and begins to perform the national anthem – it is Jimi Hendrix reincarnated.

-You think you’re walking down a quiet neighborhood street, but you’re actually in a warzone: fireworks pop off from every side and produce deafening explosions overhead.  People are diving behind cars and bushes and zig-zagging across the street, trying to avoid lit Roman Candles that have been strategically placed on the double yellow lines in the middle of the road. Some may not make it out alive.

-Everyone seems to believe the correct response in any situation is to yell “‘Merica!” You successfully cross a street: “‘Merica!” A kid bangs a stick on a telephone pole: “‘Merica!” A firework almost takes out the same telephone pole: “‘Merica!”

This is Independence Day in Surf City, USA. It is utter chaos, an overwhelming display of American insanity, and yet strangely nothing endears me to this country more.

(Originally posted 9/14/13)

The Five People You Meet in SoCal

For Spring Break this year I was in Southern California, hitting up Huntington Beach, downtown Pasadena, Laguna Beach, Claremont, Brea, and Chino Hills.  While I spent a lot of time visiting family and friends, I also managed to meet – or simply observe – some pretty fascinating people. (In an effort to appear professional, I’ve changed the names of those I actually met):

1. The Enthusiastic Folk Music Center Employee
He works at the long-standing music store/museum in downtown Claremont, and his graying hair speaks to his years of experience – this guy knows his stuff.  He is perfectly at home in the eclectic space, surrounded by bongos and banjoes, jaw harps and djembes, guitars and sitars, dulcimers and digeridoos.  A customer comes in and asks him to tune his electric ukulele; the enthusiastic employee plugs the instrument into an amplifier and strums away, filling the store with beachy melodies.  The customer looks on in amazement and wonders if he’ll ever get his instrument back…

2. Sammy, the Girl Who Loves Sand
I’m playing volleyball with a friend on the beach in Laguna when the ball goes flying past me after a mis-hit.  I run awkwardly through the sand to retrieve it, but a tiny blond-haired being appears out of nowhere and beats me to it.  It is a little girl, 3 or 4 years old, and she snatches my ball off the ground, straightens up, and smiles at me.  I worry that she will develop an attachment to the ball, but she holds it out to me, simply beaming.  I thank her and take it, walking away to continue playing, but the little peanut trots along behind me.  Whenever the ball is shanked, she takes off again, arms and legs moving at top speed, and tackles the ball, always happily returning it to us.  Finally, she takes a break and sits down in the sand right between us, so that we are passing the ball back and forth over her head.

“Who are you!” she squeals to me.

“I’m Cassie,” I reply, laughing. “Who are you?!”

She just stares back at me, grinning.  Then after a while, she throws her hands up to the sky and answers, “Samm-myy!”  Another pause.  She picks up some sand and holds it in her tiny palm, thoughtfully staring at the small mound.  Then she shrieks “I love to taste sand!” and begins to happily eat it out of her hand, bite by bite, while I stare in disbelief.  After finishing her snack, she throws herself back on the ground with a contented sigh and begins making sand angels – her little grin never leaves her face.

3. The Proud Fashion Boutique Owner
My grandma and I walk into a tiny shop of trendy clothing just to look around.  The female owner, who is also the cashier and sole employee, welcomes us wholeheartedly.  I grab an interesting blouse and a black dress and head for the boutique’s only fitting room.  On the way there, the owner applauds my choices: “That’s such a great brand.  They are doing some really great things.”
While I try on the clothes, I hear her chatting with my grandma about running small businesses:

“I’ve opened and closed seven stores over the last 20 years. But it’s the only way you can truly make money for yourself these days! I feel so bad for kids coming out of college – they just end up working for giant corporations.”  There is a pause in the conversation, and she calls out to me, “How’s everything going in there?!”

I don’t tell her that I’m currently stuck trying to get out of the interesting blouse, but instead reply, “Um, fine!”

After I finally wrestle myself out of the blouse and put my clothes back on, my grandma and I prepare to leave.  Walking out, I point out a dress that I like.  The proud owner pipes in, “Another great brand. They make everything in the USA. They are doing such great things.” She cheerfully waves goodbye and wishes us well as we exit.

4. Nadia, Who Might Have Been an Angel for All I Know
I sit down in the cozy coffee shop of my grandparents’ church in Fullerton while they head off to their Sunday School class, preparing to entertain myself with reading and journaling for the hour I’m to be left on my own.  As I settle in, a married couple and a male friend walk over to my corner, conversing as they come, and sit down in the other empty couch and chair.  The woman is sitting closest to me, and as I sit sipping my hot chocolate, she turns to me and asks, “Do you have this seat saved? I’m so sorry, I didn’t even ask!”  I reassure her that I don’t, and we begin talking.  Before long, I find myself sharing my struggles, worries, hopes, and dreams with her.  I’m able to sit and listen as she shares stories from her life with me and offers me wisdom about singleness and marriage, jobs and ministries, God’s timing, and enjoying each day as it comes – all in a down-to-earth tone and non-patronizing manner.  The hour flies by, and when my grandparents come out to find me, I have to be torn away.

5. Me, the Girl Without a Tan
A tall, blonde, pasty white girl is strolling down the street at a leisurely pace, glancing into shop windows, pulling at the straps of her purse to keep it from falling off her shoulder, and looking through her shades at the faces of the people who walk by.  She has this weird kind of half-smile on her face all the time, and if you stopped and asked her why, she’d tell you it’s because she’s imagining what it would be like to live in this place.  She thinks maybe someday she will…

(Originally posted 3/25/13)

The Exploding Finger Incident

The time has come for this tale to be told.  To the faint of heart, proceed with caution…

It was late October of last year, and my volleyball team was at the University of Texas at Arlington for a regular season match against the Mavericks.  We had spent the previous day practicing and also running through the halls of the College Park Center arena trying to catch Flo Rida when he arrived to prepare for his less-than-capacity concert that night. But that is another story…

On game day, the match got off to a rough start, with us dropping a close first set. But about halfway through the second, we were neck-in-neck and gradually playing stronger.  I was playing at the right front position and enjoying our building momentum.  During one of the rallies, the ball was set to the Mavs’ outside hitter, so I jumped and pressed my hands over the net to block her hit.  Through some strange combination of luck and skill, she managed to hit the ball so that it only made contact with the small finger of my right hand before flying out of bounds.

As soon as I landed I clutched my whole hand tightly, overwhelmed by the shearing pain.  I was pretty sure I had badly jammed my finger – a common occurrence for front row players – and just hoped the pain would die down quickly so I could keep playing.  I made eye contact with my concerned teammates and giggled nervously so they wouldn’t be worried, then we all laughed it off and returned to our spots to receive the next serve.  I let go of my pulsing hand and shook it out, then glanced down just to check out how swollen my finger was.  It was then that I noticed the blood trailing down my wrist and arm and followed it back to my pinky finger, where I found that it was not only swollen but also out of alignment and split open to the bone at the middle joint.

Initial internal reaction: Ew ew ew AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!

Initial external reaction: I actually hardly remember this because I think I went into shock, but I rely on the trustworthy statements of my teammates.  I looked straight at my head coach and began to walk off the court as everyone stared at me in confusion; then I broke the silence with a rather inappropriate word…(sorry everyone).  As this is rare coming from me, it served as a signal to my coach that perhaps something was wrong.  He calmly turned to the referee: “Um, can we get a time-out?”

My teammates tell me that I quickly walked over to the bench just repeating, “Help. I need help. Help me,” over and over as my trainer tried to make me let go of my bleeding hand.  After I sat down, a concerned teammate tried to pour some water into my mouth from a paper cup, but at this point I was crying and gasping and ended up pretty much spewing the water back on her…(again, I’m sorry).  I also kept hysterically apologizing for crying, but our setter patted me on the back and told me it was perfectly okay, as she craned her neck to catch a glimpse of my mutilated digit.

I don’t remember what happened the rest of the set, but we did win, and my teammates sympathetically wished me well before running off to the locker room for the break.  One of my assistant coaches left me with these comforting words: “Don’t worry Cass, you’re gonna be fine – the same exact thing happened to me when I tried to block Logan Tom.”  Logan Tom is the starting outside hitter for the US Women’s National Team.  I remember thinking that if Logan Tom had exploded my finger, I probably wouldn’t be that upset…

A UTA student trainer took me to the emergency room, where I was placed in a room with a TV that was stuck on a channel playing one of the Law and Order shows.  The trainer sat with me and gave me updates on the ongoing match as nurses came in to clean my finger, numb it up, put the dislocated joint back in place, stitch the torn skin back together, and stabilize it with an unnecessarily large splint.  I stared at the TV, the wall, my kneepads and spandex (which I was still wearing, along with my uniform), anything to keep me from seeing my finger, and I grinned when the trainer gave me the final outcome of the match: DU takes the win.

My two assistant coaches met me at the ER with a change of clothes and rushed me to the airport in time to catch our flight back to Denver.  As I walked through security to our gate, my teammates cheered for me like I was a soldier returning from war.  That’s when I realized that although my finger had been dislocated in a most unlucky incident (and not even by a famous person), knowing those girls still made me one of the luckiest people alive 🙂

(Originally posted 3/13/13)