Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Does That Make You Larger Than Life?

When you go through a significant weight loss, I've found there are, generally, around three distinct ways people react to it.

1. The "You've clearly lost weight but I don't want to imply anything" method.


A relative and/or friend who hasn't seen you in a while keeps staring at you from across the room. Eventually, you cross paths. You juggle your mimosa as he/she smiles in an oddly conflicted fashion. 

You know, you look great

You look down at your outfit, now sporting a dark stain and smelling faintly of spilled mimosa. 

Um, thanks. So do you. 

You wait, thinking that, perhaps this conversation might continue. It does not. 

You saw Frozen, right? 

The general idea behind this seems to be that your friend and/or relative has noticed that you have lost weight. Maybe they've watched you struggle with it for a while, or maybe they simply haven't seen you in a year. Either way, they would really like to compliment you on your appearance, but are entirely unsure if making the compliment weight-related is appropriate. The expectation is that you will have the same logic as a girlfriend in a male-centric sitcom; they'll say "You've lost weight, congrats." and your response will inevitably be "What? Did you think I was fat before? Did you think I needed to lose weight? Did you forget our anniversary? I think we need to see other people." 

2. The "I think there's something different about you, but I can't quite figure out what" method. 


Your professor who hasn't seen you since you were in a terrible place in your life looks you over. She smiles. 

You look like you're doing well. 

Thanks. I feel like it. 

Yeah, you look...healthy?

Um, thanks. 

So, did you see Frozen? 

This one's filled with nuance. With my weight loss, it wasn't so much a weight loss as a return to form. I'm naturally plus sized so, with some people, it's often hard for them to tell when my weigh fluctuates. People assume that losing weight takes you from fat to skinny with nowhere in between. With me, it's less "I was fat but now I'm skinny" and more "I'm a bit more balanced and comfortable." I had gained a lot of weight during a particularly bad stint with depression, and since getting that more under control, I've lost quite a bit of what I've gained. The result is that I seem different. I'm happier, a bit more confident, and wearing pants that fit me. Because a surprising amount of weight loss is actually internal, when people pick up on it, they're sometimes not picking up on the size of your girth, but on the way you present yourself. As bizarre as the phenomenon is, it's admittedly pretty amusing to watch people stand around desperately looking for the right words to describe you. 

3. The "throw caution to the wind" method. 


You've just arrived home after a six-month stay in another country. You immediately find yourself at a funeral, where your grandfather spots you. 

Who are you?! 

He laughs. Despite having heard the joke before, you laugh as well. 

Hi, Grampy. 

I was wondering if I'd ever see you again. 

He takes a moment to look you over. He seems proud. 

Did you lose weight? 

As a matter of fact, I did. 

You look good, kid. 


Did you see that movie everyone's talking about? Freeze or something? 

I like this option best, but it is, admittedly a risky one. Weight's a pretty tricky thing to discuss. It carries a lot of...well, weight. We're conditioned to think about it constantly - whether it's "Hooray! You're skinny" or "Damn, you're fat!" or "Whatever you are, you need to do something about it." The compliment of "Hey, have you lost weight?" instantly brings this to light. On TV it's seen as the thing you should always ask a women, whether she wants to lose weight or not. Because of this, it's lost some of it's legitimacy. It's a shallow thing to say, rather than a genuine one. It's left us constantly looking for the correct thing, and never really finding it. 

Personally, as a sufferer of thyroid disease, as someone who has struggled with weight and self image through most of their life, I'd say compliment what seems to be on the forefront of the person's mind. It's not easy, you may have to become a psychic. But for a lot of people, I know that "It seems like you're doing a lot better than you were before" would mean a lot more than "Hey, you're a weight I can name, but still can only barely find pants for!" 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Driving in New York is an experience.

Now, I learned to drive in New Hampshire. Despite the fact that we don't have permits - you can legally drive at the age of 15 1/2 as long as you have your birth certificate and someone over the age of 25 in the car with you - and despite the fact that our roads are quite frequently black ice laden death traps, we're generally pretty low key drivers. We have accidents, like everyone, and we have disagreements, like everyone else.

We are particularly antagonistic towards drivers from Massachusetts. New Hampshire has somewhat of a "New York/ New Jersey" rivalry with the state, for reasons I'm not entirely clear on. Perhaps we're bitter that they have all our sports teams? One would think we would be more bitter about Vermont, which is, of course, just an upside down New Hampshire with bafflingly better tourism.

But, I digress.

I grew up hearing about Massachusetts drivers. It was always "those damn Massholes letting me go even though they have the right of way - don't they know they're holding up traffic?" Anytime a car on the road did something stupid, my parents would instantly check the plate, and if they were from Massachusetts they would nod their heads sagely and say "that makes sense."

Notice though, that despite our antagonism towards our neighbors to the south, for the most part, our rage is kept inside the privacy of our own cars, and spoken of with a healthy degree of self awareness. I know, for a fact, that most of my parents' antagonism is based on having to drive in Boston which, even those from Boston will tell you, does not do the term "clusterfuck" justice. We're aware that, for the most part, Massachusetts drivers are just like us. It's simply more fun to blame the occasional fuck up on their license plates.

That being said, any New Hampshirites possessed of genuine, rage inducing hatred toward the drivers of Massachusetts should really consider driving in New York.

To New York, New Hampshire is basically Canada, and it's easy to see why they have that view when you compare our drivers. New Hampshire is mostly trees. Even if you're in a city, like Manchester, you can bet that driving there will entail a picturesque drive through forests and tree covered mountains on a three-laned turnpike with a speed limit of 65. Unless there's an antique car show, or the tall ships have come to Portland, or you're in Nashua, you probably won't be caught in a traffic jam for longer than about twenty minutes. We drive leisurely and with little intensity unless we're in a rush, in which case we might start pushing 70. We're calm drivers because we can be. You only get aggressive when you change lanes, and even then, it's just a matter of putting on your turn signal and waiting.

This is a marked contrast to New York. In New York, it seems like everyone has somewhere to be in that exact moment and you are the one thing standing in their way. It's not a matter of "damn it, I'm stuck behind some slow, out of state asshole" it's "god damn it that slow out of state asshole needs to be taken off the road."

In New Hampshire, we're very independently minded. We're the live free or die state, after all. As a rule, we don't really interact much beyond an uptight New England head nod. If someone pisses us off, we'll just walk away. This extends to driving, which is fundamentally an individual experience. If you get cut off, you might shout about it, but you'll do it in the privacy of your own car. You might think something like "God, I'd love to just go over there and let the bastard have it" but it would never occur to you to actually do it. Their bad driving is their problem, not yours. At least your car's fine.

In New York, it's a different thing. One of the things I love about New Yorkers is their openness. A New Yorker will talk to anyone. It doesn't matter who you are, or where you are, or wether or not you're from "away". To them, there's really not much of a difference between one person and the next. Everyone is worthy of being spoken to, and of course, everyone is worthy of being yelled at.

I think my first real New York auto-experience (is that a thing?) was when I accidentally took a parking space someone had claimed outside a Bloomingdales. I didn't realize they'd had their signal on, or even that they were there. When I got out of the car, I was greeted by the face of an enraged woman in large, blue SUV.

The following conversation must be read with the understanding that the SUV lady sounded as if she were about to explode, and I sounded like I had already exploded and was trying to recover.


I step out of my car and head for the Bloomingdales entrance to the mall. I utterly fail to notice the large black SUV following me across the lot. 

Hey, you! 

I do not respond. 

You! Girl with the hair! 

At this, for some reason, I turn. 

Um, hi? 

You know that was my space! 


You just took my fucking parking space! I had my signal on, did you not see it? 

I guess I didn't. I'm sorry.

Yeah, you better be. Are you going to move it? 

Do you want me to? 

(as if it should be obvious)
YES. It was my space. 

Oh, ok. I'll just go do that. 


And so, I moved. 

This was shortly after I started driving in New York, and the experience terrified me so much it took me a few weeks before I was comfortable trying it again. It wasn't so much the woman herself that threw me, it was the fact that I was now in a place where not only was my driving being constantly watched by the drivers around me, but if I did something wrong, they'd be sure to let me know. I've been flipped off more times than I care to admit, which to a New Yorker, seems like the natural result of being a driver. 

But as long as I may live in New York, and as many times as I might find myself the target of profuse swearing on the way to New Rochelle, I will never escape my New Hampshire roots. The idea of taking the time to personally shout at someone for their driving will always seem odd to me, as will the idea of constantly driving like you're in a rush. I will forever be worried that I'm driving in the wrong lane, or taking the wrong turn, and someone will hit me. Worse, that they'll talk to me.