A Love Letter to Airplanes

[See Original Post here]

Long standing readers of this column will recall there was a time when I was a frequent flyer and bona fide road warrior. Since February 2020, however, I largely stopped traveling due to the obvious complexities presented by a global pandemic. I spent a year without voluntarily giving up my civil liberties at Ted Stevens International Airport. I went 365 days sans random cavity searches by TSA. Twelve months lapsed since I last elbowed my fellow passengers while staking claim to overhead bin space.

When it became obvious to everyone that we’d all been grounded for the foreseeable future, I thought, well, there is much to be gained here. My skin will clear up because it will not be exposed to that weird airplane air that always makes me breakout. I will not have to eye my seat prior to lighting for large, half chewed bits of cookie left lovingly behind by the previous passenger. No concern about the stale nose tissue that may, or may not, be lodged way, way, far down at the bottom of the seatback pouch in front of me. I will not have to look at the bathroom floor with trepidation, wondering if the puddles on the ground were caused by people who cannot neatly dry their hands, or by some other, more sinister, fluid.

I was as shocked as anyone to discover after a while … that I missed it. Ironically, despite the ever-present and all-powerful weight of the Federal government, air travel struck me as, well, freedom. I looked back fondly on the stale smelling circulated air, the fiesta mix pretzels in tiny packets, and the unique taste of a Bloody Mary at thirty thousand feet cruising altitude.

I am pleased to report, however, that air travel is returning. Pandemic weary Americans are back to jamming themselves into these tiny cylindrical tubes and jettisoning themselves as far away from home as possible. Iceland is now open to vaccinated Americans, and the European Union is expected to follow suit shortly. Spring break travelers to Hawaii were treated to $1,000 per day car rentals, as demand surged despite companies having previously sold off inventory to stay afloat in 2020.

Personally, I have completed my first pleasure trip post COVID and will begin travelling again for work in May. Expectedly, things have changed since I last flew. TSA now checks your driver’s license, and not your ticket. Masked passengers remove face coverings long enough for the security agents to verify passenger faces match passenger IDs. After a year in quarantine, I can’t imagine all faces look the same, and the agents studied a few of my fellow travelers for a while, trying to determine whether they were imposters, or had just been living life rough for the last thirteen months. I am somewhat dourly resigned to looking like a demented bank robber forever, my baby blue disposable mask covering up the bottom half of my face, and my glasses the top half.

One of the more disappointing changes to airline travel is the meal service. Previously a joyful activity on flights, meal service could be counted on to dependably absorb twenty minutes of flight time, followed by another seven minutes in the bathroom line, three minutes maneuvering in the bathroom itself, and a minute forty-seven seconds spent eyeing all the bathroom puddles. Then there was always the possibility of a bathroom surprise, like the time someone dangled a used Lipton tea bag from the inside bathroom door handle. These little diversions would necessitate me staring for another fifty-two seconds, at least! Altogether, such points of recreation would eat up over half an hour, which would be correspondingly deducted from the amount of time spent in bored silence.

While I am nothing but sympathetic to an industry brought to the brink of extinction one year ago, it was a nevertheless disappointing meal service that brought me a cup of water, half a cracker, and a virtual pat on the head. Snack time lasted thirty-eight seconds, and I swiveled around wildly wanting to know how I was going to burn up all this new quiet time.

With a few accommodations, I was nevertheless thrilled to skip down the jetway for the first time in 2021. TSA, baggage crew, officious ticket checkers abundant… I love you!

Sarah Brown is a Captain of Industry. You may pitch her at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

COVID Year in Review

[See original post here]

March marks a full year that COVID-19 has moderately to significantly impacted my life. Rather than a “Calendar Year in Review” in December, I am opting for a “COVID Year in Review” in March.

March: Anchorage is introduced to former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s “hunker down” order which, as summarized by Andrew Jensen, is “a stay-at-home order, but if you want to take a walk, they’ll allow it.”

All of my usual activities are replaced with stockpiling paper products and canned soup, and eating chips and salsa.

April: The chips and salsa snacking is replaced with consuming family-size packages of sour gummy worms. Knowing this will all inevitably catch up with me, I start exercising furiously. I delight in building muscles from scratch.

What with all the restaurant closures, I figure now is the time to embrace learning to cook.

I confirm a long-held suspicion that I hate cooking.

I break down and order a pizza from Uncle Joe’s. It is the best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

May: I debut my COVID-perfected, knock you on your rear, margaritas. The recipe remains proprietary, such that I can keep friends around.

Brown’s Close launches its website. We are immediately followed by fifty magnanimous Facebook friends, and three bots.

June: I attempt to buy a new bike, as my current bike is 17 years old and wheezes whenever we round corners. Anchorage’s stores are completely sold out, as is Facebook Marketplace. I turn to Marketplace’s older, grungier associate, Craigslist. While there are bikes listed on Craigslist, they are all obviously stolen. Some of the inventory still has the broken bike locks on them in the pictures, and others, chains. One adult man is selling what he claims to be his bike. It is pink, floral, and large enough for a six-year-old girl.

July: I go camping for the holiday. On the drive home, the car more or less calls it quits on life. I grind to a halt on the highway, walk a mile to cell phone service, and find one tow company open on the Sunday after the July 4th weekend. Given how busy the road is on the holiday weekend, and what with no offers of assistance from passing motorists, I am forced to conclude that chivalry is dead.

August: The town erupts in very strong opinions on Kriner’s Diner, a restaurant that I can’t imagine has ever seen the kind of publicity that its standoff with the mayor garnered, not to mention those hefty $15,000/day fines.

September: Learning my lesson from my bike-less summer, I purchase used cross-country skis at Play It Again Sports. The lettering on the skis is electric blue, and the boots are satin red and gold. The boots prove to ultimately give me blisters, but pain is weakness leaving the body.

October: Photos of Anchorage Mayor, Ethan Berkowitz’s pimply back appear. Though meant to be seductive, they have more of a medical quality.

November: I teach myself how to cross-country ski and become accomplished enough to participate in Alaska Ski for Women, and the Tour of Anchorage. Alas, I am dressed inappropriately for both events. My parka and snow pants are too bulky for the Tour of Anchorage, where current and former Olympians are dressed in spandex. My attire is similarly not bulky enough for Alaska Ski for Women, where participants are dressed as strawberries and blueberries, and wear neon pink wigs.

The politics of masks come to a head when Alaska State Senator, Lora Reinbold, has a midair confrontation with the “Mask Bullies,” also known as Alaska Airlines.

Senator Reinbold has not stopped there. A Google search of “Lora Reinbold masks,” yields 3,060 results as of the time of this writing.

December: Our office Christmas party takes place virtually at ten in the morning. I annoy an entire Zoom breakout room with my passion for Die Hard.

January: Capitol rioters reveal many Americans have closely held beliefs about the existence of Lizard People.

February: Two men shoot Lady Gaga’s dog walker and make off with her French bulldogs. Most media coverage, and Lady Gaga’s reward offer, focus on the safe return of the dogs, and not so much on her critically wounded employee.

March: Bitcoin reaches its highest value ever. I have friends who’ve sextupled their initial investment with Bitcoin. However, when the currency is explained to me, it just sounds made up. For example, there is what is called “The Halving,” which takes place at predetermined times. This ceremony “halves” the number of “Bitcoins” that “the Bitcoin Miners” receive when they “Mine a Block” after “solving a Hash Puzzle.” After that, there’s “The Reaping,” where teenagers are taken from their parents to fight to the death in service of “Bitcoin’s glorious future.” Only after both “The Halving” and “The Reaping,” can there be “The Quickening.” It is at this point that the “Final Bitcoin Miners” battle it out to ascertain who will become the “God of all Bitcoin.”

April: Next month, I’ll get to see my brother for the first time in 16 months. We will use this precious time to catch up on an entire holiday seasons’ worth of family political debates.

And thus, in the words of modern poet, Maria Athens, “Have a great Friday, you motherfu****!”

Sarah Brown is a troubadour, specializing in chronicling local political life. You can reach her at sarah@browns-close.com, or on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. 

A Modest List of Things to be Thankful for in 2020

“Thanksgiving Spread” by CarbonNYC [in SF!] is licensed under CC BY 2.0

[See original post here]

Off the top of my head, a list of catastrophes that have occurred in 2020 include:

  1. Global pandemics;
  2. Wildfires in Australia, California, Washington, and Oregon;
  3. Tornadoes in the Southern United States. These also struck roughly one month after COVID-19, which frightened everyone away from the designated tornado shelters;
  4. An invasion of murder hornets;
  5. A jet plane collided with a bear;
  6. And, of course, the death of James Bond.

With all of this upheaval, Thanksgiving may be subdued. In such times of tribulation, will Americans feel gratitude? State and local governments might even prefer citizens not give thanks, taking it upon themselves to restrict the number of guests permitted per Thanksgiving feast. Enforcement measures remain unclear; it’s hard to imagine even the most officious mid-level bureaucrat will want to be the designated government representative to knock on neighborhood doors, verifying the number of approved party guests.

On the other hand, Thanksgiving may be raucous; perhaps Americans may count their blessings more generously than usual.

I believe we continue to be blessed, despite what President-elect Biden has dubbed “a dark winter” ahead. In a quest to prove the point, I conducted some market research. Based on an anonymous survey, respondents consider themselves thankful for many items:

  1. “I’m grateful for chips.”
  2. “I’ve forgotten what work pants feel like. I’m grateful for that.”
  3. “You know what I’m grateful for? I discovered I can still somehow manage to be late for work. Even though I don’t commute. Nothing is impossible for me!”
  4. “I’m thankful that Costco installed checkout lines for shoppers with only a few items. I only ever have a few items.”
  5. “I’m grateful for Grubhub. Not even a pandemic can get me to cook apparently.”
  6. “I’m grateful I am not married. Explaining 2020 to a Quaranteen would be rough.”
  7. While limiting Thanksgiving dinner sizes struck me as churlish—“I’m thankful that I have an excuse to not go to Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t stand listening to my family argue about the election.”
  8. “I’m thankful for masks. I like the anonymity.”
  9. “I’m grateful the toilet paper shortage is over.”
  10. “I’m grateful for the toilet paper shortage. I finally learned how to use my bidet.”

I personally have much to be thankful for. The second season of Haunting of Hill House was released on time on Netflix without incident. Also, grown adults have finally learned how to wash their hands.

I am also thankful for the endless insights into the lives of other people, which I can glean through Zoom. One particularly memorable Zoom meeting early in the pandemic featured a participant with chains hanging from his walls. He happily sat on a meeting with fifty strangers, seemingly unaware that his choice of decor could be considered a tad radical.

I am grateful that the world has finally embraced the wonders of telemedicine. I’ve been a frequent user of Teladoc ever since I discovered that I no longer have to physically go to the doctor’s office to have my rashes examined, or pervasive pink eye diagnosed. I’m pleased to welcome everyone else to this new, glorious, shame-free reality.

Finally, I am thankful for the downfall of makeup generally, and Big Lipstick specifically. I have not worn makeup in eight months, thus gaining hours cumulatively back into my life. For years I resented the extra minutes per morning I was expected to spend painting on a face. In particular, I found lipstick to be insidious in nature; the constant application causes your lips to become addicted to all of the added moisture. Without lipstick, your lips soon become egregiously chapped.

No longer will my lips be slaves to Big Lipstick! I’ve broken my addiction lo these eight months, and will never go back.

I’m not alone. A study from late July proclaimed the death of the “lipstick index,” an economics measure previously used to measure how women spend money during lean economic times. My fellow sisters in arms have also broken free.

Count your blessings folks, including what may be the most significant blessing of all –  that it is almost 2021!

Sarah Brown is a grateful person. She would be so thankful should you choose to contact her at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Unmasking Halloween

[See original post here]

As with every other extracurricular activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Halloween will assuredly be dampened this year. I am not the first person to note the irony; Halloween is a holiday based entirely on the idea that everyone should wear a mask.

Will Anchorage’s new mayor issue a municipal wide ban on live Halloween, as the old mayor did with live music?

Will anyone host Halloween parties?

Will anyone else attend?

Will families go trick-or-treating?

Is trick-or-treating a socially distanced activity?

Should I just leave a basket of candy out on the porch and call it quits when one small marauder takes it all?

Is bobbing for apples illegal?

Should it be?

Should we wear masks in the water while bobbing for apples?

Will people dress up in costume?

What will be the top costume of choice?

If we assume Halloween will not be stricken from the calendar, and that there will be costumes, and that people will dress up in them, below are the clear favorites for the Most Desirable Halloween Costume of 2020:

For those who remained single before, during, and after quarantine – 

Top Singles Costumes for Halloween 2020:

  1. The Karen – Karen with bobbed hair, crow’s feet, and a bitter expression, has already been dubbed “the scariest Halloween costume of 2020,” by Good Morning America;
  2. Hunter Biden – all you need is a crack pipe and a wire transfer. No shirt required;
  3. Mask-ed Vigilantes – no obligation to separate along party lines here. This costume can be applied to both pro, and anti, mask vigilantes.

For those who managed to find love, despite quarantine –

Top Couples Costumes for Halloween 2020:

  1. Pilots and flight attendants;
  2. A pair of Sheeple;
  3. Donald Trump and Joe Biden;
  4. Amy Coney Barrett and Ruth Bader Ginsburg;
  5. Hydroxychloroquine and Remdesivir.

And for the rarest life form of all, those who managed to maintain friendships despite quarantine, and subsequent highly charged political events–

Top Group Costumes for Halloween 2020:

  1. The cast of Tiger King:
    • Joe Exotic;
    • Carole Baskin;
    • Fraudster Jeff Lowe;
    • Pony-tailed polygamist Bhagavan Antle;
    • Stool pigeon Howard Baskin;
    • Victim and tiger feed, Don Lewis.
  2. The cast of General Hospital:
    • Doctors;
    • Nurses;
    • COVID virus;
    • COVID vaccinations;
    • Ventilators;
    • N-95 Masks.
  3. The cast of former Anchorage Mayor, Ethan Berkowitz’s sex scandal:
    • Ethan Berkowitz dressed in a backless suit and carrying a selfie stick;
    • Maria Athens;
    • Molly Blakey, intermittently dispensing booze and cookies;
    • The escort known as Rae – She’s mysterious, so costumes are open to interpretation.
  4. The cast of Current Events, not to exclude:
    • Plague;
    • Pestilence;
    • Exodus (sometimes known as Brexit);
    • The Apocalypse – This can be subdivided into the Four Horsemen, and One Woman, of the Apocalypse:
      1. Scott Atlas;
      2. Alex Azar;
      3. Deborah Birx;
      4. Anthony Fauci;
      5. Mike Pence.
  5. The cast of a Zoom meeting:
    • A baby;
    • A pet;
    • A bra;
    • A toilet;
    • A thermos of vodka;
    • The Mute Button.
  6. The cast of Cancel Culture:
    • Woodrow Wilson;
    • Teddy Roosevelt;
    • J.K. Rowling;
    • The New York Times;
    • Mount Rushmore;
    • Broadway show, Hamilton;
    • And, of course, The Founders.

I myself choose not to rank costumes, but shall instead dress up as everything. On Halloween, you will find me isolated indoors eating cookies and drinking vodka out of my favorite tiger mug. Photos of Mount Rushmore will cycle repeatedly on the television, and I will don my beloved pair of fluffy sheep slippers. I will then promptly miss the mute button as I talk on the phone while doing a highly personal activity.

Every year, Sarah Brown celebrates Halloween with maximum enthusiasm. This year, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Groundhog Days

[See original post here]

There is a Facebook prompt going around that brought me a welcome respite from the otherwise angry political, mask, and/or election messages.

“Can you describe your favorite movie in as boring a way as possible?”

Responses were admirable:

  1. “A group of short men spend a long time walking. They end up throwing away a piece of jewelry.” (The Lord of the Rings)
  2. “A teenage boy doesn’t want to go to school, so he picks up his girlfriend and hypochondriac friend, and they drive around Chicago.” (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
  3. “A number of people go to an amusement park where the attractions are not working as intended. The power goes out, and after a day or so the people leave.” (Jurassic Park)
  4. “A woman falls for her boss and his kids. They go for a hike.” (The Sound of Music)

And my personal contribution –

“A guy drives south and is arrested for murder. He’s saved by his cousin.” (My Cousin Vinny)

This got me thinking. In a year where every day seems to be a repetition of the previous day (Groundhog Day), why don’t we reflect on our daily activities in as exciting a way as possible? For example, my days were always action packed, and COVID-19 has only heightened the mayhem.

The day starts when I bound down the hallway, fire up my computer, and glance through my work emails. There is an offer for me to appear in CEO Today Magazine, for the scant price of 1,500 British pounds. This is the fifth such offer in two weeks. I am not a CEO, and I am not British.

My gaze shifts to one of my many other browser windows currently open, where I read about the recent Twitter hackings of high-profile accounts. Such victims include former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, probable 2020 President-elect Kanye West, and likely alien Elon Musk. I am elated I have not yet fallen victim to Twitter Hacker, Cozy Bear, or his associate, Fancy Bear. Fancy Bear is now what I call my mother when I wish to annoy her.

An Outlook Calendar Reminder pops up; it’s Five-Minutes-to-Zoom. I dial in, and am admitted to a meeting with other industry professionals around the nation. One company’s representative does not realize his mic is on. He is speaking to someone off camera.

“Go in the corner and clean up that poop. That poop. That poop there in the corner. We can’t have this place looking like a garbage dump.”

His pets, presumably, were at it again.

At noon, I step onto my front porch for a breath of fresh air. My neighborhood is often a source of whimsy, and today is no different.

One of my neighbors is painting bloody handprints across the front of her house. She completes this pastiche with a giant red “X” on her front door, and then drags a seven-foot-tall red-rimmed cross for display next to the street.

A line of cars starts to congregate outside of her house. The neighbors all get out to gawk at her handywork, and whisper to each other. A middle-aged woman on a bicycle wearing a helmet and backpack begins taking frantic photos from the opposite side of the road.

The posse of neighbors confronts the woman. While her initial reaction is to shout back at them in an even louder voice, she eventually recognizes she is outnumbered. She backs down and drags the cross back into her garage. She leans it gingerly against the wall, and then hurls the entire contents of her municipal garbage can out onto her front lawn and into her driveway.

In a final crescendo, she places a giant handwritten sign in her front window. It reads, “We love.” The “o” in “love” is a smiley face.

I watch the property value of my home evaporate.

Chased away from the fresh air out front, I return to my home office, where I open my window. Perhaps I can enjoy the breeze from out back.

I am immediately treated to the high-pitched shouting of the man who lives next door.

“I am triggered whenever I watch The Shining!”

(“A family moves to a hotel in the off season, but goes back to Denver in the middle of winter.”)

“That’s when it happened! It was at the chalet in Switzerland when I was two! That’s why I stopped eating fruits and vegetables!”

Whatever made Next Door Man forever forsake plant-based food products must assuredly be traumatic. Feeling ethically compelled to respect his privacy, I begrudgingly shut the window, and finish out the day working in a stuffy, hot room.

At the close of the workday, I sit on my couch and look for something to watch on television. Crimson Peak is running (“A girl falls in love with a guy and moves to his house. The house is condemned, but she gets some help from its prior residents”).

I stare at the screen hypnotically until the credits roll. 

That night, I have a number of nightmares about living in a sinking house in the middle of nowhere. In one dream, I wander around the house, watching red matter seep out of the walls. I don’t really panic, however, until I put all of my clothes into one of the house closets. I am unable to locate the closet again, and thereby lose all of my clothes.

I wake up sweating, and turn on the fan in my room.

It was a thrilling day indeed.

Sarah Brown is a folk hero. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Northern Exposure

[See original post here]

Since the onset of the coronavirus, families have lost jobs, childcare, and all semblance of schedule. Barriers are broken, boundaries eviscerated. Days bleed into one another. Friends earnestly text each other, “Happy Friday,” and then ask whether Friday is something we still celebrate.

Most of my fellow Americans have given up decorum. Kids burst into the room and enthusiastically participate in client Zoom meetings. Women pick their feet and noses in the virtual presence of friends. Men pee on conference calls.

All of this, I suppose, was to be expected. Societal structure evaporated overnight. I am certainly not immune. I’ve worn pants with snaps exactly four times in the past three months. Instead, I now do laundry loads consisting only of gym shorts, sports bras, and sweatshirts.

I was mentally prepared for my new casual life. I’ve worked from home for several years as it is, and I live on a quiet cul-de-sac in West Anchorage. The location is perfect. I’m seven minutes from either the airport or Kincaid Park. New houses spring up regularly. There’s talk of another school someday and a fire station. Aside from jet airplanes seemingly landing on my roof every Thursday at 2:30 in the morning, it’s really idyllic.

As quarantine and hunker down recommendations have persisted, however, I’ve noticed distinct changes in my neighborhood; my fellow residents have not taken well to quarantine. Unaccustomed to working from home, they have not built up the discipline to maintain societal codes of conduct during a pandemic.

My first hint that something was off was on my daily stroll to the mailbox at eleven in the morning. I approached the duplex seven doors down from mine.

A large man with a lot of wild hair was standing naked on his balcony holding a chihuahua under his arm.

If the stark contrast of the size difference between the dog and his master didn’t complete the astounding sight, the man was attempting to flirt with the hot mom next door. She was at street level, fully clothed, walking her large yellow lab, and gazing up at him with wide, concerned eyes.

“Aren’t we a funny pair?” he grinned hopefully. “I’m a big man with a tiny dog, and you’re a tiny woman with a big dog.”

I hated to break it to him, but in no universe would he and the hot mom ever be a pair.

I assumed this particular gentleman just had no sense whatsoever of propriety. I shrugged off the encounter as a unique story of life in my cul-de-sac.

That was until the second incident – the lady in the house across from mine began regularly parading around topless. She’s flagrant about it, leaving all of the interior lights ablaze. She lives with a baby and a husband, and neither seem to mind.

I wish I could be that free.

As March faded into April, April into May, and now May into June, I noticed this behavior more and more. There’s one guy who now rubs his nipples vigorously every time he mows his lawn. Another runs around outside his property in his bathrobe and underpants every week on trash day; everything from his clothes on down to his body parts flaps enthusiastically.

I reached my breaking point the day the couple a few doors down threw a wild, and very noisy, party at midnight on a Tuesday.

Having reached peak curmudgeon status, I pulled on my jacket and my mask, and tramped angrily down the street in my pink pajama bottoms, giant eyeglasses, and my hair teased on top of my head.

The door was wide open, and I burst in.

“Hey! Who owns this place?” I shouted over the music.

I received glowering looks from several young women dressed in heavy eye makeup and nothing but their underwear. More guests flitted through the entryway, similarly undressed.

We all regarded each other for a few moments, me in my oversized clothes, and the party goers in their undersized ones.

“Sup?” One young man greeted me insolently.

“Look, I have to work in the morning. I have –”

I paused and spoke the word reverently.

“—A job.”

“Sorry, we’ll keep it down,” he muttered, and turned the stereo down three tenths of a decibel.

I clumped home, and prepared to relocate to my parent’s house. Their neighbors were all over sixty-five years old, and had long since stopped seeing the fun in parties where all you wear is your underwear.

I went up to their house the following evening for dinner, and sat outside on their deck, bathing in the luxury of peace and quiet. The only other humans around were my parents’ neighbor and her friend, both sitting in a hot tub on the neighbor’s deck.

It was a hot evening, and the neighbor reached her hot tub limit in short order. She stood up, hopped out of the tub, and wiggled around the deck looking for her towel.

She was completely naked, and in full view of all of the residents of my parent’s street.

She grabbed her towel, and began pulling it vigorously back and forth, drying her nether regions.

I stared, dumbstruck, for perhaps longer than was polite. What was most perplexing however, was not the prancing naked neighbor, but her friend. The friend was dressed modestly in a bathing suit, and hot tubbing with her nude friend.

I tore myself away, walked inside, and rinsed my eyes out with chlorine.

God willing, COVID subsides this summer. Else, the Municipality may have to declare itself an official nudist colony. Granted, this would give me a legitimate reason to finally live out my fantasy of bunker life in Oklahoma.

Sarah Brown is a Never Nude. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @brownsclose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Merry Corporate Christmas

(Photo/Courtesy/NBC Universal)

[See the Original post here ]

We find ourselves entering a perilous time: that of the office Christmas party.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good party. I’ve been known for raucous housewarming parties, uncomfortable truth-telling parties, and one predictably cursed Friday the 13th party. It’s just that none of these parties take place with coworkers, or other similarly formidable people who control the trajectory of my salary.

Since graduating college at the naïve age of 22, I’ve worked multiple jobs on both coasts and throughout Alaska. By now, I feel comfortable saying I’ve experienced a respectable sample size of office Christmas parties.

Some may look forward to these gatherings, overflowing with the spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men.

I, on the other hand, greet them with all the enthusiasm of a disemboweling.

Let’s consult the game film.

There was the time I watched an executive get drunk, sing karaoke, and split his pants. Then there was the director who chased a fetching blonde around the ballroom. This continued until one of his fellow officials placed him in a headlock. And finally, there is always that one guy who must be carried out, unable to leave under the weight of his own drunken stupor.

My personal favorite was the time my branch office watched the main office have the Christmas party, broadcast on live stream. We gathered somberly in the conference room at 8:30 a.m. sharp, huddled around the television set, and watched our coworkers far away partaking in pancakes and mimosas. After the program wrapped, they went off to the after party, and we went back to work.

Then there are all of the open houses, marketed as Christmas parties. The stated purpose of these gatherings is to hobnob with fellow members of the business community. The true purpose is to collect a ton of strangers’ business cards so they can be spammed at some later date.

Organizations around town throw up some Christmas lights, open their doors, offer a choice of cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay, and make everyone wear a name tag. We are then pushed to the center of the room and told to network.

It is at this point that I flunk out. By then, my name tag is caught in my hair and I spend the subsequent 15 minutes of designated networking time in the bathroom picking it out.

My stints working for smaller companies led to much more sedate Christmas parties. During my first year with one company, we celebrated the holidays by crafting together. We were given tools for metal work and told we could either make our own jewelry or our own bottle openers.

As none of the 15 ladies at my table were ever particularly skilled in shop class, our bottle openers did not function, and our jewelry fell off at some point during the walk out the door.

The following year, we traveled to the natural history museum, split into multiple teams, and built company cohesiveness by competing against each other in a scavenger hunt. I would have been much more motivated if the prize for winning had been the Hope Diamond.

Instead, there was no prize outside of abject humiliation; all the scavenger hunt items involved some level of public display. We took candy from babies, serenaded museum employees, and proposed marriage to less-than-desirable strangers.

Even our company C-suite members did not escape this mess, and one was assigned to my team. Through some perverse logical reasoning, I figured the more embarrassing activities I participated in, the higher I would grow in his estimation.

Hence, I happily volunteered to find and shake the hand of a bald man with a beard.

I spied a member of this elusive species standing by the touch tank; he was surrounded by people who were attempting to pet some sea urchins (which seemed like a pretty foolish pastime to me).

I marched purposefully over, my team trailing a few timid paces behind.

“Hey, guy, can I shake your hand?”

I flashed him my most flirtatious smile, which unfortunately always comes across like a facial deformity.

“Why do you need to shake my hand?” he said, looking puzzled as I grabbed his calloused appendage.

Too much truck with the sea urchins probably.

“Uh, because I saw you across the room, and I thought, well I need to shake that man’s hand,” I chirped, pumping his fist furiously.

He frowned.

“Is this because I have a beard?” he eyed my sheet of tasks, clutched in a sweaty death grip in my left hand.

“Er, yes. And I wanted to shake your hand. I saw you standing here, and, well, I just had to come over.”

He looked at the guy next to him.

“But he has a beard. Why me?”

Indeed, the man directly to his right had quite the bushy beard action. He unfortunately also had a lustrous head of shiny black hair.

Then a light switch flipped visibly on, somewhere in the recesses of my victim’s brain.

“It’s because I’m bald, isn’t it? I’m bald! With a beard!”

“Uh, no. No of course not, I just need a photo shaking your hand! Here we go now…”

Mr. C-suite sidled up to me at the correct moment and snapped a photo of me grinning maniacally, and my mark looking like he was going to burst into tears.

“There we go,” I sang out cheerfully, pulling my hand away from his tightening grip. “Thank you so much, no harm done now, time to go, yes, yes…”

My bald bearded adversary was now moaning.

“It’s because I’m bald. Don’t tell me it’s not. Don’t lie!”

“There, there,” I muttered lightly, backing away slowly.

I looked around sheepishly for my team.

They had all disappeared to hold hands while looking at something orange (per our next instructions obviously).

Bald bearded man was now turning a concerning shade of puce.

I was at a total loss as to how to gracefully walk away.

So I did the least graceful thing possible.

I turned tail and ran.

Christmas party season started for me Dec. 6. I’ve been practicing my wind sprints since July.

Sarah Brown is the consummate Grinch. When not reposing in her mountain lair, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

In the Throes of Air Travel

“P1000720” by jayhay2336 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

[See Original Post here]

Air travel is a key component of my job description.

Literally. The description reads, “Expected to travel between 30% and 50% of time.”

Given how much experience I’ve had, you think I would be better at it.

Wrong.

It’s a production to get me on an airplane, all of the extensive accommodations of Alaska Airlines aside. My appearance becomes the physical manifestation of my discomfort. I don my airplane pajamas (aka clothes that are at least three sizes too big). On go my eyeglasses, away goes the flat iron, in goes my night guard. And make-up? Don’t make me laugh.

I then adopt my Very Special Air Travel Expression.

It’s the sort of expression a corpse would have, if the person who once formed that corpse had died in an eternal state of exasperation. The light leaves my eyes, my jaw goes slack. I only alter this deadpan look to glare at all of my neighbors over the top of my glasses.

Once at the airport, I typically throw my weight around. Not that I have the necessary money, power, or status to intimidate people. Rather, I literally swing my shoulder bags from side to side, yanking my suitcases through the air. Any aggressive movement will do. I want strangers to approach on penalty of death.

All of this contributes to a distinctly nasty persona. When people see me hurtling through airports, they figure they know why I’m alone.

If life were a movie plot, travellers would not be like me. Rather, attractive bubbly strangers would be seated next to each other on airplanes with alarming frequency. They would both be single and looking for love. They would bond instantaneously over shared heartbreaks/divorces/widowhoods/insert romantic tragedy here.

In all my years of air travel, I have never seen this happen. Instead, men and women get drunk at airport bars and throw themselves at unwilling strangers.

Take my recent late-night Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle. I was across the aisle from a young woman, who, like me, was wearing her airplane best. Dressed in a sweatshirt and pajama bottoms, her purple hair was in a topknot on her head. She was wearing scarlet-rimmed eyeglasses, and her acne was showing.

Nevertheless, she was being pursued by a young sloper she’d just met in the bar. With the aid of some liquid courage, he adopted all the confidence of Thor, Son of Odin, and was shouting about how he wanted to sit next to her on our mutual flight.

This plan did not excite her.

She walked on to the plane, sat down, threw up into her airsick bag, and flagged down a predictably gracious Alaska Airlines flight attendant.

“Um, there’s this guy. Like, he …”

She trailed off as she tried to bring the flight attendant into focus.

“I, like, met him in the bar. And now he’s, like, trying to sit next to me?”

The flight attendant looked at her pityingly.

“I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“Okay, ‘cause, like, I don’t want to sit next to him. He’s, like. Back. There.”

She jutted her thumb over her shoulder, gesturing to the offending sloper, now sitting in his assigned seat.

The flight attendant followed her thumb.

“You know what? He’s asleep. I think you’re okay.”

The three of us turned around and, sure enough, the man was down for the count, his face mashed up against the window.

It’s not just men pursuing uninterested women on airplanes. Women also proactively live out their Hollywood “meet cute” fantasies. On a flight from Anchorage to Chicago, I spied on a middle-age woman sitting next to a similarly unprepossessing middle-aged man. Before my eyes, the woman became hopelessly infatuated with him, for no reason I could portend. She tried every feminine wile at her disposal to attract his attention. She giggled at him, whispered to him, and petted his arm continuously for the first thirty-five minutes of the flight.

That’s when he couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up, told the flight attendant he was moving to another section, and forbade the woman from following him.

If I were the woman, I would have taken the hint. However, I will never be she; I’m too busy throwing my luggage around.

Rather than accept they would not share a future together beyond the constraints of this six-hour flight, the woman grabbed her bags, and made after him. The flight attendant body blocked her like every great bouncer would, and the woman was forcibly returned to her seat, waving madly at the man to come back.

That’s why I don’t bother primping before flights; I’ve seen too many failed attempts by travelers to meet The One.

But then came the day I found myself sitting next to an acceptably cute blonde bearded guy on a flight to Los Angeles.

Alarm signals went off in my brain: “Don’t be weird! Don’t be weird!”

Naturally, the minute I brought my own weirdness to my attention, I immediately began acting bizarre; I tucked my plastic water cup into the hook holding up my tray table.

The cute guy next to me looked over at my water cup, now dangling helplessly from the seat in front of me, and frowned.

“I’ve never seen anyone do that before.”

I considered explaining that I wanted to place my cup out of my way, such that I could continue typing on my laptop. I couldn’t waste a moment’s time, after all, in plotting my takedown of the ultimate universe. And gosh, by the way, didn’t he want to accompany me on said takedown as my sidekick?

Instead, I coughed and grunted back, “Whatever works.”

            My seatmate shrugged, and went back to texting other, better, girls on his phone.

            Alaska Airlines should really cast me in a commercial. I am, clearly, the young upwardly mobile model of 21st century womanhood to whom they desperately wish to appeal.

Sarah Brown is a road warrior and connoisseur of the Alaska Airlines Economy class free snacks. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.