The Path to Enlightenment at Okamoto’s Karate Studio

“Karate” by The Consortium is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Six months ago, I began classes in beginner’s karate at Okamoto’s Karate Studio. I was about to turn thirty, and decided now was the time to take better care of my body than I had for the last ten years.

I am one of three adults in my class; the other two adults are parents of fellow students. Average age of the students is seven and three-quarters. Naturally, I stand out a bit.

Nevertheless, thus far, I have made one friend, Mary. Mary, a distractible second grade, is generally a naughty student. Instructor Shane takes your belt away if you misbehave in class, and her belt has been under a constant state of threat since I’ve known her.

Mary is very concerned about my social and financial wellbeing. Every day I come to class, she approaches me with a look of polite worry.

“Do you have a mom?”

“Yes, I have a mom.”

“Why doesn’t she come with you?”

Most seven-year-olds were accompanied to karate by their parents.

“Well, I drive myself.”

Mary nodded somberly.

“Does your mom sign your papers? Does she pay for your lessons?”

“Well, I’m an adult, so I sign my own papers and pay for my own lessons.”

That allayed her fears for about two weeks. Then she saw me walk into the locker room with my karate gear in a trash bag.

All of the children have fancy embroidered gym bags that say, “Okamoto’s Karate Studio.” I, however, refuse to buy into the trappings of branding, and am content to carry my items around in a white plastic bag the way God intended.

I loaded my garbage sack into my cubby, when Mary tapped my leg.

“Why don’t you have a bag?”

“A bag?”

Mary pointed to the column of identical red and black bags in the cubbies.

“Oh, a gym bag? I didn’t buy one.”

Mary frowned.

“Did you not want to spend the money? Wait…”

She trailed off.

“Do you have money?”

I considered her question. My wealth, or lack thereof, struck me distinctly relative.

“Um, yes, I have money. I just didn’t buy a gym bag.”

Mary looked unconvinced.

The weeks dragged on, and Mary continued to pepper me with questions about my financial stability.

“Do you walk from home?” she grabbed my leg, and once more regarded my trash bag suspiciously.

“Uh, no, I drive.”

“Really? Do you have a car?”

“Um, yes, I have a car. That would be a long walk from home!”

And last night at class, she sliced even more to my gut.

“Are you a mom?”

“Am I a mom? Well, no, I don’t have any kids. No kids or husband. Just me.”

Mary looked scandalized, and asked, “How old are you?”

Way to cut me down to size.

“I’m thirty.”

“That’s so old.”

Tell me about it.

“So you’re an adult?”

“Yes.”

“But you’re not a mom?”

“No.”

That’s when I was rescued by our resident Class Genius, a small girl who had just informed us moments prior that she had, “skipped first grade for some odd reason.”

The Genius scoffed at Mary.

“You don’t have to be a mom to be an adult! Not if you’re a girl!”

I nodded fervently in agreement.

Although, I must admit, I got a bit more than I bargained for when I started karate. While I’ve gained muscle, flexibility, and a lot of sweaty gear made out of rubber, Mary has also forced me to confront some uncomfortable truths. Am I an adult? Am I financially successful? Am I fully formed, fledged, and independent? Am I too old to learn a new (and might I add, very physical) sport? Is my personal and family life in order?

Gosh Mary. Out of the mouths of babes…

Sarah Brown is the most wizened, longest tenured white belt at Okamoto’s Karate studio. When she is not training to finally earn her yellow belt, 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)

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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.

Loitering in Lingerie

“VS Pink Angel Wings Switch Plate Cover Single Rocker Switch Cover” by code-100 is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

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Why do men insist on dawdling in ladies’ lingerie departments?

To me, the mark of a well-bred man is one who stays far away from these stores.

This model of decorum was perfected by my parents during our family back-to-school shopping trips. Every year, my mother would choreograph an elaborate outing to purchase clothes for my younger brother and me. At the shopping mall of choice, she, like a kind of shopping champion, powered through the clusters of stores, hurling pants, shirts, and shoes at her two children.

Mom would scurry between the clothing racks and dressing rooms, toting around options. She would then try to confirm if there were any outfits that year I found suitable, thereby allowing me to hold off on life as a nudist for another season.

After repeating this process with my younger brother, she would bustle up to the counter, collect her bags, and shoo us out the door.

And that’s when Dad’s role would take the limelight.

My father hates shopping. Beyond hates. It paralyzes him with fear, actually. Not a grocery store trip goes by without Dad calling Mom on the phone, facing a wall of canned beans, or a display of packaged cheese. He then describes every label he sees to her in great detail, attempting to find the specific object of desire for which she sent him out searching. Even then, he gets it wrong as often as he gets it right.

On the days my mother would designate for school shopping, he would cringe, and turn an ashen shade of grey. As Mom would shovel my brother and me through the stores, he would skulk behind and skiv newspapers out of bins. With his new treasures now collected, he would find a bench, sit down, and desperately try to distract himself.

At this point in the spree, my mother would deposit the bags on the bench beside my father. My brother would manfully take his position on the bench, and Mom would lead me off to buy underwear.

But we all learned a lesson the year my brother finally reached an age to be intrigued by the feminine form. He was curious about that inner sanctum known as Victoria’s Secret, and was reluctant to join my father on the bench. Mom informed him in no uncertain terms that never ever was my brother to be found in Victoria’s Secret. 

Dad looked up from his newspaper long enough to watch Mother and Brother squabble loudly before Brother sullenly took up his designated battle station. And, satisfied the men were consigned to their proper place, Mom led me off once more.

A man’s place in Victoria’s Secret is sitting on a bench far away from it.

This idea was further reinforced when I went off to summer camp in Washington D.C. I was seventeen and the camp consisted of male and female counselors in their twenties driving several hundred teenagers around the monuments for hours while lecturing them about history and dates of great importance. We would then be sent out of the bus into the swampy heat of July, and made to run for miles around the monuments.

One night, the counselors took pity on us. Our destination was a large outlet mall, in which we would be set loose for the evening.

The head male counselor seized the microphone to give us the rules for the outing. We had to travel in pairs and be back on the bus by nine o’clock.

“Boys!” he bellowed suddenly. “Do not let me catch you anywhere near Victoria’s Secret!”

This counselor was a superman. Looking back on the sad saps I’ve dated since then, I should have asked for his hand in marriage.

Walking through shopping malls today, I am sorely disappointed by the state of America. The lingerie departments are always so crowded, mainly with people who have no reason to be there. This is not helped by the fact thatdepartment stores have an inexplicable penchant for erecting their coffee carts directly across from the bras and panties.

But aside from this fatal design error, without fail, every time I need to buy new underwear, there is a man hanging about. Be they following their wives or girlfriends, or just lurking in the background, these men do not realize they are committing cardinal breaches of shopping mall etiquette. Where were their mothers? Where were their back-to-school shopping trips?

When I was a regular at Nordstrom and needed to complete underwear-related errands, I would make a beeline for the lingerie floor. With no desire to linger, I would attempt to accomplish my panty mission in the shortest time possible.

But alas. A man and his teenage son were forever magically leaning against the exact bra rack I needed to peruse.

I would walk up and down the nearby displays, hoping they would move along. They did not, and I was forced to rummage through bra sizes in their presence.

There is nothing quite so uncomfortable as attempting to find highly personal items under the curious stare of a complete stranger.

And then there are the drawer cabinets in Victoria’s Secret. These white islands are placed in the middle of the store. Drawers can be pulled out and appropriate panties selected.

And this is where the men congregate, leaning upon them. These ne’er-do-wells watch inquisitively as I open and close the drawers, rifling through the cotton underpants. One day, one of them will offer an opinion on my choice and I will fall dead away through the floor.

Where are the feminists on this issue? Women deserve the right to work through the rocket-science-level calculations of bra sizing on their own, unmolested by men who simply must skulk around. Why are they here? Why?

And then, as I am about to despair of shopping comfortably for underpants ever again, I spot a man and his son sitting bored on a bench, a respectful hundred paces away from Victoria’s Secret.

These men are heroes. Long may they reign.

Sarah Brown is a reluctant shopper and general curmudgeon. 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 

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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.