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. 

Was Socrates a Skier?

“Socrates” by bencrowe is licensed under CC BY 2.0

[See original post here]

This COVID winter, all of my usual activities were indefinitely postponed. Typically, I spend the cold months indoors with friends. We go to events around town, the movies, and last winter got into a memorable altercation in a local wine bar with a woman who threw our coats on the floor.

Faced with the prospect of nothing so exciting to do as that sort of direct communication, I taught myself to ski. I bought a pair of used classic cross country skis from Play It Again Sports in September, and in November I went to Hilltop and puttered around the flat landscape.

It struck me as odd that the skiing destination known as “Hilltop” has the flattest land for skiing in the whole city. I was quickly distracted from this thought, however, by the sheer difficulty of cross country skiing. It takes some time to grow accustomed to the movement. One does not walk on cross country skis, or shuffle. One glides.

Going straight from zero to glide proved challenging, but I picked up some tips from YouTube. Try to shuffle-shuffle-glide-shuffle. Move up to the shuffle-shuffle-glide-glide.

By the time I graduated to the shuffle-glide-glide-glide-shuffle, I’d begun to notice some things about my fellow skiers. For example, the fastest way to annoy a gaggle of cross country skiers is to go the wrong way on the trail. Indeed, most loops are one way, and yet the direction is rarely marked. It’s up to the skier to know the direction.

Sadly, as a novice, it is pretty much inevitable I am going the wrong way. Serious skiers, mind you, are not shy about informing you of your mistake, though their corrections could do with a bit more directness. Rather than throwing my coat on the floor, my fellow skiers want to teach me the error of my ways through the Socratic method, trying to get me to reach my own conclusions.

One evening while happily skiing the wrong way, I was stopped by a female on skate skis. She was tall and thin, with her skis and poles making her legs and arms look even longer than they actually were.

She flapped over.

“Is there a moose back there?” Her voice went up at the end of the sentence, and she cocked her head.

I frowned, puzzled.

“No.”

Did she expect there to be?

“Oh. Well, like, you’re going the wrong way?”

Her voice went up again, and she cocked her head in the other direction.

I wondered why she didn’t make it a declarative statement. After all, I was either going the wrong way, or I wasn’t.

In my defense, there really is no way to know whether one is going in the correct direction. Much like the skiers themselves, the ski signs communicate opaquely. Periodically, there will be one way signs with alarming stop signs beneath, clearly demonstrating the way. The trouble is, the stop signs are only at intersecting trails, which necessitate more signs with more arrows pointing to the new trails. Many of these arrows point in the direction of the stop sign, thereby instructing novices like me to disregard the one way.

Like, do you see my problem?

Clear, comprehensible directional signage is not important to the ski community, but signs telling non-skiers they are not welcome on the ski trails are very important. Around Anchorage, it is not uncommon to see trails labeled, “Ski Only in Winter.”

While I do give kudos to the skiers for at least labeling these trails, the syntax is wrong; when else during the year would one be skiing?

The first time I saw such a sign, I was on a walk in the fresh snow at Service High School. I had not yet attempted skiing myself, so I was not fully indoctrinated in the skiing ethos of restricting trails for skiers only.

I read the sign, frowned in confusion, shrugged, and proceeded. I wasn’t sure why Service High School felt compelled to tell me not to bother skiing outside of winter. Perhaps some rogue student went haywire one year, tried to ski in the summer, and caused such mayhem the school administrators took extra steps to prevent similar chaos in the future.

I was promptly accosted by a woman on skate skis.

She, too, questioned me to show me the error of my ways. How else was I to learn?

“Are you taking a walk?”

She pulled the skier head cock.

“Well…yeah.”

“Like, you’re not supposed to walk here?”

I frowned.

“What do you mean I can’t walk here?”

She pulled her head to the other side, and continued to look at me. The Socratic method was not working.

Really, what could she do to me. This is America. I could walk on any trail I wished.

“Are you telling me you don’t want me to walk here?”

She shook her head piously.

I waited for her to offer a bit of helpful information, such as, where she wanted me to walk instead.

After we engaged in a standoff for several seconds, she motioned me to a different trail system.

Many of Anchorage’s skiers are elite athletes, to be sure. Once the city reopens fully, however, they could stand a lesson in direct communication from any number of Anchorage’s bar patrons.

Sarah Brown is direct. Write her at sarah@browns-close.com. Tweet her @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

A Year in Cuffing Season

(Elkov Oleg/Dreamstime/TNS)

[See original post here]

I first heard about “Cuffing Season” a few years ago from a friend. She described it as the period during the year when singles hysterically couple because they don’t want to be alone for the holidays.

Originally, I accepted this; after all, everyone wants a date for New Year’s Eve.

On Halloween that year, I received her happy text —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

On Thanksgiving —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

Shortly before Christmas —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

That’s when it got excessive.

On Groundhog Day —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

On St. Patrick’s Day —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

On Earth Day —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

On Arbor Day —

“It’s Cuffing Season!”

When Memorial Day rolled around and it was still Cuffing Season, I began to seriously doubt the truth of this phenomenon.

According to Merriam Webster, Cuffing Season is formally defined as inclusive of most cold months, beginning in October and concluding right after Valentine’s Day. While my friend may very well be practicing Cuffing Season up through National Mahjong Day (officially August 1), most singles will have moved onto other activities.

However, I was forced to reevaluate the length of Cuffing Season this year with the onset of COVID-19. Faced with the insecurity of a pandemic, quarantine, and certain loneliness, singles were frantically trying to find mates well into April.

According to surveys conducted by UK-based company OneBuy, a full one-third of singles reported receiving texts from their exes during quarantine. It seems lockdowns were enticing singles to behave in needy ways, which they would not do under normal circumstances.

It should be noted, this phenomenon was summarized in an article published on tyla.com, a website which also features links to editorials entitled, “How to Entirely Empty Your Bowels Each Morning (1 Minute Routine).” Make of its contents what you will.

That being said, tyla.com may have a point. Anecdotally, I have indeed noticed a distinct uptick in unsolicited Facebook friend requests from unknown men, and unsolicited messages from same.

One, who dubbed himself “BananaMan,” sent me a Facebook friend request, followed by a Facebook message.

“Hello, my name is BananaMan, how are you today?”

BananaMan, I maintain a strict policy of only corresponding with people who have a space between their first and last names.

Then there was my personal favorite, James Campbell (name changed to protect the guilty). James Campbell added me on Facebook, and proceeded to flood my newsfeed with posts, as he does with all of his Facebook friends.

James Campbell would post 24 hours per day in 15-minute increments about one of five topics:

  1. His cheating, b**ch a** of a girlfriend who dumped him during COVID;
  2. His estranged relationship with his family;
  3. Photos of his tummy;
  4. His deep, personal relationship with God;
  5. Vaguely pornographic photos about how much he likes “thicc girls.”

James’ posts could take on any order in true stream of conscious fashion. Viewers were particularly prone to whiplash when the religious posts were immediately followed by the thicc girl posts.

While I never did meet James, I felt that I got to know him well through these five topics; they provided a firm window into his psyche. Thus, it was a surprisingly lonely day when James Campbell disappeared from my Facebook friends list, presumably because his minder took away his login credentials.

As we round out the holiday season in short order, be on the lookout for new relationships. The couplings may surprise and delight you.

Sarah Brown is an old romantic. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and 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.

Love in the Time of Corona

“‘i saw you on tinder’ Trastevere 2014” by Ithmus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

[See original post here]

Dating behavior has changed due to the coronavirus. Singles are now encouraged to pursue socially distanced dating, be that virtually, or through wholesome, six foot spaced walks.  This phenomenon has been a boon to online dating platforms. Bumble, the dating app with the second highest userbase in the United States, saw more than a 20% increase in usage during the early days of the pandemic, and hit the 100 million user mark in July. The app is geared towards women, with females bearing the brunt of messaging matches first. Men have twenty-four hours to respond, or not.

I am a veteran online dater, and have used Bumble specifically. The field of candidates on the app is endlessly fascinating, and the details men choose to put in their profiles is telling. Over the years, I’ve honed a fool proof vetting method for profiles, based on several cardinal offenses. For example, you must have all of your clothes on in all of your pictures. Possible exceptions can be made for beach pictures, but in that case, you cannot have more than one beach picture.

And then there are the Selfie Sins:

  1. One must never post selfies in bed;
  2. One must never post selfies in the bathroom;
  3. One must never post selfies in the car;
  4. If all of the photos in your profile are selfies, I am forced to assume you have no friends, or anyone else in your life who could take your picture.

Bumble does appeal to female empowerment enthusiasts, and in keeping with this theme, users are encouraged to post information on their profile that traditionally would not be discussed in mixed company. Bumble asks users to disclose their political and religious affiliations, and whether or not the user votes. Singles can then filter out matches who do not conform to their preferred affiliations.

You can also filter by the most important quality of all— the astrological sign.

I’ve had dating success on Bumble, with “success” defined as dating people long term whom I met through the app. Those aren’t the fun stories, however. People just want to hear about the disasters.

Not to disappoint, some dates were resoundingly painful. For example, I went out with a college educated, six-foot-seven math major. He was a self-proclaimed Catholic opera lover and cello player, who now worked as a commercial fisherman. Reading all of these specifics in his profile piqued my curiosity; he sure seemed to have a lot going on.

We had coffee at Starbucks for the requisite forty-seven minutes. I asked questions, and he took full thirty second pauses before he would answer each. He would drag on his drink, look off ponderously at some destination just above my right shoulder, and sigh, “You know, I never thought about that.”

A few days after the date, he texted: “My brain hurts from your questioning. Are you always that intense?”

To be fair, I did ask him a lot of questions. Those questions, however, were about deep topics like, “What’s your favorite movie?”

After he sat silently for a time, and then announced he’d never thought about it, I downgraded to an easier level: “What’s your favorite color?”

That too was a head scratcher.

Among a few other life lessons, Bumble’s most persistent impact on me is to be skeptical of people I find on the Internet:

  1. People on the Internet may not be all there. I stopped seeing one man after he screamed about how much his genitalia hurt while we were at the Anchorage Symphony.
  2. People on the Internet do not waste time. Multiple men over the years have asked me to move in with them on the third date. One even asked me to move state lines.

And yet—

3. People on the Internet are flaky. I once had a guy miss our date at eleven in the morning on a Saturday because he did not set his alarm. Willing to give him a second chance, I agreed to meet him for lunch the following week. He texted to confirm lunch plans that morning, and then later that he was on his way.

The trouble was that he texted to say he was leaving his house in the suburbs ten minutes after the date had already started, and it would take him another twenty-seven minutes to arrive. Honestly, waiting around for another half hour would have been the death knell to my dignity.

4. People on the Internet are weird. One man’s profile had a photo of him completely nude, submerged in a bathtub full of royal blue paint. No other explanation or notation.

Sure, online dating can be fun. It can also be the source of a stellar headache. Good luck to all the Single Ladies.

Sarah Brown is the Love Doctor. Write to her 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.

The Young and the Redemption

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

[See Original Post here]

While I was hoping the next report would be from the other side, alas, I’ve enjoyed eight full weeks of quarantine here in West Anchorage. This is largely due to my own sense of caution; the Municipality of Anchorage is well into Phase 2 of reopening.

On the first day that restaurants were open, I stepped out onto my front porch and into the brilliant sunshine. I took a tentative step forward, breathing in the fresh air. As detailed in Episode 1, my main source of entertainment over the last eight weeks has been my daily hour-long walk through my neighborhood; my cardio stints come from the quick weaves and dodges to avoid my neighbors.

But the day restaurants opened, well that porch stepping had the added significance of being the possible first move into the world beyond my neighborhood. I could actually go to some destination, should I so choose.

The man in the next driveway was climbing into his car, and I cheerily waved at him. While not one to normally greet anyone, least of all my neighbors, I was overflowing with the spirit of goodwill for my fellow man.

He waved back, and promptly coughed.

I dropped my hand, scandalized, and scuttled back into the dim recesses behind me.

Every day now, I peer eagerly out of my windows, awaiting news of either devastation or recovery.

Nevertheless, this is the third installment of series sponsored by COVID-19, preceded by “The Young and the Restless” and “2 Young 2 Restless: Covid Drift.”

Updates to key dramatic subplots are included below for your convenience:

  1. Workouts – I’ve joined three fitness challenges through work. I’ve got seven blisters and two biceps to show for it.
  2. Karate – Someone circulated a rumor that my karate sensei trained the Karate Kid. This story soon evolved into he trained the guy who trained the Karate Kid. Latest version is that he may have seen the Karate Kid once. Bottom line, the sensei’s life continues to remain shrouded in mystery.
  3. Speaking of karate – I am due to test for my “yellow-orange” belt at the end of the month. Logistics remain uncertain and I am not sure whether a virtual test will be easier or harder than an in-person test. Most students advance to black belt (i.e. master ten belts) in three years. At my rate, I can expect to become a black belt in twice that time. I advance through life at half the speed of a nine-year old.
  4. Television – I determined it was time to tackle a movie with slightly more gravitas than Alice and Wonderland (the last feature film I watched in quarantine). Netflix had The Shawshank Redemption on rotation. I’d never seen it, had no idea what the plot was, and sat down to watch it with no advance research. Upon viewing, I became unduly morose, and spent 48 hours worried about whether there was any reasonable likelihood I would one day have to stage a prison break through a hole in the sewage piping.
  5. After a few comforting episodes of Parks and Recreation, I started Hollywood on Netflix, thinking it would be a cheerful cartoonish reimagining of post-war California. It is not; I’d say the early tone of the show is cynical at best. I watched the central character’s employment struggles for about fifteen minutes, became unduly morose, and went back to Parks and Recreation.
  6. I thought a third venture was warranted, and went back to that tried and true genre of British period soap operas. Julian Fellows of Downtown Abbey fame debuted a new show over the Easter weekend and I tuned in. Sure enough, the first episode had a surprisingly affecting death scene, after which I became unduly morose and swore off new content for the foreseeable future.

Reports from the front lines both locally and nationally are promising, but with an added dose of whimsy. Women can return to beauty parlors, but cannot have their hair blown dry. Nail salons may take customers, but manicurists must wear the equivalent of a moon suit to protect themselves and their customers. Gyms can hold classes, but only outside.

In a nutshell: businesses may take customers, but customers should stay home.

Drawing courage from the relatively tame scene locally, I stepped onto my front porch for the second time a few weeks following my neighbor’s assault.

Again, I blinked my eyes against all that new bright May light, and glanced down at my phone.

Per the news, giant murder hornets have arrived in the United States.

I retreated again.

The Egyptians understood plagues, and darned if I wasn’t going to follow their hunker down example.

Sarah Brown delights in the outdoors. When she is not frolicking in nature, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.