April 9, 2014

I Hate Starbucks

I very rarely these days go to Starbucks.  One, I'm not doing caffeine much anymore. I feel I might live longer if I stay away from the stuff.  Two, where I currently work, there are lots of smaller, less expensive coffee bars to visit. If I'm gonna down a tea or a decaff, I choose to go there.  Finally three - Starbucks feels sort of like an overdone waffle.  Yucky.  Limp.  Used to be something I loved as a child, now you can't pay me to touch it.  That type of overdone waffle.  Been there, done that, sort of bland.

There are days, however, when one must get a fix of some sort and one is limited - severely - in options to grab a cup of Joe.  Thankfully, the World Expansion of Starbucks has enabled just about every bo-funk town in America to get their own shop, and so recently, on a trip to the deep south, I found myself in one such place with no other options.

As mentioned, I'm not into coffee right now.  But I like other things, so as I stood at the counter - with not one soul behind me, mind you - I remembered hearing at another establishment someone asking for a Green Tea Chai Latte.  It sounded good to me, so I prepared myself to ask if this location could provide such a drink.

After about a minute of standing there, alone in the Starbucks of the deep south, imagine my surprise when Punk Rock Polly walked out to serve me.  Bleach blond with the roots showing; earrings in both eyebrows, nose and chin.  I don't know what you call them, but those earrings that are a huge circle and hang in your earlobe like a tribal shield.  Tattooed stars on her forehead and a teardrop under her left eye.  Gangster style, Punk Rock Polly.

I smiled. She did not.  Oh here we go.....


"I heard someone order something called a Green Tea Chai Latte.  Is there such a thing and if so, may I have a grande please?"

"Chai IS green tea. "

Taken a bit aback by the attitude, I continued to smile and said "alright, great. Thank you. I'd like a grande please."  I also mentally cataloged that a snot-nosed Starbucks kids had just schooled me, but no mind - I learned something valuable, right? Chai is green tea.  What the fuck ever.

"Do you want a chai tea or do you want a chai latte?"

At this point, the piercings, bad attitude and tear drop REALLY start to annoy me. Polly, I can dig up your sheet pretty damn fast if I wanted to and know everything about you in about 10 seconds flat - do you really want to be an asswipe to me?  I am morphing out of the shocked phase and moving quickly into "Phnx65" phase. I get itchy during this phase. And bitchy.  All told, I was pretty much close to going to town on this idiot.

BUT - it is the season of Lent, so I maintain.  I also realize this idiot can totally screw up my drink, so better to take the high road.  So I took a big breath and smiled once more  and said "oh I'm sorry, did I not already mention that? My apologies.  I'd like the chai latte in a grande cup. Thank you again for double checking."

"No problem.  Calling?"

Her friend behind the machine counter down the way answered "ready"......

"I need an Iced Venti Chai Tea."


I hate Starbucks. 

March 28, 2014

Go Have a Beer

I thought he might be disappointed in me.  Totally irrational, of course, but when you idolize someone and you want to be just like them, when it turns out you're not, it can do funky things to your mind.  So I was worried he might be disappointed.  I certainly was.

I've trained for 22 years now.  Started back when a guy I was dating said "hey, I need a female in this class I'm instructing, and you're an athlete. Want to give it a shot?" I was brand new to DC and needed a place to belong and friends, so I said sure.  These many years later, there are days I admit I wonder why I'm still doing it.  My nose, ribs, hand and arm have been broken.  I've had countless asthma attacks, some so severe I've been carted off to the hospital.  My knees and left shoulder are shot, and I have replacement surgeries in my future.  I deal with gigantic egos, fragile self-esteems, whiny & sometimes deadbeat students, broken spirits, demanding corporate sponsors, and on top of all of that, I have to pay taxes every year.  I drive thousands of miles to make events that don't really count for anything, and I spend thousands and thousands of dollars, much of it out of my own pocket, to be seen, to smile, to try and lead by example.  All of it to get closer to this gleaming prize in the sky - the rank of Master Instructor. Why?

It's a question I asked myself last Saturday night at 10pm, as I stepped on to the floor for the second half of my Sah Dan test (4th degree).  I'd been invited to attend the Masters Clinic last year - a HUGE honor, one I had not truly ever thought would happen, and I'd gone and made it through first year candidacy.  It was hard. It was beyond exhausting. 4 days, up at 5am, training non-stop until 6pm, then hours of lectures. Then Groundhog Day again - and again, and finally on the last day, after a full day of workouts, a written exam,  the golden moment at 10pm arrives.  The test. The test for all the glory and that damn red and black belt, that says the moment you put it on - yes, you know what you're doing and yes, you survived ALL of it to make it here. 

This year was different.  This year was much harder. I didn't anticipate that. I had trained and studied and I had thought I was ready.  I wasn't.  Long story short, about 45 minutes into the test, asthma got the best of me. I didn't quit though. Damn if I wasn't on that floor with my weapon, ready to go. Trying to go. Willing my stupid lungs to keep trying.  The brain is an extraordinary muscle and tool, and it is a power unto itself. The ER guys saw it differently though, as did the panel of judges.  The O2 monitor said I was at 82%.  Dangerously in the red. Time for an ambulance. Pride kicked in, despite the entire weekend and all my attempts to "empty my cup" and go back to white belt "sponge" status.  I rebelled.  I heaved and motioned for them to get away from me. Tears poured from my eyes, even though I didn't know it. My body knew it was over. My brain fought on. I fought with it. The Grandmaster actually came up and looked me in the eyes and told me it was ok, I'd come back again, I'd try harder, it was done, let it go. Listen to my body. 

Stupid fucking body.

I've failed at plenty of things in this life. I know how it works.  Failure makes you stronger, it's good for you. You try again, you come back harder, if you want it, it will happen, blah blah blah.  I'm 45 years old.  I get it. But oh my God, was that without question one of the hardest moments of my life so far.  To have the weapon taken out of my hands, to see the faces of my testing colleagues, to know it was done. I spent the next few hours in a hospital in nowhere Alabama, and I showed up at 7am for the morning workout with a brave face and I smiled and didn't let a soul see how crushed I was.  I sometimes think I should have been an actress.  I have a knack for it, I think.  Maybe in my next life.

Making the phone call was tough.  He'd been excited for me, and so proud.  Would that pride dissipate into disgust and disappointment when I told him that I'd scratched due to an asthma attack? Would it annoy him that he had a kid that couldn't do it? Couldn't push through the pain? Would he be ashamed of me?

I've said it before, and I realize how blessed I am to still be able to say it now, but man oh man, do I have a great father, and friend.  He was disappointed FOR me, not in me.  In fact, he was incredibly proud of me for pushing and almost a little mad at me for not listening to my body.  And then he said something to me which I will always treasure, because for me, it made 45 years worth of - in my own mind only - trying to prove myself to my hero, worth it.

"Kid, now you know what it feels like.  Think about it. How many times did I get to the playoffs, one game away from the Superbowl, just to have it all fall apart in the final minutes of the 4th Quarter?  Remember my last chance? We were on the goal line and they called me for holding. Back before instant replay.  Cost us a penalty and then we didn't score.  Later, they saw on the tapes that it was just a bad call, and that I hadn't done anything wrong.  But by then, it didn't matter.  Years of work, years of training, years of knowing you can do it, years of wanting it so badly you can taste it, and it all falls apart and there isn't a GD thing you can do about it.  I hate to say it honey, but I know exactly what you're feeling.  But you know what?  You really will become a better person for this.  You now know what this feels like - to get this close and have to hope you get the chance to try again. We both do, you and I.  Not everyone does.  Hell, most people will never know what this feels like, much less be able to take something away from it and come out better for it.  And that makes us different - but different in a good way.  You will get there - I have every confidence in you, and I know in your heart, YOU know you'll get there too. When it's time. When it is YOUR time.  Sounds cliche kid, but it's true.  Look what happened to me? Might not have made that Superbowl, but got into the Hall.  So you tell me.  Kid, for all of this you will be a better sportsman, a better instructor, a better friend, and a better individual. You will be tougher and stronger and more appreciative of all the glories, as well as the defeats, because you will have experienced them both.   And one day, as you keep teaching and training, there will be a student out there who needs you to be that better person, and to show them how it can be done.  You'll do that.  So don't give up, and remember that I'm proud of you.  And oh - honey?  Go have a beer, ok?  Because you've earned it. " 

360 days from now, I'll try it again.  And he's right.  I'll be better for all of this.  I already am.  Hell, if not one other thing changes, the very fact that I get to call this guy my dad makes me different - and better - for it all. How awesome is that?

The beer was really good.  Thanks dad.

February 11, 2014

Smurf Scrum

They see me.  Oh God, it's really happening now. I can't back out.  This crazy idea that I had to start a children's class in my martial arts studio? Really happening.  Still crazy, but now oh-so real.  What was I thinking?  I should have gotten a puppy first, right?  How did I think I could handle this?

Shit. They've locked on to me like a laser beam and now they've started to run.  Arms are flailing, screams are ensuing, some guy on a treadmill just fell off in his attempt to whip around and see what the commotion was.  There will be no escape.  I hope my parents know that I love them.  And my friends.  Did I make my bed before I left today? If they come in to clean through my things, will I be mortified on the other side because I left dirty underwear lying around and an unmade bed?  They are closer now.  I can see their beady little eyes.  And spittle.  Did I mention they were running in the middle of a major health club, in the cardio section? Yep. Major health club, in the cardio section. 150 people and trainers, all sweating and lifting and grunting and focusing.  Now totally distracted and glaring at me - the person responsible for the circus.


Their weary parents come in to view now.  Slowly slogging behind them. Man but do these poor people look beat to hell and back.  It's only 6pm on a Thursday, but you'd think these souls were coming off a bloody battlefield.  Huh - considering the high pitched wailing now coming from the first of them to trip and face plant, maybe it IS a bloody battlefield. The parents pick up the fallen and continue to shuffle their feet, tripping over small coats and shoes, and backpacks filled with unicorns and rainbows and transformers; sippy cups, juice boxes and fruit roll ups.

Holy shit they are upon me.  I can feel their breath now.  This is the end. Did I mention this is a children's class?  Um, yeah, not children as you're thinking about kids.... ages 8, 9, 10.  Potty trained.  Know their left from their right.  Nope, these are Tiny Tigers.  Ages 3, 4 and 5.  They look small and cute.  Trust me, they really do.  Like puppies before they shit on your floor or tear up your toilet paper.  But don't be deceived.  These kids are small demons with serious horns disguised in all that rainbow and transformer glory. DEMONS.

The crush is overwhelming. I am suddenly wrapped in small arms and legs and smiles and giggles.  It is a smurf version of a scrum.  People are still glaring at me, so I move quickly to open the doors and usher them inside the workout room. A room encased in glass of all things, so that my every upcoming humiliation can be fully witnessed and documented.  Oh the joy.  The scrum moves inside.  They break off and are now running like wild dogs all over the place.  My assistant instructors look like deer in headlights; frozen, utterly frozen, with panicked looks of true and honest fear on their faces.  I snap my fingers. Focus, people, focus.  That's right.  Deep breathing.  Now go line those demons up.  You can do it.  They can smell the fear so suck it up buttercup. You volunteered for this, remember that.

The parents have collapsed in a heap on the side of the room.  Will they criticize me? Will they tell me I'm too mean? Um, yeah. Apparently no.  One mother promptly falls asleep. ASLEEP! Another waves at me gleefully as she announces she's going for a drink and will be back later.  One father looks at me from his crumpled pile on the floor and says "good luck. You'll need it."

I take a deep breath.  And turn. So cute, all lined up, waiting to go.  Such a tremendous lie.

The next 30 minutes were the longest of my life.  Again, what the hell was I thinking? Who agreed with me that this was a good idea?  I work 60+ hours a week and commute on top of that. I already have enough trauma with the adult class I teach. WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?!?!?!?!?!

I soldier on.  My dad has always said "He who lives in hope, dies in shit."  I couldn't hope this would be OK. I had to MAKE it OK.  So we learned to stand up. And to then stand still.  That one was  painful.  We then learned to march like penguins.  Yes - I said like penguins.  Flapping our arms and making honking noises.  Outside the class, I saw money changing hands between two of the trainers - one of them had his two kids in the class.  They were shaking their heads and laughing.  Nice - apparently bets were being placed against me.  Honestly, I don't blame them.  I don't have the energy to blame them.  Midway through - a bathroom break.  Are you kidding?  Nope. My will broken, we thus march, like a bunch of baby ducks, in a straight line to the locker rooms, and come back 10 minutes later. That experience is a whole other post, folks.  In the cardio section, people aren't running or lifting anymore.  They've stopped to laugh.  And clap.  The demons are bowing and laughing.  Kids, I hate to break it to you. They ain't clapping for you.

How the hell can 30 minutes move this slowly?

Finally, it is over.  Well, not quite, because apparently it takes kids 20 minutes to put their shoes and coats on, and parents are really happy if you HELP them with this chore - because, you know, that's part of my teaching fee, isn't it?  The last demon decides to demonstrate something his father taught him - and he farts.  Right there in front of me, in the classroom. And then he runs screaming out of the room and back through the cardio section.  I gather my pride and the shreds of my sanity and turn the lights off, close the door, and limp back onto the thruway that will take me back through the cardio room to the other side of the club, where the adult class is now waiting.  Great - another hour of this, this time with the adult version of demons - those who don't pay on time, and forget their uniform, or have a "scratch that prevents me from training"..... I often have a very hard time determining who I want to drop kick more often.

Suddenly he is in front of me.  The farter.  Back in his jeans and his cute little coat.  Tussled blond hair and a big goofy (demonic) grin on his face.  Oh God, what now?

"Thank you for the class Ms. Phee.  That was awesome!"  And he puts his little hand up for a high-5.  Crap - I can't be upset with the cuteness.  All is forgiven.  I'll see you next time and we'll do it all over again.......