Here's the deal: My sister has a baller job. She works here in DC as the meetings and events planner for a large association, and part of her job is to go around the country, stay at fancy-ass hotels for free and see if they're nice enough to host whatever meeting she happens to be planning at that moment. Her association has a big meeting coming up next year in Omaha, so she went there last week to scope things out and I went along to write a hilarious blog post about my first experience in the Midwest.
We were there for a total of two days and the majority of that time was spent being courted by salespeople from the convention center, the Hilton, and the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau. Going in, these people knew that I would be there, that I'm Becca's sister, and that I write a blog. That was it. Things were nice and vague. However, over the course of our two days together, they tried to fill in some blanks and started to ask questions. And given the nature of my writing and her obvious association, this made my sister real uncomfortable.
Here's the thing: I would have totally been fine with lying about what I do. Trust me, I lie about it all the time. If I'm at a party or getting along with a stranger or something, obviously I'll tell them all about the blog. However, if I'm talking to a cab driver or the person cutting my hair or a hygienist or something like that and they ask me what I do, I generally make something up. More times than not, I'm an administrative assistant. "Where?" A small consulting firm. "Oh, that's cool." Yeah. It really is.
I do this for a variety of reasons:
1.) It shuts down the conversation. (The cruel irony of writing a book about misanthropy is that it's a hell of a conversation starter.)
2.) I'm lazy.
3.) I don't want The Lecture. "The Lecture" is the conversation that inevitably ensues when I'm stuck with a random person for a brief period of time and I tell them what I do. It varies slightly from person to person but in general, it's pretty consistent. I swear to God, this is almost the exact conversation I had a few months ago with a new gynecologist, mid-exam:
New Gynecologist: So, Ms. Rowland, what do you do?
Me: I'm a writer.
Gyno: What do you write?
Me: Non-fiction. And I have a blog.
Gyno: What kind of non-fiction?
Me: Ah, comedy, I guess.
Gyno: You're a comedy writer?
Me: Well, on my way to being one, I hope.
Gyno: If you want to be a comedy writer, what are you doing in DC?
Me: Uh, well—
Gyno: If you want to be a comedy writer, you have to live in New York or LA.
Me: That's true, but—
Gyno: Why don't you live in New York or LA?
Me: I actually did live in New York and I'd eventually like to move back, but—
Gyno: Well good, because you're going to have to. Comedy writers write for television right?
Me: Well, and books.
Gyno: No, that's no good. Television is where the money's at. OK, gonna feel some pressure now! So when are you moving back to New York?
Me: Um, I'm not really sure.
Gyno: Well, if you want things to move forward with your career, you need to do it soon.
Me: Ha ha, well, better not let my mom hear you say that, ha!
Gyno: Is that why you're still in DC? For your mother? Because you can't live for other people, Meghan.
Me: Oh. No, no, I wasn't being serious. I—
Gyno: This is your career, after all. If you need to move to New York, you need to move to New York. Although, you should probably move to LA. Slight pinch now! That's where all the comedy writers are. Unless you work for "The Daily Show" or "SNL", I guess.
Me: Ha ha. Yeah. Well, I should be so lucky.
Gyno: Do you do stand-up, Meghan?
Gyno: Why not?
Me: Well, I'm not really a performer. I just want to write.
Gyno: Well, you'll only get discovered if you do stand-up. Or improv. That's how all those guys are discovered. Little more pressure now!
Me: Yeah. I think, that's typically the case, but I guess I'm just trying to use my blog as a platform instead.
Gyno: No, you have to do stand-up or improv.
Me: [Sigh] OK.
Gyno: And you have to move to New York or LA.
Gyno: And you have to do it soon.
Gyno: And you have to start living for yourself.
Gyno: And you have to bear down.
If at all possible, I prefer to avoid that conversation. Although to be fair, the other party isn't typically Rolex-deep in my vagina when it happens. That was just a very, very special day for me.
So, yes, had my sister asked, I would have been more than willing to lie about what I do, but she had already told them that I was a blogger and we didn't go in with a game plan, so three glasses of wine and four Coors Lights later, there I was in a parking lot handing out 2b1b stickers to our new sales-friends.
"Thanks, Meg! I can't wait to read it!"
"UM, IT'S KIND OF R-RATED," my sister interjected.
"Well, that's OK."
"YEAH. YOU KNOW. JUST. YOU KNOW. PLEASE DON'T GET ME FIRED."
"Jesus Christ, Rebecca," I said under my breath. "It's not that bad."
She pulled me aside by my arm and whispered, "Meghan, you talk about [dramatic pause] masturbation!"
"Yeah, but not EVERY day."
Our new friends waved goodbye as they got into their cars and promised once again that they'd check out the blog. It was at this point that my sister—and I shit you not—yelled across a large stadium parking lot: "GRAIN OF SALT! GRAIN OF SALT!!! TAKE IT WITH A GRAIN OF SALT!!!!!1!!1!!!"
Flash forward to Sunday night. I had just finished writing the introduction for "1 Bird Investigates: Omaha, Nebraska!" and it was time to write the meat of the entry. I sat in my bed and stared at the cursor blinking on the overwhelmingly white screen. And I froze. I never freeze. My parents, my parent's friends, my friend's parents, ex-bosses, ex-boyfriends—they all read the blog and being aware of that fact never affects me in the slightest. And yet, knowing that those sweet Omahans were back in Nebraska and probably going to read what I was about to write completely fucked with me. Rebecca had planted a seed deep in my brain and it had grown into a giant literary cockblock. She Inception'd me! I tried to shake it off:
"Omaha was................good. I had a good time in Omaha. I definitely did not masturbate in the great city of Omaha."
God damnit. it wasn't working. I drew myself bath, turned on some Dr. Dre—or Mama's thinkin' music, if you will—hopped in, and tried to write a few paragraphs in my head:
"Mark from the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau took us on a lovely driving tour of Omaha. Although we were encouraged to ask questions, I tried really hard not to ask if Nebraska has a raging crystal methamphetamine problem because the majority of that tour felt like being on 'Intervention: The Ride'." Damnit. STRIKE ONE.
"Mark from the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau took us on a lovely driving tour of Omaha. We drove through Boys Town. Boys Town is a heartwarming organization and a beacon of hope and absolutely does not sound like the name of a gay gym where you can't swing a dead cat without someone giving you a hand job in the shower." STRIKE TWO.
"Mark from the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau took us on a lovely driving tour of Omaha. We went to Boys Town. It was very moving and I took this picture of the iconic statue of Boys Town founder Father Flanagan surrounded by the children he fought so valiantly to save.......................................................................BUT DOESN'T IT KIND OF LOOK LIKE FATHER FLANAGAN HAS A DAINTY LITTLE BALLERINA'S LEG FOR A WANG AND IT'S ABOUT TO GINGERLY KICK SOMEONE SQUARE IN THE GROIN 'CASUE OF THE ANGLE?!?!
STRIKE THREE. God damnit. I got out of the bath, robe'd up, and flopped down on my bed in defeat. I decided to watch an episode of "Maude" because I deeply believe that when in doubt—Maude, but one episode became two, two became three, three became a season, and a season became the complete series. Which leads us to right now: Wednesday morning and giving in to the fact that this blog post just isn't going to happen. I'm too self conscious. I'm too crass. It's probably a bad sign that I can't write without being all "poopy-poopy-fart-fart" or relying on an arsenal of swears, but at the same time, I believe it was a young Marshall Mathers who once said, "Will Smith don't gotta to cuss in his raps to sell his records; well I do, so fuck him and fuck you too." While I'm generally hesitant to take life advice from anyone from Detroit, I did spend my hard-earned treehouse dollars on a round trip ticket to Omaha for sole purpose of writing about it. I say I embrace my inner Eminem, dive in, and give you a quick and dirty Omaha wrap up. Please keep in mind that my thoughts are my own and not those of my employer*.
(*And in this case, my employer = my sister.)
1.) I deeply appreciated the weather in Omaha. It was sunny and 78-degrees throughout our entire stay. I can't tell you how genuinely nice it was to look at weather.com and see: "The temperature is: 78-degrees. It feels like: 78-degrees," and not: "The temperature is: 90-degrees. It feels like: The Devil's Asshole."
2.) People were so unbelievably polite. It started when we were going through security at Reagan and weren't even in the Midwest yet. I got all pissy because there was a family with three little kids in line in front of me who were all taking forever to get their shit together for the X-ray scanner. Annoyed, I loudly sighed and went around them only to end up setting the metal detector off myself, thereby completely holding up the line. As I struggled to quickly put my laptop back in my duffle and put on my shoes at the other end of security, the little kids I had obnoxiously sighed at pulled aside all of my crap for me and handed me back my jewelry piece by piece to make sure I got it all. Ugh. It took everything in me not to look at them and be like, "I'M SO SORRY. I'M SUCH AN ASSHOLE. I SAW YOUR BLOND HAIR AND BLUE EYES AND IMMEDIATELY GOT DEFENSIVE. YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND—I'M A JEW."
I told Becca about this as we sat down for a beer at the Sam Adams bar. "Dude, it's because they're Midwesterners! I'm telling you—they're all polite!" I asked her why she thought this was. "Well, think about it: they're all descended from pussies. Their early American ancestors couldn't hack it on the gritty East Coast but they didn't have the chutzpah to make it all the way to the West Coast, so they just kind of gave up somewhere in the middle." I realize that I'm not married, nevertheless a parent, but I can still securely say that I 100% trust my sister to teach my children U.S. History.
3.) Another blanket statement I'm going to make about Midwesterners is that they love shtick. I really don't know how to describe what I'm thinking of besides "shtick". They shtick ya. I guess another way to say it is that they like to be playfully difficult. For example:
"Can you please pass me the rolls?"
"UP—HOW BAD DO YOU WANT 'EM? HOW MUCH ARE YOU GONNA PAY ME? HUH? HUH? NAHHH, I'M JUST PLAYING WITH YA, HERE YOU GO."
It's shtick. I say this is a Midwestern thing because my brother-in-law and his father (Midwesterners) always shtick me and I got a ton of shtick out in Nebraska. While I'm a big fan of my brother-in-law and his father, I do not like shtick. It's not that I think shtick is mean-spirited or annoying—it's just that my brain literally can't compute it. I'm incapable of playing along with shtick when it's happening because in my head I'm like, "Shit, what did I do wrong? Why won't he just pass me the rolls? What did I say to piss him off?!" And then 10 seconds later I'm realize, "OH! He was just being fun. I get it!" But by then it's too late and I feel like an asshole because I've been staring back all wide-eyed and confused for slightly too long.
Take the case of Monte. Monte was our DC to Omaha flight attendant and I can say without exaggeration that he is my best friend in the entire world:
Monte was great. Monte and I connected immediately. Unfortunately, this connection also meant that he shticked me for the duration of our flight. For example, because I was sitting in the first row, there wasn't a seat in front of me to put my carry-on bag under. I've never sat in the first row of a plane before, so I was very confused when Monte came over and asked me to stow my purse in the overhead compartment for take off and landing. "I'll give it back to you once we're cruising," he said, "but in the mean time, you could possibly use it as a weapon and you look like the kind of girl who would." In retrospect, he was obviously kidding, but because he said it with such a straight face I was like, "Oh my God, is he kidding? Is that a joke? I'm wearing a maxi dress for Christ's sake! He has to be kidding! BUT 9/11 CHANGED EVERYTHING, I DON'T THINK HE CAN LEGALLY SAY THAT AND NOT BE SERIOUS!?" After what felt like forever, he finally chuckled and I stopped preparing my body to be slammed by an Air Marshall at any given second.
Or there was the time when I came out of the bathroom and Monte was waiting for me with a quarter in his hand. "Need a quarter?" he asked. Again, internal monologue: "What? A quarter? What the hell would I need a quarter for? DID I NOT FLUSH PROPERLY? Do you have to pay to flush on Fronteir? I know times are tough and they downgraded us to one cookie per flight, but Christ. He's still staring at me. He can't be joking. Why the shit would I need a quarter? I guess I did have to pay a euro to use some public bathrooms in Europe, so it's not that weird. HAS MONTE BEEN TO BRUGES??" And again, Monte finally chuckled, patted me on the shoulder and moved on. Frankly, I'm still confused.
I feel like I should be able to get shtick because I'm such a deeply sarcastic person. I'm quick. I'm clever. I like giving people a hard time. I should be able to get it. Alex had a professor in Madrid who once told him that to the Spanish, Portuguese sounds like someone trying to speak Spanish with a dick in their mouth. That is exactly how I feel about shtick. It's like, logically I should be able to understand Shtick because Shtick and Sarcasm are next-door neighbors, but then someone starts shticking me and I can't understand what they're saying through all those balls in their mouth.
4.) Although most of my time with the convention center/Hilton salespeople was spent socializing, I did tag along to a few of Becca's meetings and OOF. It has been a while since I've been in a professional setting. When your only co-worker is Tulane Chris and your boss is an editor your own age who emails you all day about "X-Files" episodes and whether or not we should seriously approach Gary Shandling about doing a murder-mystery TV series, it's easy to forget how to conduct yourself professionally. I chose to deal with this in Omaha by not talking. At all. But then we all sat down for a lunch tasting at the convention center and the conversation somehow turned to blue collar comedians, specifically Ron White. Before I knew it, "UGH—VOMIT!" had flown out of my mouth. Loudly. I apologized and explained that I just really, really don't like Ron White. Inevitably, somebody asked me why not. "He's just...um...well, as a human being, he just...I just feel like he...I mean, I've never met him, but...he seems like he would...you know...I mean..." Painful second after painful second went by as I searched my brain for the most professional, eloquent, and non-offensive way to say that Ron White just seems like the kind of guy who would...rape you. The term "might force himself upon you" came to mind, but I ultimately went with, "Um. He weirds me out." And I call myself a writer...
5.) I swear I'm not just saying this because today is her birthday, but I have such an unbelievable amount of respect for my sister and what she does. It's like, you write "I am a detail-oriented, highly organized, motivated self-starter," on so many cover letters that the words begin to completely lose their meaning, and then you meet someone who actually is all of those things and it's like, holy shit—narwhals are real! all over again.
6.) I'm very weary of salespeople because my last "real" job was in a position supporting salespeople who were the worst human beings on the planet. When it dawned on me in Omaha that we were about to spend an intense amount of time with salespeople, I got incredibly anxious. That being said, these were the nicest fucking people I have ever met in my entire life. And they may have just been bullshitting us to get my sister to sign a contract with them, but fuck it—they did it well. By the time we left, they felt like old friends of the family. Sitting here right now, I can legitimately say that I miss them. One of the saleswomen from the Hilton told me in passing that she's in DC about six times a year and I had to bite my tongue so, "HEHEHE ZOMG DO WANNA GO TO DINNER NEXT TIME YOU'RE IN TOWN?!!??!?!" didn't fly out of my mouth. And frankly, had it, I'm sure she would have said yes! Because she was so nice!
The cynic in me keeps reminding myself that they were only nice because they wanted the money from my sister's account, but it felt genuine. And in my world, that's newsworthy. At a certain point when we were all out to dinner before the College World Series game, they began to press me for details about what I do. I told them my "Story" from college graduation to where I am now, fully expecting them to not take me seriously and nervously glancing at my sister for help the entire time. When I was done, the sales representative form the convention center paused, looked me in the eye and said, "Meghan, I am so proud of you." I know I had a few glasses of Malbec swishing around inside of me at the time, but I thought I was going to burst into tears. To clarify, it's not like I'm not used to getting support or anything—my family and friends are insanely supportive. It's just that I'm used to telling people outside my inner circle about this shit show and getting jaded responses in return. "That's...nice." "Oh. Cool. I had a Xenga in college?" "Well, I saw Julie & Julia and thought it was...cute."
But this woman continued, "You just must be so proud of yourself."
"Well, thank you," I said, awkwardly.
"Really, just so proud."
"Truthfully, it's hard to feel proud because we don't monetize and monetizing is how I gauge success. I know that sounds really shallow, but you know...it's almost been four years. Mostly I just feel really stupid and like why am I still doing this?" (I mean, Christ. I've had therapists who I've admitted less to.)
"You can't look at it that way, Meghan. You can't. Because you're doing something special: you're chasing your dream. Even if nothing happens to your career and in three months not a single book sells, absolutely no one can take that away from you."
Normally being told to "chase my dream" because "nobody can take that away from me" would be enough to make me vomit my moderately priced chicken dish back up into my meagerly priced handbag, but coming from this woman, with all of the heart and emotion behind it—shit got REAL. She continued on for a bit and then kept doing that thing where she looked at me and shook her head back and forth while repeating "SO impressed". Had Rebecca and I chugged a few Bud Lights in our hotel room before coming to dinner like we had planned, I probably would have jumped across the table, burrowed myself betwixt her breasts, cried hysterically and asked her to say "SO impressed" a few more times and really enunciate so I could make it my new ringtone. I don't know if all Midwest salespeople are that genuine, but fucking hats off to Omaha. Of course Rebecca ended up signing a contract with them and had I had the money, I would have throw down a fucking 20 of my own because whatever the contract ended up being, trust me, they deserve more.
7.) As mentioned, we saw a College World Series baseball game and it was awesome. We sat in the MECA box and I fell in love with a Hilton employee's son who was also in said box. I'm not naming names, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that it happened. He went out of his way to shake my hand twice. I don't know. In some countries I could be pregnant. When Becca and I were drinking $5 pitchers of margaritas the next day at the American GI Forum (because that did happen), I said that if we were in a rom-com, I'd miss my plane and dramatically burst into the kid's office to be like, "I CAN'T LEAVE YOU!!!!" We then tried to think of what said rom-com about a big city gal who goes to Omaha and falls in love at a baseball game would be called. Becca had some good baseball punny ones, but we ultimately decided to go with one of my gems: The Seventh-Inning Vagina Stretch. You're welcome for that mental picture.
8.) So, yes. $5 pitchers of margaritas and $1 delicious enchiladas at the American GI Forum on Fridays in Omaha. It's a real thing:
And a great thing.
9.) And a potent thing. I was like, lose-your-virginity-in-a-frat-house-bathtub drunk AN single drink in, which is very uncharacteristic of me. I talked about the kid a lot, which led to this slurry exchangege:
Me: I mean, I'd move to Omaha. Shhhhhit yeah I'd move to Omaha! You have to make sacrifices for love, dude.
Rebecca: Yes. Like getting to know someone.
10.) Speaking of Rebecca's sass-mouth, she told everyone in our box about how college athletics stress me out because I can't stop thinking about how the student athletes balance it with their schoolwork. It was embarrassing. If not accurate. While it was nice to not have to think about the in-school factor during the game, a Cal outfielder quite literally dropped the ball and let UVA score a few more runs. You could see how upset he was for like 20 minutes afterwards and I thought I was going to have a panic attack from secondhand sports failure anxiety. So instead of leaning over to ask Becca questions about time management, I kept leaning over all, "DO YOU THINK HE'S OK?! I FEEL HORRIBLE!!! IS HE GOING TO GET RAZZED IN THE DUGOUT?? WILL I GET IN TROUBLE IF I RUN OUT ONTO THE FIELD AND HUG HIM??" Finally one of the convention center salespeople leaned over, put her hand on my knee and said, "Aw Meghan, you have such a big heart!" Internally, I had a field day with that one. I was like, "GAWD, I really do have a big heart! And it so rarely gets noticed! I'm a sweetheart!" Later when said saleswoman went to the bathroom, I leaned over to Becca with a shit-eating grin on my face and said, "Soooooooo, did you hear her tell me that I have a big heart??" "Yeah. Well," she responded, "If anything, it's just proof that she clearly doesn't know you." RAZZED!
12.) If you held a gun to my head and forced me to complain about one thing on our trip, it's that I had to keep playing the old "Don't Blog About It!" game. "Don't Blog About It!" is fairly self-explanatory: it's when someone finds out that you're a blogger and then constantly asks you not to blog about asinine things that you would have never blogged about in the first place. It is, without a doubt, my biggest blogging pet peeve. I'd take 500 anonymous comments telling me to eat my own shit if it meant avoiding even one round of "Don't Blog About It!"
Although my track record may suggest otherwise, I, for the most part, always ask if I'm going to write about something that a friend or acquaintance specifically said or did. Similarly, my friends don't censor themselves around me and rarely ask me not to mention something on the blog. More times than not, they trust my judgement and that I'm not a completely shitty person. Because of this, my friends are not the ones I have to play "Don't Blog About It!" with. It's always random fucking friends of friends who have clearly never read the blog and always ask me not to blog about something extremely personal or fucked up that I would never even blog about. For example: I'm at a party with a group of people and a friend asks someone that I don't really know well, "Oh, Blah Blah, how is your grandfather doing?" "Well truthfully—and Meg, please don't blog about this—he really took a turn for the worse over the weekend and the doctors don't think he'll make it past Wednesday." WHAT?!?!? WHY THE SHIT WOULD I EVER BLOG ABOUT THAT?? Like, beyond the fact that this isn't 2 Tragedies 1 Blog, beyond the fact that believe it or not, I'm not a completely horrible person, the shit these people go out of their way to ask me not to blog about is never even good material! It's like, OH RASPBERRIES! There goes a comedic blog post for the ages: "Did You Know a Friend of a Friend's Grandfather is Terminally Ill?" Drats! I really thought that one was going to go viral, too! Christ.
So, yes. Didn't love playing that, but on a scale of one to Ron White, it really wasn't that bad.
11. ) This is a sign for the "Gas Works Grill" in Ameritrade Park:
I mention this only because Becca thought it was a giant sign that said "GAY SWORDS" and that's never not funny to me.
All in all, our trip to Omaha was pretty awesome. I can definitely understand the appeal of the Midwest, but much to the dismay of my handshake fiance and gynecologist, I think I'm going to stick to the surly, rude, insincere, heartless East Coast. Not a day goes by in this swampy hellhole that I don't want to kill someone or need to take a Xantac/Xanax "Let It Go Cocktail", but shit—thank God I can blog about it!