Lessons in Letting Go.

I’ve always been a control freak. I’m not sure why that is, but i’ve always just enjoyed having complete control over as many things that go on in my life as possible. Maybe it all began with my deep love of making lists as a child. Or maybe it was when I began to run my life obsessively with a scheduler/organizer in high school. Holidays, parties, club meetings and activities, exams, birthdays. It all got jotted down. And when things didn’t go to plan, as would often happen, I would have to scratch things out with my pen, leaving a big ugly stain on the paper and a bad taste in my mouth as a result. Like I said – control freak.

The funny thing is that some of the greatest moments of my life, some of the most fantastic things that have happened to me, were completely and totally unexpected. It seems that more often than not, when I let go, I allow the universe to throw me some awesome bones. My most memorable adventures came about at times when I decided not to plan ahead, and to just say fuck it and go with the flow. And then there’s my life now – wife and mom-to-be, roles I would have never written down into any $15 planner, and yet these are some of the coolest things i’ve gotten to be yet.

Back in ’05 when I first began practicing yoga, my instructor had a saying she would always end class with: Let Go and Let God. She always made sure to remind us she didn’t mean that toward any particular denomination. It had nothing to do with a specific religious belief. It was more about letting go and giving in to whatever forces might exist. Whether you believe in a god or goddess, or maybe you’re pantheistic, or an atheist, or a satisfied agnostic like myself, it just means that in order to live a good life, you should submit yourself to the random bits of chaos and the possibility of something other than ourselves controlling what happens next.

I was watching a movie with JB today and it reminded me of how much I love him and how grateful I am about everything that’s happened and everything that will happen. It reminded me about how far i’ve gotten when i’ve finally learned to relax and let go. It’s not always easy and I’ve been holding on tight lately to any control I have over my life. But it felt good to relax again, good to give in, good to let myself think less and feel more. So good to let go.

Starting Off On The Right Foot.

Wouldn’t it be great if every morning could be like this?

There’s nothing particularly special about this morning, except for the incredibly zen state I’m in. So I guess that’s pretty special. Some mornings are hellish. The alarm clock rings like nails on a chalkboard. Your body aches and you wonder if you’ve been pro-wrestling in your sleep. It feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the night ever.

But some mornings are just right. I rolled over in bed and smiled at my husband who was smiling right back. Saying “I love you” in the mornings is definitely a great way to begin a day. I had a dream in the early AM about giving birth. I told JB about it and how I know I need to begin getting serious about preparing for the big event. “It’s like preparing for a marathon,” I said. And it’s true. This is going to be the single most exhausting and challenging physical experience of my life. I like being able to tell JB my dreams.

“I have to get ready for work,” he said, shortly after the alarm rang. I kissed him and nodded. Off he went to let Hobbes (the cat) in and into the shower next. My aching back told me I should do a little stretching. Some cat cow stretches and a few minutes in child’s pose got the blood circulating. Hunger pangs got me out of the room and I served myself some cereal and milk while Hobbes darted in between my legs, vying for my attention. Spoiled little brat. Pet, pet, pet.

And then, I wound up here. Like I said – nothing special. Except that i’m writing, and even if it’s not life altering prose, it’s still something. Sometimes writers get caught up in perfection, in wanting to produce this grand and epic work because everything else seems so mundane. But we forget that sometimes it’s just about working out. You don’t need to run the marathon every day, and you most certainly don’t need to win it each time. Before you ever get there, you just need to stretch, to move around, and get started off on the right foot.

Good morning to you all.

Find Some Magic.

My new apartment is a quiet mess. Cardboard boxes and plastic bags full of clutter are strewn about on the beige wall-to-wall carpeted floors. The air conditioner hums rhythmically and sometimes you can hear the patter of the vertical blinds softly crashing into one another. Our cat, Hobbes, adjusts himself into another curled position beside me on the futon. Outside, I hear nothing. So very different from the loud engines and horns and chatter of tourists below when we lived in our little South Beach sublet.

The first week here was an adjustment. I’d been spending every waking hour of the past almost 3 weeks with JB as he’d been on vacation, and then again as we moved. But then it was time for him to work again and for me to stay at home, within the confines of a city I know next to nothing about. We had yet to get our internet connected, so it was even quieter than usual. No chatting with friends. No checking of e-mail. No updating of blog. No reading up on other people’s lives. I couldn’t so much as look up where the local library was. Frustrating and lonely. It only made me realize how incredibly spoiled I am by technology and by my husband.

I’ve always lived in the city – even when I was so convinced I lived in the suburbs. It was not as suburban as this. It’s not the kind of small-town magical life that I envy from shows like Gilmore Girls. At least, I have yet to find the real magic here. But maybe magic is something created rather than found. Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong. Or at the very least, it might be that it’s something that needs to be sought out. I might never find any magic sitting still in my living room. But maybe i’ll find something if I go for a walk. Or a drive. Or get lost.

Today’s assignment: find some magic. Because I want my daughter to live in a magical world, not a boring one. I don’t want her to look around and see the negatives like I sometimes do. I don’t want her to become so easily disillusioned. I can’t stand the thought of her in a world that’s less than wonderful and beautiful and special and perfect. So today, I will seek out just a little bit of magic so that I can have something to show her once she’s here.

Baby steps for a new year.

Every year, the SciFi (er, SyFy) channel hosts a Twilight Zone marathon on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. I had completely forgotten about it until I went to my kitchen to heat up some pasta and scrolled through the guide until I had the genius Rod Serling on my television. My brother came downstairs for a minute and I had the luck of giving him the plot for one of my favorite (albeit tragic) episodes, Time Enough At Last, when we heard my sister in law shouting from upstairs. My brother left to check on her and my nieces and then I heard more shouting, except it sounded less angry and more excited. When I reached their bedroom, I saw my baby niece Sophie standing up by herself for the very first time. There she was, tiny little fingers gripping the top of her crib, a smile on her face from ear to ear. Her twin sister, Chloe, was in her mother’s arms, watching the commotion calmly. My brother ran for the cameras and I became the impromptu videographer of Sophie’s first solo stand.

You always hear about people recording and fussing over a baby’s first steps, but even being able to stand up alone is a remarkable accomplishment. It sets the groundwork, after all. It was awesome to see how happy she was at discovering a new ability. Over the past 8 months, I’ve watched Sophie and Chloe grow from the tiniest 3lb and 4lb newborns, barely making a peep, into these curious little girls that squeal at the sight of their daddy. There’s a scene that comes to mind from Lost in Translation, where Mr. Harris (Bill Murry) is discussing fatherhood with Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). He tells her how children eventually become the most “delightful people you will ever meet in your whole life.” Getting to know Chloe and Sophie over all this time, I think I finally understand what he meant.

Chloe and Sophie - No longer content with sitting around.

But that’s not what I wanted to say. Of course they’re delightful little humans. What I’m fascinated with, however, is their development. Hell, everyone’s development. We start off so completely helpless, so dependent on caretakers to feed us and change us and keep us clean and keep us from harm and then slowly, we begin to develop all these skills. You learn to sit up, and then you finally stand, and soon you walk and run and fall and get back up again. I hadn’t really thought about the process of learning a new skill, or the patience it requires, in a long while. Sophie’s first solo stand was a life altering accomplishment for her. She won’t be content with just sitting any longer. She’s going to wake up in a few hours and she’ll try standing again. And while she might fall or just not get it right immediately, there’s something about the innate need to strive forward, to progress and evolve, that won’t allow her to simply sit still for the rest of her life. This in itself is more inspirational than all the Nike Just Do It commercials and Hang In There kitty cat posters in the world combined.

Sophie now wants more for herself, whether she realizes it yet or not. We all begin with this drive. We’re little sponges as children, eagerly absorbing as much information as possible. Because everything is new, life is continuously fascinating. So why is it then that as we get older, we slow down our inherent desire for more? Why is it that we simply begin to accept the status quo, that we no longer view the daily things we do as exciting adventures but instead dismiss all of these incredible abilities we have as boring and mundane?

Sophie plotting her next move.

One can always learn something new from another person, especially from those you least expect it. My teacher today was Miss Sophie Faith, who today decided she wasn’t going to take life sitting down anymore (i’m a sucker for puns, what can I say?) She’s inspired me to begin taking my own series of baby steps, to continue on the path to writing better, traveling more, and having even greater adventures. It’s even more fantastic that it happened on the first day of the year, a day when we’re all reflecting on the past and looking forward with eager hopes of an even better set of 12 months.

I encourage everyone to think about the simplicity of learning new things today and every day. Take a new approach to life and try to see everything you do with fresh eyes. You might learn that you’re no longer content simply standing around and that those baby steps aren’t far behind.

2011 down, 2012 to go.

It’s the last Friday of the year, and after an infuriating final Thursday of the year, during which I couldn’t so much as type an appropriate sentence, I’m back in the swing of things. Maybe it’s waking up at the crack of dawn that gets my productive gears in motion. Or maybe I was just really in need of a good night’s sleep.

The past few weeks, months have been a complete blur. Ever since I returned from my trip, it’s been difficult getting in to a real routine. Being unsure of what to do with the end of my year, I decided to take on a seasonal retail gig at a small design store at one of the local malls. I probably couldn’t have asked for a better retail experience (my first after 27 years on the planet). I met lots of interesting folks and learned that when I really want to, I can be a pretty decent saleswoman. I also learned that most of us don’t really need things like spaghetti measures, but that when we see one that is aesthetically pleasing and functional, we tend to wonder how we ever did without it.

2011 has been a strange year, to say the least. I recall 2010 ending and wanting nothing more than to get on with my life. I’m ready for this one to end as well, but it’s almost bitter sweet. I’ve had so many incredible moments this year and met so many amazing people, people that helped me along the way, people that have inadvertently changed my life for the better, whether they realize it or not. Luck has really been on my side. It had to be when I left home with not more than $400 in my pocket and managed to see a fair amount of this country on my own, sleeping on the couches of complete strangers, traveling on buses and trains with all my possessions in tow.

I don’t even really know how to list everything that’s happened. Eventually, some of those stories will get thrown in to a book. For now, here’s a short run down of my favorite moments of 2011:

The day my nieces were born. My sister in law had an extremely complicated pregnancy and had to be on bed rest for 6 of the months that she was pregnant. The girls were supposed to be born in June but April 22nd, they decided they couldn’t wait any longer. I was having some post-work cocktails at Sunset Tavern with my friend Allie when I got the call to rush over to South Miami Hospital. At 3 and 4 lbs respectively, my twin nieces, Sophie Faith and Chloe Grace Gomez were born. Considering I don’t really want to have children of my own, it’s nice to have two that I can mold into my ways without actually having to do the whole “giving of birth” thing. More than that, it’s nice to see how happy my entire family is now that they’re here – these brand new little humans! Side note: It’s been 8 months and I still haven’t changed a diaper. Go me!

On a side note: They are pretty damn cute, aren’t they? Sophie’s got my scowl, for sure. Punk rock.

Getting rained on in NYC. I must have gotten soaked practically every night that I was in NYC this past summer. Even though it was a nuisance, it was the best way to get my trip going – a real cleanse. The rain is also how I met some new awesome NYC folks (Danny and Lori). And even though by the end of my week there I was practically cursing the city, it made me realize that to love something, you really gotta love everything about it, even when it’s got you running ankle deep in cold puddles.

The magic hour (specifically the day of the carnival) in Athens, Ohio. I didn’t know what to expect when I was traveling to Ohio. I was going to hang out with my old internet friend Adam (who i’d met the previous year in Miami for a drink) for two weeks. It all felt a bit strange. Luckily, the barriers came down quickly and we became fairly close (as much as two people being together nearly 24 hours a day for 14 days can be). One of his favorite traditions was to go outside when the sun was setting, what he termed: The Magic Hour. Like falling in love, we stood outside practically every afternoon watching the colors of the sky alternate, pinks and violets and lavenders and periwinkles, detailed with pale stratus and cumulus and cirrus.

On one particular afternoon, we went on an afternoon date to the Athens County Fair and the magic hour hit just as we were leaving. After hours of ferris wheeling and nacho eating, it was the perfect end to a fantastic day.

Seeing windmills for the first time en route to Chicago from Colombus, Ohio. Something in me changed at that moment. I imagined understanding what Quixote saw. I imagined more.

A tour of St. Louis with a comedian, listening to Bon Iver’s self-titled. I was on my way to St. Lou from Chicago, happy to be out of the city that held me captive for 2 weeks longer than it should have, when I started messaging back and forth with a comedian on one of those awfully familiar and free dating sites (you know the one). Kevin (not his real name – have I mentioned that I usually switch names out yet? If I haven’t, there’s the disclaimer) first picked me up from the free art museum (St. Louis has an incredible amount of free entertainment!) and took me out for some pizza and conversation. While I was staying with other (also equally as awesome) people in the STL, I mostly hung out with Kevin. He asked me if i’d ever heard of Bon Iver (pronounced bon hiver in French, but they drop the H for some reason). I said no, because I’d never heard the name pronounced like that. Then it hit me that the name meant “good winter” in French, and I felt instantly silly at never having made the connection before. We listened to their self-titled album several times as Kevin was really into it and so was I. It just so happened that it was one of the few albums I listened to on repeat throughout my entire trip. If you haven’t downloaded/bought it yet, please do yourself a favor and go do it right now. Here’s one of my favorite tracks to convince you to do it:

My situation with Kevin was much different than my situation with others, and I’m still not sure why. Sometimes I still wonder.

A night on Frenchmen Street (New Orleans). I fell in love with New Orleans the minute I arrived. The Amtrak terminal was nothing special, and I was upset at how hot it was compared to STL. Still, there was something about the energy of the place. I stayed with several Couchsurfers while I was there, plus an old friend from Miami, so I was able to get a nice idea of what the different neighborhoods were like. But mostly, it was Frenchment Street that got me by the heart strings. On one particular afternoon, I wandered over and hung out at the BMC, where I met an old tugboat captain who later invited me to dinner and a smoke at his apartment across the way. He introduced me to the Apple Barrell and Checkpoint Charlie’s and the Blue Nile. From there, I hung out with a keyboardist who was playing while I was at the BMC. He took me on my first Vespa ride around the museums and back to the Quarter and then I hung out with my friend Karina and her friends, hopping between reggae at Cafe Negril and jazz at Maison. On another night, we wound up at Mimi’s where I met (and subsequently forgot) several handsome gentleman and ran in to my first NOLA hook up, a sweet and unusual boy who had treated me to ice cream and a mini-tour of the Quarter some days prior. There really is no better way to describe those nights on Frenchmen other than complete and absolute FUN.

Settling in with my group of girl friends. I think it’s been a while since I had a female pack of ladyfriends, but i’d say right now that’s who make up the majority of my social circle. It’s nice to have people that you can depend on, bitch to, and hang out with. They’re the people who make Miami life worth living. To my girls, thank you for making 2011 freaking awesome!

As for now, I need to get ready for a shopping date with one of my ladyfriends, to hunt down an outfit for NYE. I’m putting together some CDs for the drive around town, catching up with 2011’s best of (thanks, Pitchfork!)

Happy 2011 to all of you!

 

PS. You may have noticed some changes to the site. More where that came from very soon!

Alice and Floyd – an excerpt

I know I haven’t written anything in here since October, and I do apologize for it. It seems I’ve been in a bit of a creative rut I’m only now beginning to kick. Maybe I’m finally feeling the pressure of the end of the year. I began working on another couple of stories but started this one up tonight and I’m kind of hoping I can start up a little ritual, writing a bit of it each night after work. I should also be writing up another (LONG overdue) piece for GlobalGrasshopper.com this week and maybe I’ll try to get back to my NYC Stories soon for those wondering what happened (or didn’t happen) that night with the DJ, not to mention more tales from my adventures on the road earlier this year.

Anyway, this is obviously a rough draft, so keep that in mind. In any event, meet Alice and Floyd:

 

Alice could feel the mucous collecting in her sinuses, and her throat getting scratchy and sore, and her eyes watering, and the muscles surrounding her bones aching more and more, and how there was nothing she could do. She would have to ride it out.

She didn’t want to be sick; didn’t really need to. There had always been a good excuse to stay home from work, hiding under the covers, craving the attention of Floyd. He was never more attentive than when she was sick. That whole loyalty bit really kicked in when she was sick. Floyd Nightingale, with the Vaporub and the hot chamomile tea and the remote control for the television; her clammy fingers pressing on the little rubber rectangles, feeling the painted numbers as she switched from channel to channel. He even brought her the pink slippers her mother had bought her one Christmas, which she rarely remembered to use. That was, until she got sick twice a year, and she recalled her mother’s nagging: Put on your slippers before you catch your death!

“Need anything else, baby? I gotta go or I’ll miss the train,” Floyd’s smooth as silk voice echoing from the bathroom as he finished fussing with his hair. He’d gotten a haircut a few days before but the barber had gotten a phone call half way through and his distractions were obvious near the right ear and all around the crown of his head.

“No… I’m okay. Well, wait, no. Actually, can I get some more water please? And you said there’s money for food, right? I don’t think I can get up to make anything today. I feel so weak,” she said, going from one thought to the other as she usually did.

“I left you a $20 on the counter for whatever you need,” he said as he entered the bedroom with a fresh glass of water. She took a few steady sips and smiled, putting the glass back on the window ledge where she normally kept it on nights she slept over. It all felt so familiar. Back in his house, in his bed, which had once been theirs. She had even helped him pick it out, even given him $50 for it, and ridden home with him in the Buick that day. She could remember it. A Sunday, and they had been afraid of rain but luckily they made it home in the nick of time.

And now here they were, 31 and 43 respectfully. And he was still the same but not at all and she was nothing if not a composite shadow of who she once was. Floyd knelt down to give her a quick kiss on the forehead, and she reached her hands up to adjust the navy blue tie around his neck, and it all seemed so foreign, to see him going to work in a tie, to see the pomade in his hair, his teeth freshly whitened from a visit to the dentist the week before. He’d really made it, or at least he was finally giving the appearance that he had. Her fingers stroked the side of his cheek, the stubble pricking like men’s faces will do sometimes. A grin on his face, he kissed the palm of her hand.

“I’ll be back in a few hours. Watch your TV shows and tell me all about them when I get back, but don’t get up unless you have to!”

            And out the door he went, the ghost of his cologne lingering on everything he’d touched before he left, including her forehead, including her palm, and on the water glass as well. She drank some more and settled on an episode of the Brady Bunch, where Bobby and Cindy try to make it in to the Guinness Book of World Records.

_______________________________________________

It wasn’t that Floyd was a bad guy and it wasn’t that Alice was a bitch, although Alice could certainly see how it could be interpreted that way, and Floyd could tell that was how people might have seen it at certain moments. It was just a matter of timing, so to speak.

They met so many years before, working together at a little music shop. He was a manager there before she’d even heard of the place – a local business that her mother had been going to for years when she was growing up. It was the holidays and she was just shy of 19, looking for a little part time job to stave off the boredom while on break from school. In she went with resume in hand and not a hair out of place, walked right up to the counter and said, “Hi, I’m Alice and I was wondering if you might be hiring for the season. I’ve got my resume right here and I’m ready to work.”

Floyd was shuffling through a stack of papers. He looked up and saw her: big brown eyes, lashes fluttering, braces catching every light in the store.

“I see. Yes, we are hiring right now, just a temporary thing. But let me get you an application, just a second,” he said, pushing back the hand she had extended with her resume and walking to the back of the store.

He hired her 3 days later and on the 4th day he knew it hadn’t been a mistake, but that it also had been. She was a hard worker, albeit a bit clumsy at times. There wasn’t a day that went by where she didn’t knock something over with an elbow or a hip or that she didn’t step on someone’s foot or that she didn’t accidentally hang up a telephone call when taking an order. It was endearing. She was endearing; so much different from Becca, his wife, and yet they both had a similar laugh, the kind where it sounded as though they’d been shocked into hysterics and then slowly subdued into a light chuckle. The whole thing made him uneasy.

 

Constructive criticisms and other musings always appreciated!

Rough Drafts of My Nicaraguan Stories

Earlier this year, I began putting together a series of short stories about sex and love and debauchery and travel that I essentially plan to publish. It’s an on-going process that I’m either too busy for or not motivated enough to work on. However, I promised myself I would have all the stories completed (at least a rough draft of each) by end of year. I’ve spent the whole day trying to think of what to blog about, trying to push myself to type anything out, when I remembered that promise and finally opened up the word document that contains more than 50 pages of memories and almost-memories and heavily-fictionalized life. I worked on Virgin Territory a little (a piece I posted about once on here before) and today I was working on another piece, with the working title of “Pochomil y no Poneloya” (I need to come up with something better). Since I’ve been trying to work more on my travel stories, I figured I’d share en excerpt from this one today. Advice is much appreciated!

Photo by Jaime Buitrago

 

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

“The maldito mosquitoes are making a full feast of my body, I can’t stand it anymore! We need to get out of here!”

My cousin Gaby was lying on the bed with her head and arms dangling over one of the corners. I was sitting Indian style on the small cot next to her, scratching away at a million pink welts. It was my third time visiting Managua and I still wasn’t getting used to being lunchmeat for the swarm of flying parasites that followed me around incessantly. We could hear my Tia’s novellas loud and clear in our room, just like she could probably hear our conversation. The walls at my Tia’s house were incomplete; they prevented you from seeing into the next room but except for the outside walls, they didn’t connect directly with the tin roof, so privacy was exceptionally hard to find. I’d never seen anything like it. Nicaragua was full of homes with disconnected walls like this. I walked over to the white, electric fan in the corner of the room and let the artificial wind hit my face.

“What about Poneloya or Pochomil? They’re both about the same distance and I bet I could get Javier to take us!”

The prospect of a beach night got me to jump away from the fan and I began digging through my bags for a bathing suit while Gaby called her boyfriend. Javier worked the bar at a joint called Samantha’s, two blocks from Gaby’s place. I’d met him a few times and he seemed like a decent sort of guy, the kind that was always up for good times and rarely had a frown on his face. He was older than Gaby by almost a decade, which had alarmed her mother when they first began dating when she was 17, but he had stuck around for a few years and now that she was 20, her mother had begun to hope he’d end up making her his wife.

“Alright, we’re all set! It’s gonna be me, you, Javier, and Yader. You remember Yader, right?”

I nodded. Yader also worked at Samantha’s. He’d bought me drinks a few times over the past week in hopes of getting to know me better, and he already knew to bring extra lime for my vodka sodas, so I guess it was working. His shaved head made him look kind of gruff until you noticed he also had these really great dimples and then you realized he was just a big puppy dog. I liked him just fine.

Gaby tossed my blue triangle top and it landed at my feet. The night was looking up.

 

Chapter 2

Javier honked the horn of his 91 Corolla twice and we scurried out of the apartment, happy to be free from our skeeter-ridden prison. Gaby took the passenger seat, leaving Yader and me in the back.

“Hola, mi Chinita,” he greeted me as I closed the door behind me.

We picked up two 12-packs of Tona at the last gas station before leaving town. Javier had already brought a bottle of Flor de Cana he swiped from the bar for good measure. The car’s a/c was broken so we kept the windows down and the sounds and smells of Managua wafted through the car at 88 km/h. We drove past seedy bars full of under aged girls and hungry souls kneeling inside of destitute churches and dust-covered children asking for Cordobas; past all the old drunk men sitting in the middle of the road looking for a way out of town or just plain out. We passed the skeletons of mangy dogs, small bodega’s run from people’s living rooms, large women cooking Fritanga on the street corners, and occasionally, we had to stop for emaciated horses and mustachioed street vendors on their way home from a day of yelling out “TORTILLA!” “CAJETA!” “CUAJADA!”

Soon, we were going up the sides of mountains and into the clouds, quite literally. We stopped on the side of the road to take turns pissing and you could feel the dew sticking to your skin as the billows drifted past. It was much colder in the mountains than in the mugginess of the country’s capital and I was glad to finally feel the need for a jacket again. We jumped back in to the car and drove further into the night.

Our hands greedily reached into the cardboard box for cans of beer. Click, pick-shaw. Glug and more glug. The sky was black and the road was black and the clouds were grey and turning black. Click, pick-shaw. The stars so numerous, endless like the bubbles from my can of beer, tickling my nose, keeping me intrigued. They shone down bright, and then the sky was an endless piece of black construction paper punctured a million times over by a sharp No. 2 pencil. And the glow of the stars wasn’t so many tiny sparkles so much as they were all part of one gigantic light, a luminosity hidden behind the curtain that keeps the planet from falling apart. And the further into the night we went, the brighter that light seemed to want to shine. Like it wanted to burn up the sky and take over.

It wasn’t even half way into the drive and I was already drunk.

My Pittsburgh Date with Bane or I Was An Extra In The Dark Knight Rises

When I first set out on my last trip, I only knew for sure that there were two places I would be heading to. The first was NYC because that was where my plane would be landing. The second was Pittsburgh. Now, every time I would tell people I was going to the ‘Burgh, I got a funny look. And even now, when I mention that it was part of my itinerary, I still get the look (although it usually gets replaced by the look I get when I say I went to Ohio for 2 weeks). I’m not entirely sure why it is that the PGH has such a bad rep, but I’ll wax poetic about the city another time (truth be told, it’s a pretty underrated town and I happen to be a fan). Instead, I’ll talk about what brought me to Pittsburgh in the first place: Batman.

I can’t exactly say that I am the world’s biggest Bat-fan, because I’m nowhere near. As a child, I watched Keaton and Nicholson duke it out in the first Tim Burton film and on random Saturday afternoons, I would catch old re-runs of the Batman show on television, mimicking the POW, WAP, ZING of every fight scene. I remember watching Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, hoping that someday I, too, could wear leather, hold a whip, and kick ass the way Catwoman did (I guess I technically could do that if I decide on a change of careers).

But it wasn’t until my last relationship that I began to truly get a better sense of who Batman was. My ex is a huge, HUGE Batman fan. He introduced me to incredible comics and graphic novels like Arkham Asylum and The Killing Joke and showed me that while Batman may have begun as the campy Detective Comics’ caped crusader, over time, he along with his enemies have evolved into much more psychologically complex characters. I watched Batman Begins and was impressed, although I couldn’t help but make fun of my beloved Christian Bale‘s “Batman voice”. And then The Dark Knight was released and all hell broke loose. I would never have guessed a superhero movie to quickly become one of my favorite movies, but I was beyond impressed. So when I found out that BeInAMovie.com had joined Christopher Nolan‘s team to gather a large mass of unpaid extras at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field (home of the much beloved Steelers) for the filming of The Dark Knight Rises, I knew I had to be a part of it.

On August 6th, after an evening of too many drinks and very little sleep, I got up at 6am to grab my things and head out into the chilly, gray morning. I was staying at my 2nd Couchsurfing host’s, Evan’s, apartment in Uptown Pittsburgh at the time. Fortunately, it was walking distance from the meeting spot for extras. Evan left a half hour before me because he was actually working as a PA on the movie set, but he gave me directions and we agreed to meet up after the filming. The streets were pretty empty until I hit the main road, where I began to see cars loaded with Batfans on their way to the stadium. As I approached my destinations, I saw a young Asian girl I was almost positive I recognized.

“Nancy?” I yelled out.

Sure enough, the girl in the black top turned around. Nancy was a girl that wrote to me in response to a post I made about meeting other CS folks at Heinz. We walked together toward the lines of people in black and yellow, waiting for buses. Jill, another girl from CS, sent me a text earlier telling me she was already on the bus en route to Heinz, which initially worried me; but seeing the lines of fellow stragglers, I was no longer worried about getting left behind. Looking around me, I was already regretting waiting til the last minute to read the notice about what to wear and bring to the stadium. The film takes place in the winter (you may have heard stories about the summer snows in Pittsburgh earlier this year) and so we were all supposed to bring coats, sweaters, gloves, hats, etc. On top of that, there were people with masks, capes, signs, face paint – the works, all in black and yellow for the Gotham Rogues, the City of Gotham’s football team, played (not surprisingly) by the Steelers. Meanwhile, all I was able to put together was a pair of black pants with a gray shirt and a dark colored flannel that Evan lent me.

The wait was short and soon enough we were already on the buses. Everyone was handed some forms stating that we wouldn’t take pictures or talk about what happened during the filming (which was bogus since you can read about it pretty much everywhere), and also a form stating that they weren’t responsible for any injuries or deaths that occurred during filming. Luckily, I think everyone left the stadium with little more than a bad sunburn, but I’ll get to that later…

Nancy and I hopped off the bus anxious to get inside and become faux stars. The 5 Hour Energy Drink folks gave us some free samples (vile stuff, but I drank it anyway after hour 6 or so of filming), we signed in, and got our “goodie bags,” which contained: a bag of chips, a cookie, a tiny bottle of water, and a mini bottle of sunblock. We scoffed at the sunblock considering the skies were covered in clouds. Nancy was wise enough to bring an umbrella though, which proved to be helpful throughout the day. The crew herded the crowd to their seats and Nancy and I freaked at how close we were. Right behind the goal post! We entertained ourselves and I ate my snacks almost immediately since I’d skipped out on breakfast (a decision I’d later regret).

Nolan's in there, I promise!

Finally, I spotted Nolan in his baby blue button down shirt, navy blazer, and khakis walking around the field, pointing this way and that. I noticed, however, that not many people had actually realized it was him. More than that, throughout the day, I realized that a large portion of people (whose conversations I overheard, anyway) were actually at the stadium not so much for Batman and Nolan as they were there to watch and support their football team. At the time, that kind of pissed me off, but I suppose it’s neither here nor there.

Actual filming didn’t begin for at least an hour or longer. The first scene just involved a young boy singing the National Anthem. Poor kid screwed up the first time and the bastards that were standing behind me were already crucifying him.

“If he actually sounds good in the movie, we’ll know it was edited afterwards,” they joked.

I love you Gordon! I mean, Gary!

Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. Filming began to resemble something more akin to Catholic Mass and I was waiting for my turn to drink some of that blood of Christ to assuage the boredom. I’d heard that Tom Hardy (oh, have you met my latest husband? hands off!) should be making an appearance, but I kept wondering if my beloved Batman might actually grace us with his presence. I would’ve also enjoyed seeing Gary Oldman or Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but alas, they were nowhere to be found. After some time, they decided to move us to a different section of the stadium. For some reason, I had naively imagined that the entire stadium would be filled. However, they actually only wound up using about 1/3 of the seats, if that (the wonders of camera angles!)

The new seats were just as good if not better than our first seats (we were on the 50 year line and had an even better view of one end of the field where you could see part of the ground broken open – undoubtedly the work of Bane). The Steelers, er, Gotham Rogues finally came out on to the field along with The Other Guys and they filmed the team playing, and stopping, and playing again. It was our turn to act like excited sports fans. Our coats came on and off between shoots. Sometime before noon, I felt a raindrop. And then another, and another, and pretty soon we were getting drenched. Nancy opened her umbrella, as did one of the young kids next to me, so I hid underneath both and managed to stay relatively dry.

About an hour of rain later, the sun began to finally peek out from behind the clouds and everyone was ready to film again. It was also time for “lunch.” The BeInAMovie site claimed that while vegans should probably bring their own meals, vegetarians would be okay with the meals provided. As such, I decided to just enjoy the free food since I was broke and traveling anyway. To my disappointment, lunch was a hot dog and a giant pretzel with a bottle of water.

“What happened to the vegetarian option?” I asked one of the food workers.

“This is all we have. I think they might have veggie burgers later?” they replied, as people passed me to grab their dogs.

I retreated back to my seat hungrily, but managed to keep a smile on my face when they began to discuss our next scene. Nolan, unfortunately, never gave the audience directions, though he was present the whole time. Instead, the guy from BeInAMovie explained that in this next scene, there would be a huge explosion and some of the football players would end up falling in this hole in the ground, thanks to Bane. Our job? Scream, look frightened, try to run away. However, as we would attempt to flee the stadium, we would all be further frightened by Bane’s henchmen, military personnel with rifles pointed right at us. This became the bulk of our afternoon as the sun began to blaze overhead. The mini bottles of sunblock all came out for this as everyone’s skin began to resemble less Jack Frost and more Zoidberg the Lobster.

Taken from someone on the BeInAMovie FB page that had a much better camera than my phone.

If it hadn’t been for the promise of explosions, I’m pretty sure the extras might have revolted – first drenched and then burnt to a crisp. The morale see sawed throughout the afternoon. At one point, a caravan of Batmobile tumblers drove out on to the field that made everyone pretty giddy. Afterward, we prepared for the main explosion scene. It only happened once, but there were dozens of explosions all set throughout the field and it was pretty awesome to see. I can’t imagine what crazy things they’ll do to make it seem so much greater in the film though.

The afternoon progressed in to an absolute scorcher and by the 9th and 10th hours, many people weren’t even putting their coats back on for the filming. I took frequent breaks in the mist tents and had a nice chat with Jill that got cut short when Nancy texted us to let us know Bane would finally be appearing on the scene. By that time, I knew Batman (and company) would definitely not be joining us, but it was still freaking badass to see Bane in his gear coming out and addressing us as we looked on in pretend horror from our seats.

Sun burnt but happy!

Part of me had considered leaving early at points because I was so exhausted and hungry (although the veggie burger did finally come at around 5pm), but the promise of giveaways was too alluring. They’d been raffling off Batman memorabilia, iPod touches, Delta flights, and more throughout the day. At one point, they had an audience-based sing-off (American Idol style) which was pretty goddamn awful to be honest, but provided momentary entertainment while the crew searched for an explosion that never detonated. The big prizes weren’t going to be raffled til the end of the day, however, including a brand new car raffled off by Tom Hardy himself and a trip to the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises as well as an invitation to the after party that would be announced by director Nolan. Sadly, I won absolutely nothing. Neither did Nancy. Neither did Jill. Not even a damn Gotham Rogues shirt. Still, it was pretty cool to be a part of the whole thing. It made me realize how painfully slow the movie making process is and also made me think that next time, I should look in to a paid extra role (or at least bring some food along so I don’t feel quite so worn out).

I’ve tried looking through some of the pictures on the BeInAMovie site to try to find Nancy and I, but with almost 2k pictures uploaded, I think i’ll just settle for the crappy ones I took with my cellphone (Note To Self: Next time sneak in a real camera).

At the end of the day, I wound up walking out of Heinz and over one of the bridges into Downtown to meet Evan, who had left an hour or so earlier. His day consisted of hanging out in the shade, making sure everything went okay with the helicopter that was shooting scenes from overhead. He treated me to ice cream at Dave & Andy’s afterward, which was seriously appreciated, while I relayed my experience as an extra.

“Was it worth it?” everyone asks me. At certain moments that day, I really didn’t think so.

But then I watch that goddamn trailer and all I can say is, “Hell yeah.”