My childhood was a circus

I'd like to direct your attention to the following photo:

What is this you're looking at?  It could be the perfect place to do some sort of awesome vintage photo shoot. Like this engagement photo session from Green Wedding Shoes. However, the people in these photos aren't dolled-up models or smitten romantics. They are not in some exotic location with all sorts of vintage circus props flown in from The Wringling Brothers. Nope. It's just the Long and Zienty kids hanging out in Hugo, Oklahoma.

Before I move on to tell you the story behind this picture, can we please admire the photo's charming awkwardness? The Zienty children look like perfect little angels who make it a habit to look cute and normal in photos. The Long children are, as usual, doing something to offset that sense of normalcy (but clearly still contributing to the cuteness). My sister, Carolyn, is flaunting stylin' overalls and a classic "come hither" head tilt. The outfit and pose are perfect...the blinking, not so much. Carolyn has since learned how to keep her eyes open for pictures, but there was a period in her life where she struggled with the plague of the photo blinks. This captured blinking moment really takes me back. Oh the memories. My studly brother, Stephen, is on the far right in the stripes. Always a miniature version of a gentleman, I'm not surprised to see him striking the ol' hands-behind-the-back and wide-manly-stance poses. He had practically reached the maturity level of a 40 year-old man by the time he was 10. He's probably around age 5 here so that would put him at what maturity level, 20?  Sounds about right. Such a cutie.  Front and center (most likely a strategic and intentional placement on my part) you can see me showcasing my diva attitude by trying to suck all the attention toward myself. Further speaking to my inner diva, I'm attempting to channel my best Vanna White impression as I show off the circus sign and my shapely 8 year-old physique. With all those elements combined, how can you not be charmed by this pic?

Now you're dying to know WHY we're standing in front of a circus truck in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, aren't you? Lucky for you, I'm going to share the story.

Mama Long and Mama Zienty read in some Oklahoma travel book that a collection of circus performers spends the winter in Hugo, OK (population 5,000). Apparently you could see the animals and all the wonders of the circus while they're recharging for the next tour. So one day five kids and two adults piled into one little station wagon and  drove three hours to Hugo in search of this wintering circus. It was a LONG drive. Carolyn and Heidi even wrote a song while we drove along that I still remember today:

Nowhere, Nowhere.
Welcome to nowhere.
Nothing to do, and nothing to see.
Nowhere to go, and Nowhere to be.
Welcome to nowhere.

So anyway, after driving through nowhere for three hours, we made it to Hugo. Unfortunately the circus workers who were wintering wouldn't let us anywhere near anything circus-related. They told us this was not a tourist destination and we were not welcome. Forget the fact that we had just driven three hours for nothing; the circus folk were too busy to be bothered by a bunch of Tulsans ("big city folk").

Mama Long and Mama Zienty were in a pickle: they were in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma with five kids on the verge of breakdowns. So, they improvised. We went through some sort of museum in a small house that had pictures of exciting things like "the 12-foot tall man" and "the world's smallest pig." Since that didn't kill enough time to make the cumulative six hours of driving worthwhile, we also visited the circus graveyard where the best of the circus world had been buried (such as Chuckles the Clown).

Problem for Becky: This visit inconveniently overlapped with a phase in my life that required me to hold my breath whenever I was in the vicinity of a graveyard (don't want anyone's lost souls being inhaled into my body, you know). The thought of going INSIDE a graveyard was...unfathomable. So once I had been coaxed into the graveyard, I spent  the first minute or so refusing to breathe. My mother yelled at me until I was practically purple and on the verge of fainting, then I took a breath. Let me tell you, I was NOT happy about  tromping around that place and inhaling dead spirits. By the time we left, I was sure that a good 10 dead clowns were leaving with me. (And, as previously mentioned, I really don't like clowns.)

It was a traumatizing experience, and yet one that I will remember forever. I mean, you haven't fully lived until you've traveled to Hugo, been turned away by a group of disgruntled circus performers, and walked around a circus graveyard. What's that? You haven't checked any of those activities off your bucket list yet? I suggest you get on it ASAP.


Spiders, Snakes, and Match.com...Oh My!

Everyone is afraid of something. Lots of somethings, actually. Myself included.

For one, I'm afraid of heights. My height phobia can easily be seen (or actually, more like can easily be heard) in this video from when I went bungee jumping in Queenstown, New Zealand. Hint: You might want to turn the volume down on your speakers before pressing play.

When the bungee workers pulled me up from this terrifying experience, I was shaking so much that I had to hold on to a pole in order to be able to stand upright. Tangent story: As I was shaking and clinging to said pole, the New Zealanders were making fun of me for all the racket I made. My response: "Yeah, I'm a screamer." There was an awkward pause and then everyone erupted into laughter. I confusedly looked around before a light bulb went off in my head that my comment was not being taken in the context I had meant it to be taken. New Zealand, Australia, America, the place doesn't matter. Wherever I am, I can always be counted on to make some awkward comment with a sexually-themed double meaning that never crosses my mind before I open my mouth. And the people I'm with can always be counted on to twist my words into the raunchier of the two meanings and point it out to the world. Thanks, guys.

Back to my original point.

My other fears aren't anything out of the ordinary: motorcycles, spiders, snakes, CLOWNS (I shiver at the thought), sharks, crocodiles, horror films, drowning, etc. etc. etc.

I also have some very specific fears about the future:

1. Being unemployed
I'm very much hoping this fear doesn't become a realization when I graduate in less than 3 months. I need financial support in order to be able to keep up my Chipotle burrito bowl obsession and regular Target shopping sprees. Then there's those other adult things like rent, utilities, car payments, bills...bleh.

2. Meeting my husband on Match.com

No judgment to people who meet this way. I'm very happy for you all. I would just much rather meet my hubby somewhere out there in the real world so I have a "meet cute" story to tell my grandkids (shout out to The Holiday, one of my all-time fav movies and the source--along with the Notebook--of many of my unrealistic romantic expectations). I saw a statistic the other day that Match.com alone contributes to two percent of ALL marriages every year. One website. Two percent of U.S. marriages.  20,000 people join everyday. Aren't you a little afraid, too?

3. Becoming a cat lady
Due to my extreme hatred of cats (with the exception of Felix, obviously) this fear is especially nightmarish for me. The image of me in a house overrun with felines as I sit in my rocking chair knitting cat #23, Mr. Whiskers, a new sweater...I just can't even fathom. No. No. No.

Yes Valentine's Day is right around the corner...and yes I am especially aware of my single-status thanks to this commercial holiday...and yes I am currently curled up in bed watching a chick flick (The Wedding Planner)...and yes I did just buy my friend bridal magazines since she got engaged on Friday. All those things combined make #2 and #3 slightly more terrifying as of late, but I realize I'm only 22. Really I'm mostly worried about #1 at the moment. And also, my latest "I don't want this to be my life" fear:

4. Becoming a hoarder
Lately I've been noticing a few signs that worry me I could potentially be swayed down this very very dark path. Here are a few of the things I have caught myself hoarding:

--Mints. I went through a mint-hoarding phase in middle school. I would always take a handful of mints whenever I left a restaurant. This resulted in me designating a purse as the "mint purse." It was packed with literally hundreds of different mints. Of course, I couldn't carry around a purse that only had mints in it. So I never actually had the mints with me, and they never got eaten. I recovered the mint purse when I was cleaning out my closet the summer after my high school graduation. The mints all went in the trash. Apparently (and thankfully) I phased out of that one without even noticing.
--Moist towelettes. At Medieval Times about a month ago I didn't use my moist towelette and brought it home in my purse. Rather than throwing it away when I found it the next morning, I put it on my bedside table for later use. Last night I realized that moist towelette moments are few and far between in my bedroom. Not to mention, I do actually own soap. So the moist towelette went in the trash. Another win for Becky! Close call.
--Leftovers. I'm like a human vacuum/disposal/insert "she'll eat anything" metaphor here. I'm telling you, I just hate to see anything go to waste. My roommate's dad once wanted to ship half of a leftover sandwich to me (we live 200+ miles apart) because he had previously witnessed me taking all five of his family members' food home after dinner one night. (I mean, they weren't going to eat any of it...) On Medieval Times night, I took home three of my friends' leftover chickens. They give you an ENTIRE chicken as your main course. No normal human being can eat an entire chicken. No normal human being takes to-go boxes from Medieval Times either. I'm normal in the sense that I couldn't eat my whole chicken. I'm not normal in the sense that I took four half eaten chickens home in a to-go box. Here is visual proof:

--Boxes. I can't bring myself to throw them away! What if I need to ship...something? Or what if I want to do...something...with my laptop's original packaging? Or what if I can use that scrap of cardboard to make a sign for...something? Can't say I've had many "something" instances come along very often, but there's always that chance. Hence the large amount of boxes I have stored in three different closets and my room.
--Lotion. In middle school your typical pre-teen girl accumulates more Bath and Body Works merchandise than she knows what to do with. I was one such girl. Despite the amount of lotion, body glitter, body spray, soap, etc. that I owned, I refused to use any of it. I wanted to "save" it for special occasions. Special occasions are very infrequent in middle school. Around the same time I got rid of the mint purse, I cleaned out a mess of evaporated, dried up, and weirdly colored Bath and Body Works stuff that was no longer usable from under my sink. You'll all be happy to hear I now actually use all lotions and the like that I own. Feel free to use that as a gift idea for my birthday. Or even my half-birthday, which is closer. (May 25th--for those of you who were wondering)
--Tissue paper. I bought some colored tissue paper in Sydney for my final project in Contemporary Australian Arts (embarrassingly one of the most difficult classes I've ever taken--details on that will have to wait for another post). I had to cram everything I had accrued over the course of five months in Australia into two rolling suitcases and a backpack. Of course I couldn't bring myself to leave the tissue paper behind. It's currently in my closet. The next time I gift you something, you might get that something in a bag with tissue paper lovingly transported all the way across the Pacific Ocean. Good thing I brought it back, right?!

I think the line between being thrifty and having a hoarding problem is a very delicate one to tiptoe along, and I'm getting very nervous that my life will end up on the side of the latter. Do I really think things could get as out of control in my life as on the TLC show "Hoarding: Buried Alive?" Of  course not. I'm just hoping I don't revert back to the mint purse stage. In fact, in writing this I've decided that maybe it would be a healthy decision to throw away a few of those boxes. Progress!

I've also noticed that this blog has just turned into me explaining all my oddities to the world. Thanks for not judging. (And if you are judging, thanks for not telling me you're judging.) All these random stories just make me cutely quirky, right? (With a little bit of weird and bizarre mixed in. I'm OK with it.)


Public Transportation Struggles

Based on my experiences in Sydney, I somehow got this crazy idea in my head that I was a master at navigating public transportation. Wrong wrong wrong. Apparently I blocked out the memories of Sydney: the early days. But those memories of my early Sydney clueless-ness came flooding back as I wandered the streets/subway tunnels on my recent trip to NYC.

 Please note how at-ease and in-control I look on trains in Sydney
Not the case on my trip to the Big Apple

Public Transportation Fail #1
Initially I was confident about getting from my friend Ali's dorm to NYC...then I tried to buy my train ticket. I was looking for "Times Square" as a destination on the automated ticket booth, but no such destination existed. This might have had something to do with the fact that I was in the state of New Jersey, not New York. It was all downhill from there. I hopped on the first train that came with plans to buy my ticket on the train instead. A nice conductor approached me about 10 minutes into the ride and asked for my ticket. I just showed him a printout copy of the route Ali had told me to take and offered him $11.50 for my fare. He oh-so-nicely accepted my payment without tacking on a $5 surcharge since I clearly had no idea what I was doing. He also pointed out a few expert city commuters and told me to follow them to my next train. Unfortunately, the city folk my conductor friend had pointed out were so good at navigating through public transit that I lost track of them within seconds of leaving the train. I had to ask two more people at station #2 for directions and somehow made it onto train #2. On board train #2, my luggage and I caused problems trying to fit onto an already full train. A nice stranger had to hold the door open for me as I straddled my luggage, halfway inside and halfway outside. My fellow travelers were not very happy about the draft my luggage and I were letting in. When I arrived at train station #3, I accidentally kicked a man's shoe off while trying to haul my luggage up the stairs (I really need to learn how to pack lighter). I wandered around aimlessly for a while then had to ask a group of cops plus another random stranger for directions.

One train ride later...I was finally in Times Square! Well actually, I was in a train station below Times Square. And I was trapped in a turnstile. The succession of body parts and luggage was as follows: first one bar, then my luggage with my hand clinging to it, then another bar, then the rest of me. I have no idea how I got into this position. I just know that I couldn't get the bar, my body, or my luggage to move. Wonderful. After wriggling around for long enough to draw significant attention to myself, I kicked my suitcase in front of me and fell on top of it. A random stranger helped me up and handed me my bag while saying: "I saw you struggling. Are you OK?" I sheepishly thanked him and tripped over my bag as I started to climb the stairs. I thought this was the homestretch, but somehow I managed to get lost trying to get from 7th Avenue to 8th Avenue. I asked another cop for directions and found my hotel (just 3 blocks from my original starting point--typical) 45 minutes later. 

Total number of people I asked for help: 11
Total travel time: 2 hours
My public transportation confidence is officially gone.

Public Transportation Fail #2
Getting from Rockefeller Plaza to Little Italy: how hard can it be? Harder than you'd think. My three friends and I decided to be thrifty and save money by taking the subway instead of a taxi. Looking back, taking a taxi really would have been a good call. Lauren and I got directions from a friendly mall security guard. He was sitting behind a desk, so we decided he looked important enough and would be able to get us where we needed to go. In fact, we were so confident in our friend that we started discussing how we should have asked for his name so we could write a thank you note to his supervisor. We spoke too soon. The express train that our security guard friend said stopped at Canal Street...didn't stop at Canal Street. We started thinking something might be awry when we went over a bridge.

Becky: "Um...Lauren...are we supposed to go over a body of water? Is that the Brooklyn Bridge?"
Lauren: "I don't know...maybe...I mean, I'm sure we're fine..."

Five stops later, we decided that maybe everything wasn't fine. We got off somewhere in Brooklyn (yes, apparently that WAS the Brooklyn Bridge) and looked totally out of place. Lauren saw a rat the size of her foot and I almost peed my pants when a guy asked us what time it was. Paranoid much? Yes.

Just to give you a visual on our situation, we started close to Times Square by the pink square in the upper left. We got off the train near the green square next to the orange line in the bottom right. We had been trying to get to place where the yellow line splits in two next to the green line (on the Manhattan side of the bridge). Not. Even. Close.

An hour and a half later, we finally found Little Italy. We decided to avoid any futher confusion and had Sayif (who became my new best friend because I told him his name reminded me of Sayid from "Lost") take us home in a taxi.

Public Transportation Fail #3
At this point you're probably thinking, "Really, Becky? You managed to get lost this many times within a span of 4 days? Do you have a brain?" In my defense, this fail was not entirely my fault. Yes, I still had to ask at least five people which trains to get on/where to buy my ticket/when to get off. But, I successfully got to two of my three trains without getting incredibly lost or creating a scene with my luggage. These were both big wins for me. The problem was that my second train was late getting in because we stopped just outside of the station and had to wait for someone on the train in front of us to get ARRESTED before we could pull into the platform. Classy. I arrived at platform F just in time to watch my train pulling out of the station. The girl running alongside the train with her purple houndstooth luggage dragging behind her while banging on the door yelling for the train to stop....that was me. The girl that broke down in tears because she was exhausted, the next train didn't  come for another hour, and she was in the middle of nowhere New Jersey...also me. Not my proudest moment. I sat pitifully whimpering to myself on a bench until Ali came to rescue me. The ultimate embarrassment: I couldn't figure out where the exit to the station was. 

Moral of the story: I'm directionally challenged, emotionally unstable when low on sleep, and a klutz. But hey, I survived! And I still love NYC, despite my inability to navigate its subway system.

 See? When I'm not in transit, NYC and I are the best of friends