Tip 34: Don’t Stalk Julia Roberts

Between the years 1998-2004, you may have had a somewhat disturbing and inexplicable obsession with Julia Roberts. As in, collected every magazine cover on which she appeared, recorded every interview on various loose VHS tapes, memorized her unauthorized biography, cried when she broke up with Benjamin Bratt, and organized an extremely frightening binder full of newspaper clippings–the cover of which included cut-out letters from magazines that spelled ‘America’s Sweetheart: The woman with the million-dollar smile.’ For your 14th birthday, you even had a cake with Julia Roberts’ face screen-printed on the top.

Perhaps most concerning of all, you were never apprehended by the authorities.

Fast forward to 2013. Now an arguably normal 27-year-old with no serial-killer binders dedicated to female movie stars in your possession, you’ll travel to New Mexico with a friend. But old habits die hard.

Taos, New Mexico / December 2013 / At Least It's a Good Story

Taos, New Mexico / December 2013 / At Least It’s a Good Story

 

As you’re headed toward Taos, you can’t help but remember that Julia spends a good portion of her time on a ranch just outside of town. You’re not in New Mexico to stalk Julia Roberts, and you want to be respectful of her privacy–but the 14-year-old in you also wants to watch her move from room to room in her home while perched in a nearby tree. The 27-year-old in you really wants to, too.

As such, you’ll spend the next 30 minutes Googling a smattering of phrases to the effect of ‘Driving directions to Julia Roberts’ private home in Taos.’ When nothing of the sort is found, you’ll resort to visiting every quilting shop in town. Everyone knows J. Ro. loves to work a pair of needles while on set.

Although Julia is nowhere to be found, you’ll eventually acknowledge the hidden blessing in it all. Some dreams are best left unrealized; some collages of Julia Roberts’ face best left under your childhood bed.

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Tip 33: The Secret Garden Was Less Secret

A hostel is no place for three young gals to spend five months in Ireland. (Did I or did I not just warn you all about Waterfalls in Tip 32?!) Thus, you’ll arrive in Galway looking for your forever home.

The challenge is that the Irish urban planners of yore were constantly wasted. As such, there are three 4 McDonough Drives in the city center alone. So when you see an ad in the Galway Advertiser for a house at this very address, you’ll spend the next 19 hours looking for it. And just for fun, it will pour the entire time. And your umbrella will break, because why not.

Approximately 10 hours into your house hunting, you’ll call the landlord and ask for help. But when dear, sweet Tom answers the phone, he’ll inform you that–funny story–he’s not at the house where you’re supposed to meet him, he’s actually at the pub. But hey, relax–there’s a key in the rafters above the door. You can just let yourselves in and have a look.

And you can drown in your pint, Tom.

Galway / June 2008 / At Least It's a Good Story

Galway / June 2008 / At Least It’s a Good Story

Once under the doorway of the correct home, you’ll face your next character-building challenge: How the HELL will you get the keys down?

You’ll reason that Liz is the lightest of the three, and as such, she’ll have to climb on your back and get the keys. You’re the base in this cheerleader pyramid, no questions asked. In an equally important role, Bridget will need to take your camera and capture the experience.

With Liz’s legs dangling around your neck, you’ll launch her skyward. The next 10 minutes will be spent alternatively laughing hysterically–Liz threatening to “piss all the way down your back”–and listening to her piece together a masterful string of expletives as she runs her hands along the “cockroach-infested” rafters.

So just do yourselves a favor and stop looking. You’ll sooner find the requisite licks to the center of a Tootsie pop.

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Tip 32: Don’t Go Chasin’ Waterfalls

The single most important thing you learn in your mid-twenties is that cheap pitchers are the Devil’s work. Unfortunately, you’ll find yourself in Barcelona in your early twenties.

More specifically, you’ll find yourself on the hostel rooftop, purchasing a pitcher of Sangria for three euros. ‘What a deal!’ you’ll say to your friends. ‘Let’s each buy a pitcher!’

Oh you sweet, naive cherubs.

The man selling pitchers of Sangria / Barcelona / August 2008 / At Least It's a Good Story

The man selling pitchers of Sangria / Barcelona / August 2008 / At Least It’s a Good Story

Pitchers in hand, you’ll join a group of fellow travelers from around the globe in an impromptu game of Waterfalls. TLC was all ‘Don’t go chasin’ and you’re all ‘I wanna chase, T-Boz!’

Unfortunately one of your new teammates is a Finnish woman with no sense of self-control. Furthermore, she’s chugging straight from a handle of Bailey’s Irish Cream, intent on destroying her body with mass quantities of lactose. So you’ll think, hey, what’s a little Sangria?! It’s got fruit!

Halfway down Satan’s wormhole, a very attractive Welsh gentleman will begin speaking to you. The conversation’s off to a good start, but then you’ll realize you’re going to vomit in approximately 28 seconds.

“Hey…umm, I’ll be right back,” you’ll say, before doing a surprisingly calm yet incredibly frantic run-walk to the hostel bathroom. Hanging out on all fours, you’ll finally get why the game is called Waterfalls. Four waterfalls, to be specific.

Your friends will find you in the bathroom half an hour later, your jean skirt now intimately involved with the tile floor. But what’s that? They’re not ready to the end the night!

So instead of making sure you’re OK, they’ll walk you back to your co-ed hostel room and leave you in there with two Danish men occupying the other set of bunks. But wait–good friend alert–they’ll also set your phone alarm for 2 a.m., at which point they’ll ask that you send confirmation, via text, that you haven’t choked to death on your own vomit. You guuyyyyssss! You.are.the.best.

But hey, lesson learned. You gotta stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to. Like, three hard ciders, max.

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Tip 31: You Gotta Bleed for Love

There are many injustices in life. Being physically incapable of doing a pull-up, for example. Or eating just one Pop Tart. Or running more than 4 miles. But these are all things that are out of one’s control. Nothing can be done.

With such harsh realities in mind, you’ll meet your friends for a Valentine’s Day dinner in D.C. with the additional understanding that people who are far more undesirable than you will have significant others. Furthermore, they’ll most likely be sharing a romantic meal. Damn you, cruel world!

But you’ll still feel wholly unprepared when you sit down for dinner and see a woman standing next to your table, speaking with a gentleman caller in some sort of blind date situation. Clad in a fur coat that appears to be made from puppy skin, Cruella De Vil will decide to rest her wine glass next to your plate and lean her body against your table while chatting with Poor Bastard No. 1.

Though her lack of physical boundaries and restaurant etiquette are somewhat concerning, you’ll be most distressed to observe a steady stream of blood suddenly coming from her nose–the crimson drops of which are hitting the white floor next to your shoe.

Cru will not notice her actively bleeding nose, nor will her new boo seem particularly troubled by her draining orifice. The two will continue to chat and blood will continue to pool around your leg until, wait, what’s that, a second man will approach. Turns out he, too, wants a piece of this hot dish.

Now, it’s been an otherwise pleasant–if not completely devoid of love–Valentine’s Day, but enough is enough. This woman now has two potential suitors and you–a person who is not actively bleeding from any part of your body–has zero.

Bitch probably ate just one Pop Tart for breakfast, too.

Marking my territory / Washington D.C. / February 2010 / At Least It's A Good Story

Marking my territory / Washington D.C. / February 2010 / At Least It’s A Good Story

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Tip 30: If You Give a Moose a Muffin, He Will Horribly Disfigure You

If you give a moose a muffin, he will NOT want some jam to go with it. He will want to trample you to death. I don’t want to point fingers, but Laura Numeroff and her G.D. children’s books may be responsible for multiple animal attacks.

With such conflicting information swirling around and no one to turn to for the truth–Steve Irwin being dead and all–you’ll head to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks with a bit of apprehension.

The area is teeming with bears, moose, bison, mountain lions and generally all creatures put on this earth to destroy humans. To complicate matters, you’ll be given a very different set of instructions depending on which animal you have the misfortune of running into on the trail.

Wyoming / May 2012 / At Least It's a Good Story

Wyoming / May 2012 / At Least It’s a Good Story

 

If you see a bear, for example, you must first analyze its shoulder hump to determine whether it’s black or grizzly. Whether you do this before or after you explosively shit your pants is up to you.

Next, you will need to read the bear’s “subtle” body language. This is particularly difficult for someone who, at the age of 16, thought a boy wanted to date her because he asked to borrow a marker.

Other incredibly helpful tips include speaking to the bear in a calm voice. So you’ll want to practice saying “Please be gentle as you maul my face beyond recognition” in a soothing manner.

Another useful nugget to differentiate grizzlies from black bears is the length of their claws. Remember to measure them as they’re piercing your retina.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh m’ eye!

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Tip 29: Kitchen Whisks Are No Match for Stank

Kitchen whisks, lest you get confused, are best used to stir pancake batter, not wash soiled undergarments.

But when you embark on a two-week hiking adventure in Washington state with one week’s worth of underwear and socks, even a simpleton can do the math.

Yet by day eight, you’ll be shocked at just HOW badly everything smells. Like, dry-heave inducing fragrances emanating from the trunk. At one point, you’ll accidentally run over a chipmunk and will be unable to determine if you’re smelling a tire full of bloodied rodent hair or a pair of socks.

Unfortunately, you’re staying in a tiny cabin on a Native American reservation in coastal Washington and there are no laundry facilities to be had. Coffee huts every five feet, but no washers and dryers. This is a well-caffeinated, smelly people.

As such, you and your two travel companions will take to stirring your undergarments in a sink full of Tide with a kitchen whisk. If it can beat out clumps of brownie mix, surely it can beat out the stank.

But try as you might to get all Laura Ingalls Wilder with your makeshift washing process–your best friend’s boyfriend feeling not at all awkward as he stirs your delicates–your clothes will actually smell worse than ever before. Because now they’re still dirty, but they’re also damp.

Which reminds me: If you’re staying in Cabin 3, I would NOT make pancakes

Olympic National Park / July 2014 / At Least It's a Good Story

Olympic National Park / July 2014 / At Least It’s a Good Stor

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Tip 28: Robert Frost is an Idiot

Here’s a fun tip: 11th Avenue and 11th Avenue East are not the same. Specifically, one is east. One is not.

After arriving in Seattle and hopping in a cab, you’ll be dumped in front of what you assume is your Airbnb apartment for the night. It’s nearly midnight and the neighborhood—while seemingly lovely—is nearly deserted.

For the next half hour, your raggle taggle trio will attempt to follow the intricate instructions the host provided, which include things such as, ‘Take private staircase in back to 3rd floor. Find glass heart under flower pot and retrieve key. Come back down steps. Feed  troll a Girl Scout cookie. Army crawl into apartment.”

But it’s only after your male travel companion—a gentleman with the hair of Marv from ‘Home Alone’—has gone up three flights of wooden steps, pawed his way around a balcony full of plants and directed an industrial flashlight into an apartment full of unsuspecting strangers that you’ll realize maybe something’s not right.

One hour later, you’ll successfully reach your correct destination by blistered foot. As Robbie Frost always says, ‘Two roads diverged at 11th Avenue. I took the wrong one.”

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Seattle / June 2014 / At Least It’s a Good Story

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Tip 27: Don’t Order the Second Sopapilla

Parting is such sweet sorrow, but so too is eating until you vomit.

After five days in New Mexico–your belt nothing more than a decorative adornment–you’ll say to yourself, ‘Hey Lauren–let’s really give this heart attack on the plane home a go!’

During your final meal, you’ll eat enough chips and salsa to feed five Mexican families living in one single-family home. You’ll also eat a plate of melted cheese with a side enchilada. And why not throw in a sopapilla, the square footage of which could second as a life raft.

You’re now on the brink of becoming dangerously ill, but the thought of returning to D.C. without one more sopapilla is making you equally sick. Better sorry than safe, as they say.

But as you sit there slumped over the table, jar of honey in hand, the D.A.R.E. slogan suddenly makes sense.

‘Just say no’ is about Mexican puff pastries.

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New Mexico / December 2013 / At Least It’s a Good Story

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Tip 26: Homeless Women Are Single Women

As any respectable woman can attest, the better part of America runs amok with hos on Halloween. Like, exposed labia.

Determined not to flash your own inner folds, you make a promise very early on. No slutty costumes on Halloween. Nope, you’ll go for the other extreme: Just the most unattractive dregs of society. Women who couldn’t give it away. Your Granny Mildred, perhaps.

As such, you’ll travel to New York City for Halloween dressed as the pigeon lady from “Home Alone 2.” You’re on the prowl for a gentleman caller and excited to see what’s poppin in the Big Apple, but you quickly come to realize that no one is interested in a homeless woman carrying around several ceramic homing pigeons and a bucket of seed while covered in homemade bird shit.

But perhaps it’s for the best. In a costume with that many folds, no one’s seeing your own.

homeless

New York City / October 2012 / At Least It’s a Good Story

 

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Tip 25: Motherhood Is a Mutha

Most people say having a kid is like getting a tattoo on your face; you have to be certain you want it. Mike Tyson and I disagree. Act now, assess later, is what we always say to one another.

So when you find yourself in Bryce Canyon National Park, standing in front of a bin full of orphaned prairie dogs waiting for their forever home, your common sense will go out the window faster than Evander Holyfield’s ear.

The next thing you know, you’re filling out adoption papers for Senor Peepers and taking on the life of a single mother.

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Bryce Canyon, Utah / July 2011 / At Least It’s a Good Story

Sure, it’s a love you never knew existed, and yeah, your life suddenly has purpose. But your midsection suddenly has loose skin flaps and your lady business is ravaged. Just, like, ground-up hamburger meat.

Such are the fleeting, adrenaline-fueled highs and plunging, long-term lows of parenthood. Maybe just…sleep on it?

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Post-push glow. Before I realized my life was over.

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