Dancing on tables, aka how to feel the carefree abandon of 21 again

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As I write this, I am a bit under the weather. No great surprise. I’ve been on massive overdrive for multiple weeks on end. And, when you reach my delicate age, the universe likes to remind you that your body just can’t keep up the way it used to.

Some folks know that I deplore getting older. The whole thing just feels like one big shitty joke. It’s not even so much that you tire more easily, or that you don’t spring back as quickly. It’s that I feel like the window for adventure narrows a bit with each successive year.

Like most, I did not feel this same sense of wistfulness at 21 years old. This is partially due to the sheer volume of time that I spent drunk. But I was also living each second fully and with nearly complete abandon. I had no idea what was coming and, it turns out, that was a good thing.

You know how when people talk about the ultimate state of partying, they jokingly reference “dancing on tables”? I danced on tables. Not metaphorical tables. Real life, four legs, one flat surface tables; praying that they had enough structural integrity when my three friends climbed up there with me, especially when one is 6’4” and an easy 200 pounds.

It was the late 90s in Aix-en-Provence and the scene was the Eden Roc, a bistro by day, dance club by night. Most weekend nights, we’d show up around 10:30 or 11 pm, just when dinner service was wrapping up. We would hang out for a bit with our glasses of whatever and sway to the music. But, eventually, someone would consume one too many glasses of whatever and they’d move their personal dance party up to one of the tables. From there, it just lost all sense of daily decorum.

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Now, I’ve since been known to shake what my mama gave me on a Vegas bar and a New Orleans stage, but no memory is more wonderfully outrageous to me than the tables at the Eden Roc.

I think we all know that I’ll never be 21 again. In fact, I will probably never again dance on the tables in the South of France. But, I am far from done.

Just this past fall, I saw the sun come up over Bourbon Street. After a night of some reasonable debauchery, I was dragging home my two girlfriends at daybreak. (Note: These two just shy of 30-somethings whined the whole way that I was being a buzz kill, since a few clubs were still open. Um, no.) The year before,  I was pouring these same girls into a cab after closing down the bars in Louisville, following an epic wedding. It was nearly dawn.

At 38, I see many more days that start at 6 am than end at that hour. But I’ve still got about one per year left in the tank. I expect that, in the next few decades, it might be like one every few years. And that’s ok. The key is that is still happens. There’s still a light breeze coming through the window. The day it’s fully shut, I will surely suffocate.

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Volunteering

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I am a somewhat spiritual person, but I really don’t believe in any organized religion. Which is why it’s pretty darn funny that one of my greatest beliefs comes from a verse in the Bible (Luke 12:48, to be exact). The Bible has been translated millions of times, but one common version is, “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.”

I feel as though in my life, I have been given much – smarts, compassion, dedication, not to mention a loving family, husband, pets, a bevy of great friends, and a moderately successful career. With all of these riches, my debt to the greater world is deep and I’ve spent a lot of time and energy over the years seeking to pay it.

I have done a lot of volunteering. A LOT. I absolutely love it. It’s generally hard work, but there is little that fills the soul more. In addition to doing some good for others, it’s a great way to meet friends, learn new skills, or experience new places.

I hope you might be reading this and thinking at the same time, “I’ve been given a lot; I should do more!” You should! And wouldn’t you know it, I have some suggestions for you from some of my all time favorite volunteer experiences.

Do you have an hour a week? Help develop a kid’s literacy skills and build his or her self esteem by reading a story aloud over lunch. I read to kids for over seven years in a program like this. We all know that reading is important, but did you know that children with strong reading skills are less likely to end up in jail and are less of a drain on our national health systems? Seriously. One hour a week with a kid can help our society. Not a bad ROI. Check out Read to a Child for more.

Do you have two hours a month? Give out food to hungry families. One of the most rewarding things I have ever done is to help set up a mobile pantry and dole out much needed food and groceries to students and parents at a school in a low-income section of Boston. Food is a basic fucking need. The fact that people in this country go without is outrageous. Contact your local food bank and do something about it.

Do you have two or three days a year? This country has seen some SAVAGE natural disasters in the last few years – Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin tornadoes, California wildfires, Hurricane Sandy. Every time one of these things hits us, it leaves a wake of physical and emotional need for years to come. Sign up with the local chapter of the HandsOn Network in any of these areas and they’ll have no trouble putting you to work in human services or rebuilding property for a few days.

Do you only have a couple of hours a year? Decorate a youth shelter for the holidays. Being a teenager sucks in general. I seriously can not imagine the pain of being a homeless teen. Living in a shelter with little privacy, too few warm clothes, and beaten down common areas for eating, studying, and entertainment? It’s heartbreaking. A small, but meaningful gesture that you can do for these kids is to help decorate their space for the holiday season. I did this project for several years as part of Harpoon Helps in Boston. But even if this doesn’t exist near you, go buy a tree, a couple of strands of lights, and some bulbs and drop them off.

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Truly, any amount of time you have can be put to good use and I’d love to see everyone get out there and give something back. If you don’t have a second to spare (I know that feeling), money is always good too – donate generously to your favorite cause.

Local Trips for Good Food

Burgers and cider in Alameda
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I travel constantly. As in, my suitcase never makes it back in the closet / I am on a first name basis with flight crews on certain routes. I commute back and forth to Boston at least monthly for work and often have the odd trip to other destinations for my job. And, as though I was not flying on a plane or driving in a car enough, I somehow still manage to believe that I love to travel for pleasure – be that a far-flung destination, or just a short weekend trip away.

I’m sure it goes without saying, but food plays a key role in any trip that I make. NOTHING bums me out more than paying for bad food. If I make a meal that’s less than stellar, I chock it up to experimentation or building my cooking skills. Eat out and have a crappy meal? Tragic. Naturally, making sure you are always eating well in destinations that are unknown to you is kind of a challenge.

So, per request as always, here are my tips on how to successfully make local (or, really, even far) trips for good food.

1)   Do some research before you go. I know this one seems pretty obvious – and it is – but it’s truly the best thing you can do to ensure tasty meals away from home. Bookmark or pin articles with suggested restaurants, ask around to friends who’ve been there before, check out what’s trending on Yelp. You know the drill.

I also highly recommend that you also look up where places are on Google Maps. You might read about a place that the travel mag loves, but if it turns out that it’s 20 miles from where you’re staying, I don’t care how scrumptious the bread basket is, the reality is you’re probably not going to haul your butt over there.

Lastly, if you’re going to a big city or to a popular destination for a holiday or special event, make reservations. There are great online tools available (I’m an OpenTable addict) and having a confirmed spot will totally save you from getting turned away from the place you’ve been dying to go or from eating dinner at 11:30 at night (Unless you’re in Madrid. Then, good luck getting a rez before 11 pm.).

French macarons in LA

French macarons in LA

2)   Look for a crowd or a full parking lot. Sometimes your research fails. This happened to me and the sous-chef just recently. We were in Tahoe for a long weekend and tried to grab lunch at a lakeside restaurant that was highly recommended by a friend. Turned out, the place had closed for the season. Needing to make a quick decision, we got back on the road with eyes pealed for a decent place. We only had to go a few blocks before seeing a little roadside café with so many cars in the lot, there was overflow parking on the street. Felt like a good bet and it was.

Skillet garlic mussels in Sausalito

Skillet garlic mussels in Sausalito

3)   Sort your sh*t out before you are starving. Trust me on this one. This is the a-number-one way to end up eating a craptastic dinner while traveling, which is not only a bummer but is only going to add to the pissy mood you put yourself in by letting yourself get that hungry. We’ve all done it. You go too long without eating and you make a restaurant choice based on desperation. You go wherever is close or has no wait (hi, there’s a reason there’s no one there) and the food is rarely (ok, never) good. Do yourself a favor and plan ahead, or for a worst-case scenario, keep a granola bar stashed in your bag.

Burgers and cider in Alameda

Burgers and cider in Alameda

4)   Don’t ask locals for advice. And, god-forbid, don’t ask at your hotel. I know that this flies in the faced of every clichéd travel article you’ve ever read. I acknowledge that it makes sense on the surface – they live there, of course they know the great places to eat. But my general experience has been that locals (and, absolutely, your concierge) will tend to direct you to the touristy places. They’re sort of the first thing that pops to mind for locals and, also, they feel like safe, “that’s a good place for a visitor” choices. They’re not. Do the work on your own and you’ll be better off.

Divine cheese and fig plate in Sonoma

Divine cheese and fig plate in Sonoma

Above all, just hit the road, keep your iPhone handy, and eat some awesome stuff. If you ask me, life is all about the cool stuff you find the minute you step out your front door.

The side of Bradley Cooper no one knows

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Despite having lived nearly a third of my life in California, I am woefully short on celebrity encounters. Woefully short. As in zero. About the best I can offer is that, once, I stood in line behind Jay Thomas at the Starbucks in Burbank while visiting my brother and sister-in-law. No offense to Jay Thomas, but it was less than thrilling. Even the sous-chef got to share an elevator with Rod Stewart when he was a teenager. Me? Nothing.

But there is this one thing. I went abroad with Bradley Cooper. Now, before you get yourselves all in a lather, let me explain. It was 1996… long before he was… well, before he was Bradley Cooper A-Lister. Then, he was just Bradley Cooper, student from Georgetown, and I was Courtney Scott, student from Bates, and we were thrown together for about six months with 15 or so other French-speaking 20-somethings on a college semester abroad in Aix-en-Provence.

Our whole group at dinner together once a week in a local restaurant.

Our whole group ate dinner together, family-style, once a week in a local restaurant.

At the end of the semester, we took a whole series of gag photos.

At the end of the semester, we took a whole series of gag photos. Not sure why. Seemed funny then.

Even though this brief exposure to Mr. Cooper seemed every bit ordinary while it was occurring, people generally get wide-eyed and little breathless when I tell them about it (not so much the requester of this post… I believe she just finds it to be a fun fact about me). The conversation that follows usually goes a little something like this…

“Was he cute back then?” Yes, very. All the girls on the trip crushed on him a bit, but he had a girlfriend in DC that he seemed very dedicated to, so it was really nothing more than that – a little eye candy in the classroom. I wish I had a juicy story of a random hookup between him and someone on the trip, but to my knowledge, no such indiscretion occurred.

“What was he like?” He wore these red jeans almost daily. Seriously. This is the thing I remember most about him. They were so unusual for the time and he truly loved those pants. I am absolutely kicking my self that I can’t find any pictures of him in them.

Which actually leads me to the other thing I remember about him from that semester… he was kind of a loner. Not in a bad way… I also remember him being perfectly nice and sweet and even a little funny. But he was definitely not a main character in the group.

As you can imagine, when a gaggle of American student descend on a small French town and they are all 20 and 21 years old, you get close pretty quickly. You party like crazy people together and I have no memories of him taking part in that. I have dozens of lovely pics of our group from those months – most of which show 10 or 12 of us together. He’s not in a single one.

“Did he always want to be an actor?” I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think so… It certainly never came up that I remember. He spoke French really well – as you all now know – but that wasn’t especially remarkable, as it was a pretty intense, full immersion program. We could all parler with the best of them. He was a little on the serious side and I *think* he might have been a PoliSci major? I guess I imagined him becoming a lawyer or a professor. Not quite.

“Are you still in touch?” Well, last time I was texting with my bestie J-Law, I totes asked her to give him a fist pump fur meee. Um. No. I don’t remember exactly, but if I had to guess, I’d say I gave him a quick hug goodbye in about June of 1996 and that was the last Bradley and I ever knew of each other.

Until… one day… there he was! At the time, I saw him on television acting in a super short-lived show called Kitchen Confidential. According to IMDb – the source of all things act-y – his first gig was on Sex and the City in 1999… just a few short years after I knew him. I remember feeling excited for him – though I didn’t know him well, I loved that semester away and would have been happy for any of the alum to make it big. That’s what I thought when he had his little TV series, he’d “made it.” Silly girl.

So now, Bradley Cooper is famous. Like, front-row-of-the-Oscars-famous. And I write this blog for you. It seems like it all worked out for us both.

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