Aiding Spaces

Emptying out my mother’s house brought back memories of watching WWF on television when I was a kid. Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, and Andre the Giant were deserving heroes, slicked with sweat and grunting from their unnatural strength. They were burly men who, in my Frosted Flakes fueled imagination, could do anything, from lifting a Cadillac above their heads to solving the third grade multiplication tables that were causing me migraines. The closest I’ve ever come to feeling as powerful as one of those vintage muscled masses of manhood was when I helped to unload the furniture and remaining items from the tiny single-family dwelling that my mom, and all of her stuff, called home for ten years. There’s something about lifting large pieces of wood that taps into a universal undiscovered reservoir of testosterone. And if that piece of wood happens to have a set of drawers and antique brass hinges, then it also appeals to my feminine sensibilities.

It helped that there was a team of large-and-in-charge men assisting yours truly, ’cause otherwise the new owners would walk into a house filled with furniture splinters and old high-heels.

Living in an empty house that’s not your own has its perks. For one, there’s the satisfaction of having gotten rid of so much. It’s really liberating in an Ani DiFranco-lyric sort of way: I only have a bag, some boxes, and a dog. The other cool thing is that Simon and I can pretend we’re squatters. Which really consists of little more than me going, "Heh, this is cool. We can have sex on the floor." And him agreeing in several different ways.

But living in a cavernous series of rooms with nothing in them has helped me to appreciate good interior design. While minimalists such as myself could live with little other than a mattress and a desk, in order to make a home an inviting place to rest your bones (or to just bone) you need to make sure that you’re optimally using the space available to you. And if you happen to have some spare cash in your pockets, you can pony up and have an interior designer turn your home from look-away ugly to must-stare HGTV.

Because I realize that if I continue without explicitly defining the differences between an interior designer and an interior decorator I will have a high-end protractor thrown at my head, I will say that interior designers often have graduated from a four-year college or degree program, while interior decorators, as a general rule, have obtained a certification. Designers are usually more educated in the technical aspects of planning a space, as well as having knowledge about building permits, blueprints, contractor obligations, and flammability and toxicity levels of materials, among other things. A lot of the time interior decorators focus more on lower-budget elements, such as selecting paint colors and cabinetry, while designers can handle these tasks while also managing structural and coding requirements of a project. The going rate for an interior designer is $150 an hour, with a 25% mark-up on items that are discounted to the trade.

If I were to hire an interior designer, I would have the house gutted completely (except for the kitchen) and put a half-pipe where the dining room table once was. Generally, interior designers are hired to handle the aspects of home decoration soup-to-nuts, which can mean flooring, painting, repairs, plumbing, and the selection of everything from furniture to fixtures. They probably install their fair share of vert ramps, too.

Whether it’s knocking out walls or wiring a chandelier made out of hipster skulls, an interior designer will either do it or subcontract someone who can. Designers can be employed by large companies, small firms, or they can be self-employed. Working for firms can mean anything from slaving away in an office nine-to-five, to working on a per-job basis. Self-employed designers make up 26% of the field. These are the poor visionaries who toil the longest, and have to hustle to create their client base. Because of the stress of deadlines, traveling to job sites, budgets, and calming cantankerous clients, I assume that once you enter the field of interior design, your life expectancy drops by about ten to fifteen years. Or maybe I’m just projecting.

If you’re a creative, hands-on type (like Randy Savage with a color wheel) then interior design could be your calling. Keep in mind that most designers choose to pursue a bachelors degree in interior design from a Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (FIDER) accredited college or department. After graduating, it’s useful to contact the regulatory agency of the area you live in, just to make sure you meet and understand the licensing requirements for interior designers. These can vary on a state-by-state basis, so it’s helpful to have the National Council for Interior Design Qualification‘s site bookmarked.  Of course, instead you could just watch Trading Spaces reruns and talk about painting your bathroom "one of these days."

For those who have the perspicacity and the pencils to get their degree and get to work, there’s a little bit of gold at the end of the paint chip rainbow. The average salary for interior designers is about 42K a year. Commercial projects can vary from having a per-hour fee to having a flat fee,  while self-employed designers working on residential projects often charge a per-minute fee along with a percentage of the cost of accent pieces, furniture, fixtures, and any other design components. Depending on where they live, designers can build up a solid client base, and in cities like New York, where word of mouth is king, the rise to a steady income can be quick. Or it can be never. Much like copywriting, I suppose. But urban areas, with their larger populations, create a larger demand then, say, places like Norman, Oklahoma, where you can slap an OU sticker on it and say that it’s no longer fixin’ to be decorated.

Of course, when we move into our apartment, we’ll once again be nesting in a way that’s unique to us. Fortunately, all that consists of is my Nine Inch Nails poster and a bookshelf. And if we decide that the living room would look better in a lovely shade of avocado green,  I think that we would avoid hiring anyone to wield the roller in our place. In truth, as impressive as interior designers and interior decorators are, I  think we’d be disappointed that we didn’t take the time to do something to our new home with our own four hands. And before I haul any furniture into the new pad, I’ll be sure to say my prayers and take my vitamins.

Dumbbells

The other day a miraculous thing happened. No, I didn’t grow four inches, Sarah Palin didn’t have her tongue (painlessly) ripped out by an orange-breasted falcon, and Tool did not play a concert in the empty living room of my mother’s house, but close. I was able to convince Simon to come to the gym with me.

To clarify: I am not a gym bunny. I do not wear Lycra and I don’t have a fancy arm-band contraption that would hold my iPod and protect it from sweat or the spit of strangers. I like the gym because it allows me to feel like I’m doing something healthier for my body than sitting on my ass while typing, and because I get to watch televised gems like For The Love Of Ray-J 2 and pretend it was an accident that I just happened to arrive when it started and serendipitously selected the machine right in front of the television. Going to the gym has become a hobby, but one that I’m ashamed to talk about with strangers, much like cat ownership or BDSM, lest I be judged as one of "those" girls. For the record, I do not own a cat.

Simon is not an athletic guy per se. Crafted by God to be the perfect height and weight ratio for yours truly, he’s not the largest man you’ll ever meet. Growing up skinny and small in Oklahoma led him to be called "fag" more often than he was picked to be on a dodgeball team, and the result was that he had a vehement hatred of sports until he started dating me. Two years of being exposed to my stereotypically dykey fanaticism for nearly all sporting events has infected him to the point that he can now even watch OU games without expecting empty beer cans to be lobbed at his face. But other than being exceptionally talented at riding his bicycle and bouldering (and an often unmentioned stint with a Boys’ State swim team,) he’s never been into alpha-male tomfoolery that may or may not involve steroids. All of which is fine by me, because big-necked meatheads with Nike "swoosh" tattoos — the likes of which lurk inside every Long Island saloon, shopping center, and sports car — make my labia snap shut like a defensive freshwater clam. Skinny, tattooed boys with glasses are what get my bell ready for ringing, bonus points if they can appreciate LeBron’s insanity from the perimeter.

That said, I’ve been teased by my better half for my frequent gym visits. This is because I’m also blessed with a boyfriend who would find me irresistible if I just gained ten pounds, and who fears the day when I walk in the door, built like an oily, veiny competitive weight lifter, with a blond ponytail and a hankering for diamonds mixed with male flesh. Fortunately, I only use the place for mild cardio, coupled with weights when I’m feeling pissed off. Which means that I do weights every time I’m teased about going to the gym. Which makes Simon’s nightmare that much closer to becoming a reality.

My gym membership, which was a gift of unprecedented awesomeness from a family member in light of my relocation to care for my mom before she died, is pretty nuts. The gym itself is in immaculate condition and smells like a eucalyptus field. The people there aren’t douchey, the staff is super friendly and attractive, and I often find that the song being played on the universal speakers matches the song that’s up next in my iPod playlist, no joke. They also provide guest passes in order to ensnare other potential clients. With a gym this nice, it was hard not to think that I could possibly convince my sedentary significant other to change his tune and maybe undo some of the damage caused by cigarette smoking. [Note: If you own a pack of cigarettes and smoke them, you are a smoker. It doesn't matter if you're "planning on" quitting or smoke a number that vacillates between 0 and 5 a day, you are still a smoker. You are a smoker until you no longer own, purchase, or consume cigarettes. And there's your spiteful semantics lesson for the day.]

After some cajoling, and a fight that rendered him on the giving end of the favor spectrum, Simon suited up in sweatpants and headed for the gym, guest pass and skipping girlfriend in hand. While I assumed my position on the stairway to nowhere, Chris arrived on the scene. Gorgeous, gallant, and gay, Chris has been a personal trainer at the gym for years. After two complimentary sessions with him, where we listened to La Roux and joked about lesbian bed death, I decided that he was my new best friend and last best hope for Simon’s cardiovascular system. Though it might seem perhaps like a staged sabotage, or an intervention, it really was just happenstance that Chris had a free hour to teach Simon about the joys of working out.

Personal training is a career calling. Much like freelance copywriting, you need to have equal parts talent and hustle. Unlike freelance copywriting, you need an accredited certification program to ensure that you’re not going to kill anyone. Most personal trainers start out by working at a gym in some capacity. At my favorite field house they have a ranking program that allows fledgling trainers to be employed on the floor supervising. This gives them the opportunity to become a part of the team while learning from the experienced trainers on staff and working towards their PT certification from legit organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. There are tests on anatomy and exercises, trainers are taught how to measure BMI and a person’s fitness level, they’re instructed in the methods of crafting specific activity regimens for different individuals, and often they’re also taught about nutrition.

All of this education doesn’t ensure a job on the spot, though. Most trainers have to build up a client base in order to make money, which is why so many people who attend gyms find ripped men (and women) swaggering around like Creatine-swilling vultures looking for their next prey. It’s a tough industry, and one that isn’t forgiving to people who lack confidence, people skills, and, I’m assuming, a strong stomach when it comes to touching sweaty skin.

Celebrity trainers like The Biggest Loser‘s Jillian Michaels make more money than they can carry, and that’s saying a lot, but the average income for a non-famous personal trainer is between 34K and 43K a year, depending on experience and location. Hourly rates can vary, from starting out at $10, to raking in up to $35 an hour  if you’re among the most elite exercise specialists. Trainers can also increase their paychecks by becoming certified in various specialties, such as kettle-bells or kickboxing. There are also a ton of places that require personal trainers, like cruise ships, resorts, and even corporate fitness facilities. Aside from working for yourself or working for a health club, there are other options.  All of them require spunk, smarts, and savvy when it comes to knowing your stamina from your suppleness. (Those are two of the three different "components of fitness," the third being the obvious one, strength. Speed is sometimes factored in as a component, too.)

Watching Simon’s session was like watching Raging Bull spliced with The Seventh Seal. There was sweat, pallor, and the cursing of God. Chris remained chipper, cheering him by name, and adapting the exercises to coincide with Simon’s diminishing stamina. After about fifteen minutes, two medicine ball drills, and a handful of bench-presses, Chris gently instructed Simon to clamber back on the elliptical to cool down. Then he walked over to me.

"I told him it’s a matter of doing it every day," he said to me, in a manner that indicated he thought I could convince the boy to come back to the gym after this fiasco. "He needs to build up stamina over time, but a lot of that is just repetition. Low weights, many reps. Cardio five times a week. And quitting smoking. I don’t think he’ll be having a cigarette after that."

We glanced over to where, next to the elliptical, the puddle of my boyfriend lay on the floor, catching his breath and waving, mouthing "I’m good." Maybe it was just the endorphins clouding my vision, but suddenly I was able to see how personal training resembles copywriting. You have to inspire the client, and teach them without making them feel stupid. Most importantly, without compassion, the job would suck, and turn into a sadistic demonstration of machismo and expertise. Although I’m now convinced that Simon will begin comfort-eating in order to block out the memory of his personal training experience, and that in five years I’ll be dating a 5’7" manatee, it’s good to know that there are always people around who get paid to pump you up.

Will My Cups Ever Overflow?

Things that look silly on me: baseball caps, tube tops, v-neck sweaters, bras, most bridesmaid dresses. There’s a long list.  Other than baseball caps, the reason why I should stick to tee-shirts is simple: I am one seriously flat-chested girl. And, let’s face it, buxom babes can don baseball caps more capably than the rest of us.

Before you start thinking that this is simply a case of media-fueled female body scrutiny, let me explain. I am below an A-cup. We’re talking very symmetrical mosquito bites. I’m called sir when I forget mascara. I don’t require wearing a bra at the gym. My sense of humor exists to compensate for a lack of cleavage. So I’m not considering breast augmentation simply because I saw one too many skin flicks or ’cause the new line of Victoria’s Secret lingerie doesn’t make me look like Adriana Lima. I am literally flat-chested. Which is fine. I’m fortunate enough to have a boyfriend who is either attracted to girls built like boards, or is a closet homosexual.

The average salary for a plastic surgeon is $300,000 a year,  though it can vary by years of expertise and location. Understandably, those professionally nipping-and-tucking in Bismark make less than those in Burbank, due to the fact that more ladies are stepping under the knife in cities like New York and Los Angeles. Some of these slick scalpel-smiths net nearly 4 million per calendar year. I’m obviously not alone when it comes to being enticed to get myself sliced and diced.

In a study, nearly 56% of men indicated that they were perfectly content with the content of their partner’s bustier. But when it came to women, the numbers took a nosedive, only 30% felt satisfied with their own sweater puppies. Sad. Moreover, if it wasn’t wanting to get them upgraded, it was a desire to get them lifted, reshaped, reduced, or cosmetically enhanced somehow in order to render them bulletproof man-magnets. Augmentation is three times as popular as reduction, and nearly 300,000 women undergo the enhancement surgery. That’s one woman for every dollar the average plastic surgeon makes in a year.

What’s worse, I’m not the only basket-case considering going under the knife: there are links between women who undergo breast augmentation and depression, as well as several studies that indicate that those who do accrue are twice as likely to commit suicide.

Okay, okay, yeah, fine. I’ve read all the studies about tattoos, too, and yet I risk Hep-C on a regular basis to get inked. I don’t think I’m suddenly going to off myself if I’m more confident taking my top off, but who knows. I keep assuming that women with larger breasts make more money, have more fun, and have less to worry about, as though their floors vacuum themselves simply because they can fill out a B cup. I wouldn’t know. Then again, they don’t know the freedom that comes from racing down a flight of stairs to answer the door. (Or so I hear.)

A few friends have asked me why I can’t just be content with what I have, and I have to explain that I am. I love my body, which is something I can say only after years of abusing it with alcohol, starvation, and reckless sex. (Hooray for being in your twenties!) I’m lucky that not only does my body look half-way okay, but it works. I can dance around like a nutjob, lift fairly heavy objects, and touch my toes on command. I’m a functioning human being, at least in the physical sense, and it’s something that I don’t take for granted. But can I really live my whole life not knowing what it’s like to try on a tank-top and have it actually fit? Or to walk into a room and know I’m not being dismissed as somebody’s little sister? (Or brother?) The idea of getting implants has crept into my mind in a similar way that tattoos did when I was a teenager: can I really not do it? Will I regret it more if it’s simply something I think about, but never do?
Of course I’ve scoured the Innerwebs for some sort of research to support my hankering for something to support. I was hoping to find a definite link between moolah and ta-tas, a study or bar graph that proves that women who have larger breasts also have larger paychecks. But no dice. Instead I found some facts about fake funbags that gave me at least a little bit of pause.

The first point of contention is the price, which is astronomical, until you think of the fact that a) it’s major surgery and b) they’re breasts. On average the surgery costs 4K to 10K, depending on the facility, anesthesiologist, etc. Which means that unless I suddenly become a porn actress and have the whole shebang comped by the studio, I’m looking at forking over just two thousand dollars short of what I made  in total last year. Crazy.

But believe it or not, the amount of bills Bs cost isn’t what really got me. I should preface this by saying that I am a complete pussy when it comes to medical shit. When TLC has surgical specials, it’s my equivalent of an Asian horror movie marathon condensed into thirty minutes of pure squirm-worthy torture. I gagged repeatedly when I simply read about the punch biopsy procedure I had six months ago, and I won’t even get into what happened when I went into the gyno to get it done. (In brief: tears, screaming.) So I’m not the least squeamish of individuals, but that aside, I think that some of the information I found might even make strong stomachs swerve.

When I hear of term "sub-muscular" I think about Arnold Schwarzenegger as a deep sea explorer. Turns out it’s one of four options for "implant pocket placement," each worthy of their own section of the Matthew Barney Cremaster series.  Subglandular is the variety of implant that is often looked at as the most attractive, but it’s also the kind that ripples like a waterbed when a lady lays down. Subfascial implants are placed under the pectoralis muscle much like subglandular implants, only beneath the shudder-inducing " fascia of the pectoralis muscle." Some believe that this makes the implant more stable, which makes sense when you think that you  just stuck it under the majority of your torso’s musculature. Subpectoral, or "dual plane" placement, is the most common technique performed in North America. It includes "releasing the inferior muscle attachments" which allows for more movement of the implants. "Releasing" I think is doctor-speak for "cutting the fuck out of." Submuscular implants involve more reconstruction of the tissue, by sewing certain lateral chest muscles to pectoral muscles, or something like that. Basically turning your chest into Frankenboobs.

Other than the procedure itself giving me the willies, there are the what-ifs, and when it comes to boob jobs, there are a lot of them. Platinum could leak into surrounding tissue, as is often the case, turning the accessories for a gold-digger into an full-metal jacket for her insides. Leakage, complications, and systemic illnesses have all been discussed in the media, from some reality show floozie getting rushed to the ER for a popped socket, to Pam Anderson and the legendary Jenna Jameson discussing waning their watermelons in order to be healthier and happier. My heart might rupture and tears might flow every time I read about Trent Reznor getting married, but my tits shouldn’t rupture because they are filled with bags of salt water.

The two scariest possibilities that have me putting the brakes on my coveted cleavage are the kinds of complications that lead me to believe that elective surgery might be the stupidest idea I’ve ever had. For one, the surgical procedure itself can tug at the nerves, thereby reducing or diminishing nipple sensation. I have mine pierced for the simple fact that I want more sensation, not less. The nightmare of having permanently dead nipples is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night, and for all the wrong reasons.

Lastly, there’s this thing called capsular contracture, and it should cause your skin to crawl. See, the body isn’t designed to have foreign objects in it. In fact, it’s a finely tuned instrument that has a keen awareness of when there’s something inside of it that doesn’t belong there (excluding unemployed guitar players and too many pizza bagels.)

Perhaps you were a part of the eyebrow ring craze of the nineties, or had a friend who was. Many people complained that their eye accouterments "grew out." Their corpuses kicked the jewelry to the curb in a way that was similar, but far less grave, than organ donors whose bodies reject their newly-acquired innards. My understanding of this is that the immune system goes a haywire trying to get the things that don’t belong in the body out. Same thing can happen with implanted Ziplocs of saline solution. The body recognizes that these things weren’t there before the traumatic surgery, and it goes a little ballistic trying to protect itself. Because it can’t exactly reject the implant and shove it out of the body slowly, as it did with that lovely 16 gauge bent barbell in your eyebrow, it creates tight collagen fibers around the implant itself in order to shield the rest of your internal organs.

Some capsular contracture is considered normal, as the body is trying to prevent friction and heal, but the fiborous capsule can harden and grow tighter, resulting in a misshapen, dense, and potentially painful ta-ta. A hard breast, hard as a rock. Can you imagine getting to second base and having them feel like baseballs? Unattractive. Scary. And yet a prime example of how the body is a miraculous thing, without the need of enhancement.

5% of patients develop capsular contracture, which is a pretty large auditorium filled with people, if you remember that 300,000 women per year sign up for this surgery. You’d think that with 15,000 chicks complaining of painfully hardened tits there would be a nice and easy procedure to remedy it, right? Wrong.

"Some surgeons still attempt to remedy the problem by squeezing your breast and implant hard to break up the capsule. This can result in a lot of pain, possible deflation of the implant, and minor to major bleeding in the breast."

That’s right. They could squeeze your tit until it hurts, and then until it bleeds. Or, better yet, you could get more surgery.

"Other surgeons prefer a surgical approach and make an incision to reach the capsule. They then lance or score the contracted tissue surrounding the implant to loosen it and break it apart."

I could keep going, but I’ll stop here, as I’d like to eat a meal in the foreseeable future. Doctors are looking out for you, trying to concoct new ways to treat capsular contracture, including ultrasound, corticosteroid injections, and manual compression. (Look that up. It’s WebMD’s version of what happened to me in ’96 outside of a gymnasium with a kid named Dylan, whose nickname was Brace Face.)

Do I really want to put myself in the cross-hairs of capsular contracture, all for the sake of something I find sexy? I wish I could say that all of these possible complications have put me definitively in the anti-implant camp, but if I did I’d be lying. I’m still interested in getting my tits done, though I’m not sure I’m man…er, woman enough to do it. The truth is, when it comes to surgery, it’s better to unclip the Wonderbra and see what’s below it. In the meantime, I’ll start saving my pennies for something truly important and classy, finishing up my tramp stamp.