I grew up in Palm Springs. Well, not exactly Palm Springs, but in a small township (apparently, these are still things) 20 minutes south called Bermuda Dunes. Most of my neighbors are now dead.
When I moved to Northern California in 2001, I brought with me six pairs of shorts, two pairs of board shorts (!), and one pair of dress slacks with an adjustable waistband.
I didn't own my first pair of jeans until I was a junior in college. A junior in college.
I used to wear shorts and sandals in the rain. My wife has since forced me to buy several pairs of pants (she's very fashionable, and attractive).
Cliff Mcclain doesn't know any of this, though. When I show up at the Dolores Park Tennis Courts at 8 a.m., it's maybe 30-ish degrees outside. And yeah, I'm wearing shorts.
"You're a beast," he says, pointing to my non-pants.
I'm here for a lesson I booked on Zaarly.com earlier this week as part of a New Year's–inspired adventure: do four things that are all resolution-y with the e-service, and do 'em all in the course of one week.
Zaarly is kinda like Yelp, if someone flagged all the cool stuff for you. It's basically a well-curated marketplace of people offering services (think: house cleaning, tennis teaching, grocery buying, epic Nerf-gun-battle-arranging) and goods – except not just anyone can offer their goods and services there.
Case in point: The people I'm planning to meet with this week include a two-time National Skeeball Champion, a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, a guy who lived on a farm for over a decade, and Cliff.
Cliff is apparently the No. 1 rated tennis coach on Yelp. This seems like a big deal. He's eating a steaming hot breakfast burrito, as most No. 1–rated tennis coaches on Yelp are wont to do.
Zaarly bonus: There isn't a weird meeting-someone-on-Craigslist feeling when I first get acquainted with Cliff. (You know, that whole "Is he going to stab me, take all my money, and then stab me again?" feeling you can get from more random sites.)
Cliff is instead pretty awesome. In the course of the hour-long lesson, I learn how to do some typical tennis stuff (forehand, backhand), find out the difference between the Nadal and Federer follow-throughs, get a mini-physics lesson, and – scout's honor – I actually get kinda good. Also: Every time I do something embarrassing (for example, almost peg the weird guy in a brown business suit stretching against the fence), Cliff blames the old balls, or the cracks in the court, or the fact that "the net is a little high."
If my resolution was specifically to start working out more by picking up a sport with help from a former North Carolina State tennis player who would've gone pro had he not blown out his knee and is totally awesome to hang out with, this certainly would fit the bill.
It's Tuesday night, I've been charity-guest bartending with my Thrillist buddies for almost three hours at Blackbird in the Castro when Greg Plotkin ponies up to the bar, introduces himself, and doesn't order a drink from me. He's here with my "Farmer's market bounty, picked up and delivered to you" deal. Zaarly has this built-in messaging system which is kinda like a glorified texting service; we messaged each other maybe a half dozen times trying to find days/times/locations that would work for the drop-off. The end result? He's dropping off a mini crate of fresh produce at a bar at 10 p.m. The crate includes some pretty awesome stuff: fresh 'chokes, two kinds of carrots (including, white carrots), fingerlings, kale, radishes, lettuce, and other things.
First question I ask Greg: "So, what makes you qualified to buy vegetables?"
He tells me he’s been farming for 14 years, which is insane and also probably makes him very qualified to buy veggies. According to Greg, (1) there's a farmers’ market every day in SF except Monday, (2) he has been pickling stuff for two years, and (3) he always knows what's in season and how to get the best prices on stuff.
This last part is what makes this totally worth it.
I used half the box in less than a week – some veggies went on a turkey burger with grilled onions and crumbled feta, with sides of white carrots (!!) and roasted fingerlings, and I used others in a couscous and greens salad with sliced radishes and chicken.
Resolution No. 2: Start eating healthier (assuming white carrots are healthier)? Check!
I remember when combing the Zaarly website, Molly Graves was the one name I definitely knew. I had met her by coincidence a couple years ago at a party, and since then she has kind of blown up.
Molly runs the extra-awesome organizing operation NEAT Method and is a member of the National Association for Professional Organizers. Um, wow! Need more credentials? Vogue wrote her up last year as a go-to for advice on organizing. She is the definition of what I said earlier about someone flagging the best of Yelp for you.
She shows up at my place with super assistant organizer Heather and a giant bag full of stuff from the Container Store. Usually, the way things work with NEAT is that they stop by your place, do a consultation, give you an estimate, and then come back armed with everything they need to make it happen. I don't have that kind of time, so Molly lets me just text her pictures of my side of the bathroom.
They're going to tackle my three bathroom drawers.
The pre-organizing consists of Molly and Heather basically poking fun at me: I have six sticks of deodorant in my top drawer, plus four tubes of toothpaste. Much weirder, though, are the second and third drawers where they find mini bottles of alcohol, an advertisement for an Elmo Indiana Jones DVD (sounds awesome!), and … er … handcuffs.
Anyhoo: They spend about an hour organizing the crap out of everything, thinking through the details of when something will be used in your daily routine to how much you'll have to bend down to reach it. One hour and two draw-organizer-installations later, I come back for the big reveal.
I never thought I'd say this about a professionally organized trio of drawers, but: Holy shit.
First drawer: everything I need in the morning to look as handsome as I do. Second drawer: backups for everything in the top drawer. Third drawer: a travel toiletries bag (I have no idea where this came from; I have always wanted one), and a bag with all of my sharp dangerous things (razors, straight razors, uh, more razors).
We hug it out, I check off one more thing from my resolution list (slash, the list of chores my wife said I had to do by the end of the week), and I've only got one reso left to conquer.
And it just happens to be the awesomest one.
This is the part of the story where the resolution theme widens a bit – to include taking skeeball lessons.
Much like Cliff, Joey "the Cat" (as he refers to himself) is the ultimate teacher. Except unlike Cliff, he's wearing a custom-made tiger-stripe suit. And he's a two-time national skeeball champion. And he's been written up in the New York Times. And done skee interviews with NPR. And owns 10 skeeball machines. And once rolled a game against Flavor Flav at the Treasure Island Music Fest. But otherwise, same dude.
Joey is essentially the Ray Allen of skeeball players. He minimizes the amount of movement involved with each stroke, goes through a crazy amount of repetition, and is a super, super good shooter. He hits the 40-point pocket at a 97 percent clip, and the 50-point pocket at a 90 percent clip.
Shockingly to me, during our hour-long tutoring session (which includes exercise demos to make your release point more accurate, how to make minor adjustments based on where the ball ends up, etc.), I realize that no serious competitive skeeballers go for the 100-point pocket. The risks and rewards are too great.
"Some places tighten the nets, or don't have the perfect size ball. You're just not as successful, it's too risky," Joey says.
Truth be told, though, I overthink everything during the lesson. I mostly get 30s or 10s, save the one game I brazenly only go for the 100-point pocket and hit it three times.
By the time we're done, my back is killing me, and I've come to basically three conclusions:
1. I need to get a skeeball machine in my house.
2. I need to keep making awesome resolutions that involve Zaarly and skeeball.
3. I really should've been wearing shorts to this lesson.
Zaarly is totally free and totally easy to use. Just go to Zaarly.com, log in using its one-click Facebook sign-up, then place an order. Everything gets charged to your credit card after your order or service is complete. Voilà!
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