Thursday, December 27, 2007

Things In Life that Make Me LOL When I Shouldn't

It's almost the end of the year and therefore time for lists. There are lots of lists out there: best ofs and worst ofs and top ten reasons to, and those terribly clever, self-referential Top 10 Lists of Top 10 Lists, blah blah blah. Since I just got to experience one of those moments when you really want to laugh out loud but oughtn't, I thought a list of things that make me LOL at inappropriate times would be good.

These are, in no particular order:

1. When you're a temp and someone comes wheeling around the edge of your cubicle, desperate to tell the funny story of What Happened to Them Over Christmas, and half-way into the first rude revelation, they realize you're not Sara or Becky or Todd or whoever usually sits there.

2. When my stomach growls loudly enough to be heard externally in a job interview because I was too nervous to eat beforehand.

3. Yesterday I was answering the phones at a temp gig, and as I answered the phone I realized I couldn't remember where I was. I was frantically scouring the desk I was at for a piece of letterhead, a business card, anything, but there was nothing, and the person on the other end was waiting for me to identify the business he'd just called, but I couldn't, so I didn't say anything at all while I was scrabbling for a clue. Then I started laughing to myself which undoubtedly came across as heavy breathing to the person at the other end. By the time I'd managed to work out the company name by reading it backwards where it was printed on the glass door in front of me, it was too late, I was laughing too hard, so I just hung up. They never called back. We must have sat in near-silence together for at least 30 seconds. I wonder what he thought?

4. Myself, jogging and falling down at that same gap in the sidewalk near Toasty's house. It wouldn't be nearly as funny if it weren't for those ads on TV for Miss Congeniality where Sandra Bullock wipes out. OK, it was funny the first time I fell. The second time was Christmas morning, and I was pissed off enough to shout curses -- "Santa is dead, you little bastards!" among them.

5. Inadvertently scaring the crap out of my upstairs neighbor (and myself). She was carrying a bunch of Christmas presents to her car and came down to our admittedly creepy parking garage in the elevator. I had a bunch of crap to carry up to my apartment, so I was waiting for the elevator down in the garage. When the door opened, I was standing directly in front of it. It briefly rained Christmas presents. Nothing was broken, so no harm, no foul.

6. This is an oldie but a goodie. Back when I was in graduate school, I had a class taught by the head of the Graduate Dept. He was a guy in his late 50s, I'd guess, and built on the Hemingway scale: big white beard, plus-size belly, generous ego. It was "presentation week," and the Prof was sitting amongst the students as student teams gave their presentations. One day, he was sitting in the back row; my friend Liz was next to him, and I was on the other side of her. During the students' talk, the Prof folded his arms across his belly and fell asleep. Something startled him, and he woke with this outrageous snort, throwing his giant head up and back. His glasses, which had been resting on his forehead, flew off and landed on a shelf behind him. There was a moment of chaos while he looked for his glasses on the floor and tried to pretend he'd been paying attention the whole time. Meanwhile, Liz, who is next to him, is struggling heroically not to laugh. I'm blocked from his line of sight by her thankfully oversized hair, laughing myself sick. The problem was that she could block his vision, but not his ears. My lungs were the size of raisins, but I couldn't re-inflate them without being heard. I thought I was going to pass out before I managed to sip in enough air to live on.

7. Same graduate school Prof., same Liz. We walk into the grad office, and the Prof is there, in one of his more expansive moods. As we walk in, his spreads his arms wide in a fatherly gesture and says, "Liz! Angst! How are things?" And Liz replies, "Great! How are your things?" There is a long, awkward moment of silence while we all evaluate the question and determine whether or not she's just asked the head of graduate studies about the condition of his genitalia. Then we all turn abruptly and flee. 

8. Teaching in the Czech Republic. A students confuses "nipples" and "nibbles" and, asked to give an example of a verb in present tense, says, "the squirrel nipples his nuts." No one else hears the mistake. I have to excuse myself long enough to laugh to the point of nausea.

9. Teaching in England. I have a class of 14 students from Taiwan. Though I know nothing of the culture, I think I'm safe to assume that belching is not considered embarrassing or impolite. We met after lunch, and I do not know what they served in the cafeteria that day, but best guess would be Cucumber Deluxe. It was like sitting in a lake full of bullfrogs. Their faces were alternately confused by my inability to stop laughing and stretched wide to allow for the next eruption. 

While this is by no means a definitive list, I'll stop here for the moment and ask my commenters to include any occasions where they desperately wanted to laugh but couldn't. And we'll all try hard not to LOL because we're at work and NOT reading blogs.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why is My Cereal Bossing Me Around?

Mr. Spock says disobedience
would be irrational.

This morning, as I'm preparing my breakfast, I read the back of the cereal box -- as you do. And I realized that there are instructions on how to save money on the back of the box. Now clearly, the producers of the cereal know their audience. This is the Safeway, store-brand version, a poor (wo)man's Grape Nuts called Crunchy Nuggets. Never mind that this cereal's name makes more sense and is a little less suggestive than Grape Nuts, it's still the dollar-or-two-less-a-box brand, and Safeway has a good idea who's buying it.

On the back it reads, "Saving Money Can Be Easy!" and there's a cartoon depiction of a "typical" American family -- Dad, Mom, one boy, one girl, all white. Dad's wearing a shirt and tie; Mom has on some frumpy housefrau dress. The kids are dressed in clothes that could easily have come from the local second-hand shop or Salvation Army or possibly the "ironic" bin at Old Navy -- hard to tell.

And the advice? Genius stuff, really: stock up on regularly purchased items when you find them on sale. Generate a budget and adhere to it. (They use neither "generate" nor "adhere," but I have more faith in my audience than they do in theirs, apparently.) Get a subscription to your local paper -- not so you can be up-to-date on news, don't be silly, white trash doesn't vote -- but rather so you can clip out the coupons for foods that are probably overpriced by at least that $0.65 anyway. Compare prices when shopping! Save money from your paychecks! Keep a "loose change" jar!

There's nothing inherently wrong with any of these ideas. I just found it a little weird to be getting advice on fiscal responsibility from my breakfast cereal.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Warning: Don't Read this Over Lunch

So, I really really need to get this article written today. It's not due for another month, but it's kind of a big deal for me, and I figure if I get it done now, I'll have time to rewrite after it's been ruthlessly edited by someone in a visor with those elastic things holding up his sleeves. The problem is, the article's supposed to be funny. And lately, when I sit at my computer, I just don't have t'funny. (some might argue that I never do, but that strikes me as a little cynical) Steve Martin's solution to this problem was to put baloney in his shoes so he could feel funny, but as a vegetarian, I have to protest this practice. Plus it's gross. And it doesn't work. And I don't want to talk about it.

So what's a writer to do? I mean, I haven't worked on my on-line novel for, like, over a month or something, and I fear losing both of my readers to frustration. Ideas are at a low ebb just now. I trust that they will come back; they always have in the past. But right now, I need a little Lewis and Clarke, a little Stanley and Livingstone of the brain to go on a trek for the source of inspiration, maybe roust up the natives a little bit, introduce gunpowder and firewater, spread a little syphillis... no. Hang on.

Fortunately, there is one huge source of inspiration that I can tap into from time to time: weird stuff that happens to me. So let me relate to you a recent-ish experience.

I rock climb at a local gym. I'm not terribly good at it, but I love it, and I'll quite happily spend an afternoon climbing up walls and occasionally falling down them. Now that BF Toasty and his kid and her husband are into the climbing thing, I have fun, safe people to climb with on a regular basis, and I've started rebuilding Tim. (For those who don't know, Tim is the name of my one muscle. Since I only have one, I named it. I thought it might encourage others.)

Rock climbing is not the hyper-macho sport some might think it is, at least not at the level I do it. There are as many women as men, and some of the best climbers are these weedy, 98-pound scrawny-chickens of both sexes who appear to be made of twine and barbed wire. They dance up the wall, all grace and monkey-skill and perfect balance, and I stand at the bottom, more manatee than monkey but still loving the sport.

Except for that stinky guy.

Seriously, this guy walks around in his own funk like PigPen from Charlie Brown. It's so bad, it's visible, you know? He wears t-shirts with the arms cut off, so there's nothing, no layer of protection, not even a thin wall of cotton between him and us, and I swear the only time I can cross my eyes is when he walks by.

One time Toasty and I were in the gym when he was there, and you couldn't walk into any section of the gym where there was no outlet like a door or window. His odor would creep into corners and lurk there, fetid and giggling, bad enough to make a German shepherd gag. It was so bad I considered asking a staff member to take him out back and either hose him down or shoot him.

But it gets worse. You know the whole Close Encounters thing, how there are different levels of interaction with aliens -- first there's the sighting, then there's physical evidence of alien existence, and then there's actual face-to-face contact? Well, here's my Close Encounters with the Stench that Should Be Forbidden by the Geneva Conventions.

I was in climbing with my friend Tom one time. We had already concluded that Stinky Guy was there, as we had had the first close encounter: the smell. It rolled like banks of fog through the gym, leaving a residue that made the holds slippery. Through teary eyes, we had the second encounter -- a visual sighting (is there any other kind?). He was climbing on the rope right next to me. You know how in movies the guy exercising has that exaggerated V of sweat on the front and back of his shirt, extending from the base of his neck in an upside-down triangle to his waist? He had that. Bits of him were glistening. Not Disney glistening with little radiant stars coming off him, but, like, Karo syrup glistening.

Just as I realized how close he was, there was one of those unfortunate series of events where everything inevitably comes together in the worst possible way. I had finished my climb, and my partner began lowering me. When I got to about the half-way point down the wall, Stinky Guy missed a move and popped off his neighboring climb. I saw it happening, I knew what was coming, I tried to holler at Tom to just drop me and to hell with the consequences, but it was too late. With a wet slap akin to a dead fish being flopped down on the butcher's block, he swung right into me.

After that, events unfolded in sickening slo-mo: first the collision (at this point, his smell was streaming mercifully out behind him) with all the sticky horror of hitting an underclothed sweaty guy. Then, the ropes tangle around each other in defiance of the laws of physics and simple decency. Then the smell catches up with its source, and I'm hit with the full tsunami of eye-watering, death-would-be-better-than-this body fug from a man who clearly hasn't showered since Kennedy was shot. John, not Bobby. Frantically, I'm trying to get myself untethered from this guy, from this wall, from this life if necessary, scrabbling at the ropes, while my lunch is threatening to untether itself from my stomach. Finally, an eternity later, we get unknotted, Tom lowers me the rest of the way, and I escape to the bathroom to breathe deeply and scour my flesh with giant, soapy wads of paper towel.

I mean, come on, does the guy have rabies or something? What makes water with a little soap such a bad idea?

What kills me is that the guy obviously doesn't think his smell is a problem, or he'd do something about it. So my reaction to being in contact with him must have seemed really inappropriate and hysterical to him. I mean, I wasn't panicking and flailing (much), but probably more than a simple bump would merit. I wonder what he thinks caused all the fuss?

The worst of it? Our mid-air (mid-fetid-air) encounter apparently makes us "buddies," so now when he sees me in the gym, he waves hello.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

I had a temp job today.....

The temp jobs do help me to support my freelancing habit, so that's a good thing, right? Yes. And the fact that I don't have to go back again tomorrow is even better. But for you in positions of leadership and authority in the corporate world, I'd like to make a few suggestions for the next time you drag in a temp:

Instructions on the Proper Care and Feeding of Your Temp:

1.) Have shit ready. I realize that I still get paid even as I sit there and watch you tear your hair out because there's no network connection for the computer and the IT guy is off trying to button his shirt up correctly, but seriously, this is 45 minutes I could have spent in bed.

2.) Don't put me in a closet. I realize I'm an embarrassing temp with bad hair and that blank look of incomprehension, but if you stick me in a cold, windowless storage space, crammed in between file cabinets and boxes so covered in dust they will require carbon dating to determine their age and piles of paperwork dating back to the Carter administration, I'm going to spend the day trying to make monster faces by applying Scotch tape to my nose and adding Post-It eyeballs to the staple remover so it looks like a viper. That's just what temps do when left alone.

3.) Choose ONE PERSON to tell me what to do. Six people trying to load me down with all their crap jobs that suck the will to live right out of a person means I spend most of the afternoon trying to flush eight months of back-filing down the toilet.

4.) I require a lunch break. A real one. Not the kind where I try to eat a furtive sandwich at the piece of old plasterboard laid across an open filing cabinet drawer that you call a desk while you stare at me like every second I spend eating is stealing money right out of your kids' college fund. Give me space and time and some privacy, please. I don't want to make conversation with you. You earn a lot more money than I do, but believe me when I say that I pity you a lot more than you pity me, and I really don't want to try to explain my lifestyle choices to you. And yes, the "meat" on my sandwich looks odd because it's a veggie-tofu-fungus-wheat gluten thingy, and yes, it tastes very nice, thank you. Feel free to fuck off back to your own desk now.

5.) I leave at 5. I will not work until 5 and then spend 15 minutes "tidying up," chasing your ass down to get you to sign my timesheet, locking up file cabinets and running last-minute errands. The "last minute" that you'll get from me is the one between 4.59 and 5.00. Use it wisely; when it's gone, so am I.

6.) Yes, I am competent! I know, you're stunned that I've managed to master my own native alphabet to the level of being able to file without moving my lips, but please, try to rein in the surprise. Not all temps have an IQ equivalent to, say, a sock or the President. Applauding when I manage to accomplish a simple task like answering a phone will only succeed in pissing me off. And that's when I suddenly forget how.

7.) You are not doing me a favor. I'm doing one for you. I'm helping you out of a tight situation with grace and ability and for less pay than the guy who stocks the snack machine. Expect professionalism and competence -- not gratitude. "Letting" me come back tomorrow to do some other mindless task for little money is why I drink.

I have to say that, by and large, the people I've worked with have been extremely nice and very gracious and almost apologetic when they give me something really awful to do. But there is that odd person now and again who mourns the end of the feudal age and really just wants a scullery maid to terrify and occasionally throw down the back stairs. That's why I keep a guillotine in my car. I'm just saying.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Drama in Real Life (Someone Else's)

OK, so lately I've re-read Into Thin Air (a bunch of people get trapped and die on Everest), Into the Wild (a kid gets trapped in the Alaskan bush and dies) and Deep Survival (a bunch of people get trapped in a bunch of different situations -- most die). I'm beginning to suspect I may have a ghoulish streak.

Personally, I blame Reader's Digest. My parents used to get their wee magazine when I was a kid, and I would grab it first and squirrel it away until I could read the story about "Man Falls into River from Life Raft, Nearly Dies, Finds God, Survives" or the one where "Woman is in Exploding Airplane, Falls Thousands of Feet, Nearly Dies, Lands in Remote Desert/Jungle/Mountain, Finds God, Survives" or even "Boy Goes Hiking with Family, Gets Lost Finding Place to Pee, Falls from Cliff, Nearly Dies, Finds Dog and God, Survives." Reader's Digest taught me to be ghoulish. It's not my fault.

I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but the stuff I do read (for fun) can pretty much be separated into two camps: (1) survival or lack thereof stories and (2) when a good brain goes bad. Give me a story of someone high on a mountain in a snowstorm with no food, no water, only Panama shorts, a t-shirt and a pair of Converse tennis shoes and incipient frostbite nipping at his nose, and I'll happily curl up on my couch with some popcorn, root beer and a blanket. Tell me about a stroke victim who only eats from the right half of his plate to the middle in a perfectly straight line, and I'm into that book like a survivor into a sleeping bag. Synesthesia, echolalia, hemisphere neglect: bring it on!

So for the last few weeks on the Discover channel (10 pm Tuesdays), they've been showing a group of guys trying to shuffle their way up Everest. Some of the same people tried to make it up last year. They're being guided by a man named Russell Brice -- an experienced mountaineer and guide. Russell, who I believe is from New Zealand, is that odd mixture of ex-Brit Empire polite and restrained and This Is Everest, So Get Your Shit Together old-fashioned tyrant.

Last year, one guy on his team who actually seems a bit of a jackass refused to come down even though he was running too late and too low on oxygen to summit and make it down safely. Russell kept up this running commentary on the radio: "Time to come down now, please turn around, think about coming down, perhaps you ought to consider that whole coming-down-and-not-dying option," blah blah blah. I kept shouting at the TV for him to stop being so polite, for crap's sake. The guy's seriously hypoxic and not able to make rational decisions (his decision-making even when fully oxygenated seems a bit limited, actually) -- it's time to talk to him like a parent to a child. "Turn your ass around and get down here. Now." At one point, Russell even points out the dead guy just to the right of the obstinant climber. Right there. Just to your right. Frozen to the rock and left up there forever or until an avalanche brings him down. Seriously, how much more persuading do you need? Finally, after an hour or more of arguing, the guy turns around and lives to try again in '07. I won't know if he was successful until next Tuesday, dammit!

I can't stand horror movies with all the gore and grossness, and frankly last week's episode of Everest, where there's a dead body at Camp 4, loosely covered with a sleeping pad and his own backpack, was pushing even my limits pretty hard. But I'm fascinated by people who can force themselves to do these things despite all reason, despite the fact that the human body is entirely wrong for this place. Frostbite, HAPE, heart attacks, hypoxia, the fact that your brain cells are exploding like tiny little firecrackers inside your head for every minute you spend above 26,000 feet -- what compels someone to keep going in such a hostile environment? Seriously, people, we have survival instincts for a reason. Your brain cells are dying. You don't replace those, you know. You come off Everest stupider than you were when you got there. You could stay warm at home and binge on alcohol if headaches, nausea and near-death experiences are that important to you.

Anyway, I guess I'm glad people are willing to struggle to hang on to a thin thread of life 120 feet under the surface of the ocean or 29,000 feet above it, and then write about it later so I can be entertained from the comfort of my couch. Human beings have gotten rather arrogant about their ability to survive, forgetting that that survival has a lot more to do with access to things like heat, drinking water and couches with comfy afghans than with our own cleverness or resourcefulness. Maybe that's why I like to read about people who really do test the limits in hostile places: if humans win, then hooray, look how smart and crafty you are (and, by extension, me). If nature wins, then hooray, look how powerful nature is and how it'll triumph even over our concrete, our toxic fumes, our pesticides and smog long after we're gone.

Or maybe I'm just ghoulish. Yeah, that's probably it.

Am I a Writer Yet?

Must just do a quick plug for myself -- I got a story published in a new literary ezine, woo hoo! If you're interested in reading it (it was briefly published here, so some of you have already seen it: "Boat Weather"), you can check it out here. You have to download a PDF version, then scroll through quite a lot of other stuff (or read it -- that's also an option) to get to mine. Yay!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Obfuscation, Obfuscation, Obfuscation

I've been doing my fair share of job hunting recently. Except that there's nothing "fair" about it, not in the meaning of "fair" as in "equitable" or "fair" as in "she's a fair lass." Life, we are told from that first slap on the ass onwards, isn't fair. It's not even-steven, and it's not pretty. Lately, I've been thinking about how job hunters (or anyone else aiming to impress) try to even up the score.

We lie.

Really. I tell people all the time that I'm "detail-oriented and highly organized." Please. I'm thinking of having one of those nose-ring things done, just to carry my keys around on. I lose those suckers a minimum of once a day, and I even have a special nifty dragonfly hook next to my door to hang them on. I just can't be bothered to take the 9.7 nanoseconds required to actually hook them on there when my arms are full of groceries, there are hungry cats twisting themselves into knots around my ankles, and I'm already doing the gotta-pee jiggy dance of too much coffee and too little time to off-load it. Highly organized I am not.

But I'll quite happily claim to be organized. I can even fake it, in the short term, as long as no one looks too closely. When I was teaching (ahhhhhhhhh past tense ahhhhhhhhh), I had these massive three-ring binders, several for each level of ESL I taught. They were (ostensibly) separated by themes: health and body, emergencies, the house, school, looking for work, etc. As long as the binder remained closed, I could haul it around, little plastic tags prominently and smugly displayed. Inside, it was a different story. Hell, there could have been anything in there: lost works by Jackson Pollock, Amelia Earhart's final flight plan, that 18 1/2 minutes from the Nixon tapes. Actual, usable lesson plan fodder? Not so much.

I just spent the last hour, for example, trying to find pictures to use for my bio on my NEW WRITING THINGY (warning: shameless self-promotion ahead) at Sustainable Style Foundation. I know I have tons of nifty pictures of me in the blurry distance -- where they are is anyone's guess. I fear I may have to embark on a journey to THE STORAGE CLOSET. I have a storage closet that's been divided in half -- an upper and a lower -- and I have the lower half. It's a great place to put camping gear and the like, as that way my tent and sleeping bag get acclimated to dank, smelly, wet places. It's a graveyard of old spiderwebs full of the bodies of formerly juicy moths, flies, small children, etc.; it is also a hiding place for the spiders who built them and who still scurry around there, looking multi-legged and threatening. I can't stick my hand in any of the boxes without images of gangrenous spider bites spreading up my arm until the doctors tell me they're going to have to remove my neck and just balance my head between my shoulders and whatever you do, don't untie the ribbon!

But I've exhausted all the possible hiding places in my house (and at 450 sq. ft., that doesn't take long), so I'm left with the ridiculous places (that little gullwing-door butter nook in the fridge; under a cat; wrapped in plastic and duct tape and suspended in the toilet tank) or THE STORAGE CLOSET.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah. Being organized and more into the details than the devil hisself. About that? I lied.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Calling All Bikers

Unbelievable. I mean, I know Seattle is, by and large, a very polite town. We do things in subtle, quiet ways, we don't make much of a fuss (we leave that to out-of-town visitors to do for us), even our earthquakes do minimal damage.

Now, it seems, even our gang members are trying to "get made" using BBs.

I do not mean to take this lightly. One man, Peter McKay, has a bullet in his lung, and another narrowly missed his aorta and spinal cord. He could have died. The bullets (call them "pellets" if you must, but they were fired from a gun, and in my mind, that makes them bullets) remain in his body -- though he may eventually cough up the one in his lung. Which would be a cool party trick if you could time it right.

Since Mr. McKay's shooting, others have also become targets of, seriously, the lamest couple of sad-act gang-banger wannabe's this side of Comedy Central. Now, I'm not suggesting the red Ford Escort (ride of choice for pimps and bad asses everywhere) boys go out and buy a bazooka or something; I'm saying that there are adequacy issues here that no amount of firepower can cure. I get ads every day on my email for increasing your "size" and "potency." You boys let me know your email addresses, and I'll pass a few along.

Would-be bad boys want us to be afraid of them. Our fear makes them feel powerful. Laughing at their Keystone Cop-esque antics deflates them to their proper size, leaving them flaccid and impotent. Fortunately, these boys provide us with plenty to make fun of.

I think we here in Seattle should organize a "Take Back the Middle of the Afternoon-Slash-Early Evening" walk/jog/ride. Let's all head over to West Seattle, see if we can't locate the BB-gun-toting Rambos. Wouldn't it be rich if a bunch of skinny, no-ass bikers in eye-rattling jerseys of pink and biker yellow got ahold of the tired little fuckers and turned them over to the cops? Before they accidentally ('cause they obviously can't do it on purpose) kill someone.

The Lycra-clad ass you save may be your own.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"North" Means "Up," Right?

So I'm re-reading this book Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. It's really fascinating, actually: stories of people who get into life-and-death situations and why some people freak out and die of hypothermia 20 minutes after wandering too far from the cocktail tent on a beach in Kauai while other people are found 168 days later in an ice cave in the Himalayas under a tent constructed of braided yak hair and coconut fibers, happily gnawing on the shinbone of the pilot.

The thing about reading this book is it's incredibly humbling. Much as I like to think I'm clever enough to survive in the wilds on my own, and as much as I come from a heritage of jerry-rigging (my father once went out to get rid of a break-away bee hive wearing a pie pan on his head and a full-length cheesecloth sari. not one sting), I am a wimp. I freak out when the toilet backs up and I have to pee in the park for three days. Fifteen minutes after sauntering off the path and no more than a holler away from rescue, I'd likely walk through a spider web and, batting furiously at the imagined spider in my hair, blunder over a cliff. My survival skills are limited to knowing how to curl up and cry.

For one thing, I have no sense of direction. As I sit in my apartment now, I know that, sitting at my desk, I am facing roughly south. I know this only because I know that the street outside my window runs north-south, and since Mt. Rainier is that way and not that way, then that way must be south. I require 14,400+ foot-tall landmarks, and they'd better be distinctive. Stand-alone mountains like Rainier work best.

So I can just imagine myself lost in the wilderness, wandering in circles, wondering how long it will be before I have to start brushing my teeth with a twig and learning to like mushrooms and vomiting. And, as those familiar with this blog will know, I'm a wee bit afraid of the dark. At the first sight of lengthening shadows, my mind would automatically start running through every single Stephen King book I've ever read, testing out the scariest scenarios. My brain hates me and would gleefully use every tiny noise of the forest settling in for the night to convince me that I was in the sequel to the Blair Witch Project.

According to Mr. Gonzales, the Australian aborigines have a technique for not getting lost when in unfamiliar territory: they create songlines. They basically make a song out of the directions they take and the landmarks they come across, and in this way, they can go back the same way they came and pass along the directions to others. Singing the forest (or outback or whatever) forces you to be hyper-aware of the world around you. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, a song about "turn left at the Douglas fir and head straight on til the madrona -- the one with the peeling bark" probably isn't going to prove terribly helpful.

In fact, in an environment that grows and changes as quickly as this one, I'm not entirely sure how this sort of mapping would work. "Turn left at the unfurling maidenhair ferns that are growing on the dead log" is only helpful if you make it back while they are still unfurled. And if you don't confuse it with the exactly identical bunches of unfurled maidenhair ferns all over the bleedin' forest. Let's face it. Mother Nature wants you to return what Gonzales calls your "borrowed materials" to the soil ASAP so she can build something new out of you. Preferably something that doesn't drive a car and use a new Ziploc storage bag for each sandwich. So, no help there.

One guy survived 76 days at sea on a rubber raft. When finally "rescued" by a fishing boat, he had fresh water and plenty of strips of dried fish and insisted that the fishing boat go ahead and fish and take him to the hospital at their leisure. Another guy in a similar situation was desperate for water, drank a fair portion of the ocean, went a little nuts and decided to go buy cigarettes at the 7-11. He was understandably surprised when the trip to the corner store ended in his getting eaten by sharks.

I know enough to know that Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs were a stupid idea. Beyond that, I'll be the one trying to make a fire by focusing sunlight through my glasses and onto a small pile of kindling and wood fibers and promptly burning the forest down.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Driver, Move That Bus!

I think I really freaked someone out today.

So, I was taking the bus from home to the downtown public library (that's where Seattleites go to dribble and shout at dustmotes in the air, if my carrel neighbors are any indication). My bus driver was of the persuasion that thinks the only way his passengers will know he's really making the effort is to drive like Tarzan on crack -- taking corners tire-squealingly fast, aiming for the potholes that are biggest and approaching red lights like a man with a grudge, stomping so hard on the brakes that the back end of the bus accordions up into the front end and the delinquents in the back practically end up on the driver's lap.

To begin with, the driver was eight minutes late to my stop, and when I got on, he hit the gas before I'd had the chance to find a seat. Normally, this doesn't bother me; I have reasonable balance and can find a seat even while moving and chewing gum. Normally, the bus driver isn't trying to set some kind of 0 to 60 record for diesel-powered public transit either. He hit the gas so hard, I pinballed my way down the aisle at break-neck speed and ended up smooshed against the back window like one of those Garfield dolls with the suction feet. Ha bloody frickin' ha.

I unpeeled myself from the inside back window and managed to crawl to a seat next to a nervous-looking little old lady. She was white-knuckling the metal support bar in front of her with one hand while death-gripping her oversized granny purse with the other. I smiled at her as I went to sit down, but of course the driver was aiming for a biker just then, veered to hit him, and dumped me in the old lady's lap. She helpfully bony-elbowed me into the proper position, scowled politely and stared straight ahead in a neighborly we're-all-in-this-together sort of manner.

The bus careened and swooned its way down Jackson towards the downtown, scattering pigeons and elderly Asians as it went. Bags were vibrating themselves off people's laps as we hit crap road surface at teeth-jangling speeds. One guy tried to have a cell-phone conversation, but his head and the hand holding his cell phone were moving at such variable speeds, he looked more like he was trying to shave.

After a particularly jarring thump off a pothole big enough to go spelunking in, I was thoroughly pissed off that this Nascar reject was in control of the bus. "I am going to kill this driver!" I hissed, out loud. (It's hard to hiss silently -- you end up sounding asthmatic.)

Just after I said this and just as I registered my seatmate's intensified look of alarm, I realized I really didn't know the best stop to get off the bus. I banged and clattered my way to the front of the bus, leaping from support pole to handhold, desperately gripping anything that might keep me upright as we slalomed through the city. I really didn't want to distract the driver from his murderous intentions, but I leaned down and asked him the best stop for the library. It appeared we were at it. In fact, we might have been slightly past it. He slammed on his brakes (it required him actually standing up to bring the bus to a stop -- I could just hear him shouting 'Whoa, Nelly!' in his fat, redneck-banded head), and I got off.

As I was stepping down off the bus, I realized how that must have looked to the nervous lady I'd been sitting next to: I make a threat on the driver's life, then immediately head to the front of the bus, whisper something in his ear that causes him to slam on the brakes, and get off. She must have thought she'd narrowly averted being part of some kind of attack. And seriously, considering the depth her bony elbow penetrated my sternum, she really had.

Monday, November 05, 2007

So, Who's Got All the Tat?

On Saturday night, Toasty and I drove up north to attend the birthday party of his daughter. It was at a martini bar in a hotel -- good food, great cake, excellent company -- and a good time was had by all. We got there at 8 pm (on time; a fact that did not go unnoticed or unremarked) and left around 10 or 10.30, according to Toasty.

The bar wasn't particularly full when we got there, but as the evening progressed, it started to fill up with young people ordering the kind of martinis that would have James Bond projectile vomiting off the side of his yacht. I'm sure they tasted wonderful -- especially the one with the gummy bears on the toothpick where the onion or olives would normally hang out -- but let's just say that these are not your boozy uncle's kind of martini. I generally really dislike gender stereotyping, but these martinis were downright girly. They came in lots of pastel pinks and blues and light yellows and greens, and so many had bits of candy floating in them, I was starting to wonder if perhaps someone had leftover Halloween treats lying around and decided to plunk a handful in with some Malibu and "SoCo" and call it a martini.

The birthday girl chose the place because she used to hang out there when she lived in the area, and the tables were big enough to put a party around, and the food and drink and service were definitely above par. But it was without question the sort of place that would attract a certain kind of sorority girl in droves: "viewing booth" type seating where one could arrange oneself for maximum displayage (not that they needed help, but more on that in a moment), and drinks so pretty they'd look just as colorful and feminine on the way back up as they did in the glass.

And where one finds young, preening girls, one often as not finds young, gawping boys.

So at some point later in the evening, I looked around and noticed that there was an awful lot of ... there's no polite way to say this. But there is a French way: decolletage. In good old, Anglo-Saxon: boobs. They were everywhere. Shirts were cut so low and involved so little material that they were more swatches than actual clothing. At one point someone made mention of the "girl in the red blouse." Toasty turned to look at her and said, "I see some red around the edges. Is that the girl you mean?" Yes, shirts operated as little more than parentheses that night.

And of course, the boys at the bar were being happily pulled in by the sheer gravitational weight of all that abundance. Every time a woman reached down to pick up her purse or retreive a napkin that had fallen on the floor, the swivelling of male heads actually produced a breeze sufficient to blow out the candles on C's birthday cake. Those boys were kids in a mammary shop, trying to figure out how to spend their allowance.

Just behind our table were two of the viewing booths (I swear that the booth backrests actually leaned backward for unnecessary emphasis). One booth was entirely populated by women, each one sporting the kind of rack that gets a moose shot. The other booth was entirely populated by men who must have had blinding headaches the next day from the strain of sneaking peeks and then pretending not to -- all without moving their heads. A line of small clouds was forming at the front where the testosterone and estrogen met.

A friend later said that such display was to be expected at a college bar, but really, this place was less about college and more about collagen. I was in college once, and I really don't remember the sheer volume of cleavage. That's not to say it wasn't there, but I think perhaps it wasn't as gleefully on show.

All I can say is, if it truly is an even exchange of tit for tat, then somewhere in the world there's a bar with enormous piles of tat.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why is this Book in Your Freezer?

I think I got eleven minutes of sleep last night. Don't expect this blog to be coherent. Hell, don't even expect me to finish it. At any moment, this text could disintegrate into a line of bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb when my forehead hits the keyboard. You have been disclaimered.

I don't know what's going on, but lately I've turned into the twitchiest would-be sleeper this side of an eleven-year-old staying home alone for the first time on Halloween after an 8-hour Freddie Kruegerathon and a dinner of Ho Hos. Every wee weird noise has me flipping over to turn on the light. This is bad for a couple of reasons: first, I have two cats and therefore quite a few weird noises on any given night, and two, the light on my bedside table has a short in its wiring and is likely to suddenly, heart-stoppingly turn itself off. Which it did twice last night.

The worst, though, is hearing some odd little noise in the house, assuming it was a cat, getting up to check and finding both cats sound asleep on their respective couches, miles from whence the strange sound cometh. I hate that. What's the point of having cats if you can't blame spooky night noises on them? (and yes, Aa., there are plenty of other reasons, so shaddup)

I've lived alone a lot of my adult life, and while I do have an overactive imagination at the best of times, I've mostly been able to stifle it when I need to sleep. I don't watch scary movies unless Toasty's going to be around for awhile, and scary books go in the freezer to stop them oozing out their bad characters like ectoplasm. But it's like I've suddenly regressed into the eight-year-old me who would wake up in the middle of the night, parents and brothers mere feet away, and be certain if I rolled over, a face would be at the side of my bed, looking back at me. (did I mention that overactive imagination?) I used to call for my dad and ask him something banal like what time it was (crucial information for an 8-year-old at 3 in the morning). My dad has always been a light sleeper and could be counted on for comfort, even if it was just to hear a familiar voice say, "It's 3.30. Go back to sleep." Instead of the expected, "It's time for you to die, little girl! hahahahhaahahaha!"

I'm off in a moment to take my asthmatic cat to the vet. I wonder what her inhaler will look like?

Sorry -- bit of a tangent there. Anyway, if you get a phone call at 3.30 in the morning, and a tremulous but rather familiar voice on the other end asks what time it is, just tell me it's OK, there's no such thing as the bogeyman, and that noise I just heard came from one of the cats, don't bother to go check.

Meanwhile, I'm going to buy a new lamp today. Possibly some earplugs.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Less a Street Walker, More a Street Stander

So in my on-going quest to do every weird job in Seattle, I recently accepted a one-time, please-can-you-bail-me-out-I-need-one-more-body temp gig. My instructions were: "wear a black jacket, black pants (no jeans) a white shirt with a collar and black shoes. Meet this guy at this place and do what he tells you." Ooooookaaaaay.... "Oh, and wear a watch." First off, doesn't everybody know that as soon as they tell you "white shirt, black pants, black jacket" that the job is going to be (a) tedious, (b) uncomfortable and (c) low pay?

Well, I'd just lent my only working watch to my mom, so I left early for the gig (clad in the proper I'm-one-pair-of-sunglasses-short-of-killing-aliens attire) in order to stop at Rite Aid and buy a fancy timepiece. Said $16 timepiece strapped to wrist, I went to the address, only to find that there is no such address. I wandered around for awhile, carrying my little sheet of paper of woefully inadequate instructions (I would soon find out just how inadequate they were) until I happened to ask directions of a guy who knew the guy I was supposed to be meeting. The place where I was sent to isn't exactly a "place" as such. It's actually a wide spot in a tunnel. So, more of an absence of a place than an actual building. As I'm standing awaiting instructions, I see more Men and Women in Black, looking confused and waving inadequate bits of paper at people, so I gesture them over.

Once there are six of us, we are led upstairs. I got a walkie talkie, a clicker-counter thingy, a clipboard and a pen. My job, it seems, will be to stand outside for the next six hours, directing people onto and off of buses.


There's a convention in town, and the convention-goers have a party to go to. Shuttle buses will pick them up at their hotels and take them to the party. My job is to get them onto the right buses and presumably to tame the savage beasts with some singing and tap dancing when the shuttle buses are behind schedule. Then after awhile I'll go to the party and shove the same people --only slightly drunker now-- back onto the buses and send them home.

Six hours. Outside. In late October. Did I mention the inadequate instructions? Yeah, the whole "you'll be outside the whole time" bit was missing. Fortunately, I had worn a jacket. It wasn't warm enough, but it'd prove to be the difference between doing the job with good humor or telling everyone to f*ck off, get on the bus or I'd attach my clipboard to their left nipple and spin it. My black shoes were completely wrong, having high-ish heels and a thin sole, and I would have worn gloves if I had known, but I was in better shape than some of the rest of the Temporary Six who hadn't worn overcoats at all.

The party people were, by and large, in a good humor and didn't mind waiting a bit, the bus drivers were very nice and very professional, and the people I was working with (though I only saw them for a few minutes here and there) regarded the whole thing with the same horrified humor that I did. It was an education conference, so I had some fears of ushering one of my former colleagues onto a bus and having to answer questions like, "So, how's that whole freelance-writer thing working out for you?" but fortunately that didn't happen. There was one woman who just seemed mad at the world and who got a bit mouthy, but I stuffed a passing homeless person in her mouth and that calmed her down.

All in all, it really wasn't a bad evening. It was actually quite good fun most of the time. I got to talk to people and be chatty, which I can do for short periods, especially if I know I'm getting paid at least a little. The people running the event were organized and on the ball and genuinely appreciated having temps with brains and a decent work ethic. And when I headed home at midnight, I got my bus after waiting in no-hoperville (in front of the Benaroya, for those of you who know what I mean) for less than a minute. All in all, a reasonable evening, even though it meant I missed this week's Office.

I wish they'd let me keep the red vest, though. And the clicker.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Press the 9 and I'll Kill You.

It's Nuclear Toast's fault that I even noticed this. His post about the things that annoy him got me thinking about the things that annoy me, and I came to two conclusions: (1) my list is a whole lot longer than his, and (2) dragging into the light the things that annoy me, annoys me. Add that to your list, bucko.

So yesterday I was in Seattle's interesting but rather unfriendly new downtown library, doing research for some articles I hope someone somewhere will want to pay me for, when I had to make a few photocopies. Why photocopies? Because I was on the 10th floor, in the Seattle history section, and you can't take books out of that area. Fair enough. There's a copy machine right there, I can do that. Except I can't. I have no change, just a $10 bill, and the machine takes only fives and ones. Natch.

"Where can I get change?" I whisper to the librarian.

"First floor," she barks back. Why don't librarians have to whisper? Is it one of the perks of the job that we all have to be quiet but they don't? Damn. Another thing to add to my list.

First floor. I'm on the 10th. This is a busy, big-city library. To do this, I must pack up my laptop, because she's already warned me to take it with me with that "I'm not going to watch it for you, don't even ask" look in her eye. I can't take the book with me to photocopy down there because the books in this section are sacred, and like that episode of Twilight Zone where everyone lives forever as long as they don't leave the town, the book will crumble to dust the moment I go beyond the perimeters of sacred Seattle space. Right.

I close up my many windows (sorry, Windows), shut down my computer, dismantle the whole thing (seriously, shuttle launches involve fewer plugs and pieces), pack it up in my bag and head to the elevator.

When it finally arrives, it's packed. There are at least eight people in there already, but there aren't many elevators in this very large, very busy library, so I shove my way in there, laptop in front of me like a battering ram. I prepare for a lengthy descent. We pass floor 9 without stopping, then 8, then 7. Then it's floor 6, and people are starting to notice. Then it's 5, and someone breaks the cardinal rule of "don't hex a good thing" by saying, "Are we going to make it all the way?" We punch him in the head, gag him and shove him in a corner.

Then it's floor 4, then 3, and the excitement in the elevator is almost too much to take. Are we going to make it? We've all been holding our breath and we let it out and grin at each other as we whiz past floor 2 like we're too good for it.

It's amazing, and put this on my list of "miracles that made my moment," but we went all the way to one without a single stop. Like Willy Wonka's factory, no one got on, and no one got off. Everyone was so excited, that when the doors opened on floor one, we all hesitated a moment, then broke into applause. I doubt any floor of the library has seen a more congenial group of elevator riders as we get off, whooping victoriously and high fiving each other. One guy suggested having t-shirts made that read "I dropped from the 10th floor and didn't die." We traded phone numbers, swore to write often and went our separate ways.

I got my $10 bill transformed into a bunch of smaller bills, then took the elevator back up to 10 for my photocopies. Never again (in the 2 more elevator rides that day) did I make it all the way without stopping. No, that would be asking too much of ThyssenoeusKrupptophanes, ancient Greek god of vertical lifting devices.

But I never will forget that for one shining moment, the gods grinned at me in my puny mission to get change for the photocopier. And all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Oh, I Don't Think So

Have you ever had a job interview where you knew the job wasn't right, you knew you wouldn't take it if it were offered unless there were some seriously astronomical money attached to it, and still you had to sit there and gut out the interview? No? Well, lemme tell you what it's like.

It's a bad blind date without the benefit of alcohol.

Now, I've had bad blind dates. It is the nature of Internet dating that until you find a Toasty, you have to work through a lot of Milquetoasts. There was the guy who brought along a manila folder full of pictures of his cats. There was the other guy who only wanted to impress me (and not necessarily me, anybody in a girl suit would've worked) with the fact that his play was about to be published, win a Tony, resurrect the dead, whatever. One guy chewed me out for cutting tomatoes (for HIS party!) on his sacred stone kitchen countertops, though I was using a cutting board. (I think he slaughters goats there for his rituals and, to his credit, he was worried about cross-contamination.)

I KNOW from bad dates. But all of these, without exception, involved a drink. Not that I drink a lot, I really don't. Alcohol impairs judgement. Now granted, in order to do anything with these guys, I'd have to have my judgement impaired with a two-by-four, and a couple of cocktails isn't going to turn them into anything more than dry, tasteless, mystery-nugget-laden British Christmas puddings without benefit of being set on fire, but still, I prefer to keep my wits about me.

What was I talking about? Oh right, job interviews.

So I go on one. As ever, on paper, the job sounds pretty good. It has the title I'm looking for, and while it's more of a commute than I want, I'm willing to live with it for the right gig. I get the call at 3.45 on a Friday afternoon. Can I get 25 miles away in fourteen minutes? (I'm kind of a lead-foot, so that wasn't as impossible as it might sound.) I'm actually having lunch with my parents at the opposite end of the world right now, but yes, I can make it. I choke down another forkful of salad, grab the key from my dad and race to their car.

I made it by 4. The interview, which lasted until 5.20, is a bit hazy. The guy I was talking to was so desperately dull, I glazed over like a donut. I remember him rattling on and on about something, but as I sit here, I can't bring up a single topic we discussed. And the office? Plague wards have happier, livelier people in them. I wanted to grab a shovel and start banging heads before they realized they had a warm body in the office and started coming for my brains. The interviewers (there were two) showed me a sample of the "writing" they wanted me to do, and it was like a potential date showing me a photo of the baby deer he'd shot with his nine-ought and skinned himself with a letter opener. There would be no happily-ever-afters here.

I don't know about you, but I get, like, indignant when bad dates think I might want to see them again or even see them until the bottom of this beer. I'm actually insulted that they would think my taste is this bad or I'm this desperate. Now I realize this is ridiculous -- these guys don't think they're so awful that it's insulting to their date to ask to see her again -- but I do get this reaction and I have to struggle to keep it off my face.

It was the same with the interview. They gave me homework for the weekend. Homework! "Take this material and try to duplicate what it is we do; I want it on my desk Monday morning, or it's detention for you, Missy." I acted thrilled to have homework on the last sunny weekend until June. I grasped the papers in my hot little hand like someone might want to snatch them away from me, trilled some goodbyes, and ran the zombie gauntlet out of the office to the safety of my parents' car.

Had this been a Hollywood horror, the car would not have started, and in fact, it didn't. I cursed at it for awhile, sure that the door of the building would open and the walking-dead contents would spill out (slowly, but still . . .) and surround my car, smearing their hands on my window until one of them figured out how to break it, and then they'd drag me out and into the building where I would become one of the shuffling undead. What actually happened was I realized that I was driving my parents' automatic, not my stick shift, and the car was not in park. It took me almost a mile before I stopped saying, "no no no no no way huh uh no" under my breath.

Now, I exaggerate, perhaps. The job likely isn't the horror slick it appeared on the surface, and give me a few more weeks or months of trying to eke out a living as a freelancer, and I'll probably be going around there with my little begging bowl asking for another chance. But I took this leap of faith in order to find work that works for me, if that makes sense. I'm not counting on the "perfect" job, and I'm willing to accept less-than-ideal, just not that much less than ideal.

Somewhere in the ideal-ballpark would be nice.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hell Temp

Yesterday was my last day in the shoe section of the Crap Factory. For the past few days, I've been going from meeting to meeting, trying to explain to people the work I've been doing and what next steps they need to take after I'm gone. (They always look terribly sorrowful when they hear I'm leaving; I always act distraught and ready to rend my clothes with grief that I have to go.) So for the last few days I've been the Temp With Nothing To Lose.

It's fun when there are no worries about being fired. I'm the temp who's been there for two whole weeks, and I'm totally running roughshod over the meetings and everyone in them. They graciously allot me an hour to sum up the last two weeks' of extensive work and the next three months' of stuff they'll need to do, and then try to spend the next 54 minutes of my time yakking about bullshit. You wanna yak? Go to Tibet. Hell Temp says work now, babble when I'm gone.

It was great. Everytime someone went off topic, I beat them with information, grabbed them by the hair and dragged them back to the Pertinent Cave. Socialize with someone who likes you, we've got work to do. I was all over the projector, whipping up screens full of necessary information like a crazed shoe-zealot who went to prison and found Sneaker Jesus or something. (Oh Mary, Mother of Espadrilles, hear our prayer). I was Donald Trump minus the comb-over and the penis envy.

Maybe it's working with Junior High School Students, but I suddenly lost all patience for diplomacy in the face of immaturity. I realize that these people must continue working together, and so for them, being polite, reaching for consensus, avoiding conflict -- these things have value. When you've already packed the contents of your desk in your backpack and can literally count the minutes till final departure, then it's hell bent for leather and Katie, bar the doors. "This is what you're going to do," I told them, on the strength of two-weeks' knowledge and experience. "Not that. This. This is what you've been doing wrong all along. This is how I've set you on the path to rightness. Don't screw it up; I'm not coming back to fix it again."

Even the Shoe Fairy couldn't keep up. Now, he was a challenge, but Hell Temp never shirks a good fight. Shoe Fairy is well over 6 feet and has a voice that manages to be simultaneously shrill and booming. That boy goes to 11. That's OK -- Hell Temp goes to 13. We had those flimsy cubicle walls rattling with the sheer force of our dedication to each being louder than the other. Shoe Fairy thinks it's OK to have unisex shoes. Hell Temp disagrees. Hell Temp says it makes sense to have men's shoes in the men's section and women's shoes in the women's section, even if you have to list some shoes twice or thrice, even. Hell Temp doesn't like the "industry convention" of listing men's sizes as the standard and women's as the deviation. It's messy to have a "size 9" and a "women's size 9" in the same size listing, but Hell Temp graciously accedes to having a "Men's 9, Women's 11" which is what she was shooting for in the first place.

I whirlwinded through my last few days like the Tasmanian Devil on meth. I cut through meeting-babble like a hot knife through tofurkey, leaving bodies and bruised egos in my wake. I wasn't deliberately unkind (except for treading on the Shoe Fairy's Weejuns, smoked hickory, Men's size 11), but I brooked no bullshit. And when my replacement arrived, I dumped it all in her lap, apologized for the remaining chaos and headed for the door like Sneaker Jesus himself had ordained it. Hallelujah!

Nothing More Humbling than a How-To

I was perusing some sites this morning that offer great advice on how to become a professional blogger (don't worry -- I'm not going to ask you to pay for this crap), and one bit of advice I came across over and over again was that One Must Build One's Portfolio. Very well. My portfolio is a little lean on acceptable blogs for job hunting, so, I thought to myself, I'll just quickly cobble together an article or two, toss them into the old 'folio and fling them at target blogjobs.

One sample article should be a "how-to," according to the advice-givers. Fine, I thought. I can do stuff. I'll just sit right down and write myself a set of snazzy instructions on something fun, worthwhile, low-fat and environmentally friendly. It took me almost a full minute before I asked Toasty for help.

Turns out, I don't know how to do ANYTHING. Seriously. I have somehow bumbled along to nearly-40 without mastering a single skill. Now that's impressive. (How-To Survive on the Kindness of Others? No . . . )

I'll write a how-to on climbing! Yes! I refuel my brain juice (coffee), flex my fingers, crack my knuckles, and . . . hmmmm. OK, where to start? Gear? Technique? Terms? I decide to dive in and figure it out later. "So you want to start rock climbing," I type. Ugh. But I soldier on, thoughts of job offers dancing in my head. "First, you'll need a partner." How do you get one of those? "Try posting a notice at your local gym, or failing that, hang out at popular local crags. Unless, of course, you live in a crag-free area like vast portions of the midwest in which case, you're on your own." Not terribly helpful.

I witter on like this for another 150 words or so before giving up. What I really know about climbing is that singing helps when you're scared and never do a double rappel with Ed.

As ever, Toasty comes through in a pinch. He gave me a great idea for a post (which I'm not going to share as I may post it here later), and while it'll require fairly extensive research in order for me to look like I knew how to do this all along, it is at least an idea that'll work.

How to Pick a Fabulous Boyfriend and then Exploit Him for All He's Worth. by me.

Friday, October 05, 2007


I've decided to start smoking and tell people I'm trying to give up chewing gum.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bye Bye, Crap Factory

Well, so much for my perfect arrangement of "freelance in the morning, work part-time at soul-snatching, life-sucking Crap Factory in the afternoon." The glorious arrangement that allowed me to (pretend to) be an artist without the starving part lasted a total of . . . one day. The Crap Factory giveth and it taketh away. Apparently it was just kiddingeth. They gave me the old "40 Hours or Else" ultimatum, and I told them where they could dunk it. Ok, I actually pretended to hem and haw for 24 hours, I "thought about it," I "gave it serious consideration," and then I sadly, with great reluctance and a private happy dance in the disabled stall, chose "or else."

The decision actually took about 24 nano-seconds, but I wanted to let them down easy.

Seriously, the junior high kids are nice. They offer me bubble gum and candy necklaces and they invite me to sleep-overs and try to trade my veggie burger for the pb&js their moms made them for lunch, and my boss says we're "like, best friends forever!" but as soon as I finish signing all the year books tomorrow, I'm outta there.

There have been great things about the job. Like, I'm pretty sure I'm going to get a paycheck soon. And as I'm culling their on-line catalog (that's what I do -- I cull the catalog) I occasionally come across things like the Disney 4-pk High School Musical Panties which cracked me right the heck up there at my stupid desk. Or today's Friggin' Pants. Not just any pants, mind you, but Friggin Chino Pants! Or the Prissy Sandals! Seriously, is no one paying attention but me? Am I alone on this, or are these fucking hilarious?!

But, as Toasty mentioned and DK seconded, the job has been a gold mine for bloggable moments. The other day I decided to take the bus to work. As usual, I was running pretty late, so I quickly made myself a scrambled egg sandwich and raced out the door. I hurried several blocks to the bus (nearly having to do a self-Heimlich at one point when a chunk of egg tried to wrestle its way down my windpipe), jumped on the bus and thought to myself, "Did I turn the stove off?"

I dithered. I called my upstairs neighbor to go check for me, but she wasn't home. I'd have to get off now or the bus would carry me away. No one was around that could help and I wasn't about to enlist poor E. to save me AGAIN. So I got off the bus and hoofed several blocks back to my apartment. (Hey, I have cats. If I leave the stove on, the next thing I know, they'll be stir-frying a tufted tit-mouse in there or something.) I race in the door only to discover that yes, I did actually leave the stove on. I shut off the stove, lock the back door which I've just discovered is open and offer up gratitude to the universe. But now I'm going to be late for work. It's my first day of working part-time, and I REALLY don't want to discuss the fact that I'm running this late to be at work at NOON, just shaddup about it, I know, I know.


The only option now is to ride my bike. It's raining, I don't have time to locate my rain gear and change clothes and pack up the good clothes, blah blah blah, so I just change into my bike shoes, loop one of those goofy velcro thingies around one ankle and take off. Halfway down that giant hill by PacMed/, I discover that my brakes aren't really working very well (translation: not at all) on this wet day, so I do a semi-truck-style-escape-route and duck into the Amazon driveway which is mercifully free of traffic. I scoot up their drive (speed dropping now from world-is-giant-blur to world-is-hazy-plus-my-glasses-are-foggy-and-covered-in-raindrops-which-might-explain-some-of-the-haze), zoom across the front of their building, and rocket out the other side. OK, not the greatest strategy, but I did slow down a little bit, at least. I manage not to broadside any of their shuttle buses, and I'm off and racing down the hill again, this time on the east side. My brakes still aren't gripping too well, but I'm late and don't care anymore. After all, the Crap Factory awaits!

I was 3 minutes late to work. I was dripping, sweaty, red-faced and incoherent, but I was (nearly) on time. Never mind that I nearly splattered myself against the far side of the parking garage because it's a pretty steep ramp to get down there and my brakes STILL haven't dried out. Never mind that I'm soaking from the knees down and my bike shoes make squealing sounds like maybe I store cat toys in them. Never mind that I still have to navigate the three elevators and two escalators it takes me to get to my desk in this building that's more paranoid than a pot addict in a room full of mirrors. As I grumbled and squeaked and dripped my way to my desk, I comforted myself that this was great blog fodder.

I won't miss the job. But I will have to go back to making shit up.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Tea Badging

So, there I am, first day at my brand-spanking-new temp. job. I'm already feeling those stomach quakes of, "dear god, this is going to suck, what did I let myself in for," but I'm gamely ignoring them for the moment.

After staring at the same spreadsheet for a couple of hours, I decide to wander to the kitchenette area for a cup of tea. (I love how companies give you lousy jobs at crap pay, but the "free tea!" and "free hot water!" are always enthusiastically pointed out on the introductory tour.) I have on my proper plastic ID badge, suspended around my neck by a neon purple string, so that I can move about the company at will, unchallenged. The color of the badge identifies me as a temp, so I can almost feel the smug as I move through the endless, twisty corridors.

After fruitlessly consulting the map on the wall and finally asking directions, I locate the kitchenette and, shortly thereafter, the Free Tea! and Free Hot Water! I make my tea and wander back to my desk. This takes some time. I wish they had Free Sherpas! to guide us around the bloody place -- the layout was apparently designed by an agoraphobe with a grudge.

Back in the office, I stand taking orders from the junior high school student who is nominally my "boss" and will be, until I throw myself off the building. We've been chatting for several minutes before I realize my fingertips have stopped sweating and I can probably take a sip from my tea now. I raise the cup to my lips, only to discover that my badge has been resting in my tea for god-knows-how-long. There is a neon purple bridge between my neck and my cup. Embarrassed, I dunk my badge in and out of my tea a few times and then pretend to squeeze it, trying to make a joke of the stupid thing I've just done.

The junior high school student is horrified.

I am clearly damaging precious company property. I apologetically dab the plastic badge with a napkin (the JHSS has handed me several, plus she's trying to shove an entire box of Kleenex down my shirt) and go test it on the nearest door. No harm done.

It's not like I poured my tea into the DVD slot on my computer or dunked my laptop in it. It's a cheap, plastic badge with an appallingly bad picture on it. I guess it's too much to ask that these people develop an even rudimentary sense of humor about such things. My first thought when I realized my badge was soaking in my tea? This is so going in my blog.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

This Cubicle Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us. So I'll Leave.

OK, I've been in the corporate world for a grand total of . . . . carry the 9 . . . two days. And already there's a major brouhaha a'brewin', and I'm just to the left of the thick of it.

Actually, it has nothing whatsoever to do with me, except that I was sitting at the "temp's desk" (the one with cigarette burns and the drawer that only fits on its runners upside down) waiting to be given an order by someone 2/3rds my age and desperately trying to keep the "I have a Master's Degree so fuck off with your photocopies, thank you" off my face.

I've been in the office for about 11 minutes when in storms a man who embodies every single gay male stereotype we all love to hate, right down to the be-tassled loafers and the lisp. He liberally doused the office with indigation-fueled spittle, literally put his foot down (I've never actually seen anyone do that before, it's an oddly precise gesture), made several squealing noises and hit someone with his purse before storming back out again.

I work in shoes.

Not literally in shoes, although I am wearing a pair at work, but I mean I'm working in the shoe department. I had to sheepishly admit today that I have no idea what "espadrilles" are and whether or not a Croc (sp?) qualifies as a "loafer" or a "slide." When I was 10, I knew what a slide was. Now I come to find out I was mistaken. My world fails to crumble.

But back to the drama. There was some hissing of the sort that tells you that somewhere nearby there's a Japanese person who's very very angry. Office drama is kind of funny, though, because the normal weapons of conflict are missing or inappropriate. You can't slam a door when you're exiting a cubicle, or you're liable to bring the entire rabbit warren down in a sort of cheap, tweedy domino effect, cubicle walls bouncing off the shiny, sweaty heads of middle management. You can't shout because then other people will know the actual terms of the debate rather than the hastily whispered, hugely apocryphal water-cooler version. You can't throw things because, hey, we're all professionals here; I'll just bad-mouth you to Suzy during recess instead.

I've been in academia a long time. I don't want anyone to get the idea that there are no dramas there; there are plenty of dramas. It's just that teachers, particularly part-time college teachers, rarely see each other except when our breaks happen to coincide or at once-a-quarter staff meetings where we all ignore the boss and pass notes about each other. Our dramas always happened, therefore, in super slo-mo, and by the time we got around to the next opportunity to snipe at each other, we'd all forgotten what the incident was about and whose turn it was.

So what will I do for drama if I actually manage to get this freelance writer career thing going? I suppose I could tell one cat lies about the other, but that has limited traction. They usually gang up on me, playing turd football in the living room while I'm trying to concentrate. I suck at turd football, and they know it. They always pick me last.

In case you're wondering how the story of the livid shoe fairy turned out, well, it's not over yet. Like a daytime soap opera, story lines at the office rarely come to a conclusion, they just morph into new story lines. By tomorrow he'll likely be falsely accused of murder shortly before discovering that he's really a prince of some tiny island nation which is actually filmed on a back lot somewhere in Hollywood, and his despotic twin brother will come to the office to kill him but he'll accidentally kill some nameless, innocent bystander who's incidental to the soap opera and therefore disposable. Someone like. . . .

Shit. The temp.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sugar and Spice and Sensible Shoes

So some very good friends of mine lent me the DVDs of The L Word. Toasty and I curled up on the couch this weekend and watched the pilot episode (1 & 2) and episode 3. So far I like it, although there are so many women in it that we're going through that whole "getting to know you phase" of having to ask each other, "now, is that the one who's trying to get pregnant?" and "hang on, I thought the curly haired one was the sister of the dark-haired one?" And it's a bit like coming in on a conversation in progress. There are already dramas and histories in play here, and I have to figure out why the sisters are mad at each other and the tennis player is such a flaming neurotic. Obviously, I don't have their names mastered yet (except Shane, whose name comes up about every eleven seconds), but it's refreshing not to be able to designate any particular woman just by saying that "she's the lesbian."

So in episode 3 (and watch out -- spoiler coming) the neurotic tennis player finds herself attracted to the sous chef at her club. The sous chef is a woman, naturally, and so begins the mystery: is she or isn't she?

(A little side note here on generational differences: I can't imagine my mom asking herself, now, before I get into all this, is George straight or gay?)

Friends of the tennis player agree to help and secretly put the suspect sous chef through a whole range of tests, checking her fingernails, her shoes, her walk. Said sous chef comes down pretty firmly . . . on the fence. She's not androgynous or secretive or anything like that, she's simply not giving anything away. It was pretty funny hearing them run through the list of things I would assume were sort of offensive stereotypes: short hair, trimmed fingernails, the ever-popular sensible shoes. So I couldn't help but wonder where I'd fall on the Straight <----->Lesbian spectrum of social clues.

I realize that Toasty is a bit of a give-away, but without him in the picture, how good would I be at deflecting gaydar?

I have short, often ragged fingernails (I'm a rock climber, and I wear contacts and don't enjoy poking my own stupid eye out). I rarely wear skirts or dresses, mostly because my lifestyle and my job don't require them. I have long hair (one for the "straight" column). On the show, they "tested" the sous chef by kissing in front of her. She didn't flinch, but neither did she stare. Now, this one I kind of object to. I find all excessive PDA uncomfortable, straight or gay. I don't flinch (usually), but neither do I stare. It seems unfair to me to assume that anyone who flinches is doing so from homophobia rather than just from being -- like so many of us -- awkward around tongue-wrestling couples of any description. Anyway, I am not polished or fashionable or particularly concerned about my hair or my makeup. Sorry, Toasty. If we're speaking in stereotypes here, I'm looking a little lezzy.

But I'm really interested in what this says about straight women and lesbian women. We're very quick to categorize, mainly, I think, because we're too lazy or scared to find out the truth through, oh, I don't know, actual human interaction. If you're really so desperate to find out information about a person -- straight or gay, liberal or fatheaded, rich, poor, smart or stupid -- it is possible to do this novel thing called "getting to know someone." If I'm that curious about a person, then I should ask. It's time to stop being so sensitive about labels. It's not an insult to call someone a lesbian, so why should it be awkward to ask them if they are?

And yet it is. Asking a stranger outright about their sexual orientation (I love that -- it makes it sound like we're all running around in the woods looking for flags that say "straight" or "gay") would brand me instantly suspicious. What are my motives for asking? Do I want to eliminate them as a friend, employee, partner, living human being?

I liked the way the show dealt with the question. The sous chef knew she was under scrutiny, so she put all doubts to rest by shoving the tennis player against the lockers and giving her a kiss that ended the debate. (Of course she was a lesbian -- in this section of LA, they're all lesbians, and the straight women are a little thin on the ground.) While I prefer my own "getting to know you" activities to involve a little more conversation prior to the locker-shoving, lip-chapping tongue-lock (and FYI, folks, not all my getting-to-know-you conversations lead to that), it was cute and funny and sweet in a rather aggressive sort of way.

So, there you go. When it comes right down to it, we're all still using the same old set of tired social cues to determine whether or not someone's worth getting to know. But at least we're now aware of our tired social cues and looking to expand the lists a little.

And speaking of gaydar, I knew she was a lesbian back when she was still excited about her yogurt.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Don't Care What Color My *&#%ing Parachute Is

As long as the damn thing opens.

So, last week I did one of those half-brave, half-stupid things about which epic ballads are never written. I quit my jobs. All of them.

On the strength of several people telling me I have a modicum of writing talent (not all of them related to me or friends with me or owing me money), I gave up both my day jobs and my night job. It's Wednesday of the first week of being gainfully unemployed, and I'm starting to panic.

While being without a steady source of income is something of a family tradition, I'm not terribly comfortable with it. I make fun of my wee little cave, but that doesn't mean I want to lose it. I'd suck as a homeless person. Remember the toilet incident and the subsequent I-can't-believe-I-have-to-pee-in-the-park meltdown? Now try to imagine me carrying around all my earthly belongings, my two fat cats, and trying to find a place to plug in my electric toothbrush that also has WiFi. It just wouldn't work. And what would Chase Manhattan do with my cave, anyway? Open up a very tiny, very dark, very cramped Beacon Hill branch?

So I'm feeling a bit stressed. Stress is a funny thing. It's a bit like having an annoying roommate of the kind that sneaks up behind you and jabs you in the ribs when you were having an otherwise very nice afternoon. It lurks around dark corners and hides in the "balance" column of my checking account keeping-track thingy. It makes me hungry, then totally puts me off my food, and it turns me into a snapping turtle every time poor Toasty fails to be appropriately sympathetic.

Tonight stress made me go for a run. Actually, I made me go for a run, because I like to think of myself as the kind of person who, when stressed, does something like jogging. This fantasy version of myself is at constant war with my real self who wants to put on her jim jams and fold up on the couch, weeping into a mutantly oversized bowl of popcorn.

But, if I tally up the pros and cons, the yays and the boos, in the end I'm still coming out ahead. I won't be commuting this fall, which means I can put my rabid, mouth-frothing, screaming, cursing but still admirably articulate driver-self on hold for the time being. I won't be teaching, which means I'll probably like people generally a whole lot better. I'll be able to spend more time with the people I care about, maybe even go jogging from time to time.

And who knows? I might just end up with the job that was worth getting all stressed out for.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Putting the Tic in Domestic

My cousin and his girlfriend are coming up for a weekend visit. You can tell that I like these people because I'm cleaning my apartment.

I don't clean. Occasionally I get these mad fits of tidying where I scurry around tucking the debris of my life into convenient holes, but mostly I live in a fairly generous mess. I don't mind it too much; it's the nature of living a rather over-sized life in an under-sized space. (By "over-sized" I mean that I have enough gear to outfit the 2010 Olympics, if they don't mind sharing.) But sometimes the mess gets to me.

When I have to move my ski boots and the huge Tupperware container that holds my scuba gear in order to clean out the cat box (oh yeah, and roll the bike over to the other side of the room), I start to get annoyed. As puffs of cat hair waft up around me, leaving me the center of a swirl of tiny, black, furry clouds, I contemplate getting the girls laminated. I do not understand the mute attraction of toothpaste and reflective surfaces and how my bathroom mirror can be clean one moment and look like the ground at Madison Square Garden after New Year's the next. Why do furballs congregate under the table legs? Why are cats only sick on absorbent surfaces?

Every time I have to shove several somethings out of the way to get to the something I was going for, I contemplate moving. I have to fight my way to the shoe section of my closet each morning, not because I have so many clothes, but because it is very nearly the only storage space I have. It becomes easier to just leave the shoes out of the closet: running shoes in the bathtub (they're dirty, it make sense), bike shoes to the right of the couch; boots to the left. My flip flops near the back door for easy access when feeding the guest cat. Slippers wherever I last left them. My living room is a shoe slalom.

The worst is the paperwork. I bloody hate paper. Piles of the stuff are heaped up everywhere. I never know when it's OK to throw something away. I've had this light bill since 1997; I've moved four times since then. Am I allowed to throw it away? Must I shred it, since it has my name and my address-four-times-removed on it? I have a shredder, but it's "home style," which means it can just about hack its way through a receipt from Safeway, but ask it to shred actual paper and it chokes and whines and coughs through it before spitting out a paper that's not so much shredded as neatly creased along vertical lines.

And don't get me started on "environmentally friendly" cleaning products. Now, I'm a dedicated greenie with the bike scabs to prove it, but seriously, people, this stuff is crap. It's "environmentally safe" because it's water. Yes, it is "safe:" grit, goo, sticky patches, unidentifiable bits of crunchy matter have nothing to fear from this stuff. I spray it on, liberally dousing whatever alien substance has landed on my countertop, give it a second or two, then pass a rag right over the top of it. The cleaner doesn't even penetrate the top layer. I douse it again, thinking, generously, that perhaps I missed. Perhaps I was unable to spray accurately from a three-inch distance. The goo is not only undaunted, it is downright smug. It's a barnacle that I'm trying to loosen with Silly Putty. I keep the green products around only to maintain my environmentalist credentials, but when no one's looking, I bring out the stuff with the skulls and crossbones, the stuff that smokes a little when you open the lid, the stuff that requires gloves and a mask, if not a full-on hazmat suit, the stuff that says "use only in an adequately ventilated space." It cuts a wide, vicious swath through the dirt (and possibly the top layer of the surface I'm cleaning). It is the scorched-earth policy in the domestic War on Counter Nubbins.

My cousin just called and is on his way. This is unfortunate. When I clean, I take breaks. I have to. The label on the cleaning fluid says so. My last break was about 30 minutes, meaning I'm 30 minutes behind in my cleaning. So please excuse me while I find some empty places to shove shit into.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Cultural Traditions" We Can All Do Without

1. harpooning whales
2. infanticide of females
3. ritual circumcision of either gender
4. suttee
5. burkhas
6. hazing

Why do we have this idea that because something has been done for hundreds or thousands of years, that that automatically makes it acceptable? There are so many bad behaviors that hide under the title of "tradition," safe from scrutiny and utterly immune to change.

This is by no means a complete list, it's just what I can think of right now, a few minutes after an NPR report on five testosterone-poisoned sons of bitches who went out and tortured and killed a gray whale, calling it their "cultural tradition," as if that somehow made it worthy of our respect or at least our tolerance.

Fat chance, fuckers. There are lots of evil behaviors in every culture that must be wiped out. Cultural blindspots happen, but when they are finally nudged into our line of vision, it's time to look closely and see what it is we're thoughtlessly preserving. Is it worthy of our efforts to hold onto it? If not, it's time to let it go.

To contact the responsible tribe and make your anger known, here's the contact information.

Makah Tribal Council
PO Box 115
Neah Bay, Wa
(360) 645-2201

Monday, September 10, 2007

Even My Mother Thinks I Should Sell Myself

Ok, so I've been job-hunting, pretty seriously, since about mid-January. I've written dozens of cover letters, each intended to be the definitive statement on Me and Why I'm Wonderful, each more an apologetic "sorry to make you read this, but I'm looking for a job would you mind reading it, so sorry, thank you." Obviously, I have yet to master the fine art of Selling Myself.

If these were the old, pre-tech days, I'd have a trash can full and overflowing with wadded-up rejects. I tried the humorous approach ("I am an editor who can ferret out mistakes like a pet up a pantleg"); I tried the ultra-professional angle ("I am highly intolerant of errors and vigilant in maintaining voice and message"). I went with conversational and friendly ("I'd love to join the staff of your nature magazine and be a writer of environmental wrongs!") And I briefly considered employing guilt ("I went to school for six years and all I got was this lousy temp job.") I am now bordering on the desperate ("My mother thinks I'm smart.") The whole thing has me so stressed out, I'm actually dreaming about zombies. Zombies. Who dreams about zombies, for crying out loud? It's not like anyone actually wants my brain, for eating or otherwise.

It's not that I truly think I'm pathetic and have nothing to offer. On the contrary, I probably have a little too much faith in myself (blame my most excellent friends who give me so much praise I'm lucky I can lever my bloated head through the front door of the Pub). Perhaps I am aiming a bit high, jobwise. But I also witness sub-standard writing a million times a day: poor grammar, terrible spelling, a complete inability to put a cohesive sentence together. And that's from the president!

So it's back to the drawing board for me. Back to lists of "power words!" (developed rather than did; facilitated over helped; consolidated in place of put together in a big pile; allocated instead of stuck an underling with because I'm too lazy to do myself). Back to deciding between the assertive "Thank you for your time; I'll call next week to arrange an interview" and the modest, "Thank you for your time; I look forward to hearing from you soon" when in fact what I really mean is, "I can do the effing writing job, note the accurate use of semi-colons; call me as soon as you get this, and let's talk compensation" (rather than money).

Wish me luck. Or advocate an expedited, successful resolution. Whatever.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Silent Knight Wholly Crappy Night

My fire alarm is trying to kill me. Or at least it's trying to get me fired.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the fire alarm supposed to help people? I mean, at the very least, isn't it supposed to sit there quietly, minding its own business, until there's something to get worked up about, like, say, a fire? Either the fire alarm system in this building has been planted by nefarious Republican sympathizers who don't like me blog-sniping at Bush et al, or it really thinks firemen are cute.

Three times last week my fire alarm system got lonely and bored and called the fire department to entertain itself. It did this Victorian romance-heroine swooning thing, all helpless and save-me, save-me. If it had eyelashes, it would be batting them; if it had a bosom, it would be heaving. My fire alarm has a thing for men in uniform, and it knows how to bring them around in numbers.

So, as the firemen got crabbier and crabbier about being dragged over in full battle-regalia just to push the "reset" button, we called in the alarm people, and they fixed it. . . . .

Or did they?

This morning, 3.30 a.m., the beast awakens again. And this is where it's really clever: it doesn't do the full-on klaxons blaring, lights flashing, we're-all-going-to-die floor show, it just starts beeping. Shrilly. Just beyond my bedroom door.

I am a bad sleeper. I've never been good at it. It's fortunate I didn't go to kindergarten because I would have flunked Napping for sure. I wake up easily and frequently and can count on one hand the number of times in my adult life that I've slept clear through the night. I fall asleep easily, but staying there is the hard part.

So when the fire alarm starts bitching, I leap from bed and race to my front door. (Beebee, the dumber of my cats, does her usual self-preservation thing of diving under the bed and heading for the center.) The fire alarm box is in the front hallway, just beyond my bedroom wall. There's no smoke, no heat, no flames, no nothing, just a screeching alarm box. The words flashing across its screen are "failure . . . . information lost." Well, hell, I forget things too, but that doesn't mean I call in the cavalry.

I stand at the front door, waiting for the firemen to arrive. They don't. No one is disturbed by the alarm but me -- no heads poke out of doors, no one comes out, rubbing sleep from their eyes, ready to leap into action and help me shut the bloody thing up. I am alone with this shrill, beeping, Alzheimer'd horror of an alarm system.

After half an hour of wrapping a pillow around my head (right up there with writing a protest letter to the government and sending out my resume for favorite acts of futility), I get fed up and go back out to get a phone number so I can call the alarm people. There are no phone numbers. There are no names. Nothing. But, in a great burst of unintended irony, I discover that the brand name of the system is . . . wait for it . . . "Silent Knight." This makes me laugh out loud, though my upper lip is so curled with disgust I nearly sprain something.

Back inside, I look up Silent Knight in the phonebook. There's a number, so I call it. It takes a couple of tries for the call to go through, but finally I reach this poor guy who was obviously asleep. I feel bad, but it passes. He patches me through to the monitoring service who put me on hold for about fifteen minutes and then hang up on me. I feel much safer: I have an alarm that goes off for no apparent reason and a monitoring service that can't be bothered to monitor. This happens twice. I give up and wrap the pillow around my head again.

Finally, at 4.45 a.m., the fire department shows up. It's the whole dog-and-pony show again as they pull up with two (2) trucks, trudge in with all their gear and oxygen tanks, and almost immediately trudge back out again. This alarm malfunction, they say, is beyond their control. Even pressing the almighty, all-powerful Reset Button is not going to work. Not this time. To bring back the peace and restore sanity to the land of Condominiuma, we must seek to find . . . the Code. Seven digits which, when typed in in proper order, will save us all. The tromping of pissed-off firefighters has finally alerted the rest of the building to the fact that Something Is Going On (though it's really Nothing At All), and the guy from the top floor arrives.

He is the Keeper of the Code.

But -- he doesn't know where It is.

In a move similar to ducking under a desk during a nuclear attack, I wrap my pillow around my head again and try to survive. Ok, that's really nothing at all like desk + holocaust, but at 5 a.m., it kinda feels like it. I now have a gonzo whopper of a headache, and I'm supposed to be at a new job in Bellevue by 8.15 (don't get excited, it was just a temp. job). The top floor guy apparently undertakes a Quest for the Code, because about 45 minutes later, the beeping mercifully stops. I manage to drop off to sleep a full and restful 45 minutes before my alarm is due to go off. The alarm I set. The one that goes off when it's told to. I'm considering taking my bedside alarm out into the hallway and having it give the fire alarm a good talking-to.

I made it to the temp. job on time and managed to ingest enough liquid sleep in the form of coffee to survive the day. But the next time the firemen show up for no other reason than because my fire alarm is bored, I'm gonna have to borrow the ax.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Another One Bites the Dust

(Thanks to All Hat No Cattle for this unauthorized use of their picture.)

It's bye bye, Bertie, and it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy. With Karl Rove also exiting, one gets the mental image of rats scurrying off a ship that is not only sinking but making that giant sucking sound as it goes under.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Life Outside My Door

Those who know me at all know I'm a critter person. Finned, feathered or furry, I love 'em all. (I'm not crazy about the multi-legged, antennae'd crowd, but I'm working on it.) My friend E. calls me "Jim" from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, and to a certain extent, she's right. It can have fangs flashing, hackles raised, deep-throated growling going on, but if it's furry, finned or feathered, I'll likely try to make friends with it. And since I still have all my fingers (attached -- not, like, in a jar next to the bed), I reckon I've been pretty successful so far.

I dig critters. I can't help it. Some people are addicted to gambling. Some people have this deep biological need to spawn. Some people live in Springfield, Illinois. There are lots of inexplicable behaviors out there -- this is mine.

When I was 19, I gave up eating critters because I just couldn't do it anymore. The Donner party may have started in my home town, but I, for one, don't eat my friends.

But everything, and I mean everything, eats cat food. Who knew? It must be like manna from heaven, this stuff, because it's rare that I walk by my backdoor and there isn't something out there, face down in the bowl I leave out for my "guest cat," Siam. And after dark, it's even crazier. I have now learned to recognize the different crunching sounds made by cats, raccoons and opossums. (The stellar jays don't chew, so them I recognize when I hear what sounds like a herd of old ladies bitching about the service.)

My cats -- the indoor-only ones -- love to sit, perfectly safe, inside the gated back door and stick their perfectly safe tongues out at the raccoons. The raccoons, when finished with all the cat food, wrap their tiny little hands around my gate like prisoners who have been extraordinarily rendered to my back door. They can usually wheedle a second scoop of Purina for their efforts.

I try not to feed the critters too much. I don't want them to get dependent on me (except for Siam, who has a disability and can eat at my door as long as she needs), and I don't know if cat food fulfills all their nutritional needs. It's a little like Halloween, actually; they come around with their masks and knock politely, and I give them some treats and warn them to be careful and look both ways if they're planning to cross a street any time soon.

Hey, if you were that cute, I'd give you cat food too.