Monday, December 29, 2008

Our Christmas Adventures!

Our routes--every bit as arduous as they look!

Happy holidays, everyone!

We've been doing some serious traveling this holiday season: first there was the trip to Burlington, which was just amazing. I was worried our flight wouldn't take off, but then I remembered that we were driving, so that was OK. The natives are reasonably friendly, though we had some trouble with the local dialect. The food was good, but getting vegetarian fare proved difficult, as always. We had something called “peet-zah:” apparently a holiday tradition in that area. Foreign culture, foreign customs, I guess.

Then there was the fun but exhausting long-haul to Kirkland and back. Again, the weather provided us with some challenges, but we soldiered through it, eager for what adventures awaited us! We did some shopping at a store there they call "Seifweigh" or possibly "Chafeweigh." It was hard to tell what they were saying to us. We had lots of fun doing a sort of modified charades to "talk" with the locals. Toasty's impression of a cinnamon-raisin bagel in the so-called "bei-ker-ee" department was hilarious! Good times.

Glad you all had a great and festive holiday season. We took lots of photos, which we'll happily share if anyone's interested.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Aren't you supposed to be in Mexico?

(This picture taken just down the street.)

I tried to get to work today. You wouldn't know it to look at me now, pajama-clad with a fresh pot of coffee brewing, but at 7.30 this morning, I really tried to go to work. I showered and brushed my teeth, I dressed for survival situations, I had a fully charged cell phone and a day's worth of rations (some dry Frosted Mini-Wheats and a bagel), plus flares, a bear whistle, a tent, a set of crampons, a team of Sherpas and a yak.

Seattle does not do snow well. I used to abuse this city for shutting down every time a few flakes fell (and not out of a sorority window during a drunken rush-week brunch), but really it's a bugger of geography. Seattle is hilly. And hilly cities are hard to drive in when there's hard-packed snow turning to ice on the roads. This situation is not aided by the idiots who think owning a four-wheel vehicle is license to drive like Ricky Bobby.

Anyway, there was no work to go to, as I found out after I'd walked a mile or so. I turned around and went home, ruminating on how, like someone else's inadequately stifled burp during a wedding, snowdays are a great and wonderful thing, no matter how old you are.

Back at home, I've spent most of the morning dealing with some guests who may have overstayed a bit: hummingbirds. I go out periodically to clear the snow and ice away from the feeders so that the wee, winged, migratorily challenged hummers can suck up the gallon or so of sugar water a day they'll need to survive the next week or so. I finally came up with a cunning plan, though. I moved one feeder so it's very near my outside light. It's under the cover of my upstairs neighbor's balcony, so the snow doesn't cover it, plus the little heat generated by the light keeps the ice off the feeding stations and the dumb birds.

I have also posted a map of North America with an arrow pointing south. I'm hoping they figure it out.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hi-Falutin' Literary Pursuitin'

Cleared the 40,000 word bar today, like a decathelete with wings on her shoes and lead in her ass. Never mind. Only 10,000 more to go. I have to get them in this week wherever I can--the Seattle half-marathon is this Sunday, and I don't really want to try to run it whilst pushing a cart with my laptop on it, unspooling 13.1 miles of extension cord as I go.

Interesting thing today: at Kaladi Bros., the delightful coffee shop on Pike where they're letting us reserve their back room on Sundays from noon to 3 just for the NaNoMoFo's, we had to chase a guy out because he was using the cafe's computer to look at porn. Now, seriously. There are five or six stellar members of the Word Nerd Herd in there, all zealously typing away at our laptops and occasionally shouting out random numbers like crazed auctioneers (30,000! I just hit 35,000! Do I hear 40,000!), and he sits at the computer, with his back to us, and does his Lolita surfing. Gack. I didn't notice, obliviot that I am, but one of the other NaNos did, and she asked the staff to kick him out.

I didn't realize this, so when the barista came in to tell him that the room was reserved, I, good samaritan that I am, said he wasn't bothering anyone (except himself, I guess) and that he was welcome to stay. Fortunately, the guy had the good grace to get completely pissy and huff off, presumably to find a more welcoming cafe with coin-operated booths and a sticky floor.

Anyway, all's well, and I have just a hair under 10,000 words to crank out this week. Between the shin splints and the carpel tunnel, November has been just spectacular. More to come. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Button, Button, Where the F#@*'s My Button?

For the most part, hitting that safe middle ground between dressing like a slut and dressing like a prude is not terribly difficult. There's a lot of room to maneuver there. There is, for example, a lot of possible variations on skirt hem lengths in the safe-zone between peek-a-boo to dragging-on-the-ground-behind-you. There's plenty of differentiation space between clothes so tight the wearer can be safely left in the freezer for up to six months without fear of freezer burn and so loose you risk harboring the homeless in a sort of tent-city of one.

Even in accessories, there's ample safe territory: my grandmother never once reached for her pearls only to find herself later at a ladies luncheon sporting a studded dog collar. Makeup? Easy. Don't apply with a trowel to avoid sluttiness; don't carry a bucket of cold water and a scrub brush made of horse hair to scour the Stain of Whoredom off of other women, and you'll successfully avoid the other extreme.

The only exception to this rule, for me anyway, is the buttons down the front of the average blouse. First of all, the word "blouse" is horrible, like "purse" and "panty"--these are ugly words. OK, maybe that's just me.

But the way that buttons are arranged on your standard blouse-front makes no sense at all. Either you have Strangulation Level (also known as the Jehovah's Witness Come-to-Jesus button) or Sluttastic, the button that generally comes in at just level with the nipples and then gapes open anyway. The expanse of shirt-front between these two buttons is a fastener desert. There are no options here other than application of some gack-worthy brooch you inherited from a maiden aunt. What the hell, people?

For those who know me personally, you know that the only time anyone can properly and without losing an eye refer to me as "conservative" is in the way I dress. I tend to err on the prudish, leaving the sluttery for others more equipped and capable. I cannot wear button-down shirts! I spend the entire day either tugging open the neck so I can breathe, or tugging the shirt down in the back so I can't spend the day watching that freckle next to my bellybutton and worrying if it's a slightly different, pre-melanoma color today and nor can anyone else.

I'm wearing a zipper-front sweater today. Every time I cross my arms, I have to stifle a yip from the cold zipper track inside touching my skin, but at least there's not an actual draft. I have a large pile of turtlenecks for all seasons. Could someone, please, make a button-down shirt for women that has actual buttons on it? You know that one that you put in the little, plastic, Ziplock-type baggie affixed to my price tag? Maybe you could put that on my shirt instead.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Another argument against "Intelligent Design"

To those who rabidly and with spittle flying defend the notion of “intelligent design,” I add yet another example to the pile of “oh yeah, well, what about this?”-es. Right up there with rednecks, cancer, the Taliban and Sarah Palin, I give you: the bit lip.

Think about it. You’re chewing away at whatever you choose to chew on—fruit leather, popcorn, beef jerky, an underling—and you accidentally bite the inside of your lip. What happens next (after the jumping around and cursing)? The bit you bit swells up, pushing its wounded and tender self closer to your teeth. And you spend the next eleventy-seven days biting the exact same spot over and over and over again. Does this sound like “intelligent design” to you?

I think if I were making the human body, I probably would not put soft, sensitive, vulnerable skin right there in the mouth with all the sharp and pointy parts. I’m just sayin’.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Do these 50,000 words have to be in any particular order?

So, November is NaNoWriMo month, but of course you all knew that. I found out about this from my friend Pete, who pulled off this very difficult task a few years ago. Basically, during NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth, you hunker down at your computer, bitch at your partner, drink lots of wine, and attempt to crank out 50,000 words of a brand-new novel in 31 days. Ah, crap: 30 days. November has 30 days. I just lost one. Now I have to recalculate the daily word requirement to make it to the finish line: 1,666.666666666etc.

I'm a fifth of the way there.

When I hit the 10,000 mark, I felt pretty good. I'm cruisin', don't want to kill my characters or myself (yet), Toasty claims to still have undampened enthusiasm for spending time with me, all's pretty darn much well, that's what. 10,000 feels good. Then I realize I'm a fifth (a fifth!) of the way there, and everything around me starts deflating: my ego, my confidence, my omelet...

There was a moment on day one (maybe two), when my cat Beebs trotted across the keyboard of my computer and somehow magically shut down Word without stepping on the CTRL + S keys first. I had been saving pretty religiously up until maybe 15 minutes before this point. Beebs was punished by being fed (I'm such a monster) and not petted for the next eleven minutes. That'll learn her.

As I type this now, she's twice brought up some weird Explorer menu by rubbing her head on the corner of my keyboard. NaNoWriMo isn't quite hard enough--I had to make some sort of weird reality show out of it by throwing into the mix a cat that's really a mole, planted by Big Brother to keep throwing hurdles under my feet (fingers). Fine, but I'm not eating maggots or any other gross stuff. NaNoWriMo seems like a great excuse for an all-popcorn month.

Anyway, wish me luck, and any other NaNoWriMos out there, how about a write-in this Sunday somewhere with coffee and Wi-Fi? No cats.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Cue the Hallelujah Chorus


Dear Diary,

Last night we elected a guy for president who is intelligent, compassionate, educated and SANE. I R so happy.

Go, Gregoire. Clean sweep.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Anyone got a border collie?

The three women I met the other day when trying to cross an intersection.

On Monday I was riding my bike to work, and I had to wait at the intersection of Minor and Madison. If you don't know this intersection, let me just say that Minor is minor and Madison is major. Madison is one of those very busy Seattle streets, especially early in the morning. It's an access route for both north and south I-5, so lots of folks travel it. All the time.

Minor is wee. It is aptly named. Pedestrians frequently cross it without even checking for traffic. I should know; I have a collection of them wrapped around my handlebars, dying slowly.

This is a long-winded way of saying that the green light for people on Minor Minor to cross Major Madison is awfully short. Short in the same way Herve Villechaise is short. Short like my rope. Which I was at the end of on Monday.

Here's why:

I was on Minor, stopped at the very long red light. Just as the light begins to change (walk sign's been flashing the big red don't-even-think-about-crossing-now hand for awhile), three generously proportioned women decide to go ahead and cross. They are slow. Slow in the same way Sarah Palin is slow--short bus slow. The light turns yellow before they get three steps across. And then, just as the light turns green for me, they stop--STOP--right in front of me so that one of the heifers can light a cigarette.

I say to them, with as much politeness as I can muster at this point, "Ladies, I'd like to get across, please." This sounds polite but was delivered with tone, lemme tell ya.

One of them moos an actual and unexpected apology (-15 points for lack of sincerity, but it was something, anyway), and they move on across, tails swishing flies from their backs as they go.

I don't care if people are slow as long as they don't slow me down just for the entertainment value of it. I don't much mind if they smoke, as long as they don't stop directly in front of me to light their cigarettes. And I have to wonder if they would have done this had I been driving a car instead of riding a bike. I'm generally not a mean person, really, but at that moment I was scouring the surroundings for a border collie to herd them out of my way.

Next time, they get one of these to the backside:

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

buffalo bill's (not quite) defunct

It seems Dick Cheney has finally managed to do what Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill couldn't: he's built himself a woman suit. The last piece he needed was the head, and fortunately, Alaska governor Sarah Palin's was conveniently empty.

Four more years of Veep Dick Cheney, this time in a woman-suit. Watch the convention (if you can)--are they ever on stage at the same time?

Friday, August 22, 2008

I has a lol'z

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Early Presidential Race

Looks like McCain's chosen a running mate.
Is that.... Joe Lieberman?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Even in Seattle

Abuse of power in action. Rossi's behavior is questionable enough, but when uniformed police start threatening to arrest people because they disagree with their politics, it's time for some citizen protest. Send a note to Gil Kerlikowske that such abuse of authority is unacceptable.

Friday, August 01, 2008

How I got the job and nearly lost it at the very same time.

Ta da!

It’s not easy. Here are some simple steps to follow if you’re looking at challenging Shorty McCantholdajob for the world’s record in Briefest Employment:

1. Get a job. This is relatively easy and mostly involves showing up on time and leaning forward with a bright-eyed look at meetings, interviews and watercooler chats.

2. Have a higher uppityup person come to your cubicle to congratulate you on your recent hire while you’re downloading some YouTube thing your boyfriend emailed you.

3. Sit, accepting congratulations and kind compliments while behind you, but still in plain sight, the computer grinds away at the download, and the empty page shows the spinning-clock thing that seems to be ticking off the seconds you’ll actually hold this job before some totally workplace-inappropriate video pops up on the screen.

4. Realize your smile of thanks is more rictus-death-grin as you have NO IDEA what the video is he sent you, you just felt cocky and invisible and clicked on it like a fricking idiot, and for all you know it could be nude Wal-Mart shoppers frolicking on a beach before one of them falls bits-first into the firepit and catches his pubes on fire and runs screaming AWAY from the water—it’s just the kind of thing your boyfriend would find hilarious. And your new boss, perched on the end of your desk just now, wouldn’t.

5. Continue to make incredibly awkward conversation as the new boss is being extremely nice to come tell you—at length— what an asset you’ll be, when right now you’re feeling the first three letters of that word are so much more appropriate than the last two. The screen is behind you, you’re dying to turn and see what’s happening on it; the speakers are turned off, and this could be a good thing (avoiding audible inappropriateness to go with visible inappropriateness) or a bad thing (you don’t know what’s happening, goddammit!). Grind teeth. Try not to flinch every time your boss’s eyes flick toward your monitor. It could mean nothing, or it could mean he’s just noticed the Wal-Mart Human Tiki Torch video and is wondering how fast he can get security up here to escort you out.

6. Calculate the number of possessions you’ll have to carry out in that cardboard box that always seems to materialize when people lose their jobs on TV or in the movies. Wonder idly where they always get that one plant that sticks out the top. Realize you could fit your work-place possessions in the box the staples come in—you’ve been here that briefly.

7. Conclude conversation with as much grace and subtlety as possible. Whirl around to check monitor even before boss’s back foot has entirely cleared your cubicle space. See “Page unable to load” error message. Breathe deeply. Thank fates.

8. Repeat.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Is this good news or bad?

Saw this "inspirational" quote today in the Puget Sound Business Journal: "Leap and the net will appear."

It occured to me that this would be great news if you were, say, a tightrope walker. It's not so great news, however, if you're a fish.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A four-letter word that means "merge"

I hate mail merge. For a program that ostensibly makes life ever-so-much-easier, it is clumsy, cumbersome and downright mean-spirited. Join it up with a printer that pouts if you try to print a card or envelope on it, and you've got a Very Bad Tuesday.

Let me tell you about my Very Bad Tuesday. I got to work relatively intact, only one minor bike vs auto incident where a woman cut me off in a red-assed hurry to get to a RED stoplight where she sat in the RIGHT HAND TURN LANE, unable to turn, until I calmly pedaled up, prepared to give her a look so nasty it might leave a scar. She was tweezing her chin. Tweezing. Right there at the light, feeling around on her chin with her thumb, looking for that long, curly, wirey one that even scares the cat if left unattended. Maybe she's growing it for Locks of Love, and now that it's long enough, it's time to tweeze and donate it to some pre-menopausal woman or pre-pubescent boy who can't grow chin hairs of their own. Whatever the case, I'm gobsmacked (look it up) that I nearly got clobbered by a woman driving what is apparently a brand new PT Cruiser because she had a tweezing emergency. Then she drives off, and I notice the Hummer insignia on the back of her car. I pull the mini-bazookette out of my backpack and take. the. bitch. out. That'll teach her to tweeze while driving.

Anyway, I arrive at work still a bit grumpy, and find it's time to do the monthly address labels for the birthday cards we send out to clients (presumably those having birthdays). ARGH. In the past, I was strictly the middle-person on this: the labels came to me, formatted by someone who had fought the good fight with Mail Merge and won, and I sent them on to the people who would print them out and send the actual cards. Alas, the person who sent them to me no longer works there. Now I get the list of names and addresses and must somehow produce labels.

So here's what happens: first, the list comes in the wrong form. It is NOT POSSIBLE, I repeat NOT POSSIBLE to generate Mail Merge labels from a PDF. That's the whole point of PDFs--there's very little you can do with them, presumably so that you don't screw up the original document. Fine. I monkey around with that for awhile, try a cut-and-paste into Word, con the intern into helping laboriously retype all the info into spreadsheets until we realize that there are HUNDREDS of names and addresses on the list, blah blah blah, then finally give up and ask the IT guys if they can do any better. They send me back copies of the original files from which the PDFs were made. I don't know what the heck program this is, but it doesn't work either. When I try to cut and paste, it ignores the first line, which then shifts everyone's address up a name. Back to the drawing board.

It's now been a couple of hours, and I'm no closer to generating labels than I was when I sat down. I have, however, received a couple of emails asking how soon they can expect the labels. I opt for discretion, concluding that it's better not to answer than to send a stream of curse words ending with "They'll BE there when they GET there."

I have forgotten to mention the parallel project that's going on while I'm doing this: I'm also printing the monthly anniversary cards. Well, I'm supposed to be printing them... I also have to do a merge for this one, since the card says something along the lines of, "Dear {first name}, Thanks for {number} great years!" After much scheming and end-running around Merge when Microsoft's back is turned, I have gotten this down to "Dear 7, Thanks for Margaret great years!" I feel confident I can crack this one.

I go back to the IT boys and ask if they can give me the birthday list in an Excel document. They can. There is much celebrating. Why we didn't start there, I'm unsure, but we're here now. It's not quite lunchtime, and I've done nothing else this morning. Despair is starting to set in.

I finally get some sort of document sex to happen, but it's kind of like you'd expect a couple of teen-age virgins to do it: sloppy, brief and mostly pleasureless. The Excel document puts its thin little arm around Word, there's a bit of awkward flirtation, they shoo Clippy off the couch, there's a lot of fumbling, and finally we get some sort of beginner's merge. Clearly Excel and Word are brother and sister or some other direct relation because the labels are, sadly, RETARDED. They come out almost normal, but still definitely short-bus. There's no Zip code, and no option to include one.

Much fighting ensues over the retarded children. Word claims it's not her fault, Excel gets all huffy at the notion that he's somehow inadequate, and I have to step in and figure it all out. Finally what happens is the State column has to be absorbed by the City column so that we can call the Zip codes "States" and trick Excel into doing his duty by his stupid children. It works. Labels are created, all accurate and proper, and they get sent off to the next phase of their brief, pointless little lives. I do a little happy dance and receive applause and accolades for both my victory over merge and my creative cursing.

Ah, but it's not over yet. There are still those stupid anniversary cards to do! I have mentally blocked most of the struggle it took to get this to work, but if we go back to the beginner's sex analogy, I'm guessing one or both of these "learned" about sex in one of those abstinence-only education programs because they keep slotting things in the wrong holes. I produce a copy of "Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret" and a Playboy magazine, and we finally get it figured out. But then there's the printer who, in this rather tortured analogy, must be a nun, because those cards are NOT going in. That door is firmly closed to cardstock, thank you very much. After much cajoling and pleas of "you'll like it after awhile," I give up. This printer is a prude.

I'm told to try the VERY EXPENSIVE printer in the copy room. Lordy, do I not want to. The nun sits behind my desk and is only used by the 3 people in marketing. This other printer is huge, costly, and used by the entire floor. I'm going to call this printer George W. because it won't do anything it's told to do by reasonable people, and no amount of pushing his buttons will get him to change his mind about what God has clearly ordained. This is the Village Idiot of printers.

In the end, it is the humble Admin printer that takes care of it in somewhat robotic fashion, joylessly cranking out the cards in black and white instead of color (which the other two had the capability of, if only they could be convinced). This dutiful housefrau of copiers, indispensable but largely ignored as it goes about its labors, saves the day.

And so it is over. Until next month.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Per-spec-tive. What an odd idea.

In reading online discussion threads in varying places, I've come to realize that people are generally kind of hostile towards bicyclists. I'm not sure why this is, really; bikers are sort of the on-road equivalent of a high school marching band. Annoying, but rarely fatal.

I ride my bike to work every day (a round trip of all of 8 miles), and I follow most of the rules, most of the time. I do occasionally run a red light, but that's usually because some dickhead construction company has blocked off the sidewalk, the bike lane (in the rare instance that there is one), and the right-most lane of traffic, leaving me with a partially blockaded single lane to share with the Hummers, the SUVs, the concrete trucks and the FedEx guy who apparently truly believes I'd be fabulous as a hood ornament. If I wait dutifully with the cars, I have to squeeze over into the nine milimeters the construction workers have kindly left me and hope that there's no pothole that will grab my front wheel and send me under the wheels of the car that's about to graze me with its passenger-side rear view mirror anyway. If I jump the light, I can get a head start on the construction zone, and usually, be out of the way before the cars get there. And sometimes I just want to be a scofflaw bastard and jump the light because I can.

Generally, I side with the bikers. We are a fragile bunch, invisible to the women daubing their eyelashes with mascara or the men trying to read terribly important documents laid out on the steering wheel or the drivers of both sexes who mistakenly believe that THEY can drive while talking on the phone. While drivers are rarely actually aiming for us, it can sometimes seem like they are. And drivers who don't ride really don't understand that a bike coming down a hill can reach speeds of 35+ miles an hour. They cut us off, in a hurry to make a right-hand turn, no malice intended, but plenty of ignorance.

HOWEVER. Most of the hostility that I see on the Internet is directed at the crowd of bikers I refer to as "The Jersey Boys." You know the guys: lean haunches like some sort of African impala; brightly colored jerseys that claim the rider is generously sponsored by elite, athletic companies like Nike, PowerBar and Maytag; sunglasses that wrap not only around their heads but halfway down their bodies with a lap around their nearly non-existant buttocks; arrogant expressions of the kind normally worn by Dick Cheney. I gotta side with the non-bikers on this one. I hate these guys.

Their bikes cost as much as three times more than my car. They are very very fast and very very rude about it. They have great disdain for my pathetic peasant-bike that cost a mere $450 and is now *sniff* ooooooold. They pass me with a whooshing sound that I swear is actually haughty, and they don't give me enough room, which makes me want to stick things in their spokes. They like me on their roads even less than they like cars--I give bikers a bad name with my stopping-at-stop-signs and panting-while-biking-up-steep-hills nonsense. I and other commuters are an embarrassment to the biking community. I mean, dear god, my jersey has no names!

I'm sure there are nice Jersey Boys out there. It's probably the $800 sunglasses that make them seem pompous and annoying. But if any of them are reading this post, dude, please reign in the attitude. Or the next tire that crosses your face may just be mine.


Friday, May 16, 2008

"ap irha" to you, "ap irha" to you!

It was Toasty’s birthday last week. I had promised my folks that we would come see them for Mother’s Day (they live about 2 hours south of here. 1 ½ if I’m driving), and Toasty gets along well with my parents, so he agreed to come along. We had a birthday dinner Friday night here in Seattle (thank you, J and C) with his kid and kid-in-law, then on Saturday morning, headed down to the ‘rents.

Being the thoughtful girlfriend and daughter that I am, I asked my mom to make Toasty a birthday cake (thanks, Mom!). On Mother’s Day. OK, this maybe wasn’t the best course of action, making my mom bake on her special day, but I couldn’t exactly bake one while he was sleeping, smuggle it into his car and have it still be a surprise by the time we got there, now could I?

The weekend was great, we had nice weather for tromping around in the woods, did our usual portion of liberal ranting which had Toasty longing for his “apathy” bracelet, ate too much, the usual. I think the only problem Toasty has with going to the ‘rents house is that it is House O’Naps. Mr. OCD would be fine with that if it were House O’WetNaps, but it isn’t. That house is a giant sleeping pill. You walk in, the fireplace is roaring, there are boring magazines piled six deep on every flat surface, the TV is murmuring in the background, they have something like eleven hundred couches, zzzzzzzzz. Toasty doesn’t nap. My family has medalled in the NapO’Lympics. But I managed to stay awake this time, though dad did go down for one of his sleep apnea’d, gape-mouthed snorefests after lunch on Saturday.

What this is actually all about is the birthday cake. My mom made some chocolate-cherry thing, and if you know my mom at all, you know it gave her some pain to do it. Mom is all about the healthy eating, and she’s been dieting since the mid-70s, I think, so chocolate cake (with no trans fats, btw) isn’t exactly high on her list of Things to Feed My Family. But she made it, bless her low-fat, clog-free, hyperhealthy little heart.

The problem was the candles.

It was my “job” (since I’d done little else) to light the candles in time for the singing and general merriment. My folks have a pantry just off the kitchen where the cake had been stashed in secret. Mom had bought these candles that spell out, conveniently, “Happy Birthday” –each colorful, wax letter attached to a toothpick. After dinner was over and the dishes cleared, I went into the pantry, placed the candles, and started lighting them. And that’s when everything went horribly wrong.

The candles were really little, and they burned like wildfire. By the time I got to “day,” “Hap” was already burned out. So I tried to relight “Hap,” but the candles were burning away like crazy in a giant, multi-colored conflagration. At one point, one of the wicks came away from its candle and stuck to my match. I was desperately trying to keep up, lighting an “r” only to find that both “a”s had gone out, and most of “Happy” was melted in pools on top of the cake. I just wanted a window with all of them lit long enough to leap out of the closet, throw the cake under Toasty’s nose, sing the Birthday song in quadruple time, make wishes, blow out tiny fires, happy frickin’ birthday.

It never happened. By the time I got out, “ap irha” was all he had left. The whole family got in on it, trying to light “candles” that were really just a wee bit of wax clinging to a toothpick by now. Dad tried to light matches and prop them up against the remaining candles, but that made the air a bit acrid and we made him stop. To make matters worse, Mom had festively decorated the top of the cake with pretty little colored sugar things that were the exact same colors as the candles, so distinguishing wax drops from decorations wasn’t easy.

But at least we laughed like the last 30-seconds of a family friendly sitcom, and the cake tasted good despite the wax. Don't know what Toasty wished for if he had time to wish at all, but I wished for sturdier candles next time. And a pony.

See below: (and click on the pic to see the carnage up close)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

So Then at Mile Nine, I ...

Yeah, marathons are hard. I mean, I figured it would be hard, but this was really hard! Even at my slow pace, things hurt. There are depths to your knees you never knew existed, and they hurt.

Here are some tips from a "seasoned" marathoner (if by "seasoned" you mean "doused with Gatorade from a clumsy grab during a water stop at mile 25"):

1. DON'T do the math. Do NOT pass mile marker 8 or 9 or 10 and think to yourself, "only 18, 17, 16 miles to go." This is not an encouraging line of thought. Equally, don't get to mile 20 and think, "only an hour to go." This is “demoralizing” the same way the Grand Canyon is "deep."

2. DON'T look at the runners around you. They resemble the latter half of the Bataan Death March and so do you.

3. DON'T look at the person cheering on the sidelines who is also wearing a marathon runner's bib. Yes, they've already finished and look rested and ready to kick your ass a second time. Acknowledging this will only make you want to hurt them, and you can't raise your leg high enough to nail them in the nards. Save your energy.

4. DO listen to the cheering of the crowds. Even though it may be a mercy cheer, and you know their cries of, "you're doing great, you look strong, you're going to finish this" are optimistic in the extreme, sideline support gives a better energy boost than a bucket of Gu and a trough of Gatorade.

5. DO cheer for the Kenyans as they whoosh blurrily past you. They are a testament to what the human body is capable of, even if it's not your human body.

So, yeah, I finished. It took me 4 hours, 55 minutes and some number of seconds, most of which hurt. But I finished, and even 3 days later, I periodically find myself with an “I finished a marathon” grin that is 50% proud, 40% stunned and only 10% smug.

So here’s how it happened:

On Friday, I drove over to Toasty’s place, and we left from there. We had a fabulous meal at Burger King (2 veggie burgers, a shared fries and small salad—did you say you wanted details?) somewhere south of the border, then crossed into Canada. We were staying at the seedy but reasonably priced Bosman’s Hotel (politeness is extra) in downtown Vancouver, and we rolled in around 9.30 pm.

Toasty had—of course—brought his laptop, so I was able to check in with the Runners World forums. (I’ve been spending way too much time following threads on this forum. Lots of newbies like me and more experienced runners providing much-needed advice, support, stories and laughs.) Many of us were doing our first marys (runners’ slang for “marathons”—I’m entitled to use it now, only not too often), so there was a lot of chatter, and I wanted to hear what everyone else was going through.

Saturday was rainy and cool. We got up and trotted over to the Expo to pick up my bib and info. packet. Toasty bought me a very cool Vancouver Marathon shirt which I will wear until it falls off my body at which point I will make it into decorative handkerchiefs, doilies, lawn ornaments, whatever. I got myself a cool little bauble that very subtly says ***I RAN A MARATHON ONCE!!!*** We ate free pudding and some ghastly tofu-berry thing, got our Power Bars, picked up a lot of literature which was promptly recycled, took some pictures and headed back out again.

One funny thing was looking at the list of people registered: somewhere around 3500 people were scheduled to run the full mary. Something like 5 times that number were running the half. In fact, when we first got there to pick up my bib number, there was a huge line. Then Toasty realized we were standing in the half-mary line. The full had no line at all. That was when the first ice-butterfly took up residence in my stomach: what did all those people know that I didn’t?

We had arranged to meet a good friend of mine who lives in Vancouver, but that wasn’t until 2 pm., so we had some time. We parked ourselves in a nearby Starbucks (you can take the people out of Seattle, but…) and looked through the goody bag for awhile. I stupidly studied the course map again. This is “stupid” because (a) you can’t possibly get lost unless you’re so slow that they’ve picked up the traffic cones and the volunteers have all decamped for the night, and (b) it invites swarms of ice-butterflies to come tango on your intestines.

We spent the day with my friend, even to the point of carbo-loading on some Italian food for supper. Then it was back to the room for a last look at the Runners World forums. I laid out all the stuff I’d need on the bed: shoes with inserts, “lucky” (ie. non-blister-causing) socks, shinsplint wraps (2), shorts, shirt, cap, sunscreen, sunglasses, Gu packets (3), blah blah blah. I spent less time getting ready for my high school prom. By now, the ice-butterflies were performing aerial stunts in my tummy, like tiny, frozen Blue Angels. We were in bed by 10.

Bosman’s Hotel cleverly saves on costs by short-sheeting every bed, so that presented some sleeping challenges, and I was already pretty challenged. I got some sleep that night, but not much. Worst of all, I dreamed that the race was over, and I was excitedly telling my parents all about it. They asked, “How was the bridge?” (The Burrard Bridge is the highest point on the run, and you have to cross it TWICE, thank you.) It was at that point that I realized I hadn’t run it yet, and I woke myself up. Evil evil evil subconscious.

I had set 3 alarms, so it was quite the chorus that woke us up at 5.30 on Sunday morning. We got ready, I stuffed down a bagel with peanut butter and a cold coffee drink. We got to the start line with plenty of time to spare, so I did my stretching thing, and Toasty did his amazingly supportive boyfriend thing (lots of “you can do this, you’re trained, you’re ready, you can do this”). Start lines are always a mixed blessing. It’s fun to be mixed in at the nexus of all the buzzing energy that swirls around big events. There’s a lot of chatter between total strangers (usually of the, “can you believe we paid to do this?” variety), a lot of shivering with nerves and cold, a lot of pictures being taken and shouts of last-minute advice and encouragement from the sidelines. The half started 30 minutes before us, so there were just the 4000 or so full-mary runners, plus a nice-sized crowd of spectators. There were many garbled announcements, I found my pace bunny (the person who runs at the pace you’d like to keep—heroes, every last one of them), I handed off all the clothes I could part with to Toasty, the gun went and we were off.

It took about 2 minutes for me to cross the start line, and I was trying desperately to get keep thoughts like “26.2 miles to go” out of my head. It’s a daunting distance, no matter if you’ve trained for it or not. In my usual way, I had nerved and worried myself into a nauseated tummy that I would haul around with me for the next 14 miles. Boo.

At the half-mary mark I was running my 2nd or 3rd best half-mary pace, so that made me feel good. I was still keeping up with my bunny (I’d lose him at mile 15 or so), and nothing but my stomach was hurting. When I saw the 14-mile mark, finally everything shifted into place. I felt good enough to know that I was probably going to finish. My stomach finally settled down, I relaxed and started to enjoy the experience. Yay!

One cool thing about Vancouver is they print your first name on your bib, so all along the course I was hearing cries of, “Go, Raggs! You look great, Raggs; keep it up!” (OK, confession time: Raggedy Angst is not my real name.) It’s amazing how good it feels to have someone shout encouragement at you by name. There was really good crowd support nearly the whole course. The loneliest time was through Stanley Park where more than once I felt like the bikers and non-racing joggers regarded us as interlopers in “their” park. I still hadn’t eaten anything as I was worried that the nausea dragon would raise its ugly head again, but I did partake of water and/or Gatorade at nearly every water station. And at stations 7 (mile 13.5) and 9 (mile 17), I had stashed some Starbucks Double Shots. I was only able to take a couple of gulps of those, but I think the caffeine helped.

Bored yet?

As I was running at a non-competitive pace (boy, was I), I was able to have conversations with some of the people around me, and that was fun. There were other newbs out there, and we did check-ins to monitor how we were doing: “anything hurt?” “Nothing unusual. You?” “Not yet!” Our discussions were, of necessity, pretty brief, ending with “Good luck! We’re going to do this thing!” before one of us ran on ahead.

After the first crossing of the Bridge, which really wasn’t bad, there’s a loooooooong out-and-back stretch. If you’ve done runs like this, you’ll know how crappy those are: for something like 2 miles, I got to watch people coming back as I was going out. I couldn’t see the turn-around point ahead of me, which is incredibly frustrating. This was by far my least favorite part of the race, despite finally choking down a Gu at mile 21, and having my very Irish name shouted at me by a very Irish volunteer at a water stop. But once you get back and cross the Bridge again, you hit the magical 25-mile marker. On the Vancouver course, once you reach the top of the Burrard Bridge the 2nd time, it’s all downhill to the finish line. I almost choked up when I saw that sign: 1.2 to go.

The last part of the race is awesome. You get to run through town where there are tons of spectators, all of them shouting “Almost there!” –and you finally get to believe them. At .2 miles after the 25-mile marker, there’s a “1 mile to go” sign (thank you, bloody Queen Victoria). In my head, that’s where I started to sprint. My body declined to participate, saying it was more interested in just staying assembled in the right order, but in my head, it was the music from Chariots of Fire from there to the end. That “finish” sign was like winning the lottery. OK, I’d rather win the lottery, but it was still pretty damn cool.

As I approached the finish, my name came over the loudspeaker. They try to get in a little information about everyone, which is just fantastic. It makes you feel like you’ve won the Olympics or something. I crossed the line, got my medal (I almost hugged that woman, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been the first or the last), and heard my name from above me. Toasty was there; he’d gotten several pictures, and despite a nearly 5 hour wait, was as excited and thrilled as I was.

Then I got stuck in an airlock.

OK, it was only for a couple of minutes, but we didn’t know what was going on or why or how long it’d last. Toasty figured out later that it was because the stadium has an inflatable roof; they have to shut the doors periodically to keep the sky from falling down. My legs have never hurt that badly. I just wanted to keep moving, but I couldn’t, as we were a bit crammed into the airlock space. Toasty, a shower and my reclaimed life were on the other side—that part was a bit eternal, but it at least saved me from the emotional meltdown that had been threatening for the past few weeks.

Toasty got me a massage, which was nothing short of miraculous. This woman worked on my legs for about 30 minutes, and once she was done, I could actually stand and walk pretty reasonably. The deep muscle pain from the finish was gone. I showered in the locker room, changed into my “finisher” t-shirt and some sweat pants, then rejoined Toasty for what he thought was a prolonged celebratory hug but was actually me needing him to prop me upright.

Then we drove home. And stopped every hour or so, so that I could get out and hobble around a bit. I called several people to bore them with my mile-by-mile replay. I slept. We ate some more Burger King.

The end.

In the movie The Spirit of the Marathon, one guy says something like, when you cross the finish line, you’re changed forever. I don’t know if that’s true, being only 3 days from the finish line, which is a far cry from “forever” unless I get hit by a bus this afternoon, but the marathon is an interesting study in introspection. Marathon training made me self-absorbed to a level I would rather not repeat, but it also did teach me some things about myself. In athletic stuff, I’ve always erred on the side of quitting. It was nice, for once, to take on this genuinely hard thing and see it through, literally, to the finish line.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Marathon Update

I finshed!!!!! Epic and dull details that really matter only to me will follow soon. Thanks for all your support, folks; hugely appreciated.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Is That a Power Bar in Your Pocket, Or ... ?

It’s April 19th today. That means the marathon is….hang on,….borrow ten, carry the two….15 days away.

Oh. Dear. God.

I’ve done all I can to get ready, I think. I ran the miles, I quaffed the mega-ultra-dynamo power drinks that make you pee out more nutrients than half the world’s population sees in a month; I ate Gu, ShotBloks (carbo gel snacks made by Gatorade), a host of energy bars of varying descriptions; I cramped, chafed, sweated, cursed, rejoiced, and I ran, ran, ran. Mile after thumping bloody mile.

I’m sick to death of running. Depending on how the marathon goes, I will either have my tights bronzed or burnt, but I don’t want to spend any more time actually wearing them. I calculated the number of training miles I will have run by the time I get to the start line—it’s 550. I know. I did the math three times. At my haggard 10-minutes-per-mile average, that’s 5,500 minutes (92 hours) I could have spent on my couch. Or doing pretty much anything else.

There are real runners out there. I see them all the time, wafting past me, the little wings on their shoes flapping furiously. I read their comments on the RunnersWorld forums, how they found peace, lost weight, gained self-confidence, had epiphanies, cruised mile after effortless mile, breezed up hills and over dales, even their blisters are fun! fun! fun! They gave up drugs and cigarettes, they kicked coffee, gambling, and bad marriages, they straightened out troubled kids between miles 11 and 13, solved the mideast crises at mile 18 and found an endless, clean, alternative energy source just before bursting through "the wall" at mile 21. They are slim, confident, happy people who love to run. When I see them, I push them down.

OK, it hasn’t been that bad. Actually, some of the miles have been pretty good. Probably not "good" to the point where someone wants to push me down, but at least there have been miles where I was only soggy with sweat and not with misery and tears. I think there were at least 6 like that.

As race day approaches, I’ve started making lists. I’m in the "tapering" part of the training now, which means my weekly mileage is dropping faster than Wile E. Coyote off an unsuspected cliff. Last week (the biggie), 52 miles. This week, 29. Next week, 21. During marathon week, I’ll run only 9 miles over the course of 5 days. The joy of so little is somewhat ameliorated by the massive sink-hole-of-fear-and-trembling 26.2 at the end of the week, but I’m trying to stay positive here. My lists—and there are many, mostly saying the same stuff over and over and over again—consist almost entirely of items like "socks" and "extra socks." I don’t seem to be able to think about the big stuff, so I get there in baby steps like "socks." But then, that’s how I’m getting to the start line of a marathon, so I guess it makes sense.

I’m looking forward to the race, I really am. There’ll be a big crowd, it’s a pretty part of a pretty city (Vancouver), Toasty will be there (yay!), and on Sunday, May 4, when the race is over and no matter how it turns out, I will have an excuse to eat absolutely and without question of guilt or my mom’s well-intentioned voice in my head anything I want. I’ll be able to chat with other runners at the start. I’ll line up somewhere between the greyhounds and the basset hounds, feeling the charge of all the nervous energy buzzing around me like hummingbirds on crack. I’ll lament my stupidity for signing up (a lot and loudly) and promise the Fates that if they just let me live through this, I’ll never be this ass-ignorant again.

I’m trying to have some measure of confidence. After all, I’m not running to compete, and my only goal, really, is to finish under my own power. But as I sit here, imagining the race day, the start line, crossing—for the first time ever—the 20-mile mark (should I get that far), the length, the hills, the miles stretched end-to-end, and, quite frankly, the portapoddies, my heart is beating faster and I kinda have to pee. I’ve worked hard for this, and I don’t want to choke on the day of because my head is full of I-can’ts despite all the miles I’ve put behind me. I know that race-day adrenaline is a powerful drug and can take you far; I’m hoping that training, plus adrenaline, plus some well-timed ShotBloks will get me far enough.

Thanks, everyone, for support, encouragement and patience beyond the call of duty. Thanks especially to Toasty who volunteered to ride alongside me on several loooooong runs (including 2 ugly 20s). He truly is the new generation of male athletic supporter.

One thing I’d really like to pass along to everyone: if you’re out and about and a runner goes by you, particularly if that runner is a little older or slower or chubbier or more desperate-looking than the ├╝ber-runners who just need to be pushed down, a sincere "You’re looking great!" or "Keep it up!" or just some well-timed applause is worth gold. Trust me on this.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Getting Your Shit Together™

One day in the very recent past, I was standing at the water cooler. Now, pardon my digression here, but where did we get this notion that the water cooler is some sort of hub of human social activity? As far as I can tell, people go there to get water, and like animals at an oasis, there's a kind of unspoken free zone that surrounds the Holy Water Cooler. Everyone must be friendly or at least polite. We stand back and wave others to the taps first; people fill up quickly, make--at best--nominal conversation about work-related issues or the recent weekend's weather and get the heck gone. Maybe it's because I was a temp and not there for very long, but I heard NOT ONE thread of gossip that I didn't start myself. It's a gossip-free area. I heard plenty of gossip launched over the tops of cubicles and toilet stalls, but seriously, it's like there's something sacred about the acquisition of water that's too serious for idle chatter, like we all had to walk miles through searing desert carrying goat-bladder canteens or something.

So I'm standing at the water cooler, waiting my turn to make tea, wondering when the alligator that is McBitchy is going to wrap her face around some cute, fuzzy, wee little mammal of an assistant that I know she doesn't like and drag them to a damp and sudden death at the bottom of the pool. I've seen her do similar things in meetings. This girl has no problems at all with lashing out at someone in front of the assembled, drawing blood with a thinly disguised joke. But not at the water cooler. Weird.

Anyway, when it's my turn, I pass the uncomfortable moment of awareness that all these people behind me are wishing--politely--that I would hurry the hell up by looking idly at the bulletin board above my head. There's a poster advertising a program for "overstressed employees." Now, I'll just mention that this poster pre-dates the announcement of layoffs, so we're not talking about especially stressed employees, just the normally stressed variety. The program is called something like LifeEra™ or similar. I didn't have much time to read it, it being first thing in the morning and the line of cordially hostile tea-drinkers behind me increasingly deep, but I went back later when the cooler was less popular as a destination site.

It's a program about all that feel-good Oprahesque crap: finding your bliss, your inner child, your hidden bitch, your childhood dreams, Jesus, your lunch, whatever you might feel you've lost along the troubled path of adulthood. It's "getting on the right track!"™ and "forging your way ahead!"™ and how to "be a fully realized person!"™ That last one always kills me. At some point, will this program provide me with a personal epiphany when I jump up and down and wave my arms and say, "Holy crap, so this is the person I am!"? What if I fully realize who I am, and I turn out to be a bit of a shit? Can I unrealize myself and go back to the foggy haze of thinking I'm generally OK? And more importantly, can I get my money back?

I think that's the part that weirded me out most. The program costs money. It's trademarked. Does that strike anyone else as a bit sinister? Your ability to Get Your Shit Together™ in life has been trademarked. Now I'm worried. This morning I tidied my kitchen -- is that copyright infringement? Will I have to pay royalties on every to-do list? It disturbs me that as a society we are so far removed from our blisses that we have to hire someone else to go out and look for them.

On the other hand, people searching for their blisses in all the wrong places means there's a lot of good second-hand camping, skiing and biking gear available, so that's OK.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ode to a Small Lump of Silly Putty in Her Armpit

OK, as promised, stories from my brief-but-meaningful interval in the world of retail marketing. Lemme tell you about the pictures. You know how American women learn the Art of Self-Loathing from pictures of flawless women in catalogs and magazines? I'm here to tell you: those women could have arrived at the photoshoot looking like the Loch Ness Monster herself, but by the time the pictures get in print, they've been Photoshopped and Pre-Pressed, and the Loch Ness Monster has morphed into Naughty Nessie the pouty-lipped, slim-hipped, scale-free fantasy girl next door. At least the Loch Ness Monster might actually be real.

I found this out when I sat down to add copy (the words) to some pages that were due to be printed as a mailer. Most of the photos were in place, but the files weren't complete. Basically, several someones (our art directors, the company selling the clothes) go through the files and circle all the stuff they want removed: moles, birthmarks, tattoos, etc. Now, I can see taking the tattoo off, I guess. It's hard to concentrate on that darling little flouncy blouse when the model has a naked harpy astride a barbed wire snake inked on her bicep. But when they get to the point of circling for removal the invisible freckle on the inside of her left shin, well, that's when I start getting testy.

So my introduction to the wide world of fraud and misrepresentation began when I had to add some very basic copy to a page of bras. It would be bras, wouldn't it? Not socks or sandals or even flouncy blouses, no, it would just have to be bras.

I bring up the page, and there are maybe eight or ten women on the page, all of the shots very typical, just head and upper torso. But every single picture had a circle around both of the model's nipples. The instructions? A very terse, "Remove." Oh, and you're not allowed to have wrinkles at the juncture where your arm hooks to your body. There's a smoothing process to take out the "extra" folds in your skin that keep you from ripping great holes in your outer layer every time you move because those folds are apparently unsightly. And we're not talking about huge flappy winglettes of skin here, folks; we're talking about those wee wrinkles that naturally occur wherever your body has to bend and stretch. The smearing that they do to take out those wrinkles makes every woman look like she's been touched up with Silly Putty. Check it out next time you see a bra catalog. Oh, and obvious cleavage has to go too. I know, I know, it's a bra page, but no nipples and no cleavage allowed. Don't ask me.

It's got to be a relief for the models, though. They can have moles and freckles and tattoos and wrinkles and cleavage and curvy hips in real life, and the questionable magic of Photoshop can air brush them into golden goddesses, flawless in everything but attitude. They can be disassembled and reassembled, parts of their bodies traded for other body parts from a more "appropriate" model. It's like the art people have a bucket of KFC in their computers: a big bunch of breasts, thighs, legs and .... well, not wings probably. And no heads. Huh. Reach into the bucket, pull one out, determine if it's golden and crispy... ok, this is where the analogy falls apart, but you know what I mean.

Real women (and men, 'cause they do it to the guys too) are not buckets of chicken. I think I may print that on t-shirts: "real people are not buckets of chicken." I'll make a fortune.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Two more days among the fearlessly fashionable, then it's back to the world of fleece and baggy butt jeans. Have I got stories for you.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Not this year, buckaroo

Since things are sort of winding down at the place I'm working, there's less and less work to do. So they kindly offered me a day "off" (off their payrolls, but whatever), and since I'm inherently a very lazy person, I took them up on it (translation: leapt at the chance). Plus, some inspector-types are around today and needing access to each condo, so I'm happy to be here to police the kittehs. Beebs, the far twitchier of my two cats, is already aware that there are strangers doing strange, beeping things in the building, and she's hardly left my side all morning. In fact, I have to keep going back and retyping, thanks to her head-butting my right elbow.

When told that I could have a "free" day, I imagined a day of reckless abandon and slovenliness, lying on the couch, unshowered and unconcerned, setting aside the bon bons only when the big strong inspectors arrived. Instead, as I lay in bed this morning, awake even before my alarm clock would normally have gone off, I realized that it's the 2nd day of spring. An unusually warm spring, if the scientists are to be believed (and yes, W, they are to be believed, you flaming dickhead), and spring means ... ants.

Sugar ants. I haven't seen them yet, but it's only a matter of time before I open my kitchen cabinets to find their wriggling little bodies writhing around in my sugar and making wee tiny baby ants in the oatmeal. I hate them. I hate them with the same passion that I normally reserve for Dick Cheney and regard them with almost the same disgust that I would feel if I found him wriggling around in my sugar dispenser. Sorry for that mental picture, folks, but at least now you understand my pain.

As I lay in bed, I could almost hear them coming, an army of tiny, marching feet, six to a soldier, all of them headed toward my syrup, my cinnamon bread, my Kashi stash. So I got up. I cleaned. I cleaned like a cleaning fiend. I stripped the countertops bare and Windexed t'fook out of them. Everything they could possibly get into was signed, sealed, delivered, it's war. There are sunflower seeds in my refrigerator. The seeds don't ordinarily go in the fridge, but just in case the ants get a hankering for some seedy goodness, ha! Take that, you relentless, multi-legged, nasty little kitchen bullies! I'd get a gecko if I didn't think my cats would try to eat it.

It took nearly 3 hours to get my wee little postage stamp condo whipped into anti-ant condition, but I reckon I've got a bit of a head start on them this year. I'm going to the grocery store later to buy those awful little sweet-poison bait ant traps that I festoon my condo with like other people do with Hummel figurines (the saccharine level is actually slightly higher on a Hummel figurine, but I want to kill the ants, not give them Type 2 diabetes). While I am both an animal lover and a green-lifestyle embracer, I will up the toxicity in my condo to Rush Limbaugh on a blind date with Gloria Steinem levels if it means I never have to flip on my kitchen light to find a colony of sugar ants copulating under the lid of the honey jar. (Or Rush Limbaugh, for that matter.)

Now, three hours and a roll of (100% post-consumer content recycled) paper towels later, I have this urge to say, a la that tiny lady in the Poltergeist movie: "This house is clean." But we all know how well that worked out.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Downtown Seattle is Like a Box of Chocolates

I'm getting hardened to it, I really am, but the guy on the bus this morning caught even jaded little me by surprise. After riding most of the way to the downtown on the OOL (Overheated, Overcrowded and Late) #36 bus standing up, frantically grasping at the slippery overhead bar which the drivers must dust liberally with baby powder each morning to ensure maximum slipperiness, I finally got a seat. (I never take a seat on that bus without a measure of cynicism, because sure as pickles will muck up your plumbing, some incredibly feeble, wobbly, exhausted, ancient person will get on at the next stop, laden until bent nearly double with a month's shopping, coughing, arthritic and 99% of the time too short to reach the be-powdered overhead bar, and I'll have to give up my seat anyway. Beacon Hill must have a wee, elderly person factory that works overtime.) So I sink into my seat, hoping I'll be able to stay there awhile. If you read my most recent blog, you know I'm doing this stupid running thing, and that means I'm terminally fatigued pretty much always. It was cold this morning, and wet, so the overheated bus is quickly degenerating into a swamp of body heat and wet-overcoat smell. Still overcrowded, we're huddled together like sheep on the edge of a cliff. At a downtown stop not too far from my own, the seat next to me is vacated. I enjoy a very brief feeling of space before today's Loony slams his body into the seat.

Uh oh, I think.

Indeed. "Fuck all dem bitches," he says, and looks to me for approval. I look at the window. (I would have looked OUT of it, but it was foggy with passenger-breath and hair oils.) The Loon adds a disclaimer: "No disrespect for wives and dat." Well, that's all right then.

At the next stop, he gets off, presumably to spread the Gospel of Loon to the next group of the unenlightened.

I get to work, ride up in the elevator to my little cubicle on the windowless floor I work on. McBitchy, this pain-in-t'arse (Happy St. Pats) little girl I have to work with, gives me a smug look which means I've screwed up and she knows about it. I stick the tip of her ponytail in the shredder and walk away.

"Fuck all dem bitches," I think.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Have Stress, Will Unravel

It's odd, working at a company that's basically wrapping up and closing down (well, not the WHOLE company, but the people around me are all getting laid off). The tone varies almost daily, from giddy gallows humor to increasing concern as the number of paychecks left hits single digits, then back to something almost like relief. But the twitch quotient is way up; suddenly colleagues have become potential competitors, and everyone's in a dither about when to jump ship and in what direction. People are re-evaluating their careers, and the "extra day to wear jeans" that was so graciously allotted by corporate, while pleasant, wasn't exactly helpful. I'm sticking it out for as long as I can. I'm getting great experience, building my portfolio, trying to keep my own adrenaline buzz of imminent unemployment at a minimum, at least for now.

So, because life isn't stressful enough, I've decided to add an extra layer: I signed up to run the 08 Vancouver marathon. I've never done this distance before. In fact, until a few weeks ago, my furthest distance run was half that. But I figure I'm right on schedule. I just turned 40, so a few months before my birthday, I changed career paths completely, and now I'm going to (try to) plod through 26.2 miles in one day. I reckon the convertible and trophy boy are weeks away. I resisted telling people for months that I was considering doing this, because I really don't want to tell people I'm going to take a shot at it, only to limp back from Vancouver and admit I got 10 miles along, then purposely shot myself in the foot in order to get Medivac'd back to safety. I will tell you now, odds are 50/50 at best for me crossing that finish line under my own power. I'm only telling now because all the books and articles and discussion groups I've been reading on this topic say that first-timers should definitely tell. It's a commitment thing, like getting married instead of just shacking up. (Tell that to my friends in their double-digit-year relationships, hardly a married pair in the bunch, but whatever.)

One advantage of telling is that now I get to request suggestions for my iPod. I'm looking at some very long, very dull runs ahead, and I NEED MUSIC. Thumping, noisy, energetic music. Suggestions, please.

I will try not to bore everyone with details of the training as it goes along. Poor Toasty already gets the brunt of my new obsession, not just in words but in biking miles alongside me in freezing weather as I rack up the slow miles and he tries to ward off hypothermia and frostbite. He's my hero, and for once, I don't mean this sarcastically.

OK, I'm outta here for today. But I have to add a note to those who know me and who suffered endless discussions of how unhappy I was as an English teacher: yesterday I came across a woman at a coffee shop, elbow deep in a stack of student compositions. I nearly burst into song.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

but is it ironic, alanis?

The "president" is complaining that he doesn't have enough intelligence. As far as I know, this is the first time that idiot has ever told the entire truth about anything.

Observations from my job:

1. Would a man ever wear something called a "shootie"? Would he ever be asked to? It's a real thing -- a cross between a shoe and a boot. The cutsey ending is presumably intended to clue us in that it's for women. I think we should rename all guns "shooties." Would rednecks be so keen to collect them in vast, decorative stockpiles if they had to bring their buddies in to check out the new shooties?

2. Overheard at work: "I went to my parents' church on Sunday. The place was packed and everyone was shouting 'holy jesus' and 'praise the lord.' It was like a hallelujah palooza."

3. (Not at all related to my job, but one day I was bored enough at work to think of it.) The words I want engraved on my tombstone: "Fashionably late."

4. I was down near the photo shop when a man rushed by, absolutely laden with bras. He must have had 10 of them draped all over him, more gripped in his hands. I desperately wanted to tell him, "You're doing it wrong," but he looked unhappy enough.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Wouldja believe it

Last Tuesday I had a job interview at the place I've been temping for the past several weeks. The interview went pretty well; I didn't say anything terribly stupid, and despite being at the start of a nasty cold, I managed not to spray the place with sneezle juice. I wanted the job but not desperately, which helps with the nonchalance. I was marginally witty at key moments, and the atmosphere was one of convivial colleagues rather than sycophantic wanna-be sucks up to potential boss-persons. A pleasant change.

Wednesday the cold could no longer be ignored, and I called in sick. Thursday I made it in, only to be told, "Yes, we likely would have given you the job, but yesterday the entire department got downsized and will be closing in the next few months."

Well, color me crabby.

Did I mention that the place I've been working at is a venerated institution, readying to celebrate an impressive number of years in business (as in "more than a century"); the kind of place your grandmother invested in in 1956 to ensure a comfortable nest egg, a place with decades of steady growth, layer upon layer of successes and quietly impressive gains? It took me less than 24 hours to close it down.

It's a family thing. We have the worst timing since that guy moved his wife and children to Pompeii so they'd "get a good view of that interestingly smoky mountain." Let me explain: for a reasonably bright and educated bunch of people, we have the worst possible luck when it comes to making big decisions at the right time. My brothers spent many years and many dollars and an enormous amount of personal blood, sweat and etc. to make a movie in which dog-fighting 747 airplanes engage in a firefight in New York City, accidentally bombing a couple of towers. When was the movie finished? September 10. 2001. Think about it.

Just about any time my father invests in a company, it’s certain to lose value almost immediately, often long-term, occasionally fatally. Recently, my parents and brothers partnered up for a little speculative property buying. Not a month later we had the crash of the housing market. Well, of course.

Operating on the belief that there’s got to be a way to turn the curse into a blessing, I give you this list of positions for which I plan to apply:

Michael Vick’s lead defense lawyer
Head of Republican National Committee
George W’s Secretary of Defense
Huckabee Hound’s Campaign strategist
Lead NRA congressional lobbyist
Head of Marketing, National Right to Life Organization
Ann Coulter’s publicist
Director, National Cattlemen’s Beef Board

I'm hoping to make appearances on Rush Limbaugh's show and celebrate the return of Don Imus. After that, I'm planning to move to either Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. It might be pushing it to see if the Raggedy Curse can shut down an entire national government, but it's either that or move to Texas, and I'm NOT moving to Texas.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Notes from the Cubicle Jungle

Seriously, folks, how have you done this all these years?

I admit it: I wanted to give up teaching. I wanted out of teaching like a butterfly wants out of a chrysalis. I wanted to expand my damp little wings, I wanted to feel the warmth of sunlight, get the antennae moving around, do some stretching, breathe some fresh air, luxuriate in all this new-found student-free SPACE. And now I'm in a four-foot by four-foot beige box with berber carpeting on the walls and not a window for three floors. What happened here?

I knew the transition would be hard. For example, in academia, I never really had anyone I could point to and say, "that's my boss." Instructors don't have "bosses," not in the traditional sense. There's a pecking order, no question, but whenever I referred to the guy that I had to call in sick to as my "boss," I always felt it necessary to qualify the term with "only not really." For many years, I had supervisors, peers-with-power, stuff like that, but no "boss." Now I have three. Huhwhat?

I don't get to dismiss myself 10 minutes early because I behaved "really well that day and worked hard and learned a lot." I can't bring in "guest speakers" and give myself some time off. There's no pop quizzing for a wee little break, no developing lesson plans solely around their time-sucking potential, not anymore, oh nooooooo. Now it's get here at 8.30, stay all day, then come back and do it again tomorrow. Really? Are you serious?

I could have taught in sweat pants. I could have worn slippers, and my students would have thought I was absent-minded, my peers would likely never have known, and I would have been comfy and content. Now I have to dress like I mean it. This sucks. I have never had a profession that encouraged or afforded decent clothes, and suddenly I have to dress like a grown up?! I sit in my beige box all day; my computer couldn't care less if I showed up with my toothbrush caught in my hair and my t-shirt so covered in strawberry jelly I had to fight off the CSI team to get to my desk. So why the dressing up malarky?

But I like it. I have to admit it. I have no idea what I or anyone around me is talking about (I giggled in a meeting the other day because these grown men were talking about "baby dolls" with great seriousness and purpose. They were talking about tops, not toys, but either way it was damn funny), but it's kinda fun. Like, they pay me to be funny. I get paid for word play. I've never gotten paid for that before, not directly. I've gotten away with it before, but it's never actually been encouraged. OK, there are issues, like when Nervous Nellie, hunched and trembling in her corner office lest someone write a joke that's not on the Permitted List from Corporate, hacks and slashes her way through my copy, but I sense that with time and kindness and maybe some snacks, I'll be able to work with her.

But the dressing up has got to stop. I've started whittling away at that: I'm already down from tights and skirts and clicky, fussy little shoes to corduroys and hiking boots and big, chunky sweaters. The other women in my office may wear sleek little tops and silky little blouses, but blue is definitely not my color -- it's frickin' COLD in there. I figure from corduroys and hiking boots, it's a mere hop, skip and wee little leap of the imagination to jeans every day and not just on TGIFridays.

I had a bad day last week in which hardly a word I'd written survived the threshing machine, but it's been better since and a few good lines have slipped past here and there. It's not the perfect job. I'm not making the world a better place -- only, occasionally, a mildly more amusing one for the very few people who actually read the text of a clothing catalog. I'm not helping the environment or setting religious nuts on fire or otherwise improving the world. That's too bad. I'd like to be. One good thing about my former profession was having students tell me that I'd made their lives a little bit easier, a little bit less chaotic, a little more sensible. Helping immigrants and refugees make a life in the strange new world of the U.S. was rewarding, no doubt. And periodically futzing with people whose ideologies conflicted with my own was fun too.

This all leads to the fact that tomorrow I'm supposed to have a "conversation" about the possibility of a permanent position (I'm a temp now). This is that moment when the Big Boss and I sound each other out for a decent fit. The great thing about ambivalence is it's so calming. I wouldn't mind getting the job, I guess; I'm sure the money's good, and the benefits, and best of all is the chance to beef up (tofu up?) the resume and portfolio. And like I said, I do actually like some aspects of the job very much. But if it doesn't happen, then I go back to what I was doing, only with a slightly chewier resume and portfolio for the experience, thank you very much.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I Miss You. Come Back.

I hate my keyboard. Until recently, I had a really great keyboard that even had a special button you could push to bring up the computer calculator without having to go to "Start" and scrolling through all that mess because I'm too lazy to work out my checkbook on paper. There were lots of other fancy buttons that did stuff on my old keyboard, but I hadn't had a chance to figure them out yet. I was still honeymooning with the calculator key.


On my birthday, MY BIRTHDAY, I'm balancing out my checkbook and clearing off the (top layer of) debris on my desk. I'm feeding stuff into shredder and feeling good because (a) my shredder is a stripper and not a cross cutter and therefore I can recycle my shreds and (b) Discover, Geico, Clearwire and some sleazy mortgage company won't be getting any love from me. Then I hear a terribly grindy noise. Bad. Things stop working. Now let me preface this by saying that my shredder is under my desk in the dark. It's a cat-hair-lined cave under there, and no one goes there unless something computer-related goes terribly, noisily wrong. And occasionally to dump out the recycling bin which also lurks under there. What I'm saying is, it's dark. And bad things happen in the dark.

I shredded the cable from my keyboard to my computer.

I sat there, dumbfounded, one shredded wirey end of cord in each hand. I poked at the keys on my keyboard thinking perhaps it'd developed some sort of psychic ability and didn't actually need this cable. I considered trying to rejoin the wires like I was a surgeon and my keyboard was a drunken farmer who'd just stuck his hand in the combine. Or, alternatively, some kind of farm machinery that could take off a limb; I don't know a lot about farming. I put the keyboard on ice and wondered what to do.

Hey, that keyboard had sentimental value: Toasty bought it for me. It made the perfect clicky sounds and required exactly the right pressure to register a keystroke. It seemed to understand what I meant, even when I couldn't type the words with my fat manatee fingers. I miss it.

This keyboard, this fourteen dollar craptastic keyboard, is to REAL keyboards what Romper Room fat plastic keys are to the things that start your Jaguar. This is not a great comparison, I know. I blame the crapboard. It misses letters all the time. You have to strike the keys hard enough to cause sparks, and then you get six gggggg's or nnnnnn's in a row. This isn't just a no-frills keyboard, it's the keyboard the gods send you when you've been so foolish as to shred your last one. This one's an "Ativa." That's not even a word. It was probably supposed to be a word like "Activate," only most of the letters didn't register.

I hate this keyboard.

I'd tell you about my temp job, but I really hate this keyboard.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

One of these things is not like the others

So: new temp gig. (Being a freelance writer means you get to use words like "gig." Along with the big bucks, it's one of the perks.) I'm going to be doing some writing for a major retailer. Let me say that again: I'm going to be doing some writing for a major retailer. You know those stores that OTHER people go into and come out $500 lighter but looking fabulous? Yeah, one of those places. I get hives just walking past the place. They don't even deign to spritz me with perfume when I walk past the counter, obviously thinking there's nothing they can do to improve the stench of the poor and fashionless.

I don't get it. Out on the street, Seattle is crowded with fleece and dull colors, like we all live on the Scottish moors or something. But you walk in there, and it's all these gleaming, sleek cat-people. Where do they come from? Where do they go? And how do they lick their own heads to get their hair to shine like that?

I fear for my future. I don't know what this stuff is. I only recently figured out the difference between a turtleneck and a "mock" turtleneck. (One chokes you, the other makes really bad soup). What if they hand me a pair of trousers, and I call them "pleats" when they're really "tucks" or "fat alignment corridors" or something?! I mean, I don't claim to have any expertise in fashion, nor do I really want any, but I'd rather not make a fool of myself.

So wish me luck, dear readers (both of you). If nothing else, I should get some good blog-fodder out of it. But if you walk into a major retailer's in the next few weeks to find my head on a stake and a sign around my neck warning other pretentious, ill-informed and poorly dressed freelancers to stay away, give me a pat, smooth my hair a bit, remember I've gone to a better place.