Friday, March 31, 2006

Celebrate good times. Come on.

Quick! Call Dairy Queen and order five ice cream sheet cakes, inflate some balloons, pick up a case of champagne, break out the party hats and whips, book the drag queen clown mime strippers, call the Blues Brothers naked polka tribute act, schedule the semi-deranged Austrian folk-rock accordionist, unpack the Donald Trump wigs, crotchless chicken costumes, and Rolly Fingers mustaches, open the flashing willy boppers, crack open the barrel of baby oil, bust out the Slip n’ Slide, and crank the Neil Sedaka. It’s time to celebrate!

I just paid off my student loans.*

In other news, I’m still busier at work than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. My use of that colorful comparison officially cements the fact that I am becoming my parents, as that phrase was as oft-heard round the house in my formative years as “you’re funnier than a rubber crutch” or “the first time I heard that one I kicked the slats out of my crib.” Both of which I also caught myself saying at least once in the past year. Thanks, Dad.

*If you’re tempted to tell me to go play on some train tracks, don’t worry. I’ve still got enough debt that if lined up end to end, it would circle the earth 22 times.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Junior High Mix-Up

One of the best things about my job as a grant writer is that once in a while, I get a candid look at what kids these days are thinking. Mostly, I’m just a desk jockey. I’m pretty disconnected from why I’m writing grant proposals. I mean, yeah, I’m all about the raising of test scores and improving of “behavioral outcomes” through “research-based model programming.” (My soul just died a little composing those words.) But sometimes what I do for a living feels more like writing the same research paper over and over again in a hermetically-sealed closet. I rarely get to SEE the benefits of what I’m doing. So I love it when I visit a school and I can watch kids planting saplings in an outdoor learning lab, or riding bikes one of my proposals helped fund. But I’m even happier when people give me student survey results to use when I write a grant narrative.

One of my clients just gave me the results of a middle school student survey on a new program that is supposed to get kids to “mix it up” at lunch by seating them with people they rarely socialize with and in some cases, actively despise. I’m sure you can imagine how popular this is. I thought I’d share some of the more entertaining and revealing responses with you. (Quoted / misspelled per their exact responses.)

Q: Do you know why seating is done this way?
  • If you think we are makeing friends we are makeing enimies
  • Because your’re making us make new friends that we don’t like
  • It’s done so no one is sitting alone
  • To accept our peers, learn about other cultures
  • So we don’t get loud or fight
  • So we can make a “difference” in people’s lives*
  • So we can “socialize” with people who don’t like us*
  • It is what they do in Europe
  • Because you think if we get to choose our seats we will reject a loner. You think we are racist and rude
  • I don’t need more friends, I have enough drama
  • They want us to make friends and interact with all different kinds of people—I don’t have a problem w/that but when I can never sit w/ the friends I gain in the first place I’m really just losing friends in the long run
Q: What do you like least about lunch?
  • Sitting with weird people
  • Sitting with a person that makes fun of you
  • People throw food toe much
  • Sitting with people that talk very grose
  • Listening to people swear!!
  • Loudness
  • Wipping off the tables
  • That you have to rush to the lunchroom to sit with your friends!!! If you don’t…Once I had to sit at an ALL SIXTH GRADE GIRLS TABLE!!!
  • I don’t like to sit at tables where people think they are better than me. They are not! We are all equal! I’m sick of people telling me they don’t like me and they are beter. I hate it so much it’s not fair, why can’t the staff change the students. Huh?
  • The seating by 8th grade you should already have friends. This just tears people apart
  • I don’t like sitting in a group when they can be loud, messy and troublemakers
  • Meeting people that tells you the racist rumors ever
  • People throwing food
  • The boys allways go fist and then us gale get the crapi food I starv
  • People throwing rags at you
  • I wasn’t able to sit w/my friends and the 8th graders I had to sit w/were mean to me
  • having to sit with people who are snobs or people who smell
I got such a clear image of some of these kids when I read their responses. And it brought me right back to the intensity, awkwardness, and various injustices of junior high. (Fortunately this trip down memory lane was interrupted by a delightful yet brief collegial conversation involving the phrase "blow some BS." I can't say whether said BS was to be blown up anyone's orifices. It just wouldn't be professional.)

Anyway, wherever you are, honest and cynical survey-taking middle school kids, hang in there. Junior high doesn’t last forever.

Thank God.

*I love how jaded these kids sound. Dudes, they’re thirteen!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Oil Embargo

Friday after work I swung by our local Valvoline to have my oil changed. Not mine, my car’s. Going for any auto maintenance or repair always stresses me out, so I usually put it off until I can actually hear the grinding and knocking over the Pantera blasting from my speakers. It only took 13 postcards from GM for me to finally take care of the recall issue on my old car, and even then only the specter of being chastised for my laziness when I traded in the car made me bring it in for service. Not the threat of my steering column blowing up and setting my face on fire, which was what caused the recall in the first place.

Do I even need to tell you I was overdue for this oil change?

First, both bays were busy servicing cars, so I rolled up my mental sleeves and got to work worrying about which lane I should enter. If I got into the wrong lane, somebody else could pull up and be serviced faster in the other lane. This could make me miss the next Mother Angelica on the Eternal Word Television Network! If I sat in the middle, hogging both lanes, someone could pull up behind me and honk or curse at me, both of which are the kind of interactions I try to avoid as much as crazy people who shout at me, “Hey lady! Do you have a thousand children? Hey lady! Do you live in a shoe?” Which really happened on the street recently. But I digress.

Luckily, one of the attendants soon waved me in. Next the part of my brain that obsesses over finances kicked in. What if they used the wrong oil and voided my warranty? I shouldn’t have been so cheap. I should have gone to the Honda dealership. Now my transmission would explode during my next commute to work; a technician would examine the damage, shake his head, and drawl, “Too bad you used 5w30 oil and voided your warranty. This’ll be pricey. But don’t worry. Selling yourself into human bondage at a Turkish brothel should cover it.”

Then I had to steel myself to deal with the various products, upgrades, and services they try to pitch. (I ended up with a new wiper blade and air filter, but I held the line at the synthetic oil upgrade and “Just Married” commemorative cans.) And THEN, while you’re sitting there in your car as they build Lego forts in your engine, you have to worry about how to keep busy yet available to answer questions. Where do you aim your eyes? You can’t just STARE at them while they work. That seems weird and intrusive. And if you stare straight ahead into space you look like you’re having a flashback to the day you watched your beloved grandmother be torn apart limb-from-limb while trying to buy the last "Hump Me Elmo" at Wal-Mart the day after Thanksgiving.

I failed to bring a book or magazine, so I pretended to balance my checkbook. I also rummaged around my purse cataloguing items I was surprised to be carrying: hairspray, face blotter papers, a gingerbread house, a jumbo can of sauerkraut. I organized my coupons, making a tiny pile on the passenger seat of those that had expired. Sure $25 off hip replacement surgery is an attractive deal, but I found the idea of having my hips replaced by a doctor who prints coupons a bit unsettling. So into the bad pile it went.

And finally you get to the part where they show you your new oil level on the dipstick. This is funny to me because let's face it. It could just be a long stick of incense…it could be as dry as a Steven Wright routine … they could have simply dipped the stick into a vat of Soul Glow or dredged it through the toilet oilslick from an ingested bag of WOW! Chips and I’d nod, smile, and say, “Yep. Looks good, thanks.”

I’m sure the Valvoline guys find this part hilarious. Anyway, I’m good for another three months. Unless the “Maint. Req'd” light doesn’t stop flashing on my dashboard.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dorothy Update

Yesterday I introduced you to Dorothy, my office’s 85 year-old cleaning lady. Last night she brought her 60-something niece in to work with her, since the niece was Dorothy’s ride to a funeral later in the evening.

(To give you a visual, Dorothy looks a bit like a central European peasant: a stout, wizened woman whose bespectacled image might grace the boxes for a line of frozen Pierogies. Her niece looked exactly like a cross between Betty White and Bea Arthur. And I don’t use the word “exactly” lightly here.)

This was the actual conversation that took place in my office between Dorothy, her niece, and me while I sat at my computer surreptitiously reading email:

The set-up: introductions and an exchange of the usual pleasantries. (It must be noted that Dorothy introduced me as "Office girl Jessie.") Beat of silence. Then:

Dorothy, tossing a baleful, disapproving look at her niece: “Look at her. She lost 40 pounds.”

Me, already uneasy with the direction of the conversation: “Congratulations! Wow, that’s quite an accomplishment.”

Dorothy frowns at her niece and shakes her head. Then, firmly but quietly: “I liked you better when you were fatter.”

Me: *smile locks on face*

Niece, smiling good-naturedly, clearly used to Dorothy’s hijinks: “But I can move around easier now!” She swivels her hips to demonstrate.

Dorothy, ignoring her and looking back at me. “I don’t like it. Her husband don’t like it, neither. ‘You should see her now,’ he says to me.” Coughing fit. “’You should see her now,’ he says.”

Niece, still smiling, tries to lighten the mood: “Now I can chase him around better.”

I laugh in a “trapped in a funhouse after hours” kind of way.

Dorothy makes shocked clucking noises. A fog of awkwardness rolls in. Then, Dorothy in an aside directed at me: “I like ‘em better when they’re fleshy. Don’t you, Jessie?”

Me: *frozen to chair*

Dorothy won’t let it rest: “Don’t you like ‘em better when they’re fleshy, Jessie?”

Me, on the verge of hysterics: “I’m staying out of this one!”

(Niece tsk-tsks Dorothy in the background, still smiling beatifically.)

Dorothy continues: “Our pastor lost a bunch of weight. Now he’s too skinny. I don’t like it. Not one bit. He don’t look right. They don’t look right when they’re so skinny. Like sticks they are!” Coughs up some phlegm. “Strong wind’ll knock ‘em right over.”

This went on for some time until my head exploded. As soon as they left I wrote down everything they said.

Have a wonderful, fleshy weekend everyone!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

So. What have you been up to?

Seven Things I'd Rather Do than Work Right Now:

  1. Sell socks door to door
  2. Give a speech before a crowded auditorium while wearing tight pink spandex
  3. Sprinkle my dog’s toenail clippings on a salad for some extra crunch
  4. Relive the seventh grade
  5. Eat a box of sidewalk chalk
  6. Fashion a crown of tampons and wear it to an important meeting
  7. Live in a world populated entirely by Dr. Phil clones
As I’ve written of in more creative days of yore, I am now in the thick of our “crunch period” at work. Believe me, this has nothing to do with granola or sit-ups. I wish it did. Anyway, I thought I’d give you a status report so you can live in my world for the next 47 seconds. Lucky you.

Current Status of …

My love relationship: I’m married? Wow. So that dude on my couch must be my old man.

Hangnails: bloody tatters. I thought about posting a picture of my fingertips here, but it would probably trigger your gag reflex and/or frighten you away forever and/or convince you I have serious neuroses, which you may have already deduced.

Dog: she’s eating her own poop again. And the barking. It is incessant.

Children: Wait. I don’t have children. Thank God, because if I did, someone would have called Social Services on my ass weeks ago.

Hygiene: Let’s just say I could land a role as a bag lady on CSI without even auditioning.

Relationships with friends: neglected. But I did speak last night with the lucky pal who just returned from Venezuela. S, I love you dearly, but a small part of me hopes you brought cockroaches home with you in your baggage. (This is the jealousy talking. Shut up and sit down before I smack you, jealousy.)

Houseplants: are you familiar with the term “desertification?”

My brain: has been replaced with a bag of marshmallows. If I close my eyes, I can hear the faint strains of “Turkey in the Straw” emanating from my left ear canal.

Daily interaction with peers: lately, the only people I’m interacting with are my coworkers and our office’s 85 year-old cleaning lady, Dorothy. Topics of conversation with Dorothy in the last two days have covered funerals, nursing homes, church, her negative attitude toward binge drinking, the possibility of me taking her out and getting her drunk, people who feed robins ground hamburger, and the weather. Dorothy conversations are always initiated when you are trying to add a column of 746 four-digit figures manually.

And yes, Dorothy is 85. Because I work in the Hotel California. You can check out, but you can never leave. Or retire. Ever. When we employ quality staff, we keep them. Yes I am duct-taping my talented coworkers K and L to their chairs as they close in on retirement age. I have already warned them. Shit, their chairs have WHEELS, so I don’t know what they’re complaining about. All we need are a couple of colostomy bags and they’ll be ready to roll. Pun sadly intended because that’s the kind of lame garbage my brain is capable of these days.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Here’s the Wind-up, and…..The Pitch

I have two favors to ask of you, followed by one general announcement. First, if you are interested in supporting good music (and who isn’t), please check out my bro-in-law Safety Joe’s band, Runway 36; every time someone new listens to both of their latest songs, "Welcome to the Afterall" and "All for Show" here, they are one step closer to landing a spot on the Warped Tour. (You can also find their page by clicking on the image below.) Fun stuff, people! And they're GOOD. I am very impressed by this kind of thing, and if they win, they will be on the same bill as Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, which was the first band I ever saw live in concert.

(My apologies to the band if my uncoolness has just sullied their image.)

Second, if anyone knows of any vacancies for a high school English teacher in the Chicago suburbs / southeastern Wisconsin area, please let me know. My younger brother Jake’s position was just axed due to budget cuts (and his “low man on the totem pole” status), so any leads are much appreciated! He's smart, funny, and has the skills & knowledge it takes to churn out classrooms of well-adjusted, literate kids ready to contribute to society.

Third, if you’ll be in the Oshkosh, WI area on April 8th, I’ll be presenting some workshops on my novel & writing in general at Limelite Studios as part of the “Destination Downtown Oshkosh” event. For the low, must-act-now, bargain-basement-blowout price of $25 in advance and $30 at the door, here’s what you get:

  • An "exclusive downtown discount booklet"
  • A runway fashion show with exciting prizes (by "exciting prizes," I hope they mean a superpower toolbelt that can make me invisible, pay all my bills, and end worldwide hunger. A chocolate-dipped Cillian Murphy would also suffice.)
  • Free pastries and mimosas. (Sugary baked goods and BOOZE, people. If that doesn’t get you, maybe the tablescaping will.)
  • Yoga & massage
  • Jewelry making
  • Tablescaping (I think this means learning how to arrange candles, stones, fabric, and potpourri in an attractive manner on a table. Because my tables are covered in a landslide of magazines and paperwork, I’m afraid there will be no scaping in my house.)
  • Health testing
  • "Pampering galore" (This has nothing to do with changing a baby in a cramped bathroom. I'm sure of it.

And if you sign up for my workshops, we'll chat about my book. And writing. And the trials and tribulations of getting an agent. I’ll try to keep the awkward buffoonery to a minimum, unless that is what the attendees wish. Here’s the front of the brochure. Isn’t that cute and girly? I may not be hip enough for this, but I’ll give it a whirl. Registration is at the Algoma Club (107 Algoma Blvd, Oshkosh, WI) at 10 am on Saturday April 8th. Here's some more info about the day on the website of one of my favorite stores. Hope to see you there! Unless doing so would impose a financial and emotional hardship on you. In that case, I'm sure I'll be blogging about the day later.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Follow-up to my July 23, 1986 Fan Letter to Mackenzie Astin

Dear Mackenzie Astin,

From the moment I saw your feathered hair and upturned pink collar in the seventh season of The Facts of Life, I knew I would be writing you a fan letter. You were so precocious … so sweet-faced … so B-list that I knew I would be virtually guaranteed a response should I mail you a handwritten homage.

I found your address in an issue of Teen Beat. You found your way into my heart. Oh little Andy Moffat … even your character’s name made me melt. Sure, I could have written to Kirk Cameron or Jason Bateman like all the other girls were doing, but I saw something special in you. It didn’t even bother me that your father was Gomez Addams.

When I saw the autographed glossy 8 x 10 photos of Brian Bloom and Martha Byrne netted by my friend Amy's fan letters, I thought I might receive the same gift from you. This seemed to be how the celebrity / fan dynamic worked. So I waited by the mailbox. I waited so long that you eventually left The Facts of Life entirely, moving on to illustrious projects like “A Child Lost Forever: the Jerry Sherwood Story.”

Why no response, Mackenzie Astin? Did you get wind of the fact that I played not Wendy nor the sultry mermaid but Captain Hook in the all-school Peter Pan musical that year? Did someone mail you a recording of me singing “Never Smile at a Crocodile?”

Or maybe you saw my fifth-grade class picture. The one my teacher laughed at, twice, before handing the envelope of prints over to me.

But perhaps it was this sentiment from my letter: “I like to dance! Do you?”*

That alone should have guaranteed me a response, don’t you think? Because clearly, I was one small step away from making other cringe-worthy declarations like, “But my mom says I’m cool!” or “It’s called lice, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of!” before being brutally shoved into a locker by a cool kid.

In closing, happy Saint Patrick’s Day, Mackenzie Astin. Good luck on your next made for TV movie or cameo on Lost.

PS: Please tell your brother Sean I enjoyed his hobbity performances in the Lord of the Rings movies. Even though his hairy feet were completely gross.

*Actual lines from the letter.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Ambien Gait

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or, say, Larry the Cable Guy’s ass, you’ve probably heard about the fun little side effects of the sleep-inducing drug Ambien. Not only is it rumored to prompt sleep-eating and sleep-driving, but just take a look at some of the other potential side effects:

Central and peripheral nervous system: Frequent: ataxia, confusion, depression, dizziness, drowsiness, drugged feeling, euphoria, headache, insomnia, lethargy, lightheadedness, vertigo. Infrequent: abnormal dreams, agitation, amnesia, anxiety, decreased cognition, detached, difficulty concentrating, dysarthria, emotional lability, hallucination, hypoesthesia, illusion, leg cramps, migraine, nervousness, paresthesia, sleep disorder, sleeping (after daytime dosing), speech disorder, stupor, tremor. Rare: abnormal gait, abnormal thinking, aggressive reaction, apathy, appetite increased, decreased libido, delusion, dementia, depersonalization, dysphasia, feeling strange, hypokinesia, hypotonia, hysteria, intoxicated feeling, manic reaction, neuralgia, neuritis, neuropathy, neurosis, panic attacks, paresis, personality disorder, somnambulism, suicide attempts, tetany, yawning.

Other than my favorite (sleeping), which IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN, what is up with abnormal gait? What is IN this shit? (To say nothing of "depersonalization" and simply "feeling strange.")

The Ambien pushers don’t explain what exactly they mean by "abnormal gait," but the image I’m getting in my head is this: you’re walking along, minding your business, and all of a sudden you’re Cookie Fleck stumble-running across the floor of Madison Square Garden to hug Gerry and Winky after the big “Best in Show” win.

Perhaps the makers of Ambien should include a free pair of Olga shoes with every prescription, just in case that abnormal gait develops. You know about the Olga shoes, right? The “special” shoes that Pa Ingalls made for irregularly-limbed Olga so she could play with the rest of the kids? See, she had one leg shorter than the other. So Pa built her an elevated shoe.

My friend Fee made our good friend Wendell an Olga shoe for Christmas in 1997. Here it is:

And here they are, being modeled in a close-up. Unfortunately, I cut the Olga shoe off a bit when I took this picture, but I think it's a fair enough representation:

Wasn’t that thoughtful of Fee? Wendell didn’t have an abnormal gait at the time, so perhaps Fee was providing her with the means to walk and play with the rest of the kids in the event that she would one day take Ambien.

So here’s to the kind of friends who will make you an Olga shoe, even if you don’t really need it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

How a Dull, Childless Thirty-something Spent the Weekend, as Told in Three Acts

Act One: Water City Thrill

Friday night we had dinner at Water City Grill, which has been my favorite local eatery for the past five years. They serve, in my very humble opinion, the best entrees in town … some of which are actually *looking nervously over shoulder* meatless. (This is against the law in some Wisconsin counties, so you have to be careful.) But the food is so delicious it’s like your mouth won a million dollars from the Publisher’s Clearinghouse, but without Ed McMahon stuck in your craw. Also, WCG makes three things I adore:

Martinis, martinis, and martinis. Which are so heavenly and smooth I usually have one polished off by the time dinner arrives and then I always whisper conspiratorially to J: “Honey, I’m kinda DRUNK.”

I know! Can you imagine?

Then silence falls while we devour our food with a single-minded focus and purpose that could probably qualify us for a competitive eating event. Later, we will fall asleep in front of TLC’s What Not to Wear and Log in for Love. Rockin’ good times.

That was how I spent Friday night.

Act Two: Arctic Stunkys

Saturday, I worked. (snooze blah yawn snore boo blegh zurgggg) Afterwards, I visited my parents. Thank you to everyone who wished my dad well! I’m happy to report that he was feeling chipper enough to gripe about how spectacularly unfunny SNL has gotten since the late 1970s, and also about how loud and obnoxious the musical guest Arctic Monkeys were.

I’d been looking forward to hearing them since Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly and Newsweek fellated them with praise in various reviews, and the band was decent enough, but I liked them the first time I heard them … when they were called Jet. And The Killers. And The Hives. And The Vines. And The Strokes. The Arctic Monkeys were like mini-Strokes, only without the partial paralysis. But I’ll give them another chance, because they used the same stage on which Ashley Simpson did her lipsync hoedown, which probably left an ugly karmic residue in the air.

That was Saturday.

Act Three: a Preview of Coming Detractions

Sunday, my mom made me oatmeal for breakfast (Yaay! Nostalgia! Happiness! Sparklies! Love!) and then I worked again (bleak dreary drudge brap boo zaaaaag) When I returned home I made “Garlicky Lima Bean Soup” for dinner, which infused the entire house with the delightful smell of bitter dog farts and onions, and then we watched the first episode of the new season of The Sopranos. *cue swelling orchestra music and chorus of hallelujahs*

And there was indeed enough profanity, dysfunction, violence, dark humor, and death to reward MOST of the endless wait. But HBO? Screw you for not giving me a “Next week, on The Sopranos” clip at the end of the show. I depend on the preview to sustain me through a week of soul-sucking work!

I tried to nurse my disappointment with HBO’s new show Bill Paxton is a Polygamist who Takes Boner Pills, but watching him try to juggle three different families in three different homes really wore me out. And there is no way these writers will get me to empathize with Chloe Sevigny’s character. Not unless they give her a new wardrobe, new hairstyle, new attitude, new head, and new voice. Or have her drown in the family pool.

I need to get a life, right? Well, don’t worry, I just ordered one. Sadly, it’s on backorder ‘til June.

So. What did you do this weekend?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Family News Alert System Crashes

So my mom has this system by which she tracks which of her three children she’s told about major family news items. Basically, it’s a large dry-erase board with a column for each of the three kids and a row for major events or activities of note (babies born, pregnancies, deaths, etc.). When my mom tells anyone about a particular news item, she checks them off the list. This is sort of how it works during a phone conversation:

Mom: “Oh, did I tell you that Laura had her baby?”
Me: “No! Oh wow! Boy or girl?”
Mom, making an audible mental note to herself: “Okay, I can take that off the list.” Cupping a hand over the phone and shouting to my dad: “Peter, can you check Jess off the list for me? Yeah. I just told her about Laura’s baby. So you can check it off the list.”

But the system has experienced a major break down because MY DAD HAD SHOULDER SURGERY YESTERDAY AND NOBODY TOLD ME UNTIL TEN PM LAST NIGHT. Yet my mom called my brother on Monday to tell him that 24 was on at 7 pm.


And when my cousin Laura had her baby? I actually found out at Thanksgiving weeks after it happened. Methinks this system could stand some improvement. Mom, I love you more than anything. You make delicious meals that accommodate the strange dietary needs of your children. You put up with my adolescent moodiness and forgave me for stealing the family minivan back in 1990. You are a lovely, fun, and generally wonderful person and lugged me around internally for over nine months and gave birth to me. I can’t even imagine that process, what with the twenty-seven hours of labor and my fat head and all. But I’m filing a formal complaint about this family news alert system of yours.

Now I feel like a horrible daughter for not paying attention to the upcoming surgery when it was mentioned to me weeks ago. Plus, when I was talking to my dad on the phone last night (FINALLY), he was still pretty groggy from the anesthesia and had to quick put the phone down to go throw up, which made me really sad.

But don’t feel too badly for him. Look how he tried to scare me during a family trip to Florida in 1979. Yes, that is a real, live alligator in the water just inches below me.

Luckily, the entire family made it through the trip intact. We also survived my dad’s blazing white tennis pro outfit, which almost blinded everyone within fifty feet whenever he stepped into the sunlight.

I’m going to see my parents this weekend because I miss them and want to see how Dad’s doing. I won’t be bringing them any grandchildren (sorry Mom!), but I will be bearing other gifts. Possibly baked goods.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

That "not-so-mentally-fresh" feeling

I’ve been trying to find a photograph that accurately conveys my current state of emotional and mental health, and the only picture that felt “right” was the one of the old man wearing just the Wal-Mart bag. This one’s made the rounds via email, so I won’t be posting it here. But the longer I looked at it the sadder it made me, until I actually teared up at the fact that this elderly man probably spent last Christmas under a bridge with a can of peas he’d nicknamed “Fooby.”

Then I stumbled across an ALBUM COVER that really hit the nail on the head.

This is an actual album of “amazing recordings of demons speaking through people who are possessed by them.” In case you missed it, the purveyors of these actual demon recordings have named their opus: Crying Demons Crying Demons Crying Demons. Sadly, I didn’t find this in my personal album collection. My favorite things about this picture include: a) the “those wacky demons!” expression on the model’s face; b) he’s trying to cross his eyes, but only the right one is cooperating; and c) the fact that he reminds me a little of Jimmie Walker from an early Good Times episode, and in the course of researching Jimmie Walker, I discovered that he actually hosted A Very Elimidate Christmas last year. This little nugget of trivia improved my day exponentially.

But I’m sure you prefer real-life evidence of my precarious mental state. So here’s a picture of me and my husband Andy Capp that was taken just last Sunday. I’m holding our pet wolverine, and as you can see, someone has deflated my head and made my face all crooked, like I just watched that fucking Ring video. Also, do you like my boots?

I have stumbled on a solution to my work-related insanity/crabbery, and that is to land a job where I live in an igloo and train baby reindeer to count with their cute little hooves and I only have to talk to other human beings once a year, when my barrels of supplies are delivered. Basically, I want a job where I never again will have to write a sentence like: “In response to the array of health and wellness challenges facing our students, we propose a multi-layered program that will put the fun back in physical activity and help students learn to plan for a lifetime of health.”

Doesn’t that sentence make you want to throw up everything you’ve eaten since 1985? I know it has that effect on me. I’d rather listen to Crying Demons Crying Demons Crying Demons on an endless loop than write more shit like that in 56 new ways.

Alas, I was not sired by Bill Gates and must work for THE MAN to maintain my freewheeling, jet-setting lifestyle and cover the cost of building my own robot army. Working for THE MAN usually entails some selling of your soul to the Crying Demons, but hey, it beats a dull stick up your nose.

Note from the author: you may have noticed more profanity in this post. This is a side effect of work-related insanity. The only known treatment is a vague, mysterious concept I have heard spoken of in hushed tones once in my lifetime: vacation time.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Domo Arigato, Not Miss Roboto

I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I love the concept of technology. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy modern, potentially life-saving technological breakthroughs? And who couldn’t use a new architectural fancy machine? (Other than Ted Kaczynski, of course.)

It’s the technology that seems to hate me.

This dysfunctional relationship began in the mid-eighties, when my sixth grade teacher wheeled our school’s first Apple computer into the building. We’d eagerly wait our turn to go on the computer, and when our magical day finally arrived, we’d race into the hallway in pairs to play Oregon Trail, creating characters named Farts McGinty that always died of dysentery or cholera. Oh, the electric joy! It was like directing our own reality series, except with covered wagons and crude, pixilated death.

When my friend Pam’s family bought a Commodore 64, I was so jealous I practically melted. We logged HOURS playing exciting, high-tech games like Winter Games and ... Summer Games. Could there BE a better way to rot our brains and pursue a sedentary lifestyle in between imaginary make-out sessions with Ralph Macchio?

But it soon became clear that this wondrous pastime also had a dark side, which I discovered when Super Mario Brothers proved more entertaining to an early boyfriend of mine than, well, me. I parlayed this early discovery into my first major technological purchase in 1993: a Sega Genesis complete with Sonic the Hedgehog. At the time, it seemed as essential an accessory to my new dorm room as shower shoes and the requisite John Belushi “College” poster. Plus, I figured it would be a great way to attract guys. Turned out that tight tops and binge drinking worked much better, and without the eyestrain. Luckily, my roommate’s creepy boyfriend bought it from me when I lost interest.

Fast-forward a few years and my new boss has just purchased Palm Pilots for everyone. Wheee! Christmas in October, right? Wrong. Not only was my new PDA the size of a toaster; whenever I turned it on at meetings, it emitted a high-frequency squeal that caused my coworkers’ ears to bleed and any dog within a ten-mile radius to explode. I’m not all that partial to dogs exploding, so I put the ixnay on the PDA.

I received my first cell phone as a gift in 1997. It was larger than a double bed and it came with its own wheeled cart for portability. I bought another phone in 2002, but after they changed my minute re-up procedures and I couldn’t figure them out, I tossed it into a bag of crap in the shed. I think the only people who don’t have cell phones at this point are me, my husband, and the Amish. But what’s that you say? Even the Amish have cell phones? That are nestled in Amish hand-tooled leather phone holsters?

I have hit a new Luddite Low, and you are all here to witness it.

But the lure of modernity is too strong to deny. Because I’m currently considering purchasing an iPod and a new cell phone. But I’m in this unpleasant holding pattern of wanting these items yet hemming & hawing until the the cost comes down and the technology improves (yet again). After all, the computer we bought last fall was outdated by the time we got the box to the car.

Plus, my J* wants other new technology-related purchases. A large complicated television. More personal computing accessories. An Xbox 360. Even a refrigerator. Can’t he see how well the time-honored method of salting our food and dumping it in a dank hole in the ground has been working? It’s winter for cryin’ out loud! You work with what you have.

If you need me, I’ll be hurriedly rendering tallow for my soap and candles before it gets dark.

*75% of all bloggers are married to or dating a J. Also, thanks to everyone who voted for or tried to vote for me (damn technology!) in the MKE Online blog contest. Stickers for everyone!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Things Are Happening. Things Have Happened.

It’s the weekend, and you know what that means. Yes, it’s once again time for the weekly financial bloodletting at Target and some further budget buggery at the grocery store. Betwixt our visits to these two money vacuums, we decided to court a tapeworm infestation and have lunch at one of the Chinese buffets in town. Here are the highlights:
  1. Someone had carefully balanced a check for 25 cents on the tummy of the Buddha statue near the cash register. Now, this appealed to me for two reasons: a) rather than mine the couch cushions for a quarter, someone actually took the time to write a check out for this amount; and b) what on earth can Buddha buy for 25 cents?
  2. While savoring a delicious mouthful of the traditional Chinese dish “cheesy spinach casserole,” my eyes happened upon a sight that immediately made my tastebuds lose their happy feeling: a man with a hairdo that can only be described as a wacky cross between Gallagher’s head and a ball of yellow yarn. Think about that for a second. Then think about the fact that when I pointed Gallagher Yarnhair out to my husband, he said, “Yeah, I know that guy.”
  3. Speaking of my darling life mate, his fortune read, “It’s time you asked that special someone out on a date.” That special someone better be me, bub.

After lunch, we zipped over to Copps to load up on foodstuffs for the week. And here are the people who entertained me at the grocery store:

  1. A couple that looked. Exactly. Alike. With matching baseball caps, matching jackets, matching shoes, matching glasses, and matching voices. People have said J and I look like brother and sister (Eeeww!), but we’ve got nothing on Clone Couple. You’ll have to trust me on this.
  2. A lady who may or may not have been clinically insane cupping a large, unwrapped chocolate egg in one hand while she steered her cart with the other.
  3. Another fun couple, this time dressed in their pajamas. Mr. Pajamas (who looked exactly like Christopher Guest in Waiting for Guffman) said hi to J, addressing him by name. J just shrugged and whispered to me, “I have no idea who this guy is.” I told him he was just embarrassed that his best friend shops for head cheese in his pajamas.
Other things that are happening: if I behave myself and eat all my benchtabulls, I might get to interview this man to help me develop a character for my next book. Me = Thrilled! (Dudes: Murderball is up for best documentary at the Oscars…pass it on.)

Also, in honor of the Academy Awards on Sunday, I’m working hard to bring you a home movie of our dog / wolverine / special needs baby. Because I need another reason to procrastinate on my grant projects until the deadlines are clearing their throats and tapping their feet and I can hear them breathing RIGHT BEHIND ME. And then the planets will have aligned, the sun’s magnetic field will have reversed, and I will become the crazy woman wandering the grocery store cupping a large, unwrapped chocolate egg in one hand.

And finally, mysteries and wonders abound: I’m a nominee for another blog contest! Please, for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day, Sally Struthers and I implore you to vote for me. Actually, it’s way cheaper than that. It will just take a few calories of expended energy for you to click on the little circle by my name. And make me the happiest girl in all the land. Thank you, Interpals!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Anger Management

Have you ever had one of those days where everything goes horribly wrong, where you wake up with the Vin Diesel of headaches and the uneasy feeling that Aunt Flo may have actually broken your girl parts, proceed to forget an important work-related item before you leave the house, then experience another unpleasant work-related incident you can’t blog about, have a mild panic attack as you finally begin to accept the deadlines staring you down over the next three months, eat twenty pounds of chocolate and almost burst your pants at the seams, listen to a Slaughter marathon on a local radio station all the way home without even being aware of it until it was too late and you have auditory nerve damage, oh, and also almost start crying on the way home because you really wish your mom was there to have a delicious home-cooked meal ready and waiting for you, and then pick a fight with your loved one at 12:30 in the morning because you’re so frustrated about life?

And think how badly you’d like to meet the person who came up with the pansyass, kumbaya saying, “Anger only harms the vessel in which it is carried!” so you can choke them to death with a sustainably-harvested, fair trade hemp rope that gave a family of five a decent source of income and helped them buy quinine to relieve little Momo’s malaria?

What’s that? Jesus came up with that dandy? Nevermind.

I feel better today. Despite the fact that last night we had an ice storm and this morning my car doors were frozen solidly shut. I was ahead of schedule, could even possibly arrive early to work. Life was looking good. J had pulled my car out of the driveway so he could leave for work, so I knew getting into my car despite its thick coat of ice was indeed possible. But alas, enough time had lapsed between his and my departure times that my car doors had refrozen.


So I kicked. I punched. I knocked. I pried. I tugged so hard on my door handle that I almost pulled it off. I was inside trying to find a hammer so I could pound away at the edges of the driver’s side door on MY NEW CAR when the phone rang. It was J.

J: “Are you going to work today? The roads are kinda bad.”
Me, frustrated again: “Yes, if I can ever get my car door open! I’m looking for a hammer.”
J: “Don’t do that!”
Me, sighing deeply and thinking that I will anyway: “But my door is frozen. Like, solid.”
J: “Try getting in from the passenger side.”
Me, looking doubtfully out the window at the icy sheen coating the passenger side door: “It probably won’t open either, but I’ll try it.”

So after punching my sensible clogs through a snowbank and getting completely covered in sharp snow cone ice, I discovered to my shock and delight that my passenger side door could open!

And the driver’s side door was … simply … locked.

I’ll be submitting my application to the Airheads of America Association later this afternoon. Gail Goebel, you were completely right when you called me an airhead during our fourth grade softball game when I dropped an important catch in right field.