Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Jobs that Got Away

In honor of hump day, the weekday on which most workers achieve maximum productivity (so buy a car made on a Wednesday!), here is a sampling of phrases I might have used to start my work day had I not been hired by my current wonderful employer. Because I actually applied for, and in some cases, was offered a position in the following fields:

“Greetings Mr. and Mrs. Waverly. I realize that I’m about to introduce a subject that most people don’t consider when making long-term choices about their future, and the futures of loved ones. But I can’t stress enough the importance of providing for your family during a difficult time by purchasing a PREPAID BURIAL PLOT. I just bought mine. I expect to fill it next week.” (Job: Cold call burial plot sales for a cemetery)

“Let me show you our latest model, the Motorola v8675309. Comes standard with the following features: voice dialing, color screen, picture messaging, and if you act now, I’ll throw in my own personal dashed hopes and ambitions as well.” (Job: Cellular phone salesperson)

“Yes, I’m the manager at This Particular Furniture Store; at least I will be until the store folds in a month. How can I help you furnish the living room of your dreams while simultaneously making me feel small today?” (Job: Manager of a furniture store)

“And this is the bed in which Ol’ Timey McSepiatone slept. In 1742, many families kept trundle beds beneath the bed shared by the husband and wife. Just so the children would need therapy that never existed back then after they heard their parents having sex every night. Because imaginary children don’t do farm chores, you know!” (Job: tour guide at a local historically significant mansion)

“Is this your first time scheduling an application of lawn pesticides and herbicides that may give your dog seizures and make me feel like I’ve sold my soul to Beelzebub?” (Job: Sales rep for a lawn treatment company)

Any of these jobs could have been my reality, because as some of you know, I graduated with a degree in English. Whenever I told people of my planned major, a flash of confusion would shadow their brow until they inevitably asked me, “Oh, so you’re going to teach?” And when I said no, I wasn’t getting a teaching license (I'd changed my major so many times I was pretty sure I was legally prohibited from doing so yet again), they would laugh.

Oh, how they would laugh.

I must also point out that in no way am I disparaging these careers or people employed in these fields. These positions are simply not right for me. Then again, I’m barely employable to begin with, so pretty much every job fits that category. Except for professional cheese taster / alternate on the official U.S. celebrity mocking team.

I would love to hear about your jobs that got away. Or jobs you’ve held. Or hold. So do tell. And on that note, I've got to get back to work. Trained helper monkeys and solid gold toilets don't pay for themselves!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Sunday, January 29, 2006

My Strange Reaction to Gore

No, I’m not talking about Al Gore, though I do appreciate his work on the Internets and global warming awareness. So here’s what happened.

We ended up NOT taking a mini-road trip this Saturday because we couldn’t haul ourselves out of bed early enough to make a trip anywhere worthwhile (Damn you, three-inch memory foam mattress topper!) So I ended up reading Stephen King’s latest novel CELL, watching a marathon of Animal Cops Houston, and eating everything in the kitchen that wasn’t nailed down. I’m sort of addicted to the Animal Cops-type shows, because who doesn’t like seeing puppies rescued and schmucks arrested? But sometimes these shows really piss me off, because people can be such a-holes to animals. Also, there can be very gory scenes, like the German Shepherd puppy that had the chain link collar embedded in her neck (don’t worry, she’s fine and was adopted by a lovely family). But the sight of that gaping circular wound did something to the backs of my legs from knee to rear that unless you have this condition, well, it just won’t make any sense.

When I see gore, injuries, and blood and guts, it’s like the backs of my legs cave in on themselves while my food exit portal* does the Scooby Doo skedaddle trying to flee the scene. (Which is the biggest reason I never pursued a career in the medical or veterinary fields. You don’t want your ER nurse gagging and collapsing whenever she looks at you.) Anyway, each time they showed a close-up of that poor puppy’s neck, with the pink, raw, watery flesh that actually made the dog appear to be wearing a vagina collar, my legs buckled and I wanted to crawl out of my own skin. (I am so, so sorry for that disturbing analogy, but seriously…if you SAW this dog’s neck!)

And then Animal Cops cut away for a word from their sponsors and the Aaron Neville Red Cross commercial filled my TV screen. Again. So naturally, we sang along in our Aaron Neville vibratos, but with the lyrics from another of his commercials: “The touch. The Feel … Of Cotton. The faaah-bric of ow-er li-hi-ives.”

Hey, I gave to the Red Cross after Katrina hit. But at this point, I suspect that particular commercial is doing more harm than good. In my mind’s eye I see thousands of households reaching for the remote at the first mournful Aaron Neville bars: “Ohh-AHHHHHH-ah-HAAAAAAOoooh-oh-ah.” Click. The sound of a million checkbooks slamming shut across America. Hey Red Cross, if I give you more money, can you please shoot a new commercial? Maybe you can include some footage of Geraldo flipping out at the Super Dome. That ought to scare people into donations.

*While I was writing this, tap-tap-tappetying along, I asked J, “Honey, what are some synonyms for anus?” He replied with a semi-amused, semi-horrified, “Oh no.” It was the same tone a father might use after discovering that his daughter told her daycare provider, “My Dad calls you Jean LaPeen the Sex Machine.” Which actually happened in 1980. Anyway, a minute later we had a few colorful anus synonyms, but none seemed appropriate. Thus the clunkier, more family-friendly “food exit portal.”

Friday, January 27, 2006

How can you screw up iced tea? Thanks for asking!

There are two restaurants near my office that my colleagues and I frequent for lunch. Both are owned by the same people. (Yes I know that's a misplaced modifier or some grammatical crap like that.) And both feature a beverage you may not wish to encounter in your quest for refreshment. No, I’m not talking about the choking hazard that is bubble tea. (Which will, I’m convinced, follow the meaty gelatin dishes so popular in the 1960s down the garbage disposal of Food Trends Likely to Haunt your Dreams.) I’m talking about cloudy iced tea. Unintentionally cloudy iced tea.

Now, this is a problem for me. I prefer my tea to be translucent enough to read large, warped print through. I also want it to be a warm, glowing amber. (The color. Not the twit who married Rob McCreepystache from Survivor.) If I wanted an opaque, brown beverage, I’d have ordered chocolate milk. Or a chai latte. Or diarrhea with some non-fat, non-dairy creamer.

Why is the tea cloudy? Do you soak diapers in it, Oh Restaurants in Question? Dentures? Does the water undergo a complicated flavoring and filtration process involving gutters, downspouts, and the sewer? What comprises that sediment, cloudy iced tea purveyors?

What’s that, delightful readers? You would like me to describe the taste of cloudy tea? Well, I’d rather not relive this gastronomical nightmare, but for you, I will. Here are the images that come to mind when I close my eyes and think of cloudy iced tea: nougat … Borax laundry powder … the OxyClean fine family of products (as seen on TV!) … baking soda … and cinnamon. With lemon.

Here’s a recipe for unsweetened cloudy iced tea* that you can try at home. (Warning: do not attempt if you desire a healthy digestive system.) First, crush some generic aspirin with a mortar and pestle. About 25 aspirin should suffice. Shake crushed aspirin into large pitcher. Find a barn somewhere. Does it have an old-fashioned, hand-pump well? Good. Begin pumping water from the cistern into the pitcher. Easy does it! That water moves fast once you’re pumping. Next, tap some dust from your shoes into the pitcher. (This is the special, secret ingredient! Shhhhh!) Then, grate some bark from the nearest Box Elder tree into the pitcher. About a cup should do it. Is there a farmhouse near the barn? Excellent! Knock on the door and ask the farmer if you can borrow a dirty pair of his underwear. Run it under the water from the pump, and then wring it into the pitcher. Find some shriveled ice cubes with a hint of onion from the back of the freezer and dump them into the pitcher. If a few fall on the floor, that’s okay. Pick them up and toss them in. Stir with a spoon someone found with a metal detector in 1988. Add lemon and sugar to taste.

*Does not contain actual tea.

In closing, I’m afraid we’ll have to part ways, iced tea from restaurants near my place of employment. I’m sad to say goodbye, but I just don’t think this relationship is working out. I’m sure you’ll be fine without me. Plenty of people like cloudy drinks. Plenty of visually impaired people with damaged tastebuds. So keep the faith, cloudy tea. I just know you’ll find a nice new stomach to call home.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

An Informal Thursday Thirteen: Things You'd Never Guess Just by Looking At Me

Okay, as long as I'm on the whole navel-gazing topic, I'm going to milk it just a bit longer. Then tomorrow I'll talk about saving the whales or some other crap. So without further ado, here are thirteen things you'd never guess (about me, of course) just by looking at me.

1. Yesterday I paid for a movie rental entirely in change. I apologized to the clerk while counting it out. And then I scrammed. On the way to the car I thought about the time I paid for a purple boom box with a jar of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and a few stinky, crumpled-ass dollar bills. Scene of the crime: Musicland, Forest Mall, Fond du Lac. Year: 1984.

2. I once baked some ground-up laxatives into a batch of cookies to discover who’d been stealing my lunch from my locker every day. Turned out it was Poopy Pants Patrick.

3. I want to be the only human being on the planet who has not read The DaVinci Code after the movie is released.

4. I have never watched an entire episode of American Idol. In fact, if everyone in the nation is doing something, I probably don’t want to be. Exception: blogging. This shit’s addictive.

5. I am a charity whore, and my mailman Dennis hates me because of it. Once it’s out that you’ve opened your checkbook, all the fly-eyed orphan rescuers start to hit you up.

6. My grandfather and I corresponded every month (with real actual writing! On paper! With stamps!) when I was in college. He’s still alive in Alabama and has a 90 year-old girlfriend.

7. Until I was twelve, I was a member of the Forest Hills 4-H Club, through which my friends and I engaged in fun activities like softball, Christmas caroling at nursing homes, and picking up garbage / getting harassed by drunk revelers at Walleye Weekend while wearing t-shirts reading “Wally’s Swabbies!”

8. My husband spent a decade as a long-haired bass player in various heavy metal bands. He used to practice next door to the house I shared with my college roommates in 1996. We called the cops on him and his band twice for being so loud they interfered with our studying.

9. A homeless man once walked up to me in a bar and, for no reason and without warning, picked my nose. (Let’s ignore the question about why I was in the kind of bar that attracts homeless people in the first place.)

10. I am allergic to cat dander, dust, and people who say things like, “My bad,” “Git-r-done,” and “Do the math.”

11. I had a boyfriend in high school whose nickname was “Beaver.” Every time I called and his dad answered he’d summon his son with a nasal, “BEEEEEEEE-vuuur!” Isn’t that sexy?

12. When I skate in any capacity (in-line, roller, ice), I must extend my left foot slightly in front of my right the entire time. I believe this is because I was born with Fucked-up Balance Syndrome, in which the body tends to veer to the left when in forward motion.

13. To me, diamonds are nothing more than old, smashed dinosaur turds. And if anyone thinks the size of the dino-turd on their left hand means they win the “My husband loves me the most!” contest, they’re wrong. Hmmm…. wonder who (or what) will be wearing my ass bling on their ring finger a jamillion years from now.

If you've done the Thursday Thirteen, I'll add your link on this post sometime today. Just put it in your comments. (Wow, doesn't it sound like I'm laying on a couch eating chips, watching The Andy Griffith Show, and belching while I say that? I'm doing this so half-assed! Just like the way I did chores as a kid.)

Other Thirteeners:

1. Uisce (Whiskey Talking)
2. Anna McGinty (Novelist in Training)
3. Diary of a Music Whore
4. Monique at Word Well
5. Colleen at Looseleafnotes

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

You May or May Not Find This Interesting or Fascinating

I once read that the people deemed “most interesting” in everyday life only say about 10% of what passes through their brains. All of that silence gives them an air of mystery, so we think WOW! Silent Jim is so wise. I wonder what he’s going to say next. Let’s invite Silent Jim to our next party and make him our Best Friend Forever.

Reading this made me kind of mute for awhile. Because hey, I want to be interesting! I want to be invited to parties and be everyone’s Best Friend Forever! But I’m the kind of person who basically narrates her way through the day. Just ask my coworkers. Or just ask my husband about how I am compelled to read out loud every partially-dead neon sign we drive past. “Hey, look! Chin Kin! (China King). Hey, Niks Gros! (Nikos Gyros). Let’s not eat there, because Nik’s Gross! Get it? Do ya? Nik is Gross! Hahahahaha!”

I’m a 70 percenter. But put me in an unfamiliar social setting (especially with people who are the Velvet Underground of Wit & Smarts to my Billy Squier) and it’s as if someone has stapled my mouth shut. (Unless I’ve had a few glasses of wine. Then I’m looking for the lampshade and doing the Running Man on the dance floor at a loved one’s wedding reception.) So if you ever meet me for the first time and I’m sober and you’ve just had a margarita, you might think, “Hmm. This Jess character seems pretty interesting.” Later though, not so much.

I also once read about an editor who wrote this at the bottom of a writer’s story: “You make the mistake of thinking that everything in your life is interesting.” Or maybe it was a teacher who said this to a student. Who later committed suicide. Anyway, all of this is a lot of pressure to perform. Which only leads to a land where the only adjectives are limp, flaccid, flabby, slack, and sad. Some people (like Finslippy and Dooce and Lucinda and on and on) can make the mundane details in life fascinating. And funny! Especially when diarrhea is involved. But in my world, mundane is a place to aspire to. A magical place I’d maybe like to vacation. Funny things can happen when your life is mundane, but my life is SUB-mundane. The highlight of many of my days is eating a ball of fresh mozzarella over the sink, reviewing insurance paperwork, and watching the dog shed.

Which reminds me. I’ve got to take my insurance provider’s health assessment online so I get the $25 incentive.

This is the part where I talk about James Frey. He led an interesting life—interesting enough to write about it, get it published, and go on to win the Holy Grail of Literature (ahem get on Oprah). But wait. Hark. Lo. Jlo—what’s this? Mr. Frey exaggerated? His memoir was … embellished?

Okay. Still with me? Here’s where I come full circle and bring this bitch home (sorry for mixing my metaphors). I have learned these things in life:

A) I am unable to write if I’m in a volatile relationship. When dangerous or exciting things are happening to me I’m trying to find the next exit to Mundane Land. But when exciting and dangerous things are happening to others … ah, this is when my muse perches on my shoulder and things start to get interesting. This is why I love fiction. This is also why you may want to take memoirs with a grain of salt. Because when you’re drunk enough to spew vomit or speak in tongues every time you open your mouth, you won’t remember it later. Also, kids don’t walk around with pencils and notepads. No way. They’re going to write about your parenting skills later ... from memory. Which is a fairly frightening idea, actually.

B) People DO find you fascinating if you don’t say much! Try it sometime. You know why? Because we love. To talk. About. Ourselves. And when someone appears to be hanging on our every word, nodding and laughing at our stupid jokes, we want to take them home with us and love them forever and feed them organic grapes and hot chocolate made from scratch. Hey, they’re smart enough to understand how fricking cool we really are! Which makes them fascinating.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Weekend with Ms. Obvious

Saturday night I attended J’s company party, where my powers of observation were severely challenged. First I cost us two days salary (the prize in the trivia contest / drawing) for failing to remember the name of the damn monkey from Friends. Guess who will from here until the end of time know that the monkey was named Marcel? That’s right, David Schwimmer.

I met lots of J’s coworkers and their spouses—all fantastic people. I chatted for several hours with a spouse (let’s call her M) who teaches in a local school district. We covered lots of conversational ground, including the state of public education today, writing, married life, TV shows we never watched, a frightening tool called the turd knife, alien abduction, demonic possession. You know, the usual. After dinner J whispered to me, “I wonder how M lost her arm.”

I paused to digest this. “M only has one arm?”

No WONDER there was some awkward shuffling around when I extended my hand for the handshake! I had completely missed it. (Later, an extremely drunk woman across the bar would accost M with the much less subtle, “What happened to your arms?!?!?!”)

I’m sad to report that this kind of obtusity is becoming a pattern for me. In high school I once took a Greyhound bus to visit a friend I met at art camp. On the way there I sat next to a very friendly gentleman in sunglasses for about five hours, chatting about how blue the sky was and how green the fields were and such niceties. I only realized he was blind AFTER he popped out his extend-o-cane and got up to exit the bus.

And then there was the time I met my senior year roommate’s childhood friend. Let’s call this friend “G.” It was dark, we were in a crowded bar, the music was thumping, people milled all around us. I went in for the handshake, grabbing G’s hand: “Hi, nice to meetcha!” That’s when I realized her hand was the size of a cat’s paw. I just grinned and sucked it up because at the time I thought she was playing a practical joke on me with one of those tiny hands on a stick shoved up her sleeve. My friend Randy did it all the time when he met people. I learned years later that G had been born with a deformed arm. And I'd been born with a deformed ability to notice.

I don’t try to miss such obvious physical traits. I think it’s because I focus on my conversation partner's face: the smile, the curvature and freckling of the nose, the glass eye. (The blind guy slipped past because we were sitting side by side, and I’m not one of those people who spins in their car seat to face whomever they’re talking to. I tend to look in the direction in which I’m hurtling.)

Anyway, I’m going to make a concerted effort to be more observant in the future. Just thought you should know.

Friday, January 20, 2006

And now for some more book-related stuff.

Some of you may know that I went for the “official author photo” shoot on Wednesday. Which was weird. Growing up Catholic in the Midwest, I was not raised to enjoy being the center of attention. I was raised to be meek, humble, self-effacing, and basically, the kind of person who would get up from her deathbed to fold her husband’s underwear or make him a ham sandwich.

So there I was, smiling demurely, trying to look smart and interesting and writerly, but in a non-pushy manner. The photographer, who is fantastic, wasn’t buying my shy librarian crap. So she tried to light a fire under my ass while she leaned in to snap some shots. “You’re friendly!” she said. “You’re fun!” What I was really thinking was, “I’m cold!” and “I’m constipated!” My teeth felt like crooked lipstick magnets, like greasy little tombstones, and I was sweating in the profuse manner that has ruined 80% of my white shirts. My eyes kept twitching. But we got some good shots in the end, I think. She told me I looked like Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line, and right then I wanted to move in with her and make her waffles and scrambled eggs every morning, with fresh squeezed orange juice.

Also, I just got the revision notes from my editor. And I learned that the book will be out in summer of 2007. Which is fine, because I’ve got lots of rewriting and panicking to do. I’m at the stage where I’m bidding adieu to certain scenes I have come to love (in my head—I haven’t cut them yet), and I’m deciding which elements I’ll go “Kid in a Check-out Lane Full of Candy” on with my editor (Pleeeeez can I keep this? Pleeeeeeeeeeeaaase?!?! I’ll be your best friend! I’ll change the ending just like you want!! Puh-leeeeeeez!!!!!! Waah-hah-hah!!! Hey, *sniffle* can I have this Kit-Kat, too?).

Okay, I won’t really do that. Well, not much. But I’m hoping for some wiggle room. I’m hoping for compromises. Like they say (fellow writers, you know this next part): our work is our baby. And some of us are really fantastic at taking suggestions and constructive criticism. We roll with the punches. We’re rational. We understand that we’re frequently emotional, prone to melodrama, and fond of fermented beverages, so it’s better to trust an objective third party when it comes to changing our work for the good of the land.

For others among us, it feels like someone punched our baby in the face and told her that she’d never be a ballerina with that hunchback and cleft palate, the best she could hope for was tranny Phantom of the Opera in her local high school musical unless she goes in for experimental surgery STAT. And any time I start to think this way my inner critic silences me with, “Don’t even go there! Don’t be that asshole! What, do you want me to fetch that IHOP application for you? I know you don’t like pancakes that much!”

So if you need me, I’ll be making my liver cry like a very, very, very sad baby.

Speaking of babies (ovaries, are you listening here?) it might be awhile. Or not. But if I keep reading posts like this, I’m going to scare myself into the fetal position in a corner for weeks.

(I did NOT say fetal position on purpose. Because frankly? The word “fetal” kind of freaks me out. It's way too close to "fetid," which just plain stinks.)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

My first and last Thursday Thirteen. It pains me to share this with you, but...

in the interest of getting my crap straight AND procrastination, I thought I'd do the Thursday Thirteen today.

Thirteen CDs Even I'M Shocked to Find in my Collection

1. The Cure, Mixed Up. Yes, there must have been a mix-up, because I never even liked the Cure.

2. Stone Free, a Tribute to Jimi Hendrix by various artists. This is a mystery to me. I mean, PM Dawn covering "You Got Me Floatin'?" And what's this? The Cure again, doing "Purple Haze?" Two strong reasons to donate this CD to the local skeetshoot league.

3. 70 Ounces of Gold (various artists). I don't know, this looks more like 70 ounces of shit to me.

4. Soundtrack to the movie Sliver. There was a girl who lived on my floor at Nelson Hall who repeatedly insisted that I play this CD over and over again until it felt like a sliver in my brain.

5. House of Pain's Fine Malt Lyrics. Because sometimes I just wanted to jump around. Jump around. Jump up jump up and get down.

6. Dinosaur Jr's Where you Been?. This one was a little too alternative, even for me. It should have been named, "What the...?"

7. 2Pac, Strictly 4 My Niggaz. Because I was clearly the intended demographic.

8. Zoo Rave 1. I vaguely recall forcing my mother to listen to this on headphones in 1992. "This is what people my age listen to now, Mom!" *involuntary shudder*

9. Last Action Hero, Music from the Original Motion Picture. It may have been a motion picture, but it certainly wasn't original. Neither was the soundtrack.

10. Dead Can Dance, Into the Labyrinth. Music I was told to play if I wanted to "get myself into the mood." If the mood involved trying to physically enter Edvard Munch's The Scream-scape.

11. A bunch of Buddhist monks chanting. From my brief attempt at chilling myself the eff-out. Have you ever heard a fleet of Buddhist monks chanting? I wish I had before I bought this CD.

12. Twisted Sister, Big Hits and Nasty Cuts. Oh Dee, your hair was so beautiful. Your makeup so carefully applied. Your songs other than "We're not Gonna Take it" so derivative.

13. The Best of Peter, Paul and Mary: Ten Years Together. The one with "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "If I Had a Hammer" (I would destroy the CD player). This was actually given to me in 1995 by an old boyfriend. One would think that this gift, combined with the extra-large Partridge Family t-shirt he gave me for Christmas that year, would have been enough evidence for me to break up with him. But no. He ended up dumping me on Valentine's Day, when I had the flu. Maybe for failing the "If I give you crap gifts you should really say so or kick me to the curb" test.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here

From the meme authors:
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

From me:
I just learned that this is the final Thursday Thirteen. Dammit! I'll be late to my own funeral. Here are some thirteeners with their shit much more together than me:

1. Novelist in Training
2. Diary of the Nello
3. Whiskey Talking
4. Urban Mummy
5. Music Whore
6. Colleen
7. Chickadee
8. Nicole
9. Snickerdoodles
10. Rosei

(leave your link in comments, I’ll add you, too)

*Clears throat* ... "Mememememe!"

Well folks, I am no longer a meme virgin. I have been tagged by Sugar Mama. Thus, let the festivities commence:

Four Jobs You've Had in Your Life:

  1. Blue cheese packer. I lasted two weeks.
  2. Lackey to my 84 year-old great aunt in Alabama during August of 1993. (This entailed rubbing lotion into cankles, fetching ice water with lemon at 3 in the morning, and listening to Ye Wonderful Tales of Yesteryear every night at dinner. They all began with, "Now in Chicago, ...")
  3. Prison Bitch (aka, Program Review Committee Clerk AND Teaching Assistant)
  4. Cocktail waitress at a Lake Geneva bar called "Hogs and Kisses." Seriously.

Four Movies You Could Watch Over and Over:

  1. It's a Wonderful Life (George: "Where's Mary?!?! Where is she!?!?!" Clarence: "She's ... " George: "Where is she?!?!" Clarence: "She's just about to close up the library!!!")
  2. Swingers
  3. Annie Hall
  4. Mommie Dearest (NO. WIRE. HANGERS!!!!!!!!)

Four Places You've Lived:

  1. 9 different cities in WI
  2. a cramped dorm room that smelled of Ramen & mac and cheese
  3. Target
  4. the wrong side of the tracks. The right side, too.

Four Websites You Visit Daily:

  1. Google
  2. Dooce
  3. Huffington Post (for news and such)
  4. Everyone in my links, practically. And then some.

Four TV Shows You Love to Watch:

  1. Good Eats
  2. The Daily Show / Colbert Report dynamic duo
  3. Family Guy (I know, I know)
  4. Most HBO shows, current or defunct: Curb your Enthusiasm, Deadwood, The Sopranos, Sex & the City, Six Feet Under, Extras, Rome, Carnival (I will not forgive you for cancelling this, HBO) Also, the fact that Freaks and Geeks and MST3K are no more gets me right *here.*

Four of Your Favorite Foods (there's no way I can limit this to just four):

  1. Pizza done right (Thin, crispy, slightly burnt crust, spicy sauce, fresh motz)
  2. Curry Pad Thai with lemon
  3. the Mutter Paneer at Sai Ram in Appleton
  4. most baked goods, 90% of all cheeses, weird chocolate, and very salty edamame. With beer. Last night I dreamed I was drinking a Guinness, so we'll go with that.
  5. But really, these dishes sound the best: http://www.candyboots.com/wwcards.html

Four Albums You Can't Live Without:

Just go here. Please. http://porktornado.diaryland.com/albumcover.html

Four Places You'd Rather Be:

  1. A magical fantasyland with fairies, elves, and talking cats. Or I could eat a bad egg salad sandwich and just hang out in the alley behind my office.
  2. Not Skating or Dancing with the Stars, but DRINKING with the Stars. Specifically, Cillian Murphy.
  3. On a film set watching Drew Barrymore say entire chunks of dialogue I wrote after a few too many glasses of wine late one night.
  4. Sleeping, but not dreaming about work or being chased by zombies who look like Dick Clark and Courtney Love.

Four People Who are Now Obligated to do this on Their Blog (How about five? Because really, I have difficulty following the rules):

  1. Jen
  2. Stacie
  3. Janet
  4. Karen
  5. And Stefanie.

No pressure, but I'll be stopping by to see your handiwork. (Disregard if you've already done this one.)

I was going to do the Thursday 13 today, but I'll have to make it the Friday 13 tomorrow. Which should have been last Friday, the actual 13th. But it will be tomorrow. Now that I'm all confused, I'm ending this post.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Am I Sterile Yet?

As if I didn’t have enough to worry about. Now I need to worry about electromagnetic fields of radiation emitted from my television, computers, major kitchen appliances, CLOCK RADIOS JUST INCHES FROM MY HEAD FOR 8 HOURS A DAY, and those stealthy comforters of death, electric blankets. And if you’ve seen my house, you know I’m screwed. My living room looks like the cockpit of a 747. I basically live in a computer from the 1950s, with some rotten wood stapled over it. So I’m not just royally screwed; I’m Princess Di Chased By Paparazzi screwed. Unless I buy filters for all of my deathray machines, but for that price, I could just buy a new body.

The good news is that our television set is old. I think it once belonged to Barney Rubble. It is also the size of a teenage brontosaurus, and just as unwieldy. It is so large and unwieldy it would take a team of twenty juvenile delinquents tied together with rope to steal it. And even then one of the thieves would likely get horribly crushed in the process. And when I see his (or her, because criminal behavior is an equal opportunity hobby) body on my living room floor when I discover the crime, I’d get pretty sad because it means one of my violence prevention grants didn’t work out so well.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Jesus and Armando

Before my practice novel crawled into the corner where it slowly choked to death on stilted dialogue and mixed metaphors, it occupied my every waking moment. I felt I was actually letting my characters down by failing to find them an agent. (Now I like to imagine them saying to one another, “Thank Zeus. Dodged a bullet there. Wanna grab some tacos and play foosball?”) So naturally I dropped the topic of my novel into casual conversation whenever I found an opportunity: “Hey Jess, did you hear that Ann had her baby?” Me, nodding excitedly: “No, but did you hear I’m writing a novel? That’s kind of my baby!” or “Hi, my name is Greta and I’ll be your server tonight. Can I start you out with some drinks?” Me, trying to look wistful: “Oh, that’s just what one of my characters would say! See, I’m writing a novel.”

I’d like to thank my friends and family for not punching me in the face during this period of my life.

ANYWAY, a few years ago I mentioned my writing (surprise!) to a woman I’d been working with on a grant project to keep kids off drugs or whatever, and guess what? She was a writer, too! She’d even been included in an anthology gift book you may have seen on the shelves at Hallmark. Kind soul that she is, she suggested we meet at a local Christian bookstore to critique one another’s work. The good news is that I didn’t burst into flames when I walked in with my crappy opening chapters and ordered a coffee. After my new writer friend arrived, we swapped work and began to read silently.

As I read her work, and she read mine, I experienced one of those surreal, hyper-paranoid moments where you know someone must be playing a practical joke on you, where you’re sure Peter Funt will come jogging out of a closet to tell you to look at the yellow light and ask you to sign the release to appear on national television. Because here’s what happened. Her novel was a beautifully-told story about Christ’s life as told through the eyes of one of his disciples. My novel was a shittily-told story that opened in a bar with my protagonist slurping body shots from the crusty navel of an overweight male stripper named Armando.

Armando and his Magic Wando.

Dear God, I remember thinking, is this divine retribution for laughing at Tracy R’s subtle armpit farts during post-CCD mass back in 1987? For making fun of the insanely long toenails attached to another of my peers at a pre-confirmation retreat? I swooned with relief when I heard her snickering a few times, but I still couldn’t help but feel like an A-1 jackass.

Anyway, this writer friend of mine has a great sense of humor because we met for lunch again this week. I didn’t wig out this time. Mostly because there are no strippers in the current book.

Well, not many.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Mr. De Mille, I'm not ready for my close up

Random thoughts:

1) The big author photo shoot is next week and I'm getting a zit on my cheek that may soon be large enough to merit a unique zip code.

2) The furnace is fixed, the dog is clean, and last night I met a man so drunk he asked me what my major was and whether or not I'd been published in the Wisconsin Review three times. So thanks to my zit and recent run of Crest Whitestrips, I guess I've still got that "college kid" glow. (And piss off to the bouncer at French Quarter who laughed at my ID a few months ago.)

3) If you meet a young man who is six foot nine, don't ask him how tall he is and whether or not he plays basketball. You'll just insult him and end up feeling like a cliched a-hole.

4) It's official. I must now apply for membership in the Idiot Girls' Action Adventure Club. As I was getting ready to leave my meeting with the school people Thursday night, putting my coat on and shaking hands and whatnot, the superintendent smiled at me and said, "Looking forward to reading the book!" A normal person would have responded with, "Thanks! I'll let you know when it's out." But what did I do? Gave him a Thumbs-Up, Fonzie-style, and then almost ran from the building.


Are you cringing along with me? Good. I sincerely hope my mortification makes your day that much brighter, your step that much lighter.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Baby, it's cold inside

Yesterday our furnace went on strike. I kind of understand. If I had to work under similar conditions, I might go on strike, too. But my house is so cold we’ll soon need to use a windshield scraper on the TV screen.

When I was a kid (long before my parents remodeled their drafty old farmhouse) we could see our breath indoors on some winter mornings. Once in awhile there would be frost on my bedroom walls, giving my rose wallpaper that lovely “Touched by Lord Voldemort” look.

My parents’ strategy to keep me from becoming a teensicle was to put a portable kerosene heater in my room. I had to learn to fill it with this weird turkey-baster / hose device. Great! Heat! Not until I replaced my beefcake posters with a montage of Bon Jovi shots later in spring did I discover that my walls were covered with a frighteningly thick layer of soot.

Which partially explains why I sucked at sports in high school. How could I be the next Chris Evert with a raging case of Black Lung?

Another thing that happened yesterday: a good friend of mine (who happens to be a teacher) wrapped up an email to me with, “Well, gotta run. I just picked my nose so hard it’s bleeding.” Which is quite possibly the best email closing I've ever seen from an adult. Later that evening I co-facilitated a grant planning meeting with about 30 well-dressed strangers and thought of her line twice, which made me start laughing all stifled and panicky, like when you get the giggles in church.

Now I’m waiting for the furnace repair guy to show up, and I’ve got about 25 candles burning. (Because tiny flames scattered throughout the house seem like such a great and safe way to keep warm.) I hope he doesn’t think I’m trying to seduce him. I mean, candles AND snowpants? You can’t get much sexier than that.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Now presenting: a selection of Thank You notes from inmates

Some of you may know that when I was in college, I worked for nine months as a teaching assistant with special ed inmates at a local prison. (I know, I know. It sounds like the set-up to a joke.) When I left I was touched to receive, by way of the fantastic teacher I worked with, a Thank You card signed by a number of these incarcerated students. I thought you might enjoy reading a few of their hand-written messages (and might I add, their penmanship--for the most part--kicks the snot out of mine):

"Ms. M (my maiden name): Stay in college and don't quit school. We really apprecieate your help. We wish you could have stayed longer. Have a nice life. O___."

(Isn't that thoughtful? I wasn't really considering quitting school at the time, given that it was my final semester, but this note sent me into an existential tailspin; thanks to O's words of encouragement, I stuck with it.)

"Ms M: You was a kind person to take your time for given us a little knowledge that you had, that we didn't have. Have a wonderful life. L___."

(I should have more strongly emphasized subject-verb agreement in class. Dammit.)

"Ms. M: Hi How are you going? Take care and a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Peace, A____, aka Tae-Rock. 'Remember' that."

(Yes Tae-Rock, a mind is definitely a terrible thing to waste. I have indeed committed it to memory.)

"Thank you, Miss M, for helping my Teacher Miss G and we is going to miss you. Your friend T_____"

(Again, subject-verb agreement. You drill and drill and drill and somehow it just doesn't sink in.)

"Miss M, Thank you for being there for us helping us accomplish some work I wish you luck and hope you achieve what you are going to school for take care and stay strong. Your friend, R____"

(This was actually the second message encouraging me to "Stay strong." These inmates must be on to something, I thought, so I began a weight-training program that summer that gave me the most sculpted shoulders of my life.)

"Dear Ms. M this is I____ writing to you for Thanks. Because you helped me a whole lot with the things I am going to need in life and you pushed for me to get my H.S.E.D. and not a lot of people would do that. thanks a lot for your support and care. I hope everything works out for the best for you. The world needs more people that cares. good luck ... and take care. I____"

(Okay, this one actually made me a little teary-eyed, until I saw the poor subject-verb agreement again. I wish I could remember what he was in for; I think it was a weapons-related charge. I hope he's no longer behind bars. But you never know.)

I for one found all of this rather cool. I usually don't get this kind of appreciation from people who haven't been charged with a crime.

I don't know. Maybe we all need some emotionally disturbed, cognitively delayed, and learning disabled inmates in our lives.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Won't You Be My Neighbor, Part II

So this morning I get an email from a friend of mine with the subject line, "Bullet-proof vest?" Apparently there was a shooting near my neighborhood last night, culminating in a high-speed chase down city streets and onto Highway 41 with a flipped-over squad car and everything. Color me oblivious! I guess living across the street from drug dealers for 2 years has really desensitized me to such commotion. But really, this is actually major headline news for my smallish city. In my neck of the woods, the big news is usually something like, "Shoppers Buy Hard-to-Find Items Online!" (This was a real newspaper headline in the city in which I work. You can't make this stuff up.) So, the faintest whiff of criminal activity sets the city abuzz with morbid excitement.

But I don't have time to think about this too much, because I've got to write the equivalent of twelve 50-page research papers (worth over $8 million bucks) between now and June 1st. Yes, this is my day job and I will be gibbering like a loon by Memorial Weekend. I will probably also look and smell like a homeless person, so if you see a filthy, wild-eyed woman talking to herself in the aisles of Target sometime this May, that's probably me. It's definitely me if there are puppy pee pads and bags of birdseed in the cart.

Grant writing is not for the faint of heart--I've known writers who ended up in the hospital with panic attacks during "deadline crunch time" (aka ALL BLOODY SPRING), and last year I had chest pains for FOUR FRICKING WEEKS STRAIGHT after working on a project with one of Satan's minions. He'll probably end up in a book someday. Which is the kind of vengeful, glee-filled thinking that makes dealing with chronic brownstars so much fun.

Tootles, cyberpals.

Monday, January 09, 2006

2+2=Holy Sh_t I'm Old!!

I am an octogenarian trapped in the body of a Generation X refugee. Want proof?

1) I have four bird feeders in my back yard. One just for finches. One cage to hold a suet cake. A SUET CAKE, PEOPLE!

2) At night I drive all squinty and hunched over, my nose pressed against the windshield, both hands clenching the steering wheel, blinker flashing while I wait at a stop sign for a car that just pulled out of a driveway in New Jersey.

3) Not only do I listen to Wisconsin public radio and watch PBS, I actually look forward to various programs. What's worse, I went on the WPR website to see what the hosts of my favorite radio shows LOOKED LIKE. (Patricia McConnell? Looks just like her voice. All cute and perky.)

4) I take 8 vitamins a day (and judging by the intense neon glow of my urine, I'm not absorbing half of them. But I still take them. Just in case.)

5) I get pissed when some young punk sits in his car by my house with his brown-sound bass thumping (but you should have seen who was rockin' out to the Ace of Base yesterday in her reliable Honda Civic and doghair-covered peacoat).

6) When I drink more than one alcoholic beverage, I can now hear my liver weeping softly.

7) I use words like "hankering" and "apace." Without irony, in regular conversation.

8) I fill in the scantron "shopper surveys" you sometimes get in the mail. Not because I have an abundance of free time, but because I'm afraid only old people fill them out and screw up the curve for the rest of us, completely effing up the marketing angles of important consumer products.

And I can prove that old people have already effed up the curve, because these are the categories in "Percent of Households with the Hobby:" Stamp collecting (7%), woodworking (21%), bird watching (17%), flower gardening (51%), needlework (22%), quilting (10%), wine appreciation (13%), sweepstakes (14%), and coin collecting (27%). Quiet, puttering sorts of hobbies for people with dentures and tardy bowel movements. Sadly, I participate in two of these hobbies. Guess which ones? (Here's a hint: the biggest hobby gives me blue lips and headaches on the weekends.) But here's how you know these hobbies only apply to old people: there is no mention of binge drinking, online deviance, tattoos, clubbing, or "gaming." (Otherwise known as the hole Jason falls into for hours at a pop on Friday nights.) Plus, there are no hobbies like mountain biking or skiing on the list, because these activites are not hip and joint-friendly.*

Anyway, turns out there's a special incentive for filling in these surveys, because just today I got the following "reward" items in the mail, FOR FREE: a packet of Quaker oatmeal, a Ziploc baggie that I already put leftover pizza in, and coupons for Glade plug-ins, shaving cream, Advil, and more Ziploc baggies. With all of these valuable prizes, I can only conclude that my filling in that survey was TIME WELL SPENT.

In other news, after reading this post by the Sarcastic Journalist, I have to say that the fly-eyed orphans have taken the lead in the “Win a Bedroom and College Savings Fund with the Rileys” contest. Sorry, future fetus. You’re going to have to come up with something better than the biological mother/child bond if you're hoping to beat the specter of lifelong incontinence, screaming nipple and crotch pain, and a house full of excrement.

* If you think I'm being unfair to the oldsters, you didn't see how pissed we got yesterday when two smarmy punkass kids parked in a "Senior" parking space at Shopko.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Daily Cringe

I recently emailed a few fantastic writers to seek advice on new author-type stuff (and also because I have never emailed anyone “famous” before, and let me tell you—it’s a trip!) I was so excited to receive--the very next day--thoughtful responses from each person I'd emailed. I scrolled down to show my husband what I’d written to one of these kind authors. It started out okay—“Congratulations on your book’s success, blabbedy-bloo,” And so forth. Which I followed with, “Way to to!”

Not, “Way to go!” as I’d intended to type. Way. To. To. With an exclamation mark.

I still have indentations on my forehead from when my face hit the keyboard. To me, this is humiliating on two levels:

1) I am a writer. I know how to spell “Go.” And yes, typos happen, particularly late at night when your eyes are smoking from staring at the computer screen too long. But why couldn’t the typo have been hidden in the middle of a long, rambling sentence? Why did it have to be the word Go, followed by an exclamation mark?!?! I may as well walk around with a shirt that reads, “My attention to detail is shakier than Jude Law’s ability to commit to a woman.”

2) Why did I even want to say “Way to go!” to begin with? What am I, a little league coach? Special ed gym teacher?

So far, it’s been an auspicious start to the week. If you need me, I’ll be practicing my typing and proofreading skills or looking for my self-respect out back.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Thinking outside the bee-yox

I just read Joe Konrath's very detailed description of his book promotion activities after his big sale. And there can only be one word to describe how I'm feeling right now. Freaked. Actually, he describes doing exactly what I want to do when my book is available at bookstores: a series of drop-in signings. Since my novel covers a cross-country roadtrip, why not follow the same path as Leigh and Denise, stopping in to sign stock at bookstores and making pitstops at all the familiar places along the way: Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, Cheyenne, Moab, Aspen, Las Vegas, Chateau Marmont in LA. (And I can't think of a better place to end, really.)

And maybe I could have a bunch of keychains done up with my title and name. So every time you start your car or open your front door you’d think, “Oh yeah, I really liked that Larry Resnick book and I can’t wait to buy the next one that chick writes,” or “Oh yeah, that book totally sucked but I got this cool keychain out of it so maybe I’ll buy the next book anyway in case it comes with a tire gauge. I need one of those.”

Now, if you’ve been following this blog, you know how my sick little mind works. My next book will (hopefully) cover the lives of four people working in a prison. (It will be twisted and aching and funny and hopeful and I really want it to turn out like the book in my head or I’ll be totally depressed.) So maybe I could have a contest on my website, and the winners could have inmates named after crummy ex-boyfriends or psycho bosses!

This may not be a good idea—in fact it’s probably a very bad one and could get me sued—but I’m getting excited about this. I'm still freaked out, but in a good way.

And with that, I'm off to soak my fingers in some Imodium. Happy weekend everyone!

“I come from the land of the ice and snow, where the fringey boots and the mullets grow”

I live in a metropolitan statistical area where you are guaranteed to run into at least three people per day who are baffled by revolving doors. And where you are guaranteed to hear the same song from the following artists at least twice per day on any of the local radio stations: Journey, The Damn Yankees, Dire Straits, Foreigner, Styx, Lita Ford, and Warrant. And when I listen to local radio as I make my daily commute, I always have to look down to make sure my legs are not encased in acid-washed jeans with zippers at the tapered ankles.

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to be rocked like a hurricane on my way to work. I beg of you, 96.1 FM, What’s WRONG with playing something that didn’t share the national zeitgeist with Zubaz pants? I did not ENJOY my years in junior high. I don’t want a daily reminder that I once applied bleach handprints to the rear pockets of a denim mini-skirt. I don’t want to remember that my hair was higher than Robert Downey, Jr. in Less than Zero. I prefer NOT to take a mental trip back in time to an era when every time you pulled the string in my back I said, “Makin’ cop-eeeeeez!” Please, Ninety-six one-TCX and WOZZ and WAPL, consider changing your formats. I don’t LIKE doing the time warp again and again and again as I simply try to make my way down the Wisconsin state highway system to my humble little office. Because it’s not true when they say you get your money for nothin’ and your chicks for free. I am not Dirty. Rotten. Filthy. Stinking. Rich. If I want two tickets to paradise, I must pay for them with money. Money that I earn via gainful employment in a respectable establishment. And is it wrong to want to arrive at my cubicle as mentally stable as I may have been when I left the house in the morning?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to some independent music on Accuradio.com in order to cleanse the dirty film now coating my inner ear and/or soul.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Just some pics

I can't think of anything really clever to write because I'm in a Chubby Hubby coma (other than the fact that a sign at Quiznos subs proclaiming the existence of 18,000 meal deal possibilities really pissed me off tonight. Who wants so many choices? That number of options can be debilatating to people like me! I don't have that kind of time, Quiznos publicity department bastards!).
Okay (clap of the hands), on to some random photographs for your viewing pleasure.

Here we are at a Packer game last fall. Note the Vikings hat. And the "Just Pork" shirt. We try to be the classiest, least confrontational couple no matter where we are. (A note to my dearest: Jason, nothing will ever come between us. Except this window sash.)

My sister painted this for my parents for Christmas. She's so talented I could just about puke.
(Love ya sis!)
Daisy won't watch television unless she's levitating.

Lorrie Moore wrote a novel called Who will Run the Frog Hospital. Well guess what? Turns out there's also a bird hospital. In my back yard. And this poor guy just came from a round of chemotherapy. He was such a trouper; raised two baby cardinals as a single Dad that summer, too.

Ohmygod. What do I do with this--wait. Dear Jesus. It's ... moving.
(Sidenote. I just realized how well my bridesmaid's dress matches the tablecovers behind me. Fee, was this planned? Hmmmmm? Also, when you are posing for pictures after the wedding and before the fancy dinner, be sure there are trophies growing from your head. It makes you look royal.)

And finally, here it is. The photograph that truly embodies the spirit of Riding with Larry Resnick. This is me at Arches National Park. Yes, my head is cut off by a flying camera strap. No, of course it wasn't planned. And somehow that says it all.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Billy Jean is Not my Colleague

Today we interviewed a slate of job seekers for an office manager-type position at my place of employment. As my coworkers and I sat in our circle around the candidates during each interview, I noticed something that struck a bolt of fear deep in the soft cockles of my heart. Because there it was. A fashion combo only a partially blind, well-medicated mother could love.

White sweater, black pants, white socks, black loafers.

On me.

How could such a striped travesty happen, you ask? Let me explain. This morning I put on my white sweater and black pants and knee-high white socks because I figured I’d slip on my tall black boots and nobody would know I’d assembled an outfit an eight year-old with a head injury might appreciate. Instead, in my haste to leave the house, I stepped into my black loafers. My pants are long, I thought. No one will have to know my secret. Besides, the heels fell off both of my black boots two weeks ago. Which is worse? White socks with black loafers or no heels? I took my chances on the white socks with black loafers.

So imagine my chagrin when I noticed how prominently my bad fashion sense was on display to potential new colleagues as I sat there, crossing and uncrossing my legs. Perhaps I was trying to whip the air around me into a cloud that could conceal both my black and white barber pole outfit and my deep sense of shame. I can almost hear the job candidates later telling their spouse over a Swiss steak dinner, “Gee, I didn’t know I might share an office with a Michael Jackson impersonator.”

Monday, January 02, 2006

Is your pet a face eater?

I recently came across this story about a cat dialing 911 to save his owner, who had fallen on the floor, unable to reach the phone. This was right after the cat ordered a pizza from Dominos (extra sausage, extra cheese) and dropped Bewitched in his Netflix queue. While they waited for paramedics to arrive the cat read his owner a few stock updates on smartmoney.com.

Now. I’m all for anthropomorphizing our pets. Heck, if not for her coprophagia, fondness for dried bull tootyacker, squirrel-inspired freakouts, and oh, WOLF DESCENDENT DNA, Daisy would be almost human. But for every pet that dials 911 when their human falls on the floor you probably get 100 more that would eat their human's face. I suspect my own dog falls in the latter camp, which is why I wear moisturizer she doesn't like the taste of.

In other news, I stayed home from work today because I have the Joe Pesci of colds. I'm subsisting on Thai soup, white tea, and garlic. My eyeballs feel like hot little marbles and I smell like a turkey being basted. Yes, I can still smell, because I'm at that horrible part in getting a cold right before your nose fills with cement. You know, the fun part where it feels like you actually have a hemorrhoid deep in your nasal passages and every time you breathe is like inhaling and exhaling a forest fire.

And with that, I'm off to down some Nyquil and finish The Position by Meg Wolitzer. It's always good to read books with characters that make your own family sound like The Brady Bunch.