Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I’m Not Doing this Because Oprah Told Me To (or, How to Be Green without Being an A$$hole, even though the phrase “be green” sounds a little a$$holey)

As one who quietly flies an ecofreak-flag, I’m always looking for new ways to save money, reduce my personal impact on the planet, and annoy my husband. I drive a teeny-tiny car and live in a teeny-tiny house. I replaced most of the lightbulbs in my home with the cute lil’ piggytail ones. I don’t eat meat. I recycle. I compost. I reuse my bathtowel, even when a little ass gets on it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do have my vices. I like to lay on the couch picking chocolate chip cookie dough bits from my ice cream while watching I Love New York. I enjoy a good bottle or three of wine. I even wear leather. (In the magical world in which I live, this leather comes from hamburgers that will be made for Wendy’s regardless of my own meat-free diet, so I have no ethical problems with this arrangement.)

But still. If there is a tree in the vicinity, I’ll be hugging it. Environmental charities filed me in their “Sucker” folder years ago. Envelope decorated with wide-eyed woodland creatures begging, “Please, don’t forget us?” F#ck it. Where’s my wallet. Photo essay on sea turtles getting tangled in fishing nets and drowning? If I cut you a check, will you make it stop?

Ding-dong. Who’s at the door, you ask? Why, it’s Betty White and Jane Goodall, and they’re both openly weeping! Contact American Express and ask them to extend my credit line. This could get ugly.

Anyway, I have many, many “incentives” from the environmental groups I support. (At last count, this came to about ten groups.) Some of these incentives are canvas tote bags, which I mainly use to cart Daisy’s stuff around. It recently occurred to me that I could bring these to the grocery store and eliminate the need to build my own personal arsenal of plastic bags that could burst from my closet and smother me in my sleep during a windy night.

This weekend we began to hear an echo when we opened the fridge. The moment of truth had arrived: We needed to go grocery shopping. Would I bring the four canvas totes with me to the grocery store and risk looking like a hippie? The forces in favor of conformity (paper or plastic?) were strong. I’m not one to rock the superficial boat. I’m a closet, checkbook activist. I’m not a “Bring Her Own Bags to the Store” environmentalist. Or am I?

Let’s read on to find out…

I told Jason of my bag-replacement plans as we were about to leave.

He sighed and gently suggested, “Maybe you should just go alone.” His wife’s environmental crusade weighed heavily on his shoulders. Why couldn’t she just eat meat and sign up for TruGreen Chemlawn service like the rest of the world? Life would be so much simpler!

I chose my response carefully. “If you stay home, you won’t get any treats.” I affected an air of nonchalance. (Treats = anything not from the natural foods aisle.)

He sighed again, still skeptical of my little project, but headed to the car: my dear, dutiful spouse. So easily bought with a tub of Blue Bunny Take 5 ice cream.

At the store, the tension mounted. My four totes seemed to scream from the cart: “hey, look! A Hippie! Get her!”

(Actually, what they more likely shouted was, “Hey look, an Oprah fanatic!” Because wouldn’t you know it? A few days before I actually bring my canvas totes to the store for the first time to cut down on the plastic bag tsunami, Oprah told millions to do just that on her Green Living show. Only she recommends using the official Oprah tote.)

But I digress. As our cart filled, my heart started to pound. We were approaching the check-out lane. My store is notorious for chatty and observant checkers. Would they snicker at the goofy hippie and her canvas totes from The Wilderness Society and Natural Resources Defense Council?

Casually, I began to load my purchases on the conveyer belt.

And then…the question. The inevitable question finally arrived: “Paper or plastic?”

My head almost exploded. But somehow, I held it together. “Actually,” I said, breezily handing my totes over, “Could you use these four bags, and when they’re filled, go with paper?”

The bagger grinned. “Sure!” Hippie, he seemed to be thinking.

Jason hung behind me, nervous. Time stretched on as the bagger fumbled with my totes. “Huh,” the checker said, examining my bag of cheddar veggie crisps. “I’m glad we got these back in stock.”

“Me too,” I said, lamely. Let’s get a move on, Chatty Chad. Thank god I wasn’t buying any tofu. Finally, FINALLY, the last of the items had been rung, my checking account lightened, and the transaction completed. All four totes were bursting at the seams (literally). The bagger did have to use one paper bag, but I was thrilled with the outcome. Copps, I salute your respect for the customer. This week, anyway.

So Happy Earth Day-Week from me, my filthy, green, bell-shaped jacket, and my compost tumbler. No picture because it's raining today. You'll just have to use your imagination.

PS: I have also been experimenting with unplugging many of my energy-vampire appliances when not in use. A fun thing that happened when I turned off the powerstrip below my computer was that I "accidentally" cut Jason off during an X-Box game. Ooops! Sorry honey!

In closing, please enjoy these completely unrelated but complimentary photographs of a squirrel wearing a plastic easter egg helmet.

(thanks for the pics, Jake!)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Multi-media Geeks Unite!

Busy isn’t even a word I’d associate with my past week at work. Frenzied? Maybe. Mental soccer riot? Certainly. My brain is throwing a major tantrum and I want nothing more than to send it into the corner for a time-out.

The bags under my eyes have been packed for weeks, waiting for word on when we’re leaving for the Bahamas. Just so you know, I have no immediate plans to travel to the Bahamas. I think my eyebags will be waiting for a good, long time.

Lips? Mere husks of themselves. Hair? Falling out in clumps and turning white at an alarmingly rapid pace. Nose? Who has time to consider The Nose when grant deadlines are being hurled at me left and right like iron throwing stars?

One more month and I am OFF FOR THE SUMMER. So I can write the next 200 pages of book numero dos. But not to fear! I’m sure I’ll find something else I can neurotically obsess over by then.

This weekend we saw Grindhouse. The first time I saw the previews for this movie, with Rose McGowan’s machine-gun stump-leg, I actually thought to myself: The only way I’m seeing that movie is if someone throws a sack over my head, ties me to a dolly, wheels me to the theater, pays for my ticket, ties me into a seat, props my eyes open with toothpicks, and duct-tapes my mouth shut so I can’t scream or eat a full bucket of heart-stabbing movie theater popcorn with extra butter.

But you know what? I went, out of love for my husband. And despite my preconceptions, I actually enjoyed the movie. (Or, movies, rather. It was a double-feature.) It was campy, it was over the top, it had a cheeseball seventies-feel that I--as one who wrote a college paper on the Blaxploitation movies of that era--could truly appreciate.


Three more things: It had fake horror movie previews, fun cameos, and even a fake ad for a Mexican restaurant, which featured off-color photos of greasy meals that really scored on my personal camp-o-meter. It did well on Rotten Tomatoes, and I usually find my opinions jiving with that particular barometer. Plus, a crazy man came in and stood in the row below us, staring at us for a good twenty seconds, then sat down and laughed at nonsensical moments, and after film #1 he shouted a garbled, “Can’t believe (something something) movies like (something) ever!” He then stood up and stared at us again while I averted my eyes to the left so deeply I almost pulled an ocular muscle. A rollicking good time was had by all.

This weekend will feature Adventures in Landscaping, coming to a lawn near me. I hope to be able to stand upright after the experience. (Lift with the legs, Hercules!) Well, as long as I can open my eyes enough to watch The Sopranos on HBO and Planet Earth on The Discovery Channel Sunday night, I’ll be happy.

Don't even get me started on the to-be-read books on my bedside pile. There are twenty-three.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Monkey Business and the Filthiest Jacket Ever

The past weekend found me in a place that inspires terror and loathing in the pit of my stomach:

No, not the mind of Jerry Falwell.

I'm talking about THE MALL.

I wasn’t prepared for this. I left the house thinking we were only shopping for landscaping pavers. As such, I was wearing my pajama top under my sweater. Over this I wore my filthy, bell-shaped, too-large, green nylon men’s jacket that I bought at The Gap in 1993 because it was on sale. I don’t recall putting on makeup or even brushing my hair much. But when the landscape place wasn’t open, J suddenly remembered he needed new pants. Because who doesn’t associate bottomwear with concrete bricks?

So it was off to the mall.

First I got pissed off because we didn’t park in our usual place near JCPenney. Then, I was annoyed because I had to listen to an obnoxious family bicker about a sport coat while J tried on slacks. But once we paid for our purchase and were sucked into the herd of dazed shoppers, I fell into an almost-comfortable trance. The trance went something like this: “Buy nothing. You are piss-broke. Buy nothing. But I do need some jeans. And a new jacket. This one is a filthy man’s jacket, and it’s shaped like a bell. But it does hide my muffintop. Who cares. You look terrible in it. Buy nothing.

I wish I’d taken a shower.

Buy nothing.”

We passed a Waldenbooks, and whom did I spy sitting at a lonely table in the front of the store? A fellow author! Staring into space…Being completely ignored by the soulless mob of shoppers beating a path to the Cold Stone Creamery…Looking bereft and pitiful with her stack of untouched hardcover books: Monkey Business, with a supporting cast of real bananas for a whimsical touch. My first instinct was to keep walking, too. It was sort of a Darwinian reaction, I think. I could almost see myself sitting alone in that same chair next year, and I wanted nothing to do with a situation that gave that mortifying vision any credence.

Plus, when you talk to the author sitting in front of that stack of books, you have to buy one. It’s only polite. You can’t just pick up a book, examine it, put it down again, and say, “Wow. I just don’t think I’d enjoy this story. The sample pages I perused contained some really tedious and mediocre language. I can tell the characters are stock, and the plot seems a subpar recycling job. Still, best of luck to you. Well, off to Orange Julius!”

So there she was, with her books and bananas. Alone. Maybe if she’d named her book “Junkie Business” and handed out samples of heroin, she’d have a few takers.

Alas, she had not.

So I drove J crazy with my hemming and hawing, but just before we hit Macy’s, I pulled him into a U-Turn. “I’m going to talk to her. I’m going to support a fellow author and buy her book.” She’s a member of the tribe! Besides, I thought I’d almost heard of her book. Monkey Business…wasn’t it a quirky mystery in the vein of Carl Hiaasen? I could read that!

As we approached, I saw her packing up, engaged in conversation with two of the Waldens clerks. I made a beeline over and scoped out the cover of her book. Well whaddayaknow: it’s a business management book. Not a novel, but something I may receive at my next agency inservice in fall, free of charge. And later, I could shelve it next to my copies of Who Moved my Cheese? and Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service. (Also gifts from my employer.)

I didn’t buy it, in the end. I just didn’t want to read about “Leader Monkey” and his “entrepreneurial exploits.”

But if it had been a novel, I would have bought it. Solidarity and all.

Update on the green bell-shaped jacket: since Sunday, I have spilled a cup of coffee on one sleeve, and I’m still wearing it. Suck it, Stacy and Clinton.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Does Grandma Read my Blog?

Last week I discussed my Easter plans, which involve drinking with my elderly relatives to celebrate clearing a major grant hurdle at work. Then, wouldn’t you know it? My Grandma, who has called me on the phone perhaps a grand total of five times in my life, called on Sunday to ask if I could bring something to the family Easter potluck. Spring-like dishes flashed before my eyes: a lovely salad of wild greens and a zippy vinaigrette, a light pasta salad with maybe some artichoke hearts and black olives, a tangy bruschetta appetizer with fresh basil …

Grandma didn’t miss a beat. “How about a nice bottle of wine?”

HA! My grandmother rules. Did I call it or what?

Here’s something else: We got our latest bill from the contractor. Would you believe me if I told you the invoice was number 666? Well, it really was.

I guess this means it’s time to move if the walls start seeping black ectoplasm, or I wake up to Jason sucking helium and shouting RedRum, RedRum! in the mirror, inching his index finger.

My mind is still too grant-addled to write much, having just stumbled over the finish line for a 22-page, single-spaced proposal (and gearing up to create an additional fifty pages of attachments). But how about some nice pictures?

Oh, and PS, special message to the Wisconsin Weather: It is now officially spring. So please quit with the freezing temps already. Hello, have you not seen the robins on local lawns? Have you not realized my seedlings are threatening to leap from their pots and overtake the house, strangling me in my sleep with their light-starved tendrils?

We attack before dawn...

So still...so quiet...

Peppers: "We're watching you, Plant Lady."
Mexican Sunflower:
"Do you see how large our leaves have become?
Do you see how perfect for smothering a mouth, muffling any ... screams?"

Squirrel living in the box elder on our front lawn: "I'm watching you too.
And I'm maniacally rubbing my leetle paws together in creepy-style. Trust me."

Daisy: "I just want some pizza. Can I have some pizza? I love pepperoni. And walks. Hey, can I have that last bite of pizza? How about just one pepperoni? Look, I'm turning orange I want it so badly. Please? Just one crumb of pizzaaaa pleeeeeeeeze?????!!!"

Daisy is wearing a prosthetic voicebox due to an unfortunate puppyhood spent smoking Camel Straights. Kids, let this be a lesson to you.

(It's really a bark collar, but one that sprays compressed air. And this sucker works, when we feel unguilty enough to actually leave the albatross around her neck.)