Thursday, August 31, 2006

Slow Day at Work

Just for shits and giggles I put together a little spreadsheet of employees at my old company, breaking down who was there when I started (27 people), who was hired during the not-quite two years I was there (45 people), and what percentage of the total has left since I started there (51.4%). I also broke down the turnover rates by job duties. Surprise surprise, those in sales were highest – 88.3% for consultants, and 66.7% for account managers! Also, if you’re in one of those positions, you have a 1 in 3 chance of being fired. What a gyp!

Did you know that it’s not PC to use that term because it’s a racial slur against Gypsies?

I doubt most people have any idea what the origin of that word is. I learned it a couple of years ago because someone brought it up on the snopes message boards. When you were little, did your parents threaten to sell you to the Gypsies? My stepfather used to say that a lot. In fact, when I was a little kiddo in Ann Arbor, my best friend and I felt we had everything in common largely because we both had stepfathers who made that joke. I just realized today that I have never said this to my children. Does anyone say this anymore? Has the legacy of the Gypsies passed away?

For the last three weeks or so at work, we’ve had a security guard on constant patrol up and down the two upstairs hallways that bound the section where I sit. A few days after this started, the head of our division sent out a blanket email to address the questions employees had raised about this marked increase in security covering a very specific area in the building. “Oh, no reason,” the email said. “Security just likes to do stuff like that sometimes.” Then it wandered off, whistling innocently and looking in another direction.*

We had the same guard for the first couple of weeks, but the last few days it’s been someone new. She’s clearly much smarter than her predecessor, in that on the third day she’s just placed a chair at the intersection of the two hallways where she can see all the way down both. I think she has an iPod, too.

Robbie and I wondered whatever happened to the other guy, and decided he must have gotten burned out on just endlessly walking up and down the same two hallways. He’d probably have been much happier with a maze – you know, something to give a little bit of challenge and excitement to the job. But no, he got two boring, straight hallways. He got totally gypped.

*I’m paraphrasing slightly.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, as the song goes, it's a hobo's paradise:
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
There's a land that's fair and bright,
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep out every night.
Where the boxcars all are empty
And the sun shines every day
And the birds and the bees
And the cigarette trees
The lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
All the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs
The farmers' trees are full of fruit


The brakemen have to tip their hats
And the railway bulls are blind
There's a lake of stew
And of whiskey too
You can paddle all around it
In a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
The jails are made of tin.
And you can walk right out again,
As soon as you are in.


Every time this song comes up in my iTunes shuffle, I'm a little bemused by the limited nature of the hobo's paradise. The jails can't hold you, but still someone is sending you to jail? The cops and bulldogs are incapacitated by their wooden legs and rubber teeth, but still they exist, and are after you? If you're letting your fancy take flight, if you're re-imagining the world the way you'd like it to be, can't you do a better job than that?

For starters, I'd leave out the cigarette trees.

But tonight I was listening to it and thinking, maybe what this means is that the things most to be wished for are things that you can't even begin to imagine. Maybe the things that distress you the most deeply are things you really don't even need to worry about. Maybe you (and when I say "you" at this point I am talking to myself, which is a little weird and embarrassing but what the hell) just need to chill out and everything will be okay. And this is kind of a nice thought.

Maybe not nice enough to lull me to sleep, which is a bit of a pity as it's almost midnight and I have to be up at 6:30, and I'm not tired enough to sleep, only to blather somewhat senselessly.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, my day at my somewhat boring, pointless state job wouldn't begin until 9:30am.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Something's Afoot

The real reason I had to move back to Austin is because I have such a weakness for terrible puns.

Anyway, National Geographic had a really interesting article this month on one of my favorite things: shoes! I love shoes. You might consider me a bit of a shoe fancier since I have way more pairs than I really need, and all but two or three are primarily ornamental. But at least I don't drop ten grand on a pair that has to be polished with expensive champagne by the light of the moon.

Most of my collection comes from Payless.

But I think the most intriguing part of the feature is the segment on found shoes, such as this 17th century leather shoe, which was discovered sliced into ribbons and stowed in the eaves of a farmhouse. According to the shoe historian quoted in the article, concealing shoes is a long-standing practice with some undetermined symbolic significance; she has amassed a large collection of found shoes. Is it just larks? Any relationship to your standard pair of tennis shoes tied together by their laces and tossed over a telephone wire? You can certainly see why shoes would be powerfully symbolic of their owner; nothing else we wear is quite so carefully fitted or personal, and shoes further shape to fit our feet the more we wear them.

My favorite quote from the article comes from a maker of fetish footwear. "If you are in a high heel, you are in pain, and you are going to make someone pay for it."

I'll have to keep that in mind at work tomorrow.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

In the Funny Pages

I'm taking a quick break from weekly services at Our Lady of Perpetual Laundry to say that Mallard Fillmore can bite my ass.

Honestly, what a sniveling git Bruce Tinsley is. I am so tired of that damn strip. Last week I saw one lamenting the fact that a public-school student in Denver had been suspended for wearing a patriotic T-shirt, emblazoned with the American flag, because this might offend holders of anti-American sentiment. An asterisk pointed to a cite from the Denver Post for the story.

That'd be a newspaper, of course. If you click around long enough to find anything actually pertaining to the subject of the strip, it appears to have been grossly oversimplified. A school principal instituted a temporary ban on any political or patriotic statements through clothing, for any stance or any country, in response to increasingly heated and hostile discord among students over the illegal immigration issue. Whether you agree with this approach or not (I can't help but feel some sympathy for public school administrators, who are forced to grapple with complex social, moral, and legal issues, equipped only with the brains of public school administrators), in no way could its motive be construed as over-the-top PC. What the school officials were trying to avoid was not causing a little minor offense to someone whose opinions clearly shouldn't matter anyway (pinko commie scum!), but allowing an already existing situation to escalate, possibly to the point of violence.

And the way that Tinsley cites source material is itself disingenuous. He didn't print a link to any particular article, only to the newspaper's website. But the mere fact that he cites a source of any kind makes him sound a lot more legitimate than he really is (not that I necessarily mean to call him a bastard). And as someone who can't get on the internet at work, where I read the funnies at lunch, and didn't remember to look it up at home until over a week later, I particularly appreciate the first comment on World o'Crap's post about this apparently long-running issue. (So I'm a couple of months behind here. Better late than never!)

Oh, and that reminds me: Garfield can be funny if you take out all his thought bubbles. Now I have to go fold some clothes.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Alas, Pluto! We Hardly Remembered Ye

Being demoted from "planet" to "dwarf planet" has to smart a little bit, don't you think? Oh snap! Oh no you didn't!

The main discussion I've heard regarding the redesignation is how to come up with a new mnemonic device to fit the revamped solar system. At lunch today we more or less agreed on "My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nachos" instead of, say, "Nine Pizzas" (or "Pies"); however, if you have abusive parents, it could be "My Very Egregious Mother Just Served Us Nails" (or maybe "Narwhal").

One friend of mine had a much funnier, very surreal mnemonic device he learned from a classmate in high school, but I don't remember what it was, which must automatically disqualify it.

Sometimes Pluto's orbit falls inside Neptune's. Were we supposed to use a different sentence then? Really, if you need a reason to knock a planet like an opponent's croquet ball right out of the Solar system, I think the inability to make a consistently correct mnemonic device about it has to be a major one. "Martha Vilifies Eagles Madly Jousting Several Ugly Purple Neanderthals"? "Mom's Viscous Eggnog Makes Jeffrey Spew Under Pope's Nipples"? "Millions Vacate Estonia, Mostly Jugglers, So Uzbekhistan Pushes Northward"?

To hell with Pluto. We're clearly better off without it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Break Wars

Perhaps I've mentioned before that we have a fun break group at work. There are about ten of us when all assembled; all cheerful, healthy and intelligent, with bright eyes and nice glossy coats. Twice a day we congregate at one of the outdoor break areas, a covered pavilion with two picnic tables, nestled in a shady spot in an outside corner of the building. It's the furthest break area from any of the entrances, so it's not frequented much by echt state employees - some of whom routinely get in their cars and drive to the convenience store at the other end of our parking lot, or to the building across our campus where the cafeteria is - either one a distance of well under an eighth of a mile.

There have been one or two times we weren't able to take our break in our usual spot because there's a smoker or group of smokers sitting there. All of the outdoor break areas are designated smoking areas. This wouldn't be entirely unreasonable, except that if there are smokers using all the outdoor break areas, there's no place for the non-smokers to go. Well, we could sit indoors, in the cafeteria or the breakroom, under fluorescent lights in the air conditioning. Or we could go outside and take our chances with the fire ants under a tree across the parking lot. Or we could join the smokers at the table, as other smokers do. The only thing we can't do is sit outside at a table in the shade without cigarette smoke.

It hasn't been that much of an issue, since as I said, only a couple of times has there been a conflict. The only serious inconvenience is the stench from the two ash receptacles: narrow, elongated pyramids, about waist-high with a hole in the top, placed next to the picnic tables. They reek. And if (as happens not infrequently) someone has tossed in a cigarette without extinguishing it, all the butts inside smolder, and the ash receptacles actually blow smoke. So we pick them up (gingerly - they're kind of grody) and move them away from the tables, into the corner next to the wall. When smokers use the area, they move the receptacles back next to the tables.

So far, so good, right? It would be nice if the things had wheels and handles so we didn't have to touch them. It kind of sucks sitting through a whole 45-min^H^H^H^H^H 15-minute break with dirty hands. Plus the receptacles are weighted at the bottom to prevent tipping over, so they're somewhat cumbersome to move.

This morning I arrived at the break area and grabbed the nearest ash receptacle to move it - and my hand slipped off. Eeeewww! There was something slimy on the outside! A closer examination revealed that the entire thing had been sprayed with something greasy, the whole length of it, on all four sides, and the nasty yellowish substance had pooled in the groove around the base. We looked at the second receptacle and sure enough, it had been treated the same way. Apparently someone was tired of us moving their ashtrays.

We damn well moved them anyway, rather slowly, scooting them along the ground with our feet, though we had to touch them to keep them from falling over when we pushed them off the slab the picnic tables sit on. One of my co-breakers sniffed his fingers and tentatively identified the substance as non-stick cooking spray.

I'm really bothered that whoever tries to move them back will discover their condition the same way I did, and will probably think the non-smokers did this to dick over the smokers. Of course, the cleaning staff who empty the damn things will have the worst of it.

Maybe we'll try putting up some "No Smoking" signs.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Suggestion Box

My employer has a suggestion box inside the major entrances, with blank forms in a holder nearby. Once a quarter, they publish an internal newsletter, where they print several of the suggestions along with an explanation from the relevant department of why they will not be implemented.

I would like to make some suggestions.

First off, most large employers have a company picnic in the summer and a holiday party in the winter. We can't do this, being a taxpayer-funded state agency: instead, we have smaller, department-wide festivities now and then, which are paid for by money raised from employees by an "activities committee" (or occasionally by somewhat more questionable means). This is not as good.

I think we should implement a formula where we calculate how much money we waste in taxpayer money each year. Then we should budget, say, 3% of those funds and set them aside for a really lavish annual picnic and ritzy holiday gala. There'd be plenty! I'll be sure to submit that idea.

We also really need a talent show. Just last week, one of my male coworkers was in a stall in a little-frequented restroom, and another fellow came in to have a wee at one of the urinals. Believing himself (or so I would assume!) to be alone, the guy whistled "Menomena" (of Muppets, and now Dr. Pepper commercial fame) while performing his business transaction, breaking wind in perfect time at the end of each measure!!!

I swear to you. I mean, I wasn't there, but my coworker was, and I consider him a reliable source. This really happened. Can you deny that this is talent? Should we not have a talent show?

Maybe we could also incorporate work-related competitions into the show. A smoke-off, perhaps. Many of our long-time employees are champion smokers. And a fashion show! And perhaps a contest to see who can fall asleep the most quickly, although I have to warn you, I have a bit of insider info and will clean up on the betting.

Really, the possibilities are endless, so remind me to grab a suggestion form on the way to my desk tomorrow. I can't wait to see my ideas summarily dismissed in next quarter's newsletter!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Weekend FAB-ulous!

Let's see:

Saturday: Going dancing at Rain and Oilcan Harry's: Check!
Sunday: Noah's Arc viewing party with nine gay guys: Check!

Yep, I'm a fag hag.

There are much worse things to be, of course. It's great fun to go out and be totally campy and know that you can behave as outrageously as you like without having to worry about waking up naked with a malodorous stranger. On the minus side, you're pretty much stuck paying for your own drinks. But on the whole, it's probably worth it.

There's a certain status to being a fag hag. I'll have to study the phenomenon further, but couldn't help noticing several others of my kind at Rain, most of them fairly attractive and all attached to groups of three or more extremely well-muscled men. Not a bad bargain at all, since the men are all courtly and debonair. The friend I went with immediately introduced me to everyone he knew with flawless etiquette (a lot more than I can say for my husband, whom people sometimes stammer to interrupt after several minutes to ask, "So is this your wife?") It's possible I got picked apart by a few clubgoers later - Oh my god! Did you see how frizzy her hair was?! Can you believe she would go dancing in those shoes?!? Could you just die?!?!? - but again, on the whole, well worth the fun and the unbelievable camp of people-watching, in a place where all the people are beautiful and have a fine flair for drama.

Oh, and drama there is. Not, perhaps, quite as much drama as there is on Noah's Arc. But the unfortunate realities of being gay in a society that can still be incredibly ugly and hateful about it create a fairly tight-knit community with fairly stringent rules of behavior. I was amazed at how many of the people in the club my friend knows. He knows who's dating whom, who's whose ex, who's not on speaking terms, and who's committed such egregious social grievances that they are no longer accepted in polite gay circles.

What I find particularly interesting about this is that it represents the same kind of return to "traditional" values that social conservatives always harp about - including many of the negative aspects of those values that have caused modern society to move away from them: everybody knowing your business; gossip; insincerity in the name of proper manners; social pressure to be something that may not work for you.

My friend had a hug and a kiss on the cheek for everyone he knew at the club, and we followed some fairly standardized rules for conversing with the people we talked to. It was commented upon when one person deviated: "Oh my god! He did not just walk by and only wave at you!" And at one point, someone who did stop to talk to my group got a polite but unmistakable dismissal: "Hi, (hug, kiss) so nice to see you! Well, we're going to go walk now!"

Exeunt omnes in fine theatrical style.

The theatrics in Noah's Arc were fairly over-the-top and very funny, but received hoots of recognition from the guys there: exaggerated, but not without basis in reality. I felt a pang of sympathy for anyone who finds the dramatics of the gay scene more than the sense of inclusion is worth. Until you found your own dominion, there's always someone else whose rules you end up having to play by.

The part of sidekick and observer suits me nicely, though. I hope to play it often.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

So You Want To Be an Existentialist

I'm kidding, of course. Nobody wants to be an existentialist. Existentialism is a very depressing philosophy grounded in too much reality and not having enough ephemeral joys or sorrows to distract you from the horrifying truth. If you find that you're an existentialist, you really need to get your heart broken or have a baby or at least go out dancing, fer crissakes. Existentialism sucks and is, after all, fairly pointless: if it's true that nothing you do really matters in any larger sense, it's just stupid not to be as happy as possible.

Does that make sense?

The trigger, I think, for this particular case of angst in my pangst is that a few weeks ago a high-school classmate contacted me about our upcoming 20-year reunion and mentioned that she'd also gotten in touch with the guy I had my first really serious crush on, who moved away before our junior year, and that he might come to the reunion. He is, I'm happy to say, successful and thriving; and also since escaping mid-80's, small-town Alabama, he's come out of the closet (I shudder to think what it would be like to be gay there and then, of all places and times). I'm delighted to hear he might come to the reunion, because - even aside from the crush - he was absolutely one of my favorite people. I'm also laughing heartily at myself because, hello: smart, funny, charming, thoughtful, handsome, athletic, and flirtatious? Come on!

But I wanted so bad to tell Mom. Mom would get such a kick out of this. She knew him, she was privy to all my feelings about him, she was there, and I feel as if something is missing and incomplete until I can tell her. It's really been troubling me. Maybe writing about it will help work it out, but seriously, I feel this gaping void until I can sit down with her and tell her this particular tidbit of information. It's like a machine that's being blocked from performing some vital routine function and is overheating and breaking gears or - seriously, it's really bothering me a lot.

I do feel a bit better writing about it, even though this probably makes no sense at all. But it's at times like this I envy religious people the ability to believe that their dead loved ones still exist somewhere else than just in the memories of the people who knew them. Even more, I envy the ability to believe that death isn't the end, because it doesn't matter that it's (presumably) decades off still, the idea of ceasing to exist and not being able to do anything about it just scares the living bejeezus out of me.

Which is about as self-absorbed and whiny as you can possibly get, I know. I'm sorry.

All this would be easier to cope with if only there were someone nearby whose shoulder I could rest my head on, somebody who would put an arm around me and hold my hand and make gentle sympathetic murmurings while I spill out all my stupid fears and sorrows. I have so many good friends, but no one like that (at least, not within a thousand miles). Goddammit, I want my mommy!

Existentialism is nothing if not lonely.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Exceed Your Cat's Expectations

This elegant box arrived in the mail today:

"Indulge your cherished cat's every desire," gushes the copy accompanying this sumptuously packaged sample of Fancy Feast (a subsidiary of Nestle), which goes on to elaborate on their new line of entrees "inspired by the menus of the world's finest restaurants."

Remind me never to eat in any of those places.

The free sample is timely, because we're fresh out of canned cat food. Slappy White and Bingo don't really care, but Romeo follows me around whining, and Peachy makes it abundantly clear that my ankles have a higher meat content than her dry food does. But I do find it a bit worrisome. "Exceed your cat's expectations"? I really don't know if that's a very good idea. I mean, on the one hand, my cats' expectations are fairly low, inasmuch as their brains are very small and rattle around in their heads when they kick themselves in the ear, so they're not terribly strong on anticipating the future.

But on the other hand, Peachy's had some fairly expensive tastes ever since she had gastric surgery four years ago (it's almost paid off now!) and we had to coax her appetite back to normal with what we refer to as "stinky food." Her appetite did get back to "normal" pretty quickly. In fact, even now, her appetite continues to grow more "normal" every day. Come to think of it, maybe she's not all that stupid; or maybe instead of thinking with her brain - which as mentioned above is small and rattly - she thinks with her belly, which is plush and quite ample.

Still, the canned food we're spoiling her with is just the cheapo store brand, not the "one-of-a-kind souffles, delicate florentines and savory shredded fare made with premium ingredients" that Fancy Feast is offering in their "never-ending quest to give your feline more to favor."

God, I wish I could be that passionate about what I do for a living. Maybe they need a new copywriter! I wonder if their employees get free cat food?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Back To School

Austin ISD students kicked off the school year today! Here are Katie (8th) and Anna (K) before:

...and here is Eric (10th) after:

Summer is over!

Monday, August 14, 2006

See You in Hell!

Last week I finished reading Dante's Inferno at work. I did this partly because it can be awfully slow, so it's nice to have some reading material; but mostly it's just that the performance artist in me relishes the aesthetic I create by reading it in my little beige government-issue cubicle.

Probably the most demonic figure in our office is the Bitching Smoker, of whom I've written before; though she's really not evil at all, just in a very, very bad mood. She's worked for the state for 20-odd years, so this is somewhat understandable.

"Good morning," she said to me, when I smiled at her one day as she was retrieving papers from the printer just outside my cube. But before I could respond, she corrected herself: "No - just 'Morning.' Nothing good about it," glared at me, and stalked off.

She has a point, I guess. Everyone knows there's a special circle in Hell for the unacceptably perky, even though Dante doesn't mention it. We probably end up tangled in Satan's leg hair.

B.S. works one aisle over from me. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by people I like on every side; but Robbie sits next to B.S., and if you ask him, he'll tell you how he feels about it.

This morning, our lead worker, with whom Robbie and I took a day trip to Bryan last week, mentioned that he needed to take another day trip out to Yoakum, along with the Yoakum rep from our office, to meet with the District Coordinator there. Since Robbie and I got out to Bryan, my other new-hire cohort, Jason, jumped at the chance to take a day out of the office for a road trip, and got permission to go along. He shuffled around some appointments and then hastened into my neighbor A's cube to announce, "Hey, I'm going to Yoakum with you!"

A was taken aback. "What do you mean?" she said. "I'm not going - Yoakum's not my district."

"What? I thought you were Yoakum!" said Jason. "Who's going, then?"

"Robert and B.S.!" said A.

"Holy Shit!" cried poor Jason, realizing horribly that he had just signed up to spend several hours enclosed in an aging Jeep Cherokee with the bane of our collective existence.

And as if that weren't bad enough, there's no legroom whatsoever in the back of those things, but she has to sit in front because she gets carsick.

They weren't back by the time I left for the day, so I hope the trip went all right. Robbie and I figured that next time a fun trip comes up, Jason should be first in line for it. But at the very least, he's paid off a few dues towards Hell in advance. I think he can probably commit, say, some form of fraud, and just get damned to the Circle of the Carnal. Or maybe today's ordeal is good for wholesale absolution, I don't know.

I'm not really a theologian. I work for the state.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Anybody else somewhat hopeful that the latest airport terror threat might turn the Bush admin's attention back towards terrorism, and maybe distract a bit from the wholesale hatin' on gays and Mexicans - excuse me, I mean "protecting the sanctity of marriage" and "defending our borders" - that they've been reveling in lately? At this point, I personally would find that a refreshing change.

Remember the terror meter? That was a pretty useful tool for keeping dissenters quiet, there, for a while. It's still in halfhearted use, but the fact that we no longer hear anything about it would tend to indicate it didn't serve much of any other purpose, wouldn't it? Not that we didn't already know that.

I hope it comes back into vogue, because its recent obscurity has relegated this excellent product line to undeserved topical obsolescence. But if you hurry, you can still get these shirts in time for back-to-school!

Ahh, good times.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I Adore Being a Girl?

So, for my 200th post (w00t!) I would like to ask if the following scenario is kosher:

Today my friend & coworker Robbie and I went up to Austin HQ to gas up the Jeep we took to the Bryan district on Monday. Neither Robbie nor I had ever filled up gas at the shop before. I'd once seen our lead worker fill up at a district office, but that's it. And paperwork, you know, is a strange and confusing thing. Often several strange and confusing things!

So we get to the headquarters' shop facilities, and Robbie pauses briefly to puzzle out which side the gas tank is on, and says hey! What are we supposed to do now! Like I know. But I have a built-in advantage, in situations like these: a bad, terrible, awful, non-progressive, unfeminist advantage of which I am not sure whether I should be ashamed or proud (frankly, I get some mixed messages from society).

I walk into the HQ shop office, whose population consists entirely of two middle-aged grizzled guys, dimple adorably, and say, "Hi! I need to gas up a state vehicle and I've never done this before and I have no idea what I'm doing!"

And they take care of everything. They tell me what needs to be filled out, but still fill it out for me, before I even have a chance to do so myself (and I really wouldn't have had a problem with it, only wanted a little bit of pointing in the right direction).

Oh yeah, and Robbie pumps the gas. Not that I am implying that my feminine wiles work on him, since of course he knows me much too well for that. However, he did state that one reason he was anxious to bring me along on the excursion was so I could negotiate the unfamiliar paperwork without any awkwardness.

Is this bad? I was talking to a very progressive friend of mine about the incident this afternoon and wondering, does this mean I don't get to call myself a feminist anymore?

Because, you know, I don't think there's anything I can't do perfectly well for myself. My intelligence is certainly not in question. I am even good at lifting heavy objects (as is any woman who has a well-grown five-year-old). It's just that there are a lot of things that can get done for me without me even asking. I can just look a little uncertain and *poof!* something gets taken care of without any further effort on my part. And the ardent feminist within me cringes, and the girly girl with her legs crossed on my other shoulder, flirtatiously dangling a high-heeled shoe, says, well, honey, why not? (Especially if it involves firemen! Like when our recycling bin got stolen and I had to go to the fire station to ask for a new one! Ooooh, firemen! But I digress.)

As a younger woman I would probably have had a lot more of a problem with the incident, taken offense, and done these things for myself rather than risk reinforcing negative stereotypes about the overall competence of women; and now I'm more inclined to blow it off and take advantage of it. But as I said to my Progressive Friend (TM), I really am not sure if this means I've learned to accept and allow for the positive aspects of what I can't change about the world I live in, or whether it just means I've sold out. Or are those just one and the same?

Well, it's something to go "hmmm" over this weekend, at any rate.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Baby Got Mac!

Today in the mail I got my new power cord for my iBook. Hooray! The old one gradually fritzed out and stopped working altogether about a week and a half ago, so I've been having to use the male spousal object's PC (shudders delicately).

And will you look at that. My left shift key is working again! O frabjous day!

I'm gonna go make some diapers now, for a friend who's attending a baby shower this weekend. If I am still awake when I'm done, I'll post pictures. I sure hope I remember how.

(ETA: How to make diapers, I mean. I'm fairly confident I haven't forgotten how to post pictures.)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Karaoke Heaven

Do you like karaoke? I do, but have never actually participated in it. Lauren has just recommended Beerland on Monday nights, so we might have to check that out, y'all.

The closest I ever came to doing karaoke was at a company Christmas party about nine years ago. My husband, one of our friends and I got up to do a song together. Neither my husband and I were familiar with it - it was our friend's choice - but once we got up, our friend discovered that he'd picked the wrong song, so he didn't know it either. It didn't matter anyway as far as I was concerned. We'd all been (cough, cough) drinking a little, and I thought we were just supposed to be lip-synching.

But about six years ago we had the one, the perfect, the dream karaoke experience at a little place called Carlsbad Tavern in San Antonio. They did karaoke nights on Sundays. We were in town visiting my brother-in-law for a long holiday weekend. And it was wonderful.

About 70% of the crowd consisted of slightly older folks, in their 50s and early 60s. These people could sing like nobody's business, and they had excellent taste, belting out tremendous renditions of Sinatra and Peggy Lee and Tom Jones standards. But every third or fourth song would be one of the younger set, not nearly as competent, but full of enthusiasm and high spirits. One guy did a "Rock the Casbah" that had the whole bar dancing. Everyone was laughing and applauding and the whole place felt friendly and happy and full of enjoyment and goodwill. It was perfect.

The vibe wasn't dampened even when my husband and his brother got up to do "Mustang Sally," which (if you heard them) you'd think might have done the trick. A few minutes into it, we discovered that the bar owned a gong. Who knew? It's possible they smelted it just for the occasion. But the boys accepted their well-deserved gonging in good spirits, and sat down to heartfelt and humorous cheering.

We talked about it afterwards for years. We always wanted to go back and do it again, but were never able to be in San Antonio on a Sunday night. When finally, months later, we managed it, the karaoke had gone. Carlsbad Tavern now boasted a regular Sunday night Bon Jovi cover band. Where's the gong when you need it?

Carlsbad Tavern is no more, but I would love to have another perfect karaoke experience. And if I drink enough (but not too much), I might even sing. I always wanted to do "These Boots Are Made for Walking." What do y'all say, my little Austin chickadees?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Day Tripper

My favorite part of my job (aside from break, of course) is getting to go out on the road from time to time. Today Robbie, our lead worker Robert, and I headed out to the Bryan district to address some baffling roadbed issues:

You can clearly see why our help was so desperately needed.

Of course, what we really wanted to do, being out in the Bryan district, was meet up with our good friend and former coworker Justin, but unfortunately the roadbed issues in question were about an hour away from Bryan itself and we had to spend the entire day actually working, if you can imagine.

So we took a few pictures. We found this sign of a disgruntled Ford owner near Huntsville. Apparently it's become something of a local landmark. The sign reads: "I own a Ford Lemon/Hillcrest Ford can't fix it/Ford Motors won't fix it" on both sides:

Blogdom can never have too many alligator warning signs. Here, Robbie proudly displays one in Huntsville State Park:

There's something appealing about the way this sign is worded, as if outside the park, any alligators you may happen to experience are purely a figment of your imagination. But in the park - ah, in the park, they have corporeal existence. So look out!

The road is a dangerous place.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Civilized Behavior

With apologies for the unexpected bit of weekend drama, I've been musing a bit on the different approaches people take to conflict.

My approach is indirect, but follows certain standard social rules. If someone wants me to do something I don't want to do, I make polite demurrals with the expectation that they'll take the hint and drop the issue. This generally works; some cultures are more direct than others, but in the one I belong to, people watch out for each other's social signals and temper their behavior accordingly.

But some people aren't like that. Again, some cultures are more direct than others and people come from all different backgrounds, so you can't necessarily resent it if the person you're dealing with doesn't pick up subtle signals. If we all came from one homogeneous society, that other person would simply be a boor; from the other perspective, not understanding the social rules behind the "indirect" approach, the other person may feel that the first person is not dealing honestly, when there's merely a difference in the social language being spoken.

On the other hand, some people really are just boors. There are people who take advantage of the politeness of others to steamroll over them; my ex-brother-in-law's wife being a case in point. She's found that it's to her advantage to disregard the social signals others are sending off. She creates a situation where you have to be rude just to keep from buckling under to her, then holds that rudeness against you as confirmation of her own righteousness.

There are a lot of people who are like that to one degree or another. I think her case is a little extreme; fortunately, she's not particularly connected with us, so I think any further contact from her can simply be politely but firmly dismissed.

It's finally solidified an issue I used to have with my ex-mother-in-law, though, which I was never able to put my finger on at the time. I was only 20 when I got pregnant with Eric, so lacked the experience to understand what aspects of her behavior were sometimes wrong or why conflicts with her bothered me so much. She used to do the same sort of thing to me that she has been doing to Katie over the last couple of days. Her technique is to put on heavy pressure and ignore signs of reluctance or gentle protest; and I remember being huffily told, "Elizabeth, if you have a problem with the way I do things I wish you'd have the courage to tell me so openly."

But part of the function of civilized behavior is avoiding the mess and hassle of frequent, unnecessary confrontation. This is not about cowardice. Conflict in human relationships is a constant, and it keeps the wheels of human interaction turning a lot more smoothly not to have to hash every issue out in a major meltdown. You pick your battles, of course; relationships are supposed a dance of give-and-take, with sensitivity to others' feelings and respect for their rights; with willingness to compromise and an ultimate goal of mutual benefit. Argument does sometimes inevitably occur and there's nothing wrong with that; but it should never be the first resort.

All that said, I think I'll go and delete yesterday's post so as not to escalate anything if anyone involved should ever stumble across it. It was helpful to vent, though.

And I really want to work the term "scroglodyte" into a conversation sometime.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Truth in Advertising

****WARNING: This post contains frank talk about penises, and therefore should not be read by parents or coworkers.****

Another classic subject line fresh from the spam filter:

84% of women say their lover's penis is too small!

What is the world coming to, now that the spammers have pollsters and statisticians working on their side? Who are they going to get next, Stephen Hawking?

84% strikes me as a little high, to be perfectly honest. I mean, I've known a handful of penises* in my day, and I'd have to say that only about, oh, 20, 25% left anything to be desired. And size wasn't even the issue in most of those cases. (I really, really cannot overemphasize the importance of good personal hygiene here.)

And where do you even get results like these? Is this from a Gallup poll? Or do they have surveyors hanging around in shopping malls and ambushing women on their way into the Sharper Image store? That might explain things.

Or maybe they're factoring in lesbians and the celibate, and thereby coming up with an overall Lover Penis Quotient (LPQ) of approximately 1.32 inches. That would be a pretty misleading measure; but then again, what do you expect from spammers?

84%, boys. Actually, if I were you, I'd use that to my advantage. Next time your sweetheart gazes at you reproachfully and hints that your manhood would be proportionately better suited to a member** of the rodent family, just whip out a printout of this spam mail (please, I don't want to know from where) and tell her to join the club, baby!

Because 84% of lovers' penises can't be wrong.

*Band name!


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Late this afternoon, Robbie, whose cubicle is one row nearer to our kitchen area than mine, woefully informed me that he had just overheard two of our fellow employees solemnly discussing how to know when microwave popcorn has finished cooking. "I'm pretty sure it's done when you don't hear any more kernels popping," one said.

But alas! The stench of vaporized trans-fat which soon permeated the entire floor would seem to indicate that the other person was not convinced.

Then, just to make matters worse, a third employee (I should mention that none of these people belong to the set that Robbie and I hang out with) came over and sprayed huge amounts of some horrible, cloying, sickly sweet substance in a vain attempt to cover up the burning smell, with the result that Robbie's cube neighbor had to take an extra smoke break just in order to preserve her lungs.

I think Robbie went home a little early. I stayed put at my desk and read Dante's Inferno until quitting time.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

My Pimped-Out Ride

As I type this, it's about 98 degrees outside. I bet you think it would be horrible to have a car with no air conditioning, don't you?

How about if it also has vinyl seats?

My car has semi-working air conditioning (which is to say that it works, but you can't use it because it will make the engine stall out, so that you find yourself suddenly coasting along in traffic with no power brakes or power steering) and, mercifully, fabric upholstery.

But today I got to thinking about the first car I can remember, which was my mom's 1967 VW Fastback, an odd shade of either blackish-green or possibly greenish-black. What I really liked about it was the way the white vinyl upholstery left waffle patterns deeply imprinted on the backs of my thighs on even the briefest of car trips. I thought that was so cool. They just don't make them like that anymore.

I remember that one day in traffic, Mom pointed out a restored antique car to me, and told me that if we hung onto our little VW long enough, one day it would be an antique too. I remember being completely mystified at the idea of the car's body gradually morphing and reshaping into something cool and old-timey looking. Well, if Mom said so.

These forces are apparently already at work on my 1992 VW Golf, which is seafoam green with a nicely contrasting white hood from the time about seven years ago when my husband thought it would be a nifty idea to rear-end a Blazer. It's our emergency backup car and I almost never drive it, since I walk to work; and my apartment complex has such limited parking that they can only accommodate one car per unit, so I leave it in the parking lot at work for weeks or months on end.

But it seems to have achieved a certain mystique, to the point that when some friends and I went to lunch today, they all got really excited that I was driving.

My car doesn't have a whole lot besides character; but it's got that in spades. It's missing a few cosmetic touches like a headliner, the passenger side mirror, and a reasonable amount of its paint; but it drives pretty well, gets good gas mileage, and appears to be more or less reliable. It's got an oil leak in there somewhere, so that whenever you start it up, a gigantic white cloud emerges from the tailpipe and blocks out the sun; and I always find myself anxiously looking around after the smoke clears to see if there are any dead or twitching birds or state employees scattered about nearby on the pavement. One time I glanced back over my shoulder just in time to see that the car had blown two perfect smoke rings, drifting lazily away across the parking lot. You have to admit, that's a pretty cool car.

Oh, and also the reverse lights don't work.

I have the will-never-be-able-to-afford-a-new-car person's value for an automobile with personality, figuring, if you can't have all your friends drooling over your flashy new ride, at least you can make them laugh. Mine couldn't seem to stop laughing from the moment we piled in and cranked down the windows, which screeched like a quartet of banshees, until we arrived at the restaurant; and it didn't help when one asked me how he was supposed to lock the car with the lock mechanism missing, and I pointed out it was all right as the door didn't have a handle on the outside anyway.

When we got back to the office (exactly one hour, on the nose, from the time that we left), another of our coworkers was also returning from her lunch and exclaimed in amazement, "Oh my gosh, your car is working!"

See? It's really easy to impress people if you set their expectations low enough.

Mom sold our VW Fastback in 1980 to a college student who wanted it for parts. We all cried. I don't think my Golf is going anywhere for a while (literally, I might not drive it again for three months!), but when we do say farewell I'm sure it will be very sad.

Then again, who knows? Maybe if I leave it parked at work long enough, it'll gradually morph into a collector's item and I'll be able to sell it for a small fortune.