Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Random Flashback

While we’re on the subject of the Detroit area, I was messing around in Google Maps today, and found my old house in Ypsilanti, I think.

The house is the building towards the middle of the lot, away from the driveway. It was an A-frame with a large wing off to the side. I don’t think the outbuildings were there then. But I remember the creek, and the huge yard that Mom hated mowing so she just cut a few walkways in it, and the Lutzes, whose dogs did not care for my singing, whose fields those are off to the right. On the other side of those fields is the school where I went to third grade.

Funny that I could find it so easily, with nothing but a street name and town name, and thirty-one-year-old memories.

The house had been built by the couple my family bought it from, and had two secret rooms in the finished basement. On the wall of the laundry room was a gun rack which was a door to a secret sauna. Then, the far wall of the sauna slid back to reveal a small unfinished basement room.

There was an open stairwell from the living room down into the basement, and directly over that was a spiral staircase to a loft in the A-frame. The spiral staircase didn’t have any railing. I don’t think the previous owners had kids. They also didn’t know much about installing sliding glass doors, and Mom said she used to have nightmares that someone was trying to break into the house, and when she tried to close and lock the doors they just came out of their tracks.

I remember a big yellow flowering forsythia bush outside the sliding glass door of my bedroom, which had red carpet. And I remember a whole jumble of other things: gerbils, Brownie troop meetings, getting my cat Buffy so angry that he’d actually chase me into the bathroom, where I had to stay hidden until he'd forget and wander off, poor baby. I remember watching the Ernie Kovacs show with my parents – remember the monkeys, playing that song? I remember we used to get field mice in the kitchen. They'd flee my mom, and Buffy, and take refuge under the avocado-green refrigerator.

We were living there that winter day I dawdled and missed the bus, and Mom got mad and made me walk to school across the fields, not realizing how bitterly cold it was till the neighbors brought me home, and how terrible she felt. And we were there that time she had a panic attack in the middle of the night and we had to go to the emergency room.

There was the store we used to go to, Saturday mornings – the Big Ten? where my parents would buy a box of Turtles and get me a Baby Ruth. There were freezing cold days, and the creek iced over in winter, and piled so high with snow you could hardly see where it was. And in summer there was playing among the pine trees, and running around the crazy walkways in the tall grass that Mom had cut before giving up in disgust. (It was a two-acre lot. A rotary push mower? What was she thinking??)

And there was the occasional trip into Detroit. How many elementary school kids’ parents take them to see Wagner? I remember Lohengrin, and also concerts: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and a pretty soprano in the front row of the chorus with blond braids looped across the top of her head, smiling at me; Pavarotti, back before he lost all that weight, when he was really big.

It’s funny how, just looking at that aerial, the memories are so vivid I can feel them.

Especially if it turns out that isn't actually my house.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Not Enough Rats' Asses in Detroit

Well, actually, there probably are.

When I first started working at Crazyland Corpus, I helped a consultant who was working on an assessment for the City of Detroit. They were in the market for a new website design, looking for advice on how better to attract site visitors and convert them, poor saps, into real visitors.

The existing website had links on the home page for residents and business owners in addition to their promotional material. One of the questions in the residents' FAQ, just one step down in the navigation, was "Who do I call to complain about a rat infestation?"

We advised them that this was not Best Practices.*

"Best Practices" was a phrase that got tossed around a lot by our sales staff, i.e. everyone except for the seven or eight peons who actually designed, programmed, or otherwise did stuff. "Industry Best Practices dictate that you should..." we'd begin, then either go on to recommend whatever it was we'd been told to sell that day, or dissuade a client from something that we didn't know how to implement. Once, after I'd worked there a year or so, one of the account managers actually found a definitive list of our Best Practices filed away in a subfolder of a subfolder on one of the network drives. We read them with glee, and forwarded them out to the senior sales consultants we worked under, who had been completely unaware that such a document existed.

What's funny about all this is that I hated that job so much, by the time I left, that I spent much of every day in tears; but I couldn't stop giving rats' asses, handing the damn things out like they were going out of style. I cared that I was on the crazy president's** shit list. I cared that the senior consultant*** I worked with didn't think I could schmooze clients****. I cared that I was giving the web designers***** more work than they could handle. I couldn't quit caring. I couldn't sleep nights.

Work is much less stressful when you don't give a rat's ass, though this is not the solution I'd recommend. (Best Practices dictate you find a job that you can care about, but which won't drive you completely up the wall.)

My guest speaker for the November safety meeting on Monday, a local "personality," verbally confirmed on two separate occasions about a month ago, but has not responded to emails or returned phone calls since. We've already notified attendees to expect him. My boss is panicking.

But I can't find that I really care. I checked out a safety video on the same topic he's supposed to cover, in case he doesn't show up, and notified the panicmonger that we have something to fall back on if the speaker doesn't come. Speakers have no-showed before, and this is just an internal presentation for a handful of construction site workers, to satisfy occupational safety requirements. It's not that big a deal.

"It will be a big disaster if he doesn't show," she wrote back, cc'ing my coworker, who knows the "personality," and who had approached him about speaking at our meeting. "Everyone is expecting him. Everyone is enthusiastic about him. The division head is coming to this meeting. Haven't you heard back from him yet???"

No. It's not a paid engagement; he agreed to do it as a favor. He doesn't owe us this. We've both called; we've both emailed. I guess he's busy. What does she expect us to do, squat down and produce the guy?

I read her email and shrugged. I just don't give a rat's ass. I appear to have run out, and I'm not planning to travel to Detroit to stock up anytime soon. It's not Best Practices.

*It's "Whom"
****Mostly quit
*****All quit

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Egg Salad: Ambrosia of the Gods

Are you an egg salad fan? Well, if not, you should be. Here's some information to get you going.

Egg salad is the only sandwich filling that may legitimately be served on white bread, for the existence of which there is no other excuse. But only if the sandwich is cut diagonally and held together with frilly toothpicks.

The best way to cut up eggs for egg salad is using a pastry cutter. You can also use two table knives, but a pastry cutter chops them up much more finely and evenly, much more quickly. You don't want big chunks of white in your egg salad. Yuck!

You can make egg salad with chopped celery, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and paprika, but only if you're a frou-frou bitch. And you don't get to eat that on white bread. Real egg salad is made with mayonnaise, yellow mustard, sweet relish (NOT dill), and a little salt and pepper.

When making egg salad, you should allow about one egg per sandwich. Proper hardboiling technique is to put the eggs in a pan of cold water, bring it to a boil, then turn off the heat, cover, and allow to sit for ten minutes. If you plunge the eggs into ice water as soon as they're done, the shells will peel off a lot more easily.

Yes, making egg salad causes your whole house to smell like a big fart. But that's because things that give great happiness are obtained only at great cost.

The weather out is beautiful. Open a window.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

I'm from Alaska!

This post guest-written by Magda Silhavy

My brothers Edwin, Dumas and I (and a few distant cousins) went to see 30 Days of Night today. It's not really my kind of film - I generally prefer movies without quite so much decapitation - but I had to see how our hometown would fare. I haven't been home in so long! It's been months since we snoeshoed merrily along the lanes, waving cheerfully to our neighbors, cold but happy, our bellies full of Nyuk-Nyuk's delicious polar bear stew, not a care in the world.

I tell you what, we leave for a few months and the whole place goes to hell.

It didn't look quite right, though. Of course the long night casts unfamiliar shadows over everything, and the vampires and all the screaming were a bit distracting. But where was City Hall? Where was Nyuk-Nyuk's house? And our houses? And the historic district, where Dumas wants them to build a Super Wal-Mart? And where was Barrow High???

(Goooooo Pharaohs!)

They weren't there, and I'll tell you why: It was filmed entirely in New Zealand!

Outrageous, but at least it clears up the question of what strange language the vampires were speaking. It must have been Maori.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Oh, Go Eat a Cow

Happy Birthday, October babies! We had a potluck lunch at work in your honor today. Maybe you weren't there, but I was thinking of you. Well, a couple of you, anyway. I don't know about the rest of you people.

I do not like this new tradition (there's an oxymoron for you) pushed by the panicmonger boss, because what it of course ends up being is a monthly staff meeting, with food that we have to buy and/or cook, scheduled during our lunch hour. We're supposed to have them even on months where there are no birthdays, which is supposed to be more fun, but kind of diminishes the meaning a bit, don't you think?

The panicmonger is a vegetarian, which of course is fine. What is slightly less fine is that she has stated, and appears to be absolutely serious about this, that everyone must bring only vegetarian dishes to these potlucks. Which we have to attend. And sit through her damn demoralizing staff meeting. On our own time. "You can eat meat for lunch 30 days a month," she wrote in an email. "You can be vegetarian for one lunch!"

Almost everybody brought meat today.

The panicmonger was displeased, and she's not above a little sulk. She had forgotten the event and brought her own lunch anyway, so she ate that. One woman had made a casserole with meat, but also thoughtfully prepared a meatless version; and what with that, another couple of vegetarian entrees, salads, and sides, there were plenty of completely meat-free options available anyway. But the panicmonger wouldn't touch anything, and kvetched quite a bit about all the meat there, and how from now on nobody better bring any more. She was joking, but clearly a bit pissed. "When I interview Robbie's replacement," she said, "the first question I'm going to ask is, 'Do you eat meat?'"

"And ask how old they are, and if they're married or have any kids!" I chimed in.

What are you going to do? I had a couple of other thoughts on teamwork in today's meeting, neither one of which seemed to please her very much:

"We put the 'fusion' in 'confusion'!"


"You can't spell 'team' without 'meat'!"

I can has new job now?

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Getting Nailed

At Cuba Libre, on Thursdays, from 5 till 10 pm, you can get a martini and a manicure for $10. The martini by itself is $5. The manicure is, well, a $5 manicure.

Don't go with a guy friend. I went with Cheryl's Bitch. If you're having your nails painted, ladies, you get the old polish removed (sort of), a very cursory filing and buffing, a base coat and two coats of colored polish, then a quick squirt of cuticle oil on each finger.

Cheryl's Bitch got lotion, buffing, cuticle treatment, and a hand massage, and even though we sat down at the same time, I had to wait for him at least five minutes after I was done. And the beauty salon is supposed to be a woman's domain. It's so unfair!

It sounds glamorous, but there's something very sordid about getting your nails done: all the half-full bottles with dried polish caked around the caps, the damp folded towel under your hands, the bright fluorescent lights, the bored nail technician, who is authorized by her position to bark at you not to mess up your nails when she's done. You slink away from her station, chastened, taking exaggerated care not to touch anything with the fragile works of art she's wrought upon your fingertips.

In short, you kind of need the martini. It helps.

But what I really came away wondering is, what kind of drink would be offered with a pedicure?

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Thrill of the Chase

Isn't job hunting fun? As long as you don't have to, of course.

Wending my way along the hike-and-bike trail at lunch today, I remembered how I felt when I first walked there at midday, not quite two years ago, and how everything was new and full of promise and I wasn't worried or upset or unhappy about anything, just dizzy with elation to be out of Corpus and that miserable job. And next thing I knew, without any effort, my life was suddenly full of friends and fun, so it didn't matter that the job itself was fairly dull.

Same trail, same beautiful weather. But it's autumn now, not spring; and all my friends have moved on. I sat in Billy's spot by the water, next to the bat bridge, and watched a very tiny spider carefully negotiating the hairs on my arm for half an hour or so. I was thinking about the things that change on their own with time, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, as opposed to the matters you take into your own hands and change for yourself.

So I updated my resume today. And I applied for a job! Outside the agency! Granted, it was a listing from, so I'll probably get bait-and-switched into interviewing for a position as an entry-level porn viewing booth attendant. Well, I've had worse jobs. I'm not looking in Corpus, anyway.

Maybe next week I'll start looking in the real job postings!

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sweet Nothings

The fast approach of Halloween brings candy to mind. Plus Anna just gave me a little bag of M&Ms. I ate the green ones first.

What are your feelings on candy corn? It's one of my favorites, even though - or perhaps because - it's just like eating little candles made with sugar. I've seen candy corn-shaped candles, actually, in a few of those whimsical home-decor catalogs the mail-order gods keep sending me, the kind that cater to people who actually put up different curtains for Christmas, and who buy light-up outdoor resin gooses that come with a different weather-resistant outfit for every imaginable holiday.

I would eat them. The candles, I mean.

The worst kind of candy is probably those little bland taffy ones that come wrapped in orange or black wax paper. Or there are worse candies, but the taffy ones look like they ought to be good, so they're much more disappointing. I bet if you dug through your attic or basement and found a candy bag from your childhood, there would still be a bunch of those left in the bottom. They're the ones you unwrap and eat, reluctantly, after all the other candy is gone; but you can never manage more than one. They taste kind of gross, but mostly it's because your mouth is cemented shut.

Anything chocolate is generally good, although this doesn't include Tootsie Rolls, if those are indeed chocolate. What exactly are those things? I've never figured it out. Not worth the trouble of chewing, in any case. And Three Musketeers are not really chocolate; technically they are members of the air family, along with Cool Whip, cotton candy, and spray insulation. M&Ms are good, especially because they now have blue and red, which they didn't have when I was a kid.

When I was in high school we worked out what effect all the different colors had on you. I don't need to tell you what green does, everybody knows that one. Yellow made you frightened, and orange made you angry. Dark brown made you need to visit the restroom. Hey, we were kids. Besides, that's not nearly as bad as the effect the light brown ones were supposed to have when tossed at my French teacher - if only you could land it in her cleavage from way in the back of the room.

I know that sounds terrible. But she was the only woman I ever knew who could show cleavage in a turtleneck; and besides, her pronunciation was inexcusable.

Last year we were living in an apartment. This year we're in a house on a nice street about two blocks from the elementary school. Better stock up!

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Half Crazy

If you sometimes need to take a mental health day, and I needed one today, but I only took a half-day, does that mean I'm only half-crazy? Or look on the positive side. I'm half-sane!

Robbie sent me a picture of his desk phone at his new job. It looks just like the ones we used to have at USDM! They have speakerphones, caller ID, hold buttons, call waiting, call forwarding, conference calling, all kinds of crazy shit. Can you imagine? They get to use the internet any time they want, as long as they get their work done! And, if they sometimes have to leave early, it's no big deal because they're salaried, with the understanding that every so often they'll have to work late to finish a project or attend an important meeting. As long as nobody's skipping out early on a regular basis, and everybody's job is getting done, everything's copacetic. I mean, my God. It almost sounds like - I don't want to make anybody faint here - but it sounds almost like the people in charge believe the employees are responsible adults!!!

Crazy, isn't it?

Also crazy was last night's cold front. It's been cool enough at night, the last week or so, to sleep with the windows open, which is nice except that Dave and other woodland animals are scampering, scuttling and crunching around in the leaves and grass in the backyard, which always makes me think that bad guys are lurking right outside the window. And of course, as close to South Congress as we are, it's entirely possible there are a few drunken bassists on the loose back there. But last night, around 3:30am, I woke to a deafening roar of sudden wind and rain. Do you know how they always say an approaching tornado sounds like a freight train? I assume they mean minus the horn, but it was loud enough to freak me out a little. I was glad my street is fairly low on the hill that slopes down to the creek; this morning, all my plants seemed to have survived, but every street in the neighborhood was littered with sodden leaves and branches and debris.

Ongoing rain and the sudden chill pretty much scuttled my plans of riding my new bike to work this morning. Ain't she purty?

That's a very kind early Christmas present from my dad. I haven't gotten to the store to buy a U-lock yet, which is why, you may observe, the bike is on the inside of my house.

I was at sixes and sevens without Robbie there, so for lunch I just came home, where I found all four cats blissfully cuddled up on the bed, snoozing off the cold and rainy weather, and realized it was absolutely necessary for me to brew up a fresh pot of coffee and join them.

What? I'm not crazy.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saying Goodbye

How could you leave and not take me?

At least I have the weekend to build myself up to what will be a bit of a rough Monday. We had a fun happy hour - or two, or three, or four, or five or six - last night - what I remember of it, anyway. When I woke up in the morning I had a few questions, such as: who was that guy? What are these odd marks on my neck? Where did I get this bracelet? Why doesn't everyone always eat leftover manicotti for breakfast? And where the hell is my car?

No, just kidding: my car was parked on Nueces next to Little Woodrow's, where I put it before the drinking commenced, because Tony was kind enough to take me home. And I got to visit with my fun friend Kevin, whom I haven't gotten to see since Eeyore's! And spending time with Robbie is always a blast. And I would have had an even better time if it weren't for the fact that I am (apparently) not as young as I think I am, so drinking too much just makes me want to go home and get some sleep; not, as Robbie had planned, go to that new dance club that has an aquarium dance floor with sharks in it, so just to be on the safe side I didn't wear stiletto heels. Well, maybe next weekend. Edwin will be in town, so we're all going to see 30 Days of Night, as it's set in our hometown of Barrow, and we're pretty sure Nyuk-Nyuk has a minor role.

But who was that guy?

That's the least of my worries. According to today's mail, it looks like Chadwick's is calling it quits on my sorry ass:


Is this really goodbye? were once ranked among our best customers but, unfortunately, we'll have to say goodbye if you don't order from us soon.

Oh no, not The Talk.
We've done all we can to bring you the best offers, continuously updating our classics for a more modern appeal while keeping the price right for you. But I still have not heard from you and I'm afraid THIS COULD BE YOUR VERY LAST CATALOG.

Oh God. It's true. How could I have been such a selfish pig? They've done everything for me, everything, and what have I ever given them in return?

In fact, have I ever placed an order with them?? I don't think I have. I'm such an ungrateful bitch.
Let's start over!
To encourage you to give us another try, we've made an exclusive final offer just for you.

It's more than I deserve, I know.
Remember, this may be your LAST CATALOG if I do not hear from you.
(P.S.: We don't want to bother you with unwanted catalogs... by ordering today and taking advantage of this great 40% off coupon, we'll know you want to keep receiving our mailings.)

They know me so well. Here they've been providing me with months upon years of window-shopping enjoyment, sending me catalogs full of pictures of clothes I am occasionally mildly interested in the possibility of purchasing, and what have I ever done for them? Nothing! Oh, Chadwick's. How could I treat you like this?

Wait just a minute. What the hell kind of way is this for them to talk to a valued customer? Threats and guilt trips and self-righteous ultimatums? I'm special, goddammit. I'm smart and funny, pretty and loving and sweet. They should be begging to keep me. They should be on their knees. Why do I have to put up with this shit?

Ah, who am I kidding? I'll probably be on the phone Monday, placing an order. Robbie won't be there to talk me out of it.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Robbie's Last Day

Here I am at Robbie's desk. You can see the deep sorrow I feel at his imminent departure.

The problem with forbidden pleasures is that you're always so scared of getting caught that you can't really enjoy them. But you have to do it anyway, just to be able to say you did.

I'll write a long post about the saga of his last day later.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cosmic Harmony

Since we can't have the snake guy, I've been told to come up with a new topic for our December safety information session.

And I’m thinking: you know what? These sessions always deal with immediate physical safety: don’t fall into the path of oncoming 18-wheelers, don’t drink and drive, don’t spray yourself in the eye with caustic chemicals, don’t nap on the railroad tracks, don’t jump up and down on the roof waving a tire iron and screaming insults at the gods during an electrical storm, etc. etc. etc. And pretty much every topic has been covered multiple times already. But how much attention do we pay to the long-term, life- AND quality-of-life-threatening hazards of being out of harmony with our own selves and the world around us?

Except for my small work group, the people who attend these monthly safety sessions are all construction site inspectors and maintenance workers. They are grizzled. They chew tobacco. These guys wear steel-toed boots every day, not to mention belt buckles that cover more territory than some of my skirts. They purchase inner tranquility by the six-pack. I bet most of them can’t even spell “yoga.”

They need my help.

For the December session, I’d like to get someone to come in and speak on the importance of achieving personal balance with the cosmos. This person will dim the lights, put on a little Enya, burn incense, and talk in a gentle, sing-song voice about how to deal holistically with the challenges of day-to-day life. She or he might demonstrate some meditation and breathing techniques, and should also touch on the role of diet in your spiritual, as well as physical health; and how you should only eat local, organic, ethically produced foods.*

Achieving peace in one’s interpersonal relationships is also vitally important to a healthy psyche. Our speaker will give some tips for resolving conflict without violence, shouting, sulking, or withholding sex; and for responding sensitively – while not submissively – to the demands of one’s bosses and coworkers, friends and loved ones.

Our monthly safety meetings often have some freebies for everyone to take home. I’m thinking aromatherapy votives and lavender-scented eye pillows, here.

It’s perfect, don’t you think? Because not only will the session be of great service to the attendees, on a topic that hasn’t already been covered 800 million times, but it’s almost guaranteed that I will never be asked to plan one of these goddamn safety meetings again.

And the balance of the universe is thus restored.

*Except Smarties™

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Long Distance Relationships

I bet you don't remember TeleSuites. I can't find any very recent google results for them, but this article has a picture.

We had one of these installed at a company where I used to work. Conceptually it was really cool. You appeared to be sitting across a regular conference table from the other videoconferencing participants. (The ones who weren't actually there, I mean. Wouldn't make a lot of sense for them to tout how you'd appear to be in the same room with people who actually were in the same room, now, would it?)

But it was really expensive, the technology wasn't well-supported, and it often just didn't work; and you couldn't get the cool effect unless the people on the other end had the same equipment. A few fancy conference hotels around the country had suites installed, but not so many that participants wouldn't still end up having to travel to get to them. For any meeting larger than 10 or 15 people, you needed a larger suite with attendees in stadium seats, and you'd lose most of the effect of being in the same room. And of course if you had more than two sites participating, you had split screens; plus you had that awkward time delay and all the normal stuff that makes videoconferencing suck.

It's a pity, because it occurred to me today that we really need something like that for break now. Fortunately we have a fairly limited number of sites to conference in, because Billy and Sara are both in Colorado (which is just a big square, so I'm sure there's no appreciable travel time involved); Tony, Andrew, and Bryan are at Camp H; Thomas and Greg and Robbie (and me, if I get that job I applied for yesterday!) will be able to conference in from South Dallas; and that of course just leaves those of us at Riverside. Justin's the odd man out in College Station, so he only gets to participate by speakerphone.

That way each of us will just need a four-sided suite with an artificial metal pavilion roof and half an artificial picnic table up against each wall. There should be some artificial cigarette butts strewn about on the artificial concrete floor, for a touch of realism. And if we really wanted to go all out we could also have some CGI break spot intruders sitting at the tables when we turn on the equipment. They'd be programmed to look startled, cut their break short and slink guiltily away when we came swaggering in like we owned the place, which of course we would.

I suppose this seems a bit fanciful coming from someone who works for such a financially strapped organization she might end up having to barter her charms for office supplies. But hey. If nobody ever dreamed big, we'd never have companies like TeleSuite!

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Brown Paper Bags

One time, when I was seven or eight, my stepfather got me out of bed late at night because he had to take Mom to the emergency room. I remember her trembling, and snuggling up to her in the waiting room in my pajamas. It turned out she was having a panic attack. She was prone to those, and I guess maybe it's hereditary, though I don't get anything so severe: just, once in a while, a sickening sense of impending doom, a nasty case of the screaming heebie-jeebies in the middle of the night.

You know how people tend to establish balanced roles in their relationships? I mean, not just "relationship" relationships but any kind of ongoing interpersonal interaction. Anyway, for the last year or so I've been dealing with the panicmonger boss on a daily basis; but ever since Friday she's been calm and relaxed and cheerful. I don't know if she found another job or is just on some good drugs - or both - but maybe I'm picking up the slack, panicwise.

Or it's Robbie leaving, which will constitute a major upheaval in my daily life and is setting off some ass-kicking abandonment issues. Ugh, that terrible fear of rejection and loss and loneliness, of being left behind and unloved and unwanted... And even aside from missing him, it's just a big change, and change is scary.

Or perhaps it's a creeping terror of overwrought armchair psychology. Or it's Slappy White washing his unmentionable bits upwind of me on the bed. Or the lasagna I had for dinner.

Whatever it is, I can't sleep.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007


Another weekend, another first-grader's birthday party.

It's at Little Stacy Park, maybe half a mile from my house; but Anna doesn't want to walk. There's nothing more volatile than a six-year-old's temper in 90-degree heat. So we drive. At least we drive the flowery froggy Flying Spaghetti Monster-mobile, so we can still pass ourselves off as real Travis Heights residents.

The other moms look a lot like me: some older, some younger, but pretty much dressed about the same, only most of them have tattoos. These are the middle class of Travis Heights. Many of them have known each other for years, and most are actively involved with the PTA, which I'm not. They welcome me very politely, but I'm a stranger in their midst. They split up into small conversational groups, none of which I join, and chitchat about their kids, about early childhood learning patterns, about preschools, about waiting lists, about where to get the best coffee (Jo's), about their yoga classes and how to take a holistic approach to mental and physical wellness, and the challenge of finding inner peace when you have a house full of screaming toddlers.

Twenty small children line up to play Pin* the Tail on the Donkey, and all but three or four of them hit exactly the right spot. "I swear I blindfolded them," says the hostess mom, defensively, but I don't believe it. She's very cute. You can tell she's crazy about kids.

The destruction of the pinata was unusually orderly. This is a ritual which almost always involves a few near concussions. But these Travis Heights moms, I tell you what, they're on the ball, monitoring and controlling the line of kids and herding them back when they got too close. Cleverly, the hostess mom had put only a symbolic amount of candy in the actual pinata, and instead passed out pre-filled goody bags once the pinata was broken. These people know what they're doing.

Still, small children are small children, and towards the end of the hour-and-a-half party time, a few of the littler ones were melting down in fairly socially unpleasant ways, seizing toys, hitting each other, and generally behaving like nasty little sniveling brats. Kids do that, which is why most sane people try to avoid having more than two or three, tops. And I'm once again reminded of one of my favorite stories. It was Anna's fifth birthday, and Katie volunteered to fill out the invitations. She's fifteen now, and a born party animal. She filled out five or six invitations with "Time: 2PM 'til ???" before we caught and stopped her.

I got home before 5pm, thank God. I don't do well even with Austin small talk. ("So where do you work?" asked one of the moms at one point. "Oh, I'd really rather not say," I responded. She probably thought I was in marketing.) There are probably another sixteen kids at least in Anna's class. I hope most of them had their birthdays over the summer.


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Friday, October 12, 2007

The Perfect Evening

Could the frogs be any louder?

It's a beautiful night. I'm sitting on the front steps of my house, Romeo beside me, purring. He's a good old kitty. Even at thirteen and a half, there still aren't any grays or whites marring his perfect black tuxedo. He lives well. Slappy White is probably about a year younger, and he's got grays all over him, the nasty old reprobate.

It's an hour or so past sunset and almost full dark, but there's still a kiss of pink at the western edge of the sky. The frogs are going crazy. This is what you get for living maybe 200 yards from a creek. The temperature is perfect.

Work was strangely, maybe even eerily quiet today. Word was that yesterday afternoon, the panicmonger boss suggested cancelling a coworker's previously approved vacation due to the workload. We have this panic-level project going on, you see (as usual). Never mind that he's had the vacation approved for a couple of months, and made long-range travel plans around it, and it's supposed to start on Monday. These are treacherous times!

But that threat seems to have evaporated today, along with the usual aura of desperation that usually surrounds the boss in a 15-foot envelope. The panic-level project goes on. Robbie has given notice. The departure of at least a couple of the three new people is probably imminent. Yet she was cheerful, even smiling and joking. Has she gotten a good-news call, or merely accepted the inevitable? She's driven away a couple of my dearest friends, and not actually been a barrel of laughs for me; but I still can't help feeling really bad for her. She's had a rough time of it. I hope she finds somewhere that she, and everyone around her, can be happy. Management has not been a good fit for her. It wouldn't be for me, for that matter.

The rest of us took a couple of good, solid three-martini breaks, and didn't skimp on lunch either. It's Friday, and Robbie is leaving soon. The panic project is one that won't do us a whole lot more good if worked on in a frenzy than it would if completely ignored. So things are quiet.

Except for the frogs, those noisy bastards.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

...Wait, What?

The things you hear at work. My!

"My software skills just aren't up-to-date," sighed a coworker who had, inexplicably, stopped into Robbie's cube to chat with the two of us today. We'd never really spoken to him before. He works in the IT branch of our section. "I had to learn Access, SQL, all kinds of things. If I hadn't, they might have let me go.

"That's what happened to Tuck," he went on. "He didn't have very good skills, so they found some silly pretext to fire him on. It was really sad. Tuck was the last person who worked here I felt really close to."

Here Robbie and I had to refrain from looking at each other, because Tuck is the guy who became obsessed with our former cube neighbor Audrey, sent her an agonized four-page work email about how she was the first woman he'd ever cared for since his high school girlfriend had cravenly dumped him 30 years before, and made remarks indicating he might be a danger to himself and to others; and in the course of the ensuing formal investigation, went transportational and made death threats against the division head, which led to the long string of bored security guards we had cooling their heels near our work area for several months. This was a pretext?

Our coworker went on at some length. I hate to discourage friendliness, but my mumbled hints at really needing to get back to my desk to check on a project were going unnoticed, and for reasons I won't get into, the only way out of Robbie's cube was over the wall. We murmured politely and looked at the floor and smiled. Awkward!

He told us about where he went to school, his childhood, and where he was born. "I was the result of a broken condom!" he informed us cheerfully.

Robbie and I once again did not look at each other.

Eventually we did escape - or were released, I should say; we didn't go over the wall. I wonder what Robbie will do in a week and a half, when he finds himself suddenly working among lots of normal people. Will he be able to adapt? What if there isn't anyone ridiculous there? He'll be off balance.

What if they have a sensible business strategy there? How will he cope? As I was getting ready to leave, I heard someone in my neighbor's cubicle expressing frustration over a project we've been working on. Management wants immediate action, but have little idea exactly what that action should be. (Of course I'm aware that mindset is not at all unique to my agency, because if it were, there'd be no such thing as Dilbert.)

"Which direction we're going in is going to determine a lot of which direction we go," remarked the woman in my neighbor's cube. I wrote it down right away. You never know when the agency might decide to hold a competition to come up with a new motto.

I'd split the prize money with Robbie.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cap'n's Log Arrr-dditional

Black Robbie’s creditors complete our fears;
They've seized him bodily to pay arrears.
“Pirates’ worth,” snarled they, “be down!
Ye’ll fetch more booty in Georgetown.”
Now Bess sails lonely on this sea o’ tears, arrr!

I guess that means I'm the captain, then. But dammit! When I said I'd be interested in going down, I didn't mean with the ship!


So, speaking of things that desert sinking ships, Robbie gave notice today; his last day is the 19th, and everyone is invited to the happy hour. I don’t know where it will be yet. Either I’ll notify everyone of the location, or you can just drive around to different bars and listen for double entendres, shouts of "Arrrrrr," and the occasional cry of, “Urban planning! Woohoo!!!”

I'll be the one in the corner, crying into my grog.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Who's on Crack?

Somebody where I work is on crack, but I don't like to say anything, just in case it turns out to be me.

A few months ago, I was assigned to plan a safety training session for a group that my section belongs to. We all have to attend these things about once a quarter, and they're always dull as dirt. They are, in fact, so dull that sometimes the guest presenters don't bother showing up; and when that happens, we all have to sit through the work-zone safety film "One Step from Death" AGAIN.

After you've seen this film six or seven times, you start rooting for the cement mixer. Kill! Kill! Kill!

"You're creative," my boss told me when the session was assigned to me to plan. "These meetings are always so dull. I know you can do something much better. Let's show 'em!"

If that doesn't translate into "Hire a snake guy," I'd like to know what does.

My boss, as it turns out, is terrified of snakes. Fair enough: she doesn't have to attend. But she seems to have a certain odd hangup about letting other people do something she personally wouldn't enjoy, and she's also very anxious about doing everything as much by the book as she can manage. If there's not a book for her to go by, she'll get somebody to write one. So even though this snake guy has done multiple safety presentations for other groups in our organization, she decided (though I was supposed to be the one planning this) to take initiative and send an email to the Legal folks, and ask if they were okay with us hiring someone to bring a couple dozen venomous snakes to a safety meeting.

Legal wrote back that they were not sure this was such a good idea.

"Well, forward the email to me," I told my boss, "and I'll talk to them, I'll see if I can straighten it out."

So I wrote back to them, and explained the situation in more detail. I sent the snake guy's long and impressive list of references, mentioned that he does this for schoolchildren and birthday parties, for heaven's sake, and assured them that it was completely safe. Not to mention cool as shit; but I didn't think they'd care about that.

Nothing doing. I'm sure they wouldn't have taken any notice of it if they hadn't been outright asked for their written permission. I talked to a woman from one of the groups he's presented to several times in the past, and she said it had simply never occurred to her to clear it with Legal, because she didn't consider there to be any safety issue. "Snakes can't fly, you know," she informed me.

I knew that.

Anyway, while I was on vacation, Legal wrote back to my boss again reiterating that they could not give their blessing, so it's off. My boss came into my cube today and sat down heavily.

"I got in so much trouble with my boss about the snake guy," she sighed, closing her eyes and shaking her head. "She was so mad. We shouldn't have handled it the way we did. I'm not blaming you, but you never should have contacted Legal. We never should have asked. We should have just planned it, and now we can't. You should never have - we should never have emailed them."

She left me with a bit of a dazed look on my face, I guess. Wait a minute. Am I dreaming? Is she on crack? Did she just chew me out for what she did? What the hell kind of Howard Johnson's is this?!?

So I emailed the snake guy, apologized profusely, explained as much of the situation as I could, and regretfully informed him that we'd have to cancel. I did not use the word "dumbasses" at any point, and I'm rather proud of my self-control; aren't you? He wrote back that he was surprised and disappointed, and that in twenty years of doing this he's never had a presentation cancelled for safety reasons. He didn't use the word "dumbasses" either, but he didn't really need to.

Anyway, this is a terribly long lead-up to the two important questions blazing in the forefront of my brain tonight:

1. Am I on crack?
2. Should I be?

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Californians in White Shoes

Have you ever been to the mall on a Sunday afternoon? Well, let me tell you what: a lot of people there are wearing white shoes. You heard me. Yes, I know it's after Labor Day! They are wearing them anyway!!!

I've been to the mall twice, actually, in the last year or so, not counting today. But it was during the week on my lunch hour. The mall isn't so bad if you're just skipping merrily through with visions of the Apple store dancing in your head. Or there's Payless Shoes, or Bath and Body Works. The rest of it seems fairly unnecessary; and if it were razed, the site would be great for an observatory.

Or would have been, before all those goddamn Californians moved here and turned our beautiful, unspoiled Hill Country into an electricity-guzzling, SUV-infested, McMansion-studded suburban dystopia.

I went with Cheryl's Bitch, who introduced me to corners of the mall I'd never visit under my own power. Aveda, for instance, where they serve you a cup of hot herbal tea when you walk in the door, and offer you a relaxing hand massage when you're checking out. I glance nervously around for undercover cops, but apparently it's legit.

We also went into Abercrombie & Fitch. They have some really yummy cologne wafting through the ventilation system, so the whole store smells like a guy I'd like to f***; yet based on the photos of the models surrounding all the displays, and on many of the customers I saw, I don't think I'm the target market's type.

And speaking of targets, Cheryl's Bitch was originally supposed to take me to the firing range today. He called later on to say that the range was closed, but I suspect he was just scared I'd pull a Dick Cheney. It's not like I've ever fired anything besides an air rifle before, and that was over twenty years ago and I never really quite got the knack of it to begin with. And I have been in a pretty bad mood lately.

So he suggested a nice spot of swimming at Barton Springs. Fair enough. I wouldn't have time to get by the Bazaar to get a new bikini top; mine's a few years old and never fit that well, and could give without warning at any moment. But what the hell, it's Barton Springs, so it's not like it would really matter.

But then he decided it was cloudy and suggested the mall, and so to the mall we went. We did count at least four women wearing white shoes, so it's just as well he wasn't armed.

But the idea's been planted in my head now. I've never fired a gun before. I want to shoot something!

Lucky for you I'm not a Republican.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

Our section at work, 45 people in all, has a budget of $1000 for office supplies for the newly-begun fiscal year. So an immediate moratorium has been issued against anybody printing anything. Paper is expensive.

"Go paperless," management exhorts us; the year, last I checked, is after all 2007. Bringing the agency into the 20th century seems like the least we can do. Unfortunately, my particular group relies heavily on printed engineering construction plans to do our job. The other groups in our section can go more or less paperless; we really can't.

We're going to need more money.

So I've been bouncing around a few ideas for how to raise office supply money for our section. We could hold a bake sale, but bake sales never raise all that much; and besides the lobby of my building is already crowded with the cakes and pies and brownies that other divisions are constantly selling to raise money for their retirement gatherings or holiday parties or summer cookoffs. Frivolous bastards.

But there are other items that agency employees might be tempted to buy. All the outdoor break areas on campus have standing ash receptacles, but they're at least two to three feet from the picnic tables, with the result that the ground is always littered with cigarette butts. So some thoughtful soul has added empty coffee cans to the middle of each table. But I propose we take it a step further. I think we should sew up little flame-retardant feedbag-like devices that the smokers could hook over their ears. That way they wouldn't have to reach all the way over to a coffee can to ash: it would just fall neatly right into the bag. And when the cigarette was finished, they could just let it drop from their lips! It should also have pockets on the outside for a cigarette pack and lighter. Ideally, it would have a little motorized arm to put a fresh cigarette in your mouth and light it for you, but remember that I am a state employee; that technology is a bit beyond me.

Carwashes are a popular fundraising activity. Our campus is located in the perfect spot, at a major, central intersection, for someone bubbly and cheerful to stand and wave a dot-lettered posterboard sign. The only problem with this scheme is that most of the employees in our section don't look their best in bikinis, and many can't tolerate direct sunlight.

How about a bachelor auction? Those are always fun. We could have an entenderific tagline like "Win a chance to sleep with Darth!" (This is a bit of an inside joke, as Darth is sleeping about half the time, or at least I think he's sleeping - it's hard to tell, since he also snores when awake.) Ladies who are watching their waistline might bid on a chance to be taken to the state cemetery on a totally calorie-free lunch date by Coworker-You-Idiot (he did this once, really, to an unsuspecting visitor). Or we could auction off a romantic evening with the Phantom Pharter. I'm not sure what women would pay to do with him, but it would probably entail being in a different room.

Perhaps those gentlemen not comfortable with participating in a bachelor auction would be willing to pose for a "Men of the Agency" calendar. Darth, for one, has been spotted napping in some fairly photogenic poses. And Dreamboat would probably leap at the opportunity to wear a Speedo to work. It's too bad Audrey's stalker got fired; he's in a group photo of the division from several years back which is hanging up in the kitchen, and he definitely had a certain je-ne-sais-WHAT?!?

But calendars have to be printed, generally on paper, which is unfortunately out of the question. So I'll keep trying to come up with ideas.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Rendre Puissant!

There's something about work-related stress that always makes me want to speak French. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the fact that the French have 35-hour workweeks? Or that at least one major French employer's company cafeteria, I have it on very good authority, serves wine with lunch? Or does stress simply bring out an otherwise latent desire to quit shaving my underarms?

Whatever the case, it's best for everyone concerned if I don't undergo too much stress at work. For one thing, I don't speak French.

The poor panicmonger. I hate it when bad things happen to people you don't like, because then you have to feel sorry for them. But whatever else you can say about her, you have to admit, she doesn't hoard bad tidings. She's great at delegating, and we should be grateful; because, as you may know if you've ever taken a Fred Pryor seminar, delegating is the same thing as empowerment.

We're so empowered, we should all be shooting lasers out our butts.

But today was not a banner day for the panicmonger. Her boss gave her a pointless project which largely entailed duplicating a lot of research already done by another group. She was not allowed access to this research, so she had to do it all over again herself in order to answer the questions the other group had raised. Fortunately she immediately empowered all of us to handle the situation for her, and went home in a snit.

It kept me so busy, I barely made it to break. Sacrebleu!

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Shoes cure all ills.

Well - most ills. Okay, some ills. Well, they make you feel a bit better if your bike's been stolen. If you get two pairs. That is, if they're really sexy and cute and adorable and show off your legs to nice advantage, especially if they don't make your feet hurt, because a painful new blister puts a bit of a damper on things, frankly; and if your teenage daughter says "Oooh!" and snatches them out from under you and tries them on the second you get home, that's not so good either, especially if she's the kind of teenaged daughter who hides eggshells in her underwear drawer, which as a matter of fact she is; don't even ask.

God damn it. Qualifiers ruin everything.

A couple of margaritas with a friend you haven't seen in a long time are also nice. My former cube neighbor Audrey stopped by work late this afternoon, and I ended up tagging along with her and my coworker Jason for appetizers and drinks. If you don't know who I'm talking about, Audrey is the one who "pulled an Audrey" a few months ago, blowing up at the panicmonger and walking off the job. "I hope you don't mind too much that we coined a phrase about you," I told her.

She understood.

She was a little less philosophical when Jason told her that the the raunchy naked-guy pictures the IT guys found on her computer were the talk of the department. This seemed to strike her as a little unfair, inasmuch as they were not actually her pictures, but a friend's, uploaded from a company laptop for her to send along later; which had been more or less forgotten, and which she had not really thought to delete.

To tell the truth I was a little surprised at how strongly she reacted to this. "Oh my God," she said, "those pictures? Oh my God. Those weren't even my pictures. Those bastards. Those bastards!"

They were some pretty good pictures.

I had a great time, really a great time; funny. Funny how she and I weren't really that close, yet there was a certain comfort between us that was really fun to revisit. Funny how there are people, dearer to me, to whom I feel much closer, but with whom I'm not nearly so much at ease. Funny how we could have a blast talking and laughing and catching up, yet it didn't really create any more of an emotional bond between us than there was before. Is that how sex is for men, I wonder?

I don't know if she's really any better off for having pulled an Audrey. Same shit, different employer. I really wish her the best, though.

She does have a fine appreciation for a really cute pair of shoes.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Just Wanted to Share

If you can sing in perfect harmony with four orifices at once, you don't need to be able to dance.

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