Wednesday, April 30, 2008

This Is Only a Test

The other day I was at lunch with two good friends, one of whom is licensed to carry a concealed dachsund. "Can you drive with your wiener in your hand?" asked Diane as we headed out to the restaurant.

"Oh, I do it all the time," he replied casually. "Would you like to hold my wiener?"

"Just put it here between my legs," she said.

One of the reasons Diane is such a cool friend is that, when she's around, I can take a load off* without worrying that any entenuendres** will fall through the cracks.* No: she's all over that.* She's also cool because she buys me lunch when I'm broke.

My earlier freakings about not having anything to do at work now that conference is over appear to have been groundless. For one thing, I'm tasked with writing all the thank-you letters to all the sponsors, a task which alone could keep me pretty well occupied until the time comes to dive full-speed into next year's conference. I've written so many thank-you letters today that I can hardly see straight. This is not to imply ingratitude in any way, it's just that I feel as if I'd just gotten married. Well, except I don't have to exchange anything. Not even the groom!

We also got hit by a somewhat unseasonal hurricane, which kept me very busy with emergency response personnel. This was just a mockup. In the event of an actual emergency, I would have consumed significantly more coffee. I almost had to deliver a mockup baby on the mockup highway over email today, which, let me tell you, never happened in my old job.

If people would just keep their wieners to themselves, I wouldn't have to worry about this sort of thing.

*heh heh
**An absolutely breathtaking portmanteau of "insinuate" and "entendre." Whoever said you shouldn't get all your linguistics from The Daily Show?

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Now What?

A hailstorm is scary when you have a metal roof. It sounds like the 872,435 Hamsters of the Apocalypse. And your outdoor plants look like they've been munched on by same.

It's strangely quiet back at work today. I am no longer sure exactly what it is that I do; and just when I was really getting the hang of it, too. I'm told there's a lot of back work that's been waiting until conference was over and that I'll be extremely busy. Well, tomorrow's another day.

What is fun, and really nice, is an influx of emails I've gotten from people I've just met, and with whom I'll be working closely in the future. They're a cool bunch, and very friendly, and so gosh-darned happy to make my acquaintance, I feel like I have a whole new family! And who couldn't use a whole new family? The 67 hours I put in last week are excellent practice for the time management skills I'll need to juggle my new double life, too.

Welcome to whoever you are at the City of Beaumont who has apparently stumbled across this blog, by the way. I hope it's clear that I had a wonderful time there and really hit it off with everyone I met, no matter what odd grammatical constructions they may have used. It was loads of fun, and I feel very lucky for my first conference to have been such a good one!

Best of all is that the weather kept nice for us all week, only raining briefly on us while we were on the buses, and keeping the really scary stuff for when we got home, safely under our own, gawdawfully noisy metal roof.

I really should have brought the plants inside.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tasting the Kool-Aid

I've heard that expression so much lately. I heard it for the very first time in Corpus about three years ago - Crazy Jimmy used to say it, but I didn't understand the reference; and from the context I assumed it meant to wise up to the way things really are - to have one's eyes opened, as it were. I assumed the reference was to the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, so "tasting the Kool-Aid" would mean becoming enlightened. Right?

Right, apparently; but the meaning has shifted. I didn't hear the expression again for a couple of years, and now suddenly it's everywhere. Now it mostly seems to mean becoming indoctrinated, specifically into something bad or dangerous. This has taken some getting used to. I'm pleased to note that my original assumption was correct, though.

Anyway, I heard it Friday from a manager in my division who had not gone to conference this year. I was waiting outside for my ride home, and he stopped by and asked me how it had gone. "It was awesome, everything went great!" I beamed (okay, look, I had to be "on" all damn week, and hadn't quite managed to shut off the bubble machine yet), and he gave a knowing little laugh, and said, "Oh, tasted the Kool-Aid, have you?"

I should certainly say not. Unless he meant it the other way.

Here's another interesting idiomatic note: in Beaumont, our CVB contacts, I noticed, used "whenever" in place of the word "when" in the past tense. Like so:

"Whenever I was a kid we used to go on picnics here all the time."

And I thought that was really interesting because my very dear friend and office-mate in Corpus, Denisey, used to do the same thing. Maybe a Gulf Coast regional variation? I don't remember ever hearing that anywhere else. I can't remember anyone in Corpus besides Denise saying that; but then, she was really the only lifelong, native Corpuscle I ever spent much time with.

I didn't drink any Kool-Aid in Beaumont. It doesn't have caffeine.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Christmas in April

The best thing about industry tradeshows is that they give you coffee mugs, and when you get home, you can drink coffee out of those mugs: real coffee, ground immediately before brewing, with plenty of real cream and sugar.

This morning's celestially blissful cup comes courtesy of the East Texas Oil Museum. Thank you! Well, it's not actually that great. It's not strong enough; I guess I'm out of practice. But that's not you guys' fault.

You're at the tradeshow to network, and they're there to increase exposure; but the most obvious result of this process is that you come home with lots and lots and lots and lots of stuff. Or rather, you don't come home with the stuff. There's way too much stuff for you to carry. So there's a mail-back area in the back of the arena where you pack large boxes full of the stuff and they ship it to you at work or home. Naturally there are reams upon reams of literature, and so many business cards that, if they were one-dollar bills, you could buy a mound of cocaine the size of Greenland. But there's also the stuff: tape measures, miniature tool kits, pins, clips, wristbands, magnets, flashlights, and squishy stress toys; mugs and travel mugs, water bottles, T-shirts, koozies, caps, toiletry bags and tote bags; beach bags, beach mats, and cooler bags; bottles of honey and hot sauce, bags of popcorn and spiced pretzel mix, and jars of salsa and pickled tomatoes; picture frames, calculators, pedometers, and little portable fans; stuffed animals, pink cap guns, and a hat in the shape of a winged pig; fresh-cut roses, and wildflower and herbs starter kits; and ooh, here's a really clever one: flash drives, emblazoned with the presenter's logo, and preloaded with information about the organization.

The boxes beat me home; so yesterday afternoon, when I really wanted to lie down and take a 36-hour power nap, Anna instead made me open them up and go through everything. She immediately claimed the pig hat, which is pretty cute.

I'd still be sleeping, but Eric went to his grandma's yesterday and left his alarm clock set. So thank God (well, thank the East Texas Oil Museum) for the coffee mugs. All our dishes are dirty.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Rest of the Story

- yesterday morning, when the sponsored breakfast for the whole conference involved a skit for which they forced first-time attendees from the audience to participate in front of everyone.

We had to be a bunch of hungover fur trappers doing "YMCA" karaoke. Maybe you had to be there.

Yesterday there was a bunch of other stuff too, and today was the big day (for me anyway) with the high-profile events, and they went off flawlessly, but I am not claiming credit because the hotel staff here TOTALLY ROCKS, I am so serious, omigod you guys, you would not EVEN believe how awesome they are.


But you know, it's all over and I feel kind of let down. We've been working full-time on this since I started the new job. And now I will not be working with the host city contact anymore, or this hotel, and oh I don't know, it's kind of depressing. Unfortunately the dinner/dance (which the host city planned) quieted way down very early. Everybody's just exhausted, I think. I partied more last night. But the hospitality suite opens at midnight and I plan to go back down. And I did manage to get some dancing in, after making sure that the videographer had gone off duty.

It'll be good to go home tomorrow, and I don't think I'll go to Eeyore's this weekend, OR the Georgetown Red Poppy Festival, which those of you in the South Dallas region definitely need to check out; one of the coolest people in the world is involved in planning it and I bet it'll be awesome, maybe even as awesome as the staff of this hotel. Which, ooh! That reminds me! I met Robbie's coworker at the Travel Fair and she seems really cool, a very cute redhead (gentlemen prefer blondes, but Robbie apparently likes redheads better) but I was so exhausted I totally forgot to say "Psssha" to her. Honestly, it's the way I am after this week, I need to buy some peroxide.

See, they got a DJ downstairs who doesn't know how to read the crowd, is a big part of the problem. Anyway I will probably go back down and maybe wheedle another drink ticket out of my dear friend the CVB contact whom I may never see again (sniffle).

On the other hand, it is a Hawaiian luau-themed party, so yes: I have gotten leid while attending this conference. Thank you.

It's night. I'm never tired at night. It's the mornings that kick my ass.

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Wasted Days and Wasted Nights

Not really, I've been doing so much, like, omigod you guys, I am sooooooooooooo tired.

Okay. Tuesday I was on by 6:30, breakfast at 7, on the buses at 8, 7 stops and 3 drive-by tours, lunch and dinner, coordinating videos and step-on guides on the bus and making announcements, back at the hotel at about 9pm, check my room set-up for the following morning, go find a banquet manager to make a small change, visit the hospitality suite, back to my room about 10pm.

I was wiped, if you can believe it. Oh and get this, they delivered bed down gifts Tuesday afternoon and they left my door unlatched and the sleeping room doors are not self-closing - in fact they swing open - so I get back to my room at 10 and the door is just wide open. Hello! iBook on my desk and iPod in my backpack and all!! Thank goodness nothing was messed with, but we're having a little word with the hotel about that at the post-con.

Okay. So yesterday it was general session in the morning, and I did not hate the speaker anywhere near as much as I expected to - she was actually pretty funny - but still a motivational speaker, so it can only be so good of course. That being over we boarded the buses and went for lunch, an afternoon of quickie little tourlets, and a dine-around with a couple of bars downtown. This was really fun. Saw a gator wedding..

Now, there were three buses, right? Mine was Gator Green. You have to come up with a cheer. Not my idea; cheers never are, but my boss' boss was on my bus and she was pretty insistent, so we came up with, and last night at the final bar performed, in a cheer-off with the other two buses, which I would like to point out that we won, the following:

Clap four times and shout, "Go Green!
We're hot! (We're hot!)
You're not! (You're not!)
We're mean! (We're mean!)
We're green! (We're green!)
That's right! (That's right!)
We got bite! (We got bite!)
So get back on your bus! And don't you mess with us!
Don't be a hater, cause we're the Green Gators!
Na na na na, na na na na, Green Gators, Number One! (repeat a few times)
Woo Hoo!!! (etc.)

Okay, so we did that at the bar, but there were a whole bunch of us - a busload, not to put too fine a point on it - but back up to yesterday morning, when -

Okay, I'll continue this later, I gots ta go, yo.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008


By the end of yesterday, the lack of coffee had left me with a blinding headache. One of the conference-goers tendered ibuprofen and advice: while the substance they call coffee, provided with the in-room coffeemaker, is, of course, completely undrinkable - especially when further tainted with that powdery white stuff which some people use for no better reason than that it renders "coffee" roughly the same color that cream does - the tea is not actually bad. So I am brewing a cup now. God knows I have to do something. Just look at the time! And I'm already showered and dressed and everything.

It's organic tea. Hopefully it will turn out all right, because I can't follow the instructions:

In the brilliant light of sunrise, bring the freshest of waters to a boil. Pour over a sachet of Morning Rise and, as with loose tea, steep 3-5 minutes. This tea is strong enough to handle milk, yet mild enough to be served alone.

Oh what ever. This tea is destined to be brewed under fluorescent lighting with water from the bathroom tap heated in the coffeemaker with highway noise in the background; and it may be strong enough to take milk on, but I bet that nasty white powder would kick its ass.

They give you a little bag of chamomile lemon myrtle tea too. Here's how you make it:
Bring fresh water to a boil. Sit back, relax, and pour over a bag of Sweet Meadows. As tranquility fills the air, steep 4-6 minutes, to desired strength. This is the perfect bedtime teasan. Delicious hot or cold. Enjoy!

What if tranquility doesn't fill the air? What do you do then?? And what the hell's a teasan?! I know what tea is.

It be a letter in the pirate alphabet.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Photo Ops

Omigod you guys! I got to have my picture taken holding an itty bitty teeny weeny ittle baby alligator! It was so cuuuuuuuute!

We were at Gator Country. On the way out we passed an employee holding a reasonable-sized anaconda. I insisted on posing with that too.

All I was really thinking was how fun it will be to send these pictures to the panicmonger to show her what I'm up to these days. Is this wrong?

The other thing I was thinking, which I have to post here because no one I've spoken to gets the reference, is that it's a good thing we coordinators were wearing white shirts today. Wednesday is red shirt day. You don't want to be in a red shirt when you're dealing with large, amply-toothed reptilian life forms. I'm sure I needn't explain why.

Well, my alarm's set for 5:10 so I'd better hit the hay. Miss you! Mwah!

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

In the Subjunctive Mood for Love

The problem with atrium-style hotels, you know, is that every room door is visible not only from every other room door, but from the lobby as well. This means there's really no way your paramour can get to you without a strong chance of being seen.

Let me pause for a moment and clarify that this is entirely hypothetical. If there were a man I would take for my lover - and I am not for one moment suggesting that there might be - well, he wouldn't be here in this hotel, or indeed in this city; and in fact, I wouldn't even work with him. No, it's just that I have a very big day ahead of me tomorrow, and an even bigger three days after that, and my mind is racing, and it's vitally important that I get a good night's sleep. Especially considering the whole coffee issue I mentioned earlier.

The rendez-vous could still be managed, but it'd be extremely risky. The whole hotel is booked with our conference. So even if my hypothetical suitor were so overcome by passion that he'd crawl to me on his hands and knees, hidden from sight behind the waist-high railing, he might still encounter a coworker in the hallway. And the carpet burns would probably put him out of action anyway.

Guess it just wouldn't have meant to been.

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A Kiss Before Dying

This coffee I'm drinking is the last coffee I'm going to have all week. Hotels don't have coffee. Oh God! Coffee! I'm going to miss you most of all!!!

They also, in my experience, don't generally have free wi-fi in every room, I don't care what the big plastic banner hung over the lobby door says. Sometimes they have free wi-fi in your room IF you recite a special incantation, stand on your head and press your knees against the door. Sometimes you have to go to the lobby and blog under the baleful gaze of the night manager. Sometimes you can detect five or six pale, flickering signals, not one of them robust enough to sustain a connection. I hate that.

So if you don't hear from me for a week, it isn't because I don't love you.

Drink a cuppa for me.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

In Over My Head

The planning is complete. We're driving to Beaumont tomorrow; and that which we've forgotten, that which has fallen through the cracks, and that which will spontaneously go wrong will just have to sort itself out without any further help from me. We're done!

Well, not really. We'll be right there with pages of emergency contact information, backup plans, and Eisenhower-era CB radios in hand to fix whatever needs to be fixed if and when it breaks. Within reason. I hope none of our conference attendees suddenly die of, oh I don't know, malaria? Or perhaps alligator bites. There is not a plan for this.

A barbarian invasion would also catch us off guard.

Yesterday at lunch I went walking with Ernest, who still - amazingly - works in my old department. That poor man! And as we were strolling along the hike-and-bike, a rowing crew on the lake glided rapidly past, a drummer beating time for the oarsmen.

Ernest and I glanced at one another. "Vikings!" we chorused. "RUN!!!"

The only thing left to do is buy a couple of outfits for the conference - all of us on the planning committee dress alike, so that the attendees can spot us easily. So that's on my agenda for today. Button-down shirts and trousers - boring clothes.

With luck, I will return from Beaumont unpillaged.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Oz meets Proust

Film at - well, right now actually.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Top Ten More or Less Rhetorical Questions of the Day

10. What do you do when the lucky bamboo you bought for your kitchen window gets too tall to fit?

9. Hi! How are you today?

8. What's with this overwhelming urge to flirt in French, which no one actually speaks besides Eric Idle?

7. Why - for God's sake, why do people persist in watching reality TV shows? I'm looking at you, Katie. Oh, wait, rhetorical questions - I forgot.

6. Tell me, who, who, who wrote the book of love? And can we file a class-action suit for misrepresentation?

5. Honestly. Did pussy go out of style? And why are men so weird? I guess this is actually two questions.

4. Or is it just one?

3. If a hotel's banquet event order specifies that a "pitcure" of water will be provided for your general session presenter, should you assume that means a "pitcher," or should you worry that the catering staff merely intends to taunt the thirsty speaker?

2. Did you know everything you needed to know in life by the time you were fifteen?

And the number one rhetorical question for today:

1. Playing dumb? Or just plain dumb?

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Further Perspectives

We're watching Pirates of the Carribbean III: At World's End, or at least we're trying to. Katie can't find her nail polish. Anna spills her Kool-Aid. Eric walks in and out of the room past the TV screen. Mr. Bingo Kitten deposits part of a lizard on the arm of the sofa.

"Bingo!" I exclaim, exasperated, cleaning up the mess with paper towels. He scampers from the room and we resume watching the movie the best we can. Captain Jack and crew stumble upon a beached kraken on the shore. Bingo skitters sideways into the room and regurgitates a reptilian tail on the area rug. I sigh, exaggeratedly, though there's not much use trying to make cats feel guilty. I fetch more paper towels.

"Bingo would love that lizard!" laughs Anna, pointing at the monstrosity on the screen. "He would like to eat it. All up! And it would take years to clean up the pukey!"

Things could be a lot worse.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Enchanted Trail

It was yet another perfect day in the most perfect city on Earth, in this best of all possible worlds!

Well, let's not get carried away. And if you're a Californian who's considering making the move, I should clarify that "the most perfect city on Earth" is used, here, in an ironic sense. This town is a shithole. For real! Now go read TMZ.

Cheryl's Bitch and I met up on the hike-and-bike trail for a nice leisurely stroll in the sunshine. The weather couldn't have been more perfect (though I hear it's much nicer in California), and everybody and their dog were out enjoying the day.

I'm a cat person, of course. Cheryl's Bitch is more into turtles. But the hike-and-bike trail has taught me to be fond of dogs: they're so infectiously happy, running, playing, swimming, fetching, and sniffing the living bejeesus out of each other's butts. You can't help but smile to see them. At the water station under the MoPac bridge, a few of them came up to be petted, exuding eau de wet canine, panting eagerly, and slobbering in my lap.

Makes me feel a bit better about not having a boyfriend.

Austin's turtles come out in droves to enjoy the sunshine, too, piling up like flapjacks on the rocks and logs lining the shore, turning their heads lazily this way and that to observe the passerby. Cheryl's Bitch got so excited I thought he might dive into the water in pursuit, and I have to admit they are a lot cuter than I ever really noticed before. One caught my eye, his neck craned back to look at me, one leg stretched out behind him in the sun, toes extended, beaming blissfully.

I was overcome. "Ooh," I cooed, "isn't him a pretty boy! Yes him is! Yes him is!"

This felt surprisingly natural.

Along the portion of the trail running parallel to Cesar Chavez we could see the tents and booths set up for the Art City Austin festival. And on the bridge over Shoal Creek, the most amazing band was playing: something folksy, with an Eastern European feel to it (I thought), but I wouldn't be able to guess what it was, aside from beautiful.

Who were they, anybody know? They had their backs to me, so I couldn't make out any words, and can't find reference to them online. Were they Greek maybe? The music was incredible. I settled myself on the bank to hear them finish their set, while Cheryl's Bitch roamed to and fro, ogling turtles. A black swan with a vivid scarlet beak and orange-red eyes glided up, easily within arm's reach, peeping hopefully; I wasn't sure if she were quacking at me, or just had the hiccups. She clearly thought I might have something nice for her to eat. Alas for lack of foresight! You should never leave home without your pockets full of bread crumbs. Waterfowl always enjoy a snack, you know; and besides, you never know when you'll find yourself lost in an enchanted forest.

If the band's set hadn't ended, I'd be sitting there still. What could be more perfect? Aside of course from California. If only I were in California. This place blows.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Yesterday afternoon it occurred to me that poring over banquet event orders is not all that different from poring over highway construction plans. Both consist of reams upon reams of paper, filled with dry, boring specifications.

Though, unless you have a taste for bituminous flex base, banquet event orders are more apt to make you hungry.

Did you know that, these days (I haven't done meeting planning in several years), it's standard for a hotel to charge you extra to have the electrical outlets in your meeting room activated? We're paying $35 per room per day for it, and I'll bet you that's cheap.

Planning meetings will warp your sense of what things should cost. I've paid $3.95 for a can of soda or $18/person for a light continental breakfast and not thought twice about it. There's also a surcharge of 20% on everything, written into the contract, "to ensure the quality of the service of hotel staff." I wasn't around when this contract was negotiated. I wonder if we could have struck that out and gotten the hotel to waive the charge in exchange for letting the waiters spit in the food? Duly initialed by both parties.

One big difference between this job and the old one is that it would actually matter if I failed to review the information carefully. This seems a bit odd, since what I'm doing now is supposedly a little more tangential to the overall mission of the agency than what I was doing before. But there it is: how important is it to maintain accurate data if people in other areas of the agency - as I've since discovered - aren't even aware that it's being maintained, and just call up a regional employee to ask them to go out and take a look at the roadway if they need the information?


The banquet event orders are the dullest thing I've had to deal with yet in the new job, so it's really not so bad. It just sets my mind to wandering on hypotheticals, like do we really need electricity? I mean, really? And would it really be so awful to feed conference attendees bituminous flex base? It's one of those things everybody assumes is bad without even trying it. Kind of like demonic possession.

Fortunately, my job keeps me much too busy to come up with such seditious ideas, for a change.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Soundtrack of My Life

This MySpace survey was so much fun I'm scootching it over here. Last time I did this was for an awesome survey that asked for your bank account number and your mother's maiden name, so you know it's a good one.

The premise: Open your music library, put the whole thing on shuffle and press play. Each song is part of your life's "soundtrack." The first song will be "Opening Credits," the next is "Waking Up," the next is "First day of School," etc.

Try it out! See what happens!

The Soundtrack of My Life

Opening Credits:
"Taking Tiger Mountain" Brian Eno.
This is a slow, pensive song; much better suited to a romantic drama than the kitschy 60's sex romp I was hoping for. But at least it's quirky. We'll see how it goes.

Waking Up:
"Whistling in the Dark" They Might Be Giants
Okay. Maybe it's a comedy.

First Day of School:
"Hurt" Nine Inch Nails
Oh snap. Well, you know, sixth grade won't be easy, will it?

Falling in Love:
"Burning Down the House" Talking Heads
Watch out! You might get what you're after!

First Kiss:
"So This is Christmas" John Lennon
It might be. If I recall correctly, "So This Is Arbor Day" might be a more accurate description. Still, I can hardly wait for...

Losing Virginity:
"Think I'm in Love" Beck
Losing your virginity'll do that to ya, that's for damn sure.

"Voices Carry" 'Til Tuesday
Ruh-roh! Sounds like there's a married man involved. What was I thinking?! Geez, I was just sixteen.

"Lovefool" The Cardigans
"You love me no longer, I know, and maybe there is nothing I can do to make you, do..." Sigh! It's so true! And so sad!

"Que Onda Guero" Beck
And when I graduate, I move to the barrio and start hanging with some vatos. Hey, let's go to Cap'n Cork. They got the new Yanni cassette!

Driving Song:
"Fuckin' in the Bushes" Oasis
So I drive fast. You would too, if you lived in Texas, had no air conditioning, and were chronically late to everything. Now get the eff outta my way, beeYOTCH!

Fight Song:
"Earthquake Weather" Beck
I can't think of any way this is a fight song; but then, I'm really more of a lover.

Okay, a dancer at least.

I don't know! Just don't punch me.

Getting Back Together:
"Yeh Yeh" They Might Be Giants
No No! Don't go back! As I've mentioned before, going back to an ex is just like putting on dirty underwear that's been sitting in the hamper for a week.

We'll take this one as ironic.

"Turn Around" They Might Be Giants
"I was out by myself in the graveyard/I was doing an interpretive dance/When I felt something heavy and pointed/Strike me in the back of my neck/Then the ghost of my dance instructor/Pushed me down into an open grave/And as dirt rained down, she played the xylophone, and sang me this song:/Turn around, turn around/There's something there to be found/Turn around, turn around/It's a human skull on the ground/Human skull on the ground/Turn around..."

Fair enough.

Birth of First Child:
"I've Got My Mind Set on You" George Harrison
Remind me to remove this song.

Final Battle:
"Chains of Love" Erasure
Apparently my final battle will be staged against my approximately 367,482 gay friends.

I will lose.

Death Scene:
"Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" Culture Club
In context, this seems like a fairly stupid question.

"White Room" Cream
I don't actually know what this song is about, but it's Cream and it's the late sixties, so I'm going to take a wild guess and say drugs. Probably NyQuil. I should've known!

Ending Credits:
"I Say a Little Prayer for You" Burt Bacharach
You can always count on Burt!

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008


When you start a new job, learning how to do the actual job is the least of your worries. You also have to know where the bathroom is, how long a break you can take, where to grab a quick lunch, what to do if the fire alarm goes off (especially if the safety vest and clipboard hanging on the wall in your cubicle give a strong indication that you are the new emergency coordinator), and a myriad other secondary, yet vitally important details.

Also, you have to make friends.

I like my next-door cube neighbor a lot. She's got a pretty cool sense of humor, but she's also not somebody you want to tangle with; as you know, one of the downfalls of standard cubicle life is that I'm intimately privy to most of her phone conversations. Which are necessary, work-related, and no louder than they need to be - don't get me wrong - but I can't escape hearing them.

She'd hear me, too, when I record certain information for our agency's 1-800 number. I go into a conference room to do it. I'm shy.

Today she needed to set up a Google account for some purpose, but was very leery about doing so. The new division is almost infinitely less idiotic about internet use than my old one. It's still idiotic, which is a fine illustration of a point you may have already gotten. She called over a woman from our IT department to ask if it was okay.

"Oh, do whatever you need to do," says the IT chick. "They can ask me if they have questions, but it's fine. Just don't start emailing all your boyfriends from your gmail account!" She walked off.

I couldn't let it go. "You can use GroupWise for that," I said, but it turned out that the IT woman wasn't out of earshot, and she came back, laughing. "But that would mean your boyfriends would have to be in this agency!" she exclaimed. "Eeeeeeeewwwwwwwww!"

I like her, too.

So I'm learning to fit in; I'm making friends and finding my niche. Someone came and played with the magnetic letters today. With any luck, "XMAS RABIES SAXOPHONE" is just the beginning. The homesickness is fading fast.

I can't figure out where I'm supposed to wash out my coffee cup, though.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Embezzle My Shezzle

Somebody forgot to tell Anna's school that PTA meetings are, by definition, dull.

Not that most of it wasn't. In a brilliant marketing ploy, the school enforces parental participation by staging recitals in which your own adorable child (along with the adorable children of about seventy-five other eligible parents) stands up and sings five or six songs about arithmetic, reading, running and jumping, tunes and rhythm - you know, all the things your kid is doing all day while you're at work wondering what will really happen if you flush the hand towels down the commode.

The children must be dropped off early to warm up. They're terribly excited and you'd be the world's worst parent not to go see them. And while they're warming up, you're in the cafeteria, sitting at a table proportioned for an eight-year-old, participating, by God! in a PTA meeting. "Hey! Great turnout tonight!" enthuses the PTA president in her opening remarks.

The howls of pre-school-aged children echo through the room. The speaker's microphone cuts in and out. There's always a faint, omnipresent odor of burnt cheese. Raising our hands as directed, we elect a new PTA board consisting of parents and staff sitting in the room; there is one candidate for each position. And, incidentally, the PTA has just completed an audit and discovered they've lost over $3,000.

...Wait, what?

The PTA president introduces the treasurer, a really nice and relaxed guy I've sometimes seen wearing a kilt. "We completed our audit of the books for the fiscal year and there's a discrepancy of $3,000, and some change," he says somewhat diffidently.

The president takes the mic back and starts talking about what they're going to do, her voice becoming increasingly strident as she goes on. "From now on," she says, "we're going to start keeping an eye on the books and reconciling the bank statements! This is not going to happen again! Because this is your money! My money! The PTA's money!" she says, "and we're going to get that money back! We're going to do whatever it takes!"

She calls for a show of hands to support engaging an attorney and taking the matter to court, so we all raise our hands, though we're a bit confused as to what, exactly, has gone down. The PTA president mentions that a woman standing near me is with the state chapter and has come to witness the school's support for this action.

Any questions?

Another woman near me raises her hand tentatively. "We missed some of the beginning part, I think," she says. "What exactly happened?"

The president hands the mic back to the treasurer. "Well, basically, we're missing $3,000," he says. "But there's pending legal action, so I can't tell you any specifics."

This pretty much had to be a matter of embezzlement by a (hopefully) former board member, then, didn't it? Considering the anger in the president's voice, we figured they had to have a solid idea who the culprit was; and that, indeed, he or she was very likely sitting in the front row, grinning smugly and sporting a brand-new three-thousand-dollar tiara.

It was exciting, but not enough to take my mind off my small, adorable daughter's performance. Just like the ants, life goes marching on... and on...

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Didn't You Learn Anything from "A Bug's Life?"

You'd think, wouldn't you, that you'd be able to experience a perfect Austin afternoon without importing someone from Georgetown?

Well, you'd be wrong.

Robbie was kind enough to make the long, arduous journey south today, to drag me out of the house and rescue me from a sad and self-absorbed funk (PMS for short). We went to Dominican Joe for coffee.

Ah, Dominican Joe. Do you know, the place gets quite crowded on a bright sunny Sunday afternoon, and fills up with the sort of people who saunter lazily up and down South Congress - until so recently the undisputed dominion of drug addicts and $10 whores - the trendy, the happy, who wear sundresses and cowboy boots, and spend more money on a pair of artistically pre-tattered jeans than I did on my first car.

Robbie ordered a smoothie and I a frozen mocha frojoe, with whipped cream (why do anything by half?). We sat in the shade on the patio and talked about urban planning and deviant sex practices. But there wasn't a table available, and it did just cross my mind to suggest moving across the street to our work campus and our old break spot, two picnic tables under a pavilion. I was afraid that might be dorky.

"Hey, do you want to go to the break spot?" asked Robbie, who is one of my best friends ever for a reason.

So we did; we sat at the Official Three-Martini Break Spot for a good 45 minutes, sipping sublimely unhealthful nonalcoholic beverages, enjoying the magnificent weather and the inappropriate behavior of grackles in the spring sunshine. One of the tables sports a heavy chain and large padlock, but not the other - a fact I had never noticed, but Robbie said he'd always found curious. "What's this table chained to, anyway?" he asked.

Long story short, if you go to the corner of Congress and Riverside looking for a picnic table, you can pick up a free chain and padlock as well.

From there we moved to the new park complex across Riverside from Auditorium Shores, next to the Palmer Events Centeer and the newly-opened Long Center, where they built that spiral-pathed hill overlooking the skyline. Robbie and I have been there once before, under slightly sketchy circumstances. The whole area was under construction, and presumably meant to be shut off to the public. But we were on our lunch hour, and so apparently were the gaggle of construction workers bivouaced nearby; and the gate to the construction zone was slightly ajar. "There's not a sign saying we can't go in," Robbie had pointed out, reasonably enough. The workers, being off the clock, were hardly going to confront intruders on their own time. We had the run of the place.

Today it was different. The hill is seeded with grass and the occasional bluebonnet, and ringed with benches. Two ponds, one near the hill, and one in front of the Palmer Events Center, are well-stocked with laconic turtles, who sploop right into the water when people approach them with high-pitched voices (what's with this urge to use baby talk on reptiles?!), but have a hilarious amount of difficulty climbing back out again once the danger has passed. Fortunately turtles don't mind being laughed at. Or maybe they do, I don't know. What are they going to do - chase me down?

The view of the skyline from atop the man-made hill is fairly spectacular, though it'll be nicer once all the cranes are gone. And Tony will agree it's a great pity that all these beautiful downtown condos are destined to be filled with Californians, especially inasmuch as they have no idea how to drive. People! When you cut in front of someone, you wave! That's how you know you're in Texas, dammit.

And from the park, we meandered our way to El Arroyo to enjoy a frozen margarita in the midst of yet another construction zone. There's not much getting away from that.

It was Austin. It was perfect. And an outraged young mother demanded of her toddler, in angry tones, the timeless line I've used as the subject of this post, just as we were passing. What more could anyone ask for?

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Non-Verbal Communication

Ladies! How many times has this happened to you?

You're in a relationship (or some equivalent thereof), and you've become worried about it. You're picking up subtle (or not so subtle) clues from your significant (or not so significant) other that he's losing interest. And it's hard not to jump on it. He's not calling you as often, or he doesn't seem as attentive when you're together, or whatever. And you freak a little bit. Doesn't matter if you aren't into him either: rejection is all that matters, and it's horrifying. Rejection by someone you don't consider to be good enough for you is the worst. Because what does that say about you?!?

So you ask him, hey, what's going on? Are you upset with me? Did I do anything wrong? What's the matter?

Of course not, he tells you (without exasperation if he's nice). Everything's fine. You worry too much. You read way too much into things.

But when it turns out you were right, you don't get any satisfaction out of "I told you so." He still won't believe you really picked up anything. It's Cassandra's curse, isn't it? You catch cues so subtle that your partner - probably a decent enough, honorable enough guy, don't get me wrong - can't imagine, even when confronted with clear evidence to the contrary, that he was giving them off at all. Even when you're right he thinks you're not; he himself would not notice these signs, and it doesn't occur to him that someone else might. Rational people (e.g., he and his football buddies) would never notice such signals, and you - my girl, you are told to believe, and you do! that you're a typical, overreacting, hysterical female.

A real bastard will cite your insecurity as the reason for dumping you.

Years and miles in the past, these things rankle like nothing else I can think of. This is not to be confused with that "Men Are from Mars" bullshit. People are people. I just don't see why they can't be honest with each other.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Istanbul Was a Wafer Fabrication Facility

I'm sad that Sematech sold out, shut down, and shipped off to Albany. Doesn't that sound like a song? I should write a poem about it.

From November 1991 till September 2001 I worked there, so the place, as it was at the time, remains my ideal of what the corporate workplace is supposed to look like. Overall I had fairly few complaints. Just like with any place - Austin certainly springs to mind - as the years passed and the culture changed, I joined in the chorus of complaining about how things wasn't like they used to be.

Anyway, in late December 1991, I had been there a month and a half, and was (as I would be for nearly two more years - remember the "disposable workforce" of the 90s?) a temp. I attended my first company Christmas party. And the CEO and the whole executive staff opened the evening by coming out on stage in cleanroom suits, top hats, and canes, and singing a song about how Sematech was "Puttin' Out the Bits." I wish I remembered more lyrics than,

"Strolling through the shoeroom so happy,
In our bunny suits so white and flappy,
Very snappy!"

Totally random memory, but what a cool place to work, eh wot?

On the other hand, several years later, when one of the AV guys and I collaborated on a short video opening sequence for all-employee staff meetings, we ended up self-censoring all our best ideas, like having a Dalek-like trash receptacle exterminate someone who had left banana peels on the conference room floor, or getting the mailroom guy promoted to CEO for his exemplary pager use etiquette, or asking the COO to strut down the cleanroom hallway to "Stayin' Alive." And what we came up with instead - though I still have a copy of it on videotape! - was not nearly as cool.

Things just weren't like they was used to been.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Teh Interwebz

Hey, get this! They let you use the internet at my new job.

I mean, don't go crazy. You can't check your Yahoo! mail or your bank balance or get on MySpace or anything. Amusement-wise, the internet still consists pretty much exclusively of (not that meteorology isn't a fascinating science). But - but - you can actually use it, any way you see fit, to do your job!!!

You're supposed to be able to use it for work at my old job, too; otherwise, why do you have internet access? But you never did. Your usage was so closely policed that visiting any external website meant asking for written approval from your supervisor, and/or facing a grilling by the agingly-staffed IT group (much more comfortable in a mainframe environment than with this newfangled internet doohickey), and generally jumping through so many hoops that you just said the hell with it and did without the information. Sure, you could just wait and look it up at home on your own time; but who would be that dedicated to an employer who so obviously regards you with mistrust and contempt?

I'm being unfair. There's a good reason for this internet use policy. It exists to ensure that the division is not wasting any taxpayer money. They're very big on not wasting taxpayer money over there. Massive. In fact, the word "bloated" springs to mind.

After I accepted the new position, but before I actually started, I emailed my new boss some questions about the big upcoming project I'd be working on. Her answer referred me to several different websites. I was scandalized. What was she trying to do, get me fired?

But I'm getting used to it. Our group is going on a study tour of a particular city; my team is planning the event. It behooves me to be educated about the attractions we'll be visiting. I sat there and read all about a very cool Vietnamese Buddhist temple today. I've been visiting sites for CVBs, hotels, airlines, resorts, restaurants, amusement parks, and museums. How am I not getting in terrible, terrible trouble? If it weren't for the red shirt, I'd think maybe I was dreaming.

Well, that, and the fact that my supervisor emailed our group the dress code for the upcoming conference, including Thursday night's Hawaiian-themed celebration dinner. "No coconut bras," she added sternly. And I think we all know who that was aimed at.

I'm pretty sure I'm not allowed to visit, either.

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