Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Making Friends and Influencing People

A coworker of mine sent me an email yesterday evening about 6:30, and tried calling my desk, too.

Now let's get something straight here.

I'm a hard worker, right? And I do what it takes to get the job done, right?

But I'm still a state employee. And this means that, in the absence of a hurricane or any other official emergency - in fact the weather just now happens to be exceedingly pleasant - I take two "fifteen"-minute breaks a day, and I'm out the door like a shot at 5. Got it?

Apparently somebody doesn't have enough time on their hands.

This morning I attended a meeting downtown for employees who work with the legal process I dealt with extensively at my old job. I'm still somewhat involved in it at my new job, only in (of course) a different capacity. So my boss sent me off to the meeting; I took a shuttle and arrived to find the deputy director of my old division there with a couple of former coworkers.

And they laughed at me! "Thought you were done with this stuff, huh," they said.

Nonetheless, I sat with them and chit-chatted pleasantly enough through much of the meeting, in much the way I imagine eighteenth- and nineteenth-century operagoers visited and socialized during performances, the stage little more than a background diversion - which would explain why Mozart is so accurately skewered here; but I digress.

And afterwards, the deputy division director gave me a ride back to the office, several half-joking offers to come back to my old job tossed into the conversation. I was flattered, but not tempted. In the interest of fairness I had to admit that I am no longer allowed to wear flip-flops to work.

"You see?" he said, "you see what you're missing out on now?"

I didn't even bring up the cleavage issue.

Also at the meeting were several people I met while working hurricanes, and a few other folks I've gotten to know in the last seven months since taking my new job. It struck me as odd how quickly one's internal agency acquaintance can increase - only not, I have to say, in the old place. Maybe it is just a matter of footwear. Or something.

I worked a little past 5 today. Who knows where hard work will get me?

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Playing Dress-Up

It came to me in a blinding flash today: I know exactly what to be for Halloween! It's cool, it's clever, it's original, it's sexy, it's cheap, it's funny, and aside from possible damage to the floor, it's even practical. I can't wait!

Margie and I parked at my building and walked down Congress to Electric Ladyland today - or is it Lucy in Disguise? I can never remember which. I never enjoy this store as much as I feel like I should, though it's very cool, and their boot selection always leaves me drooling. But it's close and crowded and hectic, and I think professionally-made costumes all look alike. I've always preferred piecing outfits together from what I could find in the back of the closet. Of course, this means I almost always go as a gypsy. But what's wrong with that?

Once, when I was very little and my mom happened to be enrolled in a belly-dancing class, I got a homemade belly-dancer costume, and some coaching on moves, too. It was way better than the year before when I had to be the Frankenstein monster. The longing to be pretty starts very, very young, I'm sorry to say.

Margie and I went for lunch at Freddie's, which I have to say is much closer than I had realized. I'll never drive there again! Then we strolled back to the car, but having nowhere in particular to go, I introduced her to the Three-Martini Break Spot. "Why don't you just take break at the picnic table over by your building?" she asked.

"Well, we do," I said, "now. But this is our original spot. This place is legend."

"I see," she said.

Well, she didn't, even though I told her the story of the Smoker Wars (and it may interest any 3MBG members reading this to hear that, not only were there no ashtrays in our spot today, but there were also remarkably few cigarette butts in evidence. Could it be that our kind finally won out in the end?); so we walked over to my building and went inside so I could show her my spacious, tricked-out window cubicle. Isn't this nice? This is the kind of work environment that gainfully employed people get to enjoy, little sister.

"When do you get an office with a door?" she asked.

October 31 falls on a Friday this year. I wonder if I can get away with wearing my costume to work? The guys probably won't end up having to work from home, and the carpet is industrial-grade, so it should be fine. I can't wait!

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why I Never Made It as an Opera Singer

It's not easy.

(Edited - try this one)


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ready... Aim...

We had a fire drill at work today.

This one was different from the carefree, happy-go-lucky emergency drills I remember from the other job. During this drill, all my coworkers filed out of the building in as orderly a fashion as their bleeding eardrums would allow, then gathered meekly at our designated end of the parking lot to be counted by safety monitors in orange vests, committing only the most minor acts of vandalism on the way.

Cheap American cars and their poorly-mounted side mirrors!

As a wearer of the Sacred Orange Vest, I had advance warning of the fire drill. Only we were told, out of my entire work group, with exhortations of the highest confidentiality, so I thought I was being quite naughty by whispering it to Bill at break. "Oh yeah, they sent an email out to everybody in my division," he said.

He's so hard to impress.

I wore the safety vest, but I did not do the safety dance; perhaps that comes later, after I've worked here a bit longer. I've also been issued a flashlight and earplugs. I could have used those last night at the Stereolab concert. In fact, a full range of personal protective equipment would have been nice.

Don't get me wrong: Stereolab is awesome! But as noted before, getting bumped around in a crowd of your fellow Stereolab fans is virtually indistinguishable from being jostled by David Lee Roth aficionados. And no matter what's coming out of it, you really don't want to be within arm's reach of a 10-foot-tall amp. This, in short, is just too close.

The upside is that my ears were already too stunned to be further distressed by the fire alarm. And I can play the new Stereolab album when I practice my moves for the next fire drill!

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Do Good Unto Someone

We had a serious discussion Friday, my cube neighbor and I, about the role of major employers as organizers of charitable effort.

I'm all for it. In a religious society, the church has considerable clout in the community in that it creates awareness and can focus its members' talents and efforts towards a common cause - a very good thing, assuming that what the church believes to be good and right, actually is - certainly open for argument in many cases.

We live in a largely secular society, like it or not. I do. I'm not religious, and not being overly fond of persecution, I enjoy sleeping in on Sundays without having to worry about getting pelted with landscaping gravel by my trendy neighbors. But I do believe that one great cost of living in a society with plenty of individual freedom is the lack of organization of individual resources for common good, so I always applaud corporations and agencies for stepping in to help.

My cube neighbor disagreed with me. It happened to be International Talk Like a Pirate Day (in case anyone didn't know; but you all did observe it, right? Otherwise, I'll heave landscaping gravel at you till you walk off the end of the plank, ye limey) and he didn't want to get in an argument, so whenever I stated a position he considered completely untenable, he merely responded with "Arrrrr!"

Pirates hate confrontation.

Not that I didn't take his point. He is very active in his church. He noted that, although our employer doesn't offer any incentives for participation in a charity drive, they do track the number that participate by division. "The way they've got it set up," he pointed out, between arrrrrs, "if not enough people sign up, it kind of makes our boss look bad, and nobody wants that!"

We don't, actually, where I work now, but I had to laugh. In my old division, the annual, agency-wide charity drive was observed as well, but rather half-heartedly. Half-assedly, not to put too fine a point on it. Emails were sent out to notify everyone that the charitable drive was under way; and a form was distributed for you to fill out your name, your division, the amount you wanted withheld from each paycheck, and the unique identifying numbers for the charity or charities you wanted to support.

Only they never ever gave you the catalogue of charities with the numbers.

At my new job, they do. And speaking of charity cases, a friend of mine who still works at the old place confirmed that this information was not given out there for the third year running! But my cube neighbor still objected. "There are a lot of charities here I don't agree with," he pointed out.

"So don't donate to those," I said.

"Arrrrr!" he said.

You can't argue with pirate logic.

In the interest of goodwill we gave up on the conversation generally, and ended by scanning through the catalogue together and remarking, to great mutual satisfaction, on how many charities would make much better band names. Our favorite was not listed under any category that we could find: that great and humane supporter of once-fearsome seafarers who must live out their final years on land, supported only by such sad remnants of their ill-gotten spoils as have not been squandered on grog and wenches: the Ancient Mariners' Retirement Fund.


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The Rain of Frogs Has Ended

I didn't get a card in time to send one, so:

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday dear Daddy,
Happy Birthday to you!

Wish I could be there - I love you!


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tripping the Plastic Fantastic

As I was logging into Blogger just now, I spotted "Erectile Dysfunction Treatments" on the scrolling list of just-updated blogs. It seems odd, to me. I can't imagine having a whole blog dedicated to just that one topic. I mean, the subject comes up now and again (just never when you want it to!) on mine, but if it were all you ever wrote about, it seems like you'd run out of material fairly quickly.

Or you'd damn well wish you had.

There's medical treatment for it. There's medical treatment for everything! At happy hour last night, my friend Kevin and I, admiring a ridiculously tiny purse-dog sported by a woman a couple of tables down, suddenly had our attention called to what happens when medical treatment for being hit by an ugly stick (or perhaps just a middle-aged stick) goes horribly wrong: the woman turned in our direction, and her lips were unnaturally huge and bloated and bright pink, and her eyes had a strange, tight look to them. She also had big, fake - um, fingernails.

We wondered why someone would do this. I mean, sure, you couldn't really have guessed her age by looking at her. But if an observer is also left with some question as to your actual species, you've gone a bit too far.

Food is just as bad. I don't insist on all organic foods, but have you ever noticed how many things on the market bear little to no resemblance to actual comestibles? Yet people willingly consume these things - Wonder Bread, Cool Whip, Velveeta, marshmallows, Spam, non-dairy creamer.

Let the record state that I've just officially invented the S'Less. You all better not forget it.

It just seems like the more fluff and vanity you add to life, the more you take it all for granted as a basic necessity. Not that I'm any less guilty of this than anyone else. But at least, by God, my fingernails are real.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Day Off

Could this weather be any more perfect?

Well, if you're not in Austin, you wouldn't know. So no, it couldn't.

My boss gave me the day off today. I was already planning to meet a good friend and former coworker for lunch; we get together maybe once a month or so, but an hour is never long enough, is it?

Two hours is much, much better. More than twice as good. I know that doesn't make mathematical sense, but it's true.

The rest of the day is given to sweeping up and rearranging the plants in what is becoming a really lovely little front porch garden. I'm so happy with it. Isn't this nice?

I have several new additions, courtesy of my ex-mother-in-law (listen, I don't turn down plants from anybody). I now have a big pot full of rather scraggly bromeliads, a scragglier fern (hanging from the mailbox, for the moment; it needs to be repotted not because it's rootbound, but because the pot it's in is plastic and green and very ugly), a pineapple plant, and a climbing spinach plant - very handy if I happen to feel peckish and don't want to make the grueling fifteen-foot trek to the kitchen.

And what cozy porch garden would be complete without a snoozing Romeo?

What a perfect day off.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gettin' (Relatively) Busy

"Hey, do you want to go walking today?" I emailed a former coworker, still trapped in the Pointless Job of Eternal Uselessness; "I finally get a lunch break again, and it's been so crazy, and I hardly know what day of the week it is anymore."

"I know the feeling!" he wrote back a few hours later, which of course he doesn't. Has he been pulling a lot of night shifts? Did he work 13 hours on Sunday?? I don't think so.

And for me, these are rare, remarkable, impressive occurences. I can describe three or four long days, and my friends will ooh and aah sympathetically at me. My life is staggeringly easy.

One my favorite things about my Boss (I think I need to distinguish between her and my lower-case boss, who works for her, but who also assigns me work, and with whom I traveled to all the fun places I've been lately) is her sense of humor. I showed her my friend's email. I was quite outraged. She thought it was funny. "They think they're busy, over there, where you came from," she chuckled.

Once back in April, I said that I wasn't sure I'd have anything to do after our big annual conference was over. It turns out that no, we are busy all the time, with lots of things. But how was I to know? From the time I started this job, at the end of February, until our conference, I worked on nothing else. It was natural for me to believe this was all I had to do. How would I have known; but will she let me forget it?

She brings it up all the time. I have such a cool job!

Meanwhile, of course, the entirety of southeast Texas has gone to hell in a handbasket, and delivered the rest of us an extremely uncomfortable reminder of how very, very thin the line is that divides us complacent middle-class working taxpayers from a squalid Third-World existence. It's frightening. How often do we question what we consider the basic necessities of life: hygiene and mobility, courtesy of pumps for gasoline and sewage; resources for current information via internet, TV, radio, newspapers, and phone; water you can drink straight from the tap without a second thought; hospitals and medical clinics - however unneeded - always within a moment's reach; a place to grab a burger; police on call if you feel threatened; the U.S. mail, the mall, for heaven's sake. Don't even get me started about your family, your love, your friends, your pets... all there every day, unquestioned, forgotten, and wholly indispensable.

You can subscribe to National Geographic till the cows come home, but you don't understand what life is really about till you have to eat bugs and poop in the dirt, is all I'm saying here.

Whatever it is, you should be glad for what you have. You shouldn't fritter it away out of petty vanity or ego trips or any other stupid reason. You have something wonderful, you're so lucky; cherish it, nurture it, and be happy. What do I have to tell you?


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lessons Learned

Last night I dreamed I was shopping for canoes with a coworker. But the canoes in the variety store last night were of a very inferior quality - rather small and flimsy, bearing perhaps more resemblance to keychains than to watercraft. And they were so cheaply made that when you picked them up, all the flocking rubbed off and left a green mess on your fingers.

I'm so glad the call center closed today.

One of the things I've learned from this experience is that in the future, hurricanes should strike somewhere else. I'd like the NWS to make a note of this for next time. I've never had a problem with the upper Gulf Coast; but Dallas could do with a little smiting, don't you think?

I might not care much for Corpus, but I do have a few friends there, so it's important that they be safe. Still, the northern end of Padre Island might not suffer too badly from a direct hit.

I've been all over that region, of course - to Mustang Island, and Port A, and Padre Island National Seashore. It's beautiful in its way - salty winds, empty skies, grayish sands, spongy beached seaweed and jellyfish, all the hungry seagulls in the universe, and tiny crabs that scuttle sideways out of your path with amazing rapidity, leaving random tracks in the wet sand before disappearing into millions of little holes that they dig out only as fast as the lapping waves fill them in.

And the tall dunes are no-man's land, impassable because the sand slides out from under your feet, and pockmarks of burrows among the pepper-scented beach grasses remind you that you're in snake territory, and anyway where would you go? Every dune looks just like every other one.

Most of it is in its wild condition - a fairly logical condition for a barrier island. Streets and houses and parking lots and (Port Aransas, you dumbass) golf courses kill the beach grass whose roots are what's holding the sand in place.

But at the northern end, across the causeway from Flour Bluff, a handful of moderately wealthy people have built their homes, digging out chunks of the island, their neighborhoods honeycombed with tiny private bays for their boats, the brownish-gray water dull next to the turquoise gleam of the swimming pools. The owner of my former employer lives there. I heard a story about her once.

Ursula was a cruel person and not a pretty one, with bleached-blond hair, an unfortunate (not to say disastrous) physique, and a vicious, unpredictable temper - the Emperor of Rome at its most decadent and chaotic. Her husband was the vice president of her company. He was jovial and friendly, but had a tendency to hug the female employees a little too tightly. When you hug someone you aren't on intimate terms with (or don't want to be on intimate terms with, anyway), you kind of stick your butt out, you know how you do? And you generally try not to have your tits squished. Hug != mammogram, and not only because the results aren't as accurate.

Whereas Mr. Ursula could probably give you a detailed topographical map of your internal breast tissue within sixty seconds. Anyway, the story I heard was that the neighbors called the police to complain about Ursula and her husband. It wasn't a matter of noise - or it if was, that was an entirely secondary consideration. The police came out to tell Ursula's husband that please, please, when he and his wife were enjoying the sunny weather on the patio by the pool, he needed to - well, he needed to enjoy nothing else besides the sunny weather. At least not with his tongue.

So if the hurricane had hit the north end of Padre Island, it would only have wiped out those who deserved to be dead, and maybe a few others who devoutly wished to be.

"How are you doing today?" asked a coworker today; "can I help you with anything? Because yesterday, you looked like you were ready to punch a kitten."

We'll hope this got it out of my system, but I don't think I'll go canoe-shopping for a while.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Something's Not Right

I've been eating, sleeping and breathing nothing but hurricane for the past - has it been a week? I don't remember what day it is.

Hurricanes are not particularly nutritious, and they're hell on your lungs.

And then you have the dreams.

When I was a teenager I used to have nuclear war nightmares a lot. You'd hear a "boom" and look out the window and see that telltale mushroom cloud ballooning up out of the horizon and you knew, this was it, it was over. I still can't think of anything else as scary as that, not even the thought of Sarah Palin as -

On second thoughts, perhaps I'll sleep with the lights on tonight.

But answering phones is scarier. I hate it as much as going to the dentist, or getting a mammogram - the difference being that you have to make an appointment to do those things, which makes them significantly easier to avoid than something that sits on your desk and yells at you until you pick it up and talk to it, sort of like my elderly cat Romeo, only not quite as likely to drool on you.

So this is a no-brainer: I simply don't go to the dentist or get a mammogram, and generally wear absorbent clothing. But there is no avoiding the wrath of the telephone.

I dreamed about it night before last, only I'd be hard-pressed to say exactly what those dreams were. Nothing about the callers themselves - for whom, individually, I have nothing but deep compassion. I have no problem answering most of the emails that come through the website, with all the helpful advice I can muster. Some of my responses are a couple of pages long. Either I'm single-handedly eradicacting the ancient image of the faceless, unresponsive government agency, or all my correspondents are saying "well all righty then" and embarking instead on a mercifully brief and impersonal exchange of ideas with the IRS.

Last night, after spending 13 hours in the call center Sunday, with the prospect of another early morning at it today, I inexplicably dreamed I was shopping for wedding dresses. I almost woke up screaming.

This weather is driving me crazy.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Ya Don't Say

I get the night off!

"I should have called you," apologized my boss when I arrived; "it's been so quiet all day, you really could just take tonight off, unless you'd rather work."

"No," I said, "I have a bit of a headache, and this afternoon I almost put toothpaste in my armpits."

"Why don't you go home," she suggested.

Actually it wouldn't even be so bad if I hadn't been awakened at the crack of noon (having gone to bed at 7) by Anna's teacher, calling to tell me that oh by the way school was closing early to avoid anyone having to deal with hurricane traffic (here?) so could I please come pick her up immediately, she was waiting. I arrived, ten minutes later, out of breath, to find that Anna had been put to work cleaning up the classroom. "Sorry I'm late," I said, "I worked 9pm last night to 6am today."

Like she cared. "Well, you should come see us more often," sang the teacher as we left. "And don't do any traveling this weekend! There's a hurricane!"

What? Where?!

I hope it was just because they didn't need me that I got sent home tonight. Last night, craving a caffeine kick (despite being the only woman in a room full of men, which generally keeps me on my toes; but they were all pretty busy) I grabbed my wallet out of my backpack and ran downstairs for a Coke. I stopped by my own desk for a few things, so I was gone a good ten or fifteen minutes. And when I got back, I saw that the vanilla-flavored condom I have been carrying around ever since it was tossed to me at the Gay Pride Parade in 2007 was perched in plain sight in the splayed-open pocket of my backpack.

I'm not sure it's even possible to coordinate emergency response efforts while working from home.

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Graveyard Shift

The biggest problem with working nights isn't really exhaustion, or disorientation, or having your eating and exercise schedule completely thrown off, or missing your children and friends, or not being able to remember for sure what day it is, or even being forced on occasion to sit through Fox News, which as you may have noticed I am somewhat bitter about.

No, the biggest problem is when you stumble out of the shower and accidentally start putting on toothpaste instead of anti-perspirant. It really stings.

But I'm minty fresh!

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Calm Before the Storm

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Take a Hike, Ike

So says a good friend of mine in Corpus - a former coworker who is now wrapped up, as am I, in emergency preparations.

How funny. Friday evening I met a woman through someone else I used to work with. He and I were not in the tourism industry when we worked together; he still isn't, but his new coworker, attending the party Friday night, is. And it turns out that she and I are involved in a project together. Funny to find myself at a party with a drink in my hand, talking to a stranger I met through someone I used to work with in an entirely different industry, suddenly on the job.

So I'm glad I hadn't found the margarita machine yet.

My Corpus friend worked for the same soulless marketing firm I did, but is now part of a non-profit aid organization. The soulless marketing firm was travel-related. I got my current job largely on the strength of that experience.

All in all, I'm just struck with the way these tangled threads keep weaving together, and how often they seem to lead you back to a common place. Doesn't it make you wonder? Maybe you really can't go back in time and become your own grandfather. I hope this doesn't put a damper on your vacation plans. Might I suggest a trip to San Angelo instead?

Maybe the universe is just too densely interconnected to be able to change history. Or maybe you were always meant to become your own grandfather in the first place, sort of a houndstooth-check in the grand tapestry of the cosmos. Who knows?

Life is full of mysteries. The only thing I'm absolutely sure of is that it's a very, very bad idea to make fun of Florida on your blog. Especially if you work in the tourism industry.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008


Viking knitting is:

a. the long-lost art of fashioning woolen fabric by winding yarn intricately around and between the horns of your helmet
b. one of the lesser-known Monty Python sketches
c. a brief fad, popular during the late 1970s, of crafting little horned sailor figurines using a technique similar to Macramé
d. a large, bearded blond man named Olaf who enjoys making socks for all his friends
e. this, and you can take a class in it at 8th Street Studios in Georgetown.

Some things are better left to the imagination.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

You Can Run, but You Cannot Hide

I'm thinking of repurposing this as a weather and travel blog, and giving up altogether on such unattainable concepts as humor and insight. Today at work, my boss asked me to do some research on one of the San Angelo-area attractions we'll be visiting. So I googled it. First place result? My blog!


For the moment, Ike's path is forecast far enough northward to bring him up against a substantial chunk of Florida - aimed smack dab at the northern Everglades, in fact. Sucks to be you, Florida! You get all the violence of a hurricane and droves of storm-tossed alligators, flung this way and that by the wind.

Actually, this could make Fox News' on-the-scene reporting significantly more interesting.

Lately I've wondered if it wouldn't be a better idea to abandon the coast altogether. We don't build on greenbelts because of the flood risks, right? Never mind that it hardly ever happens. But what with climate change and all (thanks a lot, Al Gore, you bastard, for inventing global warming) it seems like living anywhere along the Gulf Coast is roughly equivalent to playing Russian roulette.

Not that moving inland helps you out that much. Go to Oklahoma or Nebraska? You've got your tornadoes. California? Earthquakes. The island paradise of Hawai'i? The pristine, pine-forested beauty of Washington State? Oh sure, I suppose you enjoy being drowned in a river of molten lava. And then you've got your wildfires. The Dakotas won't do because they're extremely cold, though I imagine the biking is fairly easy (if perhaps a bit dull) during the warmer months, assuming they have any. Idaho and Montana are just as bad, only with hills. Michigan has Detroit, and Utah has Mormons. New York City is the subject of way too many disaster movies: sooner or later, one of them has to get it right. Virginia has the Beltway and hillbillies; if that isn't proof that there's no God, I'd like to know what is?

Austin is plagued with Californians and fire ants, so it's got problems of its own. I suppose Colorado is nice.

In PowerPoint clip-art today I came across a photo of a picturesque little village on the Isle of Skye, perched in multicolored, historic prettiness on the shore, with the stone ruins of a castle peeking out of deep woods at the top of the cliff above them, and soft green hills and villages fading off into the distant mist across the water. I want to go there. Think I can get a travel job with ScotDOT?

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Travel Job

The only drawback to my travel-related job is that I only get to travel in Texas. Tuscany? Not so much.

So I think it's super thoughtful of them to go to such pains to simulate massive jet lag.

Ike is now a Category 3 hurricane, did you know? Of course, he's still several days away. And his path looks like he might just wobble (meteorologists just love the word "wobble;" and who can blame them?) far enough north to hit the southern tip of Florida - not that the southern tip of Florida ever stopped anybody; besides which, it's unclear whether the northern turn at the end of the current 5-day forecast will continue to carry him north, or if he's just trying to be a little shit and hit Every Single Island in the Bahamas. Bastard.

In any case I should get this coming weekend off. It might come in handy for trying to rebuild a sleep schedule that never was that strong to begin with.

I should think Russia would be lovely in late summer, too, wouldn't you? Just imagine sitting at a quaint little sidewalk cafe near the Red Square, sipping a mojito* and admiring the luxuriant moustaches of the passerby. Of course, where I've always wanted to go is Ireland. Or Cornwall, where I would join the task of reviving the Cornish language. I might also raise sheep.

They have sheep in Texas, too.

*I'm trying, Robbie, but I'm feeling kind of tapped out lately.

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