Thursday, October 30, 2008

Making a Difference

We had the most awful time at dinner last night.

Well, I hope not everyone did. I did, because it was a work function, and I had planned it, and it didn't come out well. I won't name the restaurant. But it's a well-known local establishment with an excellent reputation, and I made the arrangements without any doubts about the quality of the service or the food.

Both, as it turned out, were awful. The servers were friendly and pleasant, but seemed very inexperienced, and were unfamiliar with the menu or with basic techniques for formal serving (serve from the left, remove from the right - exceptions are always allowed based on circumstances, but to splay out your arms and plop down two plates at a time, in locations where the diners have to grab them and scootch them into position, is not really kosher when the setting is supposed to be elegant), and also had to be prompted to begin taking orders, to begin serving coffee after dinner, and to begin serving dessert - which they were unaware was included in our catering package (the standard one). No plates came with the bread, so the tablecloths got pretty crumby.

These are just little things. But larger problems included the fact that some people's vegetables were cold on the bottom, that every steak served, regardless of the doneness specified, was between rare and medium-rare, and that (only) the first table served dessert was not given a choice of which of the two desserts on our pre-selected menu they would prefer. Or that the conference coordinator got missed for dessert altogether, so that two of her tablemates, on two different occasions, had to chase down a waiter to get it for her, and that it finally arrived after everyone else had finished and people were beginning to leave. Or that we never got spoons to stir the coffee. My table never got cream, so I didn't need a spoon anyway.

All that said, the biggest problem of all was that the manager on duty would not see us. Things had gone wrong, and the head waitress was very apologetic and visibly squirming, but wasn't in any position to do anything to help. We asked to see the manager; after being gone for ten minutes, the waitress returned to say, miserably, that the manager was just too busy with a table downstairs - but that she was the assistant manager and would be able to help with any issues.

That's really the part that gets me, I think. Screw up as much as you like, but to send someone to face the music who can't do anything about it is really chickenshit.

So we ended up just paying our bill and leaving. Still there was an ugly scene on the phone today with the restaurant manager, who was naturally very angry and belligerent.

Why is that, I wonder? I guess the assumption is that we're a bunch of cheapskates trying to weasel out of the bill. Frankly, I would have been much happier paying it if she had just rephrased things a little, in a different tone of voice.

Try this:

"Oh, no. I am so sorry it didn't work out for you. We really try to make a good experience for all our guests, and I hate to hear that we fell short of expectations. I couldn't be there last night. Because we waived your room rental" [according to their website, there is a $600 room rental for Friday and Saturday nights, and every day in December; so I had assumed there wasn't one for a Wednesday in October - but never mind], "and only charged you for the 38 entrees we actually served rather than the 45 you guaranteed" [this one's a legitimate, and duly appreciated, point], "I really can't waive any of the costs. I'm so sorry you had a bad experience. I wish I could do something to make it up to you, only I'm just not able to. I really hope you'll give us another chance."

Not this (more or less a paraphrase of what she actually said):

"So what exactly is it that you want? Look, I apologize. But you had my best staff last night, so I don't see how it could have been that bad. We waived the room rental for you. We only charged you for the 38 dinners we served instead of the 45 you guaranteed. I don't see what else I could possibly do for you, and based on what you're saying, it doesn't sound like you want gift certificates. Look, you got your room, you got your food. I guess I can talk to the owner again about it, but I don't really see the point. What, really, are you complaining about?"

Whatever. We had already paid it; the money isn't the issue, the issue is going back to my division director (whose husband, alas! ordered his steak medium well) and saying, I'm sorry. I picked this place. I thought it was a good idea. It turned out I made a mistake, but we did what we could.

I don't know if it's a decision, really, to be the type of person the manager is - a collection-agent-type, I'd say on first blush, someone who would be comfortable calling up complete strangers and demanding money in a belittling tone. Or someone like me, too far in the other direction, apologetic and afraid of stirring things up and making trouble, to the detriment not only of myself but of people who depend on me. I just know that every decision we make sends little ripples out one way or another, through our friends or our coworkers or our contacts with strangers through anything like a random "hello" on the hike-and-bike trail to a blog which not all that many people read.

All I've really figured out so far is to try to do the best I can, as much of the time I can, and hope that something, anything will make some kind of difference. It's not much of a revelation.

Everything will probably make more sense after dinner.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008


A front blew into the Hill Country Wednesday afternoon. It wasn't bitter cold, but the chill was sudden, the wind gusty, and none of us dressed for temperatures below 65 degrees, when we arrived for a scheduled tour of a state historical site.

The docent - a sweet-faced, soft-spoken old lady in pioneer-era clothing - met us inside the museum building. Did we want to spend some time exploring the building, and tour the grounds later, she asked? Or would we brave the weather and go over the grounds right away?

Let's do the grounds first, I said, reasoning that as it was already late in the afternoon, it wasn't going to get any warmer; plus we had just stepped off the heated bus, so a few minutes' rambling out-of-doors shouldn't do us any harm.

In retrospect, I really think there was no right answer; but as God is my witness, I've never seen anyone talk so much in my entire life. Every rusty old piece of farming equipment, every decaying cabin, smithy, and schoolhouse, every tool and every piece of furniture we could glimpse within, had a story. Not a short one, either.

After half an hour, my group - an impeccably professional, attentive, polite lot, dutifully taking copious notes despite the wind - were audibly suffering; but the docent was pitiless. "I think they wound her up right before we got here," murmured the photographer in my ear.

I can tell you that a family of ten children was raised in the second cabin, a tiny little affair with only two rooms. There was a partition dividing the larger room, which was added, the docent went on inimitably, when the daughters of the family grew old enough to need some privacy when dressing. Ten children! That must have been cozy, I thought, gazing longingly through the half-open door. We weren't allowed inside.

By the last cabin, I'm surprised my group hadn't mutinied. The last cabin was the biggest one, and consequently had the longest story. Our docent talked on, standing full in the wind, seemingly unaffected - pioneer garb must be quite warm. We moved some of our more lightly-clad members into the most sheltered spot on the porch and tried to protect them with our own bodies. Some of us were whimpering.

Finally she led us away from the last cabin, but as we rounded the corner we saw a long line of rusty plows and tilling machines arrayed instructively under a pavilion. The docent moved towards them, remarking that many of the cabin owner's belongings could be seen inside the museum. There was a small, plaintive voice behind me. "I want to go inside and look at the belongings!"

It was too much for our photographer, who broke away from the group and strode back to the museum. But the docent had locked it.

Fifteen minutes later, when we were at last admitted to the warmth of the building, we dawdled lovingly over the exhibits as the docent went on, tirelessly, with more stories and descriptions. There were bonnets and gowns, pianos and chairs, a carriage and a car, books, newspapers, magazines, dolls, toys, jewelry. In one cabinet was a turn-of-the century do-it-yourself dental kit, complete with huge, rusty pliers. I would have been horrified if it weren't so nice and warm.

Finally our step-on guide for this leg of the trip had to intervene, telling the docent that our allotted time had passed and we were due at our next stop. "But before we go," he said, "I just wanted to tell you some exciting news: that our Chamber has just asked your docent to write a book on the history of this area!"

We all beamed and applauded, but I can't have been the only one wondering why we had to be the ones to take dictation?

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Travels and Travails

A few favorite parts of the trip:

Glass-bottomed boat ride at Aquarena Center. The water is crystal clear, and you can see the sand at the bottom bubbling where the springs are coming up. Isn't there something kind of amazing and mysterious about springs? They come from nowhere - never mind if you have a basic academic understanding of how it works - and the water is so pure. They seem to symbolize everything good and unspoiled about nature.

They still shouldn't have gotten rid of Ralph the Swimming Pig.

Comal Springs, also, emerge pure and cold from crevices in the rocks. We can thank the Balcones Fault for the line of springs through Central Texas - ancient, long-stable, but responsible for many different wonders across the state. Innerspace Caverns was another high point of our trip, where we got to see the fault-lines from inside the earth.

Cows are pretty cool too. There was a big steer we got our picture taken with in front of the Bob Bullock Museum here in Austin, and the most adorable little silly baby cow-cow trying to face down the bus at LBJ Ranch (the darling, he hung his head and loped away when we honked at him; I was hoping perhaps he wouldn't move, and I would have to get out of the bus and scoop him up in my arms and carry him to safety, perhaps bestowing a kiss or two on his wee nosey along the way).

Bed-and-breakfasts, in whatever form they may take. I've never stayed in one before, though my parents often do when traveling. In Fredericksburg, many are not really B&Bs as I've always understood them; mine was actually a tiny little turn-of-the-century cottage on the creek whose owners live a mile or so away, and it had a trellis and porch with climbing roses, a living area, bath, bedroom, and well-stocked kitchen, and was comfortably furnished with a mix of antique furniture, cozy country decorations, and modern and popular art. A chatty note from the owners on the credenza explained what there is to see and do in town: shopping, for example, is one of the most popular activities there - though the owners remarked that they don't really understand the appeal, themselves. I liked them right away.

The LBJ ranch again - there's a cushion in his office, the only room currently open to the public, which reads, "It's my ranch and I'll do as I damn please." Or something like that. (I only know it didn't say "damn well please," which I would have liked better; but then these were the olden days.)

1950s department store mannequins dressed in pioneer-era clothing. You just can't get enough of that.

I could have done without all the last-minute emergency changes, or making mistakes and getting the bus lost. Our hosts left us early Tuesday, you see, because of a death in the family, so I had to sort of take over the tour. This was not unmanageable except that I didn't have all the directions and specific details, and I've discovered that - even though I usually seem very calm while panicking - I don't think very clearly under those circumstances.

We made it through nonetheless. Against my wishes, my boss came immediately to the rescue and joined us yesterday morning, so at the big closing dinner last night, when the whole entire city we were visiting, including the local newspaper and the mayor and the city council and God and all the livestock in the county, showed up to feast and celebrate us for all we do for the tourism industry, my hastily-arrived boss was introduced and applauded as the tour coordinator.

It's sort of like the first big fight with your new love. I guess how I handle it determines some of where we go from here. I've been honeymooning with my new job; but this is the moment of discovering that it sometimes drinks milk straight out of the carton and feels comfortable farting in front of me.

It was a wonderful experience overall, if sometimes very uncomfortable, and very educational. I'll try to get all the good things out of it.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Both Ends

When I got back to my desk from afternoon break on Friday, there was a sticky note on my chair from my boss, which read "See me ASAP!!!" This is never good.

It turned out we had some emergency last-minute changes to our itinerary for this trip; yesterday they developed further, and now we'll be heading back a day earlier than anticipated. So we're changing people's flight arrangements and trying to find hotel accommodations and travel finances and stuff like that.

Actually, they're handling most of it back at the office, but I did have to meet with our contacts last night to go over the changes, after the day's activities were over - hence the fun little gathering over drinks at the dance hall - and I still need to notify all the attendees today and coordinate things from their end.

I have the CUTEST room tonight. Last night. Whatever. It has a charming Swiss-chalet design with a little living area downstairs, with a day bed; the bathroom is downstairs too. Upstairs is an adorable big bedroom with a nice soft king-sized bed on an iron bedstead, cathedral ceilings, wood floors, and a little balcony overlooking the garden.

Downstairs, the floor is flagstones and the ceilings are pressed tin. The bathroom has a claw-footed tub and lace curtains. It's just beautiful! And there's free wi-fi, to boot.

But when you wake up at 4:30 needing to pee, having to navigate the stairs down and back up, when you've got lots of stuff on your mind, means you're not getting back to sleep.

Oh well. Hopefully I can make up for it tonight. Or tomorrow night. Whatever.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Small World

No one who has to be up as early as I have to be up in the morning has any business blogging at this hour.

And yet I must.

So tonight it ensued - over a drink or two, naturally - that one of the industry contacts on this trip is familiar with the old nightmare marketing company I worked for in Corpus. He was in fact flabbergasted that I used to work for that awful place, but very interested to hear the inside perspective I was able to provide.

But then I had to go and tell the story about Ursula, its CEO, whom he's met, and now he's going to have nightmares. Nice going, Beth.

I've told the story here before. But this computer is too slow for me to go and look it up, or at least I'm too lazy. Suffice it to say it's a story I tried explaining to my companions I absolutely could not tell, which resulted in them buying me more wine and being quite insistent, so I did. Delicately. I tried not to be too graphic. It concerned the CEO of my old company, her husband, the patio of their island home, and a complaint from the neighbors...

"Oh my God!" shouted one of my coworkers, when I'd skirted the horrible truth as well as I could, "you're talking about public muff-diving!"

So much for subtlety.

Well, tomorrow's another day. I hope my coworkers will still respect me in the morning.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Day One

"IKEA," said someone at dinner tonight, "is just like Bed Bath & Beyond, times a million. On crack."

That should totally be their official motto.

So I am on the road for a week, starting today; and so far it's going marvelously, I must say. The only quibble I have is that the internet in my hotel room costs $11.95 a day. I'm staying somewhere else tomorrow night; hopefully it's free there, but for now, I'm reduced to clacking away on a very noisy keyboard in the business center, which resembles a large closet, only with more mirrors.

Today I learned that the big pokey thing sticking out of City Hall is designed to resemble an armadillo's tail. Did you know that? I didn't. We also saw a zombie parade marching up Congress as we headed to the Capitol. Many of them were carrying protest signs. "Undead? Yes! Unperson? No!" read one.

How cool is that, to have a bunch of people come from out of town and there just happens to be a zombie parade going on? I love Austin!

Also today I got to put my arm around a great big boy cow with curly horns. There's something I've never done before!

It's not that late and I'm not very tired and I sure wish there were internet in my room. There's one a them TV things, though; I hear they show shows, and lots of people quite enjoy them. Maybe I'll try that out. Or maybe just a nice hot bath and try to get some sleep. It'll be a busy week.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Problem with Estonians

The Zilker Botanical Gardens are beautiful any time of year, but they're rather peaceful just now - despite the fact that people infinitely lamer than any cousin of mine could ever be are taking up the whole entire Rose Garden to get married in, and most of the koi in the oriental ponds appear to be hibernating.

I rode my bike there to meet up with Cheryl's Bitch and his boyfriend, and his boyfriend's roommate, who is fairly young, straight, friendly, and not at all bad-looking - and perhaps one of the most annoying people I have ever met. Look, we're sitting in the gazebo of the oriental gardens, with bamboo-slatted walls, and the roommate pulls a bamboo stalk out of the wall and starts feinting at Cheryl's Bitch with it, banging it against the bamboo ceiling and generally making a huge racket in the process. We're trying to talk, here.

"Hey," I said. "Do you have to tear the place up?!"

Funny, the dynamics of being a fag-hag in a social setting with a friend's boyfriend's roommate. Sadly enough, if the gay guys weren't around, I'd probably be flirting with him.

I talked about my own dear little son, and how he's developed a serious crush on some girl he's met online, who lives in the Philippines. "It's complicated to be in love," I remarked, "particularly if they are half a world away. It's not like there aren't cool enough people to meet here in Austin!"

"True enough," the guys agreed.

"On the other hand, he's not nearly as likely to get her knocked up," I went on.

"A good friend of ours," said Cheryl's Bitch's boyfriend, "met some woman online from Estonia, and married her and brought her here. It's working out really well for them."

"Yeah," added his roommate, "they have a kid and everything. And another on the way."

"Are they happy?" I asked. "I would have been worried that women from less developed nations would just be looking for a ticket to U.S. citizenship."

"Well, her mom was a doctor, and they seemed fairly well-off," said Cheryl's Bitch's boyfriend. "So I don't think it was that."

"She's not very pretty," remarked the roommate. "Aren't women from that area generally supposed to be attractive?"

"I think they are," I said, "if you're into mustaches."

The roommate went on. "Of course, he's not much to look at either."

"Really," said Cheryl's Bitch's boyfriend, "she's got really big - eyebrows. Merged together in the middle, you know how. And actually she's not very nice."

I'm almost peeing myself by this point.

"Well, at least their baby is cute!" says Cheryl's Bitch's boyfriend. I have to say, thank God. We have enough trouble in the world, without more grouchy, unibrowed half-Estonians stomping about in a perpetual state of high multicultural dudgeon.

Especially at Zilker. Where are the big-ass koi when you need them?!

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Going Away

Next week's trip doesn't take me far from home, but it's in a very different place: different responsibilities, duties, and social surroundings; different things to see and think about; different priorities and different needs; and perhaps - just like any trip for someone who loves traveling - the deeper hope is that I won't be the same person coming back as I was when I left.

It's too bad I couldn't bring my camera on my Maryland trip, for Irene's wedding. I marveled at a tiny spit of sand beach in Betterton, on an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. The sand was so golden as to be almost orange. I didn't try the water, since I found it uncomfortably cool; but it was dark blue, and clean and fresh-looking. Nights were kind of cold. My cousin Ivan, who lives in Ithaca, had a different perspective: he found it to be like reliving the end of a summer that had already passed away at home.

Still, most of the leaves hadn't turned. A giant black walnut tree in the side yard of the farmhouse had lost its foliage, and was in the process of losing its fruit, at no small hazard to anyone who happened to be standing underneath. The walnuts look almost exactly like tennis balls - about the same size, perfectly round, and bright yellow. But they're solid, and hit the ground loudly enough to be heard anywhere in the house.

It's no longer summer here. The afternoons are comfortable, and the mornings are even a little chilly, especially if it's overcast. There's rain sometimes. And when the sky is clear, it's that particular shade of crisp, empty, sharp-edged blue that manages somehow to look more melancholy than clouds and darkness ever do.

Next week's trip takes us all around central Texas - quite the nicest part of the state, naturally enough, in my opinion. There will be caverns, trees, lakes, cities, museums, wineries, breweries, shops, historic buildings, modern edifices, and more. I'm glad to go. There are so many things right in arm's reach of me here, in Austin, that I've never seen.

And maybe the someone who comes back will be a little better.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Life Is Easy

Cleanliness is to Godliness as Efficiency is to...?

Everything would be a lot easier if life were multiple-choice.

In our staff meeting this morning, my boss mentioned that our agency's new plan of consolidating central functions was undergoing a pilot program in my old division, along with the other divisions in my old building. They're going to consolidate all the separate IT departments into one, to support everyone in the building. I almost spit out my coffee.

"Elizabeth seems to find this amusing for some reason," remarked my boss.

Well, yes and no. I mean, I did work there, and the general impression I have of the overall cooperativeness of employees in that building is perhaps not completely consistent with an image of everyone functioning smoothly under an umbrella organization. "Inefficiency" is not necessarily a word that springs to mind, but "infighting" is. Also "rampant obsolescence." At least one IT department in that building supports software developed during the Truman administration.

"Tell us what you think the problem might be," says my boss, leaning forward with her chin in her palm. She isn't confronting me, mind you; she's actually smiling with anticipation. There are moments I suspect I was hired solely for entertainment purposes.

"Well, I don't know," I said, "my general impression was that the IT group was the least cooperative element of a generally unhelpful area. I could be wrong. I'm curious to see how it works out. Can somebody bring popcorn?"

Everybody laughed, but I meant it.

Lucky me, I am in hardly any staff meetings these days, though I'll be on the road for an educational travel conference all next week. There will be no IT people present. I guess that's for the best, though on the whole I've always gotten on quite well with nerds.

Life is wonderful, and everything is easy. As long as you have someone else to point and laugh at.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

The Wedding

That, my friends, was a wedding.

I have had so much fun over the past few days, and only wish it could have been longer; still there was enough sheer enjoyment packed into a roughly 72-hour period to last me a while. Visiting with my father and stepmother (only not enough), enjoying philosophical conversation with my aunt Kalista (only not enough), spending some time with my cousin Gretchen and her adorable little toddler boy and her mom, my aunt Adair (only not enough), hanging out with my very cool cousins Ivan and Irene (the bride) and meeting Irene's husband's wonderful family - only not enough!

Ivan and I marveled over last night's happenings this morning, as we strolled through downtown Chestertown, Maryland sipping coffee from a local coffeehouse. "I've never been to a wedding where the dance floor filled up so quickly before," said Ivan.

"I've never been to a wedding that got busted up by the cops before," I added.

Not that it actually got "busted up." One cop arrived. And what he thought he was doing, I'm not sure - the farm where the wedding was held wasn't in earshot of anyone else, and it was obviously an elegant affair - the tent, the linens and glassware on the tables, the bottles of wine - although it was pretty late, most of the remaining guests were now hanging out by the bonfire, except for two or three who were cartwheeling naked through the moonlit field.

I said it was a wedding.

If he'd been a British copper, he'd have shouldered his way in proper "what's-all-this-then" fashion; but only being a yokel from rural Maryland, he did the best he could: shone a flashlight into the perfectly well-lit tent, said rudely that any noise was too much noise at 1:30 in the morning, and then left. Whatever; the party had moved out into the field by then anyway, there was still plenty of wine, and we all thought it was screamingly hilarious. "Did you see what a stupid hat he had on?" asked Ivan.

The wedding itself was quite amazing. My cousin Irene is beautiful, gracious, funny, and altogether wonderful; and if you want to know what kind of person she is, she is the kind of person who can simultaneously finish her dissertation for her Ph.D. at Yale (last Wednesday!) and plan the kind of wedding that makes you proud to be a member of the human race. She's half-Vietnamese; her husband, from Johannesburg, is half-Zulu and half-Sutu; they live in Brooklyn now, and their friends, the wedding guests, are from everywhere. The union of the two families is like a symbol of world peace, understanding, and common humanity. I wish I had better words to describe it.

But it was unquestionably modern. "I am a gender activist," said one of Tumelo's aunts, giving a toast at the reception, "so we did not sing many of the traditional wedding songs." In the old tradition, the new bride, as the junior female member of her new husband's family, waits on everyone - rises early, sweeps the floor, chops wood to build a fire to make tea for her husband's parents, and in general gets stuck with all the dirty work until someone newer comes along. Tumelo's female relatives happen to find this attitude a little sexist. Everyone applauded.

I have to say, I drank a lot this weekend. When I arrived at the farm Friday night, after a 4+ hour layover in Newark, and an hour and a half drive from BWI, Irene offered me whiskey. Fortunately, she then offered wine instead. Saturday night I accepted some, but couldn't muster the courage to take more than a couple of sips of it; several friends were over, and when one of them broke out the wine, I cheerfully poured my whiskey into poor Ivan's glass and had that instead. Last night, at the wedding, I got drunk. On wine. It was an outdoor wedding, and I think some very small bugs might have gotten into my wine. What the hell, I drank them. Everything was wonderful!

Then, this morning, there was a brunch at a historic hotel in Chestertown, with its ripply old brick sidewalks, stately houses and storefronts, and heavy overhanging trees - so picturesque! And we discovered that it's true, a Bloody Mary really does help with a hangover. Who knew? (Aside from everyone but me, apparently.)

On the other hand, because Irene and Tumelo and their immediate families only eat fresh, organic, wholesome food, I ate better over this past weekend than I ever do, and I feel rather wonderful actually.

I left a little later than I meant to, but made it to the airport and through security just in time to rush aboard my flight and make it safely home, via Houston instead of Newark this time, which is better. Newark has extremely long lines on the taxiway just to take off. I disapprove.

We're doing it all again, because Irene and Tumelo are having a second ceremony in Johannesburg in 2010. Bring your dancing shoes!

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Long Day

Note the time...

I flew out of Austin at 11:50 a.m. today, and arrived in Newark about 4:30 p.m. I had some hopes of finding an earlier connecting flight out of Newark to BWI - something not involving a 4-hour layover, than which it would have been quicker to just rent a car there and drive, actually - but it was not meant to be.

I could have done without a few of my fellow passengers. Let me tell you, the woman on my right did not put up her tray table until several minutes after the flight attendant announced that she should; and the guy on my left kept listening to his iPod until well into our descent. What should you, as a responsible passenger, do? Are you your fellow passengers' keeper? Are you expected to rat them out to the fuzz?!

The one that really bothered me was the guy in the row ahead of me, who kept making "weeeeeeeoooooooooo" bomb noises. So not cool.

Newark is technically not a part of New York City, but who are they trying to fool here? Taking off from that airport after nightfall makes it pretty clear; the ground is one solid glowing mass, and tall buildings are everywhere. The last leg of the flight from EWR to BWI was delayed. I was supposed to arrive at 9:53 p.m. and ended up not getting in until past 11, something of a hassle, as I had a two-hour drive ahead of me. Still I made it in and the drive was really nice. It's pitch-black out and there were no other cars on the road, if you don't count Mr. Hot Rod, who seemed genuinely befuddled for several moments when I moved onto the shoulder to let him pass. What? That's what you do.

Wisps of fog across the highway witness the proximity of the bay and the ocean, and I drove through several very small, but very closely spaced, cute, picturesque, historical towns... and also past a Maryland State Travel Information Center, which I will definitely take time to visit on my way home Monday, when it's open. I'll bring a notepad.

I got in at 1:30 a.m. and my cousin, the bride-to-be, promptly offered me whiskey. We are not the same as our parents. My cousins and I sat up talking and giggling over wine until past three.

I assumed there would be no internet here, but there is! Surprise! So here I am, checking in quickly before dissolving into an exhausted puddle for the night. Perhaps tomorrow there will be pictures. It's beautiful here!

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pamper Your Cats

Now that Romeo's blind, I find I tolerate behavior from him that used to be strictly forbidden.

He always loved sleeping on the kitchen table, but I used to speak sharply to him and push him off. Who'd have the heart to do that now? Poor old kitty. We just pet him and croon to him, and when he wants down, and starts teetering uncertainly on the edge of the table, someone will pick him up slowly and place him gently on the floor.

He gets stinky food every morning now. I wait till the other cats aren't around to give it to him. And when Mr. Bingo Kitten gets a bug up his butt, I toss him outside. I figure Romeo has enough problems without Mr. Crazy leaping unexpectedly onto him from across the room.

But the things you have to put up with! This morning, stepping into the shower, I put my foot smack down in the middle of an unexpected puddle next to the tub - ah, unexpected, but not by any means unidentifiable. Romeo got in the habit of having a wee in the middle of the bathmat, I'm sorry to say, before I sighed and gave up on the idea of keeping a bathmat at all. Apparently the spot where the bathmat used to be does just as well.

Last week, Katie left her laundry sitting in the open dryer for several days. Guess what happened to it?

So I sighed again, and wiped up the mess with an old towel, and petted Moe on the head and told him he's a good old kitty. But a friend suggested kitty diapers to me today, and the idea is not without some appeal.

It's not without precedent, either. I used to make and sell cloth diapers online, when Anna was a baby, and I came up with a one-size-fits-all model - to demonstrate the efficacy of which, I took pictures of it on Anna, about 25 pounds at the time, and on Slappy White, about 10.

So I'd just need to dig out my old patterns, find some scraps of fabric, oil and air-blast the sewing machine and snap press, and get to sewing. I might as well get started now. Romeo wants the computer.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Lessons from a 7-Year-Old

Your zoo is a pretty sorry excuse for a zoo if it only has one animal. Your seven-year-old visitor probably won't even want to pay admission, and will sneak in by wriggling through the ticket window, giggling. Then she will swipe your animal, which is actually just a four-inch-tall stuffed bunny, and convince you that the pillow she's thwacking you with is actually a sack full of much better animals, so you quit tickling her and allow her to escape, only to find out she's only given you a pillow! So your zoo has to close. Way to go.

I don't really know what you were thinking, trying to open up a zoo in the first place.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Oh No, Not Again

Yesterday my bosses told me, in the course of a meeting on related issues, that my workplace dress is still too provocative: outfits too tight, too low-cut, too sexy. I need to be more conservative. We're being scrutinized. I am acting as a representative of our agency... and so on.

The thing is, there's another woman in our office - one of the administrative assistants - who owns the exact same top I was wearing yesterday. She and I have remarked on that, and laughed about it before. She happened to be wearing it yesterday. And it isn't any less tight on her than it is on me, actually. But she's shaped differently than I am.

So do I just need to get a double mastectomy, or what?!

I want to be understanding, because I love this job, and they went on to say how enormously pleased they've been with my work and how happy they are that they hired me. I'm extremely intelligent, they told me: a fast learner, a hard worker, efficient, helpful, utterly reliable, have a wonderful attitude, and take on more of the workload than they had ever hoped for. "Your predecessor was good," said my boss. "You're better."

But let's face it: the tits have got to go.

The girls (my daughters, I mean) and I watched "Enchanted" last night. Have you ever seen it? I absolutely loved it, which I didn't think I would. But it was hilarious, and I got to thinking how nice it would be to have Disney-princess powers of my own: sing a cheerful little working song, and the local wildlife shows up to clean house for you in the most magical and adorable fashion! In Manhattan, the local wildlife consists of pigeons, flies, rats, and cockroaches - but they certainly get the job done. If I had those powers, my house would be cleaned by cockroaches, possums, and the occasional armadillo - and Dave, for once, would earn his keep in cat food. I might go out and buy a new toothbrush, though.

A few months ago my boss asked if I had seen that movie, and remarked that the Disney-princess character reminded her of me. And I can sing, sort of - so it's rather enchanting (so to speak) to fantasize about being able to summon hordes of friendly neighborhood creatures to do my bidding, or kick off a fully-choreographed musical number without notice.

I'm flattered at the comparison. The princess is very pretty. But she's much more flat-chested.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Burning Questions

Say you're the curator of a small-town historical museum. You've always felt that your carefully arranged displays, complete with period furnishings, would benefit greatly from the addition of a few costumed mannequins to bring the scene to life. And you're in luck! The old Woolworth's on Main Street, which went bankrupt in the 1970s, has a few specimens in its basement: abandoned since 1957, sure; chewed on by rats, sure: still, you can't beat the price!
I can only imagine that was the thought process behind this display.

I like this one even more, because the questions it raises are almost theological in nature. Wait - who, exactly, is real here?!
Fortunately, babies during the old ranching days on the Panhandle Plains were made of sterner stuff than the floppy, helpless, pansy-assed babies we have these days. Or is that one of the dolls?! I'm confused.

This one isn't historically accurate, I'm sorry to say. A commercially-manufactured porcelain doll with rooted hair was a luxury item of the highest order, to be given as a treasured gift to a little girl in a well-to-do-family, treasured, cherished, and laid carefully away to pass on to the next generation. For a little North Texas ranch girl to own three is patently ridiculous. Sorry, people.

This one raises only one significant question, but it's a big one.
Is this a priest, or is it James Bond?! Usually it's easier to tell. Not in the turn-of-the-century Texas Panhandle, apparently.

Floosie never was popular with the other girls, even when she got that glamorous job as a switchboard operator. But she knew it was all just due to envy: her beauty, her intestinal-tract-defying slimness, her penchant for such futuristic footwear as no one had ever seen before. Baby, if you've got it going on this fierce, you know the other girls will never accept you.

It's a little-known fact that 1970s department-store mannequins suffered from a dietary deficiency that also plagued Civil War soldiers, which caused sometimes crippling defects.

Well, a few oranges will probably clear that right up. Until then, just grip your gun firmly between your toes.

The most urgent question for today: Do you think Panhandle Mannequin would make a good band name, or what?