Monday, March 30, 2009

Somebody Else's Problem

About 4:45 today, I found myself lost in a reverie, watching a steady stream of cars whose lucky owners had the foresight to come in half an hour or more earlier than I did, or to take a short lunch. The day was bright and sunny. My cubicle window overlooks the service road between two of our three buildings on campus. It turns off Riverside next to the Kwik-E-Mart, and leads to the back parking lot of the Statesman, and to the hike-and-bike trail. All day long, not only cars, but joggers and walkers (with and without strollers and/or dogs) and bicyclists stream by underneath my window. It's enough to make a desk-bound girl a little punchy.

Have you ever noticed how some people wear exercise gear that's a little too close to their skin tone? So that, if you don't look carefully, you might get the impression they weren't even WEARING exercise gear?

Just such a one pedaled happily by under my window today, making me smile a little. Until I looked a little more closely. And saw some anatomy. And - "Oh, my, God," I said, "Oh, my God!" Yes, cycling down from the hike-and-bike trail and into the back parking lot* of the building across the service road was a straight-up, ain't-no-denyin', no-two-ways-about-it, buck-nekkid dude.

I watched him pedal away in some bemusement. Is that legal? was one question on my mind. Another was, how far of a head start does he have before it's time for me to leave? Because, you know, I'm fairly busy at work these days. When I bike home, I'm actually kind of tired. I just don't think I'd be able to do justice to a naked man at 5:15 on a Monday afternoon.

Then again, I only really saw him from behind.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

I Can't Get No Respect

My elaborate road-trip plans having fallen through today, due to softball tournaments that did not (despite all the frogs in the known universe) get rained out, late-night drinking binges, parental visits, emergency haircuts, and other reasons not particularly worth going into, transpire (read it again, it actually does make grammatical sense), Tony and his friend Josh took me out to lunch today at Magnolia. I'd already eaten.

You can always find something worth having at Magnolia Cafe, though. This is one of the very first echt-Austin establishments I was taken to, at the tender age of 17, by my then-30-year-old boyfriend, when I was a little freshman newbie to Austin and he was the creature of the world, showing me the ropes of the place. At that time, I remember, Magnolia Cafe had a mural depicting (among other things) Superman with a Hitler mustache. I expect that was meant to be a Nietzsche reference. Whatever it was, it's gone now.

So today I had cottage cheese and a flamingo sandwich (tomatoes, avocadoes, swiss cheese, and alfalfa sprouts on grilled whole wheat bread - I removed the sprouts), and the boys had more substantial fare, and polished off my discarded alfalfa sprouts, to boot. They're big muscle men. Of course.

Then we went to Redbud Island. I've lived in Austin - and adored it with my whole heart, which probably goes without saying - for about 23 years now, minus the year I spent back with my parents in northern Virginia, and the two years I had the insane notion of living in Corpus because it has a beach. I'll tell you what: rotting seaweed, dirty sand, the occasional stinging jellyfish, and zero nightlife make for a lousy beach. Go for the weekend, if you will. Several of us will be down there, getting drunk and possibly less-legally impaired, and painting the town some chic and unexpected color, for my 40th birthday in May. But live there? I can't recommend it.

Redbud Island is really nice. I would have liked to be led to know beforehand that we were going, because it's a beautiful leash-free park with decomposed granite trails, plentiful poison ivy, gorgeous rock-studded river vistas, and joyful, exuberant, incredibly wet dogs, and I was in a skirt and high heels. No matter: the views are incredible and the atmosphere is so relaxed. Tony, Josh and I climbed around for a bit, then settled ourselves on a bench in the tree-dappled sunshine, some twenty feet from the water's edge. A guy was resting at the shore about fifteen feet in front tossing sticks to his slightly oblivious dog, which I don't think ever actually retrieved anything. We chatted in desultory fashion about dogs, animals, turtles (Tony's pet of choice), cats, and things that sneak in through the pet door, such as raccoons and possums.

"Oh, you have to watch out for them," chimed in the guy sitting by the water with his dog, "they can be really vicious!"

We got to talking about parallel parking (finding parking at Redbud involved, I might mention, rather a significant amount of obscenity from Tony, despite his Lenten vows); and Josh - about 10-12 years younger than Tony and me - said that he never had trouble, because his Jetta's side mirrors automatically adjusted to point at the curb when he parallel-parked. Tony and I were slightly outraged. When we were his age, we didn't have amenities like that.

"Did they even have cars when you were my age?" Josh teased me; but before I could wind up for a proper smacking, the guy on the shore turned around. "Oh, they did," he said, "but they were the kind where you had to stick your feet out the bottom and run."

Oh! No! You! Di!N'T!!!!!!

We left the park - me, flowing skirt, high heels and all - and got a latte at Mozart's on Lake Austin. Where this thing happened, about which I am about (are you ready?) to blog.

Tony and Josh and I had coffeehouse drinks, and as I was polishing off my iced latte, enjoying the cool early spring weather, a guy at a neighboring table got up to walk inside, but turned and gave me a brief, but fairly dark, significant and serious Look.

"Oh my God," I said to Tony, as the guy walked away and went inside, "that guy is really cute."

Tony turned and looked. "That guy," he said calmly, "looks an awful lot like (you-know-who, dammit)."

"Oh. Shit," I said, putting my head in my hands, because the guy (who didn't really look all that much like him, but had that certain quality of Somethingness by which we tend to group the people we meet in our heads, thereby figuring out in quick order how to deal with them) was unarguably of that type. He looked a bit like a loner, like the type of guy that people tend to misunderstand: intelligent, capable of great insight and humor, defensive, and (as far as my experience goes), perhaps not entirely sane.

Whatever that means. Like I'm claiming I am.

I thought of Agatha Christie, and Miss Marple, and was talking about this still when our neighbor returned to his seat. "Miss Marple's theory," I was explaining, "was that there are really only a fairly limited number of Types of people in the world; and that therefore, as you become older, and get to meet more and more people - however limited the society you live in - you get to recognize and understand them, and to predict the way that the new people you meet will behave, based on the way the people they remind you of have acted in the past.

"And therefore," I went on - probably within earshot of this incredibly fascinating guy, who on second examination did not look that much at all like the person he reminded me of, "we should go ahead and leave, maybe now."

Which we did. As we walked out I turned back briefly and caught his gaze again, and there was that brief electric shock again. Hello, I thought. I had someone to psychologically torture me, and I seem to be fresh out. How about you?

I need a road trip. NOW.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Reign of Frogs

There’s a massive winter storm up in the Panhandle today. Huge stretches of I-40 and I-27 have been closed altogether due to ice and snow accumulation and blizzard conditions.

Blizzard conditions. In Texas. In April, almost.

Here in Austin, the morning was heavy and black with thunder and rain. This afternoon it’s bright, sunny, and 81 degrees.

What’s going on here?

Ever since starting at my new job (I say “new,” though my first anniversary was February 25th) I’ve been plagued by a low-performance computer. 504MB of RAM, I got. 504MB!! And ever since I started on I’ve wanted to get ArcGIS software installed, because come on, I work in travel – and it just so happens I know how to make maps. Travel. Maps. Hello?! We have a license, it wouldn’t cost anything. But I couldn’t have it, because Arc requires a minimum 1GB of RAM.

This morning I came in to find a sticky note on my computer from our IT guy. “E – I installed 3 more 512s to your RAM – G”

Naturally, this sprang instantly to mind.

And speaking of LOLZ, two years ago, the day after my now-painfully-estranged friend left our old division for his new job in the building where I also work now, I sent him an alarmed email. “You clearly play a larger role in holding the fabric of reality together than I had realized,” I told him, “because today, Bitching Bubbly Smoking Nonsmoker came over and made friendly chit-chat with me for half an hour.”

She’d never really spoken to me without snarling before.

She got fired the same week I started my new job, and I had no further contact with her. But then, two months ago, my poor little friend and I fell out and stopped speaking, and she turned up and friended me on Facebook...?


Especially considering that Facebook was the final contributing factor in our falling-out?!?!?

I’m glad my computer is a lot faster now, and I’m glad the day is so pretty. But I wouldn’t mind if the universe would start being a little more normal again.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Say What?

My boss and I went to a hospitality industry mixer after work. Once more we suffer from our agency's insistence on acting like an irreproachable, holier-than-thou goody-goody: the mixer was a wine-tasting. We are not allowed to drink while representing the agency.

We also can't put our business cards in the jar for the door prizes. We did accept, upon leaving, one small jar each of a local seasoning our host is famous for - I hope it doesn't cost us our jobs!

Alcohol really does help, I find, in social settings; without it, I'm too shy to chat up strangers. My boss and I make the obligatory greetings to our hosts, with whom we are at least slightly acquainted. But they have to make the rounds of the room, and can't stand around talking to us all evening. Mostly, she and I talk to one another.

There was someone else there from our agency tonight, who works in a different area. She came and talked to us for a while. She's making a business trip to our hosts' city next month, and talked about how much she's looking forward to it. "I'm so glad," she said to my boss, "you suggested I sleep with the head of the CVB before going out there - he really has helped me out a lot!"

"Oh, good!" says my boss calmly, somewhat to my surprise, as it doesn't seem at all like the sort of thing she'd suggest. "I thought he'd be a lot of help, so I'm really glad that worked out for you."

And at about that point I realized our coworker had said "speak." My boss had suggested she speak with him. Oooooohhhhhhhhhhhh.

Reality has been badly enough out of whack lately as it is.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Because Robbie and Kevin Said To

...and because Diane complained that my most recent post was making her want a kitten.

Oh, but she is a darling, sweet little thing (the kitten, that is - not to imply in any way that Diane is anything less than adorable, though I've never tried kissing her nosey, and suspect it would not be that favorably received if I did). Last night I woke up to find her (the kitten) sleeping soundly on my pillow, with her toes wedged up against my nose. I kissed her. She arched, purr-mewed, sighed, and fell back asleep in an even more impossibly adorable pose - taking up even more of my pillow, at that.

Hi, I'm Proto-Crazy-Cat-Lady. I'm almost finished!

But another great thing about the pillow-stealing kitten is that she wakes me up from dreams I really shouldn't be having. Last night I found myself in divorce court - peacefully enough, no problem there - but during a long recess I ended up alone in a waiting room with, with - oh, you know who.

At least in my dream he was willing to speak to me. "Hey!" I said to him, "I'm finally moving forward with my divorce!"

He displayed only polite interest, though, and after a few more minutes said he had to leave to go check his Facebook, and took off.

This isn't what is meant by the term "lucid dreaming," but it probably should be.

Robbie took me out on the town last weekend. We went and watched movies at Tony's. But first, Robbie had some shopping to do, which led to a totally new experience for me.

We went to the mall (you know, that place, with all the stores, where everything costs 800 million dollars and teenagers reach levels of inexcusable density) to buy cologne.

This may be more surreal than it sounds. Department stores have big glass counters, all under lock and key, stocked with every incredibly expensive men's scent you've never heard of, and staffed by young women who are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Audrey Hepburn. Our sales representative, for example, did not know how to pronounce "euphoria." E-phoria, she kept saying. I think that's the sensation you feel immediately following cybersex.

We tested seven or eight different scents. The sales representative seemed less inclined to consider my opinion once she clarified that Robbie and I were not dating, because what do your stupid friends know? Still, we narrowed the choices down to one, Robbie purchased it, and we left to look at jeans. But there weren't any without aesthetically-placed holes in them.

It gets hard to find basic items of clothing, had you noticed? At work, I needed a blouse for our upcoming April conference. All four of us in our office wear the same one - we're the conference coordinators, so it's important that we can be singled out in the crowd, or so I'm told. This year two of us kicked up a fuss and insisted on blouses that don't have to be tucked in, because what could be more unflattering to your figure than chopping it in half?! Hello?!?!

We wanted a basic design: a tailored, button-down shirt, in a few different attractive colors, with a straight hem and three-quarter length sleeves. The four of us went at lunch last week to look. We might as well have gone shopping for emu-feather hats.

Not that this is informative or interesting. I'm only posting because Robbie and Kevin said to. And because Diane doesn't want a kitten. No matter how adorable they are.

Maybe next time I'll post some more pictures.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Practical Cats

It's no coincidence that "kitten" rhymes with "smitten."

Or "bitten," actually, come to think of it.

But this kitten is very considerate: when she's in feisty mode, she holds back a little with the teeth and claws, so she's more tickly than scratchy. And when she is in non-feisty mode? Ooooh! Ooooooooooohhhhhhh!

Actually, I don't know when I've ever seen a young kitten sleep quite so soundly. She definitely prefers to be on or near you; last night I woke up several times to find her settling comfortably down on my face and neck. She stretches in her sleep, gives a subdued little "mew" and purrs for a few moments when you kiss her little nosey.

For a fairly nondescript-looking brown-and-gray kitty with only a stumpy tail, she really is just the most adorable tiny little thing I ever did see. And look! She even does your taxes!

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Religious Leanings

Robbie gave up alcohol for Lent, which means that although we have every bit as much fun running around being crazy as we ever did, we feel a lot less shitty the next morning.

Last night we stopped by Tony's house. "What'd you give up?" Robbie asked him.

(Why do I know so many Catholics?)

"I gave up negativity," said Tony, and again it's a good thing we weren't having wine or some would have come out my nose. Not because Tony has been particularly negative - not at all. I just instantly pictured Easter service as being a great deal more interesting. Perhaps, when it comes time to give the peace to your neighbor, instead of shaking hands or hugging, he'll flip them off or punch them.

Then again, who hasn't wanted to do that?! Hug me, willya... I don't even know you, you damn Jesus freak! I'm just here to keep the in-laws quiet. It may also be worth mentioning at this point that a few years ago, when I first knew Tony, he suffered a badly broken leg from tripping while trying to outrun some little kids at an Easter-egg hunt.

I guess I gave up 3-martini breaks for Lent, although the timing wasn't exact, and I know I won't get them back at Easter. This is one of the disadvantages of not being religious, although getting to sleep in on Sundays outweighs almost every other drawback I can think of.

My cube neighbor's father passed away week before last. This coworker has been such a kind friend to me. I haven't talked to anyone about what, specifically, was going on, but it's obvious enough I've been very down; and he's been so sweet and sympathetic, not asking any questions, but has lent me everything from a book of funny animal pictures to money (when I mentioned in passing that I'd like to go out to dinner with the field office coworker who was in town for training, but that it was the end of the month - state employees get paid once a month, on the first - and believe me, that's a comment I won't be letting drop again!) He just got back late last week, and I was very glad to see him. But he hugged me, and the first thing he said to me was, "How've you been? Have you got your smile back?" I mean, my gosh, his father. I felt awful.

But we were talking, later, and I asked how he was doing, and he said that he was fine as long as he kept remembering how his dad is in a better place now. "It frustrated him so much, towards the end," he said, "being sick, being immobile, not being able to do the things he used to do. I'm fine as long as I remember that he's able to do those things again now. He's better off, now, he's happier."

This is real comfort. When you aren't religious, you don't have that. Death is nothing but loss - relief, perhaps, if there's been suffering; but really the only positive thing about it is an end to pain. In the case of tragic, senseless, untimely death, you've really got nothing. How do you face the losses that rip your heart out, or the certainty that there will be more losses like them in your future, or your own eventual horrifying mortality, without faith? But you can't base your beliefs on the way you want the world to be, either. What do you do?

So far the best answer I've come up with is not to think about it as much as possible, and let's put that down as reason #126,974 not to give up alcohol for Lent. As for Easter eggs, you're on your own. Watch out for Tony!

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Friday, March 13, 2009

oh noes!

Just look what the kid dragged in:

Katie swears she is only kittensitting for spring break, but I'm pretty sure I've heard that one before. Fortunately I'm very hardhearted and not at all fond of cats. So you can't pull anything over on me.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a parent, I've found, is to introduce your seven-year-old to Not because it's in any way inappropriate for children - well, maybe, sometimes - but because your child will never let you near the computer again, and will drive you up the wall with her incessant LOLing. Also, she'll insist on reading the captions to you. After five or six of them your brain starts leaking out through your ears.

Today at work I had to send an email out to all our field offices. Normally, our agency is not allowed to accept any gifts, which is unfortunate as the travel industry is prone to bringing us cupcakes, cookies, and other forbidden delights without notice; but there are a few exceptions; our annual conference coming up is one of them. One of our sponsors is giving out something perishable, so they intend to send out their attendee gifts ahead of time instead of handing them out at the conference.

"This is just a heads-up that you'll be receiving something from our sponsor," I wrote. "I just wanted to let you know that it's been reviewed to ensure that it meets our policy and you are allowed to accept it."

"You can has!" I wanted to write (but didn't). "But you can not has cupcake!"

I mentioned the incident ruefully to one of my coworkers. "More road trips," he told me sternly. "Less internet."

This kitten's name is Lola (rhymes with cherry cola), and she's one of five or six small, adorable creatures Katie's friend brought to school today to find only-temporary, just-for-spring-break homes for. Right. Sure. It's embarrassing, what people will resort to, isn't it?

Good thing I'll never fall for it. Ooh! Oooooh! She just yawned! Ooooooooohhhhhh!

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Just Want to be Left Alone

Well, geesh. So much for spring.

One of the advantages of cold, gray, drizzly days is that I get the hike-and-bike trail largely to myself; and one of the disadvantages of the hike-and-bike trail is that it makes an excellent backdrop for local-news lifestyle stories, student movies, and TV commercials. Fine. Great if you happen to be involved in producing such a venture, as you have a beautiful, free resource at your fingertips. Not so great if you're a miserable peon like myself, who can't even go for a brisk lunch hour stroll without occasionally getting filmed - and not at your prettiest either. Who wants to appear on camera sweaty, flushed, and in gym clothes? After the fourth or fifth time this happens, you start to understand exactly where Sean Penn is coming from.

Today a good-sized crew was filming a commercial under the South First bridge, so there was a motorcycle cop stationed in the road to keep people from driving onto the set, and a cute guy deflecting approaching pedestrians.

I cooperated and stepped aside to wait, uncomplainingly,* though I really don't see how these people get off just co-opting the whole trail at will. The jogger twenty seconds behind me was much less tolerant. "How am I supposed to run then? Huh?!" he demanded, not unreasonably I thought, then jogged angrily off towards the street. Fortunately the take really was just as quick as the cute guy said it would be, so I was back on my way within two minutes. The jogger overtook me several seconds later, still looking pissed off. Bet he was straight. I should have run after him.

Nah, I'm just kidding: no offense to any joggers who happen to be reading. I just don't believe habitual runners are entirely normal.**

For me at least, excessive physical activity is the sign of a deeply distressed mind: I can't sit still for long, but have to get up and move, walk about, pace, like a caged animal. Misery makes a great weight-loss aid. (Unless you're a comfort eater.) I'm not talking about a dull, throbbing ache, or a sense of general purposelessness, or angst or mere ennui: no, but I've always found that sharp emotional anguish does wonders for my figure.

But it doesn't last... mercifully, I suppose. Before you even know it, and long before you would have thought it was possible, the world begins to look normal again and you go most of a week simply forgetting to be unhappy. First you have to go through all the Official Stages™ of Grief: Denial, Anger, Sorrow, and finally Acceptance*** - which would be perfectly fine, if you didn't go through them in sequence five or six times during a single day, which tends to give you whiplash. But gosh darnit if life doesn't just go right along and next thing you know you can't remember quite what you were so upset about. I don't know about you, but it makes me feel a bit like Peggy Lee.

Or maybe Sean Penn. I think I'll maybe take a kickboxing class this fall. That way I'll be better equipped to deal with the film crews and photographers on the hike-and-bike.

*Did I mention there was a cute guy?
**srsly. We're talking compared to me, here. You cannot possibly be offended.
***Your mileage may vary

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Welcome to Life!

Katie and I are both PMSing right now. I thought I'd go ahead and mention that, just in case you wanted to postpone your visit.

Yesterday Robbie allowed me to come rushing up to Georgetown and sweep him away for a random road trip: what fun! There's nothing else quite so therapeutic as just up and leaving. Have you noticed? I think that's why I love road trips so much. Symbolically, everything that bothers me is here at home, or at work, quarantined within about a 5-square-mile area. So it makes me feel a lot better to get in the car, grab a friend, and go to Lampasas. You heard me.

On the other hand, spring seems rather unequivocally to have sprung, and this also is irresistibly therapeutic. How can you be sad about anything when the trees all have tiny, pale green buds? Or when you've spotted a lone bluebonnet in a neighbor's yard? (Bad year for wildflowers this year, I'll tell you that right now.)

It's impossible not to be cheerful, even when last night led into the most difficult morning of the year (at least for those of us who are forced to observe daylight savings time) by keeping me awake, restive, fretful, tossing and turning, and finally allowing me to drop off two hours before six only to send me dreams of being sick, pregnant, bedridden, and attacked by tribble Muppet vampires with very sharp pointy teeth that crunched down into my ribs with much more realism than I thought strictly necessary, then waking me up in a cold sweat fifteen minutes before my alarm went off. And I had to pee.

I should have just called in sick. My boss did. On the other hand, I got a lot done today, and ended up feeling perfectly fine, not at all as if both arms had been ripped off and used to beat me about the head, which is more in line with the way I've been feeling lately. I can't understand these mood swings. I really need professional help - but really, only about two out of every three days, and falling.

And speaking of needing professional help, the Bubbly Bitching Smoking Nonsmoker found and friended me on Facebook (thanks, Robbie!), forcing me to take down the link to my blog in a big hurry. Her latest status update is grousing about how many status updates everyone else is posting, and in fact stopped me from posting a particularly witty remark about how nice it would be if Slappy White would quit knocking all the shit down off my dresser. I may just delete her.

Alas! if we could actually delete people in real life. Well, if only I could, anyway. It's one of those things that only works out if I'm the only one that gets to do it.

So never mind. Here's Robbie and me yesterday - and Lord bless us if we aren't only here on this earth by the grace of B.B.S.N.S. and all the times she never ran us over when we crossed the street in front of her on our way back from Dominican Joe. How can I be bitter?

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Seeds of Love

Since we're on the topic of gardening (yes, we are. Don't interrupt), here's one of my favorite Tears for Fears songs on the subject. Time to eat all your words, swallow your pride, open your eyes... and wait a minute, does that say the Daliy Chronicle?!?

Well, nobody's perfect.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

The Breast of All Possible Worlds

Let me preface this post by stating that I'm absolutely fine - there's nothing wrong with me that years of intensive psychotherapy won't clear right up.

Yesterday I got a call from the Women's Imaging Center about my mammogram last Friday. There was a funny-looking spot (I'm paraphrasing - that probably isn't the technical term) in my right breast. They wanted me to come back for a follow-up as soon as possible. "I have appointments available tomorrow," the woman told me over the phone.

Well, the technician who did my mammogram last week did say that callbacks are extremely common, especially with first mammograms. So I didn't freak. I made my appointment for today and didn't lose any sleep over it.

This one was a little more uncomfortable, but not too bad. The technician squeezed me a little tighter. It still isn't painful - just awkward - until they send you to the inside waiting room.

This may be the most surreal experience I've ever had. I'm wearing my jeans, but am topless other than a loose cotton cape over my shoulders which snaps at the neck and just meets the requirements of basic decency, if I'm careful. My shirt and bra, purse, phone and keys are clutched ineffectually to my chest. I'm shown into a room with six other identically outfitted women watching E!. They look up and smile wanly in greeting as I am ushered in. "Just sit here for a bit," says the technician, "and I'll show your films to the doctor and see what he says."

Ah, the almighty doctor. Do you know, I never saw this person? The lab bustles with young, attractive, healthy, cheerful female technicians, taking X-rays, performing ultrasounds, and reassuring patients. I picture the doctor as the lone male in the building, alone in his dark lair, being fed lab results by his minions. Meanwhile, back on E!, Kid Rock dispenses advice on picking up girls. (Win over the ugliest one in the group, and you're in!)

"Come on back again," says the technician to me after a space of several minutes. "The doctor wants me to get a couple more angles." So she does a "roll" shot, twisting my breast slightly under the clamp before photographing it, then a straight profile. The profile is difficult because the other breast, there's just no way to get around this, is ridiculously in the way. I hold it down and back while the technician lifts my right breast into place and tries to get the clamp secured before it can fall back down again, resulting in a highly amusing slapping sound. We both start giggling. SO not sexy.

Two more shots later, and I'm sent back into the waiting room, where Oprah has adopted a puppy and brought it onto the show and her audience goes completely ape shit. I've never seen Oprah's show before, but I've seen parodies of it on Saturday Night Live, which I never thought were very funny because they were so over the top. It turns out they weren't.

I wanted to have gone home by now. What was the big deal? My first mammogram was supposedly normal; there was some little area they needed a closer look at, and now they've had their closer look. So why am I still here? Traffic's going to be a bitch, coming home... Then the technician beckons me out of the room to tell me that the doctor still isn't satisfied and has ordered an ultrasound. It'll be a while; the line is long.

So I go back to my seat, but now I'm feeling frightened. Why so many tests? There are boxes of tissue on the end tables in the waiting room. Women cope with very bad news in this place. Oprah is going on about how, for the first time in nine years of publication, someone besides herself is on the cover of the April 2009 issue of O Magazine: and the lucky lady is Michelle Obama! (I can only imagine this must be the highlight of Michelle's life, don't you think?) Of course, Oprah is on the cover with her, because come on, let's not take complete leave of our senses here.

I'm not looking at the TV, though my theory is that they're showing us Oprah just so death won't seem so terrible. I'm thinking about heavy stuff. Could this actually be it? Cancer? What really is the value of my life? I may be the family breadwinner, but even with medical insurance, cancer treatment is insanely costly, and if we're doing a cost-benefit analysis...

My phone rings, interrupting this morbid reverie. "Are you still there? Katie needs to be picked up from school," says Jim, "aren't you about done yet?"

"I don't think so," I say, sniffling, "they've taken a bunch of pictures and need to do more tests. I don't know when I'll ever get out of here."

"Well, just call when you do. Hopefully it won't be too late to pick up Katie," he says with mild annoyance, and we hang up; he hasn't asked what the deal is with the follow-up appointment, or how things are going, but it's very inconvenient for me to be hogging the car at this time of day.

An interminable period later, there's an ultrasound, which of course isn't uncomfortable at all, but it seems to me (now in full hypochondriac mode) that the technician lingers for a long time over one particular spot. When she finishes, she tells me to lie down in the darkened room and just relax. "I'll take this to the doctor," she says, "and see if I found what he wanted me to get, or if he needs more images. It'll be just a few minutes."

"Did you see anything?" I asked.

"Was this your first mammogram?" she responds; "this is really, really common. I didn't see anything big. A few little things that are probably nothing. Don't worry!" She steps out, closing the door behind her.

And five minutes later, she's back, flipping on the lights and informing me cheerily that the doctor reviewed the tape and there's nothing wrong at all, just perfectly normal fibrous tissue showing up on the X-rays. "Just keep doing your breast exams and annual mammograms, and have a good weekend!" she tells me. And she leaves the room, and I get dressed, and go pick up Katie (who anxiously demands to know if I am all right) and go home.

Is it going to be like this every time?

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Buffalo Gal

Once you get to know them, it turns out bison are kind of gross.

I met a herd yesterday in San Angelo. Their heads are huge, horned, and shaggy. They chew without ceasing. They have long, ropy strands of spit hanging from their mouths, catching in the wind and blowing against our ankles. My cohorts were in jeans and boots. I was in capris and sandals. Well, now I know.

At different times, several beasts cut loose with a torrential cascade of wee, walking through the resultant puddles with complete unconcern. A mother, beset by the hungry attentions of a calf about 2/3 her size, attempted to dissuade her offspring's attempts at nursing by walking away, shoving, and finally, gently kicking it in the head. "There's a calf that's just about ready to be weaned," observed the park ranger.

My youngest wasn't fully weaned until just after her third birthday. "I think I know how the mom feels," I remarked.

But bison aren't all piss and spittle. Oh no. "Do you know," the ranger asked me, smiling down into my face, "why bison smell so bad?" (It was this guy, by the way.)

I arched my eyebrows, smiling back expectantly. But he didn't say anything. After a few moments I realized this could go on all day. "No, I don't. Why do bison smell so bad?" I asked.

"They belch," he told me. "That's why they don't bloat up like cows do if they eat too much. They have a way to get rid of the gas."

I'll be damned: sure enough, though the wind was (mercifully) high, the grasses and trees rustling noisily, every so often you'd hear a bovine "b-r-r-r-R-R-R-R-R-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-P!!!!!" that would, in the heyday of the 3MBG, have put my dear friend Billy to shame.

Frankly, I was entranced. Who knew bison were so cool? I'm so crazy about my wonderful job. I just have trouble dressing appropriately.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Trail's End

You know that path that runs along MoPac just north of the river? I tried to get to that today, but I couldn't find it. How do you get there?

I don't know why I'm asking you. I've got Google Maps same as you have. And I call myself a geographer!

It's fun to enjoy the hike-and bike trail from a different perspective for a change. Normally, of course, I walk on it, along a very specific stretch - as far as I can get from my office and still be back in one hour. My path includes the Statesman, the Congress Avenue Bridge, the South First Bridge; Auditorium Shores, wet dogs, and Stevie; the railroad bridge, pedestrian bridge, and Lamar Bridge; up to Lou Neff Point and back. I scaled it in Arc once - the round trip is about three miles.

On a bike, of course, you can go a lot further, but you have to watch out for obstacles like double-wide strollers, joggers engrossed in their iPods, and dogs - who aren't terribly concerned about whether you run them over or not. The dogs along Auditorium Shores bring down a lot of bikers. But this is perfectly normal, and nothing to be concerned about.

When I ride my bike at lunch, I turn around at the pedestrian bridge under MoPac; but I've always wondered where the trail goes from there. It turns out it doesn't go far, petering out altogether at Eilers Park. What a pity - what I was really hoping for was to find that trail along MoPac and maybe hop up to Camp Hubba Hubba and drop in on Tony and Pinche Robert, who actually went in to work on Texas Independence Day. And they call themselves geographers!

Patriots, I meant to say patriots.

No luck there, but it was still a good day for me. I bought a new pair of shoes - flats, I'm sorry to say, but my jogging shoes were wearing out and there are some things even I won't do in heels. Then I had to go on a nice long walk around the neighborhood to break them in. Keep moving... keep moving...

And I did in fact move all the plants in the world back out front to their summer headquarters, so I hope the weather won't let me down, unlike old blind Romeo, who I can't help noticing is pooping in a potted basil as I type this. You probably don't want to eat pesto at my house.

Happy, happy spring - if it is spring! Here's to new beginnings.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Out in the Cold

It snowed a lot in Alabama today. I went to high school in Madison, and during all my years there I only remember one solitary snowfall sparsely dusting the ground with dirty white. Cue all the usual phenomena: those unaccustomed to the sight are awed, not to mention immobilized - schools and businesses shut down, while those who have lived in more northern climes take grand pleasure in scoffing at the natives. "Look at that!" we say, oh so worldly and superior. "Why, when I was in third grade I walked to school in two feet of snow."

Once, I think, because I'd missed the bus and Mom was about up to her ears with me. I don't remember it being uphill either way.

Meanwhile, back home, I'm annoyed to find that the weather forecast calls for a freeze tonight. Day before yesterday it was ninety degrees. Once again, the plants come inside, all 327,964,898 of them. Tomorrow they'll all go back out again, hopefully this time for good, or at least until December.

The bromeliad cluster from my ex-mother-in-law (this would be a band name, except it's much too long - perhaps one day I'll use it to title a novel) got all excited about the warm weather and is sending out several buds - so the expectant mommy is safely ensconced in the laundry room for the night. I'll have to get a picture when they bloom, because the flowers are strange and beautiful: bright red buds that bloom into electric blue blossoms edged with vivid yellow; alien, unearthly. Spikey, the crack weed from Corpus, produced a gigantic floral cluster about a month ago, and now has babies all over the flower bed. The aloes are burstingly fat and the ivies all need trimming. I love my potted garden, and I'm so glad it's a long weekend for us government-employee types: tomorrow I anticipate spending a happy day rearranging everyone in their proper places on the front porch.

Tonight it's cold, but tomorrow's another day. Tomorrow will be a good one. I'll make my garden grow.

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