Saturday, October 24, 2009

Did You Know?

Purebred horses don't have sex.

Well, thoroughbred racehorses do. This is euphemistically referred to as "live cover," but of course what it really means is that the boy horse gets on top of the girl horse and cheesy 70's guitar riffs play and 11 months later there's a little baby horsey that makes everybody say "awwwww" and then goes on to win a whole bunch of races.

But there are different breeds of horses for far more purposes than simply racing, although I feel I'm using the term "purpose" rather loosely here. There are cutting horses, reining horses, halter horses, etc.; horses which are very specifically and carefully bred to a number of different disciplines that don't really serve any practical use or even entertainment value on any large scale - just hobbies, really, for a small, closed circle of extremely wealthy individuals. It does seem to be a fairly comfortable life for the horses at least. If you don't mind celibacy.

We had a tour Thursday of a reining-horse ranch, given by the ranch's breeding manager, a calm, competent professional whose job I rather emphatically would not want. However, as it turned out later, her job is not quite as dirty as I first thought it was, when she talked about how the stallions do not "live cover" the mares, but that, um, "collections" are taken, and the mares are artificially inseminated. And since the mares whose genes are most desirable are show mares, to be kept in prime condition, the embryos are flushed out after a couple of weeks and implanted in some lesser, sucky mares that nobody cares about.

She led us at last into the breeding barn, with foaling stalls, rows of stalls for the babies (who are born in spring, so these were empty now) and a large, barrel-shaped object on poles. "What I do," she told us, "is, every other day, January through July, lead the stud stallion around through the mares to get him all warmed up and ready to go; then he gets up on this thing here" (indicating the barrel-shaped object) "and it has a receptacle for collecting the semen."

That's right, folks - at its last stop before disbanding and returning home, my tour group was looking at a sex doll for horses. And it struck me as a very great pity that we were visiting out of season, because if we'd gotten to see a demonstration, we could have said our tour had a happy ending!!!

This wildly inappropriate observation was kept to myself, but judging from the snickers and giggles among my group, I wasn't the only one thinking along those lines. It had been a very long week. We were tired.

I drove back to Austin with my friend and coworker Mary, who is one of the staff at our visitor center in Austin - one of the people for whom I occasionally fill in at lunchtime. Mary is possibly the funniest person I've ever met - joyful, sweet, outgoing, and full of hilarious stories she's picked up over the years. It is of course inevitable that two women in a car for three and a half hours will talk about sex - especially considering what we'd just seen.

"I used to work with this guy named Bill who was gay," Mary told me, "several years ago. Well, we had a little limited storage space for travel literature in a funny little closet under the stairs on the bottom floor of the headquarters building downtown. We kept the literature on a few shelves right in the front part of the closet, but if you shined a flashlight in there, you could see the space went back, around the corner, to who-knows-where. It was dark and really creepy. We called it Spider Corner. One time I noticed a box sort of around the corner, just the edge of it in sight, and I took a broom handle and pulled it out and found a whole bunch of copies of this cookbook from 1968, wrapped in plastic. Everybody in the building was all excited and they just went like hotcakes - man, I wish I'd kept one! And who knows what else might be back there? But nobody would ever go in, it was much too scary.

"Well, our boss at the time, he didn't know Bill was gay, and he was always asking him, 'Why don't you have a girlfriend? You seem like a guy with a lot on the ball. Why don't you get married?' So finally, to get him to stop, I told him, 'You know, Bill is gay,' but he turned out to be kind of homophobic and that really bothered him, so he decided he was going to 'cure' Bill. 'Look at that girl, she's awfully pretty,' he'd say. 'You should ask her out, she'd get you set up!'"

"Wow. He sure wouldn't be able to get away with that now," I remarked.

"I know, right?!" said Mary. "Talk about inappropriate! The boss really thought if Bill met the right girl, that he'd turn straight! So he kept trying to get him to date girls.

"So one day after one of these conversations, Bill comes up to me," she went on, "and he said, 'A vagina... a vagina, Mary...'" (in a horrified tone), "'oh, my God, Mary, a vagina... That's just like Spider Corner!!!'"

The only drawback of driving back to Austin for three and a half hours with Mary is that your sides and your throat hurt from laughing so much.

But it sure is educational!

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

So Many Pictures, No Camera Cord

Under most circumstances, getting escorted out of town by the cops is not the best way to start a day.

In my job, it's awesome!

Today is day 3 of our north Texas tour, and I'm taking advantage of a rare break to type up a quick post from my hotel room in Wichita Falls, where I have not yet, I'm pleased to announce, quite worn out my welcome. But then, we only got in an hour ago.

Any self-respecting hotel ought to be prepared to issue each guest a cat upon check-in. Who knows - this might not be too far off. Only ten years ago, even high-end hotels routinely furnished their rooms with mattresses made of repurposed drywall. The idea of putting comfortable beds in rooms intended for sleeping is rather a recent one.

Even moderate-class hotels now have plush mattresses, soft, plentiful pillows, attractive furnishings and drapes, and luxurious bathroom fittings. The little things really do add up. Wireless internet is fairly standard too, which means that, in my case anyway, the flat-panel TV never gets turned on. You get shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. Maybe even mouthwash. Shoe polish, you get. Such extravagance!

So cats, that's where they really need to go next. And actual cream for your coffee. I still can't comprehend how that weird powdery stuff might be considered an adequate substitute.

I'm going to make myself Google-able here, I know it, but have to say that the highlight so far - for me - has been Chandor Gardens in Weatherford. With an intelligent, funny, offbeat horticulturist acting as guide, the setting was beyond beautiful, and the weather's been perfect. Our guide pointed out the bride's cottage located on the grounds. "There are a couple of advantages to this," he remarked. "One is that some guest who hasn't seen the bride since they were in sixth grade is going to want to catch up on everything that's happened over all those years - an hour before the wedding. So the guest will be looking all over the house for her, while she's holed up in the cottage drinking champagne."

He paused, then added, "Plus it's right next to the parking lot, so if she comes to her senses she can make a quick getaway."

Then again, getting a police escort out of Granbury might have been the highlight. That's hard to beat. Or getting to drink actual honest-to-goodness Crazy Water.

The whole trip so far has been wonderful, maybe not quite so much if you don't care for live music revue performed by slightly overenthusiastic Christians, which is not my thing, but everybody else loved it. And I've been happy as a good-sized pile of clams over everything else. I love my job, so much so in fact that I might almost go on Oprah and jump up and down on the couch about it, except that Oprah ranks slightly lower on the Things That Beth Likes scale than even the perkiest Christian musical revue, so forget I mentioned it.

It would be pretty cool if we got to attend a theatrical performance put on by a group of Flying Spaghetti Monster devotees for noble pastafarian causes. Have you been touched by His Noodly Appendage?

I have so many pictures, but I left my camera cord at home - you always have to forget something. Leave it to me to forget one of very few items your modern hotel won't provide.

Maybe tomorrow morning I'll get run out of town on a rail!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An Offer You Must Refuse

Weird thing about working in government #746: Your negotiation skills will be put to the test in ways you never could have imagined - unless, of course, you were batshit crazy to begin with, which given your choice of vocation is perhaps not completely out of the question.

Situation: I have a fam tour coming up next week for a group of our employees. All of the events, meals, and accommodations on the tour are sponsored, donated by the participating chambers of commerce, museums, restaurants, hotels, etc. All I have to do (aside from prepare the extensive and complicated legal paperwork allowing us to accept the donations, coordinate the myriad travel arrangements of all our attendees, research and prepare educational materials on all the attractions we'll be visiting, make binders, enforce guidelines, answer questions, and forcefully wrest from the tour coordinator as many of the details as I can get him to share with me in case, oh I don't know, some emergency arises, and he has to leave early on in the tour, and I end up in the middle of nowhere with a tour bus full of information center staff, armed with nothing more potent than a few of his notes scribbled on scrap paper, JUST LIKE WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR, thankyouverymuch) is show up and enjoy the ride.

And I can't wait! I'll be bringing my laptop. I will blog. It's super fun!

But the travel arrangements get a little complicated. One of our attendees hails from a city with no nearby airport, so she has to drive; but it's too far to travel in one day, so she'll arrive the day before the tour begins on Sunday. Well and good. I asked the tour coordinator if he could get us a room for her at "state rate"* Saturday night.

He responded to me a couple of days later. "No problem!" he said. "The Sunday night host hotel will be happy to provide her a comp room for Saturday night as well."

Ah, but you see, the donation approval we received was only for the dates of the tour, beginning Sunday. If they give us a freebie on Saturday, it's a gift, and that's unethical. So I have to decline. "I expect they'll think I'm completely off my rocker," I wrote back to him, "but can they just give her the room at $85?"

"No problem!" he said; but another week later, when he sent me the confirmation number for my attendee, he once more mentioned that the hotel had comped the room.

I hesitate to call them to straighten it out, because I think our conversation will go something like this:


HOTEL CLERK: Hello and thank you for calling the Hotel Espada! How may I help you?

ME: Hi, I'm calling on behalf of Mary Ingalls, regarding confirmation number 8675309.

HOTEL CLERK (checking his computer): Yes ma'am, I have a reservation here for Ms. Ingalls checking in on Saturday and checking out on Monday, two nights, and it's our pleasure to offer the room complimentary as part of your tour group!

ME: Thank you so much! Actually, the thing is, I'm calling because actually she'll need to pay for Saturday.

HOTEL CLERK (confused): No, ma'am, I have your group down for complimentary rooms.

ME: Yes, thank you, that's right, except only that one.

HOTEL CLERK (still more confused): So, only Ms. Ingalls is paying? Isn't she part of the tour? And you are...?

ME: I'm the planner. See, the tour doesn't begin till Sunday, and we have special permission from our governing board to accept the donation of the room-nights, so...

HOTEL CLERK: She needs to pay for both nights?

ME: No, you see, she only pays for the first night. The second night, she's part of the whole comped-room tour group deal.

HOTEL CLERK (a little snippy): It's actually more work for us to do it this way. Why don't we just comp her room for both nights?

ME: I know, but we can't because we don't have directorial approval for the first night. Look, I know it doesn't make sense, but can you please just go ahead and charge her for one night?

HOTEL CLERK (annoyed): All right, then, if you say so. (Checks computer) That'll be $149 plus tax -

ME: Oh wait, sorry, no. We can't pay more than $85.

HOTEL CLERK (slightly incredulous): The government rate is $149, ma'am.

ME: I know, but our travel budget has been cut and our agency's policy doesn't allow us to spend more than $85 on lodging.

HOTEL CLERK: If you're hard up, you know, I did offer the room for free just a few minutes ago.

ME: No, you see, we're not allowed to accept free stuff without directorial approval. She absolutely has to pay for Saturday. Just not more than $85.

HOTEL CLERK: Are you allowed to pay less than $85??

ME: Of course - I mean, that's just the cap; it's the most we can pay; if some place offers a room for less then we pay less.

HOTEL CLERK: Okay. How about $0?

ME: Nonono! Look - please can you just give her the room for one night for $85, please!

HOTEL CLERK: I really don't see why this is necessary.

ME: It's policy! Without directorial approval, we can't accept anything over $25 in value!

HOTEL CLERK: Oh, really? Have you subtracted $85 from $149 lately?

ME: That's different! That's not the same! We're negotiating!! I'm a tour planner!!!

HOTEL CLERK: You certainly could have fooled me.


The thing is, I figure, after fifteen or twenty years of working in the government sector, all of this might begin to make real sense.

And at that point, I really hope somebody goes transportational and shoots me.

*Long story. Love your legislature!

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Friday, October 09, 2009

You Heartless Bastard.

In January 2007, a division of the agency where I work published a calendar whose cover photo was a (ahem) husky man lying on his stomach, only the pants of his jeans and his boots visible, investigating a hole in the ground. I was trying to describe this calendar to some coworkers of mine today.

"Oh wait," piped up one, who by God would be three-martini break group material if there still were a three-martini break group, "are you talking about 'the butt calendar'?"

I was.

"It totally reminded me of someone I used to work with!" I exclaimed, getting a few funny looks; so I had to go on and tell the story of the man who fell asleep in high-level meetings, as well as on the floor of his cubicle and in communal work spaces; whose snoring echoed throughout the entire section; who once playfully sneaked up on me in the kitchenette but had dozed off by the time I finished washing my dishes and turned around to find him standing eighteen inches behind me; who finally had to bring in a doctor's note, excusing this and other behavior, on the grounds of sleep apnea.

The thing is, when you work among more or less normal people, it's no longer quite nice to talk about people like this one - who was after all fairly typical for the setting. Try telling straights the quasi-comical horror stories you used to hoot over with like-minded inmates on break, and next thing you know they're glazing at you, smiles politely frozen on their faces, heads slightly tilted. And you realize you've become someone who makes fun of the differently-abled. And you feel like an asshole.

Do you wonder why I never blog anymore?

I recommend not lying around with your head stuck down in a hole in the ground. It limits your options like you wouldn't believe. And it's bad karma to make fun of TPPeople.

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