Friday, December 30, 2005

I'm a slacker; she's a slacker; wouldn't you like to be a slacker, too?

It's a very small world, it seems. I just edited an e-mail that the president of our company is sending to the guy who graduated immediately before me in the Class of 1997 College of Arts & Sciences ceremony at my alma mater. When I say "immediately before me," I mean that they arranged all of the graduates in alphabetical order, and his last name was the next-previous to mine in the list. If we were talking straight GPA or leadership and academic achievement, he probably would have been considerably further ahead of me in the lineup. I was a good student with a higher-than-I-should-have-bothered-striving-for GPA, but this guy was significantly more serious and definitely more involved. He was our own Alex P. Keaton, right down to the diminutive height and the suits and ties to class.*

Apparently this guy's drive and motivation hasn't subsided into lethargy and laziness in the intervening years since graduation (as mine clearly has). This is evidenced by the fact that he currently holds a position within a County office (in the capital city of a neighboring state) that makes the president of my company want to contact him, and furthermore prompts our president to have his resident grammar geek edit that correspondence first to avoid any embarrassing errors.

I doubt this guy would remember me, so I resisted the urge to add "P.S. Stefanie says hi" at the bottom of the e-mail. If I actually were contacting him myself, I'd probably say, "It looks like your career is progressing nicely, and as you always seemed a kind, decent, stand-up sort of guy, I'm pleased to see things are working out well for you. By the way, have you come out of the closet and met a nice young man to share your life with yet?"

I don't know what ever happened to the motivation I used to have. Maybe I never really was motivated, and my initially strong post-college work ethic (the work ethic that made me feel guilty writing personal e-mails or doing non-work-related web surfing on company time) stemmed more from the residual guilt so common among people who grow up with Catholic parents.

I am fully confident I'm not the only one wasting corporate resources on idle web surfing and e-mailing (it's obvious by the time stamps on blog posts and comments that a good portion of the nation's workforce is with me in this boat), but I still feel more than a bit wrong about it. I do typically avoid writing blog entries at work (even if I still read my share of them), though obviously this post itself is evidence that I don't consistently stick to that rule. Actually, it seems only fitting to write a post about slackerdom while actually being a slacker myself, so I'll just chalk this particular incident up to journalistic authenticity.

In high school (and college, too), I was always a good girl, a model student, an overachiever. I got good grades; I didn't cut class; the teachers liked me... So when I think about being one of the many bloggers and blog-readers spending work time hanging out with their "Internet friends," I suddenly feel like one of the greasers sneaking out for a smoke behind the auditorium during study hall. It seems pretty pathetic to hit my "I'm a rebel" phase at 31, but I guess I always was a late bloomer.

* I'm fairly sure the suits and ties had something to do with his frequent meetings with Student Senate (of which he was president our senior year), but I like to think he wore them simply out of an old-fashioned respect for the institution of learning, like in movies set on campuses in the mid-1900s, where professors never wore jeans and always referred to students as "Mr. So-and-So" and "Miss Whatever-Her-Name."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Just your average holiday weekend, I suppose

It seems a little belated, but since not a whole lot else is going on, I'll tell you about my Christmas.*

All in all, my weekend at my parents' house was fairly uneventful, but considering we spent Christmas night 2004 in the emergency room with my father, uneventful is OK by me. Even the drive there and back was fine. The natural pauses in conversation that my sister typically feels the need to overcome through idle prattle and insignificant strings of questions was this time filled with selections from the David Sedaris CDs I wisely thought to pack. I tried to disguise my snobbery when I realized she had no idea who David Sedaris is (she's stated openly more than once that she doesn't read, after all), but I do have to snicker a bit when I recall her referring to one of the most notorious modern humorists as "your story guy."

I like to think that I helped my mother out over the weekend by continuing my Clean Sweep of the snack cupboard, but unfortunately I think I just annoyed both her and my father. Really, though, I ask you... Does anyone need eight bags of jerky and other meat snacks... particularly when five of those bags are four to eighteen months beyond their expiration date? You think I'm exaggerating, but seriously...

Maybe you thought I was kidding about the overstocked mystery snack cabinet, but I assure you, I was not. Check it.

That's right. Three panels. Plus overflow. That's more than three times the space in which all my non-perishables are stored (small kitchens and limited cupboard space being the norm in old houses such as mine), and theirs is just for snacks. They have other food elsewhere I'm not even going to talk about.

I didn't bother seeking out offenses in the refrigerator this time. The only purging I did beyond the meat snacks was to toss last year's tin of mixed nuts from one of my dad's business contacts, which was--as I expected--sitting right alongside this year's tin of nuts from the very same contact.

But enough about food and lapses in cultural literacy. The whole Baby Jesus thing aside, Christmas is really all about the presents, right? So let's take a look at some of mine...

I was a little bit paranoid about my Amazon wish list after I read Wendy McClure's NY Times article on wish list stalking (sorry; beyond the time frame of being free, I guess), but I left the list intact anyway, and even added to and prioritized it a bit. Yes, I've indicated a desire to own Dawson's Creek seasons one through three... what of it? It was a decent show in its early days; you can't tell me different so don't even try.

I didn't actually receive any Dawon's Creek DVDs, nor did I receive the Lucy Kaplansky or Ben Folds CDs I'd marked as "high priority," but I did pretty well regardless, I think. Here are a few highlights...
  • Coleman Sundome 9x7 dome tent - So that next summer at Fat Camp, if Jamie and I still have no dates but each other, I will not be expected to sleep in an obviously undersized structure meant for hobbits or small children. That's right, Jamie; I have a real tent now. Jealous, are you?

  • Mary Tyler Moore, seasons 1 and 2 - Yes, I've already established** that I'm the only person of my generation to truly appreciate this show. I'm more than fine with enjoying my MTM marathon all by myself some upcoming weekend.

  • Simply Calphalon 5-quart chili pot - Not so much for chili as for pasta and such, as my last large-sized pasta pot met an untimely end several months ago. The bonus with this gift is that it reminded me and my little sister of one of our favorite Simpsons episodes (the one with the chili cookoff and the space coyote, of course), and my sister subsequently leaned over to me and said, "Now you just need a spoon... that you can carve yourself, out of a bigger spoon." (Congratulations to the two of you out there who actually got that joke.)

  • One pack of Orbit wintermint gum - From my little sister, who used to buy me gum as a supposedly legitimate gift when she claimed to have insufficient income for proper gifts. Now I get a pack of gum each year in addition to some more significant gift, just for tradition sake.

  • A Tide-to-Go stain remover pen - I'm really not sure why this is so special, but my mother was very excited about it. My sisters and I each got one. I don't think we've often showed up at her home spattered in unsightly stains, but I suppose it's always good to be prepared.
I know I received other things as well that were equally if not more exciting, but that's all I care to enumerate at the moment. I hope Santa or the Hanukkah Armadillo or the Festivus pole-bearer was kind to you as well. Merry belated whatever to all.


* My family is very white and very Catholic, so for me, the word "Christmas" will suffice. If yours is more of a Christmakwanzakkah sort of family, I hope that went great as well.

** Yes, I realize this is most likely my most "clicky here, link there" post ever. I really didn't mean for this entry to be a clip show, but my thought process is just sort of working out that way.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Animal Dreams

Believe it or not, the absurd length of time that Animal Dreams has been sitting in my sidebar does not indicate that I decided I don't like it so much this time around. It just means I've been busying myself with things other than reading, I guess (though at the moment, I can't really pinpoint what those things supposedly keeping me so busy might be).

In any case, last night I finally made my way to what is my favorite passage in the book, the passage that probably contributed most toward my considering Animal Dreams my favorite book in the first place. It's from the chapter titled The Tissue of Hearts, and it's part of a conversation between Codi, a medical school dropout with a string of random careers and difficult relationships behind her, and her father, Doc Homer, whose growing senility makes him float seamlessly between the past and the present. Medicine is one of the few topics about which he remains fairly lucid, and he seems to think it is one of the few ways he can connect with his somewhat estranged daughter.
"Why do you suppose the poets talk about hearts?" he asked me suddenly. "When they discuss emotional damage? The tissue of hearts is as tough as a shoe. Did you ever sew up a heart?"

I shook my head. "No, but I've watched. I know what you mean." The walls of the heart are thick and strong, and the surgeons use heavy needles. It takes a good bit of strength, but it pulls together neatly. As much as anything it's like binding a book.

"The seat of human emotion should be the liver," Doc Homer said. "That would be an appropriate metaphor: we don't hold love in our hearts, we hold it in our livers."

I understand exactly. Once in ER I saw a woman who'd been stabbed everywhere, most severely in the liver. It's an organ with the consistency of layer upon layer of wet Kleenex. Every attempt at repair just opens new holes that tear and bleed. You try to close the wound with fresh wounds, and you try and you try and you don't give up until there's nothing left.

No, stab wounds and anatomy are not what I typically look for in a novel, but that metaphor alone should guarantee Barbara Kingsolver a solid place in the literary canon.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


I'm off to Wisconsin for a few days, where I will undoubtedly consume three times my normal calorie intake while somehow managing to eat only one possibly real and proper meal all weekend (the rest of the calories, of course, being in the form of salted nuts, Chex mix, cookies and bars from my mother's co-workers, and hopefully not-yet-expired chips and snacks from my father's mystery snack cupboard). I've also planned large blocks of time for watching Dish Network, staring blankly into space, and answering various forms of the same question no less than three times each.

Whatever holiday(s) you celebrate, I hope they are happy. Catch you next week.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A loosely tied string of not-too-Christmasy thoughts

I will probably delete this particular post at some point in the future, as I fear several portions of it may be incriminating in various ways, but for now, I've got nothing else, so here goes.

I'm feeling in a funk this week that I can attribute to a few possible sources (or a combination thereof). I don't want to be the stereotypical spinster singleton who gets all depressed because it's Christmastime and she's alone with her cat (I don't even have a cat, and I actually think Christmas is one of the better times of the year to be alone... no squabbling with each other's families about where to go when; I just do my own thing and have only my own family to contend with...). Regardless, between the damn office holiday party that I complained about for weeks and the ruthless diamond shilling commercials on the radio (reminding me that no one's feeling suckered into buying me something very special in a burgundy box), I'm really not in a particularly warm and festive mood.

An office holiday party is a pretty simple event that really shouldn't shift my emotional state in any way, but to explain why it did would mean explaining things I really don't want to go into here, like my lingering feelings about a relationship that I fear I'll never fully get over and my ambivalence about staying at the same company since college, when nearly everyone else I know has moved on to something new at least three or four times in that same span of years.

On Saturday night, however, I tried to put all of that aside and just focus on getting through a few uneventful hours of small talk with my co-workers. This was made more difficult, unfortunately, by the fact that I unintentionally seated myself at what was apparently the Young Republicans table.

I don't talk politics with my co-workers very often. There's the occasional banter between my boss and me prior to any major election, and my desk neighbor (Churchy McBushfan) and I have been known to find ourselves in a friendly debate from time to time, but other than that, I don't pipe up too much at work. So I was caught a little off guard when a co-worker with whom I have never discussed politics asked if he could sit across from me, and then proceeded to direct his wife to sit on his opposite side, so as not to engage in conversation with me. Apparently I might, in his words, "Try to fill her head with [my] liberal ideas."

I repeat: I have never discussed politics with this person. I have never forwarded him an email message from NARAL or the Sierra Club. I have never passed along a "W. is a moron" link of any sort. But I do have one of these on my rear car window, so it's not like I have no idea where he got his opinion of me.

Politics is not a particularly popular or suitable conversation topic for a company holiday party, so really all of this should have been a non-issue. Movies should be a safe topic, right? Er, yeah...

First someone brought up Narnia. Conversation immediately turned to the books and to the religious story behind the story. I had nothing to add, having not seen the movie and not read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe since grade school, so I held my tongue. Then I decided to have a little fun. Just to rile him up a bit, I asked Churchy McBushfan if he's planning to see Brokeback Mountain. I thought surely he would know about "the gay cowboy movie" everyone's talking about, but surprisingly, he wasn't familiar with it. The wife who was not allowed to sit by me explained: "It's about these two guys who get married and have normal lives, except once a year, they go off into the mountains together on these secret fishing trips..."

The air quotes around "fishing trips" made no secret of her opinion. It's a reaction I was expecting, and therefore my own fault for bringing it up, so I'm really not complaining about this. What did surprise me, however, was what came next.

Also at our table was the cute, young, hip co-worker who's mildly ditzy but nothing but sweet. I know this particular young woman is fairly religious, but given her age, I somehow assumed she might be a bit more open minded about certain things that I know Mr. McBushfan is not. Clearly I was mistaken.

Upon hearing the description of Brokeback Mountain, this young woman said, "Ugh. I walked out of Rent, so I know I couldn't sit through that one."

Now, I had mixed feelings about Rent myself. I loved the musical, so I wanted to love the movie, but, like many other people* who've written about their reactions to it, I sort of feel I've outgrown Rent's impact. I loved that they used almost all of the original cast members, since those are the people who worked directly with Jonathan Larson and who made that show what it was. But those actors are all my age or older now. They've outgrown the story as well (or, I hope they have). At 23, being a broke, brooding artist in New York without a proper job or home makes you romantic and charming and adventurous. At 32, it makes you a loser. I don't want to think of Roger or Mark as losers. I want to remember them as interesting guys who were braver than I, not afraid to forgo the traditional "college to job to contributing member of society" plan in favor of chasing their dreams. But now? Now I have to agree that "You know you're old when you suddenly realize that Benny has some valid points."**

I also had mixed feeling about the musical to movie transition. As a general rule (films like The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz being exceptions, of course), I'm not a big fan of the musical on screen. Somehow, in live performances, I can handle the absurdity of characters going from straight dialogue to suddenly breaking into song. On film, for some reason, I have a significantly harder time with suspension of disbelief. It's the reason I can't get behind West Side Story, no matter how legendary that film's supposed to be. In Rent, this problem was even more pronounced, because they kept a lot of the original dialogue, which, on stage, was sung. Not set to music, however, poor Taye Diggs was speaking in rhyme, which was just awkward and absurd.

But I digress. None of these were the reason my young co-worker walked out of Rent. The reason she walked out? In her words, she "just can't stand to see two guys kissing or making out."

People who know me know that I'm not often rendered speechless, but at that comment, I really had no idea what to say. It wasn't even that I was holding my tongue, trying to keep from chastising her intolerance or starting a debate in the middle of what was supposed to be an innocent and uncontroversial social event. No, at that point, I was honestly just trying to think of what in the movie Rent would be so objectionable as to make a young, modern woman living in a major metropolitan area walk out. Yes, of course there are gay characters in the movie, but the physical contact between them is actually pretty minimal. I can think of only one scene where Collins and Angel kiss, and at that point, Angel is in drag and could almost pass for a woman anyway. But regardless, I still can't get past that comment. She walked out because she can't stand to see two guys kissing. Is it really still OK, in 2005, to feel that and to say it out loud?

Obviously it is, in far too many circles. And I'm probably being too hard on her, as I'm certainly not advocating a mandatory censorship of all thoughts and comments that don't match politically correct or popular points of view. Everyone is entitled to her own opinion, however misguided I think it may be, right? So I don't really know why this bothers me so much. But what I keep thinking, ever since Saturday night, is that I hope in my lifetime that particular comment will become unquestionably unacceptable. I hope that one day it will be just as universally inappropriate as saying "I just can't stand to see those black people walking around free" or "I just can't handle women thinking they have some right to vote."

I guess I live most of my life surrounded by the safe cushion of my liberal, open-minded friends, and I forget that we're not quite there yet.

Happy holidays.


* I didn't want to link right to this in the paragraph above, as this post is scattered enough as it is and I didn't want to disrupt the flow even further, but here are two posts that do a good job, I think, of explaining some of the reasons those of us who loved Rent nine years ago have a bit of a problem loving the movie version now.

**This comes from Red's post, here. (Plagiarism is surely not my intent.)


Monday, December 19, 2005

The plinth of a raccoon dog

I've written before about my little sister's eBay addiction. Each time she sends me a link to some bizarre item, she swears she found it by innocently looking for some entirely unrelated item, but I'm not convinced. I'm fairly certain she's simply amusing herself by making a game of finding the most absurd things available online. It's some odd and twisted scavenger hunt she's on, I'm sure. There's probably a whole group of people like her in some chat room or Yahoo! group somewhere, all battling each other to be the first to find that jump rope made of human hair or the rag doll that the seller swears fills the ice trays for him while he sleeps at night.

Today I hope my sister won the hunt. Because today, she sent me a fabulous item: a "Japanese raccoon dog garden/yard step" titled "The plinth of a raccoon dog." Here. I'll add a picture so you can enjoy it even months from now, when the eBay listing is dead.

I don't know what a raccoon dog is, but I have to agree with my sister that this little guy "looks more like an owl with nipples than either a raccoon or a dog." The poor little dude has a Buddha torso. Maybe you're meant to rub him for luck. And he's either in beauty pageant training or is graduating; I don't know how else to explain the book or mortar board atop his head. I suppose it is the "step" part of the raccoon dog "garden/yard step," but as the figure is, by my estimations, no bigger than a Smurf (not to mention made of porcelain), I can't imagine his head is a particularly sturdy place to step.

If you haven't yet clicked through to check out the listing, be sure to do so, while it's still there. Go ahead... I'll wait...

Note that there are 30 available, so there's no need for us all to fight over him. Unfortunately, as he ships from Japan, it might be a bit pricey to arrange delivery by Christmas.

I think what won me over, however, was the description. After all, "It is how to the accent of your yard"! And "A mailing cost will become cheap if it collects"! You can't argue with that, now can you?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

One of the many reasons I hate clothes shopping

[Note to the men out there in my regular reading audience (all four of you): You can probably skip this one. Go find something about football to read instead. This particular rant may be completely foreign to you.]

Why is it that, when clothes shopping, the simpler the item I'm looking for, the less likely I am to find it? How hard should it be to find a basic black A-line skirt? (Preferably one that hits just above the knee and has a low waist with a wide band, but hey--I'm willing to compromise on a few of the details just to find something close.) Pretty hard, apparently, in a year when it's all about the stupid gauchos. Seriously, who is buying those damn half-pants? They're everywhere, which makes me think somebody must be excited about them, but I'm really not seeing anybody wearing them. Maybe that's partly because they're an impractical choice for winter-wear in the Midwest, but I haven't been seeing a lot of Hollywood starlets filmed or photographed in them, either. Even celebrities apparently know better than to pick up this crazy trend. Now that's saying something.

This season has seen some strangely omnipresent trends, and I'll admit I've bought into some of them. I have the tiny jackets; I have the strappy camisoles to go under the jackets; yes, I even bought a half a sweater (a.k.a. a shrug) or two. I will not, however, buy something that is a normal pair of dress pants at the top and then decides to morph into some kicky little wide-legged capri thing below the knee. I won't do it.

Somebody must be doing it, though. Those damn half-pants are everywhere. Even Briggs, the women's clothing brand best known for highlighting the old lady side of business casual, has jumped on the gaucho bandwagon. Their version (spotted at Herberger's today) features an ever-stylish polyester blend and an elastic waistband, but yes, they do offer them. Personally, I think gaucho pants are bizarre enough on a young, hip woman with the figure of a stick insect; I cringe to envision them on a sexagenarian with thick ankles, white socks, and comfort sandals.

That was unfair and mean-spirited, I know. I'm just cranky because without a proper skirt, I have only two-thirds of the outfit I wanted to wear to my stupid company holiday party tonight, so I'll have to settle on something else in my closet instead. And I'm annoyed because each time I thought I found a black skirt on the rack of every store where I looked, I was faked out by the silly half-pants.

Next year, of course, A-line skirts will be everywhere. And clearance racks will, I hope, be jammed to capacity with stacks and stacks of deeply discounted gaucho pants. Or so I imagine.

Incidentally, I will admit that yes, I did own a pair of gaucho pants somewhere around 1984 (back when we referred to them as culottes). And I realize that my condemning the culottes on their latest go-around makes me sound old and unhip and out of touch with today's fashion. Women in their early 20s would probably scoff at my reticence about the gauchos in much the same way I did when women 10 years my senior refused to wear flare jeans (claiming they'd worn their share of bell-bottoms in the 70s and didn't want to go back). I don't care. Part of getting older, apparently, is the right to a feeling of righteous superiority over the young. I'll make a great cranky old lady some day; don't you think?

Friday, December 16, 2005


Perhaps you're familiar with the "Open Dictionary" available at Merriam-Webster's site, where amateur lexicographers can freely submit alternate uses for existing words and new definitions for made-up or modified words. It's sort of like the Sniglets books my sister and I had when we were kids, which featured entries like "Pajangle" (the tangled mess your pajamas get into as you toss and turn in your sleep) and "Comebacne" (a zit that continually returns in the same place).

My guess is this is just the latest of Merriam-Webster's attempts to make their site more fun and hip (the assumption being that dictionaries aren't inherently fun on their own... an assumption a word nerd like me has a hard time understanding). Apparently it's not enough to offer Word Games, Word of the Day, and Merriam-Webster for Kids... the folks at M-W decided they also need to provide something to rival the interactive nature of Wikipedia and the modern fun of Urban Dictionary. The user-compiled Open Dictionary is their response.

I've noticed this new feature really only because they've been highlighting recent entries in the sidebar on the M-W home page. Some of them are moderately amusing, some of them I'm not tech-geeky enough to get the relevance of, and some are just plain gross. (If you aren't yet familiar with the term "dingleberry," do yourself a favor and don't read the definition at Open Dictionary.)

Today I clicked on a word out of curiousity and found this definition:

spoup : A morally wrong flavor of Cup o' Noodles (e.g., Nacho Cheese). (ex.: I saw more varieties of spoup at the grocery store than I care to count.)
I've never personally pondered the available flavors of Cup o' Noodles. I kind of thought you needed to show a valid student ID to purchase Cup o' Noodles, Smack Ramen, and all other variants of freeze-dried noodle and broth products. I have, however, noticed a horrifying bastardization of Kellogg's Pop-Tarts recently, and I'd like to propose a new term for this strange scope-creep in breakfast foods as well:

Not-Tarts: A Pop-Tart variety more suitable as a dessert or unhealthy snack than as a food appropriate for the "most important meal of the day." Often, Not-Tarts feature imitation components meant to simulate already unnatural ingredients, thereby creating a junk food whose main goal is to taste like other junk food. (See also: Food scientist experiments gone wrong.)
If you haven't yet noticed the Not-Tarts yourself, take a look in the cereal aisle on your next trip to the grocery store. My local Cub currently stocks these varieties of Pop-Tarts and Not-Tarts:
  • Chocolate Fudge
  • Chocolate Chip
  • Hot Fudge Sundae
  • Cinnamon Roll
  • Cookies & Cream
  • Frosted S'mores
  • French Toast
  • Sponge-Bob Square Pants Wild Bubbleberry
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
  • Caramel Chocolate
  • Strawberry (frosted and unfrosted)
  • Cherry
  • Raspberry
Does anyone else think it's strange to offer this many ways to incorporate chocolate into our breakfast when there's a childhood obesity epidemic going on? And I realize it's unlikely there's any trace of actual fruit in the fruit-flavored varieties, but weren't there at one point more than three fruit Pop-Tarts available? Ah--Kellogg's is on it. Strawberry Milkshake is on its way. Well that's a relief. I'm sure Mr. Kellogg would be proud.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Ow. Someone remind me again why I bought a house instead of a condo? Yeah, yeah, faster appreciation, supposedly greater equity potential, no association fees, no smelling somebody else's nasty dinner in my own home, nobody next door banging on the wall when a game of Pit gets a bit rowdy and out of hand*, blah blah whatever. People who live in condos don't have to do the shoveling themselves when it snows six inches. People in condos get to look out the window from their warm home and watch as some burly man with a handy snow-blowing machine takes care of all that snow for them. I imagine that for those few brief moments, it's not unlike being a princess or a Hilton, sitting perched on a satin pillow all fancy-like as some lowly servant does all the hard work for you while you simply ponder what pretty little outfit to try on next.

I'm exaggerating, of course. The shoveling wasn't really all that bad tonight, though I do feel my right shoulder and lower back will be aching quite seriously tomorrow. And really, I suppose comparing condo living to a luxurious life of entitlement is stretching it more than a bit. I wouldn't have to be a princess or pay condo association fees to have someone else do the hard work for me. I'd just need to revert back to childhood.

Snow was a lot more fun when I was a child. No shoveling to do, because my dad did that. No driving in the snow, because the bus driver or my mom did that. Sometimes, of course, we even got to stay home from school because of the snow. Now, not only do I not get a snowday, but I have to drive in the crap to get to work, spend 20 minutes getting the snow off my car before I can leave, and then get to shovel it all from my driveway and sidewalk when I finally do return home for the night. How am I supposed to enjoy the pretty snow when there's all of that to contend with?

Plus, as a kid I at least had the proper footwear. I realized this morning that I really should invest in a suitable pair of boots for days such as this. Somewhere around 7th grade, it was no longer cool to wear enormous yet practical snow boots with your pants tucked inside. Dealing with wet feet and pant legs for the first two hours of the school day was far preferable to wearing the moon boots. It's been years, of course, since I actually cared about any fashion faux pas or peer pressure related to my snowgear choices, yet I still haven't owned a proper pair of snowboots in at least 17 years. I do hate the wet feet and pant legs, however, so when I looked out the window this morning and realized that my useless little ankle-high boots weren't going to cut it, I did something I felt only a little bit stupid about: I took two plastic Target bags from the recycling stash in my stairwell and I put one on each foot. I then pulled a rubber band up around each foot and secured the bags around my shins, because, apparently, if a neighbor should see me leaving my house with Target bags on my feet, I should at least be walking upright, rather than hunching downward to hold the bags up by their handles. Clearly I had my priorities in order there.

Yeah, so... snowboots. That's going on the list. Straightaway.

* Yes, this really happened once--in my old apartment. Clearly we're a dangerous bunch, my friends and I. Some people trash hotel rooms; some people play card games too loud.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Sign #47 that I've been at the same job for too long:

The holiday season feels a lot like Groundhog Day. The movie, I mean--not the day itself.

I've been watching the past several days as the same treats and freebies arrive from the same vendors who sent them as thank you and suckup gifts last year... and the year before that... and the year before that. The gifts essentially say, "Here's a tin of mixed nuts. Might we suggest you send a little business our way?" or "Hey, how 'bout you bring this stylish and practical travel mug bearing our logo to your next client meeting?" My job doesn't put me in direct contact with clients or vendors very often, so I can generally enjoy the free food without feeling bribed or manipulated. (Maybe this isn't such a good thing, however, as perhaps a little ethics-inspired guilt would keep me from eating so many of the treats, instead of relying on my near-nonexistent will power to keep me in check.)

The second inevitable sign of the Christmas routine is the office potluck lunch signup sheet that has once again been taped to the fridge, with the same people signing up for the same items they always bring. The boss is always first to sign up with the same main dish contribution as every year (sloppy joes from a local deli). By next week, when everyone has had ample time to mull it over (which, for many people, means consulting their wife to see what she's willing to bake or assemble in a crockpot for them), the list will fill up, and our Russian co-worker (who sounds just like Latka when he says "Thank you very much") will make me smile yet again by writing "Shrimps" under the Appetizers category.

This weekend I will attend the exact same company holiday party I've attended the past many years--always the exact same three-part event, the only variety being a rotation between one of four different downtown restaurants.

Yes, yes, it's all very nice and I realize that for many people, Christmas is all about tradition. I'm no stranger to the comfort of predictability; I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always entirely open to change. But right now, the tedium and repetition of it all is making it easy to understand why so many people get depressed around Christmas time. Maybe it has nothing to do with loneliness and stress. Maybe everyone just needs something different to look forward to at their company Christmas party.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I think CNN needs a geography lesson

I'll be the first to admit I'm no geography whiz. I'd have a hard time identifying the exact location of several of our 50 states on a map, but I'm confident I'd at least be able to point to the right general area. At the very least, I am 100% certain that Wisconsin is not considered a "Northeast" state.

My guess is the article guy told the photo guy "Snow! We need a picture of snow!" and the photo guy said, "Hmm. Stock photos of snow. Better check Wisconsin." It's a safe bet, usually, I guess.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Because nothing's more interesting than listening to someone else bitch about traffic, right? (Right??)

In Wisconsin, there is one day (or maybe it's one full weekend) a year when anyone can fish without a license. I assume this is to allow young children or poverty stricken individuals a chance to catch a sunfish for free without breaking the law. Maybe the DNR is hoping to hook everyone on the joy of fishing with the same sort of freebie logic popular among drug pushers (or so I've heard)--the "Hey, the first one's on me" sales tactic.

Whatever the rationale behind the license-free fishing day, I think Minnesota decided to offer the same one-day free pass to unlicensed drivers today. I do realize that anyone who drives in any kind of traffic every day regularly encounters their fair share of morons, assholes, and incompetents, but truly, today the ratio of normal, attentive driving to jackassery was entirely skewed beyond belief. And so in response, I offer a few tips... a public service tutorial, if you will... a refresher course on some rules and standards for respectable driving behavior that I think we'd all appreciate everyone abiding by. Ready? Here we go.

  1. The left lane of each half of a divided highway serves two main purposes: passing and driving at least four miles per hour above the speed limit. If you are doing neither and there is ample space for you in the right lane, move the hell over.

  2. Littering is littering, no matter how small the item you're tossing. Yes, ashtrays are gross and I imagine cleaning them out is a nuisance, but so is smoking itself (gross and a nuisance). The world is not your ashtray; quit tossing your butts out the window (particularly if they're going to bounce squarely onto the windshield of the car behind you when driver of said car is already in none-too-friendly a mood).

  3. The longer, skinnier one on the right is the gas pedal. The pressure and frequency with which you press it affects the number that the needle reaches on your speedometer. Those rectangular white signs with numbers on them on the side of the road indicate the speed limit. Do what you need to do to make those numbers correlate. Ideally, the number you shoot for on your speedometer should be at least a few notches higher than the number on those signs, but I realize not everyone sees things that way. There was an episode of "Growing Pains" once where Mike, Carol, and Ben's grandma, upon being chastised for her slow driving, responded, "Fifty-five is the limit--the limit! It doesn't mean you have to go that fast!" Don't listen to Grandma Seaver. The speed limit is just a suggestion--a guideline, really.*

  4. When your half of an intersection has a stop sign or a red light and the cross traffic does not, you do not have the right of way. It is not OK to just pull on out into the lane of oncoming traffic and assume that traffic will slam on their brakes to wait for you. I repeat: not OK. Frankly I can't even believe I have to mention this.

  5. On the flip side, when you arrive at a stop sign and it's unquestionably clear that there's no car in sight from the intersecting directions, a brief stop is really all that's necessary before continuing onward. Delaying any longer makes me wonder if you're seeing imaginary pedestrians or if perhaps you're just a hopelessly slow reader. ("S-T-O-P... Oh. It says 'Stop.'" Yes; yes it does. Now GO.)

  6. As long as we're talking about stop signs, let's review the rules of conduct for four-way stops, shall we? First, as you approach the intersection, pay attention. Look around. See who's approaching at the same time as you and who was already there before you arrived. If you have that information, the procedure for who goes when is really pretty simple: (a) Anyone who reached a full stop in front of their stop sign before you stopped at yours goes first. (b) If you reached a full stop at the same time as anyone else, look to your right. That person gets to go before you. If someone to the right of that person stopped simultaneously as well, that person goes first. It's that simple, really. You don't get to skip ahead and not wait your turn just because you're quicker with the gas pedal or you had a bad day or your great aunt's hairdresser's third cousin is the Queen of England. Wait your turn. Likewise, if it is your turn and you have the right of way, take it. I know it's Minnesota and we're all supposedly nicey-nice and "Oh, no, you first; really." Stick with the program. It's so much easier.

  7. Back to stop lights for a minute. When the light is red at an intersection with no left turn lane, you cannot assume that everyone in front of you is turning left and pretend the right shoulder is an actual traffic lane that you can use to skip ahead of everyone. I know there's some confusion as to whether and when it's acceptable to go around a car rather than waiting for him or her to turn. In no circumstance, however, is it OK to go around seven cars who may all be proceeding straight.

  8. You really do need to check your blind spot before changing lanes. I know, I know--we all slip on this one sometimes. But it's important. Really. Check it!

  9. Turn signals aren't for sissies. They're helpful cues. Use them, would you?

  10. If you don't know where you're going or think you may have missed your turn, do the rest of us a favor and pull over while you figure it out. Oh, and by "pull over," I mean properly pull over--out of the lane of traffic and completely onto the shoulder or parking lane. Oh, and use your signal when you do it; don't just hit the brakes and sort of drift on over. Got it?
I think that's all for today, class. Maybe tomorrow we'll talk about merging. In the meantime, take a tip from the sergeant and let's be careful out there.

* Update: The more I think about this, the more I think it was actually an episode of "Roseanne" where this transpired, not an episode of "Growing Pains," as I originally remembered. Regardless, whether it was Grandma Seaver or Grandma Conner, don't listen to her!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The one in which I give a specific supermodel entirely more thought than I ever deemed reasonable

On the trip back to Minnesota after Thanksgiving, my sister was reading some gossip magazine beside me while I drove, and at one point, she announced that Tyra Banks weighs 150 pounds. Now, I'm not a 22-year-old male with crazy delusions of scale, thinking any woman over 115 pounds is a fatty. I know that for a tall woman, 150 pounds is not fat. I'm a tall woman myself (an inch taller than Tyra, actually, according to her profile on IMDB), and I know that if I weighed 115 pounds, I would look not unlike a bobble-headed Bratz doll (or, you know, more frightening than an over-the-hill Olsen twin). But 150 pounds? Tyra Banks, supermodel? I just don't see it. Here's why. I don't weigh 150 pounds. And yes, yes, muscle weighs more than fat, and it's highly likely that Ms. Banks's fat to muscle ratio is quite different from mine, but still. I really have to question any source that says Tyra Banks weighs more than I do.

I considered doing a bit further research on the matter, but my attention span is short and my commitment to the truth is, apparently, lacking, and by the time I got home, I nearly forgot about the whole thing. Forgot about it, that is, until this evening, when I flipped through my 12 television channels (life without cable: yes, it is still possible!) and landed on the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

What an interesting event the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is. I can't say I've ever caught it before. I'm not sure if the enormous alphabet blocks and stuffed bear flanking the runway were supposed to somehow complement the million-dollar diamond-studded bras and g-strings or if they were an attempt to make an otherwise purely sexy show more family friendly in some absurd way. I'm also not sure what Ricky Martin was doing on the stage... Is he still around? Really? And what happened to his hips? Didn't they used to wiggle like a vibrating Magic Fingers bed? Did someone forget to put the quarter in him tonight? Because he wasn't shaking it like he used to and frankly, Ricky Martin without the ass and the hips is just bad hair and mediocre (at best) singing, so I really don't understand the point.

You know another thing of which I don't understand the point? Shaggy fur boots. Seriously, can we be done with these already? No one needs to be a Yeti from the knee down, particularly when the rest of the body is wearing nothing but underwear and angel wings. (OK, so that last part refers only to the Victoria's Secret runway models--I hope--but it's good advice for the rest of the nation as well.) You know, what really scares me about these ridiculous boots is that trends tend to trickle in slowly in the Midwest and then stick around long after they've been abandoned by the coasts. Knowing that, I have a feeling I've seen only the beginning of the Sasquatch boots around these parts (which, really, I have to say, is more than enough), and they'll truly take over full force long about January 2008. (Something to look forward to. Joy.)

But I digress. Back to Tyra. As you may have heard (unless you've been living in a cave or, I don't know, actually working while at work instead of trolling various Internet sites), Tyra Banks plans to retire from supermodeling, and tonight's Victoria's Secret show was to be her last runway stroll. Given that fact, the show paid particular attention to Tyra, and I suddenly remembered my question of her weight and paid particular attention to her myself. This time, however, I had a computer nearby, and since the Internet knows everything, I thought I'd see what it has to say on the matter. The answer was a lot, but not much that was very helpful. Various sources put her anywhere between 108 (sorry, I don't think so) and 146 pounds. Suddenly I truly pity the teachers who have to grade children's papers in the age of Internet-as-source-material.

What I did find, from a presumably usually semi-reliable source, were the measurements that Tyra herself supposedly revealed on her talk show earlier this year. I'm not going to bother listing them; you can look them up yourself if you're so inclined. Suffice it to say that Tyra apparently lives in some Bizarro World where up is down and celery tastes like fried chicken and cameras magically shrink normal sized women, rather than revealing the extra ten pounds we've always been told that they add.

Because I'm lame and apparently have nothing better to do with my time (and because I have a cute new tape measure that I recently purchased at Jo-Ann Fabric & Crafts), I decided to do a little comparison study. If I am to believe Ms. Tyra's alleged word (and my presumably accurate discount tape measure), my chest is actually one inch larger than hers, which is, of course, just plain crazy talk. I mean, have you seen that woman's knockers? Of course you have. My waist is two inches larger, which is significantly easier to believe. And my hips? Well, I've never really figured out just where you're supposed to measure your "hips," which is just one of several very good reasons I'm not a seamstress. Regardless of the point at which I choose to measure, I can't get my hips to be as wide around as Tyra's allegedly are. All of this means one of two things: 1) Tyra is a liar, or 2) I have no idea how to use a tape measure. Either way, there's no way that woman weighs more than I do, but I suppose it's fun to think there's a possibility that she does.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Snacks, lies, and videotape

I really wouldn't consider myself any kind of snack snob. I've made jokes that the people in my office will eat anything if you put it in the kitchen and announce it as a free treat, but really I'm no better than the rest of those scavengers. I know I have seen things in the kitchen at work that, if left in my own home, would go untouched indefinitely and yet, at work, due either to boredom or to actual hunger with few alternate options, I'll eat without question or second thought.

Still, I firmly feel that if you're going to send out an e-mail announcing that you've left snacks in the kitchen to which everyone should help themselves, those snacks should not include the packets of Saltines that probably came with your chili at Wendy's. There's a distinct difference between bringing in a legitimate snack to share and trying to pawn off the items you discovered while cleaning out your desk. It's strange to me that these two scenarios should actually ever be confused and yet today, somehow, it seems they were.

Thinking about snacks made me think about my visit to my parents' house for Thanksgiving last weekend. In recent years, my sister and I have made a little travel game out of guessing what food item my father will offer us first upon our return to their house. Our usual (and safest) guesses are pizza or Kentucky Fried Chicken, because the man pretty much always has pizza and Kentucky Friend Chicken in at least one of the four refrigerators in their house. (I could write an entire entry on why they have four refrigerators and what's stored in each one, but right now, I'm talking just about snacks.) I'm not sure if my father always has pizza and KFC on hand or if he buys it deliberately before our visits because he thinks it's some special treat we've been deprived of while away and we'll be excited by the chance to eat day-old (or older) reheated fast food. I know that he means well, so I try not to question.

It's odd to me, though, that he even feels the need to specifically offer or point out anything to eat in their house. Even if I don't live there anymore, I don't think I'll ever feel uncomfortable or out of place digging through the cupboards and refrigerator in the house I grew up in and helping myself to anything I find. I really don't need a host or guide to direct me where to find the leftovers. I know, though, that my father probably feels he has little to talk about with me, and I know that him offering me a run-down of what he's got on hand is his way of reaching out and breaking the ice and welcoming me back home. So I humor him and I eat a biscuit and everyone's content.

I've recently realized, however, that my father's menu recitation actually serves another, unintentional purpose beyond the general welcome, and that's to help me determine what's safest to eat. The things that he specifically offers are the things freshest in his mind, which means they're probably the things freshest in the house as well. Knowing how neither of my parents seems able to throw away any of the food that they for some reason buy and then ignore, this is invaluable information.

I don't know why it's so difficult for my parents to keep their food inventory under control. The fact that they buy food they apparently have no intention of eating is confusing enough to my usually frugal self. That they can let that food sit in their fridge or cupboard for weeks, months, yes even YEARS beyond its expiration date without noticing is even more inexplicably baffling. Last weekend I foolishly ate from a bag of honey mustard pretzels I found in their cupboard without checking the date first. I assumed that since the bag was unopened when I found it, the contents would be fresh and crunchy. When I realized they were stale with a slightly "off" flavor, I checked the date stamped on the bag only to see they were "Best before September 2003."

Both of my parents are pack rats (a trait I'm not too happy to have inherited to some degree myself), so maybe the hoarding of bad food is just an extension of that. When I try to purge them of their bad habits by cleaning out their cupboards and fridge, though, I get the same type of resistance I've seen from the homeowners on those "Clean Sweep" shows on TLC. My mother is only slightly more rational than my father in this situation: she actually encouraged me to continue my cleanup as long as I didn't throw the flotsam and jetsam in their household garbage bins. Instead, she suggested I load it all in a bag to take with me from their home (presumably so my father wouldn't get mad that anyone had thrown away what he might deem perfectly good food). I called her an enabler and ended the cleanup. Clearly my father is of the same school of thought as my ex-boyfriend, who insisted that expiration dates were merely suggestions printed by companies to avoid law suits. That may be true for certain foods and up to a certain date, but even Twinkies have a limit on their window of edibility.

I think my father's strange hoarding of snack foods is actually a compulsive behavior that he somehow can't control. Some sort of addiction therapy may be necessary to break him of the snack-buying habit. In lieu of any other significant hobbies, he's taken to collecting off-brand chips and discount candies at Dollar General and Big Lots. It doesn't matter what he already has in the cupboard at home; if he sees Reese's Swoops two for a dollar, he just can't leave them on the shelf.

Snack shopping has, it seems, replaced another long-held addiction that none of us could understand. For years, my father compulsively bought videotapes. Any videotapes. Full-price, sale-price, discount bin--the budget and content was utterly unimportant, apparently. It got to a point where my mother would not leave him unattended at Shopko or Wal-Mart, because he would inevitably return to her with a handful of videos he decided he needed to own. My mother bought no fewer than three floor-to-ceiling bookcases to hold his video collection, and the tapes still need to be stacked two deep with additional overflow balancing atop each row. Some are movies he saw once and liked. Others are movies he never saw and probably never needs to. Still others are documentaries, "making of" specials, NASCAR programs, pro-Republican conspiracy theory propaganda, and travel and tourism films. The video library in my parents' house would likely be a treasure trove for the Mystery Science Theater staff if that show were still in production today.

In the past few years, my father's video obsession seems to have finally subsided. Perhaps he's capable of only one addiction at a time, and the snack pack ratting has simply taken over. I'm not sure which is better or worse. On one hand, snacks are generally cheaper than videos, so he's not spending as much of my inheritance anymore. On the other hand, videos are undoubtedly less detrimental to a diabetic 60-something-year-old man's health than fatty snacks (particularly expired ones) are. So I suppose it is a toss-up.

I realize I have my own share of unusual quirks and obsessions, so I really shouldn't poke fun. For now, however, I'm just glad that lip balm is, I think, the most severe of my addictions, and I'm holding out hope that the pack rack gene is mostly recessive in my case.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I'll take "Things I never knew about the US Postal Service" for 200, Alex

Along with my Friends of the Library newsletter, my mail the other day also included a letter from my Congressional Representative, the esteemed Martin Olav Sabo. I get mail from Marty fairly regularly, because he hears from me fairly regularly. Most of the letters I send are automated messages e-mailed via MoveOn and True Majority*, but on occasion, I'll write a letter in my own words as well. Norm (or, Mayor Quimby, as I like to call him) typically answers my e-mail within a week with a pleasant thank you for contacting him followed by an unfortunate list of all the reasons he disagrees with me. I would expect nothing less from Bush's lap dog, of course. Dayton, I'm sad to say, rarely responds, but when he does, the message (again, via e-mail) is a clear "I'm with you, sister. I'll do what I can."

Marty is more old school. It takes a little longer to get a reply from him, but that's because his mail comes the old fashioned way: on a crisp sheet of paper bearing the official United States seal, folded into an envelope and delivered physically to my home, rather than traveling through cyberspace to arrive near-instantaneously in my Inbox. The environmentalist in me thinks he could save the paper and switch to electronic replies. The Emily Post in me appreciates the gesture of the proper letter.

Whenever I pull an envelope from Marty out of my mailbox, I smile, partly because of the quaintness of receiving what could almost be considered "real mail," but mostly because I know the letter will contain some spunky and bold comment that fully mirrors my own sentiments, and it heartens me to know that at least one of my representatives truly represents me.

It was fun, for example, to read the following statement printed on official Congressional letterhead, bearing the same seal that hangs above the President during his periodic pep talks to the nation. Sabo wrote: "It is very frustrating to hear false optimism and 'stay the course' rhetoric from President Bush when it is so clear that our open presence in Iraq inflames the violent insurgency." Amen, Marty. Way to speak your mind and tell it like it is.

So I read Marty's letters, just as I imagine (foolishly, of course), that he personally reads mine. What I never noticed on these letters before, however, is that they bear absolutely no postage (neither in stamp form nor any printed box indicating "bulk postage paid"). Where the stamp would be is Martin's personal signature, and opposite that are the words "Public Document - Official Business." A quick search on Google taught me that members of Congress can legally send "Official mail" without payment of postage by drawing from an allotted expense account. I didn't know that. (Did you?) I suppose it makes sense... taxpayers are going to foot the bill for the postage one way or another; might as well just cut out the middle step and avoid paying someone to also affix a stamp or run the mail through a postage meter.

The postal privileges detailed in the special eligibility standards for official mail go further than current members of Congress, however. If you're a former Speaker of the House, you can continue to send public documents, agricultural reports, and seeds (yes! seeds!) for "as long as the former Speaker deems necessary." And former Presidents (and the surviving spouse of a former President) can apparently send any old thing they want via these same privileges as well. The mail doesn't even have to be political or official in nature.

I get a strange mix of amusement and disgust imagining a retired George W. years from now signing his name in the corner of his electric bill to avoid buying a stamp. It will happen, I imagine. I wouldn't be remotely surprised.

* I don't feel particularly bad about this lazy woman's mode of activism, as I'm fairly certain none of my representatives read nor respond to my messages themselves either. As long as some staffer puts a checkmark in the "For" or "Against" column on the constituent feedback record for the particular issue I'm fake-writing about (and then sends me the approved multi-purpose response on that issue), my impersonal letter has done its job.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Speaking volumes

A few weeks ago, I responded to a request from the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library to "Be Part of the Story." Really that's just a cloying marketing tag line for their capital campaign to raise more funds for the new Central Library. If we believe all the hype, this new library will be so architecturally astounding that people will look back at the Guggenheim and wonder what all the fuss was about. The garden on the roof will grow exotic fruits year-round. The computers will be lightning-fast, and we'll all have instant access to them with no waiting whatsoever. Each floor will have cushy sofas and leather bean bag chairs, and at the push of a button, you'll be able to call a friendly server to bring you a vanilla latte. No charge. And the books? Ah, the books. The collection will be so complete that the Library of Congress will call our reference librarians to ask, "Hey, could you look something up for me?"

It wasn't so much my faith in the wonder of this new library that made me mark "yes" on the form and send in a check. It was more a sense of civic responsibility and a feeling of appreciation for everything libraries represent. Libraries represent literacy and culture and the democratic ideal of all citizens having equal access to resources, information, and opportunities. Libraries are, as Barbara Kingsolver (through her character Hallie) wrote, "the one government institution you shouldn't rip off." Libraries represent learning and growth. These are all things I can easily get behind.

I realize these are lofty words considering how often my librarian friend has had to eject local perverts from the public access computers for inappropriate behavior, but it's an ideal I want to believe in. That's why it bothered me so much that such a prominent symbol of knowledge and intellect included the following statement in the bimonthly "Speaking Volumes" mailing I received today:

The Friends Bookstore will be closing the downtown location in February 2006. The store will be continuing it's 50% off sale until then, with a bag sale in February.

It's 50% off sale? It's? This publication came to me from an organization with Masters- and Doctorate-level scholars behind it, and they can't find someone to edit the newsletter who knows the difference between it's and its?

I may, of course, be overreacting. I'm fully aware that I'm a grammar geek and I have probably an unusually low tolerance for the errors in punctuation that I find most egregious. Misuse of the apostrophe is one of them. Once an English major, always an English major, I suppose. Still, I'd like to think my expectations could be a bit higher considering the source. On a hand-lettered sign at the Middle Eastern deli (where I'm fairly certain the majority of the staff do not speak English as their first language), I can overlook quaint errors like "Gyro's Daily Special." But in an otherwise well-designed, professional-looking document on glossy 11x17 paper? It's just wrong.

The same newsletter lists the "Gifts to the Friends" made between 8/2/04 and 10/8/04. Either the Friends are really a year behind on their bookkeeping or the same editor made a slip-up there as well. The way my faith in the library is momentarily shattered, I suppose either is possible.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

True colors

I cut the tag off my new sweater this morning and decided that the people whose job it is to name the various shades of paint and nail polish and, yes, sweaters sold at Kohl's, have in fact gone too far.

Don't get me wrong. I often appreciate the designers' and marketeers' creative efforts in describing a particular color. I think “I’m not really a waitress” is a clever description for a saucy shade of red, and I’ll admit that, when painting the exterior of my house, I chose “Blustery Day” over “Dusty Blue” mainly because it reminded me of Winnie the Pooh stories.

But I'm really not sure what to make of the hue assigned to my new green sweater. In the spot on the tag where the name is printed, it does not say "Green." It does not even say "Grass" or "Pesto" or "Shamrock" or "Fern." No, instead of any of those, it says "Jen's Pants."

I imagine the conversation in the marketing department that day went something like this...

"Hey, what you do you think we should call this one? I'm totally drawing a blank today."

"I don't know. What are you thinking this time... Plants? We could call that one 'Cactus' and the tan one over there 'Tumbleweed'... Or cities? Have we done cities lately? We could call it 'Dublin'...

"Hmmm. You know, it's kind of the same shade as those capris you're wearing."

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

"That's it. Jen's pants. We're totally going with that."

"Cool. I saw a jacket on the designer's rack that we could definitely name after your shoes."

I have to admit that I did actually laugh when I saw "Jen's Pants" printed on the tag, but I still can't help thinking it was a decision made just due to laziness. Then again, as I'm frequently aware of my own laziness, I'm really in no position to judge. At least they didn't go with influenza.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Every now and then, a friend will make some comment that triggers something in me, or I'll hear something come out of my own mouth that I never thought I'd say, and I'll have this sudden, unexpected, "Woah. Yep. Definitely a grown-up now." moment.

Sometimes it's as simple as being out of touch with certain segments of pop culture that I choose not to keep up with. "Who the hell is Chingy"? and "I really can't name a single Alicia Keys song" are two sentences I've uttered that quickly come to mind. On Monday morning, I saw a headline on CNN's home page announcing that a mob of teenage girls had stormed the stage and caused a performance to be canceled at a mall less than ten miles from my house. I clicked through to the article and announced to a nearby co-worker, "I have never heard of this band. I have no idea who they are, but they look about 12."

On other occasions, the "Adulthood is obvious" moment comes when I recognize emerging disparities between my friends' lives and my own. Post-college, we all started on essentially equal ground. We all had crappy generic apartments, drove used cars, made adequate but not exciting incomes, and mocked our parents. As we get older, the gap in certain areas grows wider. We all now have houses (and, in most cases, better cars), but some of us* have become financially secure enough to jet off on a transcontinental vacation with little advance planning or budgeting. When did that happen? I don't generally mock my parents anymore (well, not much, anyway), but I don't hang out with them, either. My more-grown-up-than-me** friends do. Why? These are the things that I don't understand, but that I'm coming to realize are apparently the norm.

Recently a friend of mine told me that she and her husband have been seeing a fertility specialist to try to determine why they've been unable to conceive. I know it's the wrong reaction, but all I could think was, "Wow. And all that money wasted on years of unnecessary birth control." Wasn't it just last week that all my girlfriends were freaking out about what they'd do if they got pregnant? Now they're worried about why they aren't?

It's like suddenly my friends are living in an episode of Thirtysomething, but I'm still on Sex & the City. (Minus the sex. And the Manolo Blahniks. And in a slightly less fabulous city.)

* Not me.
** i.e., married

Sunday, November 13, 2005

One more

Dear Los Lonely Boys,

Shut up already. Shut up shut up shut up with the whiny, entirely overplayed "How far is heaven?" business. Shut up.

Here's a tip. To avoid becoming a one-hit wonder, it's a good idea to release another, entirely different song before every person who may have even remotely liked your first song is thoroughly sick to death of it.* I'm sure that I cannot be the only one with the instantaneous, automatic reflex action of hitting an alternate preset position or jamming down my snooze button the very second I hear those first strummy notes of that damn song. Can it really be just me??

I do realize that my blame in this situation may be misplaced. It's entirely possible that you're just as sick to death of "Heaven" as I am at this point. I remember a They Might Be Giants show once, when poor John Linnell introed what is perhaps their most popular work ("Particle Man") with a diatribe about how if someone cut off his head, the arteries at the top of his severed neck would still be pumping out blood to the beat of that famous tune. Is that how you feel about "Heaven"? Has it come to that for you yet? If so, perhaps you'll remember this the next time you consider selling your soul to Clear Channel.

In the mean time, all I have to say is thank God for MPR and The Current.

* I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here that there are actually some people who remotely liked this song initially. Personally, it's annoyed me from the start, but hey, that's just me.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A few completely inconsequential things I'd like to get off my chest today

Dear Grocery Store Managers of Minnesota,

Do me a favor. Decide amongst yourselves where you want to stock the pita bread, and then put it in that same place consistently in each of your stores. Because really, I don’t buy the stuff all that often, but I’m rather sick of criss-crossing around the store to every logical location I can think of whenever I want to find it, wondering if yours is the store that puts it by the bread, or if you're the one who thinks it should be in the refrigerator case by the tortillas, or (logically enough, in my opinion) conveniently alongside the hummus (which is really the main reason for pita bread in the first place, isn’t it?) or if you've hidden it at the far end of the deli, facing the back wall of the store, where no one will ever, ever find it on their own, which could have something to do with why the stock of pita bread in your store is always stiff and near-moldy when a customer looks for it.

A little consistency; that’s all I’m asking for. Could you do that? Please? It would save me a lot of time.

Consider crackers, for example. Does anyone ever have to wonder where the crackers are? No. Because they’re always next to the cookies. On the off chance they’re not, then they’re by the chips and such. Oatmeal? Pop Tarts? Granola bars? Always in the cereal aisle. The same kind of predictability and reliability for the pita bread would be much appreciated. Thanks.


Dear Ethan Hawke,

I wanted to like your first novel. Really I did. You’re just so... pretty. Slightly scruffy, yes--you do like to walk that fine line between ruggedly sexy and "I’d touch him if he took a shower first" skeevy, but still. Damn fine looking, for the most part. And deep. OK, maybe I just want to think that you're deep. And you seem like a decent person. Like in that GQ interview, sometime after your breakup with Uma, when you could have been all proud and assish, but instead you said all sorts of nice things about her, and you were entirely mature about it, saying that you still care about each other and she's such an amazing woman, but sometimes people just can't make things work? Classy, really. And despite a few missteps here and there, your acting work's been generally good. From the very beginning. Well, maybe not the very beginning, as I'm sorry to say I actually don't think I’ve ever really even seen Explorers (or whatever that movie was with you and River and the spaceship in your backyard). But after that... That scene in Dead Poet's Society? When you, the shy, quiet, reserved guy who'd been skulking in the edge of every frame for the entire movie suddenly burst into tears and let loose about how it was really Neil's father who made him blow his own brains out? How it was all his parents' fault for not appreciating the creative, wonderful spirit of Neil? Brilliant. My teenage self fell in love with you just a little bit, right there. O Captain my Captain indeed.

I don't get particularly gushy over a lot of famous people. I never hung a Kirk Cameron poster over my bed and kissed it goodnight at the end of each day. I didn't plaster the insides of my locker with cutouts from Bop! or Tiger Beat, memorizing what each of the Coreys' favorite foods were or what kind of girl Mackenzie Astin liked. No, the closest I came was cutting a small photo of you out of my Sassy magazine and taping it alongside the desk of my dorm room. It was subtle, really. It was my friends, not me, who made a dozen photocopies of that picture and plastered them all over the halls for me to find after class, wishing me Happy Birthday by writing captions above your face all over Towers Hall. "Can I kiss the birthday girl?" and "Guess who’s 19 today?" It was cute, really. You should have seen it.

But I digress. I wanted to like your book. Really I did. Unfortunately, however, the best I can do for my one-word review is an unenthusiastic and noncommittal "Eh."

Don't get me wrong; it didn't totally suck. I've definitely read worse. But the characters, the story, everything about it was just so utterly forgettable. And your protagonist? What was his name... Jesse? No, sorry; that's not it. That was your character in Before Sunrise. Forgive my confusion, but it must be because the unjustified pretension and delusions of interesting-ness were the same in both scenarios. I know you were an angst-ridden, probably intensely emotional 24-year-old yourself when you wrote this, and for that I can forgive some of the self-importance of this work. But really, you're not making me want to pick up Ash Wednesday with this.

You're still sexy, though. Totally. So good job on that.


Dear lady who subbed for the cardio circuit class this week,

You know how when you're at the dentist, and the hygienist is scraping around on your teeth with the pointy metal thing, and despite the fact that she's holding your jaw and sticking the spit sucker in your mouth, she still thinks it's a good time to start asking if you saw Nanny 911 last night, or what your thoughts on the weather are today? You know how, even though you realize it's all just small talk and your answers really aren't important, you're still annoyed because she's asked you a question and you can't answer, and you don’t want to be rude, so you sort of grunt something probably indiscernible and just hope for the best? You know what I'm talking about? Well, you asking us about Oprah or telling us about your kid's karate test when you have the advantage of a microphone but we're being drowned out by the ceiling fans and the thumping bass and the voice of J-Lo or Kelis is kind of the same thing. You really don't need to make small talk while we're doing our lat rows. I’m just saying.


Dear girl in the white Corolla in front of me on the way home tonight,

I used to think pretty much all bumper stickers were just stupid. I never really understood how or why one restaurant or campground was so special and meaningful that you needed to advertise it on your vehicle, and I never thought there was a message important enough that you needed everyone adjacent to you to see it every day. But then we somehow elected a drunken frat boy president, and suddenly there were all sorts of clever taglines surrounding me on the highways, and I started to forget why I had such an issue with bumper stickers in the first place.

But then I saw your car, with the sticker proudly bearing the inexplicably stupid message, "I’m so happy I could shit." And then it all came back to me. So thank you for that; I remember now.

Could you please just tell me what it was about that phrase that you so identified with that you felt compelled, nay, excited to adhere it to your car? Is shitting something you generally like to do whenever you feel happy? Is it sarcasm, and you are, in fact, not happy, and the unhappiness is what makes you want to defecate? 'Cause either way, I don't get it.

I'm just guessing you're also one of those people who uses the word "Hell" in entirely puzzling statements, such as "It's colder than Hell out there!" (to which my response, naturally, is, "Well, I should certainly HOPE so..."). You probably also attach the phrase "...that it's not even funny" behind statements that were never inherently amusing, such as "I'm so tired it's not even funny" or "That's so sad it's not even funny."

I don't understand you, and I really don't understand your bumper sticker. That's all I'm saying.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Yet more proof that real life isn't anything like the movies

I don't know what my fascination with pirates is, but for some reason, despite the obvious turmoil for those traumatized by this whole Somalian cruise ship attack thing, I'm thrilled and amused to learn that pirates are still storming the seas, presumably strolling about their decks with a parrot on their shoulder, waving their hook arms and peg legs and singing "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me."

So you can imagine my disappointment when I learned that modern pirates do not fire cannons or swing swords or leap from massive wooden ships equipped with planks and high-flying skull-and-crossbone flags. No, modern pirates fire machine guns and toss grenades and make their getaway in a far more practical motorized speedboat.

It makes sense, obviously, as I can't imagine a successful escape from today's Coast Guard if you're gliding along no faster than One-Eyed Willie's ship passed into the sunset at the end of Goonies. Still, these Somalian pirates could have kept up the illusion, just for tradition's sake.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The importance of reading the fine print

I don't pay particular attention to what I'm handing out as I reach into the bowl for the trick or treaters. I don't make any effort to save the best stuff for myself, because there really is no "best stuff." Never knowing how many trick or treaters I'm going to get and therefore how much candy to buy, I buy only the good stuff, the stuff I like, in order to ensure the quality of the leftovers. No trick or treater is going to get a cheapo packet of Smarties or a handful of gritty and inaptly named Peanut Butter Kisses from me. No way. None of that. Because if I bought the cheap and boring candy, I'd be forced to pawn the leftovers off on my friends and co-workers, and frankly, they don't want that stuff any more than I do. So instead, I buy the good stuff, and I hoard the excess in much the same way the kids I initially distribute it to probably do.

That said, I really wish I would have paid a bit closer attention to the selections I made when I picked out this year's candy. Because if I'd seen that between the word "Hershey's" and the word "Ghost" was the dreaded phrase "white chocolate" (in tiny, tiny print), I most certainly never would have purchased the Hershey's Ghosts/Reese's Pumpkins combo bag that I did. At the very least, I would have been picking out all those purple foil-wrapped blocks and getting them out of my house first, rather than handing out the Take 5s and the Almond Joys and the peanut M&Ms and leaving those ghosts in the bowl.

White chocolate is not real chocolate, and the only reason it even needs to exist is to enhance an occasional latte and to make TCBY's white chocolate mousse. Any other incarnation of this affront to proper candy I truly want nothing to do with.

Monday, October 31, 2005


I just turned out the lights and closed the drapes to convey the universal (or at least all-American) message of "no more candy here." As I did so, I looked up and down the street and saw that just about every other house on my block had already done the same. I should have shut down the candy-dispensing an hour ago already, as I know that the only kids who show up after 8:00 are the ones who are old enough to drive and still think they should get free candy, even though they can't be bothered to put on a real costume. The last one of those actually had the nerve to show up twice, claiming that he got lost or disoriented and forgot where he'd been already. Sorry dude. I may be a little worried that you and your hoodlum friends will egg my fresh paint job in retribution, but I'm going to take my chances and withhold the second round of fun-sized snacks anyway.

The cutest kid of the night, hands-down, was a threeish-year-old in a plastic tiara. No costume below her forehead--just a shiny pink winter jacket and blue jeans. But she was precious in the tiara anyway, as she exclaimed, "I'm a princess!" She took her candy and then edged past me to stick her head into my living room, asking "Where's your doggy?"

"My doggy?" I repeated. "I don't have a doggy."

"Oh," she said. "Where's your father?"

I told her that my father doesn't live here; he lives in Wisconsin; and she said "Oh," as though she knew exactly where Wisconsin was and it all made perfect sense to her. Then I gave her an extra piece of candy for apparently thinking I look young enough that I must still live with my parents, as opposed to thinking I look like a lady who must be a mom and asking, "Where are your kids?" instead. I realize I'm overthinking this; I don't care.

I actually like Halloween, mostly because it's one of the few holidays where there are parties and candy but you don't have to spend any time with your family (unless of course you want to). I have a hard time with the costumes because I never want to wear anything that makes me look stupid or ugly (as I feel I can manage those things quite well enough on my own on some days without needing a costume to accentuate it), but I like the idea of dressing up as something or someone completely different. I think it's good practice for me to loosen up and not be so self conscious all the time.

More than one person has told me I have an incredible memory for insignificant details, so I think it's strange that I actually can't remember more than three or four of the costumes I chose as a child. I know that when I was very young, I had a few of those store-bought costumes that were just two pieces of vinyl cut out with some child-sized industrial cookie cutter and then fused together around the edges and equipped with a tie at the neck. The vinyl was printed with details meant to make you look like some cartoon or movie character or superhero, and the outfit was always accompanied by a stiff plastic mask that was most likely a suffocation hazard. At the very least, it made your face slimy with sweat, and the elastic band rubbed the edge of your ear raw. By the end of the day, the plastic had cracked in at least one place, leaving a sharp edge that would prick or pinch if you didn't handle it with the utmost care. I remember picking a few of these costumes from "The Dime Store" in town, choosing from stacks of cardboard boxes with cellophane windows on top. My sister went as Bernard from The Rescuers once, and I know I had a "Cinderella" one year. Beyond that I don't remember any specifics.

The year E.T. was released, I went as a cowgirl, just like Gertie did. And a couple years later I went as a witch, because I'd never done so before. I know there was a gypsy year, too, and one year when I wore a dress my mom had saved from a high school dance she attended, though I don't remember what or who I was trying to be in that dress.

In college, two of the most popular costumes were farmer girl and hippie, mainly because either could typically be achieved just by raiding your own closet, possibly supplementing with items your dorm neighbors had on hand as well. It was the early 90s; just about every 19-year old female had a pair of overalls and several flannels, or a long skirt and various necklaces.

My last year of college I went as Miss Wisconsin 1969, donning a lime green rhinestone-studded polyester dress that exposed far more cleavage than I was remotely accustomed to revealing, a satin sash, and a plastic tiara. The high point of the night was Conan the Barbarian begging me onto the dance floor with the insistence that "[he] would love to dance with Miss Wisconsin." The low point was about five minutes later, when I broke the "no kissing strangers in public" rule that I made for myself shortly thereafter and full-on made out with him on the dance floor of my least favorite bar on Water Street.

My favorite costume of my adult life was when I went as a tattoo artist. Again, I probably enjoyed this costume because it gave me an excuse to be someone completely different for a night. Red pleather pants are not something I could wear with a straight face in public, but for one night, with a black mesh tank top and a blue wig, I felt like Jennifer Garner on Alias, and I enjoyed it completely. Tattoo artist was also a great ice-breaker costume, as it was highly interactive. I carried a set of washable markers with me (taped to mini-squirt guns, in my attempt to simulate tattoo guns), and I drew on anyone who let me give them a tattoo. I decorated my arms and shoulder blades with temporary tattoos, and I had some of those on hand to distribute to other party goers as well. Conan the Barbarian wasn't at that party, but I did make out with a satyr, and I'm not particularly proud of that, either.

The following year my costume basically bombed. I had always wanted to go as Mary Tyler Moore (something about her "single girl in the Twin Cities" thing appealed to me, I guess), but I never knew how to pull it off convincingly. As it turned out, I shouldn't have tried. With my 60s-era dress and flip hair, I had the time period right, but the only guesses I got were "Carol Brady?" and "60s housewife?" Maybe the beret would have helped, but unfortunately I inadvertently dropped it in a snowbank somewhere between the car and the party. I thought wearing a button that said "I can turn the world on with my smile" would be enough of a clue, but as it turns out, not everyone watched as much Nick at Nite in high school and college as I did.

Last year I tried to make up for my previous misstep with an impressive costume again. I chose the very specific role of Miss Scarlet in the dining room with the candlestick. Props are very important, I've learned, even if they are a hassle to hold onto all night. Maybe the beret would have saved my Mary Tyler Moore costume after all.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Really not what I meant

I'm not much with the small talk and niceties. I'm bothered by the vagueness when someone tells me to "have a good one" (a good what? Day? Weekend? Meth amphetamine bender? It's annoyingly unclear...), and I'll never ask "How are you?" unless I actually want to know or I really can't think of anything else to say.

Most of these niceties occur in auto-pilot mode. The asker isn't really thinking about the greeting or question as (s)he poses it, and the replier is equally inattentive in return. Still, it would be nice if I could abide by the simple rules of communication in these tiny interactions and not reply in ways that make absolutely no sense.

For example, when the cashier at Rainbow Foods says, "How are you?" the appropriate reply is any of the following: "Good, thanks"; "Fine, how are you"; or "Oh, you know--can't complain." The appropriate reply is not, on the other hand, to snap out of a haze and say "Hi," and then immediately replay the scene in my brain to realize "Hi" was not the opening line that was presented to me this time around.

I really hope that cashier didn't do a similar replay when I offered my reply, because to follow "How are you?" with the one-word answer "High" is really not what I meant to tell her about my life.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Stillwater Homies Part 2: George

I had lunch with my Homie-collecting ex-boyfriend today. He doesn't know what I wrote the other day, and we actually haven't discussed or referenced the Stillwater Homies concept in quite some time, and yet, on the way back to work, he pointed to a passerby who's very familiar to us both and exclaimed, "Hey look--it's one of the Homies!"

I figured this was a sign, of course... a sign that it's time for the second figure in the Stillwater Homies series. Meet George.

George was a cop on the Stillwater Police force for over forty years, until his family finally convinced him to retire back in the early 90s. After spending so much of his life patroling the city all day, he still has a hard time sitting in one place. He likes to stay active, and he likes to get out and make the rounds around town. His failing eyesight now keeps him from driving, but he enjoys getting out on on his bicycle, or rather, his enormous tricycle, every day. The three wheels keep him steady and help to compensate for his ever slowing reflexes, and the exercise keeps him feeling young and strong.

George's daughter, Clara, looks in on him a few times a week. Though she knows he's fit and energetic for his age, she still worries about him. It makes her nervous to see his elderly body hunched over his mega-trike, peddling steadily along as SUVs and delivery trucks lumber by just a few feet away. To ease her mind, she's equipped her father with as much safety gear as possible and George, knowing that she's just showing she cares, willingly obliges and uses all of it. He never sets out on his trike without first donning his shiny blue helmet and orange reflective safety vest. Behind his seat flies a bright red flag on a long white pole--another signal to help him stand out amidst inattentive drivers rushing to their next destination. If you see George's flag, give him a quick honk and a wave. He may look deep in concentration, but he'll be happy to nod a reply to wish you a good day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Occupational hazards

I work in a fairly small company, and in a small company, it's no big surprise that we are all sometimes expected to do things that fall a bit outside our traditional job descriptions. In many cases, I understand and am thoroughly OK with this. Being the second string line of support for the company's main phone line, for example, is really not that big a deal (particularly when you consider that the third and fourth lines of support are our accountant and our CAD specialist). There are, of course, other miscellaneous items that fall under that last "catch-all" item of every job description--"all other duties as assigned"--that I'm slightly less enthused about... Some of them, I'll admit, make me downright surly at times. But I feel it's important to remind myself in times like those that at least I have never been asked nor expected to interrupt my usual desk job temporarily to climb into the crawlspace in the ceiling of the women's bathroom and burrow myself through the building's ductwork to fix an errant cable. No, I can't say that has ever been among my particular "all other duties as assigned." I cannot, however, say the same thing for a particular co-worker of mine, who subsequently spent the better part of this afternoon picking pieces of blow-in insulation off his shirt and out of his hair and coughing up what were likely carcinogenic particulates.

Poor guy. He's also the one we call to fix the toilet when it's not behaving. I'm just guessing that when he signed on in the Sales department, this was not exactly what he had in mind.