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.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Rollin' with the Homies

A few years ago, in a bowling alley in Little Canada, I was introduced to Homies, a line of plastic miniatures sold in gumball machines (and, for the true collector, in full sets at shops like Urban Outfitters and through sellers on eBay and other merchant sites). My first Homie was Boxer, a guy apparently tough enough to wear a wife-beater and high-water Dockers without taking any flak for it. Boxer stood below my computer monitor at work and was eventually joined by a few other friends: Flygirl, Lizard, the troubled Teardrop, and my personal favorite, Shaneequa (who, admittedly, is my favorite soley because her name is my self-chosen "bowling name"--the name I punch into the computer at bowling alleys that offer automated scoring systems).

I feel compelled to mention that I didn't actually purchase any of these Homies myself. My ex-boyfriend built the collection for me, often by passing along the duplicates he acquired when plugging quarters into the machine outside Wal-Mart or Cub Foods. (I lived in an apartment at the time, so the concept of having excess quarters to waste in this manner was entirely foreign to me, but as a homeowner with free in-house laundry facilities, he apparently felt the momentary amusement of a new Homie was far more valuable than a stray quarter here and there.)

Last year, when said boyfriend and I were in Eau Claire for a wedding, we tried in vain to acquire Romo & Julia from a gumball machine at Embers. Naturally, the machine didn't cooperate, and we ended up with the decidedly less romantic Mad Bomber instead. It's probably just as well, as I'm pretty sure the bride and groom didn't share our interest in the Homies, and it therefore might not have been quite the excellent last-minute add-on wedding gift we'd envisioned.

I don't remember if it was me or my Homie-enthusiast boyfriend who first decided to start compiling a mental set of our own local Homies, but whoever first had the idea, building the list has been a repeated source of amusement to me for some time now. We both work at the same company in Stillwater, a community that's more Stars Hollow than Star City*, and therefore has its ample share of recurring characters (and in many cases, I do mean "characters") playing bit parts in my life. For a while now, I've had "Stillwater Homies" in the back of my mind as a future writing topic, but haven't yet gotten around to doing anything about it, primarily because I really wanted to attempt an illustration to accompany each Homie, and without a scanner at my disposal, that's tough to provide. So my verbal description will just have to do.

First up is Buster. I'm starting with him because, after observing Buster from a safe distance for a few years now, I suddenly had an unexpected, face-to-face Boo Radley moment with him outside the Post Office the other day. He may have said "Hi"; he may have mumbled some incoherent crazy talk. I was too thrown by the whole encounter to really tell for sure, so I just spun on my heel and rushed back to work.

Presumably, other Homies in the Stillwater series will follow on an undetermined schedule until I grow bored with the idea. I should note that some names and details have been verified by quasi-reliable sources, while others have been made up for my own amusement. I'm not saying which are which.

So here we go. The first of the Stillwater Homies... Meet Buster.

Buster was a star fighter on the Twin Cities boxing circuit years ago. Once a local hero, his picture still hangs in one of the many bars on Main Street. Like many boxers, Buster grew so addicted to the glory that he couldn't see when it was time to hang up the gloves. He took one too many hits late in his career and has been "punch drunk" ever since. Now he trolls the streets of town on his 10-speed, rummaging through dumpsters and recycling bins for reading material and other bits and pieces, which he typically stuffs in his waistband to keep his hands free for riding.

Whether it's 18 degrees or 80, the uniform on Buster's tall, lanky body never changes: lace-up boots, long pants, fleece jacket layered atop various t-shirts and flannels, work gloves, neck gator, and stocking cap. With the hat pulled down low and the gator stretched over his nose, all you can see of Buster is his eyes. If you catch his glance, it's hard to tell whether the vacant stare provides a window into his glory days or to an empty mind that's pondering nothing more than the next stop on his bike ride. Few people stick around him long enough to find out.

* The Star City designation has something to do with meeting set goals for economic growth and development. Although cities throughout Minnesota received this label in the 80s or 90s, for me it's synonymous with "random homogeneous Twin Cities suburb." Years ago, as a new resident to the Twin Cities, I saw the "Star City" label on population signs along the freeways and thought it was just a meaningless attempt to differentiate one nearly identical, anonymous suburb from the next (a futile attempt, of course, since every single suburb held that same title). Stillwater may actually be a Star City as well, but for the purpose of finding a suitable phrase to contrast against Stars Hollow, I'm going to pretend that it's not.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

In case you're curious...

It costs $5.32 to ship an envelope weighing less than one pound to Edina (40 miles from my office). It costs $6.30 to ship a 20-pound box to St. Paul (22 miles from my office). It costs only a dollar more to ship the same size box all the way to central Wisconsin.

I am convinced this discrepancy can mean only one thing. Clearly the UPS drivers in Edina are offering other perks and services with their deliveries, to accommodate the needs and expectations expressed by the residents of one of the Twin Cities' poshest suburbs. (They say, after all, that Edina is actually an acronym for "Every Day I Need Attention.")

My guess is that the driver presents the package on an engraved silver platter accompanied by a white doily holding fresh baked cookies. The man in brown offers a warm towel and a foot rub to the recipient, and then carefully sweeps his bootprints from the entryway before departing to his truck.

That must be it. Seriously.

Yes, I realize this isn't much of a post. I'll remedy that sooner or later...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


I forgot: Velvet Underground's "Stephanie Says" actually isn't the only song I've ever heard that features my name. I remember an episode of Full House (long, long ago) in which Danny Tanner somehow got then-teen-heartthrob Tommy Page to stop by on Stephanie's birthday and sing her a song. Later, he confessed to the rest of the family that he'd actually written the song for his girlfriend Melanie and just substituted "Stephanie" for "Melanie" throughout, but regardless, the version I heard on the show repeated the name "Stephanie" several times.

I don't know which is more disturbing--the fact that I actually remember an episode of Full House in such detail or the fact that I've had "Shoulder to Cry On" stuck in my head ever since I thought of it. (The latter is particularly odious considering I actually recall only about two lines from that song, so it's therefore just those two lines that keep repeating in my mind.)

I'm also not particularly thrilled that my search for Tommy Page on Amazon has now put New Kids on the Block's Greatest Hits in the sidebar as the featured item in "the page [I] made." But I'm not going to dwell on that.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Feel the Stefanie

The title of this blog comes from the only song I've ever heard that has my name in it: "Stephanie Says" by Velvet Underground. (It's also the name of a band, but I don't know a whole lot about them.)

If only I had come across the Slogan Generator several months ago, who knows what I might have called my site instead. Consider the possibilities...
  • Feel the Stefanie
  • Let the Stefanie Begin
  • Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Stefanie
  • My Goodness, My Stefanie
  • Better Living through Stefanie
  • All Stefanie, All the Time
It's kind of fun to watch the Slogan Generator get all gushy over me, suggesting such flattering and self-assured lines as "I'd Walk a Mile for Stefanie" or "You Need a Stefanie" (I mean, who doesn't?).

But then there were the entirely bizarre suggestions I wasn't really sure what to do with... Like "8 out of 10 Owners Who Expressed a Preference Said Their Cats Preferred Stefanie" or "If You Really Want to Know, Look in the Stefanie."

I got a bit uncomfortable and had to stop playing when Mr. Slogan Generator's suggestions began bordering on the dirty and perverse...
  • Have a Stefanie and Smile
  • Snap into a Stefanie
  • Nobody Does it Like Stefanie
  • Give That Man a Stefanie
  • Stefanie Really Satisfies
  • Stefanie Comes to Those Who Wait
  • The Incredible Edible Stefanie
  • Bet You Can't Eat Just Stefanie
Ewww. I'm not that kind of girl. Really. If ever I decide to supplement my income by creating an entirely different kind of site, however, I guess I know where to turn for the initial inspiration.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

File under sacrilege (again)

Perhaps you're familiar with sweet little Charlotte Church, the pure and chaste 12-year old with the voice of an operatic angel who sang songs about Jesus on PBS specials a few years back. My very Catholic mother proudly bought her CDs--probably at Sonlight Books, the same Christian-friendly book and music retailer that kept us stocked in the Kids Praise tapes we sang along to every week on the way to and from Grandma's house--and she stacked them on her CD rack alongside Jimmy Rodgers, John Denver, Patsy Cline, Daniel O'Donnell, and the soundtrack to Riverdance.

Oh, Charlotte. Sweet Charlotte. However did you end up here? (Or worse yet... here?)

Obviously I blame Britney. Though I rolled my eyes, it was maybe a little cute when she inspired Maggie Simpson to do a suggestive little dance in her crib and then wink with a can of Duff cola, but is no young lady immune to this contagious lack of decency? Aren't there enough half-clad divas of the "barely legal" set prancing around for the cameras without this one joining the ranks? Her last name is Church, for heaven's sake. Oh, the sweet irony.

Poor Charlotte. Poor my mother. I wonder what she'd say if she saw that dear Christian girl busting out of a shiny pleather corset.

What's next? Psalty caught doing lines with Danny O'Donnell and Pete Doherty in a seedy bar somewhere? For my mother's sake, I hope not.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Don't call me, Ishmael

So I finally finished re-reading Ishmael (by Daniel Quinn). Now that I've finished it, I can't really remember why I wanted to re-read it. Or, rather, I remember why, but I also remember why it frustrated me so much the first time I read it. It frustrated me for the same reasons Al Gore's presentation on climate change (which I saw in St. Paul a couple months ago) did. It bombarded me with compelling evidence that the way humans have been living on this planet has put us on a path to certain extinction, and yet it offered very little in the way of ideas for what I personally (or people, in general, on a local, grass roots scale) can do to help reverse the situation.

At least Gore offered some hope by asserting that while there's perhaps little we can do about population explosion, we do at least have the knowledge and the technology to do something about the harmful emissions problem (the emissions that are not just polluting our air but also changing our climate in a way that's causing dramatic events and subsequently adversely affecting animal species all over the globe). It's simply a matter of convincing our politicians and industry leaders to use that technology to effect the change. (Obviously that's not exactly "simple.")

Ishmael focuses not so much on pollution and emissions, but on overpopulation and the root causes of it (which go way back to the beginning of the agricultural revolution and also relate to the cultural myths we've absorbed since birth and the way in which they've shaped our perceptions). It picks apart commonplace assumptions and challenges you to think differently about the world and humanity's place within it. It's a very interesting read, but it's depressing as well, because it implies that we are doomed to keep going on the same self destructive path and there's little if anything we can do about it. If there is a solution, as Ishmael (the half-ton gorilla who is the "teacher" in the book) sees it, it is essentially to stop trying to control the environment and to trust in "the gods" to determine our fate.

Perhaps it's because I'm not a very religious or spiritual person, but somehow that answer is just not enough for me. I respect the suggestion that Western cultures leave indigenous people alone and stop trying to convert them to lives of agriculture and technology, and I agree that our efforts to control our surroundings and make life as comfortable as possible are directly responsible for the current state of the planet. But any real and measurable change (as Ishmael--or Quinn--sees it) will rely on an enormous culture shift that, unfortunately, will not be an easy sell to anyone I know. I guess I wanted more in the end than "let go and trust in the gods." Maybe that's not fair, however. Maybe Quinn's point was not that only "the gods" have the answer, but just that none of us really knows the answer. Just because you raise a question doesn't mean you're required to answer it. If there were an easy solution, obviously someone would already be implementing it. Maybe the important part is simply to start asking the questions.

Incidentally, I first came across this book back in college, when a roommate of mine was assigned to read it for a class. She was curled up on the couch with it when I came home one day, and I asked her if she was doing "school reading" or "fun reading." She pointed to the tagline on the cover and replied, "It says it's an adventure of the mind and spirit, so maybe it will be fun!"

I do think that Ishmael is worth the read, but I wouldn't necessarily say the adventure is "fun." It's not a difficult read, and it's not very long (despite how much time spanned between when I first pulled it back off my bookshelf and when I finally finished it this week). But it is, as I said, frustrating, because of the dismal outlook to which it points.

So now I'm shifting back to light reading again for a while. Next in the queue is Shopgirl, because I'm curious if Steve Martin is actually a skilled writer and because I found it for $4 in the used books section at the Har Mar Barnes & Noble last week and figured that was as good an excuse as any to read it. I also decided I wanted to read it before the movie version hits theaters, though I've realized it's already too late to avoid having the movie affect my reading--I can't help but automatically picture the characters as Claire Danes and Steve Martin instead of letting my imagination do the work.

My $4 copy came with a series of teeth marks on the cover for no extra charge. I'm trying not to think about who--or what--was snacking on my book before I got my hands on it. As it's only 130 pages, I'm sure I won't have to think about that for too long.