Monday, August 31, 2009

Home Depot update

posted Tue, 20 Jul 2004

When I got to Home Depot last night, I looked and looked for the Toro replacement spool. There were two displays of spools next to the trimmers. No Toro. I finally found a clerk. He was reading the warranty on a lawnmower, but finally acknowledged after I had been standing next to him for half a minute. I was a little annoyed, but got over it when he explained he was working with another customer who wanted to exchange this mower but that he would try to help me at the same time.

When I asked about the Toro spools, he walked me to the appropriate section, which was across the aisle and kitty-corner to the other spools. Why did they have these in a completely different section? Why weren’t all the spools displayed together? Maddening. Their merchandising strategy is completely wrong.

The only redemption I will grant Home Depot is that the guy at the Returns desk let me check out there instead of directing me to the long, self-service line, although he did say, “Woman, go get in that line,” when I started to whine.

When I got home, I discovered – and this is the embarrassing part – that I wasn’t out of line at all. Had I just lifted the spool out of the trimmer, I would have seen that the line had merely broken, not run out.

The good part is that while I was figuring all this out, my neighbor was cutting all the weeds and grass that flourish between our two houses, so I didn’t have to do it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hardware store hell

posted Mon, 19 Jul 2004

I used to love to go to Home Depot. When I first became a homeowner three years ago, a trip to Home Depot was fun. I got to look at all the Home Depot stuff and dream about what it would look like in my house. It was an adventure – I was learning how to do new things – conquering new horizons – becoming more self sufficient every day. I was a pioneer woman, surviving on my own wits on the lone prairie.

But now I hate going there. It’s a pain in the neck. One of the main reasons – in addition to the fact that you can never find anyone to help you – is that you now have to do your own checkout. I don’t WANT to scan my own items, put them in the bag, and then run my own credit card. I want someone else to do it for me while I read a magazine. Or while I get out my credit card so that as soon as all the items are in the bag, I am ready to hand it over.

None of this waiting until the last minute for me. I’m not like those women you see in line at the grocery store with a full cart, lost in a reverie, while the cashier scans and no one is putting groceries in the bag because it’s 5:30 p.m. and there aren’t enough bag boys. When the cashier gives the total to the customer, the customer digs into her purse, seeking her checkbook. Then she has to find a pen. Then she very carefully writes out the check.

“Couldn’t you have written everything but the amount while the cashier was scanning your groceries, you idiot?” I want to scream at her. Honestly. I mean, is it a surprise to these people that once the groceries have been scanned, they will have to somehow pay for them? And tell me – would it kill you to bag your own items if you see that there isn’t anyone else to do it? Damn. I do it myself even if there is a bag boy because I get tired of having the canned caviar thrown on top of the out-of-season strawberries and squishing them.

But I digress. I have to go to Home Depot because that, apparently, is the only place I can get a replacement spool for the Toro trimmer I use to mow my tiny, curved front yard. “Spool” is the proper term, incidentally, not “reel,” even though I think a yard trimmer has more in common with a fishing rod than a sewing machine.

The trimmer gave out of line Saturday afternoon when I was going to knock “mow lawn” off my list. I refused to drive all the way to Home Depot on the weekend and maintained the hope that G’town Hardware, the hardware store near my office (one of those “pay more but we’ll sort of help you” places), would have the spool. I called them this morning and asked. Well, I don’t know, the clerk said. What’s the model number? I had thought telling him I needed the spool for a 12” electric Toro trimmer was enough, but apparently, Toro has not seen fit to standardize this part. I had the cap from the trimmer in my car, so at lunch, I got the number off the cap and called the hardware store again. This time, the clerk told me they didn’t sell anything for Toro. I will not comment on the ridiculousness of the gestalt (lolaphilologist, did I use that properly?), except to say that this was the same clerk both times.

Then I called Stewart Brothers, the hardware store near my house, which closes at 5:00, so really is no help to me during the work week, but if they had the part, I would maybe wait until the weekend to mow my overgrown lawn. I will risk incurring the wrath of my neighbors not to have to go to Home Depot.

Stewart Brothers did not have the spool either, but the clerk said they could sell me line that I could wind myself. Right.

I was forced to call Home Depot. The clerk I spoke to there said that yes, they had 12” Toro spools, and no, the model number didn’t matter because Toro makes the same size spool for all their 12” models, thus reinforcing my impression that the guys at G’town Hardware are not the sharpest tacks in the box.

I already had gotten that idea last week when I went there in search of a door jamb with insulation to replace the one on my back door. My house is 82 years old, so nothing in it is standard size. The only door jambs I could find at G’town were 84” tall. I needed 80”. (People were shorter then.)

I asked the clerk to cut it for me, but he looked at the cutting equipment and said, “Wah-ll, Bill don’t like us cutting stuff with that.” I reminded him that the only way I could use the door jamb was if it was 80” and that I was not going to buy a hacksaw just to cut four inches off it. He told me I couldn’t use a hacksaw on it anyhow – that a hacksaw would rip the jamb (made of plastic) to shreds. When I said that maybe Stewart Brothers might have the part in the size I wanted, he said, “Maybe.” I left without buying anything, wondering at the sales philosophy of a store that lets customers walk out rather than doing a simple task for them.

When I went to Stewart Brothers, the clerk said, “I can cut that for you.” He used a hacksaw and it was just fine. I told him about G’town Hardware and he snorted. “The guy who owns that place is an idiot and the clerk who wouldn’t cut this for you is lazy.”

When I got home, I discovered that the jamb was still a smidgen too long. I had pretty much lost all patience with this darn thing, so I took my pruning clippers – the ones Harpo gave me and that will take off branches an inch in diameter – and clipped off the extra. Actually, twisted and squeezed and tore off the extra and a little more, but I got it off.

So anyway. Home Depot is on my way home from work, sort of. It will be a hassle to find parking and a hassle to find the part and a hassle to check out. I need some emergency chocolate to fortify myself for this trauma.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Alumni schadenfreude

The good news about my 20-year reunion is that's where I met my wonderful husband.

posted Wed, 14 Jul 2004

I got my alumni magazine yesterday so of course I have spent today feeling like a complete failure. I always go straight to my class year to see what my classmates have been doing since 1985, then slip into a funk afterwards.

Here’s a typical entry: “I can’t believe how time flies! Seems like just yesterday I was finishing my joint MD/PhD at Harvard (so easy after Rice!), but now that I have built a successful law practice (after med school, law school was a piece of cake. No cadavers!) and written four bestselling novels, I realize that it must have been a year or two since then. It’s children that age you, really. Having a daughter old enough to compete in the Olympics this summer is making me feel a little over the hill, if you know what I mean, although I did just win the More Magazine “Models Over 40” contest. See me in this month’s issue! I’m on the cover! Fortunately, my husband, who founded a Fortune 50 company, will be able to take us all to Athens on the company jet, so I won’t have to miss the case I am presenting to the Supreme Court. If you’re ever in Manhattan, Palm Beach or Vail, give us a call!”

OK. I exaggerate. But not much.

I was going to be great. That was always the plan. I was going to major in biomedical engineering, go to med school, then design artificial body parts. I came up with this plan without ever even seeing “The Six Million Dollar Man,” believe it or not.

Ha. One year of chemistry, calculus and physics was all it took to bring me to my knees. I didn’t like it and I wasn’t good at it. It didn’t help that so many of my classmates had gone to prep schools or public schools with strong AP programs while I had gone to ten different schools from K to 12. My high school didn’t have AP, but it had a powerhouse football team the still consistently wins division 5A championships. And that’s so important.

But I digress. I still could have been great as an English major, but I have been cursed with – what – lack of ambition? Lack of focus?

Were I to summarize my post-college life for the alumni magazine, it would go like this:

“Hola! After five years of working for a company that was so bad at what it did that it is no longer in business, I went to UT for my MBA. I managed to graduate during one of the worst recessions in decades – only ¼ of my class had job offers at graduation. But I had decided well before then I wanted To Make The World A Better Place, so I joined the Peace Corps. Two years of working in Chile with a group of indigenous women satisfied my thirst for poverty (nothing like having to lock your toilet paper in your desk to keep it from being stolen), and I returned to the US determined to sell out to a major corporation. Unfortunately, none of them were buying. After 20 months of job searching and temp work, I finally got a job in Miami with Ryder in the Corporate Finance group, otherwise known as the sweatshop. I lasted there one year and one day, after which I took a job with my current employer, a manufacturer in a commodity segment (read: the market sets our prices because we make the exact same thing our competition does) that is leaving the US. Do I know how to make good decisions or what? You may remember me as engaged to Bobby – well, I broke that off and he married one of my roommates instead. I will probably die alone unless I start accumulating cats.”

That’s the sort of thing I want to read. I want raw honesty. I want the truth. I want admissions of pending divorces, adultery, weight gain, and drug addiction. Is that so wrong of me?

Actually, there was a great note a few years ago. This guy (not in my class) wrote about his marriage and his children, then casually slipped in that he had realized he was really a woman trapped in a man’s body and that he had undergone a sex-change operation and was now known as Michelle. Course, knowing Rice students, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had written the whole thing as a joke.

Someone told me that at the college 20-year reunion, everyone is worried about impressing everyone else, so no one tells the truth. That’s the reunion I have coming up in 2005. He then said that by the 25-year reunion, people are more relaxed and will admit that their kids are juvenile delinquents, that they are getting divorced, and that they hate their jobs. I can’t wait!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fairy tales

posted Mon, 12 Jul 2004

I had every intention of hoeing the back garden tonight. All that grass growing in the garden and none in the yard. But a storm this afternoon has left it horribly muggy – not that heat and humidity are enough to stop me from working! – and the mosquitoes are out in full force. We have West Nile virus here and I certainly don’t want to put my health at risk. I took malaria prophylaxis when I traveled in Latin America (nasty stuff, that mefloquine), but there is no prevention for West Nile other than not to get bit. So for the sake of my poor widowed mother, who would be shattered should I succumb to something like West Nile, I am not going to work in the yard.

It has nothing to do with the fact that I am a little bit sleepy today. I even had to exceed my usual daily limit of one diet Coke. Yep. Had to have a diet Dr Pepper to get through a meeting on forecasting this morning and not because of the subject matter. No, I’m afraid I’ve been staying up late to read brain candy – you know, those fluffy novels that will not stand the test of time to become great literature but still address the human condition in an entertaining way.

I call this particular genre ‘women porn.’ It’s not sexual, but it’s what a lot of women fantasize about. Here is the basic setup of the book. There is always a heroine who has been forced to fend for herself most of her life, thus developing a fierce independence that is off-putting to most men. In Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ novels, the protagonist has a mother or mother figure – usually ineffectual – but no father. In Linda Howard’s books, the heroine might even be an orphan altogether.

If the heroine is beautiful, her beauty has brought her nothing but trouble. She might be very flirtatious, but that is just a way of keeping men at a distance. In reality, she is quite chaste. If she is not beautiful, it is just because she has not gotten her hair, makeup or clothes right. (“Why Miss Sakamoto! You’re beautiful without your glasses!”)

In Phillips’ books, the heroine has a major character flaw that she must correct before she can triumph. In one case, the heroine was shallow, vain and self centered. But still, she is a good-hearted, generous person en el fondo. In Howard’s books, the challenge is external: there is some mystery that must be solved, like a kidnapping or murder.

This is where the men come in. They are always alpha males in alpha professions: cop, PI, cowboy, football player. They are also highly intelligent, handsome and independently wealthy. It is always dislike at first sight with the heroine, but they still sleep together. In Howard’s books, the man proposes pretty much right after that event; in Phillips’ books – which are comedies, compared to Howard’s dramas – there are a series of misunderstandings before the proposal.

All the books end with weddings and babies. The essence of the plot is that the independent, self-sufficient woman can finally relax because she has found a man strong enough to take care of her. Tell me this is not fantasy stuff!

My friend Leigh is appalled that I like fluff novels. She is embarrassed that she likes Patricia Cornwell. “I was forced to read her when I was in Chile – that’s the only sort of thing there was in the Peace Corps library,” she admitted.

I’m not embarrassed about it. I was an English major. I’ve read the good stuff and can toss off references to Hardy and Dickens and Garcia-Marquez with the best of them. (This is not a quality valued by my employer – my boss even told me to quit using those words that made people feel stupid, only he couldn’t tell me exactly which words those were.)

But I like a good story. And honestly, I think a lot of the stuff that passes for literary fiction these days is pretentious junk. I’ll bet a lot of other people think so, too, but they are afraid to admit they don’t like something because they are scared everyone else will think less of them.

I’m not afraid. I have tried reading some of the Booker Prize books and just can’t. They are unbearable. Here’s what I remember about “Flaubert’s Parrot:” there is a guy who traps bugs under glasses and leaves them there. He sweats a lot and leaves sweat rings on the sheets. I had to read about 100 pages to get that much, then I quit.

And Don Delillo – yuk!!! That guy is AWFUL! I tried “A Thousand Acres” and another of Jane Smiley’s books, but neither of those drew me in. I say this as someone who actually read and enjoyed “Satanic Verses,” so you know I am not dismissing every contemporary writer.

Essentially, I hate postmodernism. All you postmodern writers – here’s a news flash. The literature that has endured has been those stories with a good plot and characters we care about in a struggle that draws us in. You don’t read any ancient Greek plays where nothing happens. Chaucer had plot. Shakespeare had plot. Dickens had plot. Your stuff isn’t going to last because no one cares about what happens to your characters -- and nothing does.

I’ll read educational stuff, non-fiction and serious fiction – I have a book about Abraham and his position as the father of the three major world religions in my stack – but it better be well written. I read for enjoyment, not to impress other people.

I am going to sign off now and read Kathy Reich’s latest murder mystery. Good night and good reading.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Some like it hot

posted Sun, 11 Jul 2004

The biggest challenge facing mankind today is not the Iraq war or AIDS or the fate of the golden-throated worm warbler but controlling of the temperature in public spaces to everyone’s satisfaction.

When I worked in Miami, I had to buy a space heater to keep under my desk. July in Miami and I was freezing at work. Whose idea was it to make all the exterior walls windows? “Solar power! Think of the money you’ll save on heating!” I can hear the architect urging the Ryder executives. Yes, all two weeks of the year you actually need to use heat in Miami. To compensate the rest of the time, they kept the air conditioner at about 40 degrees. Don’t buy stock in that company. Not very good decision making, if you ask me.

In my two years in Miami, I used my air conditioner at home only three times – and that was because I had company. I spent most of the day freezing at work. By the time I got home, the temperature had always dropped and there was a nice breeze off the ocean. I’d open the windows and turn on the ceiling fans and voila! the perfect temperature.

When I moved here and heard people say, with completely straight faces, “If you can make it through the summer, the weather isn’t too bad,” I rolled my eyes. I lived in Panama for three years and Houston for six. Show me someplace on earth – where people live on purpose – that it gets hotter or muggier than either of those two places and I will give you a dollar.

I have been in M’town for almost five years. I have yet to experience what I would consider an unbearable summer. They complain when the temperature rises above 90 degrees and the humidity above 40 percent. Amateurs! It is to laugh. When I started graduate school in Austin, I made the mistake of riding my bike to school. The temperature exceeded 112 degrees every day the first week of classes. In Houston, during my first week of college, I changed clothes three times a day because I was unused to having such soggy garments. I stopped when I realized that clean, dry, neatly-folded clothes weren’t miraculously reappearing in my drawers after I had thrown them in the clothes hamper.

I scoff at the general public, yet it is between Harpo and me that this issue takes on titanic proportions. I hate to be cold. Hate it. I get cold a lot faster than other people do. My body temperature runs a degree below normal. I have been called an iguana to my face. I can take heat a lot better than I can take cold. My mom says she has a two-degree range in which she is comfortable; I am not that bad, but I know my range starts at a higher temperature than most.

But I don’t whine about being cold nearly as much as Harpo does about being hot. For a man who grew up in Miami, he sure is a big baby about heat.

He especially hates being in my house in the summer. “Why don’t you use your air conditioner?” he pleads. Because I hate to be cold, that’s why. I think people should learn to live with the seasons. That means in the summer, you wear lighter clothing, move more slowly, and drink a lot of lemonade.

And because I am a thrifty Slovak who would rather watch all my blood drip out of my body drop by drop than pay for something as ridiculously extravagant as air conditioning. Not when I have a perfectly good attic fan that keeps my house quite comfortable, thank you very much. If it does get too hot on a Sunday afternoon, I go to a movie. At least then I am getting something tangible for my air-conditioning spend.

When we were in Colorado last month, Harpo was as happy as a pig in mud. The weather was cool and rainy. The rainy part wasn’t so great, but he loved that it was not hot. I, on the other hand, had to run the heater in my mom’s bathroom before I took my shower and still couldn’t shave my legs. Well, I could have, but I would have turned them into a bloody mess. Gillette, you want a product innovation idea? Invent a blade that will shave smoothly on top of goosebumps without drawing blood.

Yesterday, Harpo and I went out to dinner. I made the mistake of wearing a tank top – in July! What was I thinking? When we got inside the restaurant, I realized I was going to perish of cold. I tried warming myself by rubbing my bare arms, but that didn’t work. I finally asked Harpo if he minded if we moved to a table in the sun (we were the only ones in the restaurant). His mouth was full of chips when he answered, but I’m pretty sure he said no, he didn’t mind.

I moved the silverware, the napkins, the water, the chips and the salsa. Then I moved myself. In the middle of all this, he got very grouchy. (He is prone to doing that with no notice at all. Nothing at all with my just up and moving the table.) “Why do I have to sit on the side with the sun coming into my eyes?” he asked. I told him I would switch sides with him, but he didn’t want that. Then I suggested that we just move back to the original table because frankly, if it was going to make him this cranky, I’d rather just be cold. No, he didn’t want to do that, either.

By now, the waiter figured out that something was going on. He asked if I was cold. When I told him yes, he turned the air conditioner completely off. In about five minutes, my area in the sun was like an oven. That was when my hot soup arrived.

I knew Harpo was waiting for me to complain about it being too hot so he could pounce, so I said not a word. I would eat a bit, take a sip of the ice water that had heretofore been unwelcome, then push my chair back so I was no longer in the sun.

I even managed to encourage him to order dessert. He didn’t think he wanted any at first! You’d think he’d know the rules by now. I had a few bites of fried ice cream, then waited patiently for him to finish.

When we got into his car, he cranked the air conditioner, as I knew he would, and I was able to return to a comfortable body temperature for about two minutes. When we got to my house, he started moping about the heat again. But I finally figured out the answer.

I have been inside his new place three times since he moved in last September. He doesn’t want me over there until he has had a chance to get things in order. I told him that when we are in his house, he can run the air conditioning as much as he wants. That should get him motivated.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How can it be an eating disorder if it doesn’t make you thin?

posted Sat, 10 Jul 2004

This morning, I made the batter for a cookie recipe I found in the latest edition of Bon Appetit. They are called “Breakfast Cookies,” as if putting Grape-Nuts, wheat germ and whole-wheat flour in them makes an appropriate part of the most important meal of the day.

For lunch, I went to the old-fashioned drug store/soda fountain about two blocks from my house, where I got a corned beef sandwich and a chocolate milkshake to go. When I got home, I drank about ¼ of the milkshake and put the rest in the freezer. When Harpo got here, I gave the rest of it to him.

“You’re just giving this to me so you don’t have to think that you bought a milkshake for yourself,” he accused, as if it were some big revelation.

“Well, yeah,” I answered, rolling my eyes. We’ve been dating for almost three years now and he has just figured this out? Of course I got the milkshake with him in mind. I am making the cookies for him, too.

When I make Key Lime Pie, it’s because it’s his favorite, but also because I can lick the beaters. When I try a new dessert recipe on him, it’s so I can try it without feeling guilty.

Don’t men know this about women? Food does not count if you get it from someone else’s plate. I would never order my own dessert, but I am more than happy to sample whatever Harpo orders.

Food also doesn’t count if you even out the edge of a cake – or break off part of a cookie – or eat some chocolate chips straight from the bag. It doesn’t count if eaten in its raw form. It doesn’t count if it is someone else’s leftover.

When we go out to eat, Harpo will sometimes forget to order dessert, so I have to remind him. The waitress usually knows to bring two forks, although Harpo has been known to get testy and not want to share. He has even had the audacity to demand that I order my own dessert, which shows a very weak understanding of the female mind if you ask me.

If I were someone who forgot to eat or whose pants were in danger of falling off my hips (I am not), I would not mind owning up to what I eat. But I know I shouldn’t be eating desserts – that they will have the expected side effects – so I must live in a state of quasi-denial. I hope Harpo never goes on a diet.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Invisible support

posted Fri, 09 Jul 2004

I knew it was going to be a bad day yesterday when I got out of the gym shower after my morning constitutional in the pool and discovered I had forgotten to pack a bra in my gym bag the night before. I had my shoes, my pantyhose, my suit and my blouse – just no bra.

I’ve forgotten such essentials a few times before – pantyhose, socks, panties – so I have learned to keep a few extras stuffed in the pocket of the bag, but I guess the last time I forgot my bra and had to use the spare (a year ago?), I forgot to replace it.

Turns out I was indeed right – this was a portent of worse to come.

You know how annoying Microsoft can be? “It looks like you are writing a letter! Do you need help?” asks that stupid dancing paper clip. No! I don’t need help. I know how to write a letter. Go away.

I start typing a word and Word decides to finish it. Bill, just so you know – sometimes “dec” is for “decade,” not “December.” And if I capitalize or don’t capitalize, it is a decision I am making with full awareness of the consequences. Microsoft does not need to correct me. I do the grammar crime, I’ll do the time.

If I close a document, I get a frantic message. Am I SURE that I want to do that? Yes! I am sure! If I didn’t want to close the program, I would not have moved the courser to the “x” in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen and clicked.

This kind of help I don’t need. What I do need is a warning when I am about to do something that will lead to the wrong numbers for a report for a bigwig. A report I had told him airily the night before, Oh, sure, I can get that data for you in a about two seconds (snapping my fingers for emphasis). I am the data queen.

I tried to blame the error – which he found, not me – on a bug in Crystal reports and even sent a request for help to the company IT department. What, indeed, is this bug that is causing the price per unit to be so wrong?

The IT guy called me after looking at my query. Could it be, perhaps, that instead of summing all the sales information per unit before calculating the per-unit price that I had just copied the last line in each grouping?

Oh. Yes. That would make a difference.

Now, wouldn’t that be a useful place for a program to interrupt? “Not to intrude, but if you are calculating an average price per unit and you are adding the number of units, shouldn’t you also add the sales dollars rather than just copying the last sales figure in the list?” That’s the sort of help I need.

There are so many other places in life that a discreet warning would be useful. We all already know that pregnant women shouldn’t smoke or drink. I know I shouldn’t use a hairdryer while I am in the bathtub (with water in the tub, I gather). I know I can’t put a Winnebago on cruise control and then step away from the steering wheel to make myself a cup of coffee.

These things are all obvious. What would be truly helpful would be a warnings from everyday items right before I am about to do something dumb. From the washing machine: “Putting that red shirt in with your whites is going to give you pink underwear!” Or from the fridge: “Don’t open that container of milk. It’s spoiled.” From the mixing bowl: “You realize you forgot to put the sugar in this cake, right?”

Or from my gym bag: “Don’t you want to pack appropriate foundation garments?” That would be useful.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Who ate my cheese?

posted Thu, 08 Jul 2004

Just what is the etiquette and/or legal status of food left in the break room refrigerator? You know – stuff that has been in the fridge long enough that it appears that the owner has forgotten about it?

Let me give you a hypothetical. Suppose someone at your office is selling tubs of cookie dough for her child’s school fundraiser. (The issue of whether a parent should be selling stuff for the kid is a separate one, as is the greater issue of why on earth the school needs students and parents to sell overpriced popcorn or wrapping paper instead of cutting the spending on football stadiums.)

So she is pushing this stuff. Someone buys a tub, takes delivery, then forgets the dough in the fridge. It’s now two months later. That person might not even be working for the company any more, yet the tub of cookie dough remains.

My people, we don’t waste food. Yesterday I had to throw out a leftover pork chop that I had forgotten about and it just about killed me. Two bouts of food poisoning are about the only thing to convince me that sometimes, discarding food is the better thing to do.

My grandmother is Slovak. A recipe for pupaki calls for day-old bread and has the comment, “Of course you have day-old bread. You are Slovak. You do not throw food away.”

There are some powerful forces working on me here – I cannot deny my genetic heritage.

I also cannot deny that I am a snacker with a sweet tooth who happens to think that food eaten from common areas doesn’t have as many calories as regular food. If the buyer of the cookie dough is not going to take that tub home, she needs to quit tormenting those of us who open the break room fridge once or twice a day in the hopes that meeting leftovers will miraculously appear.

Meeting leftovers – leftovers of food that the company has purchased – are fair game as far as I am concerned and everyone else feels the same way. Some feel it more than others and will hoard that food at their desks, which I think is beyond the pale – the rule is that you eat what you want from what is there at the time, but you don’t store it for later. Otherwise other employees don’t have a fair shot at it.

But the rules are a little more ambiguous when it comes to private property like the cookie dough. Oh, I know, there are those of you who would say there is NO ambiguity – that private property is private property – but I say fie on you. Private property that is left in community property for TWO months acquires a new status.

So what is that status? I have already left a note – or I would, if this were not a hypothetical – on the tub in which I told the owner to bake the darn cookies already or take the tub home.

After two weeks, no answer! The tub is still in the fridge. This cookie dough clearly is without an owner. It has become abandoned property and title has reverted to the group (can it revert if it didn’t belong to the group in the first place?).

Excuse me. I have some cookie dough to eat.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Car Talk

posted Wed, 07 Jul 2004

How useful is this? Here’s what the “Hayne’s Automotive Repair Manual” tells me about replacing the speakers in my car.

1. Remove the front door trim panel (see Chapter 11).
2. Remove the speaker retaining screws/nuts. Unplug the electrical connector and remove the speaker (see illustration).
3. Installation is the reverse of removal.

Gee, thanks, guys. This project will be no trouble at all.

My usual strategy when I suspect there is something wrong with my car is to turn up the volume on the radio. It’s amazing how many weird noises miraculously heal themselves if you ignore them long enough.

Unfortunately, this technique does not work when the speakers themselves are the problem. It’s not that I demand such high-quality audio in my car – it is, after all, a ’93 Toyota without a CD player – but I don’t like to have the bass buzzing. If I move the balance more to treble, I hear all sorts of interesting things – like the harmonica parts in Willie and Waylon’s Greatest Hits – that I usually don’t hear, but it does compromise the overall quality of the music a bit. (Is the harmonica a great instrument or what? It is a sign of true genius to be able to play one, I am convinced.)

So I am forced to install new speakers. How hard can it be? That is one of those questions that usually precedes my undertaking a project for which I am completely unqualified. Cutting my own hair? How hard can it be? High school dropouts become stylists. Yeah. I wore a baseball hat for a month after that experience.

But in this case, I think it is something I could do – if given the proper instructions. Which is what you might think would be the function of an instruction manual. But you would be wrong. Here’s the first glaring error I have discovered. My car has front and rear speakers. Explain to me how I am supposed to replace the rear speakers following the detailed instructions above? I checked – the rear speakers are nowhere near the front trim panel.

Not that I even have the new speakers. I’m not sure what to buy. I mean, I know I need to get speakers that are like the ones I want to replace, but I don’t know the naming and sizing convention for these things and is NO help. I have tried to find the specs for the speakers so I can search and other auto parts websites to find the best price before I buy the speakers, but won’t tell me what I need.

It’s bad enough that these Japanese cars are made for tiny Japanese hands. With my Chevette, I changed my own belts and changed the oil and did a bunch of other things my dad made me learn how to do. That car was made for big American hands. But with the Toyota, it doesn’t matter that I am willing to change my own oil – I can’t get to the filter. This is all a big conspiracy by the Japanese to get even for WWII (kind of like SAP is Germany’s revenge), but it’s too late to regret not getting an American car as my dad advised me to do and not just because his brothers own a Chrysler dealership. Well, not too late to regret, but too late to do anything about it. This car is paid for and it better last me another ten years.

I don’t mind fixing things. It’s my thrifty Slovak nature. My people do not pay other people to do things they could do themselves, especially when those things cost hundreds of dollars. I get a lot of satisfaction from fixing things around my house – a sense of accomplishment that I don’t get at work. Efforts = results at home. That doesn’t always happen on the job.

Even if I have to pay someone to fix something at home – rewire an outlet, re-key a lock – I can be pretty sure if he has done the job properly or not. But with cars, mechanics see a woman coming and think, “Aha! THAT’S how I’ll pay for that new big-screen TV!” At home, I know what’s broken and what needs to be done to repair it; I just don’t have the knowledge,access or tools to do it myself. With the car, all I can do is identify the symptoms and hope that the mechanic makes the proper diagnosis. They don’t always get it right.

Last year, my car wasn’t starting easily. Harpo was pretty sure it was the starter and so was my friend Patricia, who has two Harleys and knows this sort of stuff. But when I took the car to Sears, the attendant rolled his eyes when I told him I needed a new starter. “You need a tuneup,” he said. “We don’t do those.” I protested that it was the starter, but he looked at me with disdain. Sears charges $400 to replace a starter, by the way.

When I took the car to a tune-up place, they said, “It’s your starter.” They bothered to look under the hood, which the Sears guy had not done. They replaced the starter for $238. Ha.

But I usually don’t trust car mechanics. If they don’t fix the problem the first time, they will tell you that you have a new problem and that one will cost another $500. They know you are desperate and can’t fix it yourself because you don’t have the equipment to lift the engine block out of the car.

And the Haynes people are in collusion with the car manufacturers. “We’ll give them just enough information to get into trouble – and then they’ll really be at the mercy of the mechanic!”

My next car is going to be a bicycle.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oscara the grouch

posted Tue, 06 Jul 2004

It’s going to be one of those days. It’s 9:40 and I have already eaten my lunch. This is what happens when I spend too much time thinking about Life and What It All Means over a three-day weekend. Doesn’t help that my honey works all day (that means 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the airline world) on Sundays and Mondays so I don’t have anyone to hang out with.

Yes, yes, of course there are other friends. They are all married – with children and family obligations. They are great to email with and to talk to occasionally, but actually spending time with a married mom is almost impossible. They have too much stuff to do. Their socializing is with other couples (see first para about why this is difficult for me) or with other moms and their kids. It’s just the way it is.

My mood was not improved by seeing the food drive boxes by the elevators this morning as I got to work. I don’t like the way they do it. You get points for the type of food you bring. A can of ravioli gets you four points, two pounds of dried beans gets you one.

My first gripe (and this is where people are going to call me an insensitive b----): people in the US don’t go hungry usually because they don’t have money for food. It’s because they make bad choices with their money. It gets spent on drugs or liquor or cable TV.

In my desperate days of unemployment, I stuffed envelopes for five dollars an hour in the basement of the Mayo Clinic. One of my fellow temporary employees was complaining that she had to prove she had car insurance to get her driver’s license renewed. Oh, that mean state of Minnesota!

This woman had left Wisconsin because the welfare benefits had been cut so much. (The Wisconsin taxpayers were sad to see her go.) She was pregnant with her fourth child by the fourth father. None of the fathers, of course, were around. Her oldest child was in a juvenile delinquent home.

She lived in Section 8 housing and got food stamps. Yet she had the money for cable TV, a VCR and a karaoke machine. Her plan with the car insurance was to drop it as soon as she got her license renewed. A pleasure to be on the same planet with someone like that.

I have lived in countries where there is true poverty. It’s hard to be too sympathetic in the US.

My second gripe is that if you are going to give food to people, give them food that is worthwhile. A can of ravioli, in addition to tasting awful, does not have nearly the nutritive value that two pounds of dried beans has. It also costs more than the beans. Of course, the beans have to be cooked before they can be eaten, but it’s not rocket science to do that.

I spent the first ten minutes of the day doing what I have been doing for a while: looking at job ads. I am on a special project that looks like it will last for the next ten years. You know, one of those three-hour tours that turns into a lifetime on a desert island.

We are installing SAP in my company. The implementation for my division has already been delayed for a year and we are behind schedule again. Not our fault – the company hired a bunch of consultants who don’t know anything about our business. SAP was not designed for custom job-shop work. Most of my company is continuous process, which is perfect for SAP, but my division does lots and lots of custom orders. The consultants did the timelines assuming all divisions were the same. Thanks, IBM.

Not only that, but my division just acquired a competitor. So now we have another 20 factories to convert to SAP in addition to the 50 we started with.

My company will not promote anyone who is on a special project – how can we grade the job? It’s temporary! It’s special! – and will not release anyone to another job in the company. So I am stuck – unless I quit. Catch is that I have to find another job.

It is going to be a long day. I will have to break into the emergency chocolate at some point.

PS Another thing! I saw the previews for the movie "Anaconda." The movie is supposed to take place in Borneo. The anaconda is a snake found in the Amazon basin. Sheesh! Don't these people ever check their facts? It's like when Nike released the "Incubus" shoe. Did it occur to anyone to see if that was a real word that might mean the being conceived when the devil rapes a woman in her sleep? This is why the business world needs more English majors. Something like that would never have gotten by if one of us had been around.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Never on a Sunday

posted Mon, 05 Jul 2004

My mom’s gentleman caller, Francis, referring to one of my earlier posts, told me that my mom never wants to cuddle in the corner with an old man, either. Now that Harpo has spent more time around my mom, my aunts and my sister, maybe he’ll understand why I can’t just sit around and hang out with him. (He said that it wasn’t that I didn’t fall far from the apple tree but that the apple tree placed me very carefully exactly where it wanted me. He looked at my mom and added hastily, “And a fine tree it is, indeed!”)

Apple taking a self-portrait at Doug's party. Doug, when I posted this, I was bored on a Saturday. NOT WHEN I TOOK IT. Do you really think I would be so rude as to do something like that and then write that where you could read it so you would think I was bored at your party? No. I was taking advantage of a mirror that showed more than my face without making me look like a circus clown. Man, I wish those jeans still fit. But that would mean never eating frozen custard. Or cheese curds. Or chocolate chocolate-chip zucchini bread. Or bacon. Not worth it. Easier to buy bigger jeans.

I tried to explain to Francis as I have tried to explain to Harpo: I can’t sit around and do nothing because I Have Things To Do. My house does not clean itself. My clothes do not wash, dry, or fold themselves. My meals do not prepare themselves. My lawn does not cut itself. If I don’t do these things, they won’t get done.

Yesterday was supposed to be a lazy Sunday of relaxing. And it was – once I had hemmed a skirt, folded and put away clean clothes, weeded the back garden, vacuumed the car, planted a flat of petunias, baked bread, put plastic wood in the screw holes of the door frame so I could repair a place where the screw was falling out, and cut off loose pieces of the belt on the attic fan that make an annoying flapping sound (like a playing card stuck in the spokes of a bicycle).

Once I had all that stuff done, I could relax. Sort of.

I envy Harpo his ability to live in the moment. He can lose himself in whatever he is doing. I am always thinking of what needs to be done. It bugs me to not be productive.

I am just like my mom and my grandmother. None of us are the type to just sit around. If there is work to be done – even if we are not in our own homes – then we are going to be the ones to do it or at least to help do it. (Apparently, this tendency is not in any way tied to the Y chromosome in my family. Sorry, bro, but it’s true. You don’t exactly jump in to help.)

The weird thing is that deep inside, I am actually a very lazy person. But keeping on top of my list of Things That Must Be Done is my pathetic attempt to control the world, I guess. If I can just do all the things on my list, then I win. If I don’t, the world will degenerate into utter chaos. It is very difficult having all this responsibility. But I don’t know how to get out of it. It is my curse – one I must bear to my grave.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!

posted Sat, 03 Jul 2004

Even though I left work early yesterday, I didn’t get home until mid-afternoon. I made a quixotic trip to the expensive dry cleaners in hopes they could salvage my teal silk skirt with the beaded fringe. It’s part of a suit – the jacket has the same beading on the hem. A really cool outfit.

I got it at the fancy consignment store in town – the one where the rich ladies sell their clothes after they’ve worn them once because God forbid that someone see them wearing the same thing twice. (For the record, I have never been so hard up for money that I have had to sell my old clothes rather than donate them to charity.)

I bought it last November and stuck it in the closet, hoping it would fit me by spring. When I pulled it out last month, I discovered a stain on the skirt that had not been there in November. Unless someone is wearing my clothes without my knowledge, that skirt was damaged before I bought it. My clothes wouldn’t fit Harpo or my cleaning lady and no one else has my house key, so there you go. Well, my cousin Becky, who is a student at the optometry school has a key too, but she is from Kansas and very honest, so I know she wouldn’t wear my stuff.

After I took the skirt to the cleaners, it looked like they had gotten the stain out enough that it was wearable. But getting dressed at the gym Thursday morning, I realized that this was not the case. One of the locker room little old ladies noticed the stain. She pulled up my skirt to look at the back side of the fabric.

“That’s not going to come out,” she announced. “The only person in town who could get that out is Mr Jack at Stout-Haley Cleaners, but it’s not going to come out. If you go there, don’t leave your clothes with anyone but him.”

I didn’t follow her advice, taking the skirt to a different very expensive cleaners, but even they said there was no way to get the stain out – that the other cleaners had damaged the fabric too much.

The moral of this story is don’t buy anything at the consignment store unless it has a dry-cleaning tag stapled to the label, because those rich ladies will spill white wine on their clothes and then sell them uncleaned without a twinge of conscience. When the new owner wears the item, the stain will have emerged – and it will be too late to have it cleaned, much less get a refund. Even though we can send a man to the moon, some stains cannot be removed, which makes we wonder if we are focusing on the proper issues in scientific research.

Anyhow. I was in a bad mood when I got home, but my cleaning lady put me in a better one. I had forgotten how funny she is. Usually, I don’t get home until after Esperanza is gone, which is how I like it, because even though in theory I don’t have a problem with paying someone else to clean my house, in practice, it is a little weird to be there while that someone is actually doing it. But my early return put me smack dab in the middle of her work.

The first thing she said was, “Thank you so much for all those little notes you left last time!” (The ones that made me feel like I was being petty and nitpicky.) “They helped me to see the dirt!” She pointed to her eyes. “I didn’t know it, but I’ve needed glasses for a while. Even with your notes, I had to get way up close to see what you are talking about. But now I have these glasses and I can see! It’s incredible the difference they make!”

She went on her merry way, whistling as she worked. (Really.) I was sitting on the porch swing reading when she came out holding two mops. “Do you think you could get a different mop? These don’t work very well. Let me show you.” She demonstrated the performance issues with the mops, of which I had a pair because they had been on a two-for-one sale at Walgreen’s. “Get the kind that close like this.” She held her wrists together and closed her hands. “They work better.”

“OK,” I said, returning to my book, thinking I would need to pick up a new mop sometime in the next month.

“Do you think you could maybe do it today?” she asked.

I looked at her. “So now my cleaning lady is bossing me around!” I said.

She laughed. “Not this moment, but if you were going to go to the store for anything else.”

“All right,” I said, heaving a deep sigh. “Is there anything else you want, madame?”

“Yes!” She pulled me into the kitchen and held up a bottle of glass cleaner. “Get Windex. Windex Original. Not this store brand. Windex is more expensive but it works.” Then she showed me a feather duster. “I use this to clean around your windows and in the corners because it doesn’t leave marks the way the rags do. I don’t mind bringing mine, but you might want one.”

I had to go to the store anyhow to get brown sugar, so I donned shoes appropriate for being seen in public and went. When I returned, she asked, “Where were you talking about when you said last month that the kitchen windows weren’t clean?” I showed her the section. “I scrubbed and scrubbed that window!” she explained. “The problem is that there are little bits of paint.”

Telling her I had the perfect tool, I showed her the razor blade scraper I’d used for cleaning paint off the glass after I painted the exterior trim on my house.

Her eyes got big. “This is perfect! I’ve never seen anything like that! I use razor blades all the time for cleaning tile, but I’ve never seen anything like this! Where would I buy one of these?” I told her any hardware store would have one and she smiled in anticipation. “I’ll have to take one of those back to Mexico with me!”

I started making the cake while she was cleaning the bathroom. She came into the kitchen with water all over her. “I like cleaning the shower,” she said. “It cools me off! I just take off my shoes, get in the tub, and scrub the walls. It’s easier that way and I get a little refreshment!”

She advanced to washing the floors. Every few minutes, she squeezed the mop into the kitchen sink. I finally asked why she didn’t use a bucket. Oh, she answered in horror. Not for discarding the dirty water! No, she gets the clean water from the bucket and then squeezes the dirty water out in the sink. Otherwise, the floor would still be filthy. Made sense to me – as long as she cleaned the sink afterwards.

The kitchen was next and I didn’t want to be in her way, so I hurried with the cake. It was a new recipe – peanut butter, chocolate and chocolate chip – and the batter tasted just fine, even though the chocolate wouldn’t melt. Those squares of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate didn’t want to budge. Instead of turning into a nice, creamy liquid, they got clumpy and sticky. It couldn’t be that they were old, because I go through baking chocolate fairly quickly. Still, the batter tasted OK, so I decided reluctant chocolate wasn’t a problem.

It wasn’t until later in the evening that it hit me: I had gone to the store specifically for brown sugar – yet had not used any in the cake. I looked at the recipe. I had used the cup of regular sugar it called for, but in my haste to get out of Esperanza’s way, I had forgotten the brown sugar.

I cut a piece off the bottom of the cake – which I had made to thank Harpo’s colleague who had done all the work to get us on the flight to Denver last week – to make sure it tasted OK. It wasn’t as sweet as cake usually is – it was more like a coffeecake – but it still tasted good. I put extra sugar in the frosting to make up for the cake.

I don’t know why all problems aren’t so easy to solve. I’ll bet if I gave that stained skirt to Esperanza, she could figure out a way to fix it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Magic bus

posted Fri, 02 Jul 2004

I love the Friday before a three-day weekend! I get to work and there are almost no cars in the parking lot. (It’s usually packed and I get to work at 7:30. In our NY office, they don’t get to work until 9:00 and then they leave at 4:30!! Yet they get paid for a full day. I haven’t figured that one out yet.)

The best thing, though, is that by noon, this building will be almost empty. The only ones who will still be here are the hourly folks who get to walk out every single day of the year at 5:00 even when us salaried folks are toiling until later.

A bakery in Boston.

Not that I have had to do much toiling until later lately, but trust me, I have paid my dues in that respect. I know that the lights go out automatically at the Ryder HQ in Miami at 10:00 p.m. and that you must call the guard downstairs to get them turned on again. I know because I have been the one to call the guard. So I don’t feel the least bit guilty for enjoying a job that allows me to leave before dark now.

Last year, my boss was new to the corporate office. He had just transferred from one of our factories, where he was the general manager. A few days before the 4th of July weekend, I warned him not to schedule any meetings for the day before the holiday – that everyone would be gone and that they would not be taking vacation days for the absence. He said that in the factory, they would work a full day. You’re in corporate now, I told him. Things are different. No one here gets overtime for working late or for the time spent in airports or hotels, but we do leave early on holiday weekends.

Where to go in Boston.

A year later, he is finally with the program on holidays, even though he thinks I don’t deserve a promotion and a raise because I already make more money than the production manager in his former factory. I have tried to explain that factory production managers are not my peer group and he can’t compare me to them, but he is unswayed. In the meantime, the woman who replaced me in my previous assignment is three levels higher than I am and making at least $20,000 a year more. Why doesn’t her boss think like mine?

I am dying to know who owns the bright yellow Hummer in the parking lot. That is one ugly vehicle. There are plenty of pickup trucks in the lot – only a few Mercedes, Jags and BMWs. My company is not that profitable. No one in this industry is. The thing about the heavy-duty equipment is that it is almost all fantasy transportation. Sure, there are a few folks who work here who live out in the country. One of my colleagues works just to support his horse habit and actually uses his pickup for its intended purpose: hauling stuff like hay and lumber and pulling horse trailers.

Another form of transportation.

But the rest of these truck owners? Cowboy wannabes. No other possible reason. The roads here are bad, but not that bad. I manage with a Corolla. And even if you had to leave the road – we’re in the Delta! Flatlands! They grow cotton and rice here, for crying out loud. Not a hill or boulder or even rocky area to be found for hundreds of miles.

Nope. No one needs these trucks for performance reasons. Like I said: cowboy wannabes. Let me get more specific. I was an English major. These vehicles are all phallic symbols. There. I said it. Sorry, mom. I know you won’t like this. But that’s what I spent four years (three and a half, actually) studying.

So if a regular pickup truck is a standard phallic symbol, then what is a Hummer?

Not a Hummer.

Like I said, I really want to see the guy who owns it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Amelia Bedelia

posted Thu, 01 Jul 2004

Tomorrow is the first Friday of the month, which is the day Esperanza cleans my house. That means I need to spend this evening putting post-it notes everywhere that I want her to pay special attention.

You might think by special attention I mean once-a-year things like polishing the silver or washing all the light fixtures.

No. I mean things like washing the floor between the oven and the cabinet (a good six inches wide and a place where dirt likes to accumulate) and not leaving the dirty rags on top of the radiators.

Remember I told you what a great job Esperanza used to do? Well, she has deteriorated. She rarely applies logic to the job and when she does, it is faulty logic.

Here is an example: I leave the blinds raised about four inches on the open windows so that the air being pulled in by the attic fan doesn’t cause the blinds to flutter about madly. On the windows that are closed, the blinds are closed as well. I came home one day to discover that Esperanza had very carefully raised every single blind to the exact level of the open window blinds. Who knows? Maybe that’s just her esthetic.

But what about this? I have had to leave a demo t-shirt and a note not once but twice to show her that I want shirts folded right-side out. Now, I lived in Latin America for several years and I know they do things differently there, but I don’t recall ever seeing people wearing their shirts inside-out. We can’t chalk this one up to cultural differences. Nope, this one is just plain carelessness.

All I want is a little bit of logical thinking and some initiative. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so. I shouldn’t have to write a note that says, “Please get rid of the cobwebs in the northwest corner of the kitchen ceiling.” But I have.

One of the reasons I fired my cleaning lady Susie – the one before Esperanza – was because I came home one day to find a bag of garbage removed from the kitchen trash can but not put into the outside trash can. I found a note from Susie: “I didn’t put the trash out because the back door was stuck.”

OK. But how about taking the trash out the FRONT door and walking to the back of the house? I have a little house. It wouldn’t have taken that long. It only took me half a second to realize that was an option. Shouldn’t Susie have been able to think of the same thing after a little bit of deep thought?

But neither Susie nor Esperanza can hold a candle to Marisol, my cleaning lady in Chile. She wasn’t a very good maid, but she was the sole support of her ailing, widowed mother, so my roommate and I felt compelled to keep her. We also couldn’t bear to pay her just five dollars for a full day’s work; instead, we paid her ten for half a day, which probably ticked off my Chilean neighbors as I was ruining pricing in the cleaning lady market.

We had a wood-burning stove in the house. Sounds romantic, I know, but it’s not. Wood-burning stoves cast off a lot of smoke, which turns the white walls of the house brown (and casts a brown haze that hovers over the entire city). One day, I asked Marisol to clean the doors around the doorknobs – to get rid of all the hand dirt and fingerprints. When I got home, I saw that she had done so – a perfect 18” radius around the doorknob of one door was perfectly white and the rest of the door was brown.

The next week, I told her she had done a great job with that particular area of the door and now I wanted her to clean the rest of the door and to do the same with the other doors in the house. She did, but don’t you think she should have noticed that there was a huge discrepancy between the clean and the dirty part of the door and figured out by herself to clean the whole door?

The most disconcerting episode happened the day I stayed home sick from work. I noticed Marisol was scrubbing the toilet with a hand brush, not with the long-handled toilet brush. Marisol, I said, I didn’t know you brought your own cleaning supplies.

“I don’t,” she answered.

Then whence the hand brush?

“I got this from under the kitchen sink,” she replied casually.

Oh. That’s the one I use for scrubbing vegetables, I said carefully.

“OK! I’ll put it back,” she said.

No. Never mind.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When that April

posted Wed, 30 Jun 2004

Ple-e-e-eze rain. Please start raining now so I will have a good excuse not to mow my front lawn. The back doesn’t bother me because my neighbors can’t see it (and it is still mostly dirt) but the front is visible. It desperately needs to be mowed and I just as desperately don’t want to do it.

I am lazy. Well, not really, but I am not big on maintenance tasks. I like work that shows results that stay, like digging up the yard and planting flowers. But work that has to be done over and over, like mowing grass, is boring.

Weeding is not high on my list, either. If the garden would just stay weeded once I did it, that would be fine. But the weeds come back. The flower seeds I planted don’t germinate at all, but random weeds and trees – I pulled up a baby pecan tree yesterday – have no problems finding purchase in my garden. I started weeding some in the back tonight then decided to heck with it. This weekend, when it’s supposed to stop raining, I am going out with Roundup. Just spray everything to death. I’ll be careful to avoid the good stuff, but I am going to kill those weeds for once and for all.

Heather, don’t go getting your knickers in a twist. My good friend Heather is very environmentally aware, although I think finding used condoms in her garden in Montrose has reduced her tolerance. I think she would use a pesticide that works on people if she could. I’d use one that works on squirrels and birds just to keep them away from my fig tree.

Anyhow, I learned that this stuff isn’t really poison (it’s not Roundup but something like that). What it does is accelerate the growing cycle of the weed so that it dies before it reproduces. Kinda like singletons. So don’t worry. I am not destroying the earth forever, although as someone with no genetic interest in the future of the earth, I don’t get too concerned about what it will be like in 100 years.

I think I can get away with not mowing tonight. About two dozen stargazer lilies are blooming in my front flowerbed. They are a great distraction from the unruly grass. Don’t the same principles apply to yards that apply to makeup and dressing? Accentuate the positive – great shoulders! – to draw attention away from the negative – thick ankles.

My neighbors’ yards look just as bad. I just checked and they are all going to seed, too. When they mow, I will.

I would be a lot more concerned about this if I thought I actually had a chance of ever winning my neighborhood association’s yard of the month award. (No, this is not what I thought I would be obsessing about when I was in college, although I have always been competitive.)

But when I wrote the article for the local paper about the award being fixed, my chances went to nil. The story was satire, for crying out loud. My entire premise for asserting that it was fixed was that I had never won. That’s not exactly investigative journalism. But a guy on the award committee called me to assure me that the award is fair and square. He and the chair of the committee were very concerned about my allegations. I tried to explain that the whole story was supposed to be FUNNY, but he just didn’t get it. And then he did admit that my yard wasn’t exactly like the others, which I KNOW and which is ON PURPOSE, but which convinced me that I was never going to win.

I am not going to mow.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

She`ll be coming `round the mountain

I just complaining about the same things over and over, don't I? This is not the last time I whine about what people wear to the airport.
posted Sun, 27 Jun 2004

I’m back home. It took us ten and a half hours to get from Colorado Springs to M’town yesterday. That’s the part I don’t like about traveling – the actual process of getting from point A to point B. It used to be fun to fly, but now it’s just a hassle.

More from the ranch.

Harpo and I had to leave the wedding right after the ceremony to get to the airport on time, so we missed the reception. We were quite disappointed. The wedding itself was unlike any other wedding I had ever seen and the party promised to be even better.

The day started with the drive to the ceremony venue, my aunt and uncle’s ranch in the mountains. We had to ascend six miles of a narrow dirt road to get there. The drive might not have been so bad if Harpo hadn’t kept turning around to talk to my mom in the back seat. When someone is driving up narrow mountain roads where one misstep leads to a certain death, he should keep his eyes on the road. He should also keep his hands on the wheel, but Harpo can’t talk without using his hands. The tiny bit of French in his family definitely won over the majority Scots-English part in that respect. If I tied his hands together, he would become mute.

Les chevalles? Cheveaux? One might be horse, misspelt, one is hair.

When we got to the ranch, we had to walk about half a mile from the stables to the meadow where Eve and Chad were getting married. I was glad I wasn’t wearing the spike heels that my outfit really needed to be perfect. The West is having one of its worst droughts in decades, but it had rained every day of the ten days before the wedding, so the path we trod was muddy. Oh, did I mention the horses that live on the ranch? And the sheep? And the elk? And the deer?

All these animals use the same path we did only the humans don’t feel compelled to poop on the path, if you know what I mean.

More horses.

We passed the bride on our way there. Eve was holding up her white skirt to keep it out of the mud and stepping delicately in her high-heeled white sandals. But she was on a horse before she could even walk, so for Eve, anything involving being around horses, including walking a narrow muddy path, is no challenge. She looked exquisite despite the mud – but looking exquisite has also never been a challenge for my cousin, who was a beautiful, sweet baby and who has grown into a beautiful, sweet young woman.

When Harpo noticed the men wearing cowboy boots and hats and bolo ties with their suits, he was upset that he didn’t have a cowboy hat. He feels he has a genuine right to wear cowboy attire, as his people are ranchers in Oklahoma, even though he grew up in Miami and had never been near a cow until he went to the county fair with me at a family reunion in Wisconsin a few years ago.

The ceremony started when my uncle and Eve rode up in a flower-bedecked carriage being pulled by two Belgian horses. Or maybe it was a surrey, but it didn’t have a fringed top or even a top. It might have been a cart. Or a wagon. Whatever. It was an open-topped vehicle with four wooden wheels and equine power.

In almost no time, the ceremony was over. For someone who is used to Catholic weddings, it is disconcerting when a wedding lasts less than an hour and a half. How do you know you are really married if you don’t go through a long ritual?

This is actually SH and my uncle. Alas, I do not have photos of Harpo riding, although somewhere I have this great picture of him at 5 years old on a horse.

Harpo and I had to skedaddle to get to the Denver airport on time, which meant we missed the reception. We stopped by the pavilion on our way to the car and dropped broad hints to the caterers, but to no avail. The food looked scrumptious but they wouldn’t let us have any.

We had planned to change clothes at the airport, but it took longer to go through security than we anticipated. We were a little overdressed for flying – Harpo resplendent in his suit, me in a pale pink silk jacquard tank sheath – but damn, we looked better than the other passengers.

When did it become socially acceptable for people to look like such slobs in public? I saw people at the airport wearing clothes I wouldn’t wear to paint my house. One of the nastiest things is for men – well, for anyone – to wear flip-flops in public. Those are to be worn at home and in the showers at the gym. Not in public. In public, you are supposed to think about the impact of your actions on others. Men’s sandals aren’t much better. Men, no one wants to see your gnarly toes and cracked heels, OK? (And women, the only way your naked feet should be visible is if they are pedicured.)

Tank tops are also another item men should avoid in public and I’ll bet most women would say they should even be avoided in private. I don’t want to sit next to some guy on the plane and see his armpit hair every time he moves. Most people look better covered in clothes.

Here are some more general rules. Sweatpants and t-shirts are for the gym. Not for public. Hats are to be taken off indoors (and for the National Anthem and the pledge of allegiance, but that’s another subject). If the hem is ripped or frayed, either fix it or don’t wear it.

When did Americans become so sloppy? I lived in South America for years, working with dirt-poor women who didn’t have running water or electricity, yet they wouldn’t have been caught dead in dirty, torn clothes. They didn’t have much but what they had they kept neat and clean. They combed their hair and were as well groomed as they could be under the circumstances. We can do better.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Seven at one blow

Yes, I know this is out of date order, but this story goes with a story I posted on my main blog. Besides, it's not like you don't know how it ends -- I meet SH and reader, I marry him and move to Milwaukee.
posted Sat, 24 Jun 2006

SH is on a mission. He has discovered some sort of wasp in my basement and he is determined to eradicate them. Me, I believe in peaceful co-existence with all of God’s creatures, so I just ignore the creatures that buzz around when I do laundry. I leave them alone, they leave me alone. We have a MAD policy. It works for us.

But SH, the liberal “we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq,” no, he’s ready to go to war. Go figure. He goes into the basement yesterday to turn off the water in preparation for replacing some – stuff – in my shower. I’m sure there’s a technical word for it but I don’t know it. It’s the thingy to make my shower stop leaking. I’m very grateful to him. But when he got down there, the buzzy bugs were awake for the summer and he was startled.

He stunned these two, then dropped them into the bleach water where I was soaking a scrub brush to kill them. He didn’t want to smash them beyond recognition because they wouldn’t be good samples. SH is a good scientist.

I promised I wouldn’t write about his reaction, especially as he is a ferocious cockroach killer and washing-machine repairer and auto-battery replacer. He is an excellent boyfriend with more good points than I can count. So I won’t.

But buzzy wasp-like things are “not his favorite,” shall we say.

When he returned from the hardware store, he had major chemicals.

Again, these bugs have never bothered me. I just shoosh them away and go on about my bidness.

Today, he is determined to find their source and kill them dead. They say a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. I think he has reached his defining moment. (At last!!!! I am so happy! Of course, one of the very – and many – good things about SH is that he is an engineer and can be convinced with data. The discovery of the WMDs this week gave him pause and he is definitely on board about Cuba now and thinks the Castro-lovers in the Democratic party are jerks and morons. So this wasp thing might be just what we needed to make him understand that sometimes, diplomacy doesn’t work and you have to resort to bombing the heck out of the enemy, especially when your enemy lives only to harm.)

He has spent the past hour chasing them down, trying to get a sample so he can match one to what he has found on the net. He wants to find the best way to kill them, you see.

At first, he thought they were regular wasps. Then he thought they were wood-boring wasps, which led to the obvious joke that they corner you at a party and talk your ear off about wood. Then he decided they were spider eating wasps. Now he thinks they might be mud daubers. None of the latter are human-stinging wasps.

I think he might be a little bit disappointed if they turn out to be harmless and he doesn’t get to destroy them. We talked this morning about how we played as children. We both liked to build things with blocks – and then knock them down.

Human nature is funny that way.

A puff a day keeps Groucho away

posted Sat, 26 Jun 2004

Our first tourist activity Friday morning in lovely Colorado Springs was to buy cigarettes.

In the two and a half years I have known Harpo, I have seen him smoke only once. We had been in the Keys for three days and, as he always does when we travel together, he was trying to quit smoking. But the combination of an injured hand and the lack of cigarettes had made him exceptionally cranky, to the point where I would have rolled, lit and smoked that cigarette myself if it would have put him in a better mood. I watched him pace through the Key West sculpture garden, his stress diminishing (slightly) with every puff of the cigarette. (And I know it is SO wrong of me to think this – I really hate smoking and what it does to people – but damn, he looked sexy.)

My Colorado Springs uncle cuts apples for the elk.

The proximate cause of today’s cigarette trauma was the chocolate on Harpo’s pants. As soon as we left the Hertz counter on Thursday, we stocked up on chocolate, ice cream bars, peanuts and soda for the 90-mile drive to Colorado Springs. The burritos we’d gotten at the Que Bueno Mexican restaurant in the Denver airport really weren’t going to be enough to sustain us. But Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory chocolate does melt in your hands, which gets onto your khaki pants.

Harpo wanted clean pants for the flight home today, so I asked my mom if I could do a load of laundry. While Harpo was eating his first meal of the day – one I would normally call breakfast but is it really breakfast if you don’t eat until 10:30 a.m.? – I threw his pants and shirt and some other stuff into the wash. Before doing that, I emptied all the pants pockets, removed the belt and unclipped the pager.

Cleaning the pockets was a task because Harpo is always finding neat things he wants to look at later. There was change and paper money in both front pockets, string, rubber bands, the rental car keys, his keys (on a keychain that looked like a small slinky), his airport ID on its lanyard, his wallet, a pen and crumpled bits of paper.

What I didn’t do was look in the pocket of his shirt. With all the stuff in the pants pockets, what could be left for the shirt?

The clothes had gone into the spin cycle when Harpo, who had finished eating and returned to his quarters, ran back up the stairs and asked me what I had done with the stuff in his clothes. I told him I had taken everything out of the pockets and put it on the shelf. No, he insisted. Not everything. Where were the clothes? I told him they were in the washing machine and went about my business.

A few minutes later, I heard wailing and knashing of teeth coming from the laundry room. When I went downstairs to investigate the situation, I found Harpo pulling all the clothes from the washing machine. “Where is it?” he was asking. “What did you do with it?”

Now I was starting to get worried. Had I inadvertently washed his pager? Our return tickets? His winning lottery ticket?

No. Worse. I had washed his cigarettes.

“How could you have missed it? I had a full pack of cigarettes and a lighter in that shirt pocket!”

Well, good riddance is what I say. Cigarettes are a nasty, disgusting habit that are going to lead my sweetie to an early death and I want no part of it. (As I was typing this, Harpo was giving me a neck rub and reading over my shoulder. When I got to ‘good riddance’ sentence, he stopped and stomped out of the room.)

“How could you not have checked the pocket of the shirt? I never wash clothes without checking all the pockets first!” Harpo was livid as he picked lint and bits of tobacco and paper off the clothes.

Well, I never throw clothes into the laundry basket before I take everything out of the pockets.

We picked as much debris off the clothes as possible, then threw everything back into the machine to wash it again. Harpo glared at me and stalked out of the laundry room.

But he's better now. Damn. I need to get him a different addiction. Maybe chocolate?

Monday, August 10, 2009

How did I ever survive three years in a college dorm?

Re-reading this, it is amazing to me how much Harpo and SH are alike.
posted Fri, 25 Jun 2004

Oh, the joys of family reunions. Harpo and I got to Colorado Springs last night. We are at my mom’s house, along with my brother and my sister and her boyfriend. My cousin is getting married on Saturday, so there will be a big family bash tonight and the wedding tomorrow.

But there will be time for describing the fun of having six adults in a house with one water heater later. I want to talk about the process of actually getting here. Harpo’s side of it appears below.

I have some photos from Colorado, but I cannot find them right now. Here is a photo from a tractor show SH and I attended. (I do not have photos from the Harpo era because I didn't get my digital camera until after we broke up.)

A trip with Harpo is always full of that essential element of plot: tension. There is tension and mystery because we never know if we are actually going to get on the plane. Harpo works for an airline, so we get to fly free. If there are empty seats on the plane two minutes before they close the door, we can have them. But to get to this point, we must wait at the gate in a state of fearful anticipation: will we make it or not? Yes, we have saved thousands of dollars in plane fares to Miami or Mexico or the other places we’ve gone, but before you get too envious, ask yourself: how much is peace of mind worth? How much are your vacation days worth – do you want to spend them sitting at an airport wondering if you are going to get on a plane?

Well, yeah, it’s worth it! Go ahead – envy me.

Enough about that. Let me discuss the more universal aspects of traveling with a man. Ever notice how they always want you to hold their stuff? Men – here’s a news flash: women carry purses for our own convenience. A purse is a place to put a wallet and keys and glasses and aspirin and a comb. We do not carry them so that we can store your overflow items.

As we were getting on the plane, Harpo tried to hand his stainless steel giant insulated coffee mug to me. “Do you have someplace to put this?” he asked.

I looked at his luggage – a small wheeled carryon – and looked at mine – also a small wheeled carryon. “No,” I answered. “I don’t.” I was trying to figure out just where he saw available space in my luggage, purse or body that he wouldn’t have with his. He looked about in helpless frustration, realizing that it was too late to run to the next gate where his office is to leave the mug. The fact that we had spent the past half hour sitting in that very office crossed my mind, but I decided not to mention it. I don’t like to rub salt in the wound.

Well, OK, I do, but it didn’t seem to be a wise strategy considering he was the one responsible for getting me onto this flight and saving me about $800.

When the flight attendant served the snack, she took pity on a starving Harpo and gave him several extra bags of pretzels. He ate all but one of them, then handed the remaining pack to me. “Hold this for me until later, OK?” he said.

“Why should I hold it?” I demanded belligerently. He had already pulled this stunt with the empty bags and his soda can.

He rolled his eyes and said with exaggerated patience: “Because you are the one sitting by the aisle.”

He spoke the truth. I was the one sitting by the aisle. But why does that mean I should be in charge of the trash or of holding stuff? Not clear to me and I was a National Merit Scholar. I heaved a deep sigh, moved the trash and the pretzels to the back of the tray and resumed reading my book.

“Do you have anything for me to read?” he asked.

I just looked at him.

“Hey! I’ve been working 20-hour days this week. I haven’t had time to go to the library.”

I pulled a magazine out of the seat pocket in front of me and tossed it into his lap. I decided not to mention that we had known about this trip for three months.

Why is it that we are supposed to be in charge of men for things like storing their mugs and snacks and getting them reading material but we aren’t supposed to do things like, oh, I don’t know, drive the rental car from Denver to Colorado Springs?

Harpo cannot bear to be the one in the passenger seat. He thinks I’m a control freak, but he wrote the book. He also can’t bear for me to be the one to lead the way out of the airport. Or to get a table at a restaurant.

I can’t change his attitudes about driving or finding places, but for his next birthday, I am going to get him a purse.

Harpo's stuff

Why is it whenever I have a trip planned I put off doing needed laundry until it is too late? I don't pack until 10 minutes before time to leave. I don't sleep.

Tomorrow I have to oversee the operations involved in safely getting a full flight out, on time, give a lecture at genius school on a subject I know little about, then show up on time to pick up the factotum for a flight to another state. Ok. I guess I can name the state. Colorado.
And at some point i need to wash some clothes and pack.
All this must be done by 12:30pm.

If I am late, Tammy Timex will be fuming as she does whenever anyone is late. She won't say,"hey you are late therefore you ain't". But she'll think it.
I know this. I can read minds. Occasionally.
She will also be thinking, "I'm on time, therefore I am."
That is her proof that she exists.

I don't condone tardiness, but I unwittingly do practice it. Another sign of my reluctance to build character and amount to more than a hill of beans as a human being. I have no answer or excuse.

It is not that easy being defective, but for me it is easier than being free of defects or at least freer.

The problem may be that time is not linear for me, or in me, or something of that nature.

For her an hour may have passed, while to me it was just a few minutes. Occasionally a few minutes to the clock is an hour or so for me.

They say time flies when you are having fun. Actually to me, time stands still when I'm having fun. Like that thing of someone approaching the speed of light.

It happens when I read something good, when I play music, and other times I needn't mention.

The Factotum knows almost everthing, so she can probably give the rundown on the relativity theory better than I.
But I live it.

Somehow, it does interfere with my desire to be better company since I catapault into blissful lightspeed catatonia so easily. This can result in being late or even finding myself incommunicado for more than normal periods of time.
Time which I cannot even account for.

I wonder if she would believe I am regularly abducted by aliens. They do that you know. Then they mess up your memory so you can't give a good reason for your absence. It is rumored they abuse you and make humans their playthings in fertility rites and various other forms of entertainment.

In light of that possibility I would think she would be more compassionate about my plight rather than thinking I am inconsiderate or nuts.

If she were not so nice I would take great offense at her compulsive punctuality, and tendency to expect it of me. And she does it without even wearing a watch.

Hmmm....maybe she is one of THEM, and the whole thing is a big trick. Part of that setup I was born into. THEY just stage all this stuff that passes for real life while THEY study my reactions. There is no way the world and civilization can really be this peculiar.

Ha! I think she'd be quite alarmed to know I have her number!