28 December 2008

Year in review

Warning: this is a long one.

It’s the end of the year, and we all know what that means: the media – or “the media” if you prefer to be snarky about it – will be counting down lists of the best, dumbest, and most amazing people, animals, natural disasters, and celebrity meltdowns of the past year.

Animal planet, for instance, has a special airing soon about the ten most amazing animal moments of 2008. E!’s “The Soup” will do some sort of soupy countdown as well – a clipdown, I believe they call it, since it’s all TV show clips commentated on by the delightfully snarky Joel McHale. In a recent Entertainment Weekly, Stephen King listed his favorite movies from this year. The list goes on and on.

I actually considered counting down my ten favorite countdowns, and I still may do so. But with all the emphasis on the best of things, I always get confused. I think, hey, wasn’t this in fact a spectacularly crappy year?

So without further ado, I give you my personal top ten suckiest moments/events/whatever of 2008.

10. My car. Period. This was not a good year for my car. Of course, it’s a Chevy, so no year is a good one and every mile I drive causes more and more cash to fly out of the tailpipe like it does in those commercials. I think the bloody thing’s worth maybe a grand now. But even for my bottom-of-the-line, stripped down Cavalier, this was a bad year. The EGR valve croaked. Two of my three A/C control knobs broke. It really started to get that Old Car Smell. The little ashtray-drawer-thingy snapped off. The latch on the boot broke. A tire went flat in the 3rd Avenue parking garage. The paint started peeling off aggressively. My gas mileage tanked. The belt driver (whatever the H that is) had to be replaced. The foam in the steering column hardened, causing my horn to blare randomly, frequently, and without warning – often at 2 or 3 in the morning, for five minutes at a stretch. And more recently, the battery died. A fairly new battery, I might add.

All this is just in the past year. Since I’ve owned it, I’ve also had to have the brakes fixed, a new A/C installed, the starter repaired, and the antenna reattached. And the windshield wipers replaced five times. And like four new batteries. And the stereo replaced.

My next car will be German or Japanese, I promise you that.

9. 2008 was the year that an old friend from my past made a reappearance.


I had horrible acne as a teenager, and I was terribly relieved to find that as I entered my twenties, my skin cleared up. I had, oh, three or four good years. My skin looked great. A trifle pale, certainly. But that’s my normal hue. I could use WiteOut as a concealer, I swear it. But every so often I’d get a nice rosy glow in my cheeks, and darned if my face didn’t look fantastic.

But then it happened. Long about … oh, March or maybe April I think, I started noticing blemishes where there once were none. It started out small – a red bump here, a red bump there - one, maybe two at a time. But then a new one would pop up while the others were still out. Three zits, and then four marred my face.

By November, I was back to using a medicated facial cleanser, toner and moisturizer, the kind that peel off a layer or two of the epidermis as they “clean.” And you know what? I’ve still got acne. Five zits on my face, two on the front of my neck, three on the back of my neck, and one or two little guys behind the ears.

I’ve tried concealers and foundation. The blemishes suddenly match my skin … and I end up looking warty instead of zitty.

Sigh. Goodbye, lovely skin of my twenty-second and twenty-third years. I’ll miss you.

8. My favorite antidepressant stopped working. Oh, Zoloft. What happened? We used to work so well together, you and I. Sure, we had our ups and downs – dosages upped and downed, that is – but once we hit the right number of milligrams, it was magic, wasn’t it? I felt normal. You didn’t have many side effects – mostly headaches, and I was used to those. Together we got through beauty school and fibromyalgia, and you kept me from hauling off and hitting people (although in all fairness, most of them deserved to be hit). We were a team, Zoloft! But I flew too close to the sun on wings of serotonin. I took you for too long. And you couldn’t help me anymore.

And I was a miserable harpy again. Dr. Zenner – you remember him, right Zoloft? He said that if I leave you alone for long enough, when I go back to you, you’ll work again. And we’ll be so happy together.

In the meantime? Bupkis.

7. I met another old friend this year, one more crabby and vindictive than acne. I had my tonsils out in 2007, and I enjoyed a good nine months of good otolaryngological health. Not a rhinovirus or a streptococcal amoeba or a sinus infection in sight – and I’d been a walking strep virus for ages.

In March of 2008, I got strep throat. Well, I told myself, removing the tonsils wasn’t a foolproof solution. I did work closely with children (until #3 happened) and germs were germs. I doubled my use of hand sanitizer and turned away when someone coughed. Strep returned again in March, then May. And June. And again in November.

On the upside, that’s only four cases of strep compared to the ten a year I was used to when I had tonsils. On the downside, that’s four more cases of strep than I had in 2007.

I’m not sure what else can be removed to help remedy the problem. As soon as I find out, I’ll schedule a surgery.

6. I bought myself a shiny new Dell laptop computer back in … oh, February, I think. It came with Windows Vista installed, and I was (pathetic as it is) used to Windows 2K. But, I told myself, new is good. And I got used to the little “quirks” (bugs) that came with Vista, and I came to like it well enough.

Until October, that is. I’d installed Service Pack 1 (which was supposed to fix said quirks but brought with it two bugs for every one bug it fixed) and on the advice of Scott, my computer-genius big brother, I had Windows set to check for updates nightly.

Mid-October Windows strongly recommended some sort of antivirus update. And fool that I was, I clicked “Ok.”
That, my friends, was the beginning of the end.

This all-important, Strongly Recommended update caused my computer to commit hara-kiri. It would not start up. Start Up wizard couldn’t fix it. It would not boot manually. I could not access my files. My computer, an integral part of my life, was a $750 paper-weight. And I completely. Freaked. Out.

Fortunately, I had Scotty, my own personal Geek Squad. He employed every tool in his mental arsenal to fix my problem. He tried removing part of the hard drive. He tried hack after hack. Finally, using a CD that booted Ubuntu, he retrieved my files from Windows. And when I had them all backed up, he cleared my hard drive off, cleaned up my computer, and downgraded me to Windows XP. He also did a little research, and apparently hundreds if not thousands of people had also lost hard drives to this Strongly Recommended update.

Scotty, you saved my tuchis. You rock. Thank you for losing hours of sleep to keep number six on my list from ruining the whole dang year.

5. Did you know that people in their twenties can get gum disease? I didn’t until the über-helpful dental hygienist told me that I had it. So do you know what I did for my summer vacation? I got my gums lasered four times (and my insurance only covered three). My poor gums. They ached. They stung. They bled. They … healed. But unless I brush and floss vigilantly at least twice a day for the rest of my mortal life, it will come back. And you know what? After a treatment I couldn’t eat anything crunchy for a week. No potato chips! No movie theater popcorn! No regular popcorn!

It was brutal. Especially considering how many movies I saw this summer.

4. Numbers four and three on my list sort of tie for general suckiness, but after considering my sizeable debt, I ordered them as I did.

At the end of July, my boyfriend of four months dumped me. And he gave me the “it’s not you it’s me” routine, just like they do on television. He encouraged me to get angry with him for it and then got offended when I called him a rude name.

Things only got worse between us but I’d rather not get into that.

3. I was fired from my job of nearly two years. I hated management, but I was starting to build up a clientele and I loved working with little kids. I was good at what I did. I had seniority. I was responsible. I filled in at other salons as they needed me. I kept my trap shut when they transferred me to a salon I didn’t want to work at.

But my manager, Sonia, was (pardon my French) an absolute horse’s ass, and she played favorites like one would play a piano. And I was not one of her favorites. So she made up stories about me stealing and messing with the computers, refused to believe me when I told her the stories weren’t true, and canned me. Five days after my dad had brain surgery. Then, after she fired me – in front of a co-worker she insisted sit in on the firing – she said to me offhandedly, “Oh, sorry about your dad.”

I have no qualms about saying that if God is just, this woman will roast in hell for eternity. She treated me like manure and fired me because she could. I hate her like poison.

2. My father’s brain surgery – his third in a year – was because – I believe it was a year to the day from his initial diagnosis – we discovered that his cancer had come back with a vengeance. One month, his MRI was clear. But after he went to the ER because he was having trouble speaking and writing, they did a scan and discovered a huge tumor had popped up out of nowhere. It was aggressive, and it was going to kill him. We were told he had a few months to live, they weren’t sure exactly. They did surgery to remove what they could, and to insert chemotherapy wafers in his brain.

The surgery was on Friday. He came home on Monday night. Eleven days later he lost consciousness and never woke up.

1. Eleven days after he passed out, he died. My father. My daddy. My friend. The best, smartest, kindest, most insightful man I’ve ever known. I miss him so much that it hurts – it’s a physical ache that won’t go away. His death devastated me and I’m not sure I’ll ever completely recover. I’d give the world for five more minutes with him. One more minute. Anything.

I miss him. I don’t know what to do without him. But I have no choice. It sucks. It hurts. And it’s why 2008 will live in my memory as one of the worst years of my life.

23 December 2008

Book me

If he had occasion to embarrass me, my father had one story in his arsenal that he turned to first, and I’ll paraphrase it here for you.

“With every kid,” he’d say, “things are different. They’re all born with their own personalities already in place. And you wonder what they’re going to be like, who they’ll be. You wonder what their little voices will sound like when they learn to talk, and what sort of things they’re going to say.”

Here I typically buried my face in my hands.

“It was the same with Jilly Bee,” he’d continue – he always called me Jilly Bee – “we wondered what words she’d learn when and what her voice would sound like, if she’d sound like her sister at all.

“Then she learned to talk. And she talked and talked and darned if the kid didn’t talk all day long. We couldn’t shut her up. We’d be watching TV and she’d be chattering away during the show and we’d have to try to shut her up until the commercial break.”

It seems I was a bit of a chatterbox. But looking back all I can figure is that for the first 18 months or so of my life, I couldn’t talk, and once I learned I felt I had to make up for lost time. So I talked and talked and talked. Even in my sleep, as my sister complained.

Teaching me to read was a matter of self-preservation for my parents. I could read to myself out loud, in a room other than the one the TV was in, and they’d get a little peace. I imagine that my siblings helped me out a bit, and my parents read to me. In any case I could read fairly well at three, and at 3 ½, I got a library card.

I’ve always been a fan of libraries. I go in, and I get to take their books. Any books I want! I can just take them! I got such a kick out of that as a kid. I was used to going to stores with my mother and hearing that no, I couldn’t have this or that, because it was too much money. But in the library, it was all free! I was hooked. Fines in those days were about a nickel a day for an overdue book. Nothing I couldn’t handle.

Many years later the library moved to a new home, one much bigger than the closet-sized city building it had been in before. I hated it at first. It didn’t feel like my library. It smelled funny. It was on the edge of a cliff. I had my reasons. But I lived in a town without a bookstore, so I went to the new library.

At the start of my senior year of high school, the library had an opening for a shelver. On a whim, I applied, and much to my surprise I got the job. They’d never hired a teenager before, so I was rather flattered, although I suspected my literacy and familiarity with the library had more to do with the decision than anything else. That, and the fact that three of the librarians had known me since I was three and started coming to the library. In any case, I started working there most days after school.

I loved it. It was heaven. Every book in town was at my disposal. I got my grubby hands on new books the instant they were processed (and many times I got to type out the labels, apply the barcodes, and cover them). Not only that, every day before I started work, I could access my account and check on the due dates of the books I’d checked out. I could renew them myself if I needed to.

When I moved to Gilbert, one of the first things I looked for was the public library. And I found it – less than two miles from my house, it was a monster of a building, with easily twice the number of books I was used to. I didn’t know any of the employees, I didn’t know where anything was … and I couldn’t renew my own books.

None of this stopped me of course. I checked out book after book after book, often filling up my card. But the thing you have to remember about me is that I’m sort of an idiot. I had the darndest time remembering to renew my books before they were due back, or remembering to turn them in on time. I had so many books out that I didn’t read most of them. And fines were no longer the nickel I was used to. I think it was a quarter per item per day.

A few years ago, I had a period of six months where three times, I owed more than sixty dollars in overdue fees. Once I owed more than 100. I was gainfully employed and not in much debt so I managed, but I felt sick about it. I am at heart a very cheap person, and I realized that for the money, I might as well be buying my own books to keep forever instead of borrowing. So I started going to bookstores and I never looked back. I’ve been to the library building twice in the past three years, and both times I just went in to vote – I didn’t even go in to the main library where the books are. No books checked out meant no fines. And bookstore books had the advantage of not smelling like the last person who checked them out, as is so often the case with library books. And I can read them at my leisure with no pressure and no time limit. They are mine, to do with as I please.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I own a good 5,000 or so books (that I know of). It’s self-defense and a very twisted sort of cheapness. And it works.

21 December 2008

A little something to think about

There is a show on television called The Big Bang Theory. I’ve never seen it myself on account of it’s on at the same time as another show I watch and I didn’t used to have DVR.

But I did (and do) subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, which means that if something exceptionally hilarious is said on any TV show at all, it might be printed in a little TV quotes section in the next issue of EW.

Such is the case with Big Bang Theory. I wish I’d had DVR a month or so ago just so I could hear this line spoken aloud.

Sheldon (played by Jim Parsons) is explaining a new game he’s come up with called Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock. The rules are as follows:

“It’s very simple. Scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock, rock crushes lizard, lizard poisons Spock, Spock smashes scissors, scissors decapitates lizard, lizard eats paper, paper disproves Spock, Spock vaporizes rock, and, as it always has, rock crushes scissors.”

I think that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. And if I could figure out how to shape my hand for lizard (I figure Spock is the “live long and prosper” hand sign), I would totally make someone play this with me.

And people say there’s nothing good on TV anymore.

18 December 2008

Church Lady was right

DISCLAIMER: this is going to make me unpopular. I don't care. You're going to think I'm a horrible, heartless shrew for writing it and you're not going to like me. Tough potatoes.

Picture this: Sicily, 1920.

Sorry. I’m channeling Sophia Petrillo. Where was I?

Right. Picture this: there is an old man – no one knows how old for sure, but we know he’s old. He hasn’t shaved in years. He’s overweight. He’s a pipe smoker, so his beard is likely a nasty shade of tobacco yellow. He’s dirty – he seems to have been rolling around in an ashtray. Everyone knows who he is but no one knows much about him. They do know one thing: he’s interested in the kids.

No matter where they go, he’s there, watching them. Watching them play and learn and wander through Wal-Mart with Mom. But it’s not just in public. He’s known to watch them in their homes as well. Are they eating their vegetables? Are they fighting with a brother or sister? He sees it. He’s always watching. He might write some of it down so he’ll remember. They go to bed at night. He’s there. He watches them sleep. And watches them, and watches them.

Maybe parents aren’t completely cognizant of this at all times. Maybe that’s why when Mom and Dad see the old, fat man at, say, a shopping mall, they take their kids over to say hello. Some kids fight. Some scream. Some cry. Mom and Dad get out the camera.

“Sit on his lap,” they say. “Say hello,” they say. “Be nice,” they say, “he’s not going to hurt you.” But kids know that’s not completely true. Everyone knows the fat man punishes kids he thinks are bad.

And it doesn’t matter how scared a little kid is. Mom and Dad are going to snap their picture, capture that look of abject terror.

They’re not leaving the mall without that all-important picture with Santa.

Pretty creepy, isn’t it? I’ve always thought so.

What kind of story is this to tell your children? An old man is watching you all the time, day and night, so you’d better be good. Or else. Smacks of enabling a pedophile, if you ask me.

I realize that I’m being a bit extreme here. Not every kid is afraid of Satan. I mean, Santa. Some kids get excited. They’ll write him letters. They’ve been good all year long, and they’re going to get their reward.

The idea that good children are rewarded and bad children are punished is nothing new. You can look back through history at fables and folktales and fairy tales, and the theme prevails. Good = rewards. Bad = punishment. But the problem is that Santa is not real. Kids don’t get presents because they’re good. They get presents because Mom and Dad went shopping. But for some reason parents feel the need to lie to their children.

Here many people interrupt me. “It’s not a lie!” is their battle cry. Is Santa real? Well, no. But you’re telling your children he is. That’s a lie. And what’s a child to think when they learn the truth? If Mom and Dad lied about something like Santa – an omnipresent, omniscient being with magical powers – maybe they were lying about other important things – maybe about this Jesus person, too. He’s got some of the same characteristics.

Jesus, by the way, is the reason we celebrate Christmas. Santa takes away from that in a very real, very disturbing way. People will claim that Santa teaches us to be generous and kind … but I’ve never once encountered a child who asked Santa to bring toys to the orphans or the poor kids next door. I’ve never once seen a Santa-obsessed family teach or encourage their children to be generous with the less fortunate. They only say, “Be good or Santa will give your toys away to someone else.” Giving is a punishment, not something important or good or to be enjoyed. Santa for them is not about giving. He's about blackmail. Something to hold over the kids' heads to make them behave.

The poor kids won’t be getting any toys this year. They must have been bad. Good kids get what they ask for. Poor kids don’t get what they asked for … poverty must make you a bad person, right? And Jewish and Muslim children must be bad, too, because Santa doesn’t visit them. Santa only visits good children.

No chimney? No problem. Santa has a magical key that lets him into every house in the world. Am I the only one a little uncomfortable with this idea? We’re in a recession. Santa comes into the house and eats my cookies! Sure, he allegedly leaves presents, but who’s to say he’s not sneaking into the china cabinet while he’s in the house? Pilfering some of the nicer silver, picking the lock on the gun cabinet - or worse, the liquor cabinet.

My mother is fifty-one (hi, Mom) and she still remembers the devastation she felt when she learned that she’d been lied to about Santa. She felt stupid and gullible and hurt. So when my oldest brother was old enough to ask about it, my parents told him the truth – Santa was just a story. And so he, and my sister, and my other brother, and I, never believed in Santa. We were never disappointed at Christmas because we knew that if we only got a few things each, it was all our parents could afford – and that even though money was tight, they still wanted us to have something to open on Christmas morning.

We had other Christmas traditions. For instance, we did what we called drive-by fooding. We’d collect canned and other nonperishable foods, put them in big paper bags, and drive by the homes of struggling families at night. A kid or two would sneak from the car or truck, set the food on the family’s doorstep, ring the doorbell, and run like hell for the car. I loved it. It was a thrill doing it anonymously, and knowing that I’d helped someone have a better Christmas than they might have anticipated. My mom made pancakes or waffles every Christmas morning. It made me sad to think that a kid I went to school with wouldn’t have breakfast on Christmas, and if I could do something about that, even at the age of five, I was going to do it. I didn’t have Santa at Christmas, but I had something better. I had love and compassion.

I never believed in Santa, no. But I never once felt that I missed out. I never once felt like something was missing from the magic of the season. I knew what it was not just to receive, but to give, and to make a difference. I got to play at Santa. And I’m convinced that letting a child play at Santa is worlds better than encouraging him or her to believe in Santa.

And yes, I was one of those rude kids in elementary school who told other children that Santa wasn’t real. But I’m not going to apologize for that. Parents might have lied to their kids (and still do and will), but I wasn’t about to. I believed in honesty, and I still do. Honesty is a good Christian value. I believe in Jesus, not Santa. I celebrate Christmas, not Santamas. And I always will.

15 December 2008

Timing is everything

I couldn’t sleep a few nights ago. This is nothing new, really, but usually when I can’t sleep I’m in bed reading or playing a video game, and a few nights ago I was downstairs on the couch, eating cookies and wondering how often Barack Obama gets a haircut.

I’d been watching “House” on the USA Network. I own all 4 seasons on DVD but I only ever watch it when it airs on TV (which I suppose means I’ve wasted a great deal of money, but I digress). In any case, house ended at 12, and was followed by an episode of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

I’ve watched many episodes of the show before, and it happens that this particular episode was one I’d seen before – but only the first half. I never knew how it ended. So I watched, and it turns out it was the mom, not the grandmother, who killed all those parents.

“L&O:CI” was followed by two episodes of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” I can’t watch this one most of the time because it’s about, as the announcer guy says, sexually-based offenses, and I don’t have the stomach or mind for that. But the second one was particularly interesting. It was about a doctor (played by Martin Mull) who was prescribing fake and ineffective treatments for HIV. People died, he was convicted, etc, etc. Very captivating. Also very depressing.

But I was watching the second episode because of the first, and it is in fact the first episode that caught my attention. The gist of it is that a woman in the Marines had been raped and was pregnant and missing, and they found her dead, and in the search for her killer we learn all about the corruption and cover-ups in the military vis-à-vis female soldiers and sexual abuse. And apparently if you’re a female soldier, the men see you as either a b***h or a slut, and you’ll be subject to sexual harassment and any number of unpleasantries.

What caught my attention was actually a commercial that aired I think three times during the show. It was a commercial for the Army, and it showed a young woman and her parents, who had been unsure about her decision to join the armed forces. The point of the commercial was how mature and responsible the young woman was for having enlisted, and how proud her parents were of their soldier daughter.

And then the commercial break ended, and we went back to how female soldiers rarely report their rapes by superior officers.

I found that ironic and hilarious. Three times! I think that during prime time these things are probably screened a bit more carefully – what commercials air during what program about what, and that sort of thing. But when you’re watching USA at 2am, all bets are off. And I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping that woman who joined the Army knows what she’s got herself into. If she doesn’t, Mariska Hargitay could tell her for sure – right after these messages.

12 December 2008

On the upside, there are always Charlie Brown songs

It's mid-December, which means that stores and radio stations have been playing Christmas music for about two months now. They start earlier each year. And it's impossible to get away from them. So I've been listening to a lot of crap lately. Over and over and over. Lousy 99.9 KEZ is everywhere. And they play the Delilah show at night. Delilah! *shudder*

Before you write me off as some sort of holiday-hating shrew, let me explain. I'm not against ALL Christmas music. There are some really smashing songs this time of year - "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas," for one. And BNL's album "Barenaked for the Holidays" is a favorite of mine. And I've always liked traditional Christmas carols like we sing in church.

But there are a number of Christmas songs that frankly I could do without. They bother me, which means (all together now, children) that it's going to bother you as well.

I'll warn you: these are bad songs. Bad Christmas songs! To quote Norm MacDonald, "Happy birthday Jesus. Here's some crap!"

The first offender makes me want to bash my head against something hard. I believe the name is "The Little Drummer Boy." It's about some little street urchin with a drum and a dream, on his way to visit the baby Jesus. But even though he could clearly afford a drum, he's got bupkis as a gift, so when he gets to Bethlehem, he asks Mary if he can make a loud noise in front of her newborn baby. And Mary agrees. So he drums for a bit, and the baby Jesus smiles. Pah-rum-pa-pum-pum. Pah-rum-pa-pum-pum. Ad nauseam. The most popular version of this song is performed by a choir of wobbly-voiced women who sound like, as they're singing, they're either very cold or very frightened.

I hate this song. I hate it like poison. I know mothers of babies, and they're rather protective of their newborns. And Mary gave birth to the Son of God. So I reckon she was more than a little protective. Would she really have let some little brat come into the stable and bang on a drum? I doubt it. Aside from which the song has no historical basis, and the constant pah-rum-pa-pum-pumming makes my blood pressure spike and my fists tighten.

Moving on, then.

Second on my list is a more modern, touching, heartfelt piece of tripe called "Mary, Did You Know?" It asks Mary if she knew her baby would walk on water, heal the sick, calm the seas, etc etc. Nothing too offensive, right?

WRONG! Let's consider this for a moment. Mary was a virgin. She was visited by bloody angels. You know something? I think the had a pretty good idea of all of that. But thanks for asking.

Number three isn't even a Christmas song. "My Favorite Things" from that movie with the Nazis and the nun has nothing to do with Christmas. I suppose the imagery about silver white winters and brown paper packages and warm woolen mittens conjures up a wintery feel. But really, what in the name of arse has it to do with Christmas?

And honestly, who the hell has favorite things like these? Whiskers on kittens? Schnitzel with noodles? Doorbells? Wild geese? What kind of demented freak would sing such a song? What's wrong with ... I don't know ... ice cream or movies or spending time with family? I don't suppose they hold a candle to bright copper kettles, do they?

Moving on again. The fourth is "The Christmas Song." Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost, blah blah blah. This is called "The Christmas Song." So why is there no mention of Jesus? Why is it just yuletide carols and tiny tots and Santa? The nerve of some people ... Velvet Fog, my arse.

Number five is "The Man With the Bag," a swinging little jazzy number about how everybody's waiting for the man with the bag (Santa, I assume). This song didn't bother me the first few times I heard it. But then I listened to the lyrics: "He'll be here, with the answers to the prayers that you've made through the year."

I beg your pardon, but since when does sodding Santa answer prayers? I thought that was God's area. I guess maybe if you pray to Santa, he does the answering.

Six is "Do They Know It's Christmas" by the slapably-smug Bob Geldof and a bunch of arrogant celebrities. There won't be snow in Africa this Christmas, no. But that's because most of it's in the bloody southern hemisphere, so it's actually Summer in December. And no, I don't reckon "they" know it's Christmas, because "they" aren't Christians and I'm guessing they don't celebrate. Hey, "philanthropic" celebrities - how's about helping out the millions of diseased and impoverished American children before spreading the wealth to Africa? Probably because American children don't make good news stories. And they're harder to adopt, aren't they? Psht. I spit in your general direction, Hollywood.

Number seven: "Baby, It's Cold Outside." A lovely little Christmas date-rape song. "Hey, what's in this drink?" Oh, just a little rohypnol. It'll wear off in the morning when I'm done with you.

The woman wants to LEAVE, you jackass. No means no.

Number eight: "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Radio stations play the Andy Williams version eight times a day. Riddle me this: if it's really the most wonderful time of the year, why do suicide rates spike in December? Also, since when do we tell scary ghost stories at Christmas? Ditto toasting marshmallows.

Ninth on my list is "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." What message does this song send to children? Nobody liked Rudolph until he did something for them. Like saving their white-tailed arses. And do we need the constant repitition? "And if you ever saw it, SAW IT..."

Number ten is "Santa Claus is Coming To Town." (And I wholeheartedly believe that Bruce Springsteen's version is guaranteed to void even the strongest of stomachs.) Why? "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake ..." Another instance where we're confusing Santa and Jesus. And I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of some old man constantly watching the little kids in my life. That's pedophilia, isn't it?

And speaking of odd sexual compulsions, what gives with "Santa Baby"? Is Eartha Kitt trying to hit on the old man? Gross. He's old! He's married! Shame on you, Eartha. Bad kitty.

I should probably stop at ten, but number eleven kills brain cells: "Merry Christmas Darling" by Karen Carpenter. I'm convinced that, with a little research, Modern Science could prove conclusively a connection between Carpenter songs and fatal gunshot wounds. "Rainy Days and Mondays" makes me want to commit voluntary euthanasia, and/or maim the radio DJ responsible for playing it.

Twelve on the list peels the enamel from my teeth. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" is disturbing on so many levels, only one of which I'll mention. What a rotten bastard that Santa is. He doesn't care how many homes he wrecks, does he? He just slides down the chimney and makes out with people's mothers. I always wished there was a follow-up: "I Saw Daddy Killing Santa Claus" would have been awesome.

Lucky thirteen is last on my list for now. "Wonderful Christmastime" should be banned on account of it violates the eighth amendment. This song is atrocious. Paul McCartney was a BEATLE, for goshsakes. What happened? I think this song and "Say, Say, Say" ought to be enough evidence that Paul lost his mind years ago. This song is an embarrassment for a former Beatle. This song is an embarrassment to Wings, and that's saying something.

I think I'll conclude now. I've probably stuck all sorts of rotten songs in your head, and I'm sorry. But don't worry. I'm sure if I pray extra hard to Santa he'll put me back on his nice list. Maybe bring me some warm woolen mittens and raindrops on roses. All of my favorite things.

06 December 2008

I think it's been up for more than 30 days

My father died on September 9th and we buried him a week later. September 16th, for the slow among you. That's very nearly three months, which amazes the hell out of me (although I'm not sure how long I feel like it's been. Days and years, I suppose, depending on my mood).

I digress.

My mother is a world-champion procrastinator, particularly if the task at hand is unpleasant. Unpleasant tasks, for her, include washing dishes, clearing off the kitchen table, finishing her school work, and ordering a marker for my father's grave.

I can't say that I blame her for putting off the latter. I don't think that's anyone's idea of fun. Also, when we made arrangements for my dad, we set it up so that when Mum kicks it, she'll be buried in the same plot. So the stone is going to have her name on it too. Which I can't imagine. It's hard enough coming to terms with your own mortality in the face of a loved one's death. It must be even harder to order a grave stone with your name on it.

But yesterday - or rather, Thursday, as it's after midnight as I write this - I nagged just long and hard enough that my mother drove us down to Mountain View Memorial Gardens and we picked something out. It'll be very ... well, not pretty, but nice. Granite base and everything. I had to sort of hold her hand through the whole thing (figuratively, although once she started crying I did put an arm around her).

After we got it ordered, we went for a little walk to the grave site. We could have driven but a Mr. Frankenstein (seriously) was being buried a little ways off and I didn't want to disturb the solemnity of the occasion. Beside which it was a lovely day for a walk.

I remembered exactly where to go. Mum didn't, which I thought was kind of funny. If my grave was picked out already, I think I'd know EXACTLY where to find it. But I digress again. When we got there, we found a temporary marker (which I sort of expected, and appreciate - it's important to keep track of the dead in a place like that).

They remembered the "D" in Rodger; that pleased me immensely. I'd held up remarkably well, I must say, until I got a good look at the marker. Nothing about the marker specifically set me off so much as the cold realization that my father's body was about eight feet below my shoes. I lost it then. Mum did too, and we cried for a bit.

Then we went on our way.

The good news is that in six to eight weeks we'll be the proud owners of a gravestone. I think Mum's lucky in that respect. How many people get to see their gravestones before they die? Now she knows she won't (many many many years from now mind you) be buried beneath the inscription, "I'm sorry, what did you say?" or perhaps something more creative like, "Here lies Peggy, 'cause she's dead/never was right in the head."

Instead, it says BARBER in capital letters in the middle, with my dad's name on the left, hers on the right, dates below names, Mesa temple in the left corner, and "Together Forever/10-9-1976" in the right. Although I think that might be a little confusing because my parents were sealed in the St. George temple, not the one in Mesa. But Mum wanted the Mesa temple and in any case St. George wasn't in the book.

Did you know you can get a Salvation Army logo on your grave stone? Also a Boy Scout Beaver. Or a Bingo card. Or any number of tasteless emblems that reminded me more of tattoos than anything else. I suggested the hunting rifle to Mum but she refused.

Maybe I'll pre-arrange my own funeral and grave. Order a stone with a hunting rifle and the phrase, "I told you I was sick." Add a sportscar and call myself "Jill the Great."

On the walk back to the car I saw a stone that had a picture of a Ferrari and "Mr. D" and that was it. I'm not sure if Mr. D was a Ferrari. Heaven only knows what's buried there, or who.

And now, if you'll excuse me, it's my bedtime and I'm looking forward to a number of unsettling dreams.

03 December 2008

Hang me out to dry

I hate laundry.

Why do I hate laundry? It’s my own clothes. If I want to wear them again, I need to wash them. And I’m sure not going to go without clean socks and underpants.

I’ve tried simply buying new. This is why I have more than 20 pairs of socks, and enough underpants for every day of the month. I’m trying to avoid the inevitable. But the inevitable is of course inevitable. So I drag my laundry basket downstairs, do a quick sort, and start the washer.

I think that part of the reason I hate laundry so much is that I really hate my clothes. I open my closet and there’s just … nothing. Nothing to wear (this is something of an accomplishment, considering how full my closet is). When I sort and wash and fold laundry, I am reminded of how much I hate my entire wardrobe. I have maybe three t-shirts I like, and one pair of pants my arse doesn’t continually expand in, and that’s about it. Something can look amazing on me in the store, but I get it home, and I look like I’m in a fat suit for a movie role. It’s hard to muster up the necessary enthusiasm to launder something I don’t like wearing. It’s hard enough to want to wash the clothes I actually DO like. And when I wash those, all I can think is that each rinse cycle fades that favorite item a little more, and a little more, until my black t-shirt has turned to a nasty sort of puce, and my white polo matches my teeth more than my eyeballs (and for the record, I haven’t bothered with whitening strips in the past five years).

Plus, laundry time is when I notice bad things. A hole in a t-shirt that wasn’t there. The Ragu stain that didn’t come out in the last washing. A line of ink on my pajama pants because I’m always writing in bed. The increasing number of lint balls on my sweater. For some reason, I don’t notice things like that when I get dressed. I only see them when I’m doing laundry.

Some day, I will have enough money to pay someone to do my laundry for me. Failing that, I’ll try to have enough money to buy two or three of my favorites. I’ve already started a little. I have two extra pairs of blue and red crabby socks, and a second navy-and-green striped t-shirt. As long as my favorites are from the clearance rack, I’m all set. And if you’ve ever seen the way I dress, you know that … well, pretty much I’m all set.

Eventually, if I’m rich and famous, I won’t ever do laundry. I’ll buy thirty or forty of things that I like, wear them once, and give them away. It’ll be nice to know that I’m doing my part to kill the earth. I think I’m already on to a good killing start, judging by the amount of polyester I found in my wardrobe the last time I did laundry. In any case, I’m off to a good start with things, I think.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m out of socks.

26 November 2008

Snarky enough for a man, grammatically enhanced for a woman

I was browsing Cute Overload earlier as I am wont to do. There was a post about adopting a turkey for Thanksgiving - which I did; her name is Serendipity and she is so ugly she's cute. See?

I had to comment in response to a nuffer who objected to people donating to animal causes when there are people causes out there in need of monetary help. Whilst browsing the comments, I came across one that mentioned something called the Gender Analyzer, a site wherein you can enter a URL and, using some sort of complicated algorithm or something, GA will tell you whether the page was written by a man or a woman.
I tested out a few websites and GA got it right. Then out of morbid curiosity, I tried the URL of my blog.
GA decided my blog was written by a man. Ditto my Domo blog (although in my defense, the site is mostly graphics). This interested me. What about my writing would lead GA's text classifiers to think I'm a dude? (Obviously the text classifier hasn't taken a good look at my rack.) I've decided it's either my complex sentence structure, my excruciatingly correct grammar (if I'm in the mood for it) or my snarky humor.
I think the humor might be more of a typically masculine thing than the grammar, and I'll tell you why: I don't know of any men since Strunk and White (except perhaps my late father) who could diagram a sentence or differentiate between a verb and a gerund. I don't mean to imply that men are stupid, I just mean that men tend to communicate more directly than women, and with fewer nuances and details.
But whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes - no, wait, that's the Grinch.
But whatever the reason, GA decided I write like a man. To the side of the results is a poll: did GA give the correct result? I clicked "no" and was taken to the survey results page. 53% said yes, and 47% said no. So much for their fancy text classifier. I'm inclined to believe that the folks behind GA are bigger turkeys than my new sort-of pet. Which is a shame, I think it's a cool idea. Almost as cool an idea as Cute Overload.

Do me a favor and fill out my poll, won't you? Otherwise I'll be forced to rant about undergarments again, and that wasn't fun for ANYONE.

22 November 2008

Houston, we have a problem ...

Or I should say that I do, anyway.

I think I have a blogging addiction.

I started off with just one blog - this one. Then I started taking pictures and began my Domo blog. Then I started a third blog, a private one, as a journal of sorts.

And I've done it again.

I blame my mother.

I have an unhealthy obsession with English usage, and she has always encouraged it. She's as likely as I to point out inappropriate quotation marks and words pluralized with apostrophes. It was only a matter of time before I began photographing examples of abuse and looking for a place to display them. And the time has come.

I am pleased and slightly embarrassed to introduce you to my newest blogging effort, The Language Police. I have no way of predicting the update frequency, as I'm unsure how many examples of language misuse I can regularly capture in my camera phone. But rest assured that if I see it, I will photograph it, and I will share it.

It is, perhaps, worth mentioning that as I was setting up my new blog, I got an idea for another blog. I wonder if Blogger has a limit to the amount of bandwidth they'll allow me to waste at their expense. I should check on that.

And while I do that, I humbly suggest you check on my newest blog and let me know what you think. I am also accepting submissions, so keep your eyes peeled, and I may appoint you Language Police Officer status. I am the police chief, but I could always use a deputy.

18 November 2008

New baby!

Ok, I totally stole these pictures from my brother's Facebook page. But my camera phone vanished the pictures I took at the hospital, so here we go. This is Landon James Barber, 8 lb 2 oz, 20.5 inches long, born at 11:30am on November 17. I got to hold him for the longest time. He looked at my face for a few minutes and then, nonplussed and exhausted, fell asleep.

16 November 2008

Neigh-mate of the month

I blame my parents.

No matter how much I ranted or raved or cried or stuck my lower lip out, I never had a pet growing up. And I wanted one BADLY.

I can't fault my parents for their refusal; in retrospect it's just as well, really. I wasn't responsible enough, and animals stink and shed and do a number of other unpleasant things.

But because there were no real animals in the Barber house, I made do with plush versions. I have hundreds of stuffed little buddies in boxes in the garage, and I still buy them, even at twenty-five.

There is a Wells Fargo inside the Safeway down the street from my house. My mother has started banking there because ... well, I don't remember why, exactly. But I was there with here a few days ago, and I noticed a sign: Today, sign up for a free checking account and get a FREE plush pony.

There was a pony on the counter.

I held out for a whole three days before I signed up. And I got my pony. And, ladies and gentlemen, here it is. My free Wells Fargo pony.

PS: If you read my Domo blog (and you'd better) you'll notice that Domo hitched a ride. He couldn't help himself.

14 November 2008

Run for it

What I’m going to share with you today is somewhat personal in nature, but it’s bothering me, which means – all together now – it’s going to bother you, too.

I went shopping for a sports bra. I didn’t think it would be that difficult. I should preface this with the fact that I am not exactly on the flat-chested side of things. More accurately, if I went for a run without a sports bra, I could knock myself unconscious.

And now, with that charming mental picture in mind, I shall continue.

I went to Wal-Mart, because I am first and foremost a cheap person. (Jerry Seinfeld once said that cheapness is not a sense. Ladies and gentlemen, he was wrong. Cheapness is indeed a sense.) I figured that if I didn’t find what I wanted there, I’d move on the more expensive Target.

It took me a good five minutes to actually locate the sports bras; Wal-Mart would clearly rather that customers purchase their undergarments of more questionable taste (I don’t know that Disney really *wanted* that done to Tinkerbell, personally). Finally, I found a wall of the things. Some of them looked as though they couldn’t hold in place anything more substantial than a Kleenex tissue. The tag claimed they fit up to a “C” cup. Maybe they’re measuring differently than I do, I don’t know. But the undergarment in question was literally a tube top with spaghetti straps. A training bra, really. That was a big ‘no.’

So I moved on to some sturdier-looking cotton models, things that might actually serve a purpose. And they were sold in a pack of three for ten bucks. Good deal. But I checked the tag, and these, too, only fit up to a “C” cup. Sensing a trend, I moved on to styles I wasn’t even considering. “B/C” cup. “B/C” cup. And finally, “B/C” cup. One style, one that resembled a real bra more than anything, was sold in regular band and cup sizes. These came in “D” cup sizes. But they were padded. I beg your pardon, but “D” cups really don’t need any extra padding. Padding is sort of the problem. And this wasn’t even a full-coverage style; it looked like a demi more than anything.

I checked every other brand and style, and nothing was designed for a cup larger than a “C.”

Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

Let’s examine this from a scientific perspective: if you’re a “B” cup, you don’t even NEED a sports bra. A “C,” I’ll give you. But in my (very personal) experience, it’s the “D” and “DD” cups that really need a sports bra. Not the “B” cups. So why is it that only one sports bra in the entire danged store came in a “D” cup? What are large-bosomed women supposed to do for sports bras? Perhaps we’re not supposed to work out, just to be on the safe side. But seriously, what gives? Because I’d really like to start working out again. And I prefer to do it while conscious.

11 November 2008

In small packages

A zoo in Australia recently celebrated the birth of a baby pygmy hippopotamus.

In case you were wondering, a baby pygmy hippo is about one-fifth the size of a regular baby hippo. Full-sized pygmies (is that an oxymoron? Full-sized pygmy?) are only half as long and one-tenth the weight of your standard river hippopotamus. By my calculations, that makes the babies five times as adorable, and the adults at least twice as cute.

And this pygmy hippo baby, with his Shrek ears and wide nostrils, is very cute indeed. From the videos, he (or was it she?) looked to be the size of a large cat. It was very playful, frolicking in the water and chomping on its keeper’s khaki shorts. A regular hippo could never get away with that.

I’ve always been a fan of ungulates, so I know for a fact that there are also pygmy goats, pygmy horses, and pygmy elephants. And if you go outside the ungulate family, there’s the pygmy loris, pygmy marmoset, and the pygmy owl, just to name a few. These species all have two things in common: they are very small, and therefore, they are very cute.

What is it about tiny things that make them so adorable, so hard to resist? I’m not sure, exactly, but I do know that there’s something scientific to it. Take babies, for example. They are scientifically designed to make us want to take care of them. I believe that was proven in a study somewhere, but at the moment I’m too lazy to look it up. But it doesn’t end with babies. Toddlers and small children can get away with doing things that adults never could, simply because they’re little.

My two-year-old nephew is a good example. He can have snot on his face, and be running after his mother to hit her (for trying to wipe away said snot), and he’s still adorable. If I tried that, I’d be labeled many things, none of them cute or flattering. This is nature’s way, I think, of continuing the human race. Kids can get away with a lot more things that, when an adult does them, you’d normally want to kill them for.

Part of the reason I have so much fun with my Domo blog is that I get to play with miniatures. Domo has a small piano, an angel costume, and a skateboard, and because they’re all tiny, they’re all cute. If I could get away with it, I’d play with a dollhouse. Because it’s little, with little furniture and decorations. And little = cute. We are, I swear it, scientifically programmed to equate something tiny with something good. Things on a small scale are almost always good things. Small = cute, and cute = good, therefore small = good (and I only got a “B” in my logic class. Ha!).

There is, as always, an exception to small being cute. And I speak, of course, of the insect. They crawl. They fly. They bite. They spread malaria. They are creepy and nasty, and yet they are small. But there is a wisdom in this. They need to be small, even though they are not by extension cute, and they are certainly not good. Think about it: would you like for insects to be any bigger than they already are? I’ve seen crickets and roaches the size of field mice. That’s big enough, thankyouverymuch. So I’m happy with bugs being the exception to small = cute = good. Bugs = bad, and we all know that.

And with that inborn knowledge, we have free brainpower to appreciate the good things in life.

Like tiny hippopotamuses.

08 November 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like ... August

I haven't been updating my blog as often as I used to. I've decided that, like Maris Crane, I exhaust easily under the pressure to be interesting. Also, I've been spending more time looking at baby pygmy hippo videos and less time writing.
I digress.

Today is the 8th of November, which means that tomorrow might as well be Christmas. I say this because I've been hearing Christmas music in almost every store I've been in this past week. Some stores didn't even wait for Halloween to be over - Wal-Mart was playing "Little Saint Nick" while I was shopping for Halloween candy a few days before my birthday. Christmas merchandise was fighting Halloween costumes for shelf space, which puzzled me a bit since it was more than two months until Christmas.

I think it starts earlier and earlier every year. Christmas didn't used to start until after Thanksgiving. Then it was after Halloween. Now it's before Halloween. I expect that in a few years, Wal-Mart will stock prelit trees next to their back-to-school supplies. Which is frightening, since school starts earlier and earlier every year. I'm pretty sure that Chandler schools went back at the end of July.

But just because we're pushing holidays up a little, doesn't mean we want to miss any. So I'm sure that by December first, Wal-Mart will have an aisle or two of hearts and flowers for Valentine's Day. And once the Christmas clearance is out of the way in a month (because it gets marked down BEFORE Christmas these days) it'll be time for Easter baskets and chocolate rabbits. Once Valentine's day is gone, they'll display folding chairs and barbecues. And from there, it's time for back-to-school and Santa Claus.

I'm sure that, if I ran a urine-scented retail giant like Wal-Mart, it might make sense to me. But I'm a fairly logical human being, and so I like a day or two to breathe in between holidays. I don't want Halloween to turn into Christmas. I don't want Christmas to twitch its nose and turn into Valentine's Day. I like a week or two where I can buy bags of candy in regular-colored wrappers and not worry about whose house I'm going to or if I've bought a gift for someone.

But back to Christmas ... it's my fault, partly, for living in the greater Phoenix area. But I'm going into clothing stores, and it's all wool and parkas and corduroy. Which is, I'm sure, nice if one happens to live in New York or Illinois or one of those places where the seasons actually change. But here in Maricopa County, we have two seasons: Hellfire, and the rest of the year. And the rest of the year just isn't that cold.

Aside from which, it's hard to feel Christmassy when I'm still mowing the lawn and watching oranges ripen on my tree. It feels more back-to-schooly. So every time I hear "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," I sing along with my own words, about how it's beginning to look a lot like August does in the rest of the country.

But what can I do? Wal-Mart's blaring their Christmas soundtrack and Old Navy's got one table of t-shirts. So I bring my iPod with me, crank the A/C, and laugh at the poor suckers elsewhere who are already getting snow.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go water my roses. In short sleeves and flip flops.

03 November 2008

Bang, bang, you're dead ...

I don't usually wax political, because for the most part politics make my head feel like it's going to explode, and I can't abide by arguing and nastiness. But something has been bothering me lately, so it's going to bother you all as well.

Much has been said in recent weeks about Sarah Palin's suitability as president of the USA. Apparently it's not important that she'd merely be the vice-president. Since John McCain is old, it's apparently a given that he's going to get sworn in and immediately kick it on account of being older than sixty. Ridiculous.
On one level I can understand the concern. But what I want to know is, why hasn't anyone discussed Joe Biden's suitability as president of the USA? He's Obama's running mate, so he's next in line.
Most people would probably hasten to point out that Obama is not an old man. Well, does this make the man invincible? He is an incredibly polarizing figure. There are a lot of wackos out there. It's only a matter of time before someone takes a shot at the man. Whether they succeed and kill him or not is anyone's guess. But he could very well be assassinated, leaving Joe the Bummer as our nation's leader.

What's that you say? Obama isn't likely to be assassinated in office? Well, I'd say that the odds of him being shot at are just as good as, if not better than, the odds of John McCain's health taking a turn for the worst. We are every bit as likely to end up with President Biden as President Palin. And I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't know if I can stomach Joe's weaselly little face for four years.

Let's have a little equality, shall we? If we're going to condemn McCain to death for being an old president, let's at least concede the possibility that Obama will be murdered as the nation's first black president. Well, technically, he's only half, but that's another rant for another day.

But as long as we're condemning one candidate for his VP pick, let's condemn the other as well. That's the American way, right?

P.S. Of Obama, Biden, McCain, and Palin, guess who is the only candidate with any executive experience? That's right - Sarah Palin.

30 October 2008

Under my thumbnail

I've just decided that one of the absolute worst sensations in the world is the feeling you get when you've been pulling at a cuticle for a while and you realize you've pulled it one millimeter too far.
Right up there with it is the sharp stab of a hair splinter under that same cuticle. But blood aside, I managed at least to get the blasted things out most of the time.
Hair splinters are among the six hundred or so things about which no one will warn you when you contemplate a career in cosmetology. I suppose if I really wanted I could have avoided them by working at a full-service salon where 95% of the haircuts I did would be done with scissors only. But instead I decided to work at a place where 95% of the haircuts I did involved clippers and therefore hair splinters. (Scissors cut the hair straight across at the ends whereas clippers cut the ends at an angle, giving them the perfect shape to wedge underneath unsuspecting skin cells. Just in case you were wondering.) On the upside, I never had to do any chemical services and when I was alone in the salon I could play video games.
But they fired me, and now I have to get another job, one that I probably won't like as much - although almost anything looks better than CC4K when I recall the fun of picking someone else's hair out of my hyponichium.

25 October 2008

Ron, Rick and ... Barbie

I’m watching "Seinfeld" on channel 10 and during the commercial break there are ads for the station’s news team. The morning idiots are Ron and Rick, and a series of blonde dodos. The blondes are all interchangeable and if they didn’t have names I don’t think I’d have noticed them changing.
There used to be Ron, Rick and Ilona. Then out of nowhere, they canned Ilona and it was Ron, Rick and Jen. And it was the three of them as far as I knew until just now when I saw an ad for Ron, Rick and Alexis.

Is there some rule that TV anchorwomen have to be blonde? Oh, there are a few brunettes out there, to be sure - minorities, mostly. But not a single fecking redhead and heaven forbid any of them should have curly hair.
And I can guarantee you that once the Fox 10 morons tire of Alexis they’ll shove her aside for a newer model blonde idiot - Tiffany, perhaps, or Jessica. She’ll have no personality, perky breasts and heavily peroxided hair. I don’t know where they’ll find her - Stepford, perhaps. I think there’s some kind of lab where Fox 10 grows these little idiots.
And they lease the lab space from Mattel.

23 October 2008

Birthday Brat

Today's my birthday.
I'm 25. There's nothing really exciting about 25, except that my car insurance is a lot cheaper because my prefrontal cortex is finished growing so I'm less apt to make poor decisions, if I recall my psychology classes correctly. But I think that's it. Birthdays get less exciting as you get older. I remember years ago I'd make lists of things I wanted for my birthday and/or Christmas, and my birthday would be an Event ... not so much anymore. Now ... now I pretty much figure I have an excuse to be obnoxious for twenty-four hours and that's about it. There will be cake, and maybe takeout from a restaurant I like, and family will come over. Nothing exciting.
I was hoping to watch the Dodgers play in the world series on my birthday this year, but as usual they messed that up. I swear, it's like they beat the Cubs and then just gave up. Honestly. "Okay, we won the NLDS, that's as far as we can go." Didn't they kind of want to go to the world series? Did they forget they haven't won the NLCS in twenty years? Didn't they realize they had to beat the Phillies more than ONCE to do it? I digress.
I'm sure I'm getting a few presents. My mother took me to the mall last week and bought me a few skirts and a dress from White House Black Market, since most of my closet looked like it belonged to a teenager (which I suppose makes sense considering last time I was a size 12, I was nineteen). And Mum likes to make sure I've got a few things to unwrap as well. But it's not really important to me anymore. In fact, I've been watching so many episodes of "What Not To Wear" and "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style" lately that far from getting greedy for more, I actually got rid of 2/3 of the contents of my closet a few days ago.
But the other reason that my birthday isn't a big deal this year is that my dad is gone. He never made a huge deal out of my birthday or anything, but the fact is that I don't feel much like celebrating without him. I can only imagine how bad Christmas is going to be. Everything's going to suck for a while. I'll probably end up crying.
But that's okay. Today is my day to be the birthday brat. And as that annoying song goes, it's my party and I'll cry if I want to. Once it's midnight I have to behave myself again. I might as well milk this for all it's worth.

19 October 2008

Money Can't Buy Me Love ... Or Maybe It Can

Allow me to apologize for my extended absence from the world of blogging. It was unintentional and due to Bill Gates and his wonderful Windows Vista. Allow me to take a moment to suggest using Ubuntu, if I may.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

I like to think of myself as a fairly frugal person. Frugal being a nice way of saying that I am basically very cheap. I got it from my father. He was, in the words of Elaine Benes, extremely careful with money. And Jerry Seinfeld had it wrong; cheapness is indeed a sense. My father and I both possess(ed) the ability to smell a sale.
I don’t often spend a lot of money on things. I own a few expensive things, but my piano doesn’t count, or either or my guitars because they’re musical instruments and that’s different.
I did spend over 100 bucks on a vintage dress once, but I had to have it, and every time I wear it I get compliments. I think it was well worth the money. I’d spend it again on such a dress if I could find one. Alas, most of the dresses manufactured in the early sixties were made for women with much smaller hips than mine.
But the most expensive thing I’ve bought cost me $187, plus shipping. Before I admit to what it is, I should explain myself. In many important ways, I had an unhappy childhood. And this purchase was an attempt to fill a void I’ve had in my life since I was three - to snatch up a missing piece of my girlhood. An attempt to ease some of the residual pain of the last 22 years. I knew I shouldn’t spend so much on it, but I couldn’t stop myself when it came down to it.
Yes, that’s right. I spent 200 bucks on a Fisher-Price security bunny.

I had a pink bunny-bunny when I was little and I took it everywhere with me. One day my sister took me to the playground by our trailer and I took my bunny-bunny with me. I got distracted by the swings and the slides and when it came time to head home, I lost track of my security bunny. My mom went back to the playground to look for it later but it was gone - some SOB stole my bunny-bunny.
And it sounds ridiculous, but that missing bunny blankie has pissed me off for years. When I saw one on eBay, I bid on it. I kept getting outbid, and I kept bidding higher. The bidding ended at $187.
It was probably a stupid waste of money and there may be some point in the future where I regret spending so much money on something so inconsequential. But I’ll say this much: when I got my bunny in the mail, I smiled for a week. I keep it in a fireproof box, and that bunny will never leave the house.
I can’t afford to replace it a second time.

14 October 2008

The Secret Is: You May Already Be a Winner!

(Edited from a much earlier MySpace blog post)
Don't you just love those little get something free banner ads? The one I'm looking at right now says I can get a free* iPod Nano. And I'm sure I am. If I re-define the word "free."
It starts with little things, like a free trial of Netflix. Then you have to sign up for Columbia House. Then you're spending $300 on foreign-language CDs. Next thing you know, you've spent $2500 on tickets for a Swedish cruise line, and still no free iPod.
I suppose that after you've signed on to go into space for twenty grand, you get your "free" iPod. But wouldn't it be easier just to go to Target and buy one for $150? Or try eBay, I saw Nanos going for $75 the other day, and the seller doesn't require you to travel the Grand Canyon by train first.
What's sad is that there are people dumb enough to think they're getting a "free" iPod, or Coach handbag. And they go through every single so-called "sponsor offer," including the charter flight to Euro Disney, all in the pursuit of free MAC eyeliner and lipstick. If the masses weren't so stupid, companies would have abandoned the whole get-a-free*-iPod/handbag/Mini Cooper strategy years ago.
Honestly, rub a few brain cells together and think about it: it sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?
Well, it's the darnedest thing about stuff that seems to good to be true: it always is. If there were companies willing to give away expensive things for free, they wouldn't have to advertise. People would be beating down their proverbial doors to get their iPods, and it’s the same thing with those generous eBay sellers who are offering the secret to making a million dollars at home. If these people were really making that kind of money, would they be selling their secrets on eBay for $400? They wouldn't need that money. They'd have so much money they'd suffocate under its weight. The only ones who benefit from get-rich-quick schemes are the ones who propagate them.
Take recent bestseller Rhonda Byrne and her book "The Secret." Byrne asserts that if you purchase her book, or the companion DVD, or anything else with her name on it, you will understand what history's greatest thinkers knew and how you can apply this elusive knowledge to your own life, enabling you to make buttloads of money, lose weight, get laid, become famous, and say no to drugs.
It's certainly worked for Rhonda, hasn't it? The woman's loaded these days. She's everywhere. Her book is the bible in the Church of Oprah. She's been on every TV show and magazine worth its salt.
Personally I only watch "House" and repeats of "Seinfeld" and the only magazines I read contain celebrity gossip. So I'd not heard of Rhonda Byrne until my therapist asked me if I'd read her book. I said I hadn't, and he lent me the DVD that one of the other therapists in the office has been sharing.
Well, I watched most of it. It was longer than I thought, and I fell asleep about forty minutes in. But I think I got the gist of it. And I have to say, it's no secret. There isn't a thing in that book that hasn't been written before by Dr. Phil, Anthony Robbins or Deepak Chopra. And I do not wish to sound rude, but most of it's bull.
If having the life I wanted was as simple as "The Secret" makes it seem, I would be six inches taller, independently wealthy, 50 pounds lighter, antidepressant-free, a successful, well-respected writer, and an undercover CIA operative, with 20/20 vision and smaller pores.
Just for laughs, I decided to focus on getting good news in the mail. I suppose it worked, as it turns out I may already be a winner. But that was all I got, nothing else good in the mail.
Or any of the crap I've bought on Etsy. Crimeny, people. I paid ten bucks for shipping; the least you can do is send me my stinkin’ merchandise sometime this year.
I don't mean to imply that a person can focus on how bad their life sucks and still be happy and successful. But neither do I believe that victims of domestic violence or rape brought it on themselves with their negative energy, or that parents whose babies die of SIDS weren't thinking healthy thoughts.
I don't think that focusing on something brings it to you. You just notice it more. For instance: my parents bought a Toyota Highlander three years ago. Since that time, I have noticed a LOT of Highlanders on the road. I don't think that my parents' purchase has compelled the masses to flock to Power Toyota. I simply never had reason to notice the Highlander before. It wasn't relevant to me; I never considered buying one or driving one. Now that I see one every day, I notice them everywhere I go. I don't think that the car is selling better on my account. I just notice them more.
I think it's important to focus on the good things in life and to put good out into the world, but for moral, ethical reasons (read "Happiness is a Serious Problem" by Dennis Prager for more on that). If you tell yourself, "I'm going to have a wonderful day" over and over, your day will become wonderful because your mindset predisposes you to notice the good in things.
Bad things happen, no matter whom you are or what you do. Jesus was crucified, and I don't think it was a matter of negative thinking that did it. There doesn't exist a way to keep bad things out of your life. And this is how it should be. It's important to have opposition in things. It gives life meaning. It's not always fair, but crap is going to happen. It's a given. It is perhaps one of life's only certainties. Positive energy is a good thing, but it's not going to make your life perfect.
And it certainly isn't going to get you a free iPod.

12 October 2008

Dave Barry 2008

I have long suspected that Dave Barry is one of the smartest people alive - this is a man who managed to sell a book whose cover featured a picture of him sitting on a toilet - and now my good buddy StumbleUpon has provided me with a little evidence. The list is "Twenty-Five Things It Took Me over Fifty Years to Learn" but for the sake of brevity and because I don't like a few of them I'm going to pick my favorites to share.
From my old buddy Dave:
-The badness of a movie is directly proportional to the number of helicopters in it.
-You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight-saving time.
-You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests you think she's pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.
-They can hold all the peace talks they want, but there will never be peace in the Middle East. Billions of years from now, when Earth is hurtling toward the sun and there is nothing left alive on the planet except a few microorganisms, the microorganisms living in the Middle East will be bitter enemies.
-There is a very fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness."
-At least once per year, some group of scientists will become very excited and announce that:
The universe is even bigger than they thought!
There are even more subatomic particles than they thought!
Whatever they announced last year about global warming is wrong.
-The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.
-A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter is not a nice person.

I remember a while back - was it 2000? There was a sort of fake campaign for Dave Barry for president of the United States. I think we need to bring that back. America needs a strong fake leader now more than ever, and I think that fake leader is Dave Barry.

Of course, I am really, really tired, and I've just eaten a Hershey bar, a Swiss cake roll, and about sixty SweeTarts. So I could be completely wrong.

11 October 2008

Something's Fishy

My name is Jill, and I am afraid of fish. (“Hi, Jill!”)

I read somewhere that most animal phobias have their root in childhood trauma, and mine is probably no different, although I can’t be sure what did it for me. I think it goes back to my first vacation. My family took a trip to Sea World when I was 2½. I was wandering down a hallway, the walls of which were actually large aquariums. I stopped to look at a small, plain-looking fish. My sister was with me. She tapped on the glass or something, I don’t remember. Maybe she just pissed the thing off. All I know is that one minute the fish was this big, the next, it was THISBIG. It was a puffer fish. And it scared the tar out of me. I don’t remember looking at any more fish there, but I do remember the penguins, and thinking that they were magic for some reason. I don’t know. I was two.

I still sort of think that about penguins, though. I love penguins.

In any case, I’ve always hated/feared the slimy little Satan-spawn. They creep me out and make me nauseas. Most of the time it’s not a problem, since people don’t exactly walk their pet fish, or put fish pictures up on their living room walls or wear fish t-shirts. But every now and then my phobia would become a problem.

My parents wouldn’t let us have a cat or dog, and thanks to me a pet fish wasn’t going to happen either. When our neighbors asked us to watch their pet goldfish while they went out of town, my parents had to prop open books and magazines up around the bowl so I couldn’t see it. Aquariums were off-limits. Nature shows were a no-no. Forget about serving tuna. And when I went shopping with my mother, we had to carefully detour around the seafood in the meat department.

But still, we all adjusted, and it was just one of those cute little quirky things about me, the same as my compulsion to correct the grammar of others, or my habit of memorizing the disturbing facts I learned in “Reader’s Digest” or my penchant for dramatics or my night terrors. And as I grew up, I learned to adjust. I simply avoided the fishing report in the local newspaper; I stayed away from the hunting and fishing area of Wal-Mart. I didn’t think much about it anymore.

However, in recent years, the health-conscious have begun promoting fish as a good way to increase one’s omega-3 fatty acid intake. I’m cool with that. But it’s not enough, apparently, for magazines and newspapers to suggest eating fish. Oh, no. They have to accompany this recommendation with photographs. Of fish – more specifically, dead fish, in threes and fours, piled on plates, their cold, soulless eyes staring up at the reader, wispy little tails and fins in place and everything.

Ugh. I’m getting sick just writing this. Pardon me while I vomit.

Okay. But honestly, there has to be a better way to convince me to eat something. If pork was suddenly found to be highly nutritious, would photo editors suddenly start accompanying their pictures of broccoli and asparagus with shots of lifeless porcine carcasses? I think not. Showing a dead animal, as is, is not very appetizing. What’s wrong with showing a fillet of some sort, all cooked and pretty with a little garnish? Why show me slimy black fish bodies? It didn’t used to be this way. But lately I have noticed more and more and more of it. Every article about health and diet has a picture of the little dead devil-things on a platter. And I’m here to say enough. I’m tired of having to ask my mother to pre-screen my periodicals for me with a sharpie and scissors so she can make things safe for me. I had to stop subscribing to “Martha Stewart Living” for just this reason (well, also, it sort of sucked).

I’d rant more, but I feel another good sick coming on. Let me just conclude by saying that when I read an article about how the ocean’s fish were in danger of dying out by 2040, my first thought was hallelujah, followed by the thought that it’s a good thing I don’t live anywhere near the ocean. All those dead SOBs have to go somewhere, and it’s best if where ever it is, is far, far away from me.

And by the way, the irony of the fact that penguins EAT fish is not lost on me. I try not to think about it. It’s easier to like them that way.

10 October 2008

Good Grief

I’m not exactly a stranger to death. In my relatively short life, I’ve had to deal with the deaths of three grandparents, two aunts and a father. But it wasn’t until my father’s death a month ago that certain nuances of the grieving process became a bit clearer to me. There are things about the way Americans “do” death that bother me, and as is my SOP, I’m going to share them under the principle that misery loves company, and if it’s bothering me it’s for darned sure going to bother you as well.

Someone said to me last week, “I was so sorry to hear that you lost your father.” And I thought what a funny thing to say. I didn’t lose him; I know exactly where he is. But that’s how it’s always put, isn’t it? A loss. I lost my father. He lost both his sisters. It sounds so careless. And while I appreciate the sentiment, it sort of bothers me. It’s another way that we distance ourselves from the reality of death. We don’t call it death; we call it loss. I’ve read that the more uncomfortable a society is with something, the more euphemisms there are for it. I believe it. Think of how many different ways we have of referring to the two big ones: sex and death. But no one will say the words, “your father died.” He did! He died. He is dead. We got a death certificate, not a “loss” certificate or a “passing” certificate. Let’s not mince words, ok? He’s dead, and saying it pretty won’t make it any less painful.

Of course, the person who accused me of misplacing a family member then moved as if attracted by magnet and hugged me much tighter than I’d allow even my mother to do. I am like my father in many ways, one of which being that I can’t abide by strangers touching me. I barely know this woman. I can’t even remember her name, and that didn’t stop her from mauling me. Yes, I’m grieving. That doesn’t mean I want random strangers turning into affectionate barnacles. Especially not during flu season (and as far as I’m concerned, it’s always flu season). Don’t pat my shoulder, my arm, or my knee, and please don’t hug me tight enough that you can glean both my cup and band size from your own body fat displacement. Some things just need to stay private, capisce? And FYI, I carry pepper spray for the specific reason that I’d rather not be molested. Thank you.

My sister said something funny when we were bringing seven vases of flowers in the house after the funeral. She said that it’s funny how people give live flowers when someone has died. “It’s like saying, here, these are pretty, but soon they’re going to die, just like your husband did!” We had a good laugh about it, but when you think about it, giving flowers is an odd thing to do. I’m sure it’s a tradition rooted in the middle ages when a dead body would stink up the house or something equally unpalatable like that. But really, what good are flowers to a grieving widow or child? The best thing that we got after my dad died was a big basket full of paper plates, bowls and cups, plastic spoons and forks, napkins, paper towels, Kleenex, toilet paper, trail mix, cookies, and bottled water. We didn’t have to wash dishes or run out to the store, and we had pick-me-up snacks and drinks at hand. I went on-line and, in a fit of morbid curiosity, looked up some of the bouquets we were sent. People spent a LOT of money on flowers. I wish they’d have given it to the hospice or to Barrow instead, where it could do good instead of wilting and shedding on the carpet.

I’ve noticed something else. Before the funeral, people are all phone calls and dinners and visits and flowers and sympathy. After the funeral? Nothing. It’s like, okay, he’s in the ground, that’s it. Back to your life. And the thing is, after the funeral is when we need the attention the most. Before the funeral, we had the funeral to get ready for. After the funeral, there’s nothing, just a lot of emptiness. Phone calls and flowers and visits would be nice around now, but everyone else has moved on. We got so many flowers the week of. I sort of wish they’d been spaced out a bit more. I could do with a pretty bouquet about now.

Death is a sticky situation; I think we’ve established that. So people tend not to know what to say. And so they say the wrong thing. Many wrong things. I would like to suggest here and now that we adopt some sort of official words of condolence and mourning. Something along the lines of, “I heard what happened. I’m so sorry.” Nothing else needs to be said. I don’t need clichés or platitudes or half-witted advice or, worst of all, “I know what you’re going through.” Because no one, not even my siblings, knows what I personally am going through. I’m the only me out there and I’m the only one who had the relationship with my father that I did. So no one can rightly claim to know anything. Other people have said to me, when I have expressed the slightest bit of unhappiness or remorse, “Well, do you think your dad would want you to feel/act this way?” Sorry, I don’t know how he would want me to feel or act just now, and since he’s dead and I can’t very well ask him, can I. Thanks though.

There are other things that no one should, under any circumstances, say to someone who has just experienced the death of a family member, and I’ve decided to pepper-spray the next person who says any one of them to me:
-“It was for the best.” (Best for whom, exactly?)
-“God needed him more.” (I’m sorry, but God doesn’t need any of us.)
-“It was his time to go.” (Even if this is true in a fatalistic or religious sense, he was only fifty-two so frankly “his time” sucks for all involved.)
-Anything beginning with, “You probably don’t want to hear this now …” (Well then do me a favor and can it.)
-“He’s not in any pain any more.” (He wasn’t in any pain before he died, either. His tumor wasn’t painful, and in the hospital after the stroke he was unconscious and sedated. But thanks for playing.)
-“Everything will get back to normal before too long.” (Really? Will my father be less dead in a few months?)
-“This Christmas will probably be hard for you.” (Gee, ya think?)
-“Put your trust in God.” (I did that already, and God took my father away.)
-“The best way to get over your grief is to step outside yourself and do something for someone else.” (K, first off, you never “get over” grief. You learn to live with it. Second of all, I can barely get out of bed in the afternoon and choke down 700 Calories a day, on top of which my father just died. What good am I to anyone else when I can’t even take care of myself at the moment? I think I should probably start brushing my hair regularly before I start any big service projects, just so I don’t scare the less fortunate.)

I know that people mean well, and I appreciate that. But we mustn’t forget that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. A simple, “I’m sorry,” means so much more to me than a lot of flowery words or proverbs. And if you step away after you say it you’ll be out of my pepper-spray range a lot faster.

09 October 2008

Shut Your Mouth

So. I read in the newspaper on Sunday about a new, less-invasive way of doing surgery; doctors are learning it as we speak and are apparently rather excited about it as it means less mess when removing gallbladders, appendices, and that sort of thing. Well, naturally, the first paragraph caught my attention. I had my gallbladder out a few years back and I’ve got four delightful little scars on my abdomen as a result. I’m lucky, actually, because my surgery was done laproscopically so the incisions were all very small, the largest about 1.25 inches across. If I didn’t know they were there I wouldn’t notice them. I digress. I thought to myself, less invasive? Do tell.

And then I read on.

And it turns out that these nutcases want to pull things out through existing bodily orifices. Gallstones? That gallbladder’s coming out your mouth. And in the case of appendicitis, get ready to give birth to an organ, because isn’t it handy that there’s an orifice nearby there as well.

May I be the first to say, ew? Perhaps I’m overreacting, I do have a delicate stomach. And the patient is unconscious during surgery, so it’s not like you’d choke on a part of your upper GI system. But personally, I’d rather be sliced open like a trout than have any part of my body come out of another part of my body.

The article did go on to mention that there are concerns about infection and the impossibility of properly sanitizing an orifice to minimize risk. But they’re working on it. Working on it, which means that before long they’ll have something figured out, and you gentlemen might be passing more than a bowel movement.

This is, I think a good example of the adage that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Granted, a lot of the … technology, I guess you’d call it, isn’t quite there yet. But it will be, so between you and me, if I have to go to the ER for a ruptured appendix, I’m bringing an X-Acto knife with me and making the first incision myself. It may be the only way to make sure they remove my appendix the way God intended: by slicing me straight open and ripping that sucker out. And if a GI doc asks me to open wide, I’m headed for the exits. There are some things you just shouldn’t throw up.

08 October 2008

Maybe you can drive my car ...

I got my driver’s license in November of 1999. I got my permit before that, in May. And my father taught me to drive, in the old blue Toyota in the elementary school parking lot, just like he did with my sister and my brothers before me. And I learned to drive. In Page, Arizona, where there are maybe five intersections with stoplights. The speed limit is 25mph on the main roads around town, unless you head off the mesa, where you can speed up to 45.

Then I moved to the Valley in September of 2002 and suddenly I was driving on 6-lane roads where the speed limit was 45 but everyone was driving 60, and I realized that I didn’t know how to drive at all. Well, I’ve learned. And I’ve learned a number of other things as well – most drivers in Maricopa County are morons. Period. How do I know this? Let me count the ways.

Here’s one. Each upper corner of an Arizona license plate is supposed to bear one – ONE – sticker. A month sticker in the left corner and a year sticker in the right. When you get your new year sticker in the mail, the accompanying instructions clearly state that you are to cover the old year sticker with the new. Yet every day I’m on the road I see at least four drivers who feel it’s very important for the world to know that their plates were paid up for 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 in addition to 2009. The stickers will be in a neat little row on the license plate, sometimes overlapping, sometimes edging the plate. Although I suppose I should be glad that those people bothered to renew. I see an alarming number of cars driving around with plates that expired in 2005 and 2006.

Not that the cops are going to pull them over for it. In fact, I’m not sure what you have to do to get pulled over around here. Running a red light doesn’t seem to do it. The prevailing thought here is, it’s not red if you go fast enough. So the light will change and six or seven cars will go on through the intersection, even ones that were stopped behind the crosswalk when the light changed. This, by the way, is how people get killed. But quite often it’s eight cars that go through, and the eighth is a black-and-white driven by one of Gilbert’s finest.

You won’t get pulled over for speeding, either. I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: no matter how fast I drive, someone always has to go faster than me. I’ve tried flooring it and still, some intrepid little Jeep or Acura is always speeding by me in the next lane. I got up to 65 in a 45 zone once before I gave up and let the impatient H2 driver fly past me. I tried the same thing on the freeway and realized I was going 85 in a 65 zone and I was still being tailgated by a semi truck.

Speaking of the freeways, if you’re on the 101, you might as well go 101mph, because most people can’t tell the difference between the highway number and the speed limit. I think this is why ADOT was so reluctant to finish the 202. I-10 looks a lot like 110, doesn’t it? You might as well accelerate when you go from the 101 to the 10; always assuming of course that traffic is actually moving. Quite frequently the average speed is … well, 10, if one is lucky.

Other offenses that will NOT get you pulled over include illegal U-turns, failing to signal one’s intent to turn (one would think that cars sold in Arizona don’t come equipped with turning signals), jacking your pickup truck up about three extra feet, tailgating a car so closely that the bugs on your grill scrape off on their bumper, driving around at night with no headlights, covering up your license plate, not having a license plate, not stopping at a stop sign, text-messaging while driving, making a bad pass, and in most cases, driving drunk.

The only thing I’ve seen people stopped for, actually, is driving in the HOV lane illegally. That’s Arizona for you. You can endanger the lives of everyone on the road if you want, but we’ll be *damned* if you’re going to drive in the HOV lane without a passenger in your car. That’s a smiting offense.

I’ve often thought that the majority of Arizona drivers ought to have their licenses revoked. But it occurred to me a while ago that I’m just assuming all these drivers are actually licensed, which is foolish of me. You don’t have to have a license to get behind the wheel of a car, do you? The only time you need one is if you’re pulled over, and I think we’ve established that that almost never happens. You can buy a car without a license, can’t you? There’s nothing to stop you from driving it off the lot without one, either. And therein lies the problem. Well, one of them, anyway.

I wish there was some way to get all of these lunatics off the road. But I’m at a loss. So in the meantime, I’ve become one of them. I shout at people who can’t hear me, I cut people off, I speed, and I change lanes with the speed and precision of a Frogger (although I do at least use my signal). I have become as bad as everyone else. With one notable exception: my driving record is unblemished. I’ve never even been pulled over.

I thought for sure I was going to be, once. I was looking for an address and I accidentally ran a yellow that changed to red. A cop followed me through. I thought I was done for, but instead of turning his lights on, he tailed me impatiently for 30 yards, then sped around me, going 55 in a 40 zone. Then he made a right turn on another red without stopping or signaling, and pulled into the parking lot of a Dunkin’ Donuts. No joke.

I love the valley.

06 October 2008

Honk if you love peace and quiet

I want to be very clear about something here: I don't want to complain about my little car. I love my little car. I have a great little car. Compared to my first car, it's an Aston Martin.

Of course, my first car was a 1976 Toyota Corolla SR5 Liftback and I learned to drive it in 1999, when the ceiling liner no longer stuck to the inside roof of the car, and you had to open the car door to raise or lower the windows, and the keys fell out if you made too sharp a turn, and you could start it with a flat head screw driver, and the gas gauge was broken and you had to ask the a/c very nicely to blow air at all and good luck getting that air to be cold. I actually loved that little blue car and I was brokenhearted when my dad said 'enough' and donated it to the high school auto shop.

The car I drive now is a 1997 Chevy Cavalier - the cheapest model they made that year, under 10 grand brand new if I'm not mistaken. My father bought it used from a man he worked with at the power plant (who had bought it for his stepdaughter's 16th birthday; unfortunately he overestimated her intelligence, I don't think she could drive a stick shift). The steering is power, but the locks and windows aren't. Nothing fancy. It has a nice stereo but that was a birthday present last year, certainly not standard. In the seven or so years since my father bought the Cavvy, we have had to buy 2 new batteries, replace the a/c and the belt driver, buy new windshield wipers about a dozen times, reset the EGR valve, get all-new breaks, replace all of the knobs on the dash, and fix the clutch. There have been a few electrical problems as well, some wiring crap I can't recall. And I still love my little champagne-colored USA-made disaster.

Until lately.

Two weeks ago I was sitting at my computer, looking at Otters on Cute Overload, when I heard a car horn honk. And honk, and honk. For about five straight minutes. I already had a migraine, and this wasn't helping. The doorbell rang a moment later; it was a neighbor. The offending horn was in my Cavalier. It stopped while she was at the door. And there have been five or six other such incidents of late. Constant beeping. My mom's been able to stop the noise by banging on the hood. I've had to unlock the car and hit the horn to make it stop.

This was a particularly embarrassing problem last week when I was stopped on a freeway overpass at a red light, behind a minivan. My car honked for about 15 seconds by itself. I threw my hands up in the air, hoping that surrounding drivers would see that I wasn't trying to be a jerk. I was just driving a jerk car.

So I've gone on-line to try to figure out if my car is haunted or what else. I've examined pictures and diagrams in the Haynes car repair book my father bought years ago. I think I can unplug my horn and make the problem go away.

The only thing is, what if I NEED to honk at someone and I can't? I guess I'm going to have to find a mechanic. I've never gone to a mechanic before. My father could fix anything car-related. Anything, period.

I've had moments where I thought my father was honking the horn. And if he is I'm okay with that. As long as he knocks it off while the neighbors are home. They get crabby when they're honked at for 10 minutes.