Tuesday, July 31, 2012

People Who Tell You to Smile: A Rant

Today I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few items.  As I gazed confusedly at five different kinds of raspberry tea bags, a man dropped some coffee into his cart, then came over and said, "Hey!  Don't look like that!  Smile!  Ya gotta keep smilin'!"

And I did not beat him to death with a stalk of celery.  But it was a near thing.

You see, I wasn't upset about anything; I was thinking, and I was wearing my thinking face, which is a serious damn face.  I was trying to remember which kind of that raspberry tea had tasted icky and which kind produced the best iced tea ever.  All of the boxes are pink and, well, raspberry-colored, so it takes a bit of concentration to avoid the icky.  What it does not take, or even invite, is a damn smile.  I mean, seriously, who stands in front of rows of tea, trying to figure out which one is the icky one with a stupid smile on her face? 

(Please don't comment that you wander around the grocery store smiling up a storm, particularly in the tea aisle; that was a rhetorical question.  Plus, you sound a little creepy.)

And, you know, he's not the first gentleman to hit me with the "Smile!" command this week.  As you know from a previous post, I spent a long time in purgatory (aka the Newark Airport) Sunday, and, frankly, smelling like blueberry-flavored vomit with shoes dunked in pee does not provoke grins.  Yet, there he was, another person who thought he could turn around my whole damn day by telling me that "Things aren't so bad!  Smile!  Can't you smile?  Oh, go ahead and try, try!  Just relax and smile."

Listen, dude, I wasn't in the mood to smile.  When I'm pleased or enjoying myself or even meeting someone, sure, I give out the grins.  Hell, sometimes I giggle.  But you don't have the right to force me to smile if I don't want to, and the more you try to jolly me along, the more I want smack you sideways, so please stop it.

Moreover (because clearly I'm ranting now), what if you pull that crap on someone who's had a worse day than mine?  What if that someone has just lost a loved one or been diagnosed with a serious illness or had a giant poplar tree fall on her house?  Do you know how damned annoying and infuriating it would be to be told to stop feeling whatever such a person was feeling to smile?

I realize that I'm a lucky person.  I have a job I love and friends and family who love me and a house to live in and food, etc, etc...and on most days I will indeed greet all and sundry with cheeriness.  But going around telling strangers to smile does not make the world a better place; it makes you irritating at best and occasionally obnoxious, so please, People Who Command Other People to Smile:  cut it the hell out.

Thank you.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Brief Conversation with Mom: Watching the Diving

Mom:  "Darn.  I was hoping that they could beat that team."

Me:  "Well, that dive was just a little off."

Mom:  "I know it.  I was just hoping.  Still, they got the bronze."

[five minute pause]

Me:  "You know, he's got a really nice package."

Mom:  "I was just thinking that."

Messages from the Newark Airport

Hello, beloved readers.  I've missed you all so very desperately.  I spent the last week at a wonderful seminar on Ancient Greek drama in Washington, D.C., and I had to spend all of my leisure time downloading information from my brain into an external hard drive to prevent a complete meltdown of my cognitive functions.

And then I had to fly home.  Through Newark.  As most of you who follow me on facebook already know, it did not go well.  For your amusement, I have compiled the texts and facebook entries I sent out yesterday into a more or less coherent narrative.  Enjoy.

2:20 pm: "Two for two on delayed flights. And why is Newark airport so damn loud?"

2:35 pm: “Ugh.  A two-year old just vomited half-digested blueberries all over me in the Newark Airport!  Had to throw away shirt.”

2:45 pm: "Parents offered (to buy me a new shirt), but everything is too ugly. Flight delayed another half hour. Please send TARDIS!"

3:07 pm: “Sitting on the floor with a 2-hour delay, wearing spare shirt, smelling like vomit.  Flashback to undergrad frat party.

3:15 pm: "Saw large blue box in the distance...only Jet Blue kioske. Not TARDIS. Devastated. Flight delayed a third time."

3: 28 pm: "Hating smug Moncton passengers with their on-time departure. Also, I have never heard of Moncton. Am I at the interstellar concourse?!"

3:44 pm: "Flipflops are even uglier in airports. Should be banned for passengers over 3 years old. Stank feet everywhere."

4:03 pm: “Kitty in carrier just vomited and missed my shoes by inches!  Too much vomit in this airport!  Plague?”

4:46 pm: [Text sent to my friend, Carol] “If I die of old age in this airport, you may have my metal chicken.”

4:50 pm:  "See pic?  Also not TARDIS. Too short. Airport just messing with me now."

4:58 pm: "Delay number 4. Expecting Godot to show up any time now. And vomit."

5:11 pm: “Slid through a puddle of pee in the restroom, but managed not to fall down.  Yeh?”

5:20 pm: "Children whirling around in my new home, gate 20, Newark Airport.  Expecting vomit any minute now."  [Note:  although they bumped into people and fell over, these children did not vomit.]

5:26 pm: "I see... A plane. Is it for me? Will it take me home?! It could be....!"

9:oo pm, 7 hours after anticipated arrival: "Hot shower, red wine, and a warm kitty. Home at last."

Friday, July 20, 2012

When "No thank you, please go away now" Doesn't Work

You know how sometimes an organization gets you on a phone list, determined to convince you to donate, no matter how many times you tell them "no"?  Well, Mom is on such a list.  Fortunately for her, she can now see who's calling her because a cool notice appears on the tv set with the number and person calling.  If she doesn't recognize the number, she just doesn't answer (which, by the way, is why she never answers my sister if she's calling from her cell phone...oops!).

Unfortunately for the organization involved, I pick up the phone quite regularly.

And phones can be fun.

Persistent Caller:  "Hello, may I speak to Mrs. Grinnell?"

Me:  "She's unavailable right now.  May I take a message?"

P.C.: "Is the gentleman of the family at home?"

Me:  "No, we're totally girl-on-girl in this family.  Except for the cat.  But the doctor cut off his testicles, so we let him stay.  How may I help you?"

P.C. "Um, well, I'm calling on behalf of Totally Bogus Charity; Mrs. Grinnell makes a regular donation."

Me: "Does she?  How nice.  But should you be telling me that?  I mean, doesn't that violate some rule or law or oath or something?"

P.C.:  "Ma'am, we'd just like to confirm that your household..."

Me:  "Yes, we live in a household.  It's quite nice.  I'll tell Mrs. Grinnell you called.  Buh-bye!"

<two days later>

P.C.:  "Hello, may I speak to Carolyn Grinnell?"

Me:  "No.  She's being punished."

P.C.:  "Excuse me?"

Me: "She's being punished.  She's not allowed to talk to any more strange men, even on the phone.  We're tired of bailing her out of jail.  Do you know how embarrassing it is to bail a senior citizen out of jail for moral turpitude?  You'll have to call back next month.  Buh-bye!"

<the very next day>

P.C.:  "Hello!  Mrs. Grinnell?"

Me:  "No.  Oh God.  What's she done now?"

P.C.:  "She's been a generous contributor to Totally Bogus Charity, and we're calling about her annual donation!"

Me: "Are you the guy with the alpaca?  I'm sorry, but we're not taking it, no matter what she told you?"

P.C.:  "Could I speak to Mrs. Grinnell, Ma'am?"

Me:  "No!  No more wildlife!  Just go away.  I'm still trying to figure out what to do with the giraffe.  Good day!"


P.C.:  "Hello!  May I speak with Mrs. Grinnell, please?"

Me: "I'm afraid there's been a rash of burglaries in our neighborhood."

P.C.:  "I'm sorry to hear that, Ma'am.  Did you lose a great deal?"

Me:  "Oh no, they didn't hit us.  But she's found that damn cape, and she's off into the night with the power ring and thermos of hot tea, but she left the damn cell phone behind again, and who's going to wash the blood off of her boots this time, I ask you?  Me, that's who.  It's always me, and I thought having an old woman come live with me would be relaxing.  Quiz shows and the weather channel, right?  Wrong!  I blame it on those radio serials, Flash Gordon and the Shadow; that whole generation is completely warped.  You have a nice day, now.  I have an entire load of tights to wash before morning."

Okay, so I wrote that one out before he called and left it by the phone just in case.  Is that cheating?

Real Conversation with Mom: Alphas

Mom:  What are you watching?

Me:  Alphas.

Mom:  Is this a trekkie thing?

Me:  No.  They track down dangerous criminals and troubled individuals.  Spock does not appear.

Mom:  Okay, that doesn't sound too bad.  [pause]  What are those lights?

Me:  That character can see and manipulate wireless signals.  He's tracing a cell phone call.

Mom:  I do not see the computer.  Don't they do that on computers?

Me:  He's an alpha.  He doesn't need a computer.

Mom:  Batman uses a computer to do that.

Me:  Batman does not appear in this show.

Mom:  I do not think this guy could be smarter than Batman.  Wait, does that woman have a bionic eye?

Me:  No, she is an alpha and can extend her senses.

Mom:  This is a trekkie thing!  These people are not normal!

Me:  No, they are alphas.  They have extra abilities.  And I can't hear what's going on when you shout.

Mom:  You said this wasn't a trekkie thing!  Do you know that Angel is on?  And the witches?!  Why am I watching this trekkie thing?

Me:  The new season starts on Monday, and I want to catch up.  And this is not Star Trek.

Mom:  No more lies!  You lie to your mother!  This is trekkie stuff!  No, shut up right now!  You know I meant any of that trekkie stuff...is this that sci fi channel?  It is, isn't it?

Me:  Now, Mom...

Mom:  There is no sci fi channel before noon in this house!  My Angel is on, and you are watching this trekkie..look, look at what that one did!  This is sci fi, and you lied to me.

Me: But..

Mom:  None of these men are good lookin' and this show is named for a breakfast cereal.  Change the channel or I will slap the sh!t out of you.

Me:  But..

Mom:  Shut up, give me the clicker, and go to your room.  Breakfast cereal trekkie stuff.  Something is wrong with you.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Next Year's Questions For New Students

I spent this evening at the second of two dessert receptions for incoming first-year students at Wofford.  Only a few faculty members attend these events, given the exciting alternatives (European vacations, time with family, frantically searching the internet for new Hobbit trailers, etc), but I always show up.  After all, we're talking about free dessert here.

The problem with the reception, however, is that it's hard to think of something interesting to ask the students and their parents.  Most of the faculty and staff wander around asking the following:
  • Where are you from?
  • What do you think you'd like to major in?
  • How's your summer going?
  • Why did you choose Wofford?
  • Any questions?
And the poor students end up answering the first four questions over and over again, which has to be kind of uncomfortable.  So as I soothe my throat with some kind of terrible hot tea (never brew tea when you can no longer tell what flavor it was ten years ago when you bought it), it occurs to me that the whole thing would be more fun if I asked more interesting questions, questions designed to make the evening...memorable.

Questions I'm Going to Ask at Next Summer's Dessert Receptions
  1. On a scale of 1-10 how much cuter are my shoes than the ones the dean is wearing?
  2. So, what are you thinking of getting pierced after your parents drop you off this fall?
  3. If calculus were a reality show star, would it be a Real Housewife or a member of the Jersey Shore cast?  Take a sip of water while you think of an answer.
  4. How's your Middle English accent?
  5. Hey, who wants to have a flash mob during opening convocation?  The college president will be totally into it.
  6. Remember when you were thirteen and told your parents that you'd hate them forever?  How much do you think that's going to cost you when you phone home to ask for money?
  7. How do you feel about the new campus-wide cell phone ban?  Be honest.
  8. If the Geico gecko died, would it be fair to hire a new gecko?  Or should they just bring in a pot bellied pig?
  9. What would you do if you came home for Christmas break and found a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey in your mother's nightstand? 
  10. Any interest in becoming my minion?  You get your own mask.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Sonnet on the Killing of the Bamboo

Sonnet 546,613, or A Sonnet on the Killing of the Bamboo

Shall I weed whack thee on a summer's day?
Spring is more comfy and more temperate.
Hot sun doth singe the bare skin on June days,
And yet thy stalks leap on such a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often rose thorns bite the gentle skinned
While thy stalks march on and on in brutal lines,
By scythe or bypass pruner’s blades untrimm'd.
Oh thy deep buried rhizomes shall not die,
Nor lose possession of that plot thou ow'st!
Nor may I brag I killed thee by and by,
When in relentless lines toward house thou grow'st.
So long as I can breathe and make my plea,
So long I fight and fight to death with thee!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Bored Spike is a Vengeful Spike

So last night, gentle readers, I was up fairly late trying to work on an article I'm writing.  It was finally cool enough to think straight, and I had just settled in to some serious cogitating, when I was interrupted by the most pathetic series of meows I've heard in a long while.

It was, of course, Spike.

Now this is not new behavior for him.  Ever since the little dude came to live with us, he has exhibited emotionally needy behavior.  If neither Leia nor one of his humans is available to play with and he wants to play, he just stands in the middle of an empty room and cries.  He can keep it up for a solid hour; I've timed him.

According to a bunch of books on cat behavior, you're supposed to ignore your feline companion when it behaves this way, because "giving in" will just encourage him.  Right.  The problem with that approach is that he is loud, really loud, and his meows have a hierarchy of patheticness that runs as follows:

Level One: I'm down here; pet me right now.
Level Two:  Are you ignoring me?
Level Three:  You are ignoring me!
Level Four:  Oh my God, how can you ignore me when I'm this cute?!
Level Five:  How can you make me suffer like this?!  I am seriously suffering here!
Level Six: I don't understand what I did to make you hate me.  Am I such a terrible kitty that you have decided never to pet me again?
Level Seven:  There is nobody petting me!  Nobody!  I think you are all dead inside.

Before you think I'm just horribly cruel and don't deserve a sweet thing like Spike, let me note that I'm willing to pet the boy.  If I call him, he'll jump up on the chair, and I'll start petting.  Problem solved, right?  Wrong.

You see, what he really wants is to play, to run and fight and go nuts.  Which is fine if it's not 2am and I'm in the middle of a paragraph.  If I fail to go from petting to playing, however, he jumps down, marches out to the dining room and starts crying again, at ever escalating volume.

I usually cave around Level 4.  Last night, though, I was really getting some work done, so I tried to ignore him, only flinging the occasional "Cut it out right now!  There's nothing wrong with you!" in his general direction.  Clearly, this was a mistake.  When I got up this morning, I found the following:
  1. Half a box of kleenex shredded and strewn about the dining room.
  2. Two lamps knocked over.
  3. The bottom kitchen drawer pulled out and zip lock bags scattered all over the kitchen.
  4. The laundry basket with the clean laundry turned over.
  5. Cat vomit in my shoes.  
Really, Spike, don't you think that's a bit excessive? A bit?

Spike, Really Pissed Off at the World.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sonnet Against the Kudzu

As I have mentioned previously, I own a piece of land with every possible invasive species in this area, most notably, kudzu, bamboo, poison ivy, and English ivy.  Since I have moved to this part of the country, I have discovered two things about kudzu:  1. it is evil and 2. every single southern poet alive feels the need to include at least a mention of it in his or her poetry, usually as a metaphor.  I am not really a poet, so frak the metaphors.  Here's an angry rant.  In verse (and with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning):

Sonnet Against the Kudzu

How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.
I hate thee to the depth and breadth and height
Your vines can reach, when growing overnight,
For the ends run twisting through every space.
I hate thee to the level of every day's
Relentless crawl up trees where thee I chase.
I hate thee loudly, as I shout and fight.
I hate thee purely, with a poisoned haze.
I hate thee with the shovel put to use
On your old roots, a sharp-edged dance of death.
I hate thee with a hate I’ll never use
On mere ivy. I hate thee with the breath,
Scowls, tears, of this long war; and, if God choose,
I shall but hate thee better after death.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My Eye Doctor Works for Mordor

Greetings, dear readers!  And Happy Independence Day for those of you of the American persuasion or, according to my cats, Happy Making-Shockingly-Loud-Explosions-for-No-Damn-Reason-and-This-Is-Why-We-Eat-You-When-You-Die Day.

Poor kitties.

A couple of days ago, I went for my sort-of-annual eye exam.  It's sort-of-annual because I have a phobia about doctors.  Its symptoms are:  forgetting who my doctor is, forgetting his or her phone number, forgetting when my last exam was, losing the little cards telling me I need an exam, paralysis of the fingers when trying to dial doctor's office, loss of voice if someone answers at doctor's office, rapid heartbeat and terror.  Also, sometimes thinking about making an appointment makes me have to pee.

Eye exams, though, are the least invasive medical appointment, so I generally get there close to annually.  Okay, I lie.  I only get there close to annually because I am blind without my contact lenses, and the prescription expires after a year, so I can't order more until I go to a damn appointment.  Also, I keep rolling over and mutilating my glasses.

I actually like my eye doctor.  In fact, right now, I like most of my doctors, which is not at all normal for me.  But the fact that I like him doesn't mean I like going to the exam.  Let me explain.

First, I have to decide whether or not I'm going to let them dilate my eyes.  If I say yes, then I have to have someone else drive me home, and if I say no, then I have to face the Look of Disappointment from the doctor's assistant.  She has a very intimidating Look, so if I don't have someone to drive me home from the appointment, I have to practice what I'm going to say if I have to refuse the dilation.  Rehearsing for doctor's appointments is not, apparently, something that other people do.  Normal people, I mean.

Then there are the machines.  When I was little, I remember a bright light and lots of "Number one or number two" questions, but I don't remember any of the machines except that annoying puff of air one.  That one I've sort of gotten used to, but really I always worry that the air is contaminated or the machine will gain sentience and be offended at my shirt and spit right into my eye.  Which would be bad.

The new machines, though, they are just weird.  What's with the little house at the end of the road?  I have no idea why I'm looking at that house or why they keep making it blurry.  And I keep wondering if the house is the same house each time, or whether they have different houses for different people.  Also, does it have to be a house?  Couldn't it be, like, a castle with a moat or something?  That house looks very lonely sitting there on the artificially bright horizon without even a car or a dog near it, let alone any other houses.  Also, it looks like the little road goes right up to its front door and stops.  WTF?  Does that mean that the little cars drive right into the living room?  Can they turn around anywhere?

This time I asked my eye doctor where the little cars turn around or whether they hit the house, and he asked me if I actually saw little cars during the exam, and I told him that no, I didn't, but that wasn't the point.  There could be little cars, and they're going to ram straight into that brightly colored farmhouse.

He gave me that half-laugh that you use when you're not sure if someone is serious or not, but are afraid to ask.  Then he asked me if I'd listed all of the medications I'm currently taking.

The worst part of the eye exam is the dilation part.  First, the assistant comes in and puts drops in your eyes, and when you squeeze them shut because the drops feel icky, she tells you "don't squeeze," then puts more drops in, and then puts more drops in.  During the eye-drop torture, I try to make conversation to make myself more comfortable and less likely to bolt out of the room.  This time, I asked, "What's in these drops anyway?  And how do these chemicals make my eyes dilate?"

You see what I was doing here, right?  I was expressing an interest in someone's work.  This is a good thing.  You're supposed to ask people about themselves and their interests rather than just babbling about yourself and how you're on Season 4 of Dr. Who, but you don't know whether to start Torchwood now or wait until you catch up on all of the Dr. Who episodes because you might lose momentum.  Many, many people have told me to ask about other people's lives instead, so I try, now and again, to follow their advice.

Because I'm trying to improve my pathetic social skills, if you must know.

Anyway, she steps back in shock (letting the drops run down my face) and says, "Honey, I can't even pronounce the name of this stuff.  I have no idea how it works."

And then I was hit with a sudden wave of nausea because who wants to be treated by someone who doesn't know what they're putting in your body or why?!  But the drops were in, so it was too late, and I had to stumble out to the waiting area and hang around waiting for my eyes to dilate and hope that I hadn't just been poisoned or permanently blinded or something.

It was not a pleasant wait.  I tried asking the person next to me if he knew what was in the drops, but apparently the on-coming dilation and my terrified tremors made me a frightening spectacle because he just edged away from me and murmured something about sunglasses.

Finally, my vision began to blur and brighten, so that it seemed like I was under water, and I was called back in for the worst part of the exam:

The Eye of Sauron.

I didn't used to think of it like that, but then they made The Lord of the Rings into films, and Eye became this scary vertical slit that is exactly like the light they shine into your eyes when they have been dilated.  My doctor moves it back and forth and makes me look left and right and up and down, and I start to worry that left and right have switched sides and I'll get it wrong and fail the exam, and then the Eye will sense my weakness and take control.  I tried to make a joke about the Eye of Sauron, but my doctor pretended not to know what I was talking about, and I was afraid to ask about the dilation chemicals in case he admitted to not knowing how they worked either at which point I would have shrieked and run straight into the wall and knocked myself unconscious.  Which would also have been bad.

Finally, he was done tormenting me, so that I could stumble out into the blurry light with spots in front of my eyes.

At which point, of course, they gave me the bill.