Friday, November 26, 2004

The slippery slope of embarrassment

From the folks at diarist:

What's the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you? You know... the story your "friends" just love to tell at parties to make your face turn red. A case of mistaken identity? A slip of the tongue? A public display of insanity? Set the scene and tell the tale the way everyone except you loves to hear it told.

What I discovered is, I am either sadly lacking in quality stories of embarrassment or I have so deeply repressed them that it is as if they never happened. I read Stephan the prompt.

"What about the time you got fired from the ice cream place?" he asked.

Yeah, but I love that story. Not embarrassed.

"OK. What about those speeches you had to make in junior high? You were embarrassed by those."

Well, yeah. Except it was just me being really bad at it, but it wasn't funny. It's not a story anyone asks to hear. How boring is my life? C'mon, now! We've known each other since we were 17! I did spring break in Daytona, I've had bad relationships, bad jobs, bad haircuts - where are my stories?

"What about that time on the ice?"

Paydirt! Knew I was right to marry that man.

I went to college at Cornell University, a beautiful school of deep gorges and steep hills that for nine months of the year is hidden under several feet of ice and snow. For reasons that no longer make sense to me, I refused to buy snow boots my freshman year. I had gotten by for years without them, so why start now? Each morning, my very long walk to class started by crossing a footbridge that led from my dorm to a corner of the Engineering Quad. It was my favorite part of the walk because of the little waterfall cascading down the far side of the gorge. In the warm weeks it sparkled; in the long cold months, it was frozen. At just the right time of morning, it captured a rainbow perfectly inside it and to this day I have rarely found any better motivation to get myself up and moving.

One bright morning the weather seemed innocent enough, but was in fact about to make the students hurrying to class pay for its shenanigans the night before. Like the Eskimos with snow, people who live in upstate New York have many words for weather. Weather discussions often open with, "What's it doing outside?" which lets any unwary downstater know that there is a shared understanding that it will be doing *something* outside. Rain, sleet, snow, freezing rain, slush, hail, powder. Something is forever falling from the sky or sitting on the ground. The bright morning in question had followed a night of alternating rain and freezing rain, which eventually turned to snow. All night long the ground had been coated in layer after layer of water, freezing and thawing, freezing and thawing, until everything turned into one continuous sheet of ice which was then disguised under a thin coating of pristine fluffy snow.

I had my morning routine down to a science, rolling out of bed and out the door in 20 minutes. "What's it doing outside?" I asked my roommate.

"Not much," she said, peering out our tiny window. "Sunny, snow on the ground."

With my thick wool peacoat, soft plaid scarf, leather gloves, I was ready for the cold. The snow was fresh and crunched lightly under my sneakers as I made my morning pilgrimmage to the frozen waterfall. I took two steps onto the bridge before I realized that something was terribly wrong. I stopped, but the scenery kept moving as my whole body slid to the left. The wind always blowing along the gorge had pushed the water as it froze so by this point it was sloped a good twenty degrees. As I arrived at the edge of the bridge, I grabbed the railing, which was also frozen under a solid sheet of ice so that I had to wrap my arms around it like a long lost friend. Students trudged past me in their snow boots, their eyes downcast and their pace slowed. I watched the measured steps they took, the way they out their feet down flat instead of rolling heel-to-toe. Lesson learned, I regained my balance, released my friend the railing, and tried to take a step. My right foot flew out behind me in a move Bob Fosse would envy as my arms windmilled in the time honored tradition of falling on one's ass as gracelessly as possible. I crawled to the railing and hauled my cold, partially wet self back to a standing, rail hugging position. People steamed by me, neither seeing nor caring. Clearly I was going to die there.

Think! I urged myself. This is the way the dinosaurs died, my mind mocked me. I had visions of my skeleton being unearthed generations in the future, still clutching that railing. Just then, a large sure-footed man and small sure-footed woman turned onto the bridge. They walked close together, talking and laughing, stryfoam cups steaming in their hands. Without allowing myself to think about it, I reached out and grabbed a handful of backpack with each hand. As far as half-baked plans go, this went surprisingly well. My grip-of-death, normally reserved for boyfriends' arms during scary movie scenes, distributed the drag factor of my useless weight between my two unwitting human zambonis and I skated happily along the rest of the bridge. When the bridge ended, I thought, why let go now? The entire world was one big skating rink, my sneakers may as well have been greased glass, and I had a long way to go. With a puzzled expression, the sure-footed woman turned to smile at the student who seemed to be walking awfully close behind her. As her eyes flicked down to my hand, my guilt instantly let go of the fistful of her backpack.

For one perfect moment all was silent and still.

Then physics roared back to life, kicking my legs out from under me with enough force that I yanked yank the man's packpack hard enough to spin him around. Sure-footed enough not to land on top of me, he could only watch as I fell, pulling his backpack off and landing on the ground like an entry in a clumsiest thief contest. In the end, it was fortunate that the earth was too frozen to heed my pleas to open and swallow me up. The sure-footed couple hauled me to my feet and walk-dragged me to my first class. They even had the grace to make me feel as though they were laughing with me, even while they also laughed at me. Not an icy morning has gone by since that I don't smile and think of them while putting on my snow boots.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Paging Ms. Bardot... Ms. Bardot to the courtesy phone, please...

Yep, I love a good silly quiz.

You're Brigitte Bardot!

What Classic Pin-Up Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Hmmph. Well, if an online quiz says I am Brigitte Bardot, then... it must be a brilliantly insightful quiz! By all means take this quiz at once. I'd help you, but there is a lot of pouting and making boys cry to be done around here.

It's all about image

I lived for a year in a part of the country now known as "The O.C." The experience was mixed - awesome roommates, good beaches, the heavenly scent of orange groves in bloom. Some of my students were cool too, but most grew up locally and seemed terribly plastic to me. They went with the place though, where sprinklers watered the pavement every night and strip malls made of staples & balsa wood grew while we slept. Coming from four years of school in the snow belt of upstate NY, all I wanted was palm trees and beach. I got that, and more - a planned community that had not been completely built, where roads on the map did not necessarily exist and every corner had exactly five palm trees. Much about the place felt contrived and fake, and it was the only place I ever lived where I could not write.

All this is to say I live in my head, probably more than I should. What about the "exterior" me? Two requests for me to add a pic to my profile had me wondering... what picture do I have? Do I want a picture of me *out there*? What would a picture tell you that my writing wouldn't?

And so, a compromise. Here we are, as interpreted by South Park:

South Park Lilly Posted by Hello

South Park Stephan Posted by Hello
How good are you at judging appearances? Here are two fun quizzes to test your abilities (*note: not work safe!).
Post & let me know how you did!*
[*If you lived in "The O.C." apply a -3 handicap to your score due to all the real world practice you had spotting Eurotrash/American Gay Guys/Fake Boobs.]

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Help a fellow blogger - vital bath towel poll

Tonight's post has musical accompaniment while you contemplate your role in the advancement of knowledge.

Baby I got the love Baby I got the power Come on, girl and rock my world And my funky towel...

Fellow blogger ccjellybeans has asked for our help. As we all plunge into the deep end of the holiday pool, she found herself at a recent family gathering when a conversation that was minding its own business suddenly took an alarming turn. A random comment became fodder for conversation, then argument, then heated debate. She needs our input, needs scientific research in order to craft a way out of the endless loop of "No, my way!" "No!! My way!!" that is threatening her family's every gathering.

This research is vital.

See the poll in the right sidebar "Bath Towel Poll."

Thank you for your help in making the world a better place.
What? You want the results of the 80's movie poll that used to be on the right sidebar? Here ya go. The favorite 80's movie of my *vast* readership is:
Damn I love you guys.
Our love is G-d, let's go get a slushie. How very!

The Twirp Effect

There is a part of chaos theory that says a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world can result in a tornado on the other side. The way many things seem to be going in the world right now, I feel compelled to remind the world that a tornado is not supposed to result every single time. If every flappin' butterfly resulted in a tornado... well, that's much close to chaos than I personally like my chaos theory.

This popped up on the news here in Seattle (full article):

Tuesday, November 16, 2004 · Last updated 4:57 p.m. PT
Texas schools scrap 'cross-dressing' day

A homecoming tradition in which boys dress like girls and vice versa in a tiny Texas school district won't be held Wednesday after a parent complained about what she regarded as the event's homosexual overtones.

As a substitute for "TWIRP Day," the schools ranging from elementary to senior high decided to hold "Camo Day" - with black boots and Army camouflage to be worn by everyone who wants to participate.

TWIRP, which stands for "The Woman Is Requested to Pay," was hosted by Spurger schools for years during Homecoming Week - to give boys and girls a chance to reverse social roles and let older girls invite boys on dates, open doors and pay for sodas.

Plano-based Liberty Legal Institute issued a news release Tuesday reporting that it "came to the aid of a concerned parent" over an "official cross-dressing day" in the school district 150 miles northeast of Houston.

"It is outrageous that a school in a small town in east Texas would encourage their 4-year-olds to be cross-dressers," Liberty Legal Institute attorney Hiram Sasser said in the release
Tanner T. Hunt Jr., the school district's attorney, called Sasser's statement "inflammatory and misleading." He said the district never planned or conducted a "cross-dressing day."

"They are a tiny little East Texas school district," Hunt said. "It never occurred to them that anyone could find anything morally reprehensible about TWIRP Day. I mean, they've been having it for years, probably for generations, and it's the first time anybody has complained."
Delana Davies, 33, said she complained after reading a school notice about "TWIRP Day." Davies, whose 9-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter attend Spurger Elementary, said she viewed the day not as a silly Homecoming Week activity, but rather something related to homosexuality.

"It's like experimenting with drugs," Davies said. "You just keep playing with it and it becomes customary. ... If it's OK to dress like a girl today, then why is it not OK in the future?"

So very many things wrong with this, it's hard to know where to start.

#1: Cross-dressing does not equal homosexuality. In fact, if memory from psych classes serves, most cross-dressers are straight.

#1, subsection a: Cross-dressing as part of an overall costumed occasion is not really cross-dressing. Real cross-dressing is when little Billy goes through Mom's laundry basket and tries on her bra. Not-real cross-dressing includes such things as Halloween, some kinds of rock concerts, raves, Burning Man. The difference? Appearance vs. identity.

#2: A school tradition-type holiday, where kids dress up because it is fun & silly is not at all like "experimenting with drugs." OK, Lady, on "Earth," where the rest of us live, these two things are as different as a teddy bear and a loaded shotgun.

#3: One parent - no, let's make that one parent who bathed in a rainbarrel of crazy - complains in a completely misguided and irrrational way about a school tradition and the school responds by killing the tradition. Nevermind that the tradition has apparently been around awhile. I mean, reversing social roles by having the girls open doors presumes that normally the boys are opening doors for the girls. Oh, how quaint those days of yore! Clearly this tradition didn't start just 10 or 20 or probably 30 years ago. Then you add, "it's the first time anybody has complained." ONE complaint, chock full o' nutty goodness, in generations of this school tradition and - wham! - bye bye tradition. Way to go, school. Life lesson: hear squeaky twirp, cave in.

#4: Just in case this point was lost in the rest of this ridiculous story, the role-swap theme of TWIRP day has been replaced by army camouflage and black boots. Er..., ex-squeeze me? OK, people, pay attention here, this is the education system trying to learn ya somethin'
Cross-dressing baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.
Violence goooooooooooooooooooooooood.

Class dismissed.

Another Tricky Day

I have been berated - twice, now - for not updating the blog with more details of what's going on in my life. I suppose I just feel that mainly that's not stuff that would interest anyone, but rather than risk a third berating, I will give it a shot.

Excerpt from today:

S likes him some seriously cheesy movies. Got a low budget, badly conceived scifi epic? A derivative slasher flick with pretentiously artsy camera work and stilted dialogue? We are so there. He is looking forward a bit too eagerly to the Thanksgiving Sci Fi Channel creature feature marathon- Boa, Centipede, Skeeter. (What? No giant turkeys??)

Earlier today he was typing away on his laptop, a mindless film flickering in the background, like a modern replacement for the fireplace, warming the room with noise and light. After some time had passed I asked him, "Is this the cheesy snowman-is-alive movie or the horror snowman movie?"
"The sappy one."
"Yeah. I thought it was the horror one. That's why it's been on so long."

Heheheh! I love that man!

I am in Week Two of the bad cold. I will say that at least this year I did not have it while visiting family back east, which last year caused much patheticness in front of my awesome in-laws and also had me flying while I still had it. Yech. This year's cold was not of the subtle sneak-up-on-ya type. No. This was a steamroller driven by the Mad Bomber What Bombs At Midnight (a la The Tick), who ran over me, cackling, then backed up and ran over me again. Week One I was begging S to "Run, save yourself." Fortunately I had no voice so he could not understand me. Weel Two has evolved from the brutal to the merely annoying, so I am trying to catch up on everything I let slide last week.

One of the things I did not let slide was my timetable for getting off my last med, effexor. Even though I have heard of women who have pregnancies while on it, I wanted to clean all the chemicals out of my system beforehand. Too many unknowns. Effexor has been great, the best drug by far for my panic disorder and chronic pain. It is, however, one serious bitch to get out of my system. A little internet search turned up many other people's stories about effexor and the withdrawl can be anywhere from easy to nasty. I guess mine is somewhere in the middle, in part because I've been easing off it, and in part because I was run over by one steamroller anyway, I figured I would lay down on the asphalt for another. Bring it on!

Now here is where life got tricky. S & I have an agreement. A pact, if you will. We are not both allowed to be incapacitated at the same time. Of course, we blew it. S was dealing with his own stuff the last few weeks, and I will leave the details for him to share, but a fair summary can be shown by the following Real Life MomentTM. The grocery situation was becoming urgent, so we decided to brave a trip out to the store. Just a few key things, then back to the house. As we walk through the market, we come to realize that S can not walk quickly, so our errand is going to take longer than we thought. We further realize that my cold has stolen my voice and stuffed my ears so much that I am nearly deaf, so the usual fast decisions such as, "The chicken soup with the curly noodles or the straight?" are going to take longer than we thought. My trains of thought are derailing left & right with the effexor withdrawl. We are slow, loud, confused, and deaf. We have aged 50 years.

On the lighter side, since I have been sick, S has taken over the care & feeding of the guinea pigs. Max & Ashleigh have been very interested in this change in the routine, and they watched him very carefully as he did everything. I saw their faces when they figured out that Monkey-Dad also knows where the Great G-d Refridgerator is and how to get yummy green things out of it. If they had eyebrows, their eyebrows would have shot up, mini lightbulbs clicking on over their heads. S does not yet realize that his life has changed.

More soon. In the meantime, just be glad I'm not breathing on you ;)

Friday, November 19, 2004

Quest for the Cache

"Good Lord, I believe I have found the Chamber of the Sun!" cried Lady Rosemont. "Quick, help me! There must be a hidden entrance in this wall... somewhere..." For the first time in months, she cursed her calloused fingers. Having long since lost the softness her fingers had always enjoyed back in England, she willed herself to feel every detail no matter how small along the smooth stone.

"Milady, I beg of you to leave it be," Akbar said, the smoky light from his torch flickering over his worried expression. "The risks, they are too great. The ancient ones told of a terrible curse that would befall any who dare to disturb the treasure."

"The ancient ones are long gone, Akbar, and we have come too far. This treasure shall be mine. All mine!"

Now, imagine this scene taking place earlier tonight. Make the following changes and you will get a pretty good idea of how it went:

Change 19th Century Egypt to 21st Century American Northwest
Change the British accents to New York
Change Chamber of the Sun to a small tupperware lock box, cleverly disguised with faux greenery and hidden in a local park
Change far to a couple of blocks away
Change flickering torch to brand new GPS
Change ancient ones to geocacher
Change terrible curse to logbook to sign

Of course, the treasure was real and so was the quest. In our first foray into geocaching, we had to solve several puzzles in order to locate the treasure box. When we found it, we signed the log, took something from the treasure box (a small figure of The Brain from Pinky & The Brain) and added something to the collection of treasure for the next person.

Adventure! Treasure! Ancient curses! I am soooooo hooked.

Great Leaping Dolphins

One of my good friends who also worked in disability advocacy and support groups had a goal to swim with the dolphins before she passed away. She did it, as she did just about everything she set her mind to do. She felt dolphins have healing powers, not in a mystical way, but more in an empathetic way.

With that in mind, this popped up in today's news:

Disabled dolphin jumping again with world's first artificial fin

TOKYO (AFP) - Fuji, a mother dolphin that lost 75 percent of her tail due to a mysterious disease, is jumping once again with the help of what is believed to be the world's first artificial fin.

The 34-year-old dolphin held at Japan's largest aquarium in the southern island of Okinawa wears the rubber fin for about 20 minutes a day allowing her to jump and to swim at the same speed of other dolphins.

"We are very grateful. Although she can swim without the artificial fin, the speed is very slow and she certainly cannot jump without it," said Masaya Kowami, a breeder at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.

"Visitors have told us she looks happy," he said.

Fantastic, Fuji. Leap once for Glenna for me.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The metaphors were funny, like his mate Phil

I came in 2nd at Blogging for Books #5! Oh yeah. Who's your Writer, baby. Who's your Writer!
Congrats to Kris for her winning entry!

Since it is a whole month before the next Blogging for Books, here is a bit to tide over your literary hunger from J.K. Jager:

Some Metaphors Written By Students

My favorite:
Ooh... I can't pick, so it's a tie:

10. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left York at 6:36 p.m. travelling at 55 mph, the other from Peterborough at 4:19p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.


17. The plan was simple, like my mate Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

Stephan's favorite:

32. It hurt, the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

(click on the title to read them all)

The Inner Me

Since everyone knows online quizzes are so accurate that soon traditional therapy will be a thing of the past, I dashed over to QuickKwiz for a hint of insight before bedtime. Which Random Image Are You? Which indeed! I typed in my honest info and got this:

Posted by Hello

Woah. They so know me.

OK, off to the rave... erm... I mean *bed*

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Famous Pigs

Because the world can not deny a pretty face, Max & Ashleigh, a.k.a The Wonder Pigs, have gotten their fuzzy faces a bit of fame at The Best Little Rabbit Rodent & Ferret House.

That's them in the middle, surveying their new digs from the safety of their newspaper tunnel, on day one home from the small animal rescue shelter.

Actually, Max is my only successful online love story. I fell in love with the photo of him posted by the other fantastic local guinea pig rescue, Cavy Companions, and meeting Max in person was just perfect. None of those letdowns you hear so much about in online love affairs, our love was mutual. The only thing left was to find a roommate for Max, which should be easy as guinea pigs are very social and most pairings, especially male-female pairings are A-OK with them (and yes, both are fixed, I just can't see creating piggie babies when so many fuzzy faces give me that takemehome look at the rescue).

The folks at the BLRRFH know their stuff. They have a neutral play pen all set up for the testing of possible cage-mates, to see how they get along. Makes me wish my college had done that before pairing me with one roommate worse than the last. Max was placed into the pen and we decided to try him with Hope. Hope was a sweet golden speckled girl from the same rescue situation as Max, so I am thinking, well maybe they know each other already. Max spied the cute girl piggie and started his rumble strut.

Purrr...purrr... he rumbled as he walked by her. Look at me, I'm so handsome!

Hope lifted her leg and peed right in his face. The rescue folks explained this indicates she doesn't like him. Really, I did not need a translation on that.

Max got a quick cleaning as I looked over the other little girl piggies and I spied... hold on... a gorgeous little silver agouti! I had a silver agouti once before and she was so smart and so opinionated and so snarky. I wanted to try the little silver girl.

"Oh, well..." the rescue lady said, "She may be unadoptable."

How's that?

It turns out Hope is her Mom, and coming from the bad situation they did (a guy had a bunch in his dark clammy basement, where he was trying to breed them to sell to petstores. They were half starved and all the girls had been pregnant without regard to genetics or age or health.), Hope had only been 3 months old when she got pregnant and she was so small she only had a litter of one, born at the rescuer's house. It seems that not having siblings does bad things to guinea pig psyches. They get all Mom's attention, get spoiled and nasty. Litters of one have trouble getting along with other pigs. But I like animals with attitude, always have. I worried I might have been underestimating the problem though, as the experts were looking dubious. We decided to try the silver girl with Max.

Max bucked himself up for another try. Purrrr... purrr.... look at me, I am one handsome pig!

The silver girl cocked her head and looked at Max.

Purrrrrrrrrrrrrr, he said, nearly nose to nose with her, purrrrrrrrrrrrrr...

Purrrrrrrrrrrr, she answered, and rubbed past him in a move I think of as "Two Pigs Pass in the Night."

The rescue folks couldn't believe it. I adopted them both and they are best friends to this day. Ashleigh tells Max what to do, with much detail and muttering, and he listens carefully. Max, timid from old memories of neglect, is sparked by Ashleigh's brave and curious nature. They explore and construct complex systems of paper tunnels. They drag their food dish into the tunnels when it rains outside. Max purrs like a motorboat. Ashleigh purrs for my husband more than anyone. Max has one rule - I am the Big Pig and I get the Best Spot in the cage. Ashleigh has spent the last three years competitively eating in order to become the Big Pig for this reason. If Max eats, Ashleigh runs over and also eats. If Max is eating a carrot, Ashleigh will also eat a carrot, otherwise she turns her nose up at carrots. It has worked, she weighs 0.3 pounds more than Max now, but apparently being Big Pig is based on more than mere science. In recent months, they have moved from the bedroom to the living room. It took less than 24 hours to figure out that Great God Refridgerator was right over there - woohoo! Or, as they put it, wheek! wheek! wheek!

The moral of the story?

You can't predict love. Or carrots.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Location, location, location

Excerpted from today's news:

"Unbelievable... NEW YORK (Reuters) - A National Guard F-16 fighter plane mistakenly fired off 25 rounds of ammunition at the Little Egg Harbor Intermediate School in South New Jersey on Wednesday night.

The pilot was meant to fire the rounds some 3 1/2 miles away at a military target range, Lt. Col. Roberta Niedt of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs told reporters in the Jersey shore township's police headquarters...

An investigation is being conducted into how the pilot mistook the school, located on Frog Pond Road, for a target range. "

OK, just my opinion, but they may want to start this investigation by discussing *why* a military target range is only 3 and a half miles from a middle school? Case solved. Next!

In other news:

"(excerpt) HELSINKI (Reuters) - A police dog let out into an empty field to answer the call of nature ended up finding an underground drugs stash.

Alerted by their German shepherd, police in a Helsinki suburb late last week found two glass jars wrapped in plastic and containing over half a kg (1.1 pounds) of amphetamines.
"This finding shows that hiding drugs in nature has become common and anyone can stumble upon a cache," said Espoo police inspector Jukka Paasio."

To think, just a few hours earlier, Stephan & I were discussing trying our hand at geocaching. This is a potentially muddy, sloggy, and addictive hobby where you tromp out into the wilds and use a GPS to locate something someone else has left there, like a logbook to sign or a canister with a bottle of wine. You add something of yours (signature, a replacement bottle of wine, etc.) and go on to find the next one. Seems you never know what you might find!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Blogging for Books #5: Choose Your Own Adventure

My entry in this month's Bloging for Books contest held by The Zero Boss:

Blogging for Books #5: Choose Your Own Adventure (Guest Author: Debbie Farmer.)
For this month’s Blogging for Books, choose one of the three "starter sentences" listed below, and use it as the beginning of a blog post totaling no more than 2000 words:
1. Just when I thought my life couldn’t get any crazier…
2. Before I had kids, I thought…
3. I enjoy reading the stories in your magazine each month, but I never thought something like that could happen to me until a few nights ago, when…


Flight of the Tuna Can

Just when I thought my life couldn’t get any crazier, Stephan and I realized that if we had any hope of going back east for the holidays, we had better buy our tickets right away. We make this trip a couple of times a year since we both have a lot of family and friends there, so we have our routine down. We fly on our favorite airline, which has all direct flights, keeps prices down partly by not serving food, and has cable TV instead of a movie. The seats are a bit wider and offer more legroom than most other airlines too, which is crucial for Stephan and gives me just enough space to curl up and get comfortable. I change into my yoga clothes, which I am convinced are actually pajamas in disguise, we break open our own snacks and drinks and settle in. I once watched a marathon of Crocodile Hunter as the entire country zipped by 30,000 feet below us. Smiling, I typed our travel information into the airline’s website.

"But that’s over a thousand dollars!" I squeaked.

Stephan fiddled with the departure and arrival dates, but soon learned anything even vaguely near the holidays was going to cost too much to make the trip.

"Wait," I said, "I have some offers in my email. Maybe we can find something there."

Every direct flight was booked. Most flights with a single stopover were either booked or prohibitively expensive. Train? Car? That takes too long, we decided, we would have to find a flight. Finally, a search using very loose parameters turned up something that, while not wonderful, was at least possible. We grabbed it, plunking down the credit card with the speed that only the holidays can bring.

"OK," Stephan said with one hand across his eyes, "break it to me gently. How many stopovers do we have?"

"Just two," I offered hopefully. "Chicago and Pittsburgh." See there, I thought, that’s not so bad. So we stop here and there, as long as we get where we’re going, does it really matter?

"How long?" he asked.

"How long what?"

"How long are we sitting there for?"

"Umm… four hours in Chicago," I saw Stephan wince and hurried onward, "but less than two hours in Pittsburgh. Aww, honey, it won’t be that bad! We’ll bring crosswords and books, snacks and stuff."

I love the phrases that describe groups of animals – a murder of crows, a crash of rhinos, a charm of finches. The airport two days before Christmas was a crush of people. A seething, jostling, jangled mass of clashing sounds, smells, and bodies. I remembered pieces of lectures in social psychology, how rats living in crowded conditions start to display behaviors not seen under less stressful conditions. Bloody fights. Trampling. Insanity. I clutched Stephan’s hand as he blazed a trail from one long line to the next. I looked into one glazed over face after another, people stripped of their usual barriers of walls and personal space resorting to hastily built inner walls to hold themselves apart from the crowd. At long last, our bags checked and my sneakers x-rayed for the safety of all Americans, we arrived at the terminal. We double-checked – yes, that’s our flight number, yes, that’s going to Chicago, no, that’s not our flight time.

"It’s been delayed," chirped the airline hostess with a toothy smile. She was vague, purposely vague I thought, about the length of the delay. After a few rounds of nearing the new flight time only to have them delay it further, our plane arrived at the gate.

The second delay was courtesy of a woman determined to pack everything she owned into one bag and then drag it onto the plane with her. An airline employee explained her bag was too big for a carry-on and that she would have to check it. She actually hissed at the man. The back of my neck prickled in response to the emotions bubbling up from the woman’s reptilian brain, Thisssss isssss mine! Effective, too, as the man backed away from her.

"OK," Stephan whispered, "I’m taking bets. Will she get on the plane, and if so, will she still have that gargantuan bag, and if so, is it really the body of her husband she killed this morning because he suggested she pack lightly?"

I bet yes and no and yes, respectively, and lost. From our seats we watched her repeatedly try to cram her bag into an overhead bin that was clearly too small in every dimension. A steward approached her and told her she had to check it. She turned her angry crowded-rat eyes on him and he left her to it for a while longer. I exchanged looks with some of the other passengers. We all knew we were already delayed, and no one could understand why the airline was letting this one person hold us hostage. For one giddy moment, I wondered if she were an actress hired by the airline to put on this show so that we felt we were making progress when really we were still sitting on the tarmac.

Finally, an airline employee made his way down the aisle toward the woman. His expression was carefully neutral, the way I had seen an emergency room nurse greet a man who wandered in late one night. His entire left side had been torn and bloody, a motorcycle helmet dangling from his good arm. "May I help you?" the nurse had asked him, as though he had walked into a cheerful ice cream parlor.

"May I help you?" the airline employee asked the woman. She snorted at him and continued shoving at her bag, now wedged halfway into the overhead bin. "Here, let me try it," he said. She seemed stunned that someone was offering to help instead of opposing her and quietly stepped aside. After a few fruitless pushes, he stepped back, shook his head and said, "Looks like we need to check it. But don’t worry, you can sit down and relax, I’ll get that done for you."
Three full rows of passengers held their breath as we waited for the woman to respond. "Oh. OK," she said and sat down calmly in her seat.

"Whatever they’re paying that guy, it’s not enough," Stephan whispered in my ear.

A few hours later, as we started our descent into Chicago, the pilot came on the speakers with a long list of connecting flights and gate information ending with, "Be sure to check in at your gates right away, folks. O’Hare is experiencing delays." A collective groan filled the passenger cabin.

Chicago’s O’Hare airport made SeaTac airport seem deserted by contrast. People stood, sat, and slept on every available surface. Long lines snaked toward airline employees, who were hiding behind tiny desks and big plastic smiles. Fog had socked us all in.

The first time our flight was cancelled, we grimaced. So much for the four hour stopover. At least the airline gave us seats on a flight leaving just three hours later. When that flight was cancelled with no more flights until morning, we laughed. Neither of us was sure if we were finding humor in the ridiculous or if we were really starting to lose it. By the time we left Chicago, we had to disassemble our comfy nest of coats, bags, snacks, and books.

"Not to worry," the gate attendant had told us, "Pittsburgh to JFK is a commuter run. No matter when you get there, there should be a flight soon."

Pittsburgh was bright and cold and the breath steamed from our lips and noses as if we were dragons. The other six passengers looked as numb as we felt, our bleary red eyes scanning each other in that polite semi-acknowledgement reserved for strangers thrown together by circumstance. We were passed from airline employee to employee as we made our way along the terminal, down a hall, through a door, and onto the tarmac, where we were loaded like cattle onto a bus. We zipped across the tarmac. The long terminal building gave way to row after row of planes gleaming in the sun. At first, the planes were mid-sized, teenager versions of the grown-up plane we flew in on. Next came the grade school size, then the toddler size. At the end of the field came the itty-bitty baby planes. Their shiny black surfaces gleamed as we drove closer, then passed them. Our bus stopped at the last plane in the field, a lone white pile of scrap metal held loosely together by what appeared to be duct tape.

"They don’t expect us to fly in that?" a man muttered in disbelief.

All eight of us started murmuring at once.

"That tuna can?"

"Do you think it’s safe?"

"I am NOT getting on that heap!"

"How much do you think the bus driver would charge to just drive us to New York?" Stephan wondered out loud.

A brief consideration of this plan was followed by the bus driver explaining that being fired for driving the bus off airport property was worth more than we probably had on us. Clearly, our fate had been sealed by the airline. We boarded the plane, ushered inside by a flight attendant who looked as battle weary as the plane itself. Inside, each row was made up of a seat pressed against the window, a tiny aisle, and another seat pressed against the opposite window. The ceiling was low enough that even I, at five-foot-six, had to crouch to reach my seat in the front row. As the flight attendant moved from one passenger to the next, pulling the seatbelts just a touch past ‘snug,’ Stephan leaned across the aisle and whispered, "I could probably touch both wings at once."

Our ascent was sharp. Even my special anti-ear-pain earplugs barely made a dent in quieting the noisy cabin. My mind ran old news footage of astronauts experiencing high g-force, their lips and cheeks rippling back over grimaces. I tried to let fatigue spill me over into unconsciousness, when we suddenly leveled out. The flight attendant scribbled each passenger’s drink order on a piece of paper, then ducked behind a curtain at the rear of the plane. Our choices were: coffee, tea, water, or milk. Small plane, small choices.

"Do you think there’s a little room back there, or is she standing outside on the tail of the plane?" I said, leaning across the aisle to speak directly into Stephan’s ear.

He laughed, "Maybe she’s back there fixing the tail with some wire and chewing gum." He loves McGuyver.

When the flight attendant re-appeared, she had the world’s thinnest drink service cart. With the precision of an elite military squad, she halted the cart at each row and handed one drink to her left and one to her right. The hot tea felt like a tiny oasis of calm. My palms warmed against the soft styrofoam as tendrils of Lipton steam curled under my nose. We banked to the right, and I tipped the cup slightly to keep its full contents from sloshing over the side. Smiling, I thought, after nearly a full day of travel, I am in tune with the motion of planes. Nothing they do can surprise me now. I leaned in for my first comforting sip when a hand appeared and took the cup from me. The flight attendant poured the tea out and threw the cup into the cart’s garbage bin.

"We’re heading into our descent for JFK. Margie, prepare for landing," the captain said over the speakers.

Later, as my father-in-law loaded us into the van he asked, "Are you two hungry? Did you want to stop for lunch?"

"Don’t stop for anything," Stephan said, "We just want to get to the house."

"As long as there’s tea," I added. "I really want a cup of tea."

Note the yellow relective tape on the wing. Posted by Hello

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Knew he looked familiar...

I have to agree with John at What Comes To Pass:

I’m more interested in why no one’s talking about how much he looks like the ‘Swedish Chef’ from The Muppet Show.

Separated at birth? Posted by Hello

Good call, John. Yumpin' Yiminny!

Mars Needs Guitars

Apparently, Martians also will squee-gee your vehicle's windows in hopes of a buck:
Rover gets mystery power boost
Scientists have been baffled by a mysterious boost in power to one of its two robotic rovers which are exploring the surface of the Red Planet.

Maybe things will get interesting on the ol' Red Planet, now that they've stopped dismantling our rovers the instant they land. If they figure out those cars have cameras, I, for one, look forward to Martian graffiti, Martian teens mooning us, and Martian infomercials late at Martian night.