Sunday, November 18, 2012

wrong answer

One reason I find social interactions confusing is that there are so many questions that have secret, pre-set correct answers.  And there's no rule-book, so you've just got to figure this out on your own.

Some questions only have one correct answer.  For instance, if your mom says, "Cindy, would you like to help wash these dishes?", there's only one acceptable answer to this.  You might think that you should tell the truth, since that's what your mom always taught you to do, but it turns out that you're not supposed to tell the truth in response to this particular question.  [Well, you can tell the truth if you would actually like to help with the dishes, but I always had to either lie or give offense.]

Another question that only has one acceptable answer is "Does that make me a horrible person?"  Fortunately, most people only ask this question in contexts where the correct answer ("No") is also the honest answer.  For instance, someone will say, "Last night after volunteering at an orphanage and helping twenty old ladies across the road and giving home-made afghans to everyone in the homeless shelter, I saw someone trying to hitch a ride by the side of the road, and I didn't pick him up because he looked crazy.  Does that make me a horrible person?"  This question makes you an annoying compliment-seeker and indirect boaster, but it does not make you a horrible person.

I don't think I've ever heard anyone preface with question with something that might actually call their horribleness into question.  I guess that makes sense -- most people don't actually want honest feedback, so they won't ask questions that might elicit a debate about their character.  For instance, I could say, "You know, one time I intentionally hit a pedestrian because he was walking so darn slowly in the crosswalk.  Does that make me a horrible person?"  But I don't really want to know if you think this makes me horrible.

Some questions allow more of a range of responses, but there clearly are still correct and incorrect answers, the correctness and incorrectness of which are independent of the truth thereof.  For instance, guys often like to ask me what I like to do for fun.  I really should be prepared for this question by now, but it still always catches me off-guard and makes me feel like I was suddenly given a pop quiz for a class I didn't even know I'd signed up for.  And, unsurprisingly, I often end up failing.

"What do you like in your spare time?" one guy asked.

"Oh, I like reading and watching TV and just hanging out with my friends and family," I replied.

"No, I meant things that are actually fun.  What do you like doing that's fun to do?" he responded.

He was an annoying guy anyway, so at this point I gave up on being polite and started being difficult instead.  "Oh, I don't actually like doing fun things," I told him.  "I just enjoy boredom."

"You've got to like something fun," he said.  "Don't you enjoy hiking or skiing or jogging or anything like that?"

I don't mind hiking, although I hate the others, but I was too annoyed to concede even that much, so I told him I didn't like anything like this.

"Oh I know what you like doing -- you like going on dates with nice guys like me."

This got the response it deserved.  Of course, this guy was obtuse enough that he probably thought my withering look was meant to be flirtatious.

"And you like bowling and going to amusement parks," he informed me.

"I hate amusement parks," I told him.

"No, you must like amusement parks.  Everyone does."

"I don't," I told him.  "I've got some bad memories at amusement parks."  This was actually true -- I'd had some bad high school band trips to Disneyland where my feet hurt so badly that I just wanted to die, but instead I had to keep hobbling around all day pretending to have fun.  But my date was unwilling to accept this answer, and instead he spent ten more minutes trying to convince me that I really do like amusement parks.

Another guy took a somewhat more tactful approach -- in response to my list of apparently boring hobbies, he said, "Nothing active?  I think you should go outside more."

He then asked if I tried skiing or snowboard.  When I told him no, he said, "Oh, you must go skiing.  I must teach you skiing this winter."  This guy has a thick Russian accent, so just imagine an 80s movie KGB agent trying to force someone to go skiing.  It was pretty much like that.  Good times.

I realized recently that part of my problem in social situations is that I value honesty and precision very highly, so I always try to come up the most honest, accurate answer possible, and only then do I use my social filter to figure out if this is also a socially acceptable answer.  But this is an inefficient approach in social situations, since there's often little overlap between accuracy and social acceptability.  I'd probably be much better at small talk if I could first think of socially acceptable answers, and only then subject them to the honesty filter, without worrying so much about coming up with the most precise, accurate answer.  I'm not sure I can do this, though.  Does that make me a horrible person?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

refugee kid conversation of the week

Girl (while looking through a flipchart of American presidents):  Hey, why don't they have Barack Obama in here?  He's the only black president, and they left him out!

Me:  Oh, this is just too old to have him in it.  It must have been published before he got elected.

Girl:  What?!  But that was so long ago!

Me: . . . I suppose it does seem that way to you.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Italy -- Day One

My Italian adventure began with a 10:20 flight out of Salt Lake on a Sunday morning.  I went from there to Minneapolis, from Minneapolis to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, and from Paris to Naples, arriving around noon on Monday.  That's about the same time that my fellow travelers left from the London airport for their short flight to Naples.  (Although my friend Heidi lives in the U.S., she'd been in Great Britain for a friend's wedding.  That's actually the reason she decided on this trip to Italy, since she was already relatively nearby.)

There are some good views on the flight from Paris to Naples.
While this wasn't my first international trip, it was the first time I was alone in a foreign country.  I was a little nervous about this, especially I'd heard that Naples is one of the more corrupt and dangerous cities in Italy.  I decided that I'd feel safer staying back in the secure areas of the airport while I waited for about four hours for the others to arrive.  It turned out that the secure area was just the baggage claim carousels and a few accompanying benches.  But, I stuck to plan and fell asleep on those benches.  After a few hours, I woke up to see two nervous-looking airport employees pointing me out to an armed security guard.  He came over and asked me something in Italian, and I told him in English that I was just waiting for my friends' flight, which was arriving soon.

You know, there was one time when I was in law school where I'd been on interview trips to California every weekend for the past few weeks.  In the meantime, I was trying to balance a full course-load and law review responsibilities.  As usual, on this weekend I hurried home from classes on Thursday afternoon, spent about five minutes packing, and ran off to the airport, making it there about thirty minutes before my flight departed.  There were delays, and I didn't get in until late, after a tiring day of travel and catching up on a couple hundred pages of reading for my patent law class.  Fortunately, the hotel restaurant was still open, so I went in and ordered dinner.  I then sat there mechanically eating all of the complimentary bread the waiter had brought me, resting my chin on my hand because I was too exhausted to keep my head up otherwise.  And then the waiter came out and gave me a very sympathetic look before handing me some kind of fancy appetizer made with salmon and caviar, "compliments of the chef."  He pointed to where the chef was standing behind a nearby window that opened into the kitchen, and the chef gave me the same sympathetic look that the waiter had before smiling and gesturing that I should try the appetizer.

I mention this story because the Italian security guard in the Naples airport gave me the exact same sympathetic look before telling me in broken English that it was okay for me to sleep in the baggage area until my friends came.  Sometimes it pays to be so transparent that everyone can tell when you're about to start crying from exhaustion.

Finally, the others arrived.  Although I was still exhausted, I was eager to get out of the airport and actually see some of Italy.  Unfortunately, that would not happen for a while.  It was then that one of the main drawbacks of traveling in Europe with Europeans started to become clear -- they're just not as interested in maximizing every minute of their time in Europe.  They haven't invested as much time and money into the trip as someone traveling from the U.S. has, and they can easily come back another time, while I figured this might be the only time I would make it out to Italy.  So, first Steve spent about forty-five minutes slowly filling out paperwork at the rental car office, and then Steve and Herb spent a full hour examining every inch of the rental car to fully document all preexisting damage.  And then they decided that it would be best just to go find our hotel in the outskirts of Naples instead of checking out the city itself.

On the drive to the hotel, it became clear that the British and I had also arrived with different expectations of Italy itself.  That is, I didn't really have any expectations, while they apparently expected it to be more like the parts of Europe they'd experienced before.  Herb kept complaining about how dirty it was.  I agreed that it was dirty, but it certainly wasn't any worse than the other foreign country I'd traveled to, so I didn't see it as being a big deal.

Actually, on initial impression, Naples reminded me quite a bit of India.  There were the same kinds of trash piles on the sides of the road, colorful laundry was hanging from most of the apartments, and the buildings showed the same signs of having too much humidity and too little upkeep.  

I don't have any good pictures of the trash, but you can kind of see the paint peeling off the buildings behind our hotel in this picture.

Our hotel itself was pretty awesome, in my opinion.  Sophie got a good deal on our rooms through, and it was great, especially for the price we paid.

Hotel Panorama

Our room
The room itself was nothing too exciting, although it was clean and neat, but we had a balcony that looked directly out onto the sea, and that was pretty sweet.

Hotel balcony
After enjoying the sunset for a while, we decided to drive back into Naples for dinner.  Our hotel was about twenty or thirty minutes from the city itself, and then somebody had decided to go to one specific restaurant that was mentioned in a guidebook.  Unfortunately, the guidebook did not include directions, and Steve's GPS device got confused by the narrow one-way streets of old Naples.  We ended up driving around the city for more than an hour trying to follow the GPS device's contradictory instructions.

At one point, Steve drove too close to the parked cars on the right side of the street (of course, he's used to driving on the left side of the road, while Italians drive on the right side).  I don't know what damage he did to the other car, but he broke the side-view mirror on our rental car.  So much for their careful examination of the car to make sure we didn't get charged for any preexisting damage.  Some bystanders yelled at us to stop, but Steve kept on going.  Although I suggested that we probably were supposed to stop, I didn't insist too hard that we go back.  Still, this accident made it all the more baffling when someone suggested that we stop and ask a group of traffic cops for direction.  Voluntarily contacting the police in a foreign city with a reputation for corruption is not my idea of a good plan -- voluntarily doing so when you've just committed a hit-and-run seems like an even worse idea.

Instead, the more sensible members of the group were eventually able to convince Steve that we should just give up on the guidebook restaurant and stop anywhere that was still open.  We finally ended up eating at a cute little roadside pizzeria.

I thought it was quite good, although I was dubious about some people's choice of pizza.

Yes, this pizza is topped with French fries and hot-dog pieces. 

On our way back to the car, we walked past this cute church.

And with that, our first day in Italy was basically at an end, and we headed back to the hotel for some well-needed sleep.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Italy (Part the First)

I realized recently that I got back from Italy more than a year ago.  Clearly I've been somewhat remiss in blogging about this trip as promised.  But, here at long last is my trip report.  Well, the beginnings of one, anyway.

My experience on this trip was shaped by the odd group of tourists who went, so I need to set the stage by introducing the various characters involved.  Much like in the movies, we were a ragtag bunch of mismatched personalities.  Unlike in the movies, we did not all learn to work together in the end, nor did we heroically die off one by one until only the male and female love interests were left.  (And thank goodness for that, since I was not the female love interest in this story.)  Instead, we just started ignoring each other more and more, until I gleefully escaped the others to spend my final day in Italy alone and carefree.  But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

First, there's me.  I'm much too humble to brag, so I won't attempt to describe myself.  :)

This is me.

Next, we come to my friend Heidi.  Naturally, being my friend, she is interesting, perceptive, fun, and altogether awesome.  The idea of this trip originated with Heidi, in concert with her British friend Steve.  (Names of individuals may or may not have been changed to protect the grumpy.  If anyone mentioned here ever finds my blog, um, I love you all, even if I don't necessarily want to travel with most of you again.)

This is Heidi (looking rather more two-dimensional than usual).
Now Steve is an interesting character.  He could be thoughtful, smart, and fun when he wanted to be, but he didn't always want to be.  Also, he made the dubious choice of inviting two girls he had dated -- the aforementioned Heidi, and a British girl we'll call Sophie -- and basically attempting to use the trip as a girlfriend audition.

This is Steve.  Actually, this is everyone but me -- Herb, Steve, Sophie, then Heidi in back.
Sophie was a nice girl.  Very nice.  Sometimes too nice.  The kind of extreme people pleaser who will agree with the last person to say something, even if it directly contradicts the last thing she agreed to.  This could make it rather difficult to get a vote on something -- she could never be counted on as tie-breaker, since she always attempted to agree with everyone at once, no matter how impossible.  She also had some anxiety problems, which would kick in when anyone seemed to be the slightest bit unhappy or when there was the slightest disagreement about anything.  A really nice girl, but not necessarily the easiest travel companion.
This is Sophie.
 Finally, we have the fifth wheel of our little group: Steve's friend Herbert, a London cab driver in his 50s.  He didn't have the energy of some of the younger members of the group (i.e., his normal walking speed was about 1/3 of mine), and he also had a more limited budget.  So, he often just sat outside while everyone else went into a museum or wherever we were going that day.  He was also constantly disappointed that Italy wasn't exactly the same as England.  "Why isn't there any decent food in this country?  None of the restaurants even serve fish 'n' chips!  It's always just pasta and pizza at every restaurant.  And this isn't any kind of proper water pitcher, is it?  Nothing like we see at home.  And look at that bloke frowning at me right now.  The people in this country aren't very happy, are they?"  Herb wasn't a bad fellow at all -- he was usually considerate and thoughtful, and he'd always offer to help carry suitcases and such.  Still, his Eeyore-like attitude toward Italy was rather wearing.
This is Herb (and me, obviously).
So, there's our motley crew of travelers.  Tune in next week for an update that might actually get us to Italy.  And if there's anything in particular you want to hear about, leave a comment to let me know.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

old people and kids

Some devoted blog followers have asked about the disappearance of stories in the popular blog category "old people."  There is a reason for this -- I've stopped volunteering with Aging Services, so I no longer hang out with the grumpy old lady I used to take shopping every Saturday. 

We had a falling out after I tried to support a store clerk in an argument about the meaning of "buy one, get the second 50% off."  The old person thought the store clerk was trying to rip her off by charging full price for the single pair of eyeglasses the old person wanted to buy.  My attempts to explain that she needed to buy a second pair to take advantage of the deal were unavailing, and she was still grumbling about my collusion with the dishonest store clerk when we finally made it out of the store thirty minutes later.

The next week, I received an email from the volunteer coordinator asking to meet with me.  She said my old person was complaining that I had tried to force her to buy a second pair of glasses she didn't want to buy, and the volunteer coordinator wanted to hear my side of the story.  After I explained it to her, she said that she would just take volunteer services away from my old person for a while.  She told me that I could either switch to a different old person, or I could take a break until I felt like coming back.

I happily took the break -- and then I decided to make the break permanent.  I realized, you see, that this was a very bad volunteering option for me.  I don't like driving, I don't like shopping, and I don't like old people.  [Well, in theory they're fine, but when they're perpetually grumpy and confused and racist and ignorant, I have a hard time exercising the necessary patience with them.]  Probably I should have realized this before I agreed to drive an old person on shopping expeditions every week.

I've now started volunteering with an organization that will hopefully be a better fit for me -- a group that provides tutoring help for kids in refugee families living here in Salt Lake.  It's also challenging, but I enjoy working with kids more than adults.  They're funny in different ways.  Take, for example, this peculiar conversation I had two weeks ago (sorry, facebook friends, for the repeat):
Girl: Do you get mad at kids?
Me: No, I don't get mad at kids.
Girl: How about if I jab this pencil into your eye?
Me: Well, that actually might make me mad. But let's not test it out.
Girl: You're so weird sometimes.
Last week this girl decided to switch tactics and go with bribery instead of treats:  "If I give you this Skittle, will you finish my math homework for me?"  I told her, "Sorry, kiddo, but I want you to learn long division a lot more than I want a Skittle."  This clearly reconfirmed her previous opinion of my baffling weirdness.

So, no more old people, but I'm happy volunteering with my refugee kids instead.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

a more sensible clock

I don't think alarm clocks are very sensible.  That is, I understand that they sometimes serve a necessary purpose, but I don't think they're formatted very sensibly.  Tired brains -- at least my tired brain -- need some context for the time to have any meaning.

When I was in high school, I never managed to wake up to my alarm, and my mom would inevitably come up to my room and say, in her exasperated-by-trying-not-to-sound-like-it tone, "Honey, it's 5:15 now."  Assuming I woke up enough to hear her, I'd think to myself, "Why on earth would Mom wake me up at 5:15 to tell me the time?  I don't want to know the time.  I want to sleep."  Later (sometimes much later) when I was fully awake, I would realize that 5:15 was only fifteen minutes before seminary started, so, when my mom told me it was 5:15, what she really meant was "you only have fifteen minutes to get ready for school, eat breakfast, and get to the church."  But that's not what she said, and my brain was too tired to supply the context and make this all make sense.

The same thing happened this morning.  When my cell phone alarm went off at 7, I thought to myself, "Why on earth is my phone ringing to let me know that it's 7?  I don't care that it's 7.  In fact, the last thing I want to know at 7 am is the fact that it's 7 am."  However, being significantly less sleep-deprived now than I was in high school, I was able to stay awake long enough to figure it out -- the reason my alarm was ringing was because I needed to get up, since my co-worker was picking me up to go to the airport in an hour.

But why can't an alarm just tell you that, instead of making your brain do all the work?  I'm not saying I expect my alarm clock to be psychic or anything -- in fact, that would be rather frightening.  But I don't think it would be too hard to have two inputs for an alarm clock: the time you need to be ready, and the amount of time you want to give yourself to do so.  Then, when your alarm clock went off, it could just give you a countdown of how many minutes you had to get ready.

Perhaps people would also be less likely to use the snooze alarm if, instead of just seeing a context-less time, they saw their time counting down.  We've surely all seen enough movies and TV shows with countdown clocks on bombs that this would strike a little helpful fear into snoozers' hearts.

Of course, there probably is an alarm that already has this function, but I don't understand why it's not a standard feature.  It just makes sense to me.

And if any of you ever have to wake me up in person, please keep this principle in mind -- I need more explanation than you might think.  Don't just tell me, "Hey, there's a fire!"  I'm more likely than not to assume you're talking about wildfires in Idaho.  And if there's not a fire (or free icecream, or something else of equal importance), maybe you should just let me sleep.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mormon Juliet

A phrase I've been using a lot recently is "Don't judge, but . . . ."  Today's topic that I would like you not to judge me on is  A few weeks, on a boring and lonely Sunday afternoon, I created a profile there.  (Honestly, I mostly just wanted to see whether LDS dating sites are as creepy now as I remember them being the last time I checked, about twelve years ago.  Conclusion: It looks like they've improved.  I actually saw several non-creepy guys from my ward on there.  Although I think they ought to just man up and ask girls out in real life, at least I know they're not creepers.)

One service offered by is a matching program that uses Science to find people who have compatible personalities and attitudes about religion, family, finances, which spouse should do the dishes, etc.  As a firm believer in Science, I naturally had to fill out a profile myself. 

A week went by, and Science was unable to find anyone compatible with me.  This wasn't too surprising -- I've always figured I was a high-specificity, high-affinity person.

But then, I logged on and saw that there was actually a Scientifically Compatible match for me.  I eagerly clicked on his profile -- and discovered that he lives in Australia. 

"So much for Science," I thought to myself.  I am, of course, too cheap to pay for services on an online dating site, which means I can't send or receive messages.  This guy, as a Scientifically Compatible match for me, is probably in the same situation

If this were a romantic comedy, he'd probably internet-stalk me and then fly to Salt Lake to meet me in person, showing up on my doorstep and saying, "Hi, I'm [name redacted].  Do you believe in Science?" 

Or, even more probably, we'd both decide to fly to the other's continent, barely missing each other at the airport where we each coincidentally had a layover.  After 90 minutes of wacky hijinks and near misses, I would be just about to board my flight back to the States when he'd get on the airport loudspeaker and make a cheesy speech, and then there'd be much running down long hallways while random extras other passengers clapped and security personnel pulled out their Tasers. 

This being real life, however, both my Scientifically Compatible match and I are (hopefully) too level-headed and non-creepy for such a thing to ever occur.  As with all the classic stories of star-crossed lovers, it's the very things that made us compatible that are now keeping us apart.  Even Science can't overcome Fate.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

tears of a clown

I'm glad to have a sense of humor -- I don't know what I'd do without one -- but sometimes mine can cause me problems.  For instance, last week I was feeling very sorry for myself and just wanted to cry.  But then I spotted my face in the mirror, and I looked so dramatically sad that I couldn't help laughing.

Except for the bowler hat, this is pretty much exactly what I looked like.

I then said to myself, "Do you mind?  I'm trying to feel sorry for myself here, and you're not helping."   But this struck me as very silly, so I only laughed more.  A sense of humor is always an unwelcome guest at a pity party, and this party was soon ruined.

Of course, it's even worse to laugh at someone else's sad face.  People tend not to like this very much, as I've unfortunately had cause to discover.  But occasionally other people will laugh along with me.  When we visited the maharaja's palace in Mysore, my sisters were looking very sad because our last meal was but a distant memory and the driver made us go look at the lights at the palace instead of taking us somewhere where we could get some food.  I told my sisters to keep looking sad while I pulled out my camera, since I thought it would be fun to get a picture of their glum faces in front of the fairy-tale-like palace.  India is a place of contrasts, and I thought this would be a good illustration of that.

Instead, this is what I got.  A good photo op ruined by an ill-timed sense of humor.

[In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that my dad actually took this picture of my sisters trying to look sad.  The corresponding photo from my camera is probably adorning the walls of some Hyderabadi thief's home.  (Okay, so it's possible he just sold the camera without downloading any of the pictures of it, but I don't see why thieves should be any less obsessed with pictures of foreign tourists than most other people in India seem to be.)]

Sunday, May 27, 2012

elementary, my dear Watson

I just realized that I totally forgot where I was going with my weird deodorant story a few weeks ago.  The reason I thought about it was because I was recently watching a TV show where some detectives figured out that the female victim had a serious boyfriend based on the men's deodorant and razor they found in her bathroom.  I laughed and wondered what mistaken assumptions a police detective might make about me if I ever turned up missing.  In my case, the men's deodorant is in my bathroom as a souvenir of my San Francisco interview trip, and the men's razor is in my bathroom because the Gillette Mach 3 doesn't bother my legs as much as women's razors.

I guess detectives who leap to assumptions make for better TV, but I always worry that real police will think they can do the same thing in real life.  And in fact, they often do, which is one of the reasons why we see so many wrongful convictions getting overturned with DNA or other evidence.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

deodorant and travel misadventures

Many people collect souvenirs when they travel. Some collect mugs; some collect decorative spoons; others collect artwork. I collect deodorant.

This has never been an intentional hobby of mine -- I've just historically been extremely bad at remembering to pack deodorant. And then I always forget about my extensive deodorant collection when I go to the store, so I buy new deodorant and don't use up the stuff I already own. My collection currently includes Arm & Hammer deodorant from a Cheyenne truck stop, Dove deodorant from a Denver drug store, and a Suave stick from a Southern California convenience store. The most unusual item in my collection, though, is one I picked up in the San Francisco airport.

It was during my harried second year of law school, with its incessant law firm interviews. On this particular interview trip, I had only an hour-an-half between my last class of the day and my flight, which gave me very little time to make it home from school, pack, take the bus to the Metro station, take the Metro to the airport, check in, get through security, and board the plane. I managed to make the flight, but I unsurprisingly ended up forgetting a few things, like deodorant and pajamas and a change of clothes for the next day. (You may be wondering whether I traveled to San Francisco with a completely empty suitcase. Be assured, I did bring toothpaste and a toothbrush, my scriptures and journal, and my interview suit and dress shoes. That may have been it, though.)

By the time I arrived at my hotel in San Francisco, it was too late to think of looking for a store. And there wasn't enough time the next morning either. I just hoped and prayed the law firm had good air conditioning.

The interview went as well as could be expected. That is to say, it was a horrible five hours of attempting to talk to people I didn't know about a job I wasn't convinced I wanted. The lack of deodorant wasn't an issue. What did end up being an issue was the meal at the end. Specifically, one of the attorneys decided that he wanted dessert, mostly because the law firm was paying for it, and he didn't care that I had a flight I needed to catch that afternoon. Dessert took a long time to arrive, and the attorney took a long time eating it. When we finally left the restaurant, one of the nicer attorneys called the firm to tell them to order me a cab. Unfortunately, the secretary called the slowest taxi in the world to take me to the airport.

About twenty minutes after I got back to the firm, the slowest taxi in the world finally showed up. I hurried inside and told the driver when my flight was leaving (probably about an hour and fifteen minutes from then). She calmly said, “Oh, you're probably not going to make it. You should have called earlier.” She then started gossiping about something boring that I wouldn't have cared about in the best of circumstances and certainly didn't want to hear when I wanted her to focus on her driving. A little while later, as we slowly puttered along in the right lane of the freeway, I asked her if we could possibly go a little faster. She tapped her long acrylic nails on the dashboard clock and said, “Oh, your flight is leaving in less than an hour now. You're definitely not going to make it. Why ask me to risk getting a speeding ticket when you won't catch your flight anyway?” She then switched back to boring me about something inconsequential.

We finally made it to the airport about forty minutes before departure time. This would have been sufficient to catch a flight in St. Louis. Unfortunately, the check-in line at this airport was relatively long, and I'm not one to cut in line even if I have an excuse. By the time I made it to the front of the line, it was 28 minutes before my flight, and that was too late for me to get checked in. Even more unfortunately, this was evidently the last eastbound flight for the next seven hours. I finally got rebooked on a red-eye flight to Chicago that was leaving after midnight, with a 9 am flight to St. Louis the next day.

At this point, I realized that the lack of deodorant might be a problem, especially since my clothing choices were limited to my uncomfortable interview suit and the rumpled clothing I'd traveled in the day before.  While it's nice to have extra space at the airport, it's not so nice to have this space only because other travelers suspect that you may be a crazy street person who somehow wandered into the airport by mistake. I wandered the airport halls for a while, like the disreputable vagabond I appeared, before finally discovering a small airport shop that sold deodorant. However, the person who stocked this shop had apparently bought into some kind of gender stereotype about women being less forgetful than men.  Or perhaps this individual was the same kind of person who believes that clothing can be "one size fits all," and he simply didn't realize that women who forget their deodorant might want an option without an overwhelmingly masculine smell.  Either way, the only deodorant option in the entire airport was very manly smelling deodorant.  Still, this was better than nothing, so I reluctantly purchased an overpriced stick of men's deodorant.

This led to a very disconcerting night. As I uncomfortably attempted to sleep on the hard airport seats, I would suddenly become aware of a very masculine scent that appeared to be coming from just behind me. I'd look behind me in search of the man who was evidently invading my personal space, only to realize that I was the man, figuratively speaking. It was better than being stinky, but it was still a very odd experience.  Whenever I see my deodorant souvenirs, I remember my travel misfortunes of that day and night. 

Maybe I should start collecting decorative spoons instead.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

relaxation (or not)

For FHE on Monday, a guy who's getting a PhD in public health education led us through some meditation and relaxation exercises.  One exercise, the "body scan," involved thinking about and feeling grateful for different parts of the body.  He had us repeat to ourselves phrases like "I'm thankful for my brain.  I esmile at my brain."  [He's from Spain.   I figured maybe the Spanish accent was the variable that would make this exercise work, so I repeated exactly what he said without Anglicizing the pronunciation.]  Then he told us to think about how great the human brain is and all the things it can accomplish and so forth.  We moved on to the eyes and heart and stomach, thinking about how great they are and repeating phrases about how we're thankful for them and esmile at them. 

He told us that he does this body scan every night before falling asleep.  Thinking about his gratitude for various parts of the body helps him to fall asleep quickly and have a deep, relaxing sleep, he said. 

When I went to bed on Monday night, I thought to myself, "It's stupid, but I'll give it a try."  So I feel asleep thinking about how great the brain is and how grateful I am for mine.

I had troubled dreams all night about aliens abducting humans and removing their brains for research and experimental purposes.  In the dream I remember most vividly, aliens wanted to implant portions of my brain into mosquito larvae to see what would happen.

I watch too much science fiction to make a good hippy.

why I boycott Ace Hardware

A man walks into Ace Hardware and asks where he can find plumbers' putty. 

"Right down aisle 12," comes the helpful response.

A woman walks into Ace Hardware and asks where she can find plumbers' putty. 

"What kind of project are you working on, ma'am?  Let's make sure we find you what you really need."

Womenfolk, you see, can't be trusted to know what they actually need.  A girl may tell you she's looking for plumbers' putty when she really wants a monkey wrench.  All of these manly terms tend to get jumbled up in a girl's pretty little head, which is why Ace Hardware is there to offer assistance to all those poor misguided females who want to try doing a man's work.

The final nail in the coffin of my customer relationship with Ace Hardware came when I was repairing my toilet.  I had already hacksawed off the rusty old bolts and removed the toilet when I discovered that the toilet bolts I had previously purchased were too large to fit in the bolt holes in the floor.  Since I was in the middle of the project, I decided to make to make a quick trip to my nearby Ace Hardware store to buy new bolts, despite my reservations based on prior bad experiences there.  I soon began to regret that choice.

When I arrived at the store, I could only see toilet bolts in the size I'd previously tried.  The young male employee spotted me looking around for smaller bolts and came over to ask if I needed any help.  I showed him the old bolt I'd removed from my toilet and told him I was looking for this size of toilet bolt.  "Oh, the toilet bolts are right here," he told me, showing me the large bolts I'd already seen.

"Those are too big," I told him.  "I need this size."  I again showed him the rusty old bolt from my toilet.

"What are you working on?" he asked me.

"I'm replacing the wax seal at the base of my toilet.  I already tried that size of bolt, but it was too big for the bolt holes.  I need this size -- this is the bolt that was on my toilet before."

"No, if you need toilet bolts, you need to get the ones I just showed you.  Those are the toilet bolts."

"That may be the standard size, but those bolts don't fit.  I need this smaller size."

"Ma'am, these are toilet bolts, and they'll work for your project.  Do you want me to refer you to someone you could hire to repair your toilet for you?  It sounds like you're having trouble doing it yourself."

"All I need is some help finding the right size of bolt.  I removed this bolt from my toilet earlier, so I know it'll work."

"You must be mistaken.  A toilet bolt would never be this short.  Let me explain how this works.  You see, the toilet bolt has to go through the base of the toilet to attach the toilet to the ground, so it needs to be longer than this."

"Yes, I know.  The reason this bolt appears short is because I hacksawed it off my toilet earlier. What I need is a bolt that has this diameter.  The ones you've shown me are too big diameter-wise to fit in the bolt holes in my floor."

"No, these bolts will fit into toilet bolt holes.  Are you sure we're talking about a toilet here?  You seem to be confused."

"Look, will you please just show me where I can find this size bolt -- and by that I mean a bolt with this diameter.  If I turn out to be mistaken, I'll come back and buy the bolts you think I need."

At this point, the employee apparently realized that there is just no reasoning with irrational females, so he decided to humor me and look around, although not without some loud sighs at my evident stupidity.  Finally, he discovered a smaller diameter of toilet bolts tucked away on some obscure shelf.

"Okay, I suppose these look like the same width, although they're not as short as the one you seem to be looking for.  Is this what you think will work?"

I politely and insincerely thanked him and left for the check-out stand, but not without receiving yet another suggestion that I should hire someone who knew what he was doing to take care of this repair job for me.  I then went home and finished the project without incident, with the help of a female friend of mine.

When I told one friend this story, he commented that this employee's real problem appeared to be idiocy, not chauvinism.  I'll concede that this individual was an idiot, but I certainly don't think idiocy and chauvinism are mutually exclusive.  At Ace Hardware, you can experience both. 

Disclaimer:  Maybe my local Ace Hardware store is anomalous.  Maybe the downtown Salt Lake City store is the only one in the country where they've had the misfortune of hiring a whole passel of male chauvinists.  I don't know, but my local store has annoyed me enough that I don't care to find out. 

Disclaimer the second:  There was one time when I went to my local Ace Hardware store and the employee who helped me was extremely helpful and not at all chauvinistic or patronizing.  But the rest of the employees I've encountered there on various occasions have treated me in a very different way than they've treated the male customers who were in the store at the same time.  So, I'm not saying that every single Ace Hardware employee is a chauvinist.  Just most of them.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

dream a little dream

My dreams can really throw me sometimes. I'll wake up feeling incredibly guilty and wondering, "Why on earth did I cheat on my taxes/steal that train/kidnap that baby/let the aliens onto the spaceship? I'm such an idiot!" It'll take a few moments for me to realize that I'm not actually headed for life in prison (or death by aliens, as the case may be).

I've recently had some success with figuring out that I'm dreaming before I reach the disorienting waking-up point. When things start straying from normality, I try to remember to ask myself (1) whether this seems like something I'd be likely to do and (2) whether I can remember the events that led me to this point, or whether the memory instead seems to start in media res. If I decide that I'm probably dreaming, I test my theory by attempting to wake myself up. Of course, while this approach helps with the unnecessary guilt, it's more disruptive of my sleep. Last week, I woke myself up twice in the middle in the same night because my dreams were so implausible: I kept dreaming that I was un-self-consciously flirting with random guys, and I knew that couldn't possibly be right. Sure enough, I always woke up when I questioned the plausibility of this scenario. (I told my friend this, and she thought it was both hilarious and very sad. She's probably right.)

And sometimes my subconsious gets tricky on me. I recently had a dream that I somehow got mixed up with a Chinese spy ring. I went on the run, while the Chinese agents tried to track me down and kill me before I could spill their secrets. And then I suddenly realized, "Wait a minute, this all seems like somewhat unlikely." Sure enough, I immediately woke up. I then ate breakfast and went to work, where I told my co-worker about my dream and how glad I was that I wasn't actually being chased by Chinese spies in real life. Just then, my cell phone starting ringing. When I opened it, Chinese characters appeared on the screen, and I heard a voice saying, "Ni hao" over and over again (probably because those are the only Chinese words my subconscious could come up with). For a minute, I thought, "Oh no! That wasn't a dream after all! I need to contact MI-5!" (Hey, I watch more British spy shows than American ones.) But then I realized again that this scenario was just not plausible, so I attempted to wake myself up for the second time. It worked, and this time things stayed normal after I woke up. At least, so far they've seemed normal. If I start hankering to steal another train, though, I'm going to try to wake up again.

P.S. Diligent followers of this blog may note that this is not the first time I've had a dream within a dream (but not the marriage kind) in which I dreamed that I told my co-worker about a dream, only to discover that it had really happened. Apparently my subconscious thinks this is funny. I disagree.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

call someone who cares

Dear Bank of America,

It may surprise you to hear this, but I actually know how to use a credit card. In fact, I manage to use my very own Bank of America credit card several times a month without any difficulties. I pay the bill every month too, and I've redeemed cash rewards on multiple occasions. So, it's really not necessary for you to call me every three weeks to explain how my credit card works. Perhaps you have some customers who forget such things in the course of a few weeks (although I question the wisdom of letting Alzheimer's patients retain their credit cards), but I'm not one of them. I doubt many people in my demographic are.

I can understand your desire to improve your poor reputation for customer service, but this seems like a very ill-conceived way of going about it. Hassling phone calls that insult my intelligence are an improvement over the putative customer service provided by actively evil companies like Gateway and Amtrak; however, simply leaving me alone would be even more of an improvement.

If I sustain a sudden head injury that causes me to revert to the intelligence of a five-year old, I'll have someone let you know, and then you can call and explain credit cards to me to your heart's content. Until then, please take my regular use of your credit card as a sign that I know how to use it.