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.