Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Things in My Wall

If you were one of the poor souls around when I first started this blog, you'll recall I had a rodent invasion in my kitchen. (Repair of the kitchen still pending - I'm getting tired of stubbing my toes on bricks when I use the sink.) Over the summer, I discovered mice down in our laundry room, including one that up and died in the utility sink. I called the office to have someone come remove the deceased and lay out traps, but they never took away the late Mr. Mickey. He slowly decayed enough to be rinsed down the drain.

Yes, I know that was disgusting, but it's the truth.

This afternoon, I became aware of a scrabbling & chewing sound. At first, I thought it was coming from the stack of sketchbooks I have piled on the loveseat. (I'm trying to figure out where to stow all my art supplies.) I started to panic and ripped through the pile, expecting to see small beady eyes staring up at me. No such luck. (If having rodents in your home can be considered "lucky.") With my face now inches away from the wall, I realized the sound was coming from behind the drywall. Scrabble, scrabble, chew, munch, chew.

There are friggin' critters in the walls. Living things eating god knows what. In. My. Walls.


Living on a wooded area can be very pleasant - the sound of owls at night, fawns nibbling on the lawn, the smell of the evergreens after a rainfall... but there are drawbacks. Like snakes in the laundry room, unusually large insects that like to follow you indoors, and goddamned rodentia. Yeah, I know, most communal living spaces have rodents somewhere. But what is the specific attraction to my apartment? It's not as if I'm spreading out a mouse buffet in the kitchen. I think it's the misfortune of being positioned at just the right spot in the building - easy access, and the probably don't like the heavy smoking of the gent below me in the dank basement unit.

If I stay here, I'm seriously considering violating condo rules and getting a cat. Kitty wouldn't be able to do much about They Who Live Inside the Walls, but a cat would sure as hell put the fear of god into the kitchen invaders.

When I was a kid in Illinois, we lived on a deep ravine full of wildlife (including the rats that our crazy next door neighbor was feeding.) We had raccoons, deer (but not in the astounding numbers like here), loads of snakes, and bears were rumored to be seen once a year or so, although I never saw one. Weirdest wildlife I ever saw in our yard? Lions. Folks up the block had a daughter who worked for Teske's Seed & Feed, and she was given the task of taking care of two lion cubs, abandoned by the lioness at Niabi Zoo, our small, but sweet zoo on the outskirts of town. (I used to LOVE bringing huge bags of carrots and celery to feed to the Scottish cows and the camels. One of the keepers let me feed the hippo a shovel full of Purina Hippo Chow once. That was cool.) Jim Fowler - as in Wild Kingdom "while I mix myself a martini in the safety of the treehouse, Jim will wrestle the crocodile to the ground" - was coming to retrieve the cubs and settle them at another zoo. But, until he arrived, our neighbor was on lion duty.

We didn't know this until the day I looked out our front window and said, "Mom, there's a lion in the front yard." Mom, knowing me to pull her leg fairly often, didn't even look up. "Moooom? There's a lion in the front yard." She still didn't look up. I went to the door, opened it, and a lion cub came bounding in.

At that point, Mom looked up.

CUTE baby! Cute baby with HUGE, SHARP CLAWS. I thought my mother was going to pass out as I picked up the cub off our entryway floor. The neighbor, who was racing after the other cub, saw me pick him up and she just smiled and waved. Mom went for her Polaroid Land Camera and we took some pictures. I only have one of the pictures today - me, with my hideous "giant squirrel on head" hair and awful, awful 1970's fat kid clothes, holding a lion cub in our front yard. I have no idea what happened to the picture of Mom, sitting in her recliner by the fireplace, cuddling a lion. God, I wish I had that one. Our little wacky terrier, Termite, can be seen cowering in the corner in that shot. Our cats are nowhere to be seen.

If I can get access to a scanner, I'll scan in the lion shot. Just don't mock the hair. I've always had hair trauma. Somedays, I think bald is the best option for me, honestly. I found the lion picture while looking for my "Russian bear on motorcycle" photos for Javier (which I still can't find, dammit.)

Bet that lion cub could cure me of my rodent problem pretty dang quickly. Sigh. A girl can dream, right?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Amazing Race: Family Edition

I prefer the two-person teams. Sorry, families of America.

There's something inherently unequal about teams that have four adults and teams that have two adults and two small children. I see problems ahead when stress levels really start to rise.

While I haven't developed any favorites yet, I do have some folks I'll look forward to seeing eliminated:

1. The Paolo family from NYC screams at each other all the time. They're gonna be oh-so-great representatives of the United States once the teams hit foreign soil. They give me a headache every single time they're on screen.
2. The Schroeders from New Orleans. Dad is an aggressive, Type A ass and describes himself as "arrogant." Nice. Caught in New York City traffic, he says, "Boy, I wish there were some handicapped children we could throw out into the street to slow everybody down." Ass. I feel sorry for his kids. His wife seems to find his obnoxiousness cute. (Probably because he's an architect and makes big bucks.) Ugh.
3. The family of squealers. Can't remember their surname. The women all squeal like pigs in an abattoir. They're the ones who knocked the display over in the sporting goods store.

Well, we'll see how well the kids handle the stress. I think it's a lot to put on small people. But then again, that's just me, and I wasn't raised by screaming, Type A go-getters.

At least Jonathan and Victoria aren't out there this time around. Thank you, God.

Random Things...

...I wrote in a notebook that I just found this morning:

"terrifying animated/anthropomorphic light bulbs and rocking chairs - Hall of Presidents or Pirates gone very, very wrong"

"furniture store/funeral home - kosher dogs?"

"substantiate claims/assertions"

"enormous motorhome outside - still had temporary plates"

"blonde bombshell and her surgically altered blonde mother with a hyperkinetic yippy dog struggling to get out of her arms"

"sometimes I wonder why I ever left Moline"

"I can't help but wonder how they live with themselves and how they sleep at night"

"Being Bobby Brown - sweet Jesus, make it stop!"


Late last night, I saw a public service announcement for an adult literacy and basic skills initiative here in DC. The ad shows a man standing and reading an ad posted in a metro car. He begins to speak in a loud voice, getting the attention of the other passengers nearby:

"Read this out loud because there's a chance someone close to you can't. A lot of people in DC have trouble with reading, writing, or math. Some need help with skills for work or to get a GED. Now there are programs designed to help people get the skills they need or their GED. These programs are free or low cost and are near bus or Metro stops."

Okay, that's excellent. And I think the "read this out loud" part is really brilliant. But then, in the ad, the man then reads this out loud:

"Call 1-866-READ-OUT."

Wait. Wait just one second. If you are illiterate, how the hell are you supposed to know how to spell "READ-OUT"??????? That's the end of the ad. It would have been very powerful except for the whole "let's mess with the people we want to help" element. WTF?

Now, to give due credit, I located a copy of the actual Metro poster here. And that poster does feature an actual phone number. But, seriously, folks - those same illiterate people are likely watching TV. In fact, the message is going to get across better in a direct TV presentation than as a stranger ranting on the Metro. (People like to ignore and tune out strangers who talk to themselves on the Metro.) Why not make the TV message as (theoretically) effective as the posters? Why not have the man read the digits for the phone number? It's not as if someone is going to turn to the person next to them on the sofa and say, "Excuse me. I can't read. Can you tell me how to spell the words that man said is the phone number for the literacy and skills hotline??" Oy vey.

Forgive me while I bang my head against a wall.

So shines a poorly executed good deed in a weary world.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Oh, now that's unfortunate

The new parking sticker for my car was slipped under my door this weekend. When I opened the envelope, I noticed something just a little wrong about it. Instead of the usual directions to attach the sticket to my bumper, this was printed on the reflective tape:

"Attach to a clean, dry dumper."

The thoughts in my head are both juvenile and tasteless. I shall refrain from commenting. But, if I can get the macro feature to work on my camera, I'll post the evidence... of the misprinted sticker, that is. I'm not taking any "dumper" pictures, whatever that really means...

Sorry about that, chief...

Don Adams has died. To younger folks, he was the voice of Inspector Gadget. To me, he will always be the voice of Tennessee Tuxedo and the one and only Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 of the super secret spy agency CONTROL. It's hard to believe that "Get Smart!" is 40 years old. The show debuted on September 18, 1965, which means it premiered only a month and a half before I did. "Get Smart!" ran through 1969 and then played in syndication for ages. I remember watching it with my mom back in the early '70's.

Max, Agent 99, the evil agents of KAOS, the Chief, the Cone of Silence, the shoe phone... if you're of the right age, it's all so familiar. I had my own "Get Smart!" moment in 1989, when I had to go to the CIA for a security briefing before I went to work at the American Embassy in Moscow. Our orientation group was a mix of foreign service officers and peon contractors like myself. While some of the foreign service folks were normal, decent folks, some of them carried this undeserved air of superiority that really steamed my clams. So, you did well on a standardized multiple choice test and then handled the "in-basket" test well? So friggin' what?

The officers who felt we peon contractors shouldn't be there protested our presence loudly and repeatedly. (There were always nasty anti-contractor "suggestions" in the embassy comment box in Moscow. Snobs.) But their elitist outrage didn't keep us off the bus to Langley that day. We were escorted everywhere by a cadre of quick-eyed CIA employees who kept us from looking in open doorways (I still did it) and monitored our every move in the cafeteria. There were discussions of counterintelligence and protection of assets. We were shown short movies about "Security and You."

And we got to handle cool spy crap that the CIA had confiscated over the years. Handy hint, CIA people: don't ever try to keep a group's attention when you're passing around radios hidden in razors, cameras in fountain pens, and, god help us... a shoe phone. We couldn't help ourselves, you know. Everyone who touched the shoe phone (a fine bit of Soviet craftsmanship) had to hold the sole up to a grinning face and yell into it.

When the phone was handed to me, I pressed the heel to my ear and stage whispered, "99! 99! KAOS got me! Call the Chief!" The phone was removed from my possession at that point by a prune-faced CIA attendant. These people are just no fun.

I assume that my less-than-reverential behavior was noted for my file. I interviewed for a job with the CIA back in 1992 or 1993. That was a hilarious day. Have I written about that here? I can't remember. Long story short, I was one of 30 applicants plucked that year as a possible candidate for Clandestine Services. HA! Ever see an extremely rotund woman try to surreptitiously rappel down a wall? Sydney Bristow I ain't.

My career as a spy was short-lived. I passed the interview, but I wasn't really interested in co-opting foreign citizens for U.S. intelligence purposes. I felt that living under an assumed identify wasn't something I could pull off - I'd be laughing my ass off ten minutes into an assignment. Also, they wanted me to reveal the names of every foreigner I know and give up my friendships with them. Not. Bloodly. Likely.

I wonder if I still have the 20-some-odd page application they wanted me to complete. It had some really intense questions. I suppose by now it's self-destructed into dust in the bottom of a box in my closet.

Ah well... all in the past now...

As for Don Adams? He was 82. That's a pretty good run, folks. Not too shabby. Agent Maxwell Smart, the Cone of Silence has come down upon you one last time. Farewell.

Are you symmetrical?

I'm listening to the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU right now. His guest is a gent named Mario Livio, and they're discussing symmetry in nature. Livio has just noted that research shows women who claim their partners have symmetrical facial features are more sexually satisfied.

I wonder if men, being more visually focused and stimulated, have an even stronger reaction to a partner with (theoretically) symmetrical features? That might explain Shannen Doherty's inability to make a relationship stick. (Well, that and the fact that she's kinda nuts.)

C'mon - y'all have noticed that one of her eyes is higher than the other, right? I actually find it fascinating, considering Hollywood's obsession with perfection in women, that an actress with an unusual facial abnormality could be cast as a major character in two shows. Of course, both shows were ensemble pieces (90210 & Charmed) - would she and her uneven eyes be able to star in a solo network effort? (I'm not counting the twisted prank show on Sci-Fi, and she was kicked off her WB/UPN/whatever show before filming ever even started.) Just wondering...

In watching "Rome" last night, I realized how much I enjoyed the British casting of the show. The women - with the possible exception of Polly Walker as Resident Badass Bitch Atia of the Julii - are not perfect Hollywood beauties. Don't get me wrong - they're all beautiful women with gorgeous skin and strong UK film and theater pedigrees, but most of them wouldn't stand a chance of catching many gigs in Hollywood. I like to think of it as the "Helen Mirren Syndrome" - a fantastic actress, but not cosmetically hot or young enough for most Hollywood producers to give her the time of day. (Grrrr.) In "Rome" there are older women with crows feet, some with unaltered, uncapped teeth, and a couple with cool, prominent schnozzes - and it's a wonderful, wonderful variety of beauty. I think it makes me like the show even more.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


If you have HBO, watch "Extras", the new comedy with Ricky Gervais. Tonight's premiere with Kate Winslet was brilliant. It's funny, a little twisted, and with Gervais' trademark moments of utter squirming discomfort.

If you see this man, tell him he's hilarious.

I watched the show with the Sasquatch, over the phone. And we laughed. A lot. One of our biggest evil chuckles was over a totally bizarre term for male genitalia - made hilarious by virtue of the fact that it's offered up by Kate Winslet, dressed as a nun. That's all I'm sayin'.

I'll never think of ferrets in the same way, ever again...

Heh heh heh heh heh...

Post Secret Favorite of the Week

This totally cracked me up. I so agree:

Whoa, Nellie!

This evening, I ran a search for "Moline" (my hometown in Illinois) on Technorati. I figured I might find a few blogs by locals - just curious. A few pages in, I found a link to a blog talking about the FBI, prostitution, the local Moline ABC affiliate (just down the street from the house where I grew up), and a whole lot of other random stuff. I clicked and started to read.

It only took me two entries to realize that I had discovered the journal of a clearly unhinged woman. My guess would be that she is an unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic. Poor thing. She thinks the people at Hancock Fabrics are after her. So is the FBI. She believes that she was programmed to be a prostitute. She also believes someone stole her boyfriend's identity and used his name to go on ABC World News Tonight (via the Moline studios) to defame her and proclaim that most strippers in America are plus-size women. (WTF?)

I hope some mental health professional back in the Quad Cities stumbles upon this poor thing's pages. It's fascinating and sad and frightening. And while I feel very bad for her, I'd like to warn my family and friends to be very careful when going to the fabric store. Avoid eye contact with the disheveled woman mumbling about strippers and the FBI...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Mind the Snarge!

Ladies and gentlemen, from the flight deck... the fasten seatbelt signs have been turned on... we are expecting a little snarge ahead...

Snarge. The disappointing thing about this article is that they did not explain how the hell they came up with the term in the first place.


Recently, Magazine Man wrote about his propensity for making errors when typing at great speed. Reading some of his classic errors brought to mind the unintentially hilarious stuff we used to get at my old office. I worked on a program that brought businesspeople, scientists, kiss-ass bureaucrats, dairy farmers, and all sorts of management-level folks from Eurasia (aka, the former Soviet Union) to the United States for training. Some came in delegations of 18 or so, for a month of intensive training (and shopping on USG per diem) while traveling to various spots around the country, and others were invited for 3-6 months of training with one company.

All the candidates for these programs are required to submit an internship application in English. And, while most of those I read were written in straightforward, if stilted, English (it helps to be a Russian speaker to understand the English sentence structure they use), some took deviations on the path to understanding.

There was, for instance, the oil company manager who was eager to see off-shore drilling rigs. He enthusiastically declared that he wanted "to be the master of (his) own erection." Good for you, sir! I'm sure that would be a proud moment, indeed.

Then, there was the doctor who was so excited to tell us about the new technology at his hospital. I'm assuming he was trying to describe ventilators or oxygen tents when he wrote of the great "blow jobs" available at his clinic. He even invited us to come see him if we ever needed a blow job. Generous offer, Gospodin Doktor. But I think I'll pass.

For some reason, our application asked for the candidate's hobbies, as if we were interviewing Miss America contestants. One man wrote that he enjoyed "taking the long walks on the water" as well as "the sport of displaying the muscles." Duuudes! Jesus is Russian and he likes to pump iron!

This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many stories. One that had no linguistic problem -but lots of social ones - was from a young male airline manager who wrote that women were irritating and annoying to deal with. He wanted to come on the program to see how American managers dealt with their bothersome female workplace antics and kept the ladies in line. (He did not make the program.)

All this reminds me of a story told to me by a friend of mine who is an interpreter. He worked on a program with one Russian participant who was a pain in the ass. My friend and one of his colleagues took the troublesome gent to lunch at a Black Angus steakhouse and gave him the skinny: either shape up or be shipped out, back to Moscow, asap. The guy cleaned up his act and stayed for the whole program. On the last day, the chastened and reformed gent got up in front of the group and all the American hosts and thanked my friend for taking him to "tasty black anus" and for showing him how he should behave...

I'm sure these stories continue on at my old workplace. Of course, since I was removed for being a Potential Axe-Wielding Murderous Menace®, I will never know. C'est la vie. And keep up the good work, oh torturers of the English tongue, wherever you are! A hearty belly laugh is a Good Thing.

AudioBlogging when half asleep.

Definitely lacks AJ's concise nature and production values... but whaddya expect at 1:53 in the morning?? And Maria? She's no aquí, amigos. Wish the call I took during this audioblog had been one of the ones in Spanish - you could have listened to my painfully nonexistent "Es-span-ohl" as Peggy Hill says.

this is an audio post - click to play

Really am sorry about the Carl von Cosel bit. But if you're intrigued by the macabre story, you can read more details here. {{{shudder}}} The creepiest part is that fact that a Key West funeral home actually put the poor woman on display for people to come and check out von Cosel's "handiwork." Twisted. (And yes, there are pictures on the Internet and I ain't sayin' where...)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Urban Movie Viewing

First things first - my VCR crapped out on me. Either than, or I screwed up the programming and the connections with the receiver (which has happened before - I am a techno-boob.) End result? I do not know what is in the damn hatch. Yeah, I missed the season premiere of "Lost". Dammit. Crap, crap, crappity crap. I'm hope-hope-hoping ABC will be doing more of those encore showings this season.

On the bright side of things, I did get to see the advance screening of "Serenity" last night. The theater wasn't full at all - it made me feel bad for those poor bastards who were buying tickets off of eBay to sneak previews for a couple hundred bucks a pop just a month or two ago. Suckers. In deference to Claire, I will not provide any commentary, except to say that, if you like Joss Whedon and his gift for witty dialogue, you should go see it. (Of course, Ron Glass will always be Detective Harris of "Barney Miller" to me, but that's my problem, not yours.)

I had another invite to a sneak preview tonight at the same tony multiplex in lower Georgetown. This evening's movie was David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence", starring Viggo "Looks Better with Middle Earth Hair and Dirt" Mortensen and Maria "No Slouch Post-ER" Bello. (By the way, do you think Noah Wyle has spent his fortune hunting down and burning all existing copies of "The Librarian: Quest for the Spear"?) Fairly good movie with sporadic graphic violence and an atrocious attempt at a Philly accent by Amish-bearded mobster William Hurt. (Note to all movie directors: PLEASE don't ask William Hurt to do accents. We all remember the "Gorky Park" fiasco, right?)

The most interesting aspect of tonight's cinematic experience though was that, unlike last night, this evening's entertainment was brought to you by the letters A, R, G, and the words "punk ass muthafucka." Yes, tonight was an Urban Movie Experience. It was audience participation night with loud running commentary, Tourettes-like bursts of profanity, bizarre laughter everytime someone was killed, maimed, or terrified (seriously, I so don't get that), and the woman behind me and my friend who punctuated each line on screen with "mmm hmmm" or "oh yeah!"

When two teens on screen have a school hallway fistfight, some guy two rows back screamed, "OH YEAH, MUTHAFUCKA! YOU BEAT HIM DOWN, BOY! PUNK-ASS BITCH MUTHAFUCKA!" Which lead to much cheering and screaming. Another highlight, from the poet laureate in the front row, was clearly intended as assistance for the visually impaired in the audience: "AAAAH, DAWG! MUTHAFUCKA GETS CAPPED ON THE STEPS OF HIS OWN CRIB! AAAAAH, MAN!" (All things considered, the front row poet was more entertaining than the rest of the participatory members of the audience, really.)

I would love to know if anyone has done ethnographic research on the Urban Movie Experience vs. the Suburban Movie Experience. Why, in the Urban Movie Experience, is it necessary to talk back to the screen or shout directions to the characters? Why are scenes of violence considered funny as hell? I'm baffled. And I say that as an avid cultural observer. I just don't get it.

I had my first Urban Movie Experience at Union Station, shortly after I arrived in DC. HoyaMEB, her husband, and I went to see "The Crow." We were pretty freaked out by the audience laughing their asses off over the violent deaths of the bad guys - in fact, the death of one guy after being impaled on a gazillion heroin-filled needles brought the house down. And the woman who stood up a few times screaming, "DON'T OPEN THAT DOOR! DON'T GO IN THAT ROOM" and shrieking, well, that was the cake topper.

Maybe I am just too uptight to appreciate Urban Cinema. Maybe I should just give in to the overall experience.

...No, I shouldn't. I'm paying to see a movie, not listen to the rest of the audience.

Here, though, is the interesting point, and I'm not sure that I like what it says about me - had I been in one of my suburban haunts, I would have had turned around and yelled "SHUT UP!" or gone to get a manager. But here, I didn't. Here, I wasn't sure what the response would have been. And it makes me sad to see myself type that. What was I afraid of? Dang it.

Well... unless the tickets are free, like these were, I'm sticking to my suburban theaters. Call me an asshole - I just want to hear the damn movie. My uptight suburban opinion is if you want to yammer and scream obscenities, just wait for the DVD.

This Weekend in Bethesda...

The 2005 Small Press Expo, "North America's Premiere Independent Cartooning and Comics Arts Festival." You know, Neil Gaiman will be in DC this weekend for the National Book Festival. Wonder if he'll be making his way up to Bethesda to check out the indy comic stuff. Harvey Pekar will be there...

The following weekend is Taste of Bethesda. Totally different crowd. I highly doubt Harvey Pekar will be present, sampling nummy tidbits of Thai salad and hearty fare from the overpriced kosher steakhouse...

Speaking of food, Krupin's Deli has new signage - now, it is merely K's Deli. I don't know if this means that Krupin's simply has decided to stop kickin' it old school and just go with the Diddy philosophy of names that "less is more" or it's not a Krupin running the show anymore. (I envision Tommy Lee Jones after another mind wipe, a la Men In Black.) I used to get a kick out of the Krupin's references on The West Wing.

Is the pastrami from Krupins?


Tissue paper thin?


Truth be told, it's not really all that great. But, for DC, it'll do.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


I just got an invite to a sneak preview of "Serenity" tonight. Dear god, I hope my VCR works. Must... see... Lost... but... must... also... see... Joss... Whedon... movie...


This is surely an argument for Tivo, eh?

Blogspot! What's your damage, yo?

Last night, Blogspot seemed to have a systematic shudder that ate one of my entries, changed the formatting on an existing entry, and refused to let me post yet another entry. The one it refused to post, I admit wasn't very good, but still. It seems to have the post in some sort of suspended animation - it's there, but it's not publicly there. WTF?

I suppose, considering the vast number of blogs out here, it's pretty miraculous hiccups don't happen more often. If you build a free blog site, they will come. (Sorry, "Field of Dreams" was on AMC last night. Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson - yeah! My favorite moment is when he says "Ty Cobb wanted to play, but none of us could stand the sonofabitch when we were alive, so we told him to stick it!" and then does his patented Ray Liotta Crazy MF'er laugh. Excellent.)

I don't understand the fakey business blogs that simply have entries that read "maternity-maternity wear-maternity supplies-maternity-baby clothes-babies-baby supplies" ad nauseum. What purpose do these things serve? Anyone have any input? (Anyone actually care?)

"Lost" season premiere tonight. I'm sure there will be more new questions than answers. I fear I'm going to have to start a big Lost flowchart, like we did in Moscow, to track "Twin Peaks." What's in that damn hatch?? Arrrrrg! ("Hey! Nice jacket! What's in the big pink box?" A prize to the first person who identifies the reference - Mr. Squatch is ineligible to play. He knows this far too well... Damn monkeyboy.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Justice, Not Vengeance

Simon Wiesenthal - Survivor, scholar, and Nazi hunter - has died in Vienna at 96.

"Survival is a privilege which entails obligations. I am forever asking myself what I can do for those who have not survived."

"Hatred can be nurtured anywhere, idealism can be perverted into sadism anywhere. If hatred and sadism combine with modern technology the inferno could erupt anew anywhere."

"If you know from history the danger, then part of the danger is over because it may not take you by surprise as it did your ancestors."

"There is no denying that Hitler and Stalin are alive today... they are waiting for us to forget, because this is what makes possible the resurrection of these two monsters."

Never, ever, ever forget.

Monday, September 19, 2005

I invoke the right of parley!

Thanks to the lovely and talented Suze, I now know that today is Talk Like a Pirate Day. While I myself have never been very gifted in the palaver of the corsairs, buccaneers, and privateers (or even the guys who illegally make copies of Oscar nominee screener DVDs), I have met a couple of people who are so gifted. And I hope to give them both a wide berth for the rest of my days.

Both of the matey men were Bad Dates. They were such Bad Dates, in fact, that the term Bad Dates should, in reference to them, be intoned with the same gravity as Sallah used when giving Doctor Jones snack advice. Bad Dates.

Good Dates, meet Bad Dates!

Both of my Bad Dates were spurred on by Internet chat. Yeah, my bad, I know. But, keep in mind, these were both long ago, when most of us fools merely had dial-up accounts visible only as white courier font on a black screen. I've learned a great deal since then. For real.

My first misadventure on the theoretical high seas came in the form of Mikey H. Mikey was, by his description, a computer genius living in Silicon Valley, writing code and riding high before the IT bubble burst. He had even published a tome for those hoping to master a particular coding language. And, on his weekends, he liked to dress up as a pirate and sing songs of the sea. Hey, I can dig a little geekiness. After all, I knew a perfectly reasonable human who dressed up in renaissance gear and brandished weapons a couple of times a year. What harm could there be? This guy was gainfully employed and seemed very amusing. We even shared the same birthday. Same year and everything.

After six months of chatting back and forth, we made arrangements for him to come out and meet me. I had no leave and a crazy schedule, but he had a "flexible employer" and could spare a day off for a long weekend trek across country. I had a small stack of frequent flyer miles that were about to expire (this was before most airlines made miles a non-expiring concept), and as I couldn't use them, it seemed practical to use 'em to buy Mikey a ticket for a weekend visit.

Oh lord, I was a moron.

The evening Mikey was to arrive, I was dressed nicely for a conference in Virginia. I zoomed out early from a brain-sucking management seminar and headed to the airport, looking for a 6'3", bearded man, around 200 lbs. I really didn't expect the 275-lb 5'5" man that appeared, clutching a used teddy bear and wearing dirty, holey jeans that dragged in filthy shreds around his heels and a t-shirt so stained, torn and faded, I felt like I had arrived at a men's shelter, and not Dulles Airport. I considered bolting right then and there, but I had made a commitment, and basic decency and civility kept me from running. Still, I felt like an idiot.

Size certainly isn't everything, but if you're expecting a 6'3" date
and get someone you're looking down on, it's a wee bit of a surprise...

I had been duped. And he seemed pretty proud of himself. He greeted me by saying, "Arrrrg, wench, come here and let me taste your lips." I extended a hand for him to shake, and I think he knew I was not the happiest camper around. Did I care that he was a rotund man, shorter than me? No. Hey, I am no beauty queen. "Short and rotund" is my middle name. But I didn't appreciate being lied to, and then have him show up for the Big Meet looking filthy and vagrant.

Oh wait - turns out he was vagrant. He hadn't had a job in months. (I know that feeling, too, but I'm not fibbing about it.) When he e-mailed me, claiming to be at work, creating oh-so-dynamic code, he was actually at the local library in San Jose. When he called, it was from a friend's apartment. (Damn, I should have had caller ID back then.) And, for seven months, he'd been living in a van (dear god, not "down by the river", I hope) with four cats. He'd been evicted for "not keeping things all that hygienic, I guess" with the kitties.


The ladies will agree: it's a disappointment when your date turns out to be a fake.
You always want something real and substantial, not two-dimensional and sketchy...

And, bastardo, he'd arranged his return flight, which was supposed to take him home on Sunday evening, for a week later. Not. Gonna. Happen. Oh, and that hotel reservation he'd made down the street? Didn't exist. He was assuming I'd be so charmed by him, I'd want him to move in immediately. I recall going to some Chinese place for dinner, still feeling punch drunk from the shock, as he happily unspooled his reel o' lies. He had figured that I would be so desperate for male companionship that I'd be willing to accept all his flaws and fibs once he appeared on the scene. Oh, my dear Mikey, me matey, how you did miscalculate!

The only verifiably true things about him were:

1. He was a guy (actually, I really didn't want to get close enough to check any parts, but I'm willing to go with him being male, beard and all.)
2. He had written a book once (he brought a copy)
3. He liked to dress up as a pirate and sing (he brought pictures... scary, scary pictures...)

At the restaurant, he ordered some dish with a hardboiled egg in it. He proceeded to loudly tell me that he liked to use hardboiled eggs at the local renaissance faire to show women how he could "perform amazing oral feats." He would gather a gaggle of ladies together and demonstrate his "tongue technique" to carefully remove the yolk. He started his little show in the restaurant, I asked him to stop - very firmly - and he did. I do believe by that point, I had ice crystals forming in the air around me. If he couldn't feel the distinct deep freeze I was exuding, he was insane.

I look him to the hotel, and he asked if he couldn't puh-leeze stay with me. After all, the room cost would take all his cash and he hadn't brought any luggage - all he had brought was the clothing he was wearing. Leering at me, he said, "I really hadn't planned on leaving your bed all weekend, ye cheeky wench, arrrrrrg."

Ewww. And more EWWWW.

I left him in his room. He was actually still trying to sell me on his amazing pirate-tastic "tongue technique" as I closed the door and bolted to my car. I returned home and pondered just what the hell to do. Clearly, I wasn't going to be socializing with him. I really didn't want to be in touching, speaking, or breathing range of him for another 24 hours, let alone a week. Nor was I going to provide housing for him for a week, or even for a night.

I got up early the next morning, having barely slept. I not only felt foolish, but angry. I was lied to on a fairly epic scale, and I felt my only recourse was to ship his ass home ASAP. I went to the hotel and called up to his room. He was pissed at my early call and showed up in the lobby in the same disheveled state, but with his t-shirt wet, after a quick wash in the sink.

It's always nice when your dates are spiffy and make a good first impression.

When I told him I was taking him to breakfast, he brightened up considerably. Hey, free food! We went to the Original Pancake House in downtown Bethesda, where I picked at my plate and felt fairly sick. Mikey gave me his rationale for why I should accept him, fibs and all. "After all, hon, it's not like most guys are gonna go for you. I'm willing to take you, even if you are pretty dang fat and everything. Whaddya say?" Breakfast was over. I told Mikey that I would be leaving town later that day (true - I'd decided that escaping to my sister's house in New Jersey was a good option under the circumstances.) If Mikey wanted to stay in the hotel for a week, he was more than welcome to do so, on his own dime. There was a Metro station a block away, and the museums downtown were free.

After pondering this for a moment, Mikey said, "So, no negotiation? C'mon! You don't even wanna do it a coupla times before I leave?" I didn't say anything. I just pulled out my wallet to pay the bill. Mikey asked to borrow my cell phone, and, with much irritation, he called the airline to see if he could change his ticket. "You know," Mikey growled at me while he waited on hold, "if I were a real pirate, I would have just taken you by force."

I must have looked like I was standing in a pile of dog crap. "You know, Mikey, " I responded, bitterly, "if you were a real pirate, you'd probably have been beaten to death by your crewmates by now."

I drove Mikey to the airport. I barely gave him enough time to get out of the car before I drove away. Bastard posted something on his fake pirate's website a couple of days later about how he'd had a helluva weekend rolling in the hay with "that wench out east." He also sent me an e-mail about how a virtuous person gives second chances. Heh. Call me unvirtuous. I'm cool with that.

Second pirate date story? Short and sweet. Went out to dinner with a guy who builds ship models for a living. He floats them in war game scenarios for a federal agency. He chose a seafood place. He called the waitress "wench", asked for his "grog" and told me that he was the reincarnation of a sailor from the Spanish Armada, and that explained his ability to do so well with his model ships. (Uh, yeah... sure...) Leaving the restaurant, he recommended a nice place for coffee, and, once again, being stupid, but civil, I agreed.

In his car, he starts singing a sea chantie. "Oh we sailed for the cape about six in the mornin'..." and then, sitting at a stop light, he says, "Sooooo, ya wanna fuck?" I have never moved so fast in my life. I was out of the car, at the light, and flying to the Metro station on the next block.

Well, that was one fresh date!
A little too fresh for me, frankly.

I never heard from Armada man again.

And, you know, that's okay.

If you have a close friend in whom you can confide, it's good
to get together and dissect your dates, especially the bad ones...

The next time I go on a date with someone who wants to talk (or dress) like a pirate or call any woman in the room a wench/saucy wench/any sort of wench, he'd best be Johnny Friggin' Depp. That's all I'm sayin'...

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Is the plural of Emmy "Emmies" or "Emmys"?

I think it's "Emmys" even though that makes my brain ache.

Another award show is done. Another Sunday night of me and my ass on the sofa draws to a close.

While I think it would be a hoot to dress up and observe the glamorous drama of a big Hollywood event, I'm afraid I'd want to leave shortly after arriving. It's just too long to sit. I'd be shifting in my seat, feeling my legs go numb, and praying for death. All award shows are too long. Award shows that have Earth, Wind & Fire rewriting the words to "September" are already too long by the opening number.

I did enjoy William Shatner doing the Star Trek theme thing. With Frederica von Stade. Weird.

And I was most happy, indeed, to see "Lost" win for best drama. (Hey, Javier! Lookin' spiffy up there on stage!!) But I was bummed to see Shatner best Terry O'Quinn for Best Supporting Actor/Drama.

First - is "Boston Legal" really a drama? No offense to the show, but it really doesn't cry out drama to me. Plus, Shatner really seems to just be playing himself, honestly. Big, blustery Wm. Shatner.

Terry O'Quinn, on the other hand, is the consummate journeyman character actor. I love seeing him pop up here and there in quality shows, and it was just cool to see him emerge as Locke on "Lost." Great character. Just great. I really look forward to seeing how his story continues. And he gets beat out by William Shatner, gnawing on the scenery as Denny Crane. Oy vey iz mir.

I think the show seemed even longer to me tonight because I had these awful Crest Premium White Strips on my teeth. I had the appalling revelation that my increased coffee consumption over the past few months had turned my teeth something less than white. How bad was it? Let's just say my one visible porcelain crown stands out like a sore thumb. The strips were on sale today at CVS, plus I had a coupon, so I invested in a box.

Which I couldn't open.

Apparently, I'd forgotten that whole "path of least resistance" thing. I didn't notice the nice little flip top lid and, instead, spent five minutes trying to pry the sides open, which only resulted in frustration and a blood blister on one of my fingers. D'oh!

Yes, folks, she's a smart one.

You have to wear these peroxide strips from hell for 30 minutes, twice a day, for 10 days. Ugh. They say you can observe results in as few as three days. If, at the three day mark, my teeth are anywhere near the color of my crown, I'm done. These things taste like crap, make you drool and give you unpleasant tooth and gum sensitivity. Yes, I'm an idiot, but I'll have nice white teeth, right? (Not "Ross Gellar white", but at least not tarnished yellow death teeth...)

And thus endeth another day in paradise.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Google Earth: Good Thing, Bad Thing, or Scary Thing?

I installed Google Earth on my computer tonight and just viewed the house I grew up in, the building where I live now, and my university hall of residence in London (the location of the bus bomb blast earlier this year.) I was even able to identify the the skylight on Apartment 14A on the new American Embassy compound in Moscow, Russia - my first home in the Soviet Union. Damn.

It's cool, but there is a creepy, stalker-y feeling to Google Earth, too. I feel a little unsettled by it. I also was zooming in on cities with such speed, I got a little ill.

Interesting toy. Must ponder it.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Note to Self, the Russian Gourmet Edition

I know better. I really do.

I speak Russian. In fact, I speak it well. Years ago, people would ask me when I immigrated, and, silently, I would beam. That's pretty cool. But, after more than a decade away from Moscow living, a possess an atrocious American accent. Eh, feh. I am an American. I guess I'll just have to own that.

But when I go into a Russian grocery store, accent be damned. I should just speak the tongue I know so well. Sometimes, though, I wuss out. I get lazy and just speak in minimal English rather than go through the ritual questions of "Where did you learn to speak Russian so well?" or hear the backhanded compliments like, "Most Americans just can't speak Russian that way." Or the insistence that I must have "russkaya krov'" - Russian blood.

"Nyet Russkoy krovi, sovsem" is always my answer. No Russian blood at all. "Chistaya Amerikanka." I'm a total American. "Heinz 57" doesn't really translate into Russian. Go figure.

So, today I wussed out. I took the low road and only spoke English, while everyone else bantered in quick, comfortable Russian. I decided to get small containers of fresh salads, vinagret, a deep purple concoction of beets and potatoes, and adzhapsandal, a wonderful mix of stewed eggplant, tomatoes, onion, and spices. Really tasty hot or cold.

Next to these was a large bowl of spicy, marinated carrot salad - a dish that moved from the Korean markets of Central Asia to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Very tasty, and, theoretically, easy to prepare, so I didn't buy any. But it really looked good.

"Would you like to try some carrot salad?" The clerk had filled a spoon high with a sample for me, which I gladly took.

Two points to keep in mind for my next trip to this store:

1. Don't forget your real glasses in the car. You can't see colors as well behind thick sunglasses in a store with "mood lighting."
2. Speak Russian. Speak Russian. And speak Russian.

You see, the word "herring" sounds a lot like "carrot" with a Russian accent. And sunglasses just make you think you're getting a big spoonful of pale carrots.

One vile mouthful of cold pickled herring salad later, I was wishing for death.

I hate herring. Vile little fish. A friend of mine just said to me, "Herring is bait for real fish." She's from Alaska. She knows Real Fish.

Diplomatically, I ate my mouthful of herring while the clerk told me how easy it was to make at home. I told her that I'd have to consider buying some on my next visit. I'll just take my eggplant and vinagret today, thanks.

I spent the next five minutes outside the store trying to control the dry heaves and sucking down a diet Coke from Jerry's Subs next door, in a failed attempt to remove the fishy flavor from my mouth. I think I'm still trying to de-herring myself.

Herring, meet carrot.

Carrot, meet herring.

Carrot. Herring. Herring. Carrot. (And you have to understand, with a Russian accent, that's KEHrot and KHERing. So, it's easy to mess up with a lazy ear.) In Russian, carrot is морковь (morkov'), and herring is сельдь (sel'd'). Not even close. No possible error in hearing the difference in those suckers.

Lesson learned. I will not be a language weenie again.

And I've consumed my last herring for this decade, thanks. Once every 10 years = more than enough bait.

Update: That night, and throughout the following day, I suffered the miserable ill effects of herring salad food contamination. That was evil, pure and simple, from the eighth dimension - and a dirty kitchen, I'm guessing. I'm off fish (tuna even) for some time to come...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Interview with a Sweaty Vampire

Well, not really, but it was a sultry stinkfest in DC today. And, lord knows, there's nothing better than going for a job interview on the most humid, junglelike day of the whole week. Ms. Frizzhead here had so much product in her hair, it looked like a liquid latex helmet. (Of course, by the afternoon, the frizz had returned.)

It took me 75 minutes to drive 11 miles from my place to the interview location on M Street. That was a wee bit longer than I'd anticipated, but I'd built in extra time for my drive. In DC, you never know when you might get "motorcaded" and stuck for 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes. Once, waiting for Bush to travel the mile or so from the White House to the Capitol, I was trapped in traffic for 40 minutes - the motorcycle cop holding up traffic at Pennsylvania & 13th never got the clearance to let us go, and so we sat for a good 35 minutes longer than necessary. This situation was made worse by the fact that I'd dropped one of my colleagues off at the CVS around the corner right before traffic was stopped. I was supposed to circle the block once and fetch her again so that we could head off to an evening movie. She thought I'd abandoned her, and she was fuming when I finally was able to return. Why she hadn't peeked around the corner through all this, though, I will never know.

Today's traffic was ungodly, but not uncommon. It's been so long since I've driven into the city, I'd forgotten how much I hate that commute. Fortunately, there is a Metro station three blocks away (although, post-9/11, commuting by Metro isn't my fondest wish either.) I found parking a half-block from my appointment and cruised in right on time. Had a very good interview, indeed. I felt like I was a pilgrim at Mecca or the Vatican. To work for this organization would be a childhood dream achieved (except I wouldn't get to be out in the field.) It's somewhat weird to think of working there, yet I think it's a real possibility.

Guess the non-profit, win a prize.

Successful first round candidates will be brought back for another round of interviews the week of the 27th. That's cool. Then, the decision will come in October, with a start in early November. This would make a fine 40th birthday present. I think I did well. My thank you letters are written. Here's hoping for a call to the second round.

Fingers, toes, eyes crossed. Fingers, toes, eyes...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

For the record...

...I'll take any non-pagan good thoughts, too. Seeing as I'm a nice lapsed cafeteria Catholic, myself.

But, damn. That pagan chocolate thing still sounds pretty awesome...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Job interview Thursday

M Street NW. I'm not saying anything else. No jinx'ing. No way. No how.

Capital Weather says Thursday will be hot, stinky, sweaty, and rainy. Great. The Amazing Ms. Frizzhead goes to grovel for employment. Yeehaw!

Courtesy of the Metro Connection show website, I see that this is DC Pagan Pride Week. Any pagans out there wanna think good thoughts for me, I'd appreciate it. (Some of the local pagans in Virginia are doing a "Chocolate Ritual" on Thursday. Might be worth going all earthy and frolicky for that...)

Burning washers and cable theft

If you spend any amount of time in the developing world, there is a set of scents that become familiar to you: rotting garbage, cooked cabbage (or the local equivalent), B.O., cheap tobacco, expended automobile and railway fuel, and the heavy smell of toxic cookfires. The toxicity comes from the often unnatural substances used to maintain the flames.

I associate the cookfire smell most strongly with Thailand, a country I dearly love, but still has a great deal of growth to achieve. Bangkok is one of the most amazing and polluted cities I've ever wandered, and the Chatuchak weekend market is one of my favorite places on the planet - this despite an array of stenches and debris that might make most people pass out. I was mugged the last time I was at Chatuchak. I was threatened at knifepoint by a small group of ethic Chinese gang members and had my security wallet cut from around my neck. I had $800 dollars in Thai baht in my wallet - carefully changed from travelers cheques that morning to make a cash-only purchase of handwoven Thai silk. The tourist police were appalled - violence against foreigners is rare, and thievery at Chatuchak is usually limited to light pickpocketing.

I also got the worst sunburn I've ever had in my life (I recall several nights of vomiting, sleeping sitting up, and aborted attempts to shower) and the most painful case of food poisoning on record in Thailand. Yet I love it still.

And the whole country has that cookfire odor. The first time you smell it, it can be overpowering. But then, you get used to it. It's familiar. It's almost comforting, in some noxious way.

This morning I had a dental appointment, just up the road a mile. I'd meant to be up at 6 to do the dishes, run to the gym, breakfast, and shower before having my semi-annual cleaning. But, when the alarm went off, I must have hit the snooze button, and I blinked. Until 9 a.m.

I shot out of bed, turned the local news on the TV and grabbed clothes. Just past my dentist's office, the local Maytag store and warehouse was in flames. The Maytag store is located on the Block of Death, a stretch of Randolph Road with a railroad crossing. This particular crossing is the suicide site of choice among despondent single mothers and men down on their luck. More than one unlucky commuter has been trapped by the crossing bars, unable to do anything but watch, horrified, as a mother kneels down on the tracks, sometimes with children in tow, as the Metroliner or CSX engine powers through with deadly force. The train whistles always sound evil to me for a few days after one of the suicides. I know I've read too much Stephen King, but the trains sound... hungry...

Today, though, it was Maytag that succumbed to the dark forces of the Block of Death. And, racing out of my apartment at 9:15, I stopped on the front step and breathed deep. Omigod. It was the smell of Thailand. That smell of toxic fires cooking chicken satay and blazing hot peppers and cuttlefish.

And I grimaced. Christ. If this was the smell of a warehouse full of washing machines, just what the hell were they cooking the food on in Thailand? I have to wonder how much charred insulation I've consumed over a handful of trips there.

Then again, if I could eat the weevil-riffic soup in Moscow and the dog food kabobs in Uzbekistan and three-eyed river fish (and giant mutant chicken eggs) from the post-Chernobyl Kuban', I probably am immune to the effects of artificial campfire. (Hell, I grew up in a house where Duraflame logs were burned every damn day, all winter long. I probably am just one big walking chemical disaster.)

I coughed the whole way to the dentist's office - the fire was still burning at Maytag. It was still fairly stinky when I went back out to my car, after the appointment. The dental clinic is inside White Flint Mall, the upscale shopping emporium of North Bethesda. Lord and Taylor, Bloomingdales, a kiosk selling gourmet doggie treats (and these creepy figurines called "Doogies" that have human bodies in a variety of garments and uniforms - you purchase the appropriate dog head to meet your needs and pop it on the torso.) Walking through White Flint is a little weird now. I'm not a viable customer for any of the stores there, save Borders - and that's really out of my $$ league right now. This was a commando raid - clean those choppers and go! My teeth are fine, by the way. My gums are happy and healthy. They wanted to do bitewing x-rays and a flouride treatment, but my wallet is too light for that. First time in my life I've had to ask for "just the basics, please" on my dental care. This, too, shall pass. I am confident. Maybe selling a few craptacular pieces of Soviet junk on eBay would cover that. (Uzbek goathoof whip, anyone??)

I got home to no cable and Internet service. Comcast was down right before I headed out in the morning, but I figured it was a temporary outage. Happens a lot here. Trees fall over all the time, like movie props, I swear. They take out neighbors' cars (one was smacked hard last night), phone lines, cable lines, you name it. I lost a windshield to the killer trees last year. The director of my old office didn't believe me, I'm sure, when I'd call in and say I would be late due to a tree in the street. In a decade of living here in The Land of Weak Trees, I've seen more Asplundh trucks and woodchippers come through than most people see in a lifetime.

There was a Comcast truck idling outside my building, so I went and bugged the nice man with the lilting African accent and asked if there was an outage. He shook his head - he was just there to install cable for the nice British couple who have just moved in across the hall. (They have a cute, gurgly baby who coos each time they come home. I get the giggles, when I hear "oooooooooooh!" out in the hall.)

The gent from Comcast went into the basement and fiddled with some wiring and then went back out to his truck. Suddenly, my cable was back, and there was a knock at my door. "Someone upstairs is stealing your cable." My jaw just about hit the floor. "Comcast checks connections periodically, and they discovered someone with regular service here has tapped into your digital service line. They are stealing signal from you, so Comcast cut you off so they could research who is stealing."

Nice. There are only 9 units in this building. Four of us have been here for ages now. 5 units are filled with new arrivals. Looks like one of the new arrivals is a stinkin' cable thief, and I'm getting punished for it. I've called the condo association, so they can put notes under doors. Comcast is going to have to basically do a house-to-house search to find the culprit. All the technician could tell was that it was being stolen by an upstairs unit. Losers. Stealing cable is so lame.

Cutting me off because someone else is stealing my cable? That's even more lame.

And the smell from the burning washers is now seeping into my living room. Hooray!

At least my teeth are clean. Yep, it's just another beautiful day.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Well, that's one hell of a niche market...

There are a couple of freelance writing websites I check every day to see if anyone has good/interesting/appropriate assignments available. Most days the pickings are pretty slim or focused on an area I can't - or won't - handle, like writing research papers for lazy college students to buy off the web. No thanks. No way. One publisher is always out there begging for people to write short stories about poker. All I know is what I pick up from watching Dave Foley and Phil Gordon comment on Celebrity Poker Showdown, and that's probably not enough for me to actually write something that works. (Note to Wil Wheaton: if you're really bored, there's a publisher looking for you...)

Today, however, there were some interesting offers on the table, one of which I'm going after, aggressively. This is not that offer. Although, this is... fascinating...

Japanese Gay Romance Manga Writers

Yaoi Press publishes graphic novels. These are thick, soft-cover, digest-sized comic books. Our books are drawn in the Japanese "manga" style. Our stories all fall into a niche Japanese genre called 'yaoi' that is popular with women in the United States. Yaoi is romantic stories about guys in love with other guys for women readers.

This is popular with women in the United States? Where?!? I'm not knocking Japanese gay romance comic books - I'm just curious about the American women who dig 'em.

Family-friendly Yaoi.
(BTW, there are some colorful Yaoi images out there on Google, I've just discovered. And not all of them are cartoon ones... I think I've had my gay porn quotient filled for the next decade. Maybe longer. Probably longer. Definitely longer.)

Who are you chicks? Are you reading this stuff on the way to work? Do you have a book club? Oprah's Japanese Gay Romance Comic Club? Enquiring minds really, really want to know.

I'd laugh myself silly if it turned out the core Yaoi readership consisted of housewives in Utah. But I highly doubt that's the case...

Need help from the Windows geeks

Since I installed the new hard drive, I've had trouble viewing some videos. Some things are perfectly clear, no problemo, but most videos appear as some sort of mostly orange and green mess, which is tremendously annoying.

I know jack about how all this works. Any suggestions?

Thanks mucho.

House of Sand and Fog

Well, that was depressing.

I think I'm going to move some mindless comedies up to the top of the Netflix queue.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Four Years

Metal bird dip wing of fire
Whose airlanes comb dark earth
The poles are tethers we were born in...

9:01 a.m.
, September 11, 2001

United Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles.

A flight attendant has been stabbed. The plane is flying erratically. Many passengers, huddled in the back, are vomiting.

A passenger calls his father.

“I think they’re taking the plane to Chicago or another city. I think they’re going to fly it into a building... Don’t worry, Dad. If it happens, it will be really fast... We are going down.”


At 6 a.m. that morning, I woke up with a terrible headache. I had gone to bed with that same headache. It was so intense, I’d just curled up on the sofa to sleep, leaving the TV on our local Fox station. It was bad enough that I determined I would not go into work. I would not try to call until after 9 a.m., as our office had just moved to another building, four blocks from the White House, and there was only one functioning phone and no Internet connection. I would call the cell phone of one of my coworkers. I set the alarm on my watch for 9 o’clock and fell back asleep.

8:46 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

A friend of mine is in her Manhattan office a block away, looking out the window toward the Towers when it happens. She drops her coffee onto her suit and stares.

9:00 a.m. I open one eye and see the Fox news time and temperature stamp still in the lower right corner. That’s not right. The news should be over. I put my glasses on and see the World Trade Center, one tower engulfed in smoke and flame. I sit up rapidly and grab for the remote. “For those of you just tuning in, a plane has flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York.” There is silence as the footage streams in from Manhattan, and I fumble for the phone to call my office. They have no Internet, no radio. No one answers either cell phones or the sole office phone.

As I listen to the office phone ring and ring, I see it.

9:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 hurtles into the South Tower.

“Oh no,” the Fox anchor quietly says. “This cannot be an accident.”

My friend in Manhattan sees the second crash and screams. Just two weeks before this, we had breakfast at a café in the shadow of the Towers. The café is now covered in debris. In fuel. In human remains.

And now, my hands are shaking. I start calling my friend at his World Bank office, even though I know his workday doesn’t begin until 9:30. I need to talk to him. I turn on the radio, which is set to the shock jock station. Howard Stern is humorlessly broadcasting from New York. Word is spreading that there are more planes in the air, and some are headed toward Washington, DC.

And George Bush smiles and reads from My Pet Goat.

9:37 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon.

I have no recollection when I finally got through to my friend. I just remember telling him to get out, get out, get out. He’s gotten calls from loved ones in the Midwest, telling him to get out, get out, get out.

He is one block from the White House.

He begins his long walk to Maryland. He is with a friend with a cell phone.

The Twin Towers fall. Radio rumor is that a plane is tracking along the Potomac, headed for the heart of DC. I am standing in the middle of my apartment, hyperventilating and weeping, unable to do anything of value. My friend calls me as he walks north. I tell him the towers are gone. I still feel disbelief as I say it, but I saw it happen on TV.

My friend in Manhattan silently leaves her office. Power is out, and she walks down dozens of flights with the rest of the shellshocked. In silence and sobbing, they all walk down and out, only to be covered in soot as they exit. In powdered debris. In fumes of jet fuel. In dusted human remains. She just keeps walking. For hours. Getting away. Not sure where to go.

My dear friend in Washington walks for hours out of the heart of DC, as fear increases about more attacks. We agree on a place to meet. Quartermaine Coffee Roasters in Chevy Chase. It’s only five miles from my apartment, headed south toward the district.

10:15 a.m. United Airlines Flight 93 goes down in Pennsylvania. (Shot down, I firmly believe.)

I haven’t been able to get through to my family. No one is sure what is happening. So many rumors. My brother finally gets through to me from the Midwest. I ask him to call my friend’s mother in Nebraska, so she knows he’s okay. (My friend had already gotten through, but our wires are unsurprisingly crossed.)

Phone lines go down. My radio goes dead. I start to sob. And then I get in the car and drive. South. To the District line. To find my friend.

I’m driving, my hands shaking on the steering wheel with each new panicked rumor. To get to Quartermaine’s and meet my friend, see my friend, hug my friend, make sure he is okay, I have to pass between Bethesda Naval Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health - a corridor of military medicine and medical research - cancer research, AIDS research, infectious diseases, nuclear medicine. The police and military presence is overwhelming. Traffic is barely moving, and I am driving toward a target zone.

I'm not paying attention to the clock. Time is passing, but seems unimportant. I make an illegal left, carving my way through thick northbound traffic, to enter the stripmall lot. Everyone looks shell-shocked, and is alarmingly quiet. Don & Mike, good time guy DJs are now on the radio, quietly reporting from New York. I walk in the coffee shop, not even a smile to greet my friend. Just relief. Before I can extend my arms to hug him, I am caught in a hug from a colleague of mine. An odd man I don't know well who has just made the same long walk. I offer him a ride home, but he declines. He will keep walking.

I hug my friend. That is all the world I need right then. That is all I need. The entire universe in the face of my friend and in his bonecrushing hug.


Going to work after this is strange. The smell of smoldering jet fuel and burning office supplies… and human flesh… it lingers for days and drifts across the Potomac as traffic slowly returns to the District. Black attack helicopters hover along the river, soldiers hang from the sides, their heavy weapons trained on us as we drive to our jobs. Our suddenly meaningless jobs. The ‘copters are so close, I can see the faces of the men who are prepared to shoot us, if necessary.

Other than the helicopters and the sweeps and booms of military craft, there is silence in the skies. I live on a flight path. It’s unnatural. Even the dopplered whistles of CSX and Amtrak trains rumbling through three-tenths of a mile from my door make me jump. Nothing is right. Nothing will ever be quite right again.

My friend in New York quits her job. For days after the attacks, she works in the Armory, helping survivors and family members of those lost. She moves to Puerto Rico and gives up the corporate fast track to study health food and herbal cures. She's still there.

Planes return to the air, but later, much later to DC. I remember dropping a glass in the sink the first time I hear a plane coming across the sky above my home after Everything Changed. I remember the silence of all the passengers the first time I flew again. I took a delegation of Central Asian computer experts to California and then on to a trade show in Las Vegas. Just me, three Russians, and 18 men with Islamic names. They are searched, but I am searched with greater intensity. I am taken away for repeated searches on each leg of our travel. Why is my ticket one-way? Why was it just purchased the day before? Having a government ID and government travel orders does me no good. "I am on official business with a delegation invited by the federal government."

It's useless to explain. I am suspect. There are a lot of tears by my 9th search. I feel persecuted. I’m crying on the plane to Vegas from San Francisco, and my seatmate is a man from Iran - a college professor, a specialist in Islam and politics. He has not been searched at all. He tells me, “They can search you, but they are afraid of me showing up on Face the Nation next week, accusing them of bigotry and racial profiling, despite the fact that I fit their terrorist profile. So, they abuse you instead.”

I don’t fly much now. Flying is no longer fun. I’m the daughter of a pilot, and flying is no fun.

I don’t trust our government. I am suspicious of them. And I’m embarrassed and ashamed of the smarmy cronyism, bootlicking, and unworthy appointments of Washington, DC.

I don’t trust the judgment of more than half of this nation. To twice choose a man who couldn’t keep a private company running. To choose a fool. And to make us look like boobs on the world stage. And to trust a man who can’t even pick advisors who don’t lie to him. WMDs my ass. No one ever thought the levees wouldn't hold. Get real.

I’m ashamed of this government, and I’m frightened of the damage that has been done to us for generations to come. 9/11 was a horrific event, but sadly it was used as an opportunity for the “government of less government” to smilingly, insidiously begin the process of reducing our civil liberties, of slowly sucking away our privacy in the name of security. It’s very Soviet. It’s Soviet Lite. It’s the Soviet Union with better marketing. Subtle fascism as promoted by a Manhattan ad agency, and hidden in Toby Keith flag-waving, magnetic-ribbon’ed, misplaced patriotism.

Unlike most Americans born in this country, I lived in a Socialist country for several years. I saw a lot of ugliness. The Soviets did a great deal with pretty posters and patriotic music, too. And they monitored what people read, what people bought, where they traveled. Sound familiar?

I pray for our nation. What we have now is no greatest generation. What could have risen from the ashes of the World Trade Center instead has been neatly packaged in some pap to keep people complacent and supportive of the actions of a group of wealthy oilmen, slapping each other’s backs in the West Wing situation room.

And George Bush strums a guitar and smiles as Katrina bears down on the Gulf Coast.

I’m glad I can still write these words, but I’m sure I’m on some list somewhere now.

Pray for us.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Congratulations, DC! You're the tops!

According to AAA, the District has the highest automobile fuel prices in the nation. Way to go!

Alright, Mayor Williams!

I knew the District would be Number One someday. There are those who might argue it's been "Number Two" for quite some time now...

Oh, by the way - that AAA site is pretty cool. You can estimate how much it will cost you in fuel to travel between spots in the U.S. A round trip drive from my 'hood in Maryland to Los Angeles and back would run just under $500 in gas. Eeeek.

Note to Self

Some things I realized this evening:

1. No matter how tasty greasy Cajun spice french fries are, they are very, very bad for you, and they will just sit in your gut and smack your gall bladder around like a leaking punching bag.

2. Really big cheeseburgers: same deal. Oh - and avoid adding fried onions unless you wish to belch fire from the depths of hell all night. (Perhaps that is too much information. Forgive me.)

3. If you find a screaming deal on gas and fill your tank for under thirty bucks (jeeezus), the next block will have two stations with lower prices.

4. I don't care how super low the prices are, Wal-Mart is a Hellmouth and is to be avoided. The parking lot is the River Styx and the condemned wail all around you. If you make it out alive, you will have the urge to bathe in a tub of Purell when you get home. The Wal-Mart in Germantown, Maryland is clearly based on the Mos Eisley "wretched hive of scum and villany" model. Indeed, you must be cautious. (Because I am a total goober, I just ran "Wal-Mart sucks" through the anagram generator and discovered this gem, which, considering Wal-Mart's policy on music and DVDs, is marvelously appropriate: LACKS RAW SMUT.)

5. No matter how hard I try, my hair is always going to be a giant frizzball on my head. Uncontrollable, unsightly, and just plain bizarre. I really should give up and shave it all off. It would save me a lot of money on shampoo, conditioner, and hair color. (But I'm afraid people might comment on that big "666" thing behind my one ear... Hmmm...)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

How fortunate are we...

...who have not lived this nightmare.

Pray for those who have.
And give what you can.

Stephen King wants to kill you. (And he has a very good reason to do it...)

Wanna be a short-lived character in a Stephen King novel? How about the name on a tombstone in a Neil Gaiman children's book? Dave Eggers? Lemony Snicket? If you have the cash, you can be immortalized in hard cover glory, courtesy of these charity auctions on eBay. Each of these authors, plus several others, is ready to incorporate you into an upcoming project if you are among the highest bidders. Proceeds from each of these auctions will support the very worthy First Amendment Project.

It would so rock to be a character in a Stephen King book. (Especially one that King offs in a particularly gruesome manner.) And, it would be great to support the Project in the process. Alas, it is not meant to be, cherie. Someone with deep pockets will have to be King's victim.

I did have the distinct "pleasure" of having my porn star name appear in a 1998 episode of "ER." Back in the day, I used to hang around in the Usenet group. That seems like a lifetime ago now. David Mills, one of the writers for "Homicide: Life on the Street", used to lurk in the group, and, apparently, he was greatly amused by a thread about group members' porn star names. In addition to his Homicide duties, Mills also wrote episodes of NYPD Blue, ER, and The Corner. Eventually, he popped up and said that he would be using some of our amusing porn-ish revelations in a script he was writing for ER. Sure enough, my porn star name appeared in the episode when it showed in November of that year, in a scene where the members of the hospital staff reveal their porn names. I had company over that evening, and I was pouring drinks when that scene came on - I nearly spilled a entire pitcher of frozen margaritas all over the sofa, I was so surprised.

I won't tell you which silly name is mine. If you catch that episode in reruns on TNT, you'll just have to guess. Good luck!

Ah, moments of delicious, infinitesimal network fame. Little things that make groundlings of my ilk smile like idiots. The closest most of us will get to top billing in our lives. And that's cool, in a very silly way.

Now, if I get my real name to appear in some show - over a loudspeaker, on a blackboard in a police station, on a list of People of Dubious Character, that sort of thing - well, then I'll be happy. It's like a walk-on part for the less telegenic among us.

Until then, I'll just be Merujo out here. And something very silly and kinky for .3 seconds in cable reruns once every few months...

Cool Celebrity Auctions for Hurricane Relief

Oh, if only I had several grand (and lived in LA) - Kevin Smith is auctioning off a BBQ dinner at his Los Angeles home for hurricane relief. Kevin Smith is a guy I think I could just hang with. We could talk Star Wars for three hours, and I'd be very cool with it. (Of course, at some point, I'd have to go all fangirl and tell him how much I love "Dogma.") Smith is also auctioning off other goodies, too, so check it out.

I'd kill to barbecue. Seriously. God, I miss it.

Now, if Brad Pitt auctioned off a guided tour of his restored original California Arts & Crafts bungalow, I might have to sell my soul to some upper level demon to win that sucker. Yes, I am the only single woman in America that wants Brad Pitt for his bungalow. (And no, "bungalow" is not a euphemism for his package. I genuinely covet his vintage home...)

Kathy Griffin, late of Bravo's "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List", is auctioning off a ticket to join her and her "main gays" for dinner and a Kelly Clarkson concert at the Aladdin in Vegas this Friday night. The ticket was for Kathy's husband, Matt Moline, but he has traveled to Louisiana to help in relief efforts. The auction is up to $5,300 tonight. Good goin', bidders! And good goin', Matt, for going down to do some good work!

This, by the way, is the photograph that Jay Leno mocked when
Griffin was on his show (as seen on the D List.) He was awfully cruel.

Maybe I should make up some "weird Soviet crap" mystery grab bags and sell/auction those off on eBay for Red Cross moolah... I'm afraid no one would want to attend a bbq in my yard (if I had a yard - and it was legal for me to bbq here in Montgomery County) and the only person who is willing to attend concerts and eat dinner with me is the Sasquatch - and that's because it's in his "friend contract." He has no choice.

Time for bed. It's gloriously cool out and the crickets are at full throttle. Mighty fine snoozing weather, indeed.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Who's on first, What's on second...

...and I don't want your job is on third.

Phone conversation I had today:

Caller Guy: "Hi, is this Merujo?"
Me: "Yes, how may I help you?"
CG: "Hi, I'm Rob, and I'm with WeDon'tPayAttention Solutions."
Me: "Ahhhh. This is no longer a consulting firm, so I don't need any business services, thank you."
CG: "Whaaa? No, no. I'm calling you about a job in Rockville. I pulled your resume off of"
Me: "Oh, sorry. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with your company. Please tell me about the position."
CG: "Well, a client of ours is looking for someone to manage federal contracts. Do you have any federal experience?"
Me: "I'm sorry. You pulled my resume off of"
CG: "Yeah. Why?"
Me: "Well, if you've reviewed my resume, you know I have six years experience with the Department of Commerce and another three-and-a-half with the State Department, at our embassy in Moscow."
CG: "Oh. Right. Okay. So, you do have federal experience, right?"
Me: (silence) "Yes."
CG: "Okay. What is your educational background? Do you have technical or engineering experience?"
Me: "Uhmmm... no. As you'll note on my resume, I am a Russian historian by education. I triple majored in Russian Area Studies, Russian Language and Literature, and Political Science. And my professional background is in managing federal grants, not major contracts. If your client is seeking someone who has specific knowledge of FAR regulations governing contract management, I would not be the right candidate."
CG: "Ooookay. But your resume was titled 'program manager'. That means you can negotiate technical contracts, right?"
Me: "No. No, it doesn't. It means I can manage programs. I'm very flexible, but if your client needs someone who can hit the ground running with technical knowledge, engineering knowledge and solid knowledge of contract negotation, I'm not the ideal candidate."
CG: (silence) "Okay. Now, do you have federal experience?"
Me: "Oh, you are kidding, right? You've asked me that three times now. Yes, I have federal experience. Almost ten years of federal experience."
CG: "Right. Right. Ummm... do you have an accounting degree?"
Me: "You know, I'm really not what you're looking for. Thanks so much for considering me."


Later this morning...

Caller Guy #2: "Hello, Ms. Merujo?"
Me: "Yes?"
CG2: "I'm calling from WeDon'tPayAttention Solutions."
Me: (silence) "Are you calling me about a federal contract manager job for a client in Rockville?"
CG2: "Yes! How did you know?"
Me: "May I speak with a supervisor please?"

[Talking to the supervisor sure was fun.]

Early this afternoon...

Caller Guy: "Hi, is this Ms. Merujo?"
Me: "Yes."
CG: "I'm calling from WeDon'tPayAttention Solutions about a job possibility for you in Rockville, Maryland. I got your resume off"
Me: "Omigod. Your name is Rob. You called me this morning about this job. Are you high? Seriously, are you high?"
CG: "Oh sorry."
Me: "Do you even read the resumes you pull off of Monster, or are you just looking for job titles in a 50 mile radius of the work site???"
CG: (silence)
Me: "May I speak with your supervisor, please?"
CG: "Sorry to bother you, ma'am..."


Welcome to my life! Anybody wanna trade???

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Venus, Jupiter, and a Low Crescent Moon at the Grocery Store

I made a quick run to Shoppers Food Hell tonight to grab my Allegra Rx before the pharmacy closed. One day without my Allegra and I'm a runny, puffy, sneezing disaster.

(And no one needs that.)

Walking out to my car with my drugs, a bag of Bartlett pears, wheat bread, and a half pound of Healthy Choice ham (c'mon - who are we fooling? When is HAM ever a "Healthy Choice"?!?!?), I stopped dead in my tracks. The sky was the most magnificent shade of deep, deep azure. It genuinely was the same color as the lapis lazuli ring I bought in Tulum two years ago.

And the sky was clear. No clouds. No city haze. The heavy suburban lights weren't obscuring the heavens. And, right in front of me, low on the Western sky, was this beautiful conjunction - two shining stars and the moon, showing a sliver of crescent that breathed just enough light to define the rest of the orb's outline. After a moment, I realized that one of the shining points had to be planet from the sheer vastness of it. The other I wasn't sure of. Could be a planet. Mars? The trio formed a long triangle, with the moon hanging low as if being dragged into the horizon line.

I must have just stared at it for a couple of minutes. It was surreal and simply beautiful.

"Gorgeous, isn't it?" I just about jumped out of my skin at the voice over my shoulder. There was a young Latino man standing next to me, wearing a bright orange Shoppers smock over his polo shirt. "That big one up there? That's Venus. And the small bright one is actually Jupiter. Just appears smaller from here on Earth. It was a lot more impressive over the weekend. Oh - and see that bright dot by Venus?" He pointed and I nodded. "That's Spica. It's the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo. Neat, huh?" He smiled at me. "I get off shift in ten minutes. I hope there's still enough time for me to set up my telescope. Enjoy it! Have a good night!"

And with that, he headed back into the store. Thanks, science guy, whoever you are.

I went to and looked up the info. Pretty cool.

You never know what you will learn in the grocery store parking lot.

The weather is stunningly beautiful tonight, and the temperature is hovering in the upper 60's. Mighty fine sleepin' weather - I plan to be in bed in a few minutes. No blog surfing, no playing old Shockwave billiards and mini-golf games. I may read a couple of shorts from Ellery Queen, but that's it. Just me, the crickets, and a cool breeze.

Autumn is coming. My favorite season. My new year.

Bring it on.