Thursday, September 29, 2011

Deep fried

Cooking and I have a capricious relationship. I used to think I loved to cook. I subscribed to Bon Appetit. I lusted after cooking utensils. I became engrossed in a project to bake the perfect loaf of artisan bread at home. Then, suddenly, I decided that I hated to cook. Not only did I hate it, I was bad at it. I was convinced of this, and looked on my "I love to cook" period as one does when remembering an infatuation with an outrageously inappropriate lover.


I lately realized that I had confused "cooking" with "making dinner," activities that are not mutually inclusive. I do not hate cooking, I hate making dinner. And who wouldn't, when preparing meals for ungrateful children?  Jon too, used to be peculiarly stingy with compliments, saying always, "It was okay," if asked how he enjoyed his dinner. When I told him that more fulsome praise would be appreciated, he said that it would be dishonest to enthuse over a meal he didn't really love. It was then I inflicted on him meals like "baked squash with tofu sauce."  Lentil burgers became my passive-aggressive weapon of choice. There was a fight about garlic bread, so violent that tears were shed and doors were slammed.

Now I suspect I might actually like to cook after all, not the mechanics of it, which are a bore, but the scholarly pleasures of reading Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson and planning ambitious menus. If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you may remember that I enjoy complicated cooking projects like fruitcake or bagels or Martha Stewart's menus.

Now Seamus, age twelve, has expressed an interest in cooking.  I can hand him a package of boneless chicken breasts and say, "Do something with these," and he will rummage through the spice cabinet and create a rub and then grill the breasts perfectly. He has successfully recreated our favorite restaurant's bacon-wrapped dates at home.

It started with doughnuts. At age ten, the child was obsessed with making doughnuts, and after several failures, we did make a batch that tasted almost professional, albeit a tad more cakey than a Krispy Kreme. He and his friend convinced his friend's mom to let them have a doughnut-making sleep over. That mom said it was fine as long as I supplied the flour.  It seemed like a small sacrifice to hand over a bag of flour in exchange for NOT having two little boys deep frying something in my kitchen.  The next day, Seamus described the doughnuts as "okay" but was only able to give me troublingly vague information about how much of a mess he and his friend had made and who had cleaned it up.  Soon after, that family moved to New York City, ostensibly to enjoy better schools but I wonder if it was to get away from us.

After doughnuts Seamus had a brief experimentation with corndogs, then seemed to lose interest in deep frying until I saw a recipe for tiny fried pies in Jane Grigson's English Food. You roll out little circles of pastry, top with a dollop of apple butter, fold in half, deep fry, and dust with powdered sugar. The pies were fantastic. What's not to love about deep fried pie crust?

The consequence of Seamus' success with the pies is that he seems to be looking at everything he sees through a new filter: Can I deep fry that?

Candy bars: could we deep fry them? I was appalled, but after much argument, relented and said we could fry ONE and cut it into TINY pieces which we would all share. We found a recipe on youtube and I realized that not only were we going to deep fry a candy bar, we were going to dip it in batter and then deep fry it. Because you can't put naked chocolate into hot oil. Duh.  A deep fried snickers bar isn't bad.  Not bad at all.  It's like a sort of crispy doughnut with a melted candy bar in the center.

A few days later, Seamus and a friend came home with twinkies, which they intended to deep fry.  I said no.  I said I drew the absolute line at deep fried twinkies, yet somehow, twenty minutes later, the two boys were sitting on the couch, watching a movie and consuming deep fried twinkies.  I have issued a moratorium on deep frying, for now but I doubt it will last long.  As I'm writing this, Seamus is asking me about the possibility of deep fried cheesecake.   I'm wondering if we can generate a science fair project out of this.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Don't ask

I am breaking my own rule against writing about the weather because we have been suffering vilely from the worst climate feature of the American south: humidity. It's not hot, exactly, but the air is as damp as a rugby player's crotch, and smells about the same. My house is acutely uncomfortable. Everything is damp. The dust mop sticks on the wood floors, the windows are so swollen the sashes are stuck in the frames, the living room smells like dogs and shoes and is as airless as the hold of a ship. There hasn't been a breeze, even a whisper of fresh air for days and days. Outside, the trees are dripping, sodden grape vines are smothering the garden, the grass is too damp to mow, and it hides piles of moldering dog shit along with ceaselessly singing crickets. A fetid miasma hangs over the entire city and my hair has become a nest of steel wool. I want to move to a clean, cold place, where it isn't a daily chore to hack back the vegetation that seems determined to crush all structures into the ground, where it is possible to carry on a conversation without having to raise your voice over the sound of cicadas, where your view is not obstructed by a wall of greenery everywhere you look. A tundra would be a refreshing change.


In Rome, there aren't many trees, or much vegetation of any kind except in specifically defined parks. I got used to that real fast--didn't miss trees at all-- and my first morning back Virginia, was a little flummoxed by all the green stuff I saw out the window when I woke up. Charlottesville has the feel of a place that has only recently been hacked out of the primeval forest. And on the earth's timeline, 250-ish years is no time at al.

In other news, my college student son Ian called me the other night to tell me there was a bat in his house. What was I supposed to do about that when we live 400 miles apart? What any normal mother would do: start shrieking about rabies shots and going to the emergency room and calling animal control and telling them to come right away, that there was a bat in the house and it was an EMERGENCY. Where was the bat, I wanted to know. The bat was in the kitchen. Well where were Ian and his roommates? They were all hiding in their bedrooms. I stirred them to action and next thing you know, the poor bat had an unfortunate encounter with the business end of a street sign. I continued my harangue about contact with the bat--had the bat touched him or brushed against him in ANY way? Had ANYONE BEEN SLEEPING IN THE PRESENCE OF THE BAT? Naturally, Ian thought I was overreacting, and he reminded me that even if he did need a rabies vaccine (which he didn't) it was OK to wait a week before getting one. Most of you do not know Ian personally, but believe me, it is absolutely typical of him to know something about the correct post-rabies exposure procedure (he seems to know something about everything) AND to want to put it off until the last minute.

Yesterday, I was using the long, skinny wand on my vacuum cleaner to suck the spilled cheerios out from under my refrigerator, when the vacuum began to make that noise it does when it has latched onto something too big to fit in the wand. I withdrew it from under the fridge, and what did I see, attached to the end of my vacuum's wand? A tampon.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tabletgate

My children, the two who aren't in college, attend Charlottesville city public schools, which announced this summer that they were issuing tablet computers to all students from grades 6-12. Community reaction was mixed at best--at least according to the local news blog I read. My own opinion was that the tablets were an expensive project of dubious value, but I didn't have a particularly strong reaction until it was announced last week that parents were required to sign contracts accepting a fee of $1,100 for lost, stolen or damaged tablets. Parent reaction to this announcement was swift and hysterical. I was so fired up I could hardly think about anything else until I spoke to the school superintendent and learned that there is actually a "schedule" of payments and that the first time a child loses, or has his tablet stolen, the school will replace it for free, and even after the second time, the parents will pay a part of the cost. It is only after three occurrences of loss, theft, or damage that a parent would have to pay the full replacement cost. That sounds more reasonable, but now I have new things to worry about.


Last night was a mandatory meeting for parents, so we could sign our contracts and learn about the new tablets. School officials are touting this program as a fantastic new opportunity to experience "blended learning," whatever that is. The parent audience was informed, in ponderous tones, that when our children go to college, they will be expected to know how to use a computer! Furthermore, the modern workplace requires familiarity with computers! The audience reacted placidly to this shocking news. We were shown a powerpoint presentation that included two brief movies that demonstrate the dangers of the internet (pervs and bullies) and a third, completely ridiculous propaganda piece that implies that use of this sort of technology will lead to a brighter world in which students become teachers and teachers become students, schoolwork is fun, and no one will ever be stymied by algebra again.

Next came the Q&A portion of the evening.  The parents turned out to be a sophisticated audience and their questions exposed the program to some very uncomfortable scrutiny. The first question was the obvious one: "My child owns a lap top. She already knows how to use a computer. Can't we decline this tablet and use our own computers?" The answer is no, mainly because the tablets are now required for testing and you can't install licensed software on a computer the school does not own.

Another parent said that when he was in grade school, a fabulous new technology had just been introduced to the classroom; a new teaching tool that was going to revolutionize education. What was this amazing innovation? The television. He went on to say that computer technology has turned out to be a problem at universities, mentioning specifically the engineering school at UVA, where he is a professor. The engineering school has had to implement a "no electronics" policy in the classroom. Furthermore, the parent pointed out, it has been shown that paper and pencil learning is more effective. He wondered where was the evidence--not anecdotes, evidence--that tablet computers for students were going to be of any value. When he stepped away from the microphone, the other parents in the audience applauded defiantly.

And so it continued in the same vein. Parents referenced a New York Times article that discusses how constant access to computers is harmful. They mentioned the Atlantic Monthly article, "Is Google Making us Stupid." They asked for peer reviewed studies. They wondered about security--not pervs, but hackers. They wondered about the degredation of reading and writing. They worried that our children are guinea pigs. School officials had responded to the concern that computers are now a serious distraction in university classrooms, by saying that using tablets now would teach kids how to control themselves and use the devices properly when they get to college. Parents quickly shot holes through that argument. Parents also wondered if the fact that nearly 25% of the district's students don't have internet access at home would widen the academic divide between privileged and poor students.

What worries me is that there appears to be NO evidence that having tablets is beneficial, and it seems likely that they are harmful. Of course, the kids already use computers in school, and most of them have computers at home. Those who don't have computers at home still have enough access to them to gain the basic skills needed for college or the workplace.  What's new about the tablets is that kids will be taking them home, but to what end? Is wirelessly submitting your homework somehow going enhance your learning experience? Is constant exposure to the (often erroneous) information on the web going to result in kids who are better educated or kids who can't read more than three sentences without clicking on a hyperlink?

It is natural to resist change, especially change that cost the school district $2.4 million. From the Atlantic Monthly article linked above, I learned that Socrates saw the introduction of writing as the top of the slippery slope to idiocy because people would "cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom." I smiled when I read this, but I can see his point. 

The article also mentioned that a friend of Nietzsche's noticed that his writing changed after he started using a typewriter. Nietzsche replied, "You are right. Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts." (How I wish a parent had quoted Nietzsche to the school officials!)



My other issue is that our schools have essentially redesigned the classroom environment so that it will be impossible to educate a child who doesn't have a tablet. This is a public school system. Public schools are obligated to educate all children. They can't suddenly introduce an expensive new device and say that despite our objections, we must accept them or our students will be unable to take tests or complete homework assignments. In other words, refusing a tablet means failing in school. Parents who are convinced that the tablets are harmful will either have to knowingly expose their children to harm or take their children out of school. Surely the schools are legally obligated to provide an option for parents who don't want the tablet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

We Eat and Drink and Work and Play

A HOUSEKEEPING PRIMER 




This is a house. People live in our house. Most of them are human. Humans thrive in a clean, orderly environment.  Let's learn about our house.

This is the bathroom. Look!  Oh, look!  There is pee on the toilet seat.  There is toothpaste in the sink. There is spittle on the mirror.  There are wet towels on the floor.  There are underpants under the bathtub.  This is why Mother starts shouting when she gets ready for bed.

Here is the washing machine. Guess what! The washing machine can not wash fifteen towels and six sets of bed sheets in one load. Do not try, it will not work.  Look at the soap. The ratio of scoops of laundry soap to loads of laundry is 1:1.  Oh, oh, oh!  "Ratio" is a big word. Say "ratio."  Say, "Tide is expensive."



Say, "I must not touch the washing machine."

The kitchen is a happy place.  It is fun to eat.  Let's wash the dishes!  Find the dishwasher.  Try.  Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher.  We load dishes in a special way.  We load them so that they can actually come into contact with soap and water.

The refrigerator is your friend. It is cold.  Many foods like to be cold. See the meat? See the milk? They are happy when they are cold. We can not eat green meat. We can not drink lumpy milk.

Look at the shoes!  Count the shoes!  One, two, three, four..twenty-seven, eighty-six, three hundred and twelve.  Shoes do not look nice.  Put shoes away.  Where is "away?"  Mother will give you a hint.  "Away" is not the middle of the hall or under the coffee table or in front of the toilet.  "Away" means mother can not see them.

Let's play a game!  It is a fun game!  It is called "get the mail."  Find the mailbox. Take the mail out of the mailbox.  Put ALL the mail in the EXACT SAME PLACE every day.  "Mother, Mother!  Why is it so dark?" I don't know.  Maybe it has something to do with the electric bill that got stuffed behind the couch cushion.

Jon, come quick!  Mother has a pop quiz!  A pop quiz for you!  Is it ever acceptable to use the stove burners to light your cigarettes?

We are modern and enlightened. What does that mean? It means that we recycle. See the paper? See the cardboard? See the bottles, the cans, the #1 and #2 plastics? They are not trash. We put them in a special place. It is marked "RECYCLING." It is fun to recycle!

We have two dogs. How can you tell they are dogs? They have four legs. One, two, three, four.
See the funny puppy?  Oh, oh, oh! The puppy is funny! See the puppy jump and play!  A puppy is a special kind of dog. A puppy needs constant supervision. Puppies like to eat. Puppies should eat food. Examples of things that are food: ham sandwiches, scrambled eggs, dog food. Examples of things that are not food: library books, Mother's new suede kitten-heel mules.

 Luna is not a puppy.  Luna is old.  How can you tell that she is old?  She does not jump.  She does not play. Old dogs have special problems.  Say, "Incontinence."  Say, "Last one out of the house in the morning is responsible for letting Luna out for one more pee."


Oh look!  Look at the car!  Look at the gas gauge!  The car needs gas. If it has no gas, it will be sad. It will not go.  It is fun to drive.  It is not fun to run out of gas.


Mother!  Oh Mother! What is mother doing?  She is eating a half gallon of ice cream straight out of the carton.  She is watching the gay fight scene from Bridget Jones' Diary over and over and over.  She does not want to pick up shoes. She does not want to rescue the laundry. She does not want to reload the dishwasher.  She does not want to fish recycling out of the trash.  What else does mother have?  Can you say DIAZEPAM?  Can you say VODKA?  Do you want Mother to be taken away in a strait jacket? Then shape up, up, up.

****
This is an old, old entry that I've reworked, because sometimes things need to be reiterated. Just last night I again found the washing machine crammed with disparate clothing that shouldn't be washed together. What is it with men and laundry?  I am reminded of my uncle, who, after more than thirty years of marriage was faced with the task of doing the laundry because my aunt was going out of town.  He said to her, earnestly and totally without irony, "But how does the water get into the machine?"  My uncle was, I should mention, a college graduate and business owner, a wonderful, generous, funny, intelligent, loving man, but so unmindful of the running of his household that he seriously believed that for thirty years, my aunt had been filling buckets at the sink and pouring them into the washer.  What boggles the mind is that a man who had witnessed the space age thought a woman would put up with this antiquated method of washing clothes and not complain about it.
My apolgies to Erma Bombeck, whose "Primer for Imaginative Children" was my inspiration for this piece.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tools, Tampons and Oven Mitts: A Series of Unfortunate Incidents

Recently, Jon wandered into the kitchen, used one of the gas stove burners to light a cigarette, and wandered off to a keg party at a neighbor's house, leaving the burner on high.  No one else was home.  The lit burner was discovered by Seamus, hours later and luckily, the only consequence was a super-heated kitchen.   This harks back to a similar incident in which I came home from a run on a winter day.  The smell of burned hair penetrated all the way to the street and when I entered the house, it was full of smoke, reggae music was blasting, and Jon, oblivious, was spoon-feeding Seamus who was an infant at the time.  An unattended stove burner was lit and an oven mitt was smoldering.  It was lucky for us that I  insist on 100% wool oven mitts, which are nicely flame resistant.  I still use that oven mitt, but its burned-off corner is a constant reminder that life with Jon is unpredictable.

Another unfortunate incident occurred this weekend when Seamus and a friend attempted to bake cookies and the house filled with toxic smoke while tongues of flame darted up from the space under the oven floor.  After the fire was put out--by ineffectually poking at it with a spatula and then a coat hanger (plan C was the fire extinguisher)-- I dismantled the oven floor and found it was filled with dog food. Fucking mice! Hoarding dog food in the bottom of the oven is something that mice do in kitchens across America, as google will tell you.  At least I immediately recognized the charred lumps as dog food and didn't mistake them for rocks, somehow essential to the function of the oven and call my oven manufacturer to ask about it like this poor sod.

Ian, up in Buffalo, had his own oven mitt-related unfortunate incident a few weeks ago when oven mitts stored in the oven by his roommate caught fire.  Ian lives in a Victorian-era tinderbox, crammed tightly into a neighborhood of other Victorian tinderboxes.  Thank God the Buffalo city fire department understands the seriousness of fires in Victorian houses of this sort.  They responded so quickly that the only damage was to the oven itself, which is beyond repair.  The landlord doesn't appear to have plans to replace it.

In yet another unfortunate incident, Jon forgot to turn the lights off on his motorcycle, causing the battery to die.  He has done this so many times, we've bought a battery recharger.  So, it's no problem, right?  Wrong, because this was his new motorcycle and he had never charged its battery before and it turned out he needed a ratchet set to get at it, only in another unfortunate incident, Seamus took the ratchet set to Belmont Park and left it there, where it was stolen (naturally).  So Jon was angrily ransacking the tool drawer looking for the nonexistent ratchet set.  I saw him pick up a colorfully-wrapped cylinder and look at it uncomprehendingly before tossing it back into the drawer since, whatever it was, it clearly wasn't a ratchet set.  It was a tampon.

Long story short, he got the battery charged eventually.  This motorcycle has been a big bone of contention, the mother of all unfortunate incidents, starting five years ago when he insisted on buying a vespa, which, in an unfortunate incident, was stolen.  Then came motorcycle #1, and this summer, motorcycle #2--a Yamaha "Virago" to which I voiced strenuous objections because of the whole two kids in college thing. Nonetheless,  it was purchased, after which, in an unfortunate incident, he drove the gas tank bone dry and fucked up the carburetor which required a $325 repair and it still stalls and sputters.  Jon assured me that the old motorcycle would be sold, only hardly anyone has shown an interest in it, except Paul Curreri, who borrowed it for use in one of his music videos, which is cool, but doesn't change the fact that we own two useless motorcycles while struggling to put two kids through college.  It is pretty awesome that Paul's new album is titled The Big Shitty, as it is, however tenuously, linked to us by Jon's motorcycle's role in it and it so aptly sums up our domestic life right now.  And don't think I am unaware of the irony of Jon riding around town on a "virago."

The final unfortunate incident occurred when I opened the washing machine and discovered that it was crammed with dirty laundry in a lively mix of colors and textures.  Delicate blouses, bras, heavy pants streaked with motorcycle grease, towels, dresses, whatever.  It appeared that the clothes were dry, but when I tried to sort through the mess and rescue my blouses from the greasy pants, I discovered that the clothes weren't really dry because the washer was half-filled with water.  So I had this soggy mass of dirty clothes to deal with all because Jon still has not grasped Basic Laundry Concepts.  Why did he fill the washer halfway with water and then abandon it?  I don't know, I didn't even ask.  I have told Jon many times that he is welcome to help with any of the housework except the laundry because he makes such a colossal mess  of it, every time.

Last night, when I was writing this, I thought I had come to the end of a long list of recent Unfortunate Incidents, but no, there was another one later last night that I don't have the heart to write about.  Don't worry, the house isn't burned down and no one died but we are now sucked into a maelstrom of inconvenience and expense.  This was intended to be a funny post, but it doesn't feel funny anymore.  The Big Shitty-- a 43 year old husband who behaves like a 20 year old frat boy.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Love Shack

Yesterday I mentioned that the paint on our roof was peeling, a situation we have now rectified. This whole business of painting one's roof was foreign to me until we moved to the South, where people have tin roofs. (I always think of that line from “Love Shack” by the B-52s: TIN ROOF, rusted.) Hours, literally hours, after our painter finished and the roof was a nice shiny red, we had the most intense hail storm I have ever seen in Virginia, although the new paint job appears undamaged—at least the bits of it I can see from ground-level.


Why am I writing about this? My house has always been a topic of absorbing interest. It’s our first house, and for all its flaws, I am very attached to it. It has been the victim of some unfortunate “renovations” some of which are far too costly to fix right now but the basic character of the house is still there and I have become adept at ignoring the textured ceilings in the bedrooms. We did, at least, fix the worst of the atrocities, a 1950’s-era addition constructed by extending the back porch roof and building walls under it. The purpose was to create a first-floor master bedroom, but the result was a vinyl-floored horror with a ceiling that barely topped six feet, a dead-end hallway with no natural light, a hideous pink and green bathroom and a closet that contained more exposed wiring than was healthy for a family with four young children.


A few before and after pictures, culled from old blog posts:



These are technically "before" pictures, but we had already done extensive work, replacing the windows and installing hardwood floor over the green vinyl that was in the house when we bought it.


During.  We were fortunate to have a mild winter that year, because this work was done in February.

After (sort of). We have since painted the walls yellow and finished the woodwork around the French doors.
The mint green paint was a regrettable lapse of taste.

 




People tend to react strongly to our house. Some can barely conceal their loathing while others start shouting, “Oh my God! I LOVE this house!” the minute they walk in the door. The people who love it are usually quirky, think-outside-the-box types. It’s harder to classify the people who hate it.

Since we’re on the subject, I haven’t yet gotten around to properly inspecting our house for earthquake damage. I did walk around the outside and noticed that some stucco had fallen off the house, but this was in an area where the stucco is already crumbling. To really see the foundation, I need to go into the basement. A trip to the basement involves hours of psychological preparation, not to mention a hairnet and cricket-stomping boots. The foundation is brick, with mortaring that appears to have been done by an eight year old. The bricks themselves look like they were salvaged from some demolished, eighteenth-century building, which is not entirely outside the realm of possibility. I prefer to believe that what you don’t know about your foundation won’t hurt you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Poverty amid affluence

I don’t approve of updating for the sake of updating, but one does start to panic when one’s blog has been unattended for too long. I am breaking my own rule, out of a craven belief that if I don’t put SOME sort of text up here, my tiny number of readers will dry up and satisfy their desire for crankiness at someone else’s blog.


What’s likely to become a recurrent theme here is our Year of Poverty, brought on by having two kids in college. There is, at least, a sense of accomplishment in paying two tuitions. It’s not just the tuition, it’s paying our mortgage, plus rent on two apartments. Can you imagine if you suddenly rented two apartments? Lest you think my kids are lazy, Ian has a job translating Latin texts and he worked full time all summer, and Brigid had a summer job and saved her money but she is much too busy to have a job right now.

We aren’t really “poor,” of course. This is a self-inflicted affluent sort of poverty, a badge to wear rather than a stigma. Yet last week we got a letter from a group of charlatans who buy houses from people who are unable to afford upkeep and mortgage costs. The letter didn’t specifically say that our house fits their profile, but someone must have seen the peeling paint on the roof and front garden of ill repute and thought we might be ready to unload a burden we can’t handle. To them, I say, TWO KIDS IN COLLEGE, MOTHERFUCKERS.

I was musing on our “poverty” and I considered doing some sort of blog wardrobe challenge. I thought I could abstain from buying any new clothes for myself, find new, creative ways to wear the clothes I have and post pictures of what I wore on my blog. The problem is, this has been done before, and I am already bored, just writing about it. Besides, such a project would force me to really forgo ANY new clothes, or be a fraud.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Cubicle Culture

During my last trip to Wisconsin, my team was moved to a different building.  My old office used to be a Sears and had about as much charm as a package of shoe inserts.  My new one was once a bar and the only remaining elements of its history are a pressed-tin ceiling and saloon doors in the ladies' room.  Tendrils of ivy are growing around the cracks in the conference room door as if the ivy has secret plans to wrench the door off its hinges and strangle us all.  Because of these features, the new building is marginally more architecturally interesting than the old one.  My "office" is that workplace joke, the cubicle.  We are all in cubicles in my new building.  Some are bare of all but basic work necessities, others are so stuffed with trinkets and home comforts they remind me of the magical tents in the Harry Potter series:  houseplants, pictures, shelves, books, teapots, afghans, half-finished knitting, bedroom slippers, pet toys. (Every Friday is Bring Your Dog to Work Day.)  One person has erected a black nylon shield over his cubicle as if he fears toxic rays from the tin ceiling.

My own cubicle is still bare.  Since I was out of town during the move, the new occupants of my old office packed up everything in the vicinity of my desk, except, curiously, my training manuals from Epic (the only items of importance) which they dumped on the floor in a back room along with 800 other training manuals which I had to sift through in order to find my own.  But I digress.  The point is, they threw out my training manuals, but carefully preserved a cardboard box of assorted tchotchkes that doesn't even belong to me.  I would like to throw it away, but OF COURSE the minute I do that, my predecessor will show up and say, "Hey, I really need my maroon picture frame and ghastly pink mirror that sports an imitation BRATZ doll saying, 'You go gurrlll' out of a cartoon balloon and the token from the UVA pro shop and the green plastic coin with a shamrock embossed on it."

I do not have time to decorate my cubicle because I am obsessed with finding ways to provide myself with stimulating drinks.  I had been going out for a daily coffee, but when I added up the monthly cost of those daily lattes, the total was so appalling I began casting about for a way to have coffee in.  There's a "coffee club" at the office for the use of the coffee maker, but at home I only drink espresso and when you are used to espresso, brewed coffee is weak, anemic, feeble, insipid, nasty.   The Starbucks "via" instant coffee is better, but still not quite what I wanted.  I brought in some Irish Breakfast.  A 10:00am cup of tea is very nice but I still wanted coffee.  I bought a Bodum travel French press and stocked my cubicle with ground coffee.   I have used it once, so far.  French press is not espresso but it's superior to drip coffee only I  had great difficulty with the clean up because I couldn't get the grounds out of the bottom of the press without banging it on the side of the trash can.  Then I tried to dig the grounds out with my fingers and--I wish this wasn't true, but it is--I got my hand stuck in the cup and when I finally extricated my hand, there were embarrassing coffee grounds under my fingernails.  Clearly, this process needs perfecting.

If I follow this cubicle dweller's example, I can bring an Italian coffee pot to work and have espresso whenever I want.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Giant Walking Talking Box

Children should not call their mothers and say, "I have bad news."  Brigid called me at work with this announcement, and while I imagined the new MacBook accidentally thrown out with trash or dropped out 2nd story window, she told me about working very hard on an art project, loving the results, and then the teacher announcing  that all students were required to destroy their work--they weren't even graded!-- and recycle the scraps into a new project.  "Is that the 'bad news'?" I asked. (Somewhat callously, from her perspective.)  The new macbook is intact and no one has been gravely injured or robbed at gunpoint.  Perspective, people!

Hurricane Irene was a more or less a non-event in Charlottesville--a little wind, a little rain--but it was a different story in other parts of Virginia.  The Costly Daughter Brigid had urgent needs and I thought I could nip out to Richmond and back before the hurricane got too bad, only by the time I was in the Richmond suburbs, at 10:00am it was already raining so hard I had to get off the interstate, and--surprise!--a large tree limb was blocking the exit, but, shrieking like a teakettle,  I managed to squeeze the car around it.

One of Brigid's needs was a large box which she HAD to have by class on Monday--no exceptions!--and I couldn't blame her for not wanting to walk through a hurricane carrying a giant cardboard box, so I drove her to the U-Haul store, which is only two blocks from her apartment and we got the box, only  after we left this happened:


I know you are thinking that buying a box can't POSSIBLY be an urgent need, but we had many other things to accomplish too.  Such as buying a glue gun.  A BIG glue gun that she HAD to have by Monday--no exceptions!--for which she had already gone to Lowe's but Lowe's was sold out of big glue guns.  Where does one buy a big glue gun in a hurricane?  I decided to try Hobby Lobby because one time, at a party, a woman I met there told me that Hobby Lobby is awesome and worlds better than Michaels, only Hobby Lobby is in freaking SHORT PUMP--surely a top contender in the stupid town names of America contest--which is thirteen miles from Brigid's apartment.  So there we are driving through a monster hurricane to the Hobby Lobby in Short Pump, and I was all, "WHAT are we doing?"  So Brigid called the little art supply shop near her apartment, and, what do you know, they had a big glue gun, their very last big glue gun, which they kindly put on hold for us and I made a U-turn and headed back to the city.

We accomplished all the errands on Brigid's list, only when I was trying to get the giant box into her house, it turned into a giant sail and almost blew me off the porch.  By this time it was very stormy and the wind blew a big smack of rain into my face--it was like having someone throw a bucket of water in your face--and it ruined my new haircut.  I made my escape from Richmond in the nick of time--the trees were bending and small limbs flying through the air.

The giant box got turned into the giant art project which B was then forced to destroy.

This post's title is a reference to the Trevor Moore Show, an old public access show which featured a recurring character named the Giant Walking Talking Box, only he didn't talk that much.  Any C'villians remember the Trevor Moore Show?  It was about the only thing I liked about Charlottesville when we first moved here.