Friday, August 5, 2011

Arkansas Stoplight

To all of you who follow this blog, sorry for not posting anything. I think of things to write and jot them down, even get excited about them, then I don't ever seem to get it done. It is something I think about quite often, it's just one of those things that has kind of been trimmed out recently, like setting my status on facebook. One of these days I will get back to writing regularly, and I thank you so much, those of you who still check even though you're fairly certain there will be nothing here. As for right now, since I am writing, here's something that happened today:

When I pull up to a stoplight I always turn my radio down, quit singing, and try to act as casual as possible. There is something awkward about a stoplight to me, like showing up to a function wearing the same shirt as someone else. Like, "oh, hey there, you got stuck at this light too, huh?"

As of recently I've been listening to "Uhh Yeah Dude." It's a podcast, a weekly roundup of America through the eyes of two American Americans. It's funny. So even though I wasn't singing along when I pulled up to the light on Parkway and Detroit, I turned the radio down out of habit. My drivers side window was down and an old blue truck pulled up next to me and from the passenger window of that truck came a whistle. One of those "hey pretty la-dy" whistles. I completely froze. I've been whistled at before on occasion, but it was always when I was walking and the whistler was driving or something like that where the interaction, by necessity, could only last about half a second and I was not obligated to respond in any way. But NEVER at a stoplight for goodness sake. What in the world did this whistler expect from me? Do I turn and smile? Do I flip him the bird and make an angry right-hand turn? Whistle back? Roll up the window? What he got from me was me sitting there, staring straight ahead pretending not to hear what he knew I had heard, trying to look as casual as possible while obviously trying to figure out how to respond to this. The light was the longest light ever and when it finally turned green I drove off without ever turning my head. Or taking a breath.

When I got a safe distance I turned the radio up just as one of the guys, Seth, was saying "Um, am I going to die in this Urban Outfitters?" and I burst out laughing, just as I looked into my side-view mirror. What I saw in my side-view mirror was the old blue truck crammed with cowboys, looking right at me laughing. I don't know how men are in other states, but in Arkansas men act decisively at the slightest provocation, and being laughed at by a woman is not slight. Luckily my turn was coming up and I headed on my way only imagining the cussing I was getting in the cab of that truck.

...It's not much, but it's all I've got for now. Thanks for reading, guys.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Block Party

I moved into the apartments where I live eight months ago. In that time I've not talked to a single person who lives there, other than the requisite niceties. Then, a few weeks ago, when I stepped outside a voice from above said "Hi, neighbor girl!" It was one of the two guys who live above me. One of them has a little boy who is Story's age. And now I have friends.

Being as they are apartments, in small town Arkansas, it's pretty fair to say that most of the people who live there have one or all of the following problems: They are former (possibly current) drug addicts. They are alcoholics. They are divorced/going through a divorce. They are in poor health. They are not employed or underemployed. They have been themselves, or are married/related to someone who is/has been in prison. They just got a check, their car won't start, and they need a ride to the beer store. Enough of those things describe me that I can relate to the people around me without being frightened of them, but not enough apply that I'm frightened of my future.

I don't spend a whole lot of time interacting, but the other night I got a knock on my door. It was one of the guys who lives above me. He said that everyone was hanging out at "the middle apartments." That's the complex just up from mine with the playground out front. They were all bar-be-quing and listening to music and drinking beer. There were tiki torches. I was nervous about the whole thing, being invited to hang out with people I don't know by the guy who lives above me whose name I don't know. But I spend a lot of time alone and in my head and thought, at the very least, it might be interesting to sit and listen for a while.

When I walked up Bob Seger was playing. Everyone seemed eager to get me a seat and show me what was on the grill. Story found a bicycle. In a group setting I do best when I just pick a seat a stay there the whole night. No milling about. I posted up next to Sharon. Sharon is an older woman with bleach blond hair. She was talking to me as soon as I sat down, mainly about her kids. Her son works for a scrap metal place here in town, and I should tell him I know her if I ever see him... at the scrap metal place. She leaned in, a cigarette dangling from her long fingers and told me about the day her daughter was born. It was August 17, 1977, the day after Elvis died. When the doctor walked in and presented the baby he said "One star dies and another is born." The daughter still lives in Russellville somewhere.

Metallica was playing, then Alice in Chains. The guy who lives above me was singing along. He stopped long enough to say "I'm not gonna lie, I love to sing. I'm good at it. I used to be in an Offspring cover band." He was good at it. He got pretty into it, and that kind of outpouring is appealing for some, but makes me totally uncomfortable. Luckily a rather large girl came up and offered me a shot of whisky, saving me from having to concoct some kind of response to dude's emotional rendition of "Man in the Box." I didn't take the whisky but I talked to her for a little bit about raising kids. She's got a seven year old, the father is one of the guys who lives above me. He later explained to me that she used to be a lot thinner. She used to look just like Drew Barrymore. "Right, man? Right?" he said nodding to his roommate and lifting his beer, as if I didn't believe him, as if I needed someone else to verify it, as if my judgement of him as a person was based solely on the current weight of the woman who he slept with seven years ago, as if I were the kind of person who makes judgments like that. I thought she was really nice. Despite her weight.

After a while I went back to talking to Sharon, rather she went back to talking to me. She said that her boyfriend was getting out of prison soon. She was going to have a big party and that I was invited. "Not everyone is invited," she said glancing around with narrowed eyes. She's going to set up a game of horseshoes in the back.

Story was still riding the bicycle. I kept telling him to share and play with something else, but every time I did the girl who owned the child who owned the bicycle said "No, no, it's fine, it's fine." So I figured any more fussing at Story would make it seem like I was turning up my nose at her generosity. Everyone was eating. I wasn't very hungry, but again, the same type of situation arose where if I didn't eat I might have been seen as someone who won't eat food being offered to them by generous strangers. They had grilled chicken and steak and corn and squash. There were beans and potatoes and we ate off of Sharon's real plates, that she wouldn't let me help her wash when we were done.

It was getting late and I needed to get Story to bed. We were all sitting around talking about our jobs and all the things we were going to buy when we got that good paycheck next week. Someone put on Johnny Cash. "Ring of Fire." Everyone started singing along, even the kids. I started singing along too. "I fell in to a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher..." I was in the moment, and these were my people, of the moment. And with that I called it a night and went to bed.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Another Walmart Trip

Okay, I'm still sitting on my floor in front of the TV because I can't figure out my wireless problem. And even though I come home every night intending to call overseas for help, I always seem to find a reason to put it off. My internet days might just be over. No, I'll get it figured out eventually. Probably tomorrow. In the meantime, I wanted to write something about my most recent Walmart trip.

Walmart is Story's favorite place to go despite my every attempt to get him excited about the gas station, which is the only other place we go besides daycare and home. So when I have to go I usually plan to take him because it makes me feel like I'm doing something for my kid instead of being a sell-out to corporate America who buys produce from farms in Chile because it's cheap. And anyway it's good for him to experience all types of people, lest he become snobbish and judgmental. We all go to Walmart. Unless we're snobbish and judgmental.

I'm not sure what he likes about Walmart so much, but he's three so it might just be the fact that it's not home and not daycare. He does have this horrible habit of starting every sentence with "I want..." And I suspect he likes riding up and down the aisles pointing out all the things he wants. On this particular trip I had said "no" so many times by the time we got to the juice aisle that it was clear that we were going to have to have a little heart-to-heart.

I stopped the cart and got down on eye level with him and tried to explain that when all we do is want things, we spend most of our lives unhappy because people simply don't get what they want all the time. The more you want, the more you are disappointed. So the less you want, the more happy you have the opportunity to be. "Be satisfied, son. It's a beautiful day outside. You got to come to Walmart, your favorite place. We're buying food and bubble bath. Just be happy to experience these things, not everyone is so blessed." I was at the "you're a very lucky little boy" part of the talk when someone I knew from church surprised me by saying "Hi, Annie!"

We greeted each other and I tried to kind of minimize the fact that I had just been standing in the middle of aisle four having a philosophical talk with a three-year-old by bringing to attention the fact that I was standing in aisle four having a philosophical talk with a three-year-old. We both kind of laughed about how silly it was and went on our way. But not before Story could get out "I want Daddy." My life is absurd.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A call for help

I know that I'm writing less and less, but this time it's because of something besides laziness and lack of inspiration. I received a letter from my Internet service provider informing me that last month my Internet account used over 60 more GB than normal. It went on to explain that that could be caused by several things, all of them terrible. Viruses and spyware were the first listed and that scared me so bad that I can't even think about it. This is my one computer, if something happens to it, or if it needs to be repaired for some reason, that's the end of my relationship with pretty much everyone I know. What makes me fearful is the fact that every time I check my email I have about 1,000 "returned mail" emails, informing me that my message "Tits (expletive) cum (expletive, expletive) dick" could not be delivered. These emails are NOT from me. Where are they coming from? Who is doing this? And, most importantly, how can it be stopped? Could that be what is causing this increase in Internet usage? I suspect this could be the problem. In the time it's taken me to write this I've gotten five of these emails. Now six.

The other cause listed in the letter is that if you have a wireless router (which I do) I may have unauthorized users logging on to my account. When I set up the router I was on the phone with India for about two hours and was exhausted and in tears most of that time. By the time the Internet was working, I didn't want to mess with anything else, anything else being setting up a password protected account. That is not a mistake I will soon make again. I imagine all of my neighbors having wild Internet parties where all the guests are told to bring their computers and hand-held devices for a night of YouTube and porn compliments of the sucker who is actually paying for Internet. I attempted yesterday - when I had Internet - to secure my account and now I don't have Internet. None of us have Internet. I don't know what happened. I managed to lock the account, but now even I can't get in.

Other causes include innocuous things such as someone leaving a streaming music player on or a newsreader set to automatically download message bodies. I suspect my problem is one of the two things I mentioned above, or a combination of the two, or as my attitude towards my thieving neighbors grows increasingly hostile, one was somehow caused by the other. How else would such explicit stuff be being sent from my virgin computer?

Right now I'm sitting on the floor in front of the TV tethered to the modem. Story is on my back "driving a truck." I just wanted to send out this urgent call to the more computer literate masses. I can't go another round with India tonight. How is this happening and how can this be fixed? My back is hurting and don't care to sit on the floor and angrily pound at my keyboard any longer. Although I guess it is my fault for not securing my Internet account... I'll be checking my email when I can.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Eating out in rural Arkansas

Once you drive past all the towns large enough to offer restaurants like Denny's and Cracker Barrel, you will find one of two things: A tiny place set into the side of a cliff with a breathtaking view of the mountains in the springtime, or the Memory Lane Cafe. I imagine the Memory Lane Cafe started out as a woman in a kitchen who made good hamburgers. Then maybe she got her Big Idea, bought a small house and converted it into a place that could eek through a restaurant inspection. As popularity grew so did the haphazard additions marked by uneven floors and single doorways connecting them to the rest of the establishment. That's what I was thinking about when the waitress came in to replace the three burnt-out light bulbs above our table and I realized I was actually sitting in a small shed with one doorway to the original dining area, one doorway to the newer "Game Room" and one doorway outside with a doorbell sound to alert the staff that someone has just come in the back.

The menu at the Memory Lane Cafe is what you might expect, hamburgers mainly, but what is exciting is the selection of things not otherwise ever fried. The fried pickles are always good, but can be found in a lot of places now. I got the fried green beans. With a side of ranch dressing. It seemed like the healthiest choice, and I would never get on my high horse to order a salad or seasonal fruit in a place like that anyway. I don't care for the "so you think you're better than me?"-look. Best just to try to fit in.

On the walls were things that might take you down memory lane, if your particular lane went straight to Graceland. There were the typical lacquered tree-trunk-clocks with airbrushed Elvis, but there were also photographs of Elvis with grease stains on them that had finally been taken down from above the stove of a person whose lane might really have lead to Graceland and put in a frame for all to see. There were drawings of Marilyn, and lunch boxes with Buddy, all the typical "Memory Lane" stuff. In addition to the memorabilia there were posters for local events and community projects, such as the "Eating Our Way to Proficiency!" program with the local grade school, and the upcoming "Donkey Basketball" event. That one had to be explained to me. The donkeys don't play basketball, people do-riding donkeys. People attend because it's funny. Also funny is that while the rest of the country takes on the childhood obesity epidemic, we're eating our way to proficiency and playing basketball riding on donkeys.

It was nice though to sit there and listen to the people around me, especially right before lunch time. Everyone knows each other, of course. Most of them come there every day. When a couple walks in the woman requests the seat facing the door, "in case anyone I know walks in." The Memory Lane Cafe was more of a curiosity to me, but for the people who eat there it really is a kind of time capsule. They've lived in that town their whole lives and knew everyone who walked in the door, their parents, and their children. Curious though it was, it seemed like the familiarity could be kind of comforting. It would have to be, right? It made me kind of want that life, just the knowing what to expect out of every day and every person. That might have just been the ranch dressing talking though. Everything is better with a side of ranch dressing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Once again, it's been a long time since I've written anything. Mostly that's because I've been lazy and have had nothing to write about. About the time I started feeling guilty and getting serious about writing something, I got sick. It started last week when I was getting headaches everyday. It's been years since I've gotten headaches on anything like a regular basis and I attributed it to the horrifying green wind that we get down here this time of year. I think it's the pine that irradiates everything with its pollen stuff. About this time of year everything is green, and not the good "everything is so GREEN!"-green like you might get in the Pacific Northwest. The worst is the cars, everyone's car is coated with a thick powder that looks like pale moss. It's awful. I feel safe in saying that that is why I was getting headaches. Then the headaches turned into a persistent cough and congestion, which I called "really bad allergies." I never had allergies until I moved down here, but Arkansas will test even the most healthy. And that got worse and worse and worse, quickly. My whole body ached, I was going to sleep at 8:00 every night, my eyes felt swollen shut, on and on.

I have a thing about going to the doctor. I don't like doing it. I'm not totally against doctors in general, it's just a major inconvenience and I never seem to get out of the office without a prescription for antibiotics. I do have a thing against antibiotics. I think their over-prescription is contributing to the very real possibility of some sort of virulent superbug that will wipe out most of the world population. Plus I feel like they throw my whole body out of balance and it takes a month of eating yogurt to get all the internal flora back in order. The major inconvenience is mainly because I don't have a "regular" doctor. I only get sick once a year and it's about this time of year and it's always bronchitis and I have no need for an annual physical, so when I get sick I call the local clinic and they squeeze me in to see whatever doctor is on call. Which means I spend two hours sitting in the waiting room.

So yesterday every breath felt like it was ripping my lungs in half. I could hardly swallow anymore and would have liked to cough, but couldn't for fear that my whole head might explode. I called the doctor. As usual it was a doctor I had never seen before. I think I waited about a day too long because I couldn't do anything but calculate my odds of being the next person called the whole hour-and-a-half I was in the waiting room. I watched people and figured the probability of them being a regularly scheduled patient (who will go in before me) or someone who, like me had called in to take their chances (who will only go in before me if they got there before me). I counted the number of people who went in versus the number of people who came out. "Why aren't they calling someone, I know there's an empty room back there!" It was all I could do. I was desperate to get through those doors.

The doctor on call yesterday was a woman. Most women down here seem to be either gynecologists or pediatricians, so it was nice to actually have a woman doctor treating me, looking in my mouth. She didn't take any x-rays or anything, which they usually do on my annual bronchitis visits, but I guess she pretty much had the case closed when she opened my chart and saw my history. All she had to do was listen to my lungs and ask me how I was feeling. I left with an inhaler and some antibiotics.

I'm feeling a little bit better today. I've got to go to the store and buy some yogurt, but at least I'm starting to feel up to it. I'll try to write more regularly. Thanks for sticking with me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Small things that make me feel like everything might be okay

I can't remember a time in my life when I thought "I can't believe I'm getting paid to do this!" Any time I've ever been paid to do anything it's been something horrifying that you'd have to pay me to do, like calling people and asking them to give me money for handicapped people whom I've never met, or driving out past the civilized world of cell phone reception and down into a canyon in order to get out of the safety of my car, hike up an un-passable drive, to a trailer home with the door open just wide enough for me to see someone shove something out of my line of sight, and say "Hi! I'm here on behalf of the US Government!" Those are things that you have to pay me to do, and no matter what you're paying me, I feel like I'm getting cheated.

So it was new and exciting the other day when I was driving out to Dover, Ark. on a delivery when I caught myself thinking "I'm getting paid for this!" The weather had just turned nice so I had the windows rolled down, the radio was playing something like Steve Miller Band, and I was on a long stretch of road, going somewhere, doing something - and getting paid. Usually I'm getting paid to sit in an office and look at columns of numbers, which I certainly don't complain about. I like the people I work with, I have my own desk, and the freedom to do pretty much whatever I want as long as I get my work done as well. And the actual work isn't that bad. It's not studying lost manuscripts in a language only I understand or impressing the world with my creative spirit - but it's close. And it's the best thing I can hope for right now. And it offers me the opportunity to sometimes, if one of the delivery people calls in, deliver parts and listen to the radio in a car I don't own, whose gas I don't buy.

Most of the time my life makes me feel like I'm trying to run through deep sand, choking on my lack of self-confidence and inability to communicate along the way. I worry a lot about how I'm going to get through all the days that are left, which at my age could be very many. And driving to McAlister's Station, I wasn't worrying about all of that. I wasn't worrying about anything. I was just driving, moving fast and easy, cheerful and calm. I was relieved to find that, at that particular moment, despite the many things that stress me out, all it took for me to be happy was a beat-up Chevy with no air or floorboards and a person in need of some shop towels and a blower motor switch. And surely the world will never run out of those two things.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


When I was sitting in my office today I thought I had a great idea. Something fun, interesting. At the time I couldn't wait to get home and share my idea with everyone and now that I am home I'm feeling a little self-conscious. But I'm going to share my idea anyway.

Stanley Milgram was a social psychologist. He went to Harvard and was a professor at Yale. And he conducted two of the two experiments that I remember studying in my psychology classes. One was, simply, "The Milgram Experiment." That's the one about obedience and authority, morals and personal responsibility, in which participants willingly administered 450 volt shocks to another person, who in these experiments was an actor pretending to be electrocuted by the fake shocks - but the actual participant didn't know that as he was steadily turning that dial higher and higher. It's memorable, and worth reading about. I tried to attach a link, but I can't figure out how to do it. Just look up "Milgram Experiment" on Wikipedia. I know there's an extra step there because I'm computer illiterate, but it really is very interesting.

The other one is his "Small World Experiment." That's the one that taught us all about the six degrees of separation. He sent packages to 160 random people living in Omaha, Nebraska with instructions to forward them on to someone who they thought would get the package closer to this one particular person, unknown to them, a stockbroker in Boston, Massachusetts. In the experiment it took an average of six people to get the package to him. Thus, we live in a small world where we're only six people away from anyone.

Here's the idea: Since I'm financially, emotionally, and in most other ways stuck in Arkansas, let's play. Six degrees of separation, that is. I'll write the name of someone who I want to contact me and every one of you reading this (all 10 of you) think of someone you know who could get my message one degree closer. Let's see how long it takes. I mean, if you're interested. I'll start easy. Someone not famous. Someone who is probably local to most of you. The person who actually started this whole thought process for me was Dr. Fred Durer. He is the doctor who delivered my seven-year-old, Adam. I liked him a lot and I was thinking that, if I delivered babies for a living, I would be desperately curious about what these babies were like as children and adults. I wanted to tell him that Adam is an artist, and that he's really good at building things with Legos, very focused and serious, and that his hair still isn't dark like mine.

I could Google him, or give his office a call, but I don't need to actually have a phone conversation with him, and I could write a letter, but I'm not a savage, if I don't have your email address I can't write to you. I don't even think I own any paper. So what I need is the email address for Dr. Fred Durer. Or better yet, slip my email address, somehow, into his pocket with a note about how it got there. Maybe that's too creepy, I just thought that rather than getting information back to me through the chain it would be easier to just have the information going one way. That would be a bit too much like telephone and we all know how that ends up. I'm usually too embarrassed to even say what I think I heard. Okay, information going one way. Get him my email address, surely he'll be curious enough about this crazy experiment to contact me. He'll really have no idea who I am, so we better clarify that I was a patient and he delivered my son. Also, I'm married and an entire state away, so there's no funny stuff going on. That's your task. I send you out into the world, each by your own paths, in search of this one man. And how much more special will he feel knowing that a whole army of bored people who waste work hours reading their friend's blogs have been mobilized on his behalf, instead of a nice card? I'm excited. I am the spark that becomes the flame, the stone that causes the ripple that becomes the crashing wave! We can do this!

If this works, we'll try someone else. It's doesn't have to be all about me either, give me ideas. Who do you want to draw near in six degrees? How about Kevin Bacon?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Family

It was only once I had kids that I started thinking about family in terms other than "people who share the same last name as me." As a kid you don't realize that not every family is like yours. Then once you get older you start experiencing holidays with other people and one day someone passes you stuffing that isn't from a box, and you understand that every family is different. At least that's how it happened for me.

I just got back from a trip to Houston to visit my sister, aunt, uncle, grandmother and grandfather. Dad and Adam also flew down from Chicago. This was the first time I'd seen some of them in about five years. It was interesting, in my late-blooming adulthood, to try to make sense of my family in the context of "people who contributed to the person I am today."

Grandmother reads. Their house is filled with books. She recently quit reading a book because the first line was not a complete sentence. She looks pretty much the same to me as she always has, she's gotten cuter. I think because she's gotten so thin her eyes look really big and blue and she's got this little button nose that I wish I had inherited. Grandfather is full of purpose, always has been. I remember watching him open the shades in the kitchen as a kid. I have no idea why this struck me or why I remember it to this day, but he did it so slowly and carefully. The whole wall is windows, so there were a lot of shades and he opened each one so seriously and perfectly. Most people would kind of rush through opening that many shades, and not really pay attention as they were doing it. Not my Grandfather.

My Uncle Mike and Aunt Moira live in my great grandmother's old house. We called her Muddie. I still don't know why, I'm one of the youngest of the great grandkids, so the name was there long before I came along. She lived until she was 106. She was a school teacher and had long hair that she always wore in a bun, sometimes with braids. We went to see the house and get cold Cokes and ice cream sandwiches. Muddie always had cold cokes and ice cream sandwiches and it's a requirement now that anyone living in that house offer them to family members stopping by. There is a doorframe where she used to mark our heights. It's mostly faded, but the best I could tell was that someone was about three feet tall on March 18, 1981. Uncle Mike told the story of my great grandfather who woke up one morning and exclaimed "someone cut down a corner tree!" He was looking at his ceiling made of wooden planks. One of them had three notches cut into it and being a land surveyor he knew that the corner of a property was marked by three notches in a tree. And sure enough, there it was, the plank with three notches.

Looking at that plank, I kind of realized that this was not a story about a person very different and far away from me, like most of the stories I hear or tell. This was a story about a person who is part of me, who might like to know me, who might find it interesting that I get cold in 75-degree weather or that I have dark brown eyes. It made me proud that I've got the blood of a man who can look at a piece of notched wood and tell you that someone is now wondering where the edge of their property is. Furthermore, a small bit of a woman who lived in three centuries lives on in me. There's a part of me that, if cultivated a little bit, has that certainty and confidence of a man who opens shades in a way that makes it memorable to a 13-year-old. And, if not the cute button nose, there's a perfectionism in me of a woman who closes a book after finding that a sentence is not complete. I am my father, in a diluted form, who is a writer like his mother reads and like his father closes blinds, thoughtfully and with certainty, and I am my mother who, when asked what he writes and she loses the words, does something that totally sums up who he is AND who she is. She holds her hand to his chest and says, "he writes this."

Family is not just a shotgun blast of people who share the same last name after all, then. I'm not sure yet in what ratios all these little elements come together in me, but they're all there and that makes me proud. Not that my family is better than yours, but it is mine and it's comforting. Thank you, family.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I know that it's been a very long time since I've last written anything. That's partially because I missed so much work from the snow that when I went back, I worked long hours (from approximately 9-5) to catch up and partially because another of our delivery drivers had to leave for a family emergency and that left me to do both my job and her job for an incredible eight hours a day. I hit the ground running every morning and hit the bed with equal enthusiasm each night. I have delivery stories to tell, and a very funny idea about what Lil Jon, Ludacris, and Usher would have to say about me delivering auto parts in rural Arkansas listening to their music ("WHAAAT?" says Lil Jon), but what I want to write about tonight is the Academy Awards, and more specifically, the rowing scene in "The Social Network."

I'll start with the definition for "Umami." It is one of the five tastes, together with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. It is popularly referred to as "savoriness." Honey is sweet, lemons are sour, coffee is bitter, and pretzels are salty. Umami is a little different, it simply adds body to food, gives them heft. It is the difference between Sam's Choice Cola and Coca Cola. I buy Sam's Choice because it's cheaper, but I prefer Coke. I thought it was the packaging or the advertising, or the desire to pass up the cheaper product for the name brand, but it turns out it's umami. Coke has it, Sam's Choice doesn't. There are people who study this, who make a living tasting food and determining this quality. For me it's more vague, it's just this imperceptible balance that you can't quite define, but you know you crave. It's a kind of perfection, this thing you seek without knowing exactly what you're looking for. And when you find it, you know it.

Since I learned the definition of umami, or rather, since I learned of the concept of umami, I've found myself applying it to everything. I'm fascinated by it. My favorite pair of jeans has umami. That song "If I Had a Boat," by Lyle Lovett has umami. John Hannah reading W.H. Auden's "Funeral Blues" in "Four Weddings and a Funeral" has umami. The rowing scene in "The Social Network" has umami. I saw the movie a few weeks ago. I saw it because I like Jesse Eisenberg and I was excited to see what Trent Reznor would do with a movie score. I liked it because it turns out that Mark Zuckerburg is one of those people who are such geniuses at what they do that they are totally mystified by human behavior and because of the rowing scene. I'm going to do my technologically-disinclined best to upload a link to this scene here so you can see what I'm talking about.

The whole movie is pretty good, but this scene stands alone. It's a very simple scene. They're just racing boats. The song is very simple. We've all heard the tune so many times I can't remember where it originally came from. It's recognizable, but somehow sinister - which I like. I've watched it several times trying to figure out why it gives me chills. I'm not sure, but I think it's this: If you'll watch, the entire scene has a rhythm. It follows a beat. Everything works together, the images, the acting, the editing, the sound, like in those few minutes everyone put forth their very best effort at the thing they're best at, purely, and it all came together like a dance.

Even after writing this I'm not sure what to make of umami, or if I'm describing it right. Maybe, in the larger, Annie's-over-thinking-things sense, it's different things to different people. Certain things just resonate with some people. For me it's my Gap jeans, it's a songwriter singing a simple song about riding a pony on his boat, it's "He was my North, my South, my East, and West, My working week and Sunday rest" in a Scottish accent. It's people rowing boats to a song we already know, and finishing a sentence, taking a hot bath and going to sleep.

Thanks for sticking with me, those of you still reading. I'll try to be better about posting more regularly.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Snow Day

This time I planned ahead. For three days I'd been hearing about "a storm of historic proportions" headed straight for my house. Of course, I'd heard that before only to get a dusting of snow and a bunch of uppity superintendents calling off school all over the place. So, while I had my doubts, I knew how the schools would react, and thus the daycares. I made arrangements for Daddy to watch Story so I could still go to work today.

I kept checking throughout the night, peeking through my blinds, only to see... not much. I had my alarm set for 8:00 AM. Many things get stopped by addiction and then started back up in sobriety, right where you left off. It's not just your emotional growth, as they say. There is absolutely no need for me to set my alarm for 8:00 AM. I wake up angry at the world every morning at 7:30 on the dot. I'm angry at the world because my mind does not understand that, while 7:30 AM was not a reasonable time to wake up when I was 18 and had gone to bed at 6:30 AM, it is a reasonable time to wake up when you habitually go to bed at 10:00 PM, no matter how hard you try to stay awake. Will I always be 18 in my head? Will I ever quit complaining about having to be places at 9:00 AM?

So, when Trish called at 8:00 AM I was already awake and coming out of my morning angst. I cracked the blinds and saw a pretty good blanket of snow, and more coming down. "Don't worry about coming in. The roads are too bad, we'll be closing early anyway," she reported.

"Great, I'll just roll over and go back to sleep!" I said. I rolled over, closed my eyes, then went ahead and got up and took a shower. It's been a very long time since I've had an entire day to fill with my own thoughts. First, I watched the news instead of Spongebob. I ate cereal with milk for breakfast. I made some cookies and didn't have to hide the butter from Story, who has been known to sneak an entire stick and eat it like a candy bar. I cleaned out the refrigerator. I started to take out the trash but stopped when I couldn't figure out what kind of shoes to wear through the snow. I watched the History Channel all day and learned that the Statue of Liberty and Rockefeller Center are both symbols for Lucifer. Then some Templar stuff, which I really enjoy. That's pretty much been my day.

All the while it was snowing, it didn't stop until about 6:00 PM. All told, there's probably about a foot of snow out there, a staggering amount that baffles the both the highway department and police officers. Luckily criminals are similarly dissuaded, otherwise Russellville would be Dead Wood until it warms up a little bit. Roads don't seem to be grated, I've never known them to put down salt, and I suspect that the sand I sometimes see on the roads has been purchased by the city from backyard sandbox-owners and shoveled out of the back of someones pickup truck. This is the South, we shouldn't have to prepare for feet of snow.

I know that the entire country is dealing with terrible storms of "historic" proportions. I know that Chicago had their "Storm of the Century" just a week ago. I'm not sure that this snow could be considered historic, I guess time will tell, but it has certainly paralyzed the town at least for today. It's supposed to get down to six degrees tonight, and that will definitely freeze the snow that's been packed on the roads by the brave souls who ventured out today, making it a solid sheet of ice by morning. To those of you who are reading this tonight and plan to go out tomorrow, be careful and good luck. I'm still not driving, even with my four-wheel drive and my monster truck tires because a woman disappearing off the face of the Earth only to be found months later frozen to death and buried in her car in a muddy creek somewhere might be historic. I hate driving in snow, it scares me to death.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How News Travels - Get Well, Richard

Last week one of the guys I work with was in a terrible car accident while coming back from his lunch break. The newspaper the next day had a horrifying picture of the wreckage, a caption about one person - whose name wasn't released - going to the hospital, and a headline that read "The Perils of Drunk Driving." What we learned that very afternoon, within hours, was this:

First the daughter of the owner of Cross Auto Supply called and said "Tell the delivery drivers not to take Finley Curve, there's been a really bad wreck." At this point we didn't know that the wreck involved one of our own, just that we didn't want our drivers to burn up all their gas sitting around in some traffic jam.

Then Gary came in to count out his drawer and tell us that Richard had gotten in an accident, the one on Finley Curve. It wasn't until later that we learned how the news got to the shop. Brad is a part time delivery driver, Brad's dad is a police officer in Pottsville, a town a couple miles down the road. Brad's dad was called to Russellville to help direct traffic. When he arrived he realized that Richard was wearing a Cross Auto Supply shirt and called Mike, the manager, who then went to the hospital.

Mike kept checking in. He said that they would not talk to him since he was not family, but that the doctor kept coming out asking for a family member, which we took as a bad sign and as a call to arms. We would find a family member. Richard's file listed his wife as his emergency contact. She, however, died some years ago. Trish turned to me. "Who do we know?" I don't know anybody, so I left it up to her to play six degrees of Richard Armstrong. She contacted the owner of the shop, and his daughter, both of whom searched the memory of their cell phones for anyone who might be related to Richard. We knew he had a daughter in Little Rock, and a brother here in Russellville. Get the brother and you've got the family.

Richard is a war hero. He was in Vietnam and once, after a particularly bad battle, he was the only man left standing out of his whole platoon. He lives his life like a soldier. He's the one who empties the trash at work, at the same time every day, commenting on the candy wrappers so often that I've started to kind of bury them under other trash to avoid the humiliation of being called out on my boredom snacking. When you have a phone call he'll come stand over you, get the extension number off of your phone, and with great ceremony, transfer the call, with a staccato "hmm," and leave the office. I'm the one who counts the money from everyones drawer in the morning. Everyone else just kind of throws their money in their bag. Richard has his paper clipped together with the adding machine tape using only gold paper clips, and it balances to the penny every day. He takes care of his aging father. He's always having to take off work to go make sure he's eaten and check his medication and all of that. And he's always upset that his brother never helps him.

I'm not sure how it happened. I think Richard started coming around in the hospital and gave up the brother's number. Mike called us and one of the guys up front called the brother, who said he would get dressed (it was about 2 PM at this time), feed his cats, and get to the hospital.

Throughout the day news trickled in from various tow truck operators, body shops, and mechanics. In the automotive industry, a bad wreck is big news, everybody knows everybody else, and most people have a police scanner. By the next morning, before the picture and caption in the paper even ran, this is what we learned through word-of-mouth, networking, and eavesdropping: Richard was on his was to the shop after his lunch break. He was coming around the inside lane of a particularly dangerous curve ("Finley Curve") in his Camry when a drunk illegal immigrant from Mexico cut into his lane in his Tahoe and hit him head on. According to who you hear it from the impact could have been equivalent to 120 MPH or 60 MPH. The Tahoe pretty much just drove completely over the Camry. Both cars were totaled. The Camry was reduced to tiny pieces of crumpled metal. The immigrant walked away from the wreck, or rather, ran away and tried to hide in a nearby house. The police caught him and he's in jail now after a sobriety test. Richard was rushed to the hospital, then med-flighted to Little Rock due to concerns about "this area," Mike had said gesturing to his chest. He had a broken pelvis, hip, and ankle. Mike also said that his entire right arm was black and swollen.

This all happened last week. Richard is doing much better, still has a long way to go, but the latest is that the internal bleeding has stopped, he's had ankle surgery, and he was sitting in a chair talking to his daughter today. His brother came by the shop to pick up Richard's cell phone charger. Today was the first time most of us had seen the wayward brother. He looked exactly like Richard. His hair was a little longer, a little shaggier. He was a little scruffier, unshaven. I can't remember what he was really wearing, but in my memory it was one of those hippie-looking knit jackets. But when he talked, it was Richard. After he left I kind of turned to Trish and shook my head. "I don't know what to say. It's like they both started out like this," I said, holding my hands in front of me, palm to palm, to indicate two identical roads leading in the same direction, "and then Richard joined the army and his brother dodged the draft," and the hands go out to either side. At lunch we were all talking about Richard and worrying about how his Dad was getting along without him there to take care of him. Mike said that Richard's brother had told him that he and his dad were going out to eat every day. "He said 'Dad just says he want to go out!'" So they go out. We all kind of looked at each other and laughed. We're missing Richard. Everyone has worked there so long that when one person is gone everyone else gets kind of tripped up. Today I had to clean the bathroom. Trish had to mop. These were things that Richard just did. We didn't think about them. I know that he'll be gone for a while, he might even choose to go ahead and retire. It's pretty different around the shop and while I do enjoy reckless, guilt-free snacking, I also miss having Richard around and so does everyone else. And we all got emergency information forms to fill out with our last paychecks.

Monday, January 31, 2011

On Parenting, and Latin

Just to give you a little bit of background, when we decided to have our now three-year-old son Story, the financial climate was much warmer. I planned on nurturing his every inclination with purchases of art supplies and sports equipment and hardcover Maurice Sendak books. I was going to buy only organic food, and vitamins from the health food store. I would research test scores and teacher-student ratios of all the schools in the tri-county area and send him to the best, even if it cost a little bit more. How was I to know that in the very near future I'd be cursing Walmart for raising the price of their three-quart bottles of juice from $1.88 to $2.38?

Although finances limit the number of museum trips I had planned, and totally exclude those Latin classes I intended to take so that, in our home, we could say things like "haec olim meminisse iuvabit" (one day, this will be pleasing to remember) when my hand is reduced to bloody ribbons from digging broken glass out of the toilet after Story smashes a bottle of perfume on the rim, I think we're doing pretty well. I do sometimes worry that there are those who wonder about my progressive parenting style. There are a few things that others might question. Let me explain.

Story's hair is unkempt because I want him to understand, right from the start, that one's time is often better spent on either sleep or creative endeavors, like lego building. Story is truly the Howard Roark of the three-year-old lego world. I'm not going to interrupt the work of a future genius architect with something as banal as hair-brushing.

Likewise, his clothes are not always matching, ironed, and/or properly sized. This is because I think that he ought not put too much emphasis on brands, fashion, and/or appearance. There are those who would disagree, those who think that "to be successful you have to look successful" or something like that. This philosophy is strictly for people who are not good enough at what they do to get by with looking or being however they want to be, like me. He should get his priorities straight, become an authority on a particular subject, and then he can dress like a successful person if he so chooses.

Also, daycare workers, you may have been a little confused at my reaction when you told me that he said "Damn it!" Twice. At first you only said that he had said a "bad word." My mind raced. This could be really bad. And I had to respond with what I thought was an appropriate level of horror. I might have overshot it a little bit when I said "I don't know WHERE he would have heard such language!" and started talking about the punishment I would inflict when he got home. Then when I finally thought to ask what exactly he had said, the look of utter relief that washed over my face, although I tried to hide it, must have been confusing to you. It could have been much worse. I mean, really, he could have heard that on prime time TV.

I know that Story can get a little wild and he's not very good at "doing what he's told." This is a concern of mine. For a time I worried that he might have ADD, but the fact that he can concentrate for hours on his lego projects eases my mind a bit. The wildness is partially due to the fact that he's three (almost) and partially because I think that a child his age should learn things on his own. If he thinks that he can build a tractor by overturning the chair in the kitchen and propping it up on the chair in the living room, who am I to stifle this creative impulse? The boy needs to use his imagination. The fact that he almost never does what he's told unless he's asked to throw something in the trash, brush his teeth, or get undressed for his bath, I attribute to him being very strong-willed, which if properly channeled can be a good thing. I know it doesn't seem like a good thing in the middle of the grocery store when I'm trying to chase him down an aisle with a cart full of overpriced juice and Goldfish crackers, but with the right discipline he could be a ruler of nations.

Unfortunately discipline is not something I'm good at. I feel like if I say something, people should listen - without me having to get loud, angry, dramatic, or physical. When Story does something I disagree with, like attacking me and my computer when I'm trying to type, it often turns into me whining to him about personal space and eventually a kind of awkward shoving match ending with me giving up and putting the computer away for the safety of all. I realize this is not the greatest way to handle that situation, but spankings are often ineffective because I'm not strong enough to make him quit grinning at me, and time out usually results in him peeing in the chair so that I have to take him out and get everything cleaned up. I know, he sounds like a monster, but "there are no bad kids, just bad parents," and I'm working on the parent end of that. We're coming along and we're both learning to communicate better.

Parenting is hard, especially when the parent is mostly just curious about what exactly the three-year-old is capable of, and the three-year-old is all too eager to indulge that curiosity. I think, though, that we're coming along pretty well. Hopefully soon we'll get to take a trip to the museum and maybe one day Story and I can learn Latin together. I think of all the languages, Latin would be the most interesting.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The strange land of women very different from me

I've spent a lot of time today reading. I started out reading stories on the McSweeney's website. Then I looked up some stuff on Wikipedia. I learned about bread, and Nicola Tesla, and that a Centurion in the Roman army usually commanded 83 men, not 100. Then I started reading Cosmopolitan magazine online.

What I've found is that there is a quiz for every possible uncertainty and insecurity in life, and everything can be neatly organized into a list. Does your hairstyle make you look fat? What do his food choices reveal about him? And if you've been wondering, they've got an article about "the dumbest thing you can do to your boobs." What does this mean? Are there women out there disguising their weight with their hair, finding meaning in chips versus chocolate, doing dumb things to their boobs?

I was a little thrown off by the titles of the articles, not to mention all the colors and the pop-ups and pictures of "Hot Male Models in Jaw-Dropping Outfits." But I did manage to get through "10 Ways to Feel Happier Instantly." Which gave me 10 ways to feel both superior and inferior at the same time - instantly. Most of their suggestions require coffee, friends, an insatiable appetite for sex, and a place to walk where you won't get scared out of your wits by honking horns and cat calls. But they also suggested that I take some Vitamin D, or buy some flowers, and those are things I could do.

You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I like the fashion articles. I like looking at clothes and shoes and even makeup. Like any girl, I like pretty things. And models in fashionable clothes with cool hair and makeup will always be appealing to me. Even if they leave me a little bored with my own clothes and hair, they will sometimes inspire me to go home and dig out all that makeup I bought last time I read Cosmo and come to work tomorrow looking like I'm going to the prom.

I think I used to read Cosmo a lot, and I think I was probably in high school. It's still somewhat entertaining but it just makes me blush and worry too much about my hairstyle making me look fat, it gives me too much to think about and analyze, and I can't stop wondering if I'm doing something dumb to my boobs. I think I'll stick to McSweeney's and Wikipedia. Maybe I'll read more fashion magazines without all the weird stuff. Then I can feel simply inferior, but inferior with a goal.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Shaking out the blanket

I suppose you've all heard about the birds dropping from the sky on New Years Eve? And about all the fish dying? And it's happening all over the world, birds, fish, now crickets. And that's just what's happening to the animals these days. Against my better judgement I leave MSNBC up as my homepage at work. I get used to the horrifying headlines, but sometimes I'm able to step back and read them as if I haven't read the same terrible things every day for the past year. Economic collapse. Mudslides. Fires. Shootings. Mass die-offs of wildlife. For some reason, be it astrological or coincidental or inevitable, everything seems to be up in the air these days, well, except for those birds.

I realize that every generation thinks that they're the last. I don't necessarily think that, but I just look around and wonder "how much farther can we go?" How could we make life any easier? What more could my cell phone possibly do? I can't imagine what the future looks like. I used to think "I wish I could leave the house and not worry about missing that so important call." Or "it's too damn hard to keep up with all these CDs, there should be a way to keep all my music in one place!" Or "I hate opening TWO jars to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, why don't they just combine the two?" How could life get any easier? Something's got to give.

I don't have very many friends, but I like to eavesdrop and I'm always curious about what is happening in the lives of people around me. I know I shouldn't but I love gossip. What I've been hearing lately is that everyone seems to be going through some sort of great "reorganization." It's not always bad, it's just different. Things are changing. We've reached some sort of limit, where things just have to change. It's as if the blanket of the world has gotten all rumpled and God himself has reached down to shake it out, the way Mom used to when she was folding laundry. Remember the sound at that first violent flip of the wrists that sent crumbs and wrinkles flying? Like that. It will probably be nice and smooth once He's done but right now everyone, and everything, seems to be getting all tossed about. It's not fun and it's not comfortable, but certainly soon things will smooth out again. I just thought that was worth acknowledging, that and also how creepy that must have been to wake up on New Years Day and find your entire town littered with dead birds. As one of the sheriffs of Beebe said "All the doomsayers were pretty sure this was it." This may not be "it" but it seems like "something." Changes are afoot.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year, New Skill

I have this idea that one day I'm going to have to live off the land, without the conveniences of things like meat that someone else has killed and a produce section. Things like gardening, food preservation, fire-building, and fort-building are all skills that I feel a certain urgency to learn. While not as horrifying as "how to pay the cable bill this month" or "that sound my car makes when I first turn it on," "what to do in a global catastrophe" is always there reminding me that I'm running out of time to learn how to do all those things that we as a population have spent the last 1,000 years making easier, so easy in fact that we've forgotten how to do them altogether.

So, on the first day of 2011, while I was thinking about December 21, 2012, which is less than two years away now, I decided that I was going to bake. When the engine of the world grinds to a halt, men will still want bread. People have been successfully baking bread since the Neolithic Age. I have never been successful. On hindsight I think that that is because instead of shortening I've always used butter. I don't know how to make shortening but I feel pretty certain that I could make my own butter if I had to, and I had access to a cow. The butter bread has always been edible, but it came out like a little bread-flavored brick. This particular day I decided to use shortening. If I'm forced into a position in which I can't purchase shortening, dense bread will probably be the least of my worries after all. It takes a good half a day to make yeast bread from scratch, what with all the rising and kneading and all, but it's worth it. I like the idea of starting with all these ingredients that are completely useless on their own and ending up with something as delightful as homemade rolls, which is what I made. I don't know if the shortening is what did it, but these particular rolls were fluffy and moist and even better than those that you might get on your table at a restaurant. It was the first time I've ever baked bread and not been at least mildly frustrated at the result.

So, come the day when bread is no longer mass produced and sold on shelves, I've got that one covered, and as long as shortening is still mass produced and sold on shelves, it will be fluffy and moist. Here's to learning new things. And it's a little late, but happy new year.