Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Ferris Wheel

Christmas in New Orleans is a special, many-splendid thing, all lights and poorly regulated explosions along the levees. This holiday season, some friends and I engaged in one of the city's most beloved Christmas traditions: the Celebration in the Oaks, at City Park, when you pay $8 to wander through a place that's free to access at literally any other time of year than this one and stare at a million million lights, strung through the oak trees in exciting shapes and also not-shapes. 

It's a very pretty affair, and appeals to that deep part of me that is like a magpie and is attracted to things that are shiny and bright. It's also an affront to every energy conservation effort you could conceive, and you can probably see it from space. 

In an attempt to cater to younger attendees and maybe also adults who, like me, are incredibly happy doing things generally directed at younger demographics, the Celebration in the Oaks also has some small, brightly-lit rides. Because we're all secretly five years old, our gang procured passage on these rides. 

We first rode the train, a rickety, spindly epilepsy machine which screeched and just generally failed to be fully upright during its circumnavigation of the park. One member of our posse, Anna, had spent a hot minute working at City Park, and explained that she only knew of one recent train derailment, though it had been known to happen. This did not comfort me. The carts we rode in were meant for people of much smaller stature, so my legs were up around my ears and Harry, who sat beside me, was mostly forced out of the cart by my womanly hips. But the train ride itself was pretty neat; there were pirate ships and mermaids and dinosaurs and flamingos and jazz musicians, all formed from rope lights, stationed around the track's circuit. 

High on our successful, non-fatal, if cramped, train adventure, we decided to ride the ferris wheel next. As relatively competent, employed, tax-return-accomplishing adults, we stood in line chatting happily, thinking we were perfectly capable of enjoying a simple ferris wheel ride. 

We were so horribly, horribly wrong. 

Anna informed us that she'd never ridden it before, because she hadn't really trusted the operators to know what to do, since ensuring the wheel is appropriately balanced during loading and unloading is complicated, but now she was willing to brave it. So she and I boarded this little cart bafflingly labelled "Big Eli" and, as the ferris wheel jerked a partial turn forward to allow Harry and Lauren to board, we immediately regretted our decision. 

We weren't brave enough for this ferris wheel. No one was. 

With each stunted, seizing revolution, a terrible sound ensued. It was mechanized torment, the screams of brakes and iron and the dashed hopes of children who had just wanted to ride an effing ferris wheel without learning to fear their own mortality. And every spasm set the cart rocking madly, like it was held to the wheel with nothing but rusted nails and the terror of its patrons. Probably, some ferris wheel designer had thought it would be fun to have the carts mostly free to swing with the motion of the wheel as it turned. It is not fun. Every cycle around the wheel was laced with adrenaline and the growing realization of our imminent and sneering deaths. 

We were not the only ones to feel this way about the ride: a young couple boarded beneath us, and the man, clearly in the throes of a schoolboy crush, rocked their cart back and forth deliberately, to the discomfort of his companion, who was begging him to stop. By the end of the ride, he was yelling at the conductor, demanding to be let off. A retired army gentleman boarded a cart, waited about twenty seconds, and climbed out, citing his pacemaker as his reason, but I think it was more likely the cold, sharp sanity and critical judgement skills honed by a life on a battlefield – that sinking sixth sense of knowing that death is coming for you, and also that death is pissed

But Anna and I did not have a chance to flee. We were barred into the cart and frozen in place by terror. The whole ride was peppered with conversation like this: 

"Oh holy crap what is going on."
"Oh, okay, okay, it stopped, it stopped, we're okay. Oh, God. Maybe it'll only do that once."
"Where did Harry and Lauren board?"
"I think they're right below us."
"I'll look."
"Oh Christ it's moving again!" 
"Anna I don't like this ride!"
"Now I know why I never rode it when I worked here!"
"At least *pant* the view *low fearful screech* is lovely. Look, you can see the SuperdOHMYGODIHATETHIS."
"I don't like it when it goes backwards. Maybe it will change direction soon and we can go forwards. That'll be better."
"Jesus, I'm so dizzy. I am going to projectile vomit on all those little people in line."
"We need to tell those people how awful this is."
"And how cold."

When we finally debarked and stumbled away in a panicked, nauseous haze, I managed to slur, "That was without contest the worst ferris wheel ride, ever." 

But the nightmare wasn't over for Harry and Lauren. Even though they had boarded immediately after we did, for some horrible reason, the operator skipped them in his unloading process. They went around the wheel a dozen more times, and every time they got close to the point where unloading could occur, the wheel changed directions, meaning that they never actually crossed the point where they could have gotten off. Anna and I watched from below, helpless, while they cycled by again and again, waving at us forlornly, growing paler and paler with nausea and what I can only assume was a burgeoning and helpless resignation to a life now spent in perpetuity upon that hellish ferris wheel.

And then the lights went out, and the ferris wheel went dark. It's screaming motion halted and Harry and Lauren were left swinging wildly at the top. Mechanics who looked young enough to still be in high school scurried to the scene, and began climbing the ferris wheel, tapping on gears and shrugging at one another. Anna and I were in line for hot chocolate, and we were going to get some for Harry and Lauren as well, but we had no idea how long they were going to be up there, or, indeed, if they'd ever get down at all. 

Anna went to investigate. She approached the operator and began, "Our friends are up there –" and the operator interrupted, "They'll be fine, we'll get them down." To which Anna replied, "No, I'm not worried about their safety. I just want to know if I should buy them hot chocolate now or later." The operator looked at the ferris wheel, dark and menacing and still, and said, "Uh..I would wait." 

So wait we did. 

After about forty minutes of immobility and darkness from the wheel, my phone rang. It was Harry, and he wasn't amused. He first asked if they were ever going to get down, and then told me he had begun looking for a ladder down. There wasn't one. Then he deadpanned, "Those mechanics better get their shit together because I need off this goddamn ferris wheel."

When the wheel finally screeched and stuttered to life again, we thought they were safe, that they could get off now. But again, we were so terribly, terribly wrong. The operator disembarked every other cart, skipping them not once, not twice, but three times, as they leaned over and begged to be freed from their icy iron sky prison. When they at last reunited with the solid earth, the conductor unsmilingly handed them their tickets back to use on a different ride, and we all drank hot chocolate and ate salty carnival nachos and attempted to intercept the nervous ticks that were developing in our ingrained responses to ferris wheels. 

Then we all went and rode the carousel, because if that breaks down, we can just get off and walk away. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Haunted Houses and Haunting Flights

In which I recount two conversations: one of which with one who is paid to be unsavory, and one who does it for free.

Last week, in honor of Halloween being without contest the best month of the year in Colorado, I went home to visit family. While I was there, my parents and I went to a haunted house, which we had never done together before, and which my parents hadn't done in decades. 

I am not good at haunted houses, even though I enjoy them. I panic fairly easily, and when I panic, I flail, and there may or may not have been a time when I flailed in such a way that it could have possibly been construed that I maybe kind of punched a young man in the face when he crept up behind me in a haunted maze that one time. Maybe. 

Despite my lack of general stoic-ness, and my mother's general trepidation, we went, and we had great fun. All the spooks and bleeding artistry made my dad laugh, and every time my mom and I jumped backwards in a Manly Family Flailing Panic, he laughed harder. At one point, though, there was a room with a coffin on the wall. The attendee, all white makeup and ragged top hat, wouldn't let us pass until one of us tried it. Mom and I clung to each other in adrenaline-fueled refusal, so dad attempted the feat. Unfortunately, the coffin was approximately three feet too small for him, and his knees stuck out either side like stork knees. Mom was still shaking her head, so I sort-of-walked, sort-of-fell forward. I was shepherded into the coffin with a zombie flourish, but I found time to test the back before I entered, thinking it was cloth or a door that would open to another part of the maze. It wasn't; it was solid, so I turned around and allowed the lid to be closed in my face. It latched in place, compacting the down of my jacket around my thighs. What followed was a beautiful, vibrant example of how my rapier wit is paralyzed by even the smallest, most insignificant levels of panic. 

Him, in a hissing, gravelly tone: What's your name?
Me, in a cracking, adolescent boy voice: Avalon. 
Him: Where you from, Avalon?
Me: Here. (Meaning Colorado.)
Him: ...You're from Hell?
Me, brainless: Yes, apparently. 
Him: You're from Hell? 
Me: Um.
Him: Well, okay then. Do you like rats?
Me, honestly: I don't mind them, no. 
Him: Muah ha ha ha!
*jets of air shoot up my pant legs, clearly meant to resemble the adorable little claws of rats, but feeling more like small jets of air*
Me: Uh. 
Him: If you want this coffin, just let me know. *opens the door with a dramatic swish of cape*
Me, realizing I'm all alone in this room and my family is no where to be seen: SHIT. 

My parents, of course, were in the next room, but that moment of aloneness and panic was all acid gray and shivers. 

Now, Rat Man was paid to be unsavory. He was pretty genial, and my unintentional profession of being from the Pit threw him off, but the creepier I found him, the better he was doing his job. This next story is something else entirely. 

Two days after the haunted house, I returned to New Orleans via a Monday-night flight. In line to board, I was wearing a puffy coat, a hat, and really stupidly large headphones. I was also reading a book. Everything about my stance, appearance, and prompts said, "Do not bother me. I am not interested in interacting with you. Please leave me alone."

One young man, with a pointy goatee and billowing sweat pants large enough to hide several little people in the legs unnoticed, did not understand my signals. He was a down home New Orleans boy, who "used to stay Uptown, but moved to Mississippi a while back to cut trees." He was "the fastest guy they got up down there," and I'm not sure what that means, but good for him. 

Through some profoundly unlucky happenstance, we ended up sitting together, him in the aisle, me in the middle. I had my music turned up and my book upon as we taxied, and when the lights dimmed, he leaned really close to me and offered to turn my overhead light on for me. Even though I was confident that my own arm could, in fact, cover that distance without much injury, I said I was going to sleep. And I did, for a while, but I woke up when his leg began halving and halving again my personal space. There was a tiny Korean woman on the other side of me, who was really nice, but spoke no English, and kept sneezing violently, so I had no safe space to lean into. 

It was not a good beginning, and what follows is a list of actually really real things Redneck Goattee Boy did on that flight: 

• Expanded light a liquid to fill up the space in the aisle and half of my seat while sleeping. 
• Snored like a hippo. 
• Leaned over my laptop while I was watching a movie with my headphones on, and shouted, "WHAT MOVIE YA WATCHIN'?" When I told him, he said, equally loudly, "OH, YEAH, I HEARD OF THAT. I DIDN'T SEE IT THOUGH. I THINK IT CAME OUT WHILE I WAS IN PRISON LAST SUMMER."
• When he flat-out asked me if I had a boyfriend "in the city," I told him I was gay (with apologies to LGBT everywhere, but I really needed him to stop talking to me) and he replied, "Oh, no way. Really? My girlfriend in Mississippi is bi, and we pick up a lot of chicks together." Then he winked. No, really. 
• Pulled out his duffle bag and stuffed his mouth with half a container of chew. 
• Convinced the flight attendant to give him a whole container of the little cheese cracker bags. He must have eaten 14 of them. 
• Upon landing, he got his things together quickly and explained, "I gotta get outta New Orleans quick. The cops told me if they ever catch me again here, they'd put me in prison till I'm old and gray." Then, like an afterthought: "I hope they didn't search my bag. There's, like, thirty bottles of Xanax in there." 

Monday, September 16, 2013

This is a post about body hair and sexism in marketing.

...So, you know, probably don't read this, if that's not what you're into. 

Yesterday, I went running. Or, more accurately, I went "sad slow jogging while sweating a lot" because it's the South and I'm, at this stage, more potato than person. But I was out and I was active, so I was proud of myself in my own sad slow jogger way. On the way home from the running trail, I stopped by CVS, because I needed some hair dye to cover up my ratchet roots. 

While I wandered CVS, exulting in the air conditioning and not exulting so much in the feeling of sweat drying and making my shirt all crinkly, I saw that lip gloss was on sale. Oh, I thought, obvious lip gloss-fiend that I am, I should definitely buy, like, all that lip gloss. 

In the end, I bought two, but I discovered, upon holding them up to see how the color swatches looked next to my face, that, without makeup, having run a couple of miles in the excruciating heat, I looked like one of those red-faced rainbow baboons from the zoo. My whole face was just beet-red. So the moral here is it's really hard to choose an appropriately red lip gloss shade when your face is the hue of a fire truck. 

An aisle over, I found another item I needed: an electric razor. Now, I was at CVS, remember, so the selection wasn't overwhelming. But they had men's electric razors on one side, and women's on the other. 

And here's where I got super confused. Because women shave their bodies more frequently, at least generally, than men do. Some men shave their legs and that's awesome, but overall, that's a chick thing. So women's body electric razors should be super powerful. They should be the ubermeich of razors, durable and amphibious and self-sharpening and shit. 

But they weren't. All the women's razors looked like Barbie accessories. Pink and magenta and white and clearly poorly assembled plastic. But the men's razors - they were all blue and black and metal and spinny and worked in water and in air and there were covered in little black spider symbols and I'm not sure what spiders have to do with shaving but they looked like they could handle my body hair. The Barbie shavers looked like they were meant to sit and They couldn't have shaved a butterfly, let alone the stubborn leg hairs of a Valkyrie, as all women deserve. 

In the end, I decided on a men's spidery razor thing designed for "trimming and shaving below the head," because that sounded like it meant business. Here's the thing, though: why does my gender or sex mean advertisers should target me for a razor that looks like the very sight of body hair frightens it, while men are targeted for products that are all about serious shaving, not Barbie-esque artifice? In what world is that fair? Because I was born with certain secondary sex characteristics, I obviously want a razor that's pink and has white flowers on it. Bitch, no. I need to shave my legs; I need a razor that's covered in spiders and shit that can actually shear my leg fleece, not just look like I wanted to match my toilette utilities to my AA-powered Corvette. 

I know this is a futile rant, but I'm really tired of sexism in marketing and advertising. (This is different than sex in advertising. I am aware sex sells. That's a topic for another time.) I'm tired of little girls thinking that they can't play with guns because they're not pink and glittery. Because Nerf is frigging awesome. And I'm tired of women thinking they can't have the ubermeich of razors because there's a sign over it designating it for a different gender. That might not ever change, but it's sure as hell exhausting. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

The day there was a lizard in my classroom and everyone lost their shit about it.

I like lizards. Lizards are my friends. Not in a sit-together-on-a-Sunday-afternoon-and-have-tea-while-we-talk-about-the-church-ladies'-big-floppy-hats way, but in a you-eat-bugs-and-I-hate-bugs-so-you-and-I-are-cool kinda way. I think lizards are neat, like maybe they're Time Lords, with all that regenerating-limbs stuff. I think it would be neat to regrow my arm. Or to grow a tail. I think having a tail would be fun. Great way to start conversations at parties. 

Anyway. Lizards. I teach 7th grade, and 7th graders have a tendency to go absolutely apeshit crazy for little or no reason, all of the time. They are tiny vibrating balls of hormones and undeveloped homunculuses, likely to burst into a tornado of badly communicated feelings if anyone so much as looks at them funny. It's a strange thing to watch them, one moment writhing and spitting like a pissed-off cobra, the next sunny and helpful, with no explanation and no transition between the two. But it's a fact of life, I guess, when puberty is lighting fires all over your brain. 

They struggle, sometimes, in the midst of their neurochemical haze, to focus on their work. If something interrupts routine, everything can go to hell in a handbasket in the time it takes to blink. I've learned, in my time in the classroom, to teach through interruptions. Last year, a student in the middle of the room projectile vomited, with no notice, all over the damn place. It was kind of impressive, actually. He didn't even look queasy, and then desks and jackets and other students and about 6 square feet of the floor were covered in bile. I managed not to break stride and kept right on talking about commas while I opened the windows and paged for someone to bring some kitty litter or sawdust or something to absorb the rancid mess. The students who were vomited upon were reasonably disturbed, but once they removed the stricken garments they stopped spazzing. 

So today, when a student pointed out a tiny lizard on the floor of my classroom, I was nonplussed. Like I said, I like lizards. This one was green and red, speckled with black, with a white and black striped tail. He was itty-bitty. Like, tooth-pick thin and shorter than your thumb. He was a quick bugger, though, and soon all the students were up on their desks, books abandoned  yelling and crying. You'd have thought I was periodically and mercilessly electrocuting them. 

I walked over to the sink and dumped out the dregs of my coffee, rinsed the glass, and proceeded to pounce around the floor like a deranged chinchilla, attempting to trap the poor little dude. But he perceived his salvation as a giant dome descending from the sky Stephen King-style and refused to cooperate. 

Eventually, one of my students, a kind and gentle young man who loves lizards, too, caught the lizard in his hand and set it in my cup. It took, like, a brutal 7 minutes from sighting to entrapment, and another 3 or so to get everybody sitting in their desks again, instead of reenacting Dead Poet Society. 

It took me another three minutes after class to convince the lizard to vacate my cup. ("Seriously, little dude, I drink out of that and I need you to understand that I'm trying to help. Step onto the leaf you adorable little monster. I have things to do.") 

I think the worst interruption to my teaching I have ever experienced, though, was during my first year, when I was not yet used to the heat (and terrifying insect life) of the South. I was teaching The Hunger Games, and a student decided that that particular moment was a great one to start eating Cheetos out of her backpack. And then she screamed, a blood-curdling, horror-movie scream, throwing the bag across the class and flipping her desk backward. Everyone panicked. Papers flew. Books landed with thuds on the concrete. Desks screeched across the floor and students scattered. 

In this instance, I was not calm and collected. I did not handle this crisis well. I was rapidly standing on top of my own desk, abandoning the students to their fate, as dozens of massive, hissing, orange-dusted cockroaches flooded out of the foil bag. 

And that was a day I shall nightmare about I am dead and buried. Preferably in a roach-proof coffin. Oh, God. *shivers*

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

That One Time Lashonda Won All the Catch Phrases, Forever

I have known a lot of people in my life. Some of them were funny, some were nice, some were tedious and some, like the awful manicurist lady at the beauty school, don't ever, ever shut up, ever. 

But none have been as funny to me as Lashonda was the other night at my birthday party (her name isn't Lashonda. How great would that be, though?). 

So, the party. I'm not home all that often, living in New Orleans now and whatnot, so every summer when I return to Colorado, my parents throw me a birthday party so all my old friends in my hometown can come by and catch up. Some of these friends are family friends, friends of my parents, or people we've known since before I could walk. Some, like Lashonda, are my friends from high school or college who I don't get to see all that often. 

That night, after cake and presents (so what if I'm in my twenties you're never too old for cake and presents you hush), we all gathered for a nice game of Catch Phrase. You know, the game were you pass around the wheel of words to the tune of a randomized buzzer and you have to describe the word you see till your teammates guess it in order to pass it on. It's pretty low-key, for hot potato.  

So let's set the scene. Lashonda is sitting on my right, and my parents, my neighbors, my neighbors' kids, and some old family friends are all sitting in a circle. My mom explains the rules to Lashonda, who's never played before, and we start the game. Lashonda can be fairly competitive, so she's following the wheel around the circle, waiting for her turn. When she takes the wheel, hits the spinner and reads her word, this is what happens: 

"Oh! Oh, country. Green. Lots of green. They wear scarves." 

No one got the change to guess before the buzzer chimed. The answer was Scotland Yard, which Lashonda, in her beginner's nerves, had confused with Ireland and a friend of ours who wears a lot of scarves. 

Because she was holding the wheel when time ran out, she got to start the next round. And then she won Catch Phrase, forever, in my heart. 

Beep. "Oh. Okay. So, most girls get one of these for the first time when they turn sixteen. Maybe more later. It hurts, at first, and there's a little bit of blood, and a hole..."

She trailed off as the room got really quiet. No one had any guesses. The timer ran out, and we learned that the answer had been pierced ear, but I was already sobbing with laughter. 

Lashonda did really well the rest of the game, and her team won twice, but no game of Catch Phrase will ever be the same again without that long, awkward silence, to which Lashonda had been completely oblivious until some turns later, despite her being one of the cleverest, quickest people I know. 

I love you Lashonda please don't hate me for preserving this moment for posterity

Monday, June 24, 2013

I may not act like an adult, but you should.

My life is a persistent critical tension between hating being an adult and hating other adults for not acting like adults. 

I am not a successful adult. Last week, I bought underwear on the Internet because I didn't want to do my laundry. I am creating new and inventive suit combinations every morning as I try to match the least wrinkly pants with the least rank, unwashed shirt to survive one more day without washing my clothes. My diet for the last month has been almost exclusively chips, candy and Moscato. I've exercised exactly once since I arrived at this summer work program; anymore, I'm so perpetually tired it's all I can do to convince myself to stumble and wheeze my way up a flight of stairs rather than wait for the elevator. I spend my late nights huddled in a dorm room watching Venture Brothers and hoping some magical food fairy will magically supply me with edibles that didn't come from a college dining hall or the Papa John's up the hill. Sometimes, at night, I just compulsively purchase things on the Internet. Last night I bought a T-shirt featuring two narwhales jousting with face horns that were also light-sabers. I'm not sure why. Yesterday I woke up at 11 and took a three-hour nap at 1. I can't even remember if I paid my bills last month. Probably. But it's entirely possible I've just withdrawn all my tenuous adult feelers into my little summertime shell and forgot to pay rent. 

On the other hand, I sometimes become absolutely outraged at the failure of other adults to act like adults. While I'm up at night gorging myself on taffy and hissing like Gollum at passersby, not acting in the least like an adult, other twentysomethings are out drinking and clubbing and in general acting like twentysomethings. I should not resent them for this. I just had wine for dinner, for heaven's sake. And yet, when groups of my colleagues return to our dorm-hovels at night,  shouting and laughing and tipsy, I peek down through  my blinds at them and fume quietly at them for their apparent inability to act like responsible adults. 

Sharing a dorm with three other people has not dampened my reactionary judge sessions. When I blearily prepare myself my nightly tub, and I glance down to observe several clumps of long, curly black hair smeared along the sides of the shower, my insides shrivel up with fury and disgust. Don't get me wrong; I don't hate my roommate. She's actually quite nice. But gurrrrrrrl, when I have to wipe yo weave out my shower space, I just 

I wipe my legion of spiky leg hairs out of there when I shave. I don't want to find your hair on my body when I shower. I don't dislike your hair. It's nice hair. I just would rather it not be on me when I'm naked and half-asleep while I attempt to maintain some semblance of socially appropriate personal hygiene. 

Bathroom standards are another area I wish adults would adhere to more regularly. I don't know how hair that is long and was clearly once attached to your head ended up on the toilet seat, and I don't want to know, but I sure do want it to not be there anymore by the time I need to use that toilet. And what actual adult human clogs a toilet and then leaves it that way, without alerting anyone? That's just...that's just not okay, and I don't want to be your friend because of it.

And, man, monitor your own belongings. I'm not your mother. I don't want to bring your lunch box back to campus with me because you left it in our office. I can barely keep track of my own stuff. Don't make me keep track of yours too. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mo’ money, dorm problems.

There was a brief, misguided time in my life wherein I wondered if living in my parents’ house during my undergraduate years deprived me of some greater college experience. I lived in my childhood room, didn’t pay rent, was provided with extremely good food, and got to hang out with my family all the time – and yet I pondered if I was missing out on what surely was the joy of the dorm lifestyle. Surrounded by friends, walking to classes two minutes before they start, drinking every night and eating in the dining hall – it sounded like a collegial Valhalla. And so, while I very much enjoyed staying at home and commuting to campus, I was always curious about that absent chapter in my development. 

The summer after I graduated, though, I travelled to Atlanta for five weeks of job training housed on the Georgia Tech campus. There, I received my first real glimpse of that college life. I swore, after more than a month of dining hall food and lofted twin beds, that I would never, ever return. 

This summer, I’m working at that same job training program at Georgia Tech. While things are admittedly easier, better paid and less stressful as a staff member than they had been as a trainee, living in a dorm just straight sucks

At home, I sleep in a queen-sized water bed. I know that’s ridiculous. You hush. The point is, I’m used to being able to spread out and thrash around as I sleep, hugging my cats and unconsciously acting out my heroic dream-battles by slaying armies of vicious REM-dragons. 

Here, though, I sleep on a twin mattress that is, inexplicably, comprised of egg crates and tissue paper, coated together in a slick, heat-absorbing plastic. It smells like sorrow. For some reason, the bed is also suspended at least four and a half feet from the floor. I’m not sure why that is. That’s a really useless height: too tall to be easy to get into, and too short for anything stored underneath it to be easily accessible. It’s like a horrible engineering mishap, designed specifically to make me fear rolling over in my sleep, just in case I wake up concussed and bleeding on the floor miles below. 

Once I spread a sleeping bag over the mattress to keep myself from sliding around on the plastic and built a retaining wall of pillows on the outside edge to ensure that I survive till morning, though, the bed’s not so bad. 

The suite common area I share with my three roomies looks like a haven of comfort and camaraderie, but it’s all a lie. The plush couches, so inviting, reveal themselves as particle-board monstrosities more beholden to medieval torture devices than lounging furniture. Nothing that looks so pleasant has any right to be so uncomfortable. I don’t know why I’m so offended by this. I guess I didn’t believe until now that furniture could lie to me. 

The lights, though, are the cherry on top of this spartan dorm cake. The uniform fluorescents themselves aren’t the problem – they just make me feel like a fake plant in some anonymous cubicle farm – but they don’t turn on all at once. Since I’m pulling 16-hour days, I don’t get in until pretty late, and when I flip on the bathroom light to start the shower, the lights flicker starkly on and off about 37 times before they settle into luminescence. Because I’m actually five years old, I always panic that there’s a serial killer or perhaps a hardened escaped convict waiting for me there, moving closer in each flash of darkness, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. It’s like being in a horror movie. 

We share meals in the campus dining hall, which is actually not bad, as campus dining halls go. The coffee is decent, and there’s a soft serve machine, which helps sooth my inner child of its serial-killer fears. 

There are a couple of distinct advantages of dorm life, though, too. One is central air. In the New Orleans summer, my bedroom is kept cool by a combination of a 40-year-old window unit held in place with duct tape and hope, and a ceiling fan so tired and squeaky I try not to stand directly under it anymore, so I don’t end up all Final Destinationed. So being able to regulate the temperature in my room just by spinning a magic little wheel is pretty great. 

The last prime advantage of living in the dorms this summer is the bubble baths. I am an absolute fiend for bubble baths. I can’t enjoy them in my apartment in New Orleans for two reasons: first, the tub seals are approximately a century old, so the tub doesn’t actually hold more than about three inches of water; and second, because, for some reason, no matter how hot it is outside, the walls of the tub are always absolutely frigid. It doesn’t matter how hot those three inches of water are, that tub will turn them to ice water in moments. I think this is one of the great mysteries of our time. Perhaps my tub is the key to attaining absolute zero. 

The bathrooms at Tech, though, are essentially hotel in nature, if you had to supply your own TP at a Best Western. Which maybe you do. But each and every night for the last month, I’ve been waiting eagerly for my roommates to finish their showers, and then I’ve been sneaking in like a bubble-bath ninja, playing a movie on my laptop or reading a book and sometimes crafting myself elaborate bubble facial hair. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

This is a post about cats.

I cannot overstate how strange my cats are.  

I’m not sure if they were exposed to radiation in utero, or if they were inducted into an apocalyptic brainwashing cat cult as kittens, or if they’re actually aliens – but whatever the cause, they have manifested some baffling habits and tendencies in the two years since I adopted them. Really, really baffling. 

Their root problem seems to be a base misunderstanding of the relationship between cause and effect. Most animals I have encountered have at least a cursory understanding of how this thing causes or is at least related to this other thing. If I beg for food, I will be fed. If my person throws a ball, I should chase it. If my person has a laptop out, I need more than anything else to lay on that keyboard. If my person takes out a leash, it means it’s time for walkies. 

For my cats, this thought process looks very different. For them, the cause-effect paradigm moves from something linear and concrete into the realms of alchemy, transmogrification and quantum mechanics as telekinesis. 

They demonstrate their consistent misguided understandings of the natural world in several ways, mostly concerning their control of both food and my actual physical presence. 

First, food. This quirk is mostly exhibited by the more fearful and generally anxious of the two cats. Anxious cat seeks consistently to control and manipulate his surroundings, from knocking things off cabinets to strategically relocating all of his toys to places where I tend to step blindly in the mornings before I’m thoroughly awake. My route to the bathroom each morning is like Vengeful Kitty Legoland. 

But anxious cat enters a new field completely concerning his food. My cats mostly eat at night, when I’m asleep, which means that by morning, their bowl is empty. As I’m fuzzily preparing for my day, trying to make sure my argyle is right-side out and that my shoes match, they flick around my ankles, mewling piteously, twining between my feet and trying in their own furry, nonlinear way to herd me downstairs to replenish their supply. 

Inevitably, when I get to the kitchen at last and push their huddled, anticipating forms away from the bowl so I can pour in new kibble, there is already other stuff in the bowl. Any by “other stuff,” I mean an incredibly random assortment of small objects from every minuscule crevice of my apartment. Pony tail holders, rubber bands, a random bow from last Christmas, envelopes, twisty ties, pipe cleaners, thumb tacks, the Arc of the Covenant. Literally all the random things that ever randomed. 

I think I’ve figured out his reasoning. Anxious cat considers himself a budding alchemist, imbued with the power of transforming a non-food substance into food. It’s just that he doesn’t know what that non-food substance is yet, so he has to keep trying any and all other things he can feasibly move to see if they, when deposited in the food bowl (which he clearly understands as magical), indeed become food. 

So, essentially, anxious cat wanders the house, absconding with every reasonably-sized thing he can, and placing it neatly in his bowl. I can just see it: him, pilfered item in his teeth, creeping up to his bowl in the night – placing it primly within – sitting back neatly and still, breathlessly anticipating the change – thinking in his heroic inner cat-voice, “THIS ARE FOOD??” – and then drooping his ears in disappointment as he realizes his experiment has, again, failed, and that he must start again in his eternal quest to generate edible deliciousness from a collection of hair ties and paperclips. 

The other cat, whom I shall refer to as squeaky cat due to her inability to meow like a real kitty (she instead just produces an adorable assortment of piping squeaks), has a thing for clothes. Last time he was here, my dad had to screw a board over the entrance to the little support tunnel under the bed to prevent the cats from going back there and yanking all of my clothes out of the backs of my drawers and spreading them helter-skelter around the house. This, though, did not solve the whole problem: squeaky cat has learned how to open the drawers from the outside. 

If I’m gone for too long beyond my regular workday, squeaky cat and anxious cat open all my drawers and empty them of – well, drawers. When I get home, my unmentionables, socks, pajamas, and tupperware (from the kitchen cabinets) will be spread up and down the stairs, across the sofa, piled on the bedroom rug, and hanging from the cat post. It’s like I live with poltergeists. Every thing that was orderly when I left is in a state of chaos and entropy and flaming wreckage when I get home. Every. Day. 

But it’s worse when I’m for a holiday back home and leave the cats in the care of a sitter. I think, for the first few days, they just pine for me. Then anxious cat will start thinking about his “THIS ARE FOOD??” experiments and, due to his magical transitive alchemy powers, believe that some manipulation of my clothes will summon me home from whatever limbo in which I have clearly been imprisoned because if I were free, I would, of course, be home cuddling with them. 

Over spring break, I went home for about a week. When I returned, late on a Sunday night before school resumed the next day, I dragged my suitcases upstairs, sweating and tired and dirty – and found my fanciest evening gown laid out on my bed. This gown is stored inside a zipped cloth wardrobe on the other side of the house, inside a zipped garment bag

The cats, in some helpless fit of attempted owner-summoning, had gone through two layers of zippers, pulled a gown off a hanger, and dragged it all the way across the house, up onto the bed, and spread it there, neat and flat with the halter strings dangling alongside, in all its glittering splendor, in the hopes that doing so would somehow magically render my absence ended. There was no shed fur on the dress as there would be if they had slept there, and the dress is to heavy for one cat to drag it alone. They literally worked in tandem to practice cat magic. 

But, hey, maybe their ideas aren’t so misguided. Maybe anxious cat considers his experiments successful every time I fill the bowl again; maybe squeaky cat thinks her weird cat fashion show really did bring me home. Maybe they actually are magic. Oh, God. My cats are magic. I have magic cats, guys. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

I arted.

I recently purchased a tablet, because part of being an adult is being able to actually buy for yourself all the toys you envy of others. Those of you who know me IRL know that the good Lord bestowed in me little to no artistic ability. Why I actually bought a tablet I'll never know. 

(That's a lie. I bought a tablet because I was sitting in a coffee shop with my smartphone, bored, wondering how I could get more blog hits, and then I realized that all the blogs I follow are hilarious not just because of their magnificent writing, but also because they include comic panels which somehow, despite being mostly stick figures, convey the writer's emotions more perfectly than their prosaic language ever could. So I bought a tablet to help me become more Internetfamous.) 

Anyway. Below are my forays into learning how to use my new toy. Please remember that I'm not an artist – not even a little – and therefore be forgiving. Or at least not completely malicious in your amusement. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Physical therapy adventure time!

Two or three times a week, I visit a physical therapist. Now, I wasn't in a horrific car accident or anything, so many poo-poo my loyal return to said office, but I get these headaches that turn me into a terrible human being when they won't go away for 30 hours, so I go and the doctor and his staff seek to alleviate the muscle tension that causes the headaches. 

Last week, this is what a visit looked like: 

First, a blindingly perky college intern led me into a back room, separated from the main office by a curtain, and laid me on a long bed. Hesitatingly, she placed my head inside a machine. She then tightened two vices on either side of my neck, and strapped my head down against the machine with velcro restraints. She then handed me small remote with a big red button in it. 

She looked worried. "If, uh, anything doesn't feel right, or, uh, something seems wrong, just press the kill switch." And I thought, How the freaking hell am I supposed to know if something's wrong if I don't know what this is supposed to feel like?

And then, shortly after, Oh crap this machine is going to rip my skull off. 

Slowly, the machine whirred to life. The perky intern abandoned ship, returning to the main office, probably preferring not to see my cerebral spinal fluid decorating the walls when the robot attached to my head parts decided to go all T-1000. 

At first gently, and then with increasing force, the machine pulled my head up along the bed, extending my spine until it cracked. My head was pressed against the strap holding it down, and my brainbox was tucked at such a strange angle that I'm sure to an outside observer I would have resembled a startled frog with many chins. 

The machine held me in that extended position for a few seconds, and just as my panic at being frozen like this began to peak and I was fingering the kill switch, it slowly released and, by grades, relaxed its deathgrip on my spine. 

This ravaging cycle went on for 15 minutes. When a timer went off and the perky intern came back to free from my mechanized overlord, and uncranked the vicescrews from my vertebrae, my neck cracked, lik, forty times. 

Once my cycle in traction ended, the perky intern and her perkier, blonder twin intern stared at me while I did suspiciously easy exercises to loosen and strengthen my upper back and shoulders, to relieve neck tension. For a while, I lifted three-kilogram (like, sevenish pound) weights until they tell me to stop. Then I leaned on a doorway for a bit. I also got to lay on a long styrofoam log and stretch across a complete range of motion, which actually feels pretty nice and I kind of want one for my house. 

Then the doctor joined me, a short man with a good-natured smile who you'd never suspect could bend wrought iron with his bare hands. He asked me how the pain was, on a scale of one to ten. 

Now, when doctors ask me this question, I never know what to say. What's a ten feel like? Is a one a paper cut, or, like, I slept wrong and my leg is sore now? Or is one no pain at all? At what number do people quantify the breaking of a limb, or a twisted ankle, or that one bruise I got on my hip the other week when I walked into a door knob? How debilitated to I have to be to quantify the headaches I get as a step on a numerical scale? Does a 6 mean the fluorescent lights of my classroom hurt my brain, or would it be an 8 when I lose the ability to be polite to people and just stumble around like a trash can hobo, snarling and grunting until I can curl up in the dark to sleep? Or are those numbers too high, because, like, I'm not bleeding, so maybe it's not that high? I don't know. This is a confusing recurring event in my life. The pain scale currently in use in doctors' offices around the country is woefully insufficient and I doth protest. 

Therefore, confused and quagmired in a swamp of possible pain scale interpretations, I squinted in indecision and finally stammered, ", a four? I mean, I have a headache now, but your Terminator machine helped some, and I took some aspirin earlier,, four? Five? Maybe? Is this the right answer?" 

He laughed indulgently, like maybe I was thinking way too hard about this and seriously, lady, just answer the question, and proceeded to work on the deep tissue involved in my headache shenanigans. This is the part that I think helps the most, when his preternaturally strong mutant finger rollers massage the tension out of my neck – but this part also hurts. I lay there with my fists balled, cringing against the little face pillow, teeth grinding until I feel the muscles unclench and chill out for a while. 

This used to be the end of my session, but a few years ago, I had foot surgery, and the doctor has started working on my feet as well, breaking up the scar tissue so I can walk like a normal person again, instead of putting all my weight on my toes to avoid the scars. So, when he works on my feet, he first pops all my toes, which was not something I knew could be done. Then, he takes a giant jar of makeup remover – yeah, you read that right – and slathers it all over my calves and feet. Last week, he rolled over this tray laden with weird plastic mortars and grinders, like transparent torture devices. And I asked, "So, what are those for?" And he grinned at me, kind of apologetic, like he really didn't want to explain. While he fumbled for words, one of the Perky Intern Squad popped her head over the counter and piqued, "They induce microtraumas in the deep tissue!" 

I stared at her. "That sounds terrible."

The doctor sighed. "Yeah. I tend to avoid using that word, but that's essentially what's happening, breaking up the scar tissue, so it can heal again."

"That sounds terrible," I repeated. 

"Yeah," he answered simply. 

And it was terrible. I laid on that table, biting a pillow, using all my will to not kick the doctor in the face while he pressed those devices into my legs and across my feet, digging into years-old scar tissue and making me want to weep like a child while I silently murder-pummeled him again and again in my mind. 

And I get to do it all over again tomorrow. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why New Orleans Can't Handle Its Precipitation

New Orleans is famous for its water-related difficulties. What with our year-long rainy season and all them hurricanes, the city never really dries out. It's okay, though, because it means stenches never have much of a chance to build up, and, truly, I love the rain. 

Back in Colorado, I used to sit at the living room window, elbows on the back of the couch, and just stare out into the rain. I loved the sound, the brittle staccato against the roof, like some magic had distilled the chaos of the universe into the droplets that hammered against the window, offering the world itself a baptism of renewal. I used to take walks in the rain, not caring about the cold or the wet, just because I loved the sound my feet made against the pavement, and the way the lightning lanced against the sky. It is simultaneously soothing and exhilarating and inspiring. 

Here in New Orleans, rain is a different animal entirely. It's still beautiful to me; it's pouring torrents outside right now, pounding against the windows and the exposed half of my window-unit AC, and the room is illuminated with blue fluorescence every few minutes when lighting and thunder compete for attention. But New Orleans is well-known for being (stupidly) built below sea level on ground that is sinking all the time at an almost preternatural rate. That means that when it rains here, even just a tad, the streets and sidewalks flood. 

As with many industries in New Orleans (like energy, Internet, and local government) there is no competition for the branches of the city that control the infrastructure related to drainage, which means that everything having to do with drainage is terrible, ill-maintained, and falling apart. All the pipes are incredibly old, unreliable, and clogged with God knows what, so when it rains, not only does flooding begin immediately because the runoff has no where to run off to, but the storm pumps fail spectacularly at pushing the standing water back up into the river. It's like the bilge pump on a ship, but only if the pump were 100 years old, filled to bursting with decomposing debris, buried under cement, and powered by the collective, faltering desperation of every soul aboard. 

Back in the mountains, when hydroplaning only happened, like, once a year, rain was always a welcome thing, because it meant fewer water restrictions the following summer. Here, we get more rain in a single evening than Colorado gets in a year, and it just stays. I am still happy when it rains, here, but I am also learning to be wary of it. Rain is a powerful force here, as I learned the weekend I moved into my apartment. Two days after we got here, when Mom and I were unpacking and settling me in, Tropical Storm Lee struck. It wasn't a big storm, but New Orleans' standards, but my house is 100 years old, and I don't think it had ever been re-roofed. So when the rain got serious, the bathroom ceiling simply...surrendered. It just gave up, and collapsed. We're not talking some put-a-pan-and-towels-out leakage; we're talking the rafters flipping broke and the whole ceiling was suddenly a skylight. And because it's New Orleans, it took weeks to get repaired. 

That fall, there were some other tropical storms. One morning, I remember, my boyfriend-of-the-time woke me up, drowsily complaining that it was raining in the bedroom. Turns out the ceiling above my bed had developed the ability to cry. This happened, also, in the living room, kitchen, and porch. I was living in a semi-aquatic environment, like a frog, or some species of turtles.

Since those storms, my landlord re-roofed the whole building and repaired the external siding. Now, during storms like this, where it inexplicably starts spitting hail the size of golf balls, I no longer worry about waking up in the midst of an interior ocean. In the meantime, though, I get to wander around the French Quarter in the rain, wearing a trench coat and fedora like a legitimate badass, instead of a middle school teacher who just pretends to be one on the weekends. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Down at dat Mardi Gras!

It's Mardi Gras Day here in New Orleans, and Mom, Dad, and I have pictures for you poor souls so far from Carnival. 

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Those who have glass furniture shouldn't throw cats.

When I graduated from college, I was preparing to move 1600 miles from Colorado Springs, the place I called home, to start a terrifying new job: inner city middle school teacher. 

Now, I had never lived away from home before. I'd never rented an apartment, or paid rent, or tried to feed myself. My folks and I travelled to New Orleans the Spring Break before I graduated to find me an apartment; I had $800 to my name and put down $750 as the security deposit on my place. I was excited. I was going on an adventure, much like Bilbo leaving the Shire for the first time, only without all the promises of safety and wellbeing. 

In preparation for my new job, I had to attend five weeks of summer training in Atlanta. After that, I would go straight to New Orleans to start work. Because I didn't have any furniture or, like, spoons, and stuff, I reluctantly surrendered my graduation money to my mom so that she could garage-sale for everything I might need while I was stuck in Georgia. 

While I was running on three hours' sleep a night and spending every spare moment sobbing about the hell my life had become, my mom was working wonders stocking my apartment. When I returned to Colorado, shell-shocked but a little more ready for teaching than I had been, my folks' garage was filled to the gills with furnishings: couches, chairs, art – and a lovely glass-topped coffee table. Remember the coffee table. It's important later. 

Mom, generous to a fault, helped me pack up the moving van and drove with me and a family friend down to New Orleans to get settled. The van was 24 feet long. Behind it, we towed my car on a 20-foot trailer. Three days and one harrowing journey through bimdiddy nowhere later, we met my dad (who flew down) to move me into my first apartment. 

It was raining when we moved stuff in, and there was a dead lizard in the kitchen, but, all things considered, the process was relatively painless. My dad left a few days later, but my mom stayed a week or so to help me transition into life on my own. 

One of those transitional steps was for me to adopt two baby kitties. 

How I found them and where I got them from is a harrowing story for another time. 

This story, though, is about these two: 

Here we have the kittyheart, rarely seen in captivity, and known to be the cutest thing in the whole history of time. 

Aren't they just the most adorable kittens you've ever seen? 

Damn straight they are. 

Anyway, the black and white one on the left is Whittaker. The calico is Zephyr. They are my furry, sharp, purrful little babies and I wub them. 

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when my babies turned about a year and a half and I've been settled into my apartment for just a bit longer than that. 

The kitties and I had flown back to Colorado for New Year's, and we had just spent a long day going house to airport to plane to airport to hotel to car to store to home, but we'd finally all made it back to my apartment. I let the kitties out of their kennel and they erupted from the duffle with kitty glee, stretching and meowing. I was exhausted from not having slept the night before (red eye flight) and all I wanted out of life was to take a nap. 

As the cats ate, I hauled the luggage upstairs and, once everything was situated, collapsed on the couch in the living room, my feet up on the glass coffee table. That's right, the coffee table. It was a beautiful coffee table, with wrought golden feet and a long, oval glass top, half an inch thick and beveled and strong enough to stand on. I know that, because I often used it as a step ladder. 

Whittaker, sated into "fat and sassy" mode, came up to see me. When he realized that I was barely conscious, he decided to create his own entertainment by jumping up onto the mantle above the coffee table to attack the baby Jesus in my ceramic nativity scene, because he's an adorable little heathen. I called his name and hauled my tired body upright to grab him and let him down before he broke the infant Savior's other arm off. 

Whit panicked. Knowing he was caught in a place where he's not supposed to be, he attempted to leap down to the floor and escape my grasp. Whittaker has never been the most graceful cat, and the poor little dude tripped over his own feet on the way down. In a markedly un-catlike way, he failed to right himself as he fell and landed, cheekbone-first, on the coffee table. 

The table shattered into a million glittering fragments. Whittaker, a black and white streak of disoriented terror, flew across the landing into the bed room. Zephyr, curious and oblivious as ever, immediately attempted to walk across the shards. Scooping her up and shutting the door behind me, I tracked down Whit to make sure he was okay. Thankfully, he was, though he looked apologetic for days

My Benedict Cumberbatch-sharp cheekbones will destroy everything you love.

I enlisted the help of my neighbors to remove the more outlandishly large and pointy pieces, and swept and mopped and vaccuumed the floor before I let the cats back in. I had a random piece of drywall on my porch, leftover from some hurricane repair, and I laid it across the table's struts. That was ugly as hell, so I put a tablecloth over it. 

And that is the story of why my coffee table is made of drywall. 

One more story. It'll be quick, I promise. 

Just before Thanksgiving, I purchased a new car, flew out to Colorado to pick it up, and roadtripped it back to New Orleans with my mom. We packed a lot of stuff into the car, since it's cheaper to drive it than mail it. One thing we were excited to finally get to transport to my apartment was this gorgeous picture frame that I was going to use to place my Doctor Who poster in a rightfully prestigious setting above my bed. 

The frame made it to New Orleans just fine. It made it upstairs just fine. Mom and I were taking the back off to put my DW poster inside when we learned that this was the most absurdly complicated frame in the history of humankind. It had like three backs and a bunch of little metal pressure gauges that you absolutely had to either remove or not remove, I'm still not sure, and also like sixteen different screws and some wire. We were reverse engineering this remarkably complex frame, and carefully squeezing my poster in and resetting the frame, and suddenly, crack. The pressure on the glass from all our bomb-dismantling cautiousness had caused the glass to shatter. It didn't shatter neatly. There were two large fragments and millions of infinitesimally small fragments. 

Unfortunately, we were in the hallway when this happened, because we'd been using the stairs for leverage. 

Then Zephyr happened. 

I live to make everything you do more difficult. And also hairier. 

Hearing something interesting and exciting happening, she bolted out of the bedroom onto the pile of broken glass. I, horrified that her little feet would soon be filled with painful, minuscule shards, lunged across the pile to sieze her before she reached it. I landed on my knees in the glass, but Zephyr was fine, albiet confused about this new frantic game her mommy was playing with her. 

The part of the story you don't know yet is that I was wearing shorts. My knees, now covered in tiny lacerations, were nestled securely in a pile of shattered glass. I saw to my wounds, but couldn't really see any glass that had been pushed into my skin. I thought maybe I'd gotten off easy. 


A few days later, when my knees had scabbed, I started to itch. I innocently scratched one knee. Under my fingernails, upon inspection, was a long, thin shard of glass. Every time I scratched my knees, I was rewarded with itty bitty pieces of glass that had been embedded in my skin, and was now working its way out of my body as I healed. 

That was six weeks ago. My knees have healed – except for when they itch, and I can yank out a few more pieces of that damn frame. Thanks, cats. 

You're welcome!