Friday, December 19, 2014

Dude, Randy Must Be A Dick.

It turns out that phone books can hurt you even when all you do is pick them up off your step, curse quietly, and recycle them, never to see them again, until some hapless time traveler prints a new edition because surely you need it

But here's the thing: we have booster seats for children, and they invented door stops a while back, and it's rare that all of the Internet breaks down at once, so unless you have just a driving need for kindling, no one needs a phone book anymore. We have Google, and iPhones, and we don't need to look up local businesses or neighbors in the yellow pages anymore. That whole process actually sounds painfully outdated just writing about it. 

Phone books are useless and don't need to exist anymore, is what I'm saying. 

But they do, and when a new tri-county phone book showed up on my deck the other day, sad and full of the knowledge of its own purposelessness, I didn't think anything of it, other than that the printer had handed me several thousand tissue-thin pages and cried, "YOU recycle these!" rather than just doing it themselves. I tossed it in the bin and moved on. 

Then my phone - my cell phone, because landlines are for old people or people who...don't have cell phones? Do those people exist? - rang, late one night, in those beyond-witching-hours when people with day jobs need to be sleeping in order to avoid hate-murdering anyone in their office the next day. Since my ringtone is an incredibly loud rendition of the Thundercats themesong, I spun and thrashed around in my blankets as I woke up enough to answer. 

"Rrrmngffello?" I slurred into the phone. 
"RANDY?" a loud, violent, incredibly loud voice shouted back at me. 
"Ow. What? No." I answered back, holding the phone at arm's length. 
"IS THIS RANDY?" The lady was really, really angry at Randy, and I think she thought I was protecting him somehow, like maybe I was gonna stall her here on the phone while Randy booked it to Mexico. 
"No, there is no Randy here," I said again. 
"FUCKIN' RANDY?!" She was determined that if Randy wasn't there in the dark with me at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday, that I should somehow become him. 
"Listen, no, there is no one named Randy here." I tried to sound reasonable. I felt like I was talking someone down off a ledge, or out of a loaded, cocked shotgun aimed at some poor dude named Randy. 
"IS THIS 719-???" She proceeded to recite my phone number to be, correctly, and then waited, huffing pissed-offedly into the phone. 
"Yeah, but there's no Randy here," I said again, increasingly confused, and still kind of asleep. 
"Oh." Suddenly, she was quiet. She sounded disappointed, like a lion that had been cheated out of some tasty gazelle by some asshat named Randy. "Okay," she concluded, and hung up.

I stared at my phone for a moment like it had become a foreign object, and then I put it in sleep mode, so nothing but my alarm could rudely jerk me from sleep again that night. 

The next morning, I had two missed calls, one from the same woman who so desperately wanted to talk to/viciously murder Randy, and one from another number I didn't recognize. 

Now, I used to teach 7th grade, and my classroom didn't have a phone in it, so many students had my personal number in order to reach me for homework help, or in emergencies, or whatever. Some of these kids have not, in years past, been above the odd late-night prank call. Last summer, some kids called me about six times in a single night asking me really, really cliched crank call questions, like, "Is your refrigerator running?" except they shout them really fast and giggly because they're thirteen and bad at conversations. After a handful of calls, angry sleep Avalon shouted into the phone, "Unless you little heathens are on fire and I am the only person in the whole world who can help you right now, fucking stop calling." Which was admittedly not the most awesome thing to say to someone who was probably one of my former students, but I was working a summer job where I was on-call round-the-clock, and I couldn't silence my phone in case there was an emergency I needed to respond to, and I really wanted to sleep. 

So at first, I thought the late-night Randy lady was just one of my kids who had planned out a really elaborate prank call, and that I had derailed it somehow from its intended path. 

But the calls kept coming. Every other day or so, I'd get weird calls from numbers I didn't recognize, and while I let most run to voicemail, only a few left messages, all confused-sounding and looking for someone named Randy, who seems to be a universally reprehensible person, and who people seem to need to reach fairly desperately. After about three weeks, I stopped answering my phone for callers I didn't know, and just checked the first three seconds or so of voicemails to see if they were actually for me. If I got through the first moment without an angrily shouted, "RANDY-," I kept listening. Then I got the most interesting call of all. 

Beep. "Hello, Ms. Manly, my name is Joleen, and I'm from Echo Pages. There was a printing error in a recent edition of the phone book, and your number was mistakenly printed as the number for Patriot Bail Bonds. We'd like to talk to you about changing your voice mail to redirect callers to the correct number, and perhaps purchase your phone number. Give us a call." 

So that explained a lot. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vignettes (and a long story about poop)

So, I moved from New Orleans to Colorado Springs this past summer. I did this for a number of reasons, the foremost among which was better proximity to family, but also foremost among which was the job. I was hired in early summer to teacher middle school at a charter school in Colorado Springs, which meant I didn't have to transfer my teaching certification from Louisiana, and I could continue to work with low-income students. It also paid extraordinarily well, so everything was shaping up nicely. I finished my summer work in Atlanta, met my parents in New Orleans, packed up my house and was back in CO within the week. What follows here is a series of vignettes about the doings of me since then. 

I lived with my folks for the first few months back in CO as I started the new job and tried to find a place to rent. I needed a place that had enough space for me and the cats and our stuff, and while that may not sound too demanding on paper, it was hella hard to find a rental house. The market here is vicious. Like, shark-frenzy vicious. I would find a place I liked online in the morning before work, call and leave a message at lunch, and get a call back that afternoon to inform me the place had been rented not two hours before. This went on for weeks. So I just bought a house instead. 

Everything about the job that wasn't the money was shit. Charter schools are notoriously hit-or-miss, a moving target of educational and community balance, and this one was a spectacular miss. So I paid the closing on my house, and I quit my job, just in time to have a mortgage. 

Unemployment was like a vacation. An unemploycation, if you will. It took two weeks for the three years of teaching to wear off a little and for a Sunday night to roll around without me experiencing the horrible and automatic dread of the impending Monday morning. I had forgotten what it feels like to just accept the end of a weekend without a panic attack. 

But when I vacation, I vacation. It didn't take long for me to forget what day of the month it was or how daytime schedules work. I spent a lot of extremely late nights tying up some freelance writing projects and publishing Honey Island Swamp Child. Curating and editing that anthology was a richly rewarding experience, but it also saw me drinking Red Bull at my computer at three in the morning for the first time since college. It's not a thing anyone older than 22 should ever do. 

When my life isn't adhering to a schedule wherein other humans rely on me to be at a place at a time, the basics of being a capable and self-sufficient person rapidly fall away from me and I become a frayed husk of forgetfulness and rationalization about why the thing doesn't have to be done today. This means, most significantly, that I forget/refuse to go shopping for food. Currently, I think I have some mandarin oranges and half a container of old Chinese food in the fridge. Also old milk and some cereal dust. That is all. This is my food selection, just because I hate leaving my house and if I don't have to go anywhere all day – like a job or something – then I just don't, and my food supply steadily dwindles into just the dust at the bottom of the cat food container and some used cinnamon sticks. 

So when I was housesitting for my parents during their final camping trip of the season, I found myself huddled in the middle of their living room, staring at nothing, cramming chips in my mouth like a ballsy, very hungry squirrel. I ate a total of four chips inside about nine seconds before the image of myself there, in the center of the carpet, holding chips like my baby, came to my mind, and I quietly stopped. 

I made two animal-related decisions consecutively, and they together have resulted in a massive increase in the amount of pet feces I have to handle on a daily basis. The first decision I made was to adopt a dog who stress-poops, and who happens to be stressed a lot. The second decision was to toilet train my cats. That is, not to house train them to use a little box. That they already know. The choice I made was to actually teach them how to use the toilet. Now, I understand from the Internet that this process is made much easier when only attempted with one cat at a time, but I don't know how to tell one cat to poop in a box and the other to poop in a toilet and have that happen, so I just went with it. 

The cat were fine at first. Confused, and bad at balancing on the toilet seat, but fine. Then the little rings from the middle of their fake litter box that hangs suspended in the middle of the toilet started to come out, right on schedule, and they forgot how to poop entirely for a few days. There was just no cat poop anywhere. Then, they came to what I'm sure they considered to be a rational kitty agreement. 

The found a long thing, that was porcelain, near the toilet, and they decided that was a close-enough target to what I wanted from them. So one day, I came downstairs, confused by the utter lack of cat poop anywhere in the house, but definitely being able to smell it. As part of my super skilled detective work in the poop quest, I pulled back the shower curtain. 

The bathtub was, horrifyingly, transformed into a cat poop storage unit. There was so much cat poop. I didn't punish them for it, because cats tend to hold grudges instead of internalizing self-correction, but I made them watch while I flinchingly moved one cluster of poop (this is an awful story, I know, I'm sorry) from the tub to the toilet. They seemed to understand, and for a few days, everything was fine. The cats were weirdly but successfully pooping in the toilet, the dog was at least attempting to poop mostly outside. We were on the straight and narrow. 

When, a few days later, I discovered another tiny, guilty-looking cat poop in the tub, I disinfected the whole thing with bleach and covered the inside with aluminum foil. Cats are supposed to hate aluminum foil, you see. It's a widely accepted understanding among cat people. But that night, I heard a whispering, wispy sound, and I tracked it to the bathroom. Pulling back the shower curtain again, I saw Whit, gleefully perched in the middle of the foil, fastidiously folding edges back on themselves in an absolute fit of cat origami. He was thrilled. I was confused. But I left him to it. The next morning, I found a cat poop carefully wrapped in a take-out basket of foil, like Chinese leftovers, so I redirected him again, moving poop while he watched from tub to toilet. He got it. 

But the holidays rolled around, and I decided to get a new Christmas tree for my new house. I got a huge, all-white tree, and a lovely, almost too-sparkly tree skirt to match. The cats have always loved Christmas, but if you have a cat, you know that they are also deeply materialistic creatures, and are finely attuned to every household change. I think, perhaps, that the move, the new house, the new dog, and the new toilet expectations were all made too much by the introduction of a new tree - they were apparently very attached to the old one - and therefore Whit began his own personal war on Christmas. 

He pooped on that poor tree skirt more times than I thought a cat could ever poop in a single night. When I came downstairs the next morning, there were ornaments everywhere. An angel in the bathroom, a ball on the couch, hooks just all over the damn floor. It was like a minefield. But the poop. On my brand new, extremely white tree skirt. I washed it to get the stains out, and the rest of my clothes are still glittery. Two days of my cat using his feces to enact a deeply personal war on Christmas was enough for me, and I retired their toilet training kit, at least for now. Whit still sometimes pees in the toilet, and he likes to hang out on the seat for some reason, but when I refilled their litter box, Zephyr straight up rolled in the litter like she'd never seen anything so beautiful.