MAY 2007
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
A rather awkward conversation:

Evening. I walk into a room and see my friend Tucker and a woman I do not recognize. They are seated at a table.

Tucker: Hey!

Me: Hey!

Friendly chit-chat ensues. How's the wife, how's your daughter, how's work, etc.

Me:(Turning to unfamiliar woman.) Hi, I don't think we've met. I'm Amy. (Extend hand to shake.)

Other Woman: (Returning handshake.) I'm Amy too. We've met before.

Me: Uhh. (Look on my face as if I'm trying to place her and not having much success.)

Other Woman: Last time we met, I was Bill.

(I look closer and realize that yes, perhaps she is a bit masculine beneath the truly excellent make-up job and rather nice costume jewelry.)

Me: Ohhhhh. (Awkward pause.) Well. (Another awkward pause.) Well, you picked a great name.

(Polite and awkard smiling all around.)

Me: Well, I gotta run.

Note to self: Work on things to say in potentially awkward situations.

Note to reader: I have nothing against anyone who's transsexual, transgendered, transvestite, or any other kind of trans. (And I had actually just run into and had a conversation with a male acquaintance who often wears lots of make-up and sometimes wears women's clothes.) I guess I was just really caught off guard!

Monday, May 28, 2007
Hey, it's Memorial Day. Happy Memorial Day, everyone! Oh, and a special note to my neighbors down the street: It's Memorial Day, not the Fourth of Fucking July, you dumbasses! Quit shooting off illegal fireworks!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007
It's after 11, and I was gonna go to sleep after the season finale of Lost, but it was so f-ing good, and now I'm all jacked up. (Err, no pun intended.) Did you see it? Holy crap, it was really good!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007
I'll try to complain about gas prices in a way that doesn't sound like everyone else. This will be difficult, as I'm pissed just like everyone else, but here goes. Where I live, regular unleaded is $3.65 a gallon. Meanwhile, in trading today, the price of oil dropped by over a dollar. Did gas go down today? Nope: it went up. It went up almost thirty cents. Haven't we been lead to believe that there is a direct correlation between the price of oil on the commodities market and the price we pay for gas? What happened to this correlation?

Also, there is a brand new truck parked outside my house. It belongs to a guest of a neighbor. Anyway, as far as I can tell, it is brand new. It is one of the supersized trucks with the extended cab and all the extra chrome-y stuff. Also as far as I can tell, it is not an E-85 truck. So this is why they keep raising the gas prices: because morons like this guy (or girl; must remember to not discriminate along gender lines when it comes to oversized vehicles) keep buying giant cars that need a lot of gas.

I drive a sensible, efficient Civic, and I have a three-minute commute, so this price gouging by the oil companies maybe isn't hurting me as much as it's hurting others, but still: a few summers ago, I remember being shocked at $3 a gallon. Now they fully expect it to go to $4, and really, $5 wouldn't completely shock me. It'd piss me off, but when people still buy road tanks that get 11 mpg, I suppose no price is too high for gas.

Monday, May 21, 2007
But...oh, never mind. I had some free time on Friday afternoon, and there was an animation festival happening in town, so I set out for a walk downtown. As I was crossing the street, I saw this sign. Notice that it has "Donut Day" printed on it. As you may or may not know, Donut Day is the name of the most recent documentary I worked on; we premiered it just over a month ago, so it's pretty fresh in my mind. Anyway, we have another screening coming up, and we are trying to promote it, but when I saw this banner, all I could think was that I didn't know that my co-producer had made up a banner and arranged to hang it on the side of a truck in the middle of downtown while the animation festival was going on. Good idea! Then I took a few steps closer and realized that this wasn't any kind of advertising for the documentary, but a thank-you day from the local Salvation Army, and they were giving out free donuts, hence making it "donut day." But what got me was how similar this banner looks to the way these words are designed on our movie materials. I know it's not terribly ingenious to make the "O" in "donut" an actual donut, but the resemblance to our design is striking! I gave the guy in the truck one of our postcards and pointed out the similarity, and he couldn't have been less interested. He then offered me a donut, to which I replied that I've eaten way too many recently. The whole thing was just weird: imagine walking down the street and seeing a big, unexpected advertisement for your project, only to realize that it's not an advertisement for your project at all, but a remarkable look-alike.

Thursday, May 17, 2007
I was reading something yesterday about forthcoming new toothpaste packaging, and how the toothpaste will come in a stand-up tube and eliminate the outer cardboard box. The big reason for this was that by eliminating the cardboard box, the product becomes cheaper, and the lesser reason (in the minds of the company people, not in the minds of environmentalists) was that eliminating the cardboard box produced less waste. So, consumers would get a slightly cheaper product and not have to throw away as much. I was a little confused, as I'm pretty sure toothpaste already comes in this kind of packaging, but maybe it will be more prevalent. I know that the toothpaste I use comes in a cardboard box, so maybe it won't in a few months. But what this really got me thinking about was unnecessary packaging and waste, and eventually I started thinking about the longbox.

You remember the longbox, right? Sure you do. You don't? Okay, it's this: remember, like 15 years ago, when CDs were just starting to become popular, and you'd go to the Wiz or Sam Goody or some place like that and buy a CD? The CD was packaged in a longbox. The CD would be lodged in there up at the top, and the bottom would be just a hollow cardboard box, and if you bought a recently-released CD (and not an old record that had been re-released on CD), the longbox had a rectangular version of the cover art on it. One of the biggest complaints about the longbox was that it, like all unnecessary packaging, created a lot of waste. This was also back when a lot of communities didn't have the extensive recycling programs that they have now, so the assumption was that when people bought a CD, they'd just pry it out of the longbox and toss all the packaging in the trash. These days, people would probably recycle it, but back in the fat '90s, recycling was more of a novelty and less of a common practice, so off to the landfills they want. Anyway, I was thinking about all this yesterday, and I remembered that when longboxes were being phased out, I was really conflicted with my save-the-planet side, because even though I knew that longboxes were bad for the environment, I loved them.

I was in college in the early 1990s, and CDs were pretty much all I spent my money on. Tuition, room and board, and books were graciously paid for by mom and dad, I wasn't old enough to buy booze, and those early clunky electronics were way out of my price range anyway. Plus, a person can drink only so much Snapple kiwi strawberry before said person becomes sick of it. So I bought music. I also had a dorm room to decorate, and, when carefully opened, a flattened longbox made a great wallhanging. So I'd save them, and while I didn't buy music exclusively for the longbox artwork, I'd be lying if I said it didn't factor in to my buying decisions. At one point during my sophomore year, the entire upper perimeter of my dorm room was lined with longbox covers (with no spaces in between!), and I was working on the second row down. I remember one guys' room down the hall that had unflattened longboxes suspended from the ceiling, and I remember thinking that was really, really cool. (Laugh if you want, but what did you think was cool when you were 19?)

And then, slowly but surely, longboxes began to disappear. At first stores would put one of those unlockable plastic outer cases around CDs that would get removed at the register when you bought a CD. And within a few years, those disappeared too. No excess, no waste. But for me, anyway, the initial transition was hard. I remember being in the Wiz in lower Manhattan during spring break of my Freshman year of college, and going in to buy a copy of It's a Shame About Ray by the Lemonheads (which I still think totally rocks), and finding that the store had copies with the longbox and copies with the removeable plastic thingie and no longbox. I remember that I found all the longbox ones in the "L" section and in the "What's Hot" section. The longbox version of the CD had been in stock longer than the nonlongbox ones, so some of them were pretty beat up, but I looked them all over and bought the one that was the most pristine. Then I took it back to college with me, used an Xacto to carefully slice out the front panel, and hung it on a blank spot on my wall. And I distinctly remember thinking that it would be the last longbox I would ever get to buy. I was right.

As far as I've noticed, there hasn't been much clamor for the return of the longbox. I guess it was just kind of one of those things that gets phased out without much noise, and really, all things considered, it's for the best. We don't need the extra packaging. And these days, everything on my walls is in a nice frame. I don't put things up with scotch tape or poster putty like I used to, so maybe longboxes aren't such a great decorating option in the long run. I am almost positive that I recycled all of those longbox covers a long time ago, but I think I might have saved a few. In fact, I think there is a slight chance that I may still have a few up in my attic, and I am tempted to dig through a few bins to see if I can find any. If I do, I may hang them up. After I get them framed, of course.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007
It's been pretty quiet around here the past few days. Paul is out of town at a conference, and while yeah, I miss him, I've actually been enjoying the alone time. I've gotten stuff done around the house, caught up on laundry, made some progress in preparing for a class I'm teaching, and things like that. Yesterday around 5:30 was a little scary, though, as all the tv and radio stations broke in to "regularly scheduled programming" to warn everyone in the viewing/listening area that a big storm was moving in fast! And then of course the tv stations show you the map of the area with the big red blob that's headed right for us, and it all just looks so ominous. I flipped over to the weather channel, and even though the time didn't end in 8, a map of southwest Michigan was on the screen. We made the national broadcast! Umm, on the Weather Channel, but still.

So sure enough, it started to rain. And then the thunder and lightening started, though it seemed like it was still far away. And then the sky got a little yellow, and then it got super loud because sirens started wailing. Sirens? Tornado sirens! Every town within probably a 20-mile radius was blaring their tornado siren, so it sounded awful outside (probably worse than what an actual tornado sounds like). I turned on the tv again (after plugging it back in; I unplugged it because last summer when the weather was all thundery and stuff, it was plugged in and blew a circuit, and we had to pay a hundred bucks to get it fixed), and sure enough, we were under a tornado warning for the next few minutes. And then it was a hard decision: do I keep the tv on and stay informed, or do I unplug it and go hide in the basement and not know what the hell's going on outside?

I opted for choice one and added walking around and looking out the windows to see if it got worse outside. And you know what? It kind of cleared up. It was still raining, sure, but it wasn't so yellow out, and the thunder and lightening weren't coming as fast, and it basically looked like your everyday summer rain. So I plugged stuff back in and stopped freaking out.

The aftermath? Well, there was no tornado, that I'm pretty sure of. I guess the little towns south of here got hit pretty badly, with lots of trees down and no power, and I'm just seeing now that the high school in the southern end of the county is closed because there's no power, but around here? Nothing much to speak of, except that I didn't have to water our plants last night and that those weathercasters make me nuts, with their traveling red blobs and their watch-warning-imminent, severe weather, wolf-crying nonsense. I know, I know, they're just doing their jobs. But damn, those tornado sirens are loud.

Saturday, May 12, 2007
Four more weeks of school. Four more weeks of school. Four more weeks of school. And next weekend, it'll be three!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007
So I keep reading all this stuff about how there aren't enough bees this spring, and the horrible effects the bee shortage could have on crop yield, how bees play an important part in our ecosystem, and how we're all in big trouble if the bee population continues its inexplicable decline, and so on. I don't want to sound like a global warming naysayer, and I certainly don't want to go against the word of many entomologists who, quite honestly, know a hell of a lot more about bees than I ever will, but I just don't see any evidence of a bee shortage. In our backyard it seems like we have more bees than ever before! Yes, I realize that the conditions in our backyard cannot be extrapolated and applied to the conditions in the rest of the world, but really: I can't sit out there for five minutes without a bee buzzing around my head. I'm actually not too afraid of bees (except for those giant furry ones that look like mice with wings and stripes), but jeez, they're all over our yard. And, in one of our rooms upstairs, I keep finding dead bees in the window well and on the floor by the window. That might be another mystery for another time, but the point is that I'm sorry, but I just don't see how there could possibly be a bee shortage! I guess time will tell; if our tomato plants just don't have tomatoes on them by the end of July, and the buds on our strawberry plants just shrivel up without bearing fruit, and our pepper plants give us only one or two jalepenos out of pity, then I guess I'll be convinced that there aren't enough bees. But from where I'm sitting, we have all the bees we need.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007
I don't know if it's because they're in season or what, but lately I have been rediscovering artichokes. Fresh artichokes, I mean; I've always liked the canned and frozen hearts, but unlike some canned or frozen food, I have a difficult time seeing the resemblance and connection between a canned or frozen artichoke heart and a fresh one. One is beige, the other is bright green. How can the same thing look so different? Anyway, I was in the store the other day, and fresh artichokes were on sale, and I remembered how much I liked them when I was a kid, and they just sounded good, so I bought a box of four. I didn't know what I'd do with them, but I thought I could figure that out later.

We used to eat artichokes a lot when I was growing up. In fact, my mom tricked us into thinking they were dessert. Dessert! And we believed her. Maybe once every week in the spring, as we were sitting down to dinner, she'd put the pressure cooker on the stove, and the whole time we were eating, that little wobbly thing on top would jiggle around and make a buzzing noise, and then when we were done eating, the pressure cooker would go in the sink and get doused in cold water for what seemed like forever, and then my mom would twist it open, and the artichokes would be inside, hot and ready. And then we'd eat them for dessert. With garlic butter. No, garlic margarine. Bright screaming yellow margarine. And not really garlic. It was more like margaraine with garlic salt sprinkled in it. Just the thought of that now makes me gag a little. But we all really liked them, and I even learned at what seemed like an early age how to cut out the fuzzy toxic choke. And then the whole heart would go in what was left in my dish of garlic-like margarine. And then I would eat it.

Then after I stopped living with my parents, I didn't really eat fresh artichokes. For a long time, I thought you could only cook them in a pressure cooker, but now I know better. (And, confession, I still have a slight fear of pressure cookers. They just sound potentially dangerous.) And I liked the canned and frozen hearts well enough, and they were hardly any trouble at all, so I just forgot about the whole fresh artichoke tooth-scraping thing. But now this week I got some, and I am enjoying them again. (And maybe correcting a few mistakes of my childhood. Margarine with garlic salt? That's just wrong on so many levels.) I've been steaming them, one at a time, since when I unpacked them from the grocery bag, Paul made a face that I interpreted as "artichokes are gross" (I was right). I chop off all but maybe an inch of the bottom stem, and then I slice off the top half-inch or so of the leaves. My mom never did that, and I suppose you don't have to, but it really prevents your fingers from getting jabbed by those prickly leaf ends. Then I put a steamer basket in a tallish pot, add a little water, put in the artichoke bottom up, put the lid on, turn on the heat, and walk away for 40 minutes. Then I come back, and there's an artichoke, all ready to eat. Instead of garlicky/salty margarine, I dip the leaves in a kind of modified salad dressing: a spoonful of mayo, plus a little vinegar and whatever dried herbs I happen to grab. But just a little, so as not to negate the supposed health benefits of artichokes. Last I heard, mayo is still not good for you. And when I'm done eating my artichoke, everything left over goes in the compost, so there's no waste.

I don't know if this will turn into a regular habit, as there is some time commitment involved with eating artichokes, both to cook and to eat. It's not fast food in any way. And it looks like I will have to eat them either alone or with Paul sitting across from me making confused and disgusted faces. And I have noticed that, out of season, they're amazingly expensive for a little softball-sized vegetable. But they are good, and I have two more left in the fridge. I just don't eat them for dessert.

Monday, May 7, 2007
A tiring but fun weekend, for sure. We had our garage sale on Saturday and made about $160. And then yesterday, as we were getting ready to leave to do errands, some weird little man with serious pattern baldness and a plaid shirt with Mickey Mouse on the pocket came down the driveway, asked if he could look through whatever records Paul still had left, and when he left with a pile of albums under his arm, we had another $60. Going to garage sales still kind of creeps me out, but I guess I don't mind selling stuff I was just going to give to Goodwill, especially if it means making some good money.

Then last night, because it finally opened here, I went to see The Namesake. I thought it was good, even though it was rather UN-subtle. (Fun side note: the mother worked in the Nyack Public Library in good ol' Rockland County, so there were some exterior shots that I recognized.) But what was memorable about the movie for me was that I sat in front of three older ladies. They were maybe late 60-ish or early 70-ish, and they were obviously all friends, or maybe even related, and they acted like they hadn't been to a movie in 40 years. They didn't only not realize that certain standard American movie plotpoints, like the two leads having sex for the first time, or parent-child tension, are perhaps a bit more visual and intense than they were in movies made, say, 40 years ago, but they just didn't understand common moviegoing etiquette, like keeping your fucking mouth shut while the goddamn movie's playing! Holy crap, these three broads were having their whole post-movie discussion while the movie was playing, and they weren't even trying to whisper! They repeated lines, they made little comments ("Oh, how could he say that?"), they gasped every time two people kissed, and they just generally acted like the people on the screen were real, rather than fictional characters. Seriously, during the more emotional scenes, I could hear them sobbing and sniffling and unzipping their old-lady handbags and digging under rolls of Certs for a floral handkerchief. Jeeeeeeez. I have no doubt that they all got up this morning, went to the local library, and checkecd out a volume of Gogol short stories so they could read "The Overcoat." And I have no doubt that they will all talk about it with one another. Loudly, and probably at the most inappropriate times.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Finally! It is May, and of course that means better weather (I feel like we especially deserve better weather this year), but it also means the grand neighborhood garage sale. I've never been a garage sale person; I'm not sure why, but using stuff from people I don't know sometimes gives me the creeps. Not big stuff, like tables or bookcases or houses, but anything small, soft, or wearable. And those are usually the kinds of things that you find at garage sales. So I'm not a big fan of garage sale-ing.

But I do like the idea of getting rid of stuff we don't use, and maybe even making some cash on it in the process. So, Paul and I rifled through the basement and the attic, and we'll be selling the stuff that's just been sitting around for the past two years. Anything that doesn't sell will go to Goodwill. The weather promises to be great, and even though I am usually skeptical that people will want to buy our old stuff, it all seems to go. We did this last year and sold everything! Apparently, lots of other people like garage sale-ing, even though I do not.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007
A rather surreal past couple of days. We sold out the premiere of the new documentary that I co-produced, which was awesome, but I think I get hard-core face-time fatigue. In other words, after saying hi to that many people and being friendly for so long, it gets a little overwhelming, and the next day I'm exhausted to the point of being useless. But it was fun, and we did really well. Then today, I finally found an engagement ring that I liked, which means I have a bit of bling on my left hand. It's cool and curvy and small, which is pretty much what I wanted. So those were the good things.

But then this afternoon, I was entering my grades for the community college class that I teach, and I got to one student about halfway down the list, a woman who I liked because she actually cared about learning something in my class, and I remembered that she missed the final exam, which struck me as odd, and then next to her name, I saw the word "DECEASED," and I kind of freaked out. She was a really nice woman, and was just starting back to school to become a nurse so she could stop working crummy factory jobs, and she was motivated and ready to learn and get her degree. I stopped what I was doing and made a bunch of phone calls, but no one could tell me what happened. Then I learned that the visitation was happening as I was on the phone, so I hung up and went to the funeral home, and there she was, and it was awful. They're still not sure how she died, and I didn't feel right asking anyone to let me know, so I guess it will be a mystery for me. I feel terrible. She seemed like a good person who was ready to turn her life around, so for her to go so suddenly just seems unfair.

And, I don't want to get a complex about this or anything, but this makes the fifth student of mine who has passed away in the last two years (plus I had one last year who was in a horrible accident and was just barely alive for a few weeks before he started to recover), so I am starting to wonder if maybe I am cursed or something. Does this normally happen to teachers? I don't think it does. I hope it doesn't.

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