keep stomping.

My downstairs neighbor, Zoe, has been AWOL the past couple of weeks. Well, she's probably not really lost, but since I don't know where she is and I haven't asked, that gives me the right to make up interesting explanations for where she is. Maybe she's joined the circus, or maybe she's on a secret spy mission. Maybe she is on tour with a Journey revival band.


Anyway, while she's been gone, her boyfriend has been house-sitting. I didn't realize he was even there until I came in one night last week to find my kitchen appliances vibrating. Stupid rap music with its ridiculous bass beats. A less uptight person might have made the best of the situation and pulled out my turntables and played along. Not me. I stomped downstairs to bang on the door. Of course he didn't hear me. The music was too loud. I love a good slap of irony in the face.

It was ludicrous. I don't care if the guy listens to loud music, but it should not make the house shake. I'm not even sure how he can stand it (and I'm refering solely to the volume issue; how he stands the music is a whole other question).

I went back upstairs and stomped around the kitchen, hoping he would get the hint. After a few minutes, he cut the music off and left, slamming the door as he went. Not that the story is over.

Today he was back, and the music either wasn't quite as loud, or the bass just wasn't as prominent. It started out with a soulful female solo, and I looked up from my computer, startled. It sounded like it was actually coming from my kitchen, and I half expected to see the angel of the Lord standing there. The music was better today, but still much too loud. So I stomped around the kitchen and thought mean thoughts about both the guy downstairs and his taste in music until he finally went away again.

I in no way imagine that this is over. But it's close enough for me to not do anything. I'm moving within the next couple of weeks, and my passive aggressive personality does not need much excuse to avoid confrontation. So all I can do is keep stomping. That, and hope he at least starts listening to better music.


apartment 1.

My mother loves wind chimes. When in doubt around her birthday, spring for wind chimes. I like them okay, maybe because they remind me of her.

I do own one set. They hang above my couch in the living room, which despite its proximity to the ceiling fan, is not a very windy spot. But the awful irony of wind chimes is that when you actually put them out in the wind, they tend to tear up and get battered and broken. Perhaps this is a marketing trick the wind chime companies came up with. My mom had one on the front porch with little porcelain doves. The noise it made was very pretty, but I tried not to look at all those headless and tailless birds very often.

My set is made of bamboo stalks, and they make a lovely noise as well, though I have to physically reach out and touch them to create that lovely noise. I bought them not long after I moved into this place as an audio reminder, not of my mother, but of 216 Howard Street, Apartment 1.

Apartment 1 was, appropriately enough, my first apartment. I lived there with two other girls, and then later with two girls and a husband, not mine. And in the kitchen of Apartment 1, which was painted yellow by me, there hung a bamboo wind chime from one of the pipes that came out of the ceiling. And even though the kitchen was not a very drafty place, I heard those chimes all the time.

The chimes hung down next to the light switch. Pavlov's dog drooled when he heard a bell, but me, I turn on the light when I hear a bamboo wind chime.

You heard it in the mornings when Ashley went in to make coffee. You heard it in the afternoons when I came in from class to make lunch. And you heard it at night when Krystal came in from going out to party. No matter when you heard it, you almays always heard the same tune, the same sequence of hollow notes, because we always hit them in the same way as our hands made for the lights.

I think we meant to move them. We just hung them there when we moved into Apartment 1 to get them out of the way. And then we didn't move them until two years later we we all left Apartment 1. We even had another set of metal chimes shaped like elephants that hung outside from the porch. And I don't remember what they sound like at all, not even the tone of notes that those elephants made in the wind. But I do remember the exact bong-da-long bong-bong of those bamboo chimes in the kitchen of Apartment 1 announcing that someone was home and the lights were on.

When I hit my own bamboo chimes hanging above the couch, they don't play the same bong-da-long bong-bong song the ones in Apartment 1 did. But I hear it in my head just the same. And I turn on the light.



Okay. So I know that I haven't worked at The Bistro in over three weeks, but I was still invited to the Christmas Party, mostly because I still did work there when we drew names for Secret Santa. And I had every intention of going, even as I put in my notice, even as I worked my last day, even as the party drew closer and closer and I wanted less and less to go. I was determined to go to the stupid party, if nothing else than just to prove everyone wrong. They clearly thought I was not coming, all because of the Pig-Pickin' incident.

There was another employee holiday party at Halloween. I was expected to attend. I said I would attend, and I was signed up to bring brownies. The thing is, Halloween is the day after my birthday. When I said I would be at the pig-pickin', I obviously intended to drink more water and less alcohol the night before than I actually did. So on Halloween, I was very very sick. Hungover sick that I did to myself, but sick enough that I couldn't go to any stupid pig-pickin' where vomiting would not be encouraged. I called and told them I was sick. I even admitted the reason, thinking that since I worked with a bunch of partiers, they would understand. Not only did they not understand, they didn't even believe my excuse. (Apparently, when you drink frequently, you handle hangovers better or something. I have no idea.)

So it was clear that there was some doubt as to whether I would make it to the Christmas party, which was last night. But I was going to go. I had cookies and I had my Secret Santa gift. I was going to go to this stupid party. I only became even more determined when I received a message on my answering machine reminding me of the party this past weekend.

I spent the day down the mountain with my sister-in-law baking cookies for this party yesterday. Around the time that I needed to leave, the weather started getting iffy. I left for the party anyway, because that's just how stubborn I am. But I called my apartment to check my messages, just to see if the party had been changed because of the weather. Sure enough, I had a message from my old boss, saying the party had been moved to "tomorrow at five-thirty". Since I was hearing the message on Sunday, I assumed that meant the party was now on Monday. You can see where I am going here.

I get back to my apartment a few minutes ago and there is a new message. It is from one of my former coworkers, basically telling me off for not showing up, not calling, and not dropping off my Secret Santa gift. As the result of my inconsiderate actions, someone didn't have a gift under the tree. (Apparently, this sort of inconsiderate action ran rampant last night, as I also did not have a gift under the tree.) The message I heard Sunday night was left on Saturday night. Now I have a batch of cookies and a present for someone else and a restaurant full of people mad at me.

I'm going to go in tonight and apologize. I'm going to give the present I bought and I'm going to share the cookies I helped make. I'm going to tell them what happened. I will not expect to be believed. I will expect to be talked about in disparaging tones once I leave. That is what I am going to do.

What I am going to try to do is not let this bug me. There was a misunderstanding, and I'm going to do the most I can do to make it right. But if I am not forgiven, I will say "Screw it" and get on with my life.

Then I will eat all of the rest of the cookies all by myself in one sitting.



Forgive the computer science joke in the title. It's okay if you don't get it. Laugh, it's funny.

After months of feeling dejected and rejected, worrying about my future, and sending out my resume to companies all over the South, I have a job. Don't worry, it's official. I signed a paper that said that I accept the offer of employment and that I will not work for any other trucking-related software companies.

I'm going to have a job with benefits. I'm going to have medical and dental coverage, paid vacation and a 401k. Nevermind that I had to look up exactly what a 401k is on the Fidelity Financial site. Now that I know, I am very excited about planning for my retirement in 40 years. I will not have to work on Thanksgiving or the day after. In fact, I will be paid to not work on either of those days, plus another seven holidays every year.

I'm going to have a salary. I'm not going to live off the generosity and tipping know-how of strangers. I don't have to ask anyone how they want their filet cooked, and I won't care if someone's coffee cup is full or not.

I'm going to work somewhere where I will not be the biggest dork. I will make computer jokes, and people will understand them. Moreover, they will laugh, because I will be the only female employee under the age of 35.

I'm going to live in the (comparatively) big city. I'm going to live in a town where they have a Best Buy, a Total Wine & More, and a mall that does not sell furniture. I will live close enough to a Sam's Club to merit getting a membership. I'm going to be able to give directions based on the interstate.

I'm going to live somewhere where there are about 185,776 other people living (based on 2000 census reports), and I will know two of them. I will live two hours from family and an hour and a half from where I've lived for the past nearly four years.

I'm not going to be a student anymore. I'm going to be something other than what I've been for seventeen years now. I'm going to start a brand new career in a brand new place, and I may hate every bit of it.

I'm terrified. I'm excited. I'm ready.


i (heart) math.

Alright, okay, I admit it. It was bound to come out eventually anyway, so I might as well tell the world before the world finds out from someone else. I am not ashamed of it. I am proud of it.

I like math, and I am good at it.

Let me define good at it. I do not mean that I can do crazy Rain Man arithmetic in my head. I can do a little arithmetic in my head and get pretty close to the answer. But I'm slow, and there's a good chance I'll be wrong. I hate to break it to you, but in college math classes, they don't spend a lot of time teaching you extended multiplication tables. We use calculators for that.

A professor told me a story about when she was going to take her Comprehensive, which is a great big math test that graduate students take that makes the SAT math section look like a pop quiz. At the time, she was explaining to a non-math person that she had spent days upon days studying for this test. The person replied in all seriousness, "Wow, there must be some really tough fractions on that thing." Yeah, fractions. Not multi-dimensional calculus or abstract algebra or statistics, but just a bunch of really tough fractions.

Like I said, I can do some math in my head, mostly stuff I've picked up from waitressing and not my math classes. Trust me, I got really good at calculating 10%, 15%, and 20% of a check total pretty quick. I've waited tables for two years now. That's a lot of percentages.

Math is not embraced at The Bistro. They see it as just another of my weird quirks, along with the novelty earrings, the bowling shoes, and the sarcasm. If possible, they disdain math and math nerds there. I was reading a biography of Paul Erdos (who is second only to Euler in the number of math papers he published), and a fellow server said, "Please tell me you're not reading that for pleasure." When I said I was, everyone else joined in the eye-rolling and laughing, except for one of the kitchen guys, who leaned in and whispered, "Can I borrow it when you're done?" He's a math major. My coworkers were not impressed with my pi earrings, either. Seems like there was some eye-rolling the first day I wore those, too.

They can scorn all they want. I scorn the fact that a group of seasoned servers can't tell the difference between a good tip and a bad tip. One girl was griping about a tip before I looked at it and told her it was nearly 20% of the check total. Most of them will go back behind the bar and pull out a calculator so they can decide whether or not to be pissed off about a tip. Did I mention that most of these people are about to graduate from college and that they all have at least two years experience waiting tables?

Once I was working the bar and was cashing out a check. The customer gave me $48.18 for a $40.18 check, and the change was the tip. I brought up the check and just hit cash rather than enter 48.18 and then cash to see the change. I knew the change. The owner came over and actually fussed at me. Then she asked, "Do you do that all the time?" I answered, "Only when the change is easy to figure out." Again the eye-rolling. I could understand if I had been doing something like $53.72 - $38.91 in my head, she would be justifiably concerned that my internal calculator would be unreliable. Subtraction isn't even my forte, particularly when borrowing and canceling are involved. But $48.18 - $40.18? Please.

The people I worked with were the ones who asked "When are we ever going to use this?" when they learned multiplication. You know what? You use it. I've been in classes where that question was asked and the teacher said, "Probably never." I know perfectly well that I will never ever use Laplace Transforms (differential equations), eigenvalues (linear algebra), and Jacobian matrices (calc 3) again. I can do them all, and I happen to think that Laplace Transforms are pretty neat, but I know I'll never use it. But I sure as heck use multiplication. Everyone does. I don't expect everyone to be good at it. But I expect some things. I expect people not to need machines to do the same calculations their job requires every day. I expect waitresses with three to four years experience to be able to tell that on a $70 check, a $14 tip is great and $9 is crap. I don't expect to be treated like a freak because I can subtract nice round numbers.

But whatever. Depending on your stance on math, you're either nodding emphatically or still working out $48.18 - $40.18. Maybe you're still rolling your eyes over the fact that I own pi earrings, which, by the way, are really cool. But even my math-hating coworkers can tell that my new salary is a lot higher than theirs. Roll your eyes at that.


the bus windows are not tinted.

Yesterday, I was on the bus. Waiting, sitting, observing. Outside, a couple was walking toward the bus. She was cute and bubbly-looking, talking animatedly and walking with a little skip to her step. She clung to his arm as they walked. He, however, was striking in his solemn confidence. His posture was upright, his step was strong, his jaw was set. I couldn't imagine why these two were together. I figured he was humoring her for some reason. Why else would they be together, he in his stolid silence with his gliding gait, she with her breathless enthusiasm?

And then, all of sudden, he did this ridiculous hop-skip for several steps, his hands thrown up in the air, his mouth open and smiling. I couldn't help but smile broadly as I watched this transformation.

It was then that both the girl and I realized simultaneously that the bus windows were not tinted. I saw her laugh and point straight at me, clearly telling him that I was laughing at him. He smiled broadly and waved at me; they both laughed. I smiled back. The bus pulled away from the stop, the couple kept walking, and it was all over only a few seconds after it had all began.


the daddy essays: not catholic, just crazy.

“Oh, are your parents Catholic?”

That is usually the question I am asked by people newly acquainted with the idea that I am the youngest in a family of six children. And like any question that I am asked repeatedly, I have a stock answer.

“Nah, my parents just really like each other.” Sometimes I think the other person thinks I’m just being sarcastic, which honestly is a fair assumption on their part. But no, I’m being serious. My parents like each other. Also, they’re careless. But who’s complaining? Not Number Six.

My parents do like each other. It’s not just that they are still married. Most of my childhood friends came from two-parent homes. But most of my friends grew up with the knowledge that they were the reason their parents were still married. One of my friends told me once how she thought it was great that Mama always looked so happy to see Daddy when he came home; her parents were barely on speaking terms. Mama and Daddy were not staying together for the kids’ sake. They were staying together because they still liked each other, and well, the kids came out of that. So it’s not just that they are still husband and wife.

It’s that given the choice, Daddy would still use that line about being in the FBI on that brunette back in August of 1960. It’s that Mama would still opt to quit school and move across the country to marry a man she’d known only a few months.

And really, couldn’t Mama have done a lot worse with that kind of decision? She could have easily ended up with an abuser or an alcoholic or a used car salesman. But Mama got lucky (and Daddy did, too, but this is his book). She didn’t get an abusive, alcoholic, used car-selling husband. Sandra Jo could have done a lot worse and not much better than Sidney Louis. And they still like each other, still together, still in love, still crazy after all these years.


the daddy essays: my dad is cooler than your dad.

My parents were never the super-involved type. They came to PTO Open House and ballgames and things like that, but I never had the kind of parent who came to the school on my birthday and brought the whole class cupcakes and soft drinks. Classmates knew those parents by name and by sight, and the kids who had those parents automatically became well-liked, no matter how bad at Red Rover the kid was.

Kids like it when their parents come to their school. They like to show their school and their parents off to each other. And it’s important that the parent be met with approval. You didn’t want to be the kid with the fat mom or the dad who wore white shoes after Labor Day. Your dad could be wearing a white pantsuit in the dead of winter, but if he brought cupcakes for the whole class while he wore it, he came out looking like a hero.

My parents never did the cupcake thing. And I maybe I resented it a little. Maybe I envied the kids with parents like that as I ate those store-bought cupcakes with the waxy icing, especially with my birthday being so close to Halloween, when I figured the themed cupcake decoration possibilities were unlimited.

But one day, in the fall of my third grade year, Daddy came to school. He did not bring cupcakes. He did not bring two liter soft drinks. He brought an apple press and a bushel of apples.

My whole class spent the afternoon outside working the press and avoiding the bees. We stood in line to throw apples in and watch them get crushed and juiced. Then we drank the cider we made and all agreed that it tasted great, even though it had those weird apple pieces floating around in it.

And the Lenoir NewsTopic even came out and there was a picture in the paper of my daddy and my classmates pressing apples. The caption read something about Louis bringing his apple press to his daughter Sandra’s third grade class. That never happened for those silly cupcake kids, no matter how many cupcakes with themed decorations their moms brought.

Kids in my third grade class remembered that day years later, though I bet they’d be hard pressed to remember a single cupcake party unless it was their own birthday. And though my third grade popularity didn’t necessarily carry over all those years, everyone at least thought my dad was cool.


an introduction to the daddy essays.

My dad turned 70 last month. Months before the occasion, us kids started up a flurry of emailing, trying to figure out how best to celebrate the birthday of our patriarch. Actually, the spouses of us kids started it, because while we're all kind of laid-back, some of us had the sense to marry go-getters (And I only say "some of us" because I'm not married yet).

So we decided to celebrate the momentous occasion at Thanksgiving by putting together a great big scrapbook full of pictures and memories. My assignment was simple: just write something. Fine, I can do that.

So I reproduce for you here The Daddy Essays, so named because they were written for Daddy's scrapbook. Happy Birthday, Daddy.

My Hero

It was sometime before lunch on a day midway through my senior year of high school when I found out that I had a flat tire. A friend of mine had gone to an orthodontist appointment and happened to notice that a quarter of my car was sitting a little lower than the other three quarters on his way in from the parking lot. I should’ve noticed the flat tire earlier myself. I had noticed the way the car pulled when I drove it to school, but it never occurred to me that there might be a problem. Yeah, I’m clueless.

So I had a flat tire and no idea how to fix it, though I was pretty sure I had a spare and a jack in the trunk somewhere. So I do what I always do the car has a problem. I called my daddy.

Daddy has always been our resident Fix-It man, both for our home and our cars. All those basic auto maintenance and repairs were taken care of by a different Mr. G than Mr. Goodwrench. He did it quick, he did it right, and he left oil smudges all over the steering wheel, but he did it for free. So I wasn’t too worried about the tire, because I knew a good mechanic.

But my good mechanic wasn’t home, or at least he wasn’t answering the phone. I left a detailed cry for help, telling him that my car was in space 169 (second row from the end) and that there was an issue. But I wasn’t hopeful. There was no guarantee he’d be home before school was out, and he didn’t always check the messages when he came in.

So then what? I spent my last classes of the day in despair. True, I didn’t have anywhere I needed to go after school, but there were places I wanted to go, like home. Who would help poor little me, a delicate flower of a girl with less than the average knowledge of auto mechanics?

Big, strong men, of course, or at least high school boys who worked out. All I had to do was woefully mention my predicament, and I had a sea of volunteers to save me from my troubles. I had forgotten that females held the power of the damsel in distress, though I had learned it years ago in a sixth grade frisbee-in-a-tree incident.

I walked out to the parking lot at the end of the day with two or three high school boys that worked out trotting along with me. Actually, they were strutting, and I was just trying hard not to laugh. We arrived at parking space 169 (second row from the end) to find my Corolla standing evenly on four tires full of air. My daddy, my mechanic, had come and fixed it while I sat worrying inside, leaving no note or indications that he had even been there other than the newly-repaired condition of the car.

The high school boys who worked out, who had previously been arguing over who was to change my tire and how best to do it, now were silent, lost and without purpose. They did not get to rescue the damsel in the tower because the dragon had already been killed by a mysterious knight, though the damsel did say “Thanks anyway!” before driving off. They had been beaten to the punch by a big, strong man.

My hero.


pippy, the one-eyed cat.

At the Watauga County Humane Society Thrift Store, they have a resident cat. It's a very sweet cat, one who will nuzzle up to shoppers as they peruse the selection of other people's trash for their own new treasures. The first time I met the cat, I bent down to pet it a little, and it looked up at me, yellow eye shining up at me in adoration. Yeah, that's right. Yellow EYE. Just one. Where the right yellow eye should have been was a slightly concave, matted, black eyelid sewed shut. I stood up quickly and gave a little gasp. It really freaked me out, so much that I stayed away from the cat for the rest of that day. I don't think it would have bothered me had the eyelid not been curved in, making it painfully obvious that there was just some hollow space where the eye should have been.

After the initial shock wore off, I pet the cat on subsequent visits to the store, though I tried not to look at it very closely. Apparently, this cat is rather popular at the store, perhaps with customers less skittish than I. Frequent shoppers have even been known to get upset if they don't get a chance to pet the cat. I think maybe those kind of shoppers don't have a lot going for them.

And so, inspired by the cat's popularity, the store had shirts made. They read "Official Member of the Pippy Fan Club" and had a cartoon drawing of the cat, one eye and all. The shop was selling them for $10.

I would not say that I am a fan of the one-eyed cat, who is evidently named Pippy. Like I said, she kinda creeps me out. But I am definitely a fan of t-shirts with one-eyed cats on them, though I didn't even know it until I saw a whole display of them and decided I needed one.

The woman working was very excited to sell me the shirt, convinced that I must be a cat-lover to the core, and a Pippy-lover to the extreme. I did nothing to make her think otherwise, as I'm beginning to suspect that not everyone has the same view as I do about unusual t-shirts. I'm sure that it is a very nice cat, but I would be much more excited if they had a resident llama or something, particularly if they had the wit to name it Lloyd.

Then I'd buy a Lloyd t-shirt, too.


you can't do that with doorknobs.

My mother collects magnets. It's a simple, cheap hobby, and it makes getting her souvenirs from places simple and cheap too. I have a friend whose mother collects doorknobs. This is not a simple and cheap hobby, and so I am glad that my mother is generally satisfied with just the doorknobs on the doors in the house.

I don't know why she started this collection. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she has six children. Since the refrigerator is traditionally the gallery of the artwork and good grades and Optimist League basketball schedules of children, my mother just wanted to make sure she had what she needed to hang everything we wanted displayed.

Now I don't have any children. But I do have magnets. They help me display recipes, shopping lists, coupons, and winery pamphlets. But I don't buy a lot of magnets for myself. I'm too busy not buying a lot of coffee mugs for myself. Mama doesn't have much to hang for us anymore, so she uses the magnets to hang stuff from her grandchildren, letters for her children that still come to her address, and articles she clips from the newspaper about the health benefits of chocolate, coffee, and wine.

When I go somewhere, I try to buy Mama a magnet. Like I said, it's easy. Most souvenir shops have magnets, specifically for the people like my mother. She always jokes that I'm going to buy her one of those t-shirts that says her daughter went to such-and-such and all she got was this stupid shirt. Finally I bought her a magnet in Pigeon Forge that was in the shape of a t-shirt that read "My friend went to the Great Smoky Mountains and all I got was this stupid t-shirt." Sometimes the perfect magnet just calls out to you.

And because it's so easy to get a magnet someplace, I feel bad when I don't get one for her. I try to be picky. A lot of souvenir magnets are pretty stupid-looking or at least just not very interesting. Often that means I have to get her the mose expensive magnet, because it's the best, but since magnet prices generally top out at $5 or so, I don't complain too much.

I did buy her a very expensive one once. For the longest time, we had been looking for Snoopy magnets. This was before Charles Schultz had died, when Snoopy items were still a little hard to find. My sister had just moved into her first apartment, and we were trying to find one for her, since she was the original Snoopy fan, and Mama and I just kinda jumped onto the Snoopy bandwagon she started. I went on a youth group trip down to the beach, where we stopped at an outlet center. There was a tiny shop there with gray metal walls where all they sold was magnets. And there I found a Snoopy magnet, a very, very nice magnet as far as magnets go. It was about an inch thick and maybe five inches tall. It was $8, which is absolutely ridiculous, but it was exactly what we wanted, so I got it.

When I got home from the trip, I brought out that beautiful Snoopy magnet that I had bought for my sister's first refrigerator in her first place of her own to show to Mama. She was very excited, as she should have been, because this truly was a fine specimen of a magnet. And then she put it right front and center on her fridge, hugging me and thanking me all the way for her new magnet. I said she was welcome. (We did eventually buy my sister a Snoopy magnet, but it was not as nice as Mama's. She never knew the difference. Well, not until now, anyway.)

By now, my mother's fridge reads like a travel log of all the places she and her children have been. There are more magnets than things hanging from them. Whenever she gets back from a big trip, she brings out all her newly-acquired magnets, shows them off, and tells us about the place where she got them. You can't do that with doorknobs.


do you still listen to good music?

I keep having this dream. Well, no, not the same dream, but the dreams are the same in that they revolve around this one person who I know, or used to know, in real life. I haven't seen this girl in a good seven or eight years, and I keep having dreams about her, usually at least once a month.

Charity and I were two-thirds of a trio in my nightmarish sixth grade class. The other third was a tomboy named Macie, and we were kind of the misfits. Misfits in that we were the most normal people in this class. I got some interesting education in that class, learning of things and acts that I did not know could ever exist, and I'm still not convinced that some of them do.

But I really didn't know anyone in that class. I had gone to elementary school with some of them but knew them only minimally. All my friends had been put in the same class two doors down. And so I guess I always thought of Charity and Macie as secondary friends, as unfair as that was. We were more buddies than friends. We didn't really share like adolescent girls usually do, we just goofed off. We got in trouble a lot, and we would have gotten detention if my teacher had had the heart to send a good girl like me. Me! In detention! The shame would have killed me.

Anyway, Charity and I were in the same seventh grade class as well, and then we had eighth grade Algebra together. We always sat together and made comments to each other under our breaths the whole class period through. But it was a low maintenance friendship. I don't think we ever called each other, and I didn't even know where she lived. We were only friends during certain class periods, and then we were just two people. And then Charity went to a different high school than I did, and we were just two people all the time. I saw her at a couple of football games my freshman year, but then I never saw her again.

I don't think I appreciated Charity as much as I should have. Looking back, I think she was a lot cooler and more fun than I really gave her credit for. We were the only eighth graders who listened to They Might Be Giants, and I should have recognized that as a sign that she was good people.

But I didn't think about all of that until the dreams started happening. In the first one, she killed herself. The second one was similar. In another, she borrows money from me to go to beauty school or buy drugs. And each time I have another dream, it brings Charity to the front of my mind, which of course makes me have more dreams about her. Thankfully, the dreams aren't so depressing anymore. Usually, I'm just looking for her, and then I find her and tell her about the dreams and how I was sorry that we drifted apart and that I wasn't a better friend. Every time I have a dream, I think about calling her, though I don't know what I'd say or how I'd even find her. There really is no good way to say, "Hey, we haven't spoken since we were 14, but I keep having these weird dreams about you and I was wondering what you're up to. Do you still listen to good music?"

Or maybe there is a good way to say it. And maybe someday, the dreams will drive me just crazy enough to find a way to say it, whether there's a good way or not.



I was in Virginia this past weekend. Specifically, I was lost in Virginia this past weekend. So we stopped for directions at a giant discount tobacco store called The Red Barn or something like that. They specialized in lottery tickets, and, well, discount tobacco.

I waited in line to ask for directions, with flannel-wearing men carrying tobacco products in front of me and flannel-wearing men carrying tobacco products behind me. The guy in front of me (whose flannel was green and moustache was gray), bought two lottery tickets and a soft pack of Broncos. His total was $5.86. He had $11 all ready and waiting for the clerk, and had had it ready the whole time he'd been standing in line.

And it made me very very sad, that this old man had been here enough to buy his lottery tickets and his Broncos in a soft pack to know how much it would cost. I've never even heard of Bronco cigarettes, and I live in North Carolina, where tobacco is considered a vegetable.

I could easily use this story as an anti-lottery and anti-cigarettes vehicle. But I'm not. Because as I thought about that guy in front of me, I concluded that I am not against the lottery. As far as I've heard, the main argument against the lottery is that people gamble themselves into bankruptcy. And while, yeah, that sucks, but that's really their own fault. Can't afford to pay your rent? Don't buy a lottery ticket.

So anything beyond moderation in terms of the lottery maybe isn't such a great idea. We let people drink and smoke, and I've heard rumors that those things in excess aren't so good for you either. At some point, you have to let people take care of themselves. People have the right to ignore both the Surgeon General's warning and the eviction notice.

I'm unsympathetic, I know. And I'm certainly not speaking from any sort of expert standpoint. I'm just a completely uninformed bystander with an opinion, but that is my right. North Carolina doesn't even have a lottery (just a Cherokee reservation that has casinos, but where you can't even buy beer at the grocery store). I'm okay with not having a lottery. And I'd be okay if we had one. I hear they give the money to the schools. Maybe then we can afford to start a new curriculum for our kids where we teach them not to spend all their money on stupid stuff.



I hate having to ride the bus to and from my car. But that said, I love riding the bus, mostly because I get to spy on people. I especially love it when I catch the Blue Route on the way down from the parking lot, because that means I get to ride it on its entire 15 minute route, openly staring at people outside from behind tinted windows.

I study their faces, I study the way they stand, the way they walk, the way they talk to their friends if they have any. I wonder why that guy keeps looking around. I wonder if that girl's parents bought her that Mercedes. I think that guy needs a haircut. I try to figure out if that guy saw me staring at him and his bizarre facial hair, and if that's why he's staring at me now.

I've gotten to know some of the people. Not that I've ever actually spoken to any of them, because that's just not my style. Why bother finding out their actual personalities when the ones I make up for them are so much more interesting? But I know them. I know the aloof guy who listens to good music on his CD player. I know it's good music because I peeked when he was rifling through his CDs, and because I can hear it when I sit near him. One time I heard a band that is so obscure and good that I felt an extreme urge to say something so that he would know that I was cool, too. I know the girl with the plain face and the plain haircut that gets into the champagne Chevrolet Impala with the heart-shaped "I love my Marine!" sticker on the back window. I know the guy who wears his pants really high and who always takes a run and go up the steps. I know the girl who is taller and prettier than I am, and I don't like her very much. I know the Asian girl with the bad haircut, and I think she shouldn't wear such unflattering clothes. I know the skinny guy with long black hair who wears his socks pulled halfway up his stick-thin shins.

And I don't just watch. Oh, I'm listening, too. Does it look like I'm staring off into space, thinking about something amusing that brings a grin to my face? Don't be silly. I'm listening to the people behind me, and they are having the most ridiculous conversation. Later, if I remember it, I will write it down. But for now, I'll just sit here and listen. And watch. And wish that my car was not so far away.


the stupid-looking hat story.

A couple of weeks ago, Ashley and I took a shopping trip in Hickory, which, to us small-town girls, is the big city. Hickory does, after all, boast a Best Buy and a mall that is not a furniture outlet. We weren't looking for anything in particular, just something to spend some money on.

In our quest for something worth some money, we found lots of things that were not worth nearly as much money as the stores wanted in exchange for them. Namely, stupid hats. There seems to be a rash of stupid looking hats out these days, and not all of them carry the J.Lo label. Ashley and I couldn't resist, so we tried most of them on. We tried on hats that were bright red and garish and screamed, "I'm old and I'm proud of it!" We tried on hats that were checked or tan that seemed to say, "Please, sir, would you like to buy a newspaper?" Then there were those that I can only assume served the purpose of being so hideous that they were meant to distract the viewer from the hideousness of the head it covers.

But we both surely wanted a stupid-looking hat. Matching styles, perhaps, but different colors, so that we could look as silly as absolutely possible. But stupid-looking hats are expensive, and we couldn't bring ourselves to pay $10, $15, or even $20 for something we only wanted to be ridiculous. If we were going to look stupid, we wanted to do it as cheaply as possible. So no hats were ours to be found that day.

I'm sure by now you realize the end of the stupid-looking hat story. I found a pair of them at the Gap Outlet yesterday for $3 bucks a pop (though originally $16.99). I searched a pile of them for a good long time, sifting through the extra-smalls for the elusive large-sized hats; Ashley and I both have abnormally large heads. Mine is denim, and Ashley's is tan wool. They both lie somewhere between selling newspapers in 1930s London and something a train conductor might wear.

We both wore them out last night, a couple of girls in their stupid-looking hats and matching corduroy jackets (totally coincidental, I promise). We looked stupid, and we knew it, and we had a great time. And who knows, in 40 years or so, we'll probably buy the bright red ones.


when yer twenty-two.

It was Mrs. Lockman who introduced me to the pomegranate, and it was her, my fourth grade teacher, who led me to buy a pomegranate Sunday afternoon when I saw that they were on sale. And it was also Mrs. Lockman who taught me fifty cent words like "pandemonium" and "exasperated" so I wouldn't grow up to be one of those common people who just used "chaos" and "frustrated." I do not know why Mrs. Lockman saw fit to teach these random bits of information to fourth graders, but I remember them, and I think that is reason enough for teaching them. If I were an elementary school teacher, I would share random trivia, too, like the meaning of the word "pulchritudinous," the fact that Euler was the most published mathematician in history, and that Houdini died on Halloween. I would share them for the kids who would grow into adults like me who remembered those things and thought they were pretty neat. I would share them only with the elementary school kids, before they hit puberty and started not listening to my fascinating trivia out of spite.

But though Mrs. Lockman showed me and twenty-some other ten-year-olds a pomegranate sometime back in the early 90s, she didn't let us taste it. So I decided Sunday afternoon to complete my education in the pomegranate twelve years after I started it.

I bought one, spent a whole buck-fifty on one piece of fruit and secretly hoped that I wouldn't fall in love with the pomegranate; it was an expensive lover. I brought my pomegranate home, along with some apples, which given the right season, are cheap lovers.

But once I brought home my new fruit, I was at a loss as what to do with it. In twelve years, I had forgotten what else Mrs. Lockman had taughts us about the pomegranate. So when memory fails, then Google comes through. You eat the seeds of a pomegranate, and sometimes the juice; but be careful, it stains.

So I cut my pomegranate open (holding it away from myself in case it squirted) and carefully picked out the seeds and put them in a bowl. Then I sat down and ate the seeds sans silverware, the juice staining my fingers and mouth and chin, because I grew up in a home where it was okay to dribble a little bit.

It was good, and crunchy the way popcorn is when the kernals don't quite get popped all the way. Sweet, tart, juicy. Not so fabulous that I went out and bought out the rest of the stock at the grocery store, but good enough to pick one up when it was on sale. Good enough to buy one to show to a class of fourth graders, if I had one. Maybe even good enough to cut it open and let them stain their fingers and mouths and chins with its juice before going back to teaching them about the North Carolina Outer Banks and long division and other things they won't remember learning when they're twenty-two.


in remembrance of patty and the stupid deer.

My first car was a beauty, shiny, red, and new. Of course, by the time my parents gave her to me seven years later, she was only red, and a different shade of red at that. She'd taken my mail-carrier mother through seven years of wind, hail, sleet, snow, and great big dogs, and she showed it. But I loved her.

A 1991 Toyota Corolla station-wagon with over 170,000 miles on her, I called her the Patty-Wagon after the fact that I'd just played Peppermint Patty in the school rendition of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." She was reliable, she was all mine, and she had loads of character, and you should all know how much I like my inanimate objects to have character.

She had a million scratches on her, two dents, one of which in the side which prevented the back door from opening properly, and a bumper sticker that said "If you've got a mailbox, we'll find it." She wouldn't accelerate over 45mph on a hill, and at stoplights, she shook like an earthquake. We used to say that Patty had Parkinson's. All these little flaws she picked up in those seven years of mail routes only gave her more character, only made her Patty. They also made it really easy for me to find her in parking lots.

I tried to explain this once to a guy who asked me when I was ever going to get that dent in the side fixed. I knew the answer was never, so I told him that it gave the car character. He laughed, and said, "Oh, and that dent in the back, it gives it integrity?"

Some people just don't understand.

By the time I graduated high school, Patty was proving to be less reliable than before. So we sold her, and I became one of those spoiled kids whose parents buy her a brand new car. For the record, they got a $1000 rebate and the only extra frill I asked for was a CD player. I got a new Corolla, this time a little sedan, with no dents and scratches, four working doors, and that still remains one of the quietest, calmest cars at a stoplight I've ever ridden in. Of course, I had a rotten time finding her in a parking lot, because everybody seems to have a Corolla nowadays.

Shiny and new, but with no character. I couldn't even really name her because she had no personality. I missed Patty and her dents, but I got over it once I realized that I could now pass other cars going uphill and that I no longer had to bring along that ridiculous adapter and CD player ensemble everywhere I went. Character is sentimental, but technology is a lot of fun.

The new car picked up a few scratches here and there. I'm not a very cautious person with my car. I was more cautious than I was with Patty; I no longer got shopping carts out of parking spaces by slowly pushing them with the car. But a few scratches weren't that bad, and they were mostly on the fenders. I still wished a little bit for some real character.

Last night, driving up a long, dark highway, some character flew right out of the sky and landed on my car. Rather, it ran out of the woods and across the road into my fender, before flipping over the car, landing on the ground, and then limping into the bushes. Stupid deer. I stopped, the car behind me stopped, and we all verified that I was okay, the car was okay, and the deer lost the fight. Then I drove on home, seeing two more deer grazing on the side of the road and freaking out each time. Those deer apparently knew not to attack cars.

This morning, in the clear, remorseless light of day, I have decided that maybe I've been overrating character. The dent is small. The headlight and mirror will need to be replaced, but the dent is not such that it impairs the car. It could have been a lot worse. I've heard some awful horror stories about hitting deer, and I thought of some worse ones on my drive last night (particularly when I passed the moose lodge). So my car got off pretty easy. But I secretly hope that the dent will be fixed, that my new car's character (which still has deer hair sticking to it) will be removed. But I doubt it, because I'm cheap, my parents are cheap, and I forgot to get the deer's insurance information.

Besides, it'll be good for me to be one of those spoiled kids whose parents buy her a new car that she dents up three years later and then her parents don't fix it. It'll make me less proud. It'll make me a bigger person. You might even say that it would build character.


the right answer.

I'm sending out resumes, writing cover letters, doing internet job searches, when it occurs to me that I am right back where I was four years ago when I was trying to get scholarships. I was one of those students who applied for anything I could get my little hands on. And it seems like I'm doing the same, though I have passed up applying to some job openings in India.

I sent out a resume to a company in South Carolina a couple of days ago. They promptly sent back a self-review form, asking me to rate myself on various skills that I may or may not have picked up at school.

I think I like this company, and I think I am qualified for the job. They code in C++, which is the very language I learned first. They want strong math skills. I'm getting my second degree in applied math. And they want good people skills. Buddy, I wait tables. You might say I majored in people skills, with a concentration in old and rich people.

Plus, the company seems to have a sense of humor, which I can't resist. The self-review form has a lot of little computer science jokes that I won't repeat here, because you won't get them. But trust me, if you knew anything about object-oriented programming, you'd be rolling in the aisles. There are some jokes on here that I don't even get, at least I think they're jokes.

So I'm looking at this review form, and I'm mildly concerned about all the things that I've never even heard of, much less used. Each item has a scale from 0 to 10 where you circle your experience, plus a little box on the side where you explain why you chose that number. I'm trying not to sweat it, because I know this is an entry-level position I'm applying for, and they don't expect me to know everything. I would just feel a lot better if it seemed like I knew almost everything.

Then I get to the very last question on the form, question 54, to be specific. "What 3 books do you think no programmer should be without?" I love this question. I hate trying to answer it, but I loved that they asked.

Let's face it, I don't read computer science books for pleasure. I read them for class (and only when there's going to be a quiz), and I look things up for reference. So I don't know very many computer programming books. And what do you do when you have a computer science question?

You ask Andy.

Andy is a friend of mine who went to graduate school at ASU the past couple of years. He is a fountain of computer science knowledge. Have homework or debugging problems? Ask Andy. Don't understand why the ASU machine does this? Email Andy. Need a UNIX command? Andy knows it. Want to find the best place to buy a nice plaid shirt? Andy even knows that.

I instant messaged Andy last night and told him about the book question. He laughed at me in standard instant messaging acronym form. Then he started asking questions about the company, like what languages and operatings systems they used. And finally he started recommending books. The Art of Computer Programming, a three volume set by Donald Knuth. A system design book by the so-called Gang of Four. Andy then starts talking about some UNIX stuff and even starts explaining some commands. I told Andy that I think he loves computer science much more than I do.

I know that Andy knows the "right" answer to the book question, the answer that these people working at this company would say, the answer that these people probably usually get from applicants. So naturally, I don't want to put that answer. I don't want to put down books that I've never even seen, much less read. This question is not going to make or break whether I get a job. This question isn't even really about how much I know about computer science literature. This question is about whether I've got a little personality in me. And from all that scholarship experience four years ago, I found that a little personality will do almost as much for you as knowing the right answer. In fact, if you have enough personality, you can convince them you told them the answer they were looking for all along.

I know I'm thinking way too hard about this question, and I should be worrying more about the fact that I don't have any idea what Berkeley sockets are. But I take my literature questions seriously and the idea of putting down three reference books bores me. So maybe two reference books and then a wild card. Maybe throw in some Vonnegut or or some Orwell or some Dr. Seuss or anything that will at least make them notice. So they won't just throw the application away. They'll at least say, "Hey, she looks pretty cool. Too bad she doesn't know squat about computer programming."

And then they'll throw it away.


two c's, one n.

Every night, at around 5:15, Harry, the head chef, comes out to the bar, sits down, and writes out the specials of the evening. Sometimes he writes them out in bulleted form (which I prefer) and sometimes in a paragraph (which I dislike). Sometimes he writes one special with bullets and one in a paragraph, which is just inconsistent and really bugs me.

But this entry is not about inconsistency in food descriptions and my anal-retentiveness about it. This entry is about my anal-retentiveness about spelling.

Tonight we had a sea bass special. Among other things, it was served with zucchini ratatouille. Or, as it was noted on the specials sheet, "zuchinni ratatouille."

I always copy down the specials onto a little sheet of paper that I keep with me for reference. When I got to the bullet with the ratatouille, I paused. Though I wasn't really sure how to spell zucchini, I know that the way Harry had it was not right. Suddenly, I realized why most of the time, Harry just wrote "zukes."

Here's the dilemma. It has taken most of my nearly 22 years, but I have figured out that correcting spelling errors when unasked is a really obnoxious habit. But, oh, it bothered me. It bothered me that I didn't even know the correct spelling, and also that it was wrong on the specials sheet. I want to be able to say that I work at a place where not only is the food good, but we can spell it right, too.

Harry had to go into the back for some reason or another, so I took the opportunity to run behind the bar and grab a cookbook. Surely there would be a reference to zucchini in the index, and surely the editors of the cookbook would have bothered to spell it correctly. So it was from the soup cookbook that I learned that "zucchini" has two C's and one N.

So I sat back down and patiently waited for Harry to come back and finish writing out the specials (hopefully in bulleted form). When he did, I timidly asked, "So, would you like to know the correct spelling of zucchini?"

Thank goodness, he laughed. Of all the possible reactions he could have had, that was the one I hoped for, though I would certainly have understood reactions such as scowling, kicking me, or poking me in the eye with any convenient sharp object. And then he carefully wrote out the correct spelling of zucchini as I spelled it out for him. I also confessed to him that I had to look it up, in an effort to make myself seem less obnoxious.

Then he remarked that he knew that "ratatouille" was right, and I had to agree. Because somehow even though neither of us could spell "zucchini" and even though I'm not entirely sure what ratatouille is, we can both spell it.


i'm great, and i need a job.

As you may not know but will now, I am graduating from college very soon. Like December soon. Like a little more than two months, and oh my goodness what am I going to do with the rest of my life, soon. And then, real life will begin.

So I have to get a real job. Well, I don't have to, but it would be nice to have something to show for all that education. You might be surprised to find that I don't want to wait tables for the rest of my life.

I made a resume. It's very professional and formal and I'm sure it's all wrong. But no one has looked at it and laughed yet, so I'm not worried about it. I've handed it out at a couple of job fairs, and I've sent it to a couple of companies. I've had the resume for a good six months, and I guess that's long enough to get used to the idea that it might not be completely wrong. Today, I made my first cover letter, and I'm sure it's all wrong.

For one thing, I realized that I had no idea how to write a formal letter. I know I learned it somewhere, but when I thought about it, I realized that somewhere was middle school typing class. Why do they teach it then? Who are these 12-year olds corresponding with that require such strict guidelines? I had a pen-pal then, but I never greeted her with a "Dear Madam:" and I'm pretty sure that I used to draw smiley faces at the bottom.

I had to look up the format and syntax rules of cover letters, like where to put your address and the date, how to close it and all that mess. But once I got the address, date, and signature down, I was still left with the task of actually writing the letter. I had to look that up, too.

I don't like the idea of cover letters. The template seems to be 1.) Dear Mr. Personnel Guy:, 2.) I am great, and I need a job, and 3.) Here's my resume! There is more stuff in the middle, but it's all just crap, and if I were an employer, I wouldn't read it. I hate things that are widely known to be a crock of bull, but exist only to see who can make themselves sound the most qualified when they are not. I despise it, but if nothing else, I have learned that sometimes you have to play the game to get anywhere. So I wrote my stupid cover letter that said that I was great and that I needed a job.

But I think that we should all write honest cover letters from now on. I think this should be the new format:


I'm in the market for employment, and it seems to me that you are in the market for employees. If you're not, I don't mind taking the place of your slackest worker. I'm pretty sure I'm at least better than that loser.

I have a degree and experience, which you will know as soon as you check out the attached resume. Like the layout? I picked it out of Microsoft Publisher, but I did the color and font scheme on my own.

Here are some things that aren't on the resume. You may not notice right off, but I'm female, and you know as well as I that there are not enough chicks in this field, and there probably aren't that many in your office. Feel free to use me to fill any employment quotas you may have hanging over your head. Also, I think a female computer scientist will boost the morale of all those single men you have working for you. Don't worry, my skirts aren't short enough to be distracting.

I will be more than happy to lead or follow. I can work well under incompetant leadership without even grumbling that I could do it better. Or, I would be willing to be at the head of a team, and I can be as incompetant as you need.

I'm punctual, kind of anal-retentive with my attention to detail, and I can pour from two coffee pots into two mugs at once without spilling. I'm an achiever, so I get the job done, but not an over-achiever, because those guys are annoying.

I'd love an interview, partly because I want the job, and also I just like the opportunity to dress up in my new suit. Gotta tell ya, I look pretty cute. Also professional and intelligent, but mostly cute.

I await your reply with bated breath.

Sincerely yours,


Seriously, wouldn't you want to hire me right away? That's what I thought.


god bless the south: celebrating apples.

Yes, dear friends, it's fall, and for me that means that my small town will soon be overrun with Buicks and Cadillacs driven at 20 mph by elderly men with their wives next to them screaming, "Edgar, slow down! There's a curve up ahead!" But it also means that the leaves will be bright and pretty, that I'm one season closer to graduation, and that I can finally wear that great long jacket I just bought at the thrift store. Plus, it's festival time!

Us Southerners, we love to celebrate. And we like to do it best in the fall with lots of craft vendors, live music, and fried foods, some on a stick. We'll celebrate anything, we don't care. We celebrate wooly worms, the Andy Griffith show, and Hillbilly Heritage (none of these made up, I swear). Yesterday, I celebrated apples.

I love festivals. I didn't go to a lot of them as a kid, (except for an isolated one celebrating amateur radio) because Mama worked Saturdays and Daddy just isn't a festival kind of guy. But I used to go with Casey to the one held in the nearby town of Morganton, which as far as I can tell, was celebrating the nearby town of Morganton. I always had a great time, and since Wilkesboro is another nearby town, I thought I'd head down there for a little apple party.

I rode the shuttle from the medical park to downtown, as parking at the festival was as much as $10. I stepped off the Wilkes Transit Authority van, a guide for getting back to my car in my hand. Apparently, the driver thought I did not look like a local. And then I started in.

Jewelry, pottery, marshmallow shooters made of PVC pipe, everything a little overpriced and some of it pretty weird. The label of "handcrafted" on everything only meant that you could probably make it yourself if you had the materials. But every once in a while, you came across something different. The jewelry made with real pressed flowers. The garden statues made of welded tools that looked like chickens. The ceramic urns that looked like heads. The coin banks made from old post office boxes. Those were the kinds of things that tempted me. There were a million booths with windchimes, but I liked the ones made from old silverware. I walked by several pottery booths with little more than a glance, but stayed and watched at the one where the potter helped little kids make bowls. I also particularly liked the booth with the coaster that had a menorah on it and said "Shalom, Y'all." I ended up with a pressed flower necklace, some earrings shaped like crutches (just for weirdness), and a gift for my dad.

Of course everything had a theme. This was clearly a Southern Festival, and a North Carolina one at that. You could buy your hand-painted hummingbird feeder made from an Orange Crush bottle, and you could get it with flowers, or you could get it with the Wolfpack on it. Most places had a section of items with college teams, always featuring Duke, NC State, and Carolina, with the occasional Appalachian (go Mountaineers!) thrown in. Me, I liked the purses made of team license plates, and I helped the guy selling them move the NC State ones in front of the Carolina ones.

A lot of booths were there to raise money for some cause or another. A lot of churches sold food and gave out tapes of their best singers. There was a booth for the Humane Society with lots of dogs, and even a booth raising money for students wishing to be dental assistants to take some exam. My favorite was the crippled children booth, which sold these thick neon meter sticks with bold lettering about the cause on them. The first time I saw one of these sticks, I thought it said, "I bought this to help cripple children!" What a difference the letter 'D' makes.

One of the festival's big advertising points is the live music, but I don't know anyone who comes there for that, except maybe the musicians' friends and families. There were a couple of vocal quartets singing gospel music (one was working on "I'll Fly Away" when I walked by), and a few banjo/guitar/fiddle trios singing old country songs. It was all very rural south, so of course I liked it very much and sang along when I knew the songs, which was always.

And then there was the food. Festival food is all the same, though there was a lot of apple-oriented food. But even the apple food fit into the festival food category by being prepared in one simple way: fried. Maybe in other areas of the country, festival food is different, but here in the South, the deeper and the fatter the frier, the better. Funnel cakes, onion rings, fried peanuts, fried apple pies, everything was a delicious heart attack wrapped in a greasy paper towel. Of course, there were a lot of apple vendors, too. At the end of every block was a giant tent, where they sold apples, apple cider, apple juice, apple butter, and apple jelly. I didn't buy any of these things, mostly because there were so many yellow jackets around these tents that I didn't even stop and look at them for long without being bothered.

I stayed for maybe three hours at the Brushy Mountain Apple Festival (sponsored by the Brushy Mountain Ruritans), and I had what's known as a good ole time. Maybe these kinds of festivals are the same everywhere, even if the kinds of things being celebrated are different. But I don't think you can get Duke bird feeders just anywhere, and it's the things like that that make me love the South.

Shalom, y'all.


good print karma.

A couple of years ago, the university decided that paper and ink were just too much of a cost burden. So they started charging for print services. They installed all these computers and card machines and implemented a great big campus-wide system, the cost of which was supposed to be paid for by all that paper and ink they weren't just giving away anymore.

Now students have to carry around these little gold cards to use the printers. There's a dollar amount associated with each card, and three cents is deducted for every 8 and 1/2 by 11 inch black and white document you print. It's extra if you want something special, and ten cents for copies. Double-sided printing is the same charge as single-side to encourage conservation. When you run out of money, you can go down to the library and put more money on your card.

The school used to send out these little coupons at the beginning of the semester good for a $6 print card. I'm not sure if they still do this, but they don't send them to me anymore. I suspect it's because I forgot to redeem mine once, or maybe they just can't afford the paper and ink to print the coupons anymore. So I have to pay for my printing.

I actually have a very nice printer at home, and it takes care of most of my printing (and copying and scanning, thank you) needs. But sometimes I finish up projects and things on campus and take it straight to class, so I have to use the university printing faciliities. So I keep maybe fifty cents on my card in case I need it.

In the computer lab where I work, there is a printing station, meaning there is a printer, a computer terminal, and a card reader. There is also a little metal lockbox filled with staples, the key to the file cabinet where all the paper is kept, and a whole bunch of print cards with one or two cents on them. People leave their print cards around a lot, maybe because there is a delay between printing and the card being spat back out. Usually, the ones that get left are the one and two cent kind, though you might find a twenty center every once in a while. Once I found one with three dollars on it, then turned it over to see my roommate's name written on the back and realized that I had to give it back. My disappointment was tangible.

But at the beginning of this year, some time after the university may have sent out the vouchers for $6 cards that I no longer receive, I found a card in the lab. I put it in the card reader to see how much money was on it.


Oh, heck yeah.

I turned it over. No name on the back. I looked around. No one was near the printer, no one was looking at the printer, no one seemed even remotely interested in the little piece of treasure that I was now signing my name on. Of course, I felt a little bad for the poor guy that left his very valuable card in the lab. I felt just almost as bad for him as I felt good for me and my good print karma.

But hey, I'm a nice girl. Sometimes, people don't quite have enough money on their print card for whatever they need. And they always ask me, because I'm the lab op, and I sit right next to the printer. They always offer me the three pennies or whatever in change to make up for my deducted print card. But I let them use my card, and I don't let them repay me. (Actually, I usually tell them to buy themselves something pretty.) I don't feel I have the right to charge for use of a card I didn't pay for. I'm just passing along my good print karma.


on with the bugs!

It's been a bad week for bugs.

After all these infestation type entries, where I've revealed that I've had problems with fleas, ants, and now fruit flies (not including all the spiders that I haven't even mentioned), I'm afraid that you will all think that I am a slob. In all honesty, I'm beginning to suspect it myself. I'd keep these things to myself if they didn't make such good stories. So, on with the bugs!

First off, the wasp. I came home this evening to find a wasp in my pants. (Not a W.A.S.P., mind you, or that would be an entirely different kind of entry.) I was climbing the steps to my apartment when I felt myself being stung in the leg. And then again. And again. I started to panic, because my arms were full of all this stuff, because I hate to make two trips from the car. And so I started to put things down, with the intention of taking off my pants to get the stinging insect out. And then I actually said to myself, "No, no, go inside the house first." So I unlocked the door, hopping and screaming, threw everything down, and yanked my pants down to the ankles. The wasp flew out and met my screen door. Seeing he was trapped, I decided to take inventory of my injuries before I killed him as dead as I could possibly get him.

Five stings. And I grew up thinking that once a wasp stings you, it dies, that bees and such only get one poke before they go to the great garden in the sky. I have been sorely misled.

And then on to the major story: Fruit flies. While the wasp story was not a matter of infestation (though even one wasp is more than you should ever have in your pants), the fruit fly story is.

I noticed that I had a few fruit flies a week or so ago. My dealings with these tiny insects was pretty much limited to a biology project in the twelfth grade. I bred them in a little tube to learn about genetics or bugs or ether or something. What I should have learned is that the stupid things basically only live to procreate, and they don't waste any time doing it.

And so where I had half a dozen fruit flies, I suddenly had half a million. All around the trash, all around the sink, all around my bowl of oranges, just everywhere. Some of them even migrated to my bedroom, where they sit on the mirror all day long. Apparently, fruit flies are quite vain.

I know the best way to get rid of fruit flies is just to clean, but I wanted something more barbaric to make me feel like I was really combatting them, not just making things sparkle. So I did some online research and found a recipe for what I like to call the Fruit Fly Death Pool. It's basically water, sugar, vinegar, and dish soap. I put out a jar of the stuff one night and woke up to see that it had a new ingredient: tiny floating bodies. So then I made four more containers of it to put at strategic positions around the kitchen. It looks like I've just got jars of coffee everywhere, because the only vinegar I had was balsamic. I periodically squint at the little jars to see the body count, and then I laugh.

And I cleaned too. The sink, the drain, the trash can, the counter, the bedroom mirror. The numbers are decreasing, hopefully more rapidly than the remaining ones are laying eggs. A winged cloud no longer rises from my kitchen surfaces every time I move, and that itchy, crawly feeling on my skin is subsiding. I can only hope that this is the end of the fruit fly story, and I don't even want to think about what infestation could possibly be next.

I hope it's puppies.


no, not really.

The idea of "going out" is very important to the girls I work with. This idea is not to be confused with that of "coming out," which is important to an entirely different group of people.

"Going out" means to leave from one's home at a late hour and consume alcohol at a bar or party. It is almost a nightly occurrence for these people, even on (gasp!) school nights.

The first week that I worked there, one of them asked if I went out a lot. You all know the true answer, just as I know it, but I didn't want to seem anti-social on my first week. Let them figure that out during the second or third week. So I started saying, "Well, you know, every once in a while," but I realized that answer was ridiculous and switched to "No, not really." I can think of maybe four or five times in the past year where I went out, which might seem to you as a "Well, you know, every once in a while," but at the rate that these people go out, it's really more of a "No, not really."

The process of them going out begins hours before they actually do go out. They have to determine who they are going out with, where they are going, and sometimes even what they will wear. You can count on someone asking the question "Are you going out tonight?" near the beginning of every shift, where you or I might ask things like "How was that test today?" or "I love your brightly-colored, food-related tie! Where did you get it?" That answer to the question of going out is never "Yes, definitely, I want to get hammered tonight." Sometimes, it's a definite "No" because the person has an early appointment the next day or perhaps a previous engagement. But more often, it's a "Maybe" or a "I don't know yet" or some other wishy-washy answer that I have come to interpret as meaning "Yes, of course, but I don't want to commit for reasons that are unclear to that weird girl stting there listening to us. You know, that one that never goes out."

This sitting on the fence usually lasts all evening, with discussion of parties or bars or other places to out to in between. Finally, one person leaves for the evening, and they all promise to call each other later with their plans for the night. What happens after that, I don't really know, because, well, they don't call me. Sometimes I hear about it the next day, and it seems to be pretty typical college students with alcohol behavior.

The whole thing amuses me. I laughed out loud at them one night when one girl ask for what had to have been the third time in half an hour if another was going out. It had been a long evening and I had felt that enough comraderie had built between us that we could laugh at each other. Apparently, I misjudged.

I'm speaking with a holier-than-thou attitude here, and any one of the going out crowd that read this would probably say something along the lines of, "Yeah, well, she's just jealous because she's a pathetic loser who doesn't have any friends and just goes home after work to do something lame like read or do homework or look on the internet before going to bed around midnight."

And they'd be right. I would not want to go out as often as they do. I would not want to be a part of this nightly "Are you going out?" dance. I would not want to get trashed in town when I know it's a long, curvy drive back home. But it would be nice to be asked. Because sometimes, I would like to go out and have a drink with friends. Maybe I would like to upgrade my "No, not really" to more of a "Well, you know, every once in a while." Is that so much to ask?

No, not really.


bus 244, second load of bus 244.

This semester, I park my car in an area that is designated as "on-campus." I can only assume that this phrase is short for "on-campus, but only within walking distance if you have hiking boots, or in the winter, those shoes that look like tennis racquets." So I ride the bus to and from my car, because I don't have hiking boots and I only have one tennis racquet.

Riding the bus puts me in a position I haven't been in in many years. Of course, that position would be sitting upright with a heavy book bag in my lap, very close to someone loud or sweaty or both.

I rode the bus for years. In elementary school, I was a second loader, meaning I was in the group of kids that lived far out in the country. The buses took the city kids home, then came back and took the rest of us home.

Second load was cool. You got to hang out with the rest of the second load kids in your grade in a classroom. Sometimes the teacher would play Mad Libs or something like that. Sometimes we were just allowed to talk quietly. And then sometimes we abused the privilege to talk quietly, and then we were allowed to talk not at all, which is called being "put on silence" in the grade school vernacular. But we all sat around until we heard the magic words on the intercom "Bus two forty-four. Second load of bus two forty-four," or whatever your bus number was. There were several buses that had second loads. Seems like 244, my bus, was always one of the last ones to pick up second loaders.

And then, when our bus was called, we all rushed out of the room, down the halls, and out the door to the bus lot. If you were in the third or the fourth grade, you walked as fast as you possibly could without running (because then you'd get in trouble), because the third and fourth grade classrooms were the farthest away from the bus lot. We were all terrified of missing the bus, because then the school would have to call your parents to come and get you, and then you'd be in for it.

The teachers played on our fears of missing the bus, or being bus-left, as we called it. If we had been particularly rotten during second load, the supervising teacher would make us stay seated after our bus had been announced until we were deemed well-behaved enough to go. We would sit at the edges of our seats, clutching our bookbags to our chests, our eyes wide and watching the teacher, visions of having our parents come to the school and pick us up looming large in our heads. After what seemed like ages, the teacher would let us go, and we would do double-time to the bus lot, never relieved until we were standing safely in the line that formed in front of the bus door. And Lord help the third and fouth graders whose teachers played this cruel little game of delays.

Sometimes, if you were really good in school, your teacher kept you in the classroom to clap erasers or file papers or sew Nike clothing instead of sending you to the classroom where the other second loaders waited. This was a great privilege and the position was much envied, especially when the teacher supervising the second loaders that week was known to put the room on silence without provocation.

Second load kids were different. Nevermind the fact that we got home from school forty-five minutes later than the first loaders. You were defined by your bus load. In a time before we could judge and label each other based on economic background, athletic ability, or supposed promiscuity, we judged each other based on bus routes. It seems to me now that second load kids were a little rougher around the edges - maybe as a group we got into trouble a little more often than the cleaner cut first loaders. Maybe because we were rural kids, or maybe because we were stuck in school an extra half hour every day.

Once I got into middle school, I found myself suddenly a first loader. There was only one second load bus at my middle school, and buddy, those kids were weird. They had to wait all together in the gym, long after I boarded bus 187 and gone home. They never got to clap erasers or play Mad Libs. They were never true second loaders in my mind, because that term died at our fifth grade graduation. Besides, we were all old enough to call each other sluts and dorks and jocks now, and we no longer needed bus routes to tell us who are friends were. But we still remembered our second load days like we were veterans from some war.

Yeah, I was a second loader. Bus 244.


murphy's law.

Murphy's Law states that a watched pot never boils. I think this law can be applied to a Federal Express truck. A watched FedEx truck never boils, and a watched-for FedEx truck never comes.

I've watched for the FedEx man for three days now. That's right, I looked for it on Sunday, too. Logic told me that the order wouldn't come before today at the very earliest, but that didn't stop me from having the hope that I would be dazzled by the combined shipping efficiency of FedEx and L. L. Bean.

Murphy's Law has nothing to do with that sitcom starring Candice Bergen, as my friend Mike thought, and everything to do with screwing people over. Murphy's Law is against me, because Murphy's Law is meant to be against us all, whether we are waiting for the pretty new navy bookbag with taupe and black trim we ordered with monogramming (add $5), looking for our lost keys, or waiting for a FedEx truck to boil. It's ole Murphy's fault that you start your period in the class where you have a male teacher on the day you wear a skirt. Murphy made you drop red wine on your favorite white shirt, and Murphy made that shirt dry-clean only in the first place.

But I am onto Murphy and his stupid laws. I am most definitely watching for the FedEx truck and the lovely new monogrammed bookbag with extra pockets and reflective fabric it carries. But I am doing it in a t-shirt and panties and the curtains pulled open, and Murphy's Law states that the package will be delievered because of this, and probably by a man. I only need put on some green facial cream to make him a very attractive man. But I don't care, because he'll give me the package before he runs away screaming, and I'll never seem him again anyway.

Take that, Murphy.


beautifully weird.

Nostalgic kleptomania. That is the new phrase, the new buzz word, the name for the condition I am about to describe. Nostalgic kleptomania will furthermore be used to describe the need that some feel and subsequently act upon to have a souvenir that is not for sale. I'm sure you know the type. They take broken-off pieces of stone when they visit ruins, they take ashtrays from restaurants, and they are the reason that pens in banks are tied to large pieces of furniture that are difficult to steal. I've known some nostalgic kleptos. I had dinner with one who took the little plastic frame that described the dessert menu from the restaurant because there was no ashtray; we had requested non-smoking. And I've been in the restaurant business long enough to see things disappear. Not frequently, not even enough to warrant the theft as a major nuisance. Call it a minor annoyance. Sometimes it's even a little amusing, just thinking about the bizarre things that people will steal.

But bizarre isn't even the word for what I witnessed last week. Kirstin was emptying the trash in the men's room to close down for the night when she happened to notice the empty picture frame hanging next to the mirror. Now we do exhibit some things that might be considered modern art, but nothing so modern as an empty frame. It took Kirstin a minute to realize that the frame hadn't always been empty, that it used to contain the standard sign issued by the State of North Carolina, stating that all food service employees must wash their hands after each and every trip to the bathroom. But now the sign was gone.

The job was thorough. The thief had taken the trouble to first take the sign out of the frame. Then the culprit very carefully replaced the cardboard backing into the frame, making sure to bend all the little metal tabs back so the backing would stay. Finally, our clever criminal hung the frame on the wall, knowing that as long as the frame was in place, the crime could go unnoticed for days.

We all marveled at our thief's brazen cunning, his deft ability, and also at his outright weirdness. I speculated that it might be an inside job and looked at all the males in the room with narrowed eyes. Harry, our head chef, jokingly admitted that he did it because he was tired of washing his hands. By pretending to confess, he smoothy shifted the suspicions away from himself. Tricky, that.

But then we decided that it was probably just someone who suffered from nostalgic kleptomania. A particularly odd form of nostalgic kleptomania. And the whole thing was so deliciously weird that I wanted to start doing it. I wanted to begin a collection of the hand washing signs. Maybe I'd even branch out to taking the "Stealing is a crime!" signs found in Wal-Mart bathroom stalls if I was feeling particularly ironic.

And I could showcase my collection in a 3-ring binder full of sheet protectors holding the souvenirs of all the bathrooms I'd been to, each one neatly described and dated, organized by location and time of theft. And it would all be so dazzingly, fascinatingly, beautifully weird.



Originally written April 12, 2003

I'm pretty cheap and low-maintenance - when it comes to my hair anyway. I want something easy and I don't want to have to pay a lot just to keep my style.

Therefore, I get a lot of bad haircuts. I'd been going to SmartCuts, one in a franchise where you just walk in and get your hair cut by the first availabe stylist. It's cheap, but terribly inconsistent. You never can tell the quality of style you're going to end up with because you never know which stylist you're going to get stuck with. The prices had kept me coming back even after disastrous results, but I'd been keeping my eyes open for something else.

Then I found a coupon in the phone book for a $5.95 haircut. So I called and made an appointment. The stylist was a man and very friendly on the phone. I drove over, picturing a well-dressed, flamboyant man who was finally going to give me something great at a price I could pay without choking.

I walked in the door, and was met by an old man. This wasn't a stylist, this was a barber. True to barber form, he had little hair himself. I wanted to walk right back out then, but the place was small and that would've been pretty noticeable. So I calmed myself while I waited for my turn, telling myself that I couldn't judge by appearances, that this may turn out to be the fabulous hair establishment I'd been looking for. I forced myself to stay focused on that glimmer of hope.

When it was my turn, I showed him a picture of the kind of style I wanted. And then there was this wild frenzy of scissors, like he was just randomly cutting into my hair with his eyes closed. Patience, I thought, give him a chance. He snipped like crazy. He might have been sweating after the exertion, though he did take a break to try and sell me some expensive shampoo.

At the end of it all, I wanted to cry. The guy was very nice, but he was used to cutting old man hair, and frankly, comb-overs are not my biggest hair problem. (After today, making the right side of my head look like the left is my biggest problem.) He was quite proud of the fact that he'd removed a lot of weight from my head, like I'd walked in with my head bowed, staggering from the weight of my chin-length bob. "Please, you must help me, my head...it's just too heavy! Can't...go...on..."

I tried to leave quickly. I'm not one of those aggressive people that can stay until they cut it right. I tend to leave and then just be miserable for six weeks. Sensing he was not going to see me again, he tried to offer me a flannel shirt. He was giving it to me, saying someone had given it to him and it was too small. It was sweet, but I would've never worn it. I hated hurting his feelings and all; maybe he can't help it he's rotten.

I'm pretty sick of bad haircuts. I'm almost to the point where I'm willing to pay more to get something I don't hate. (Who am I kidding, I'll be at SmartCuts next month.) But tonight I will mourn my lost hair, lying in a heap in that guy's trashcan, mixed in with the grey hairs of his other customers.

Hair is best mourned with a pint of expensive ice cream.


after the beep.

3:14 pm
Hey, it's me. Um, listen, I'm going to be in town this evening. I've got an appointment, but afterwards, I was thinking we could, I dunno, hang out or something. I don't have to work tomorrow, so I could just drive back real late or maybe stay in town somewhere. Um, call me when you get this and let me know if you're not doing anything. If you are, that's cool, I know that this is short notice. I'll have my cell on. Okay. Bye.

5:21 pm
Hey, it's me again. I accidentally cut my phone off and I was just checking to see if you had called, but I guess not. Uh, I'm done with my appointment now and I'm kinda hungry. I might drive around and see if I can't find something to eat somewhere. I don't really know what's good here, but hopefully I'll find something. Uh, I dunno, give me a call whenever. Okay. Bye.

8:39 pm
Hey, it's me. It's like twenty minutes til nine right now and I'm still in town. I was thinking there might be a good show somewhere tonight around here, but I don't know where one would be. I'm sorry I keep leaving you all these messages, I'm just like wandering around here with no idea where I'm going or anything. Give me a call. Okay. Bye.

10:02 pm
Hey, it's me. Listen, I guess you had something to do tonight or whatever. I dunno, maybe you're at work or something. I tried to find that place you told me you were working at, but I think I went to the wrong place. I asked for you and they said nobody by that named worked there. So I must've gotten the name wrong or something, or it could have been a chain and I went to the wrong one. Oh well. Um, I guess I'm just going to go on home now. It's getting kinda late and it'll be really late by the time I get back home. I'm sorry about all these messages. I just thought-

10:04 pm
Hey, it's me. Sorry, the voice mail cut me off. Anyway, I'm sorry this didn't work out, ya know. I guess I should have called and told you before today that I was going to be in town, but I didn't even really think about it until this afternoon. But anyway, I hope you're having fun at whatever it is that you're doing, and I'll just see you next time I'm around or whatever. Call me back if you want, or you don't have to since it's getting kinda late. Okay. Well, bye.


eighty-eight cents a pound.

Sandra fun fact #24 : my favorite fruit is the nectarine.

As some foolish people may believe (like me prior to some research for this entry), the nectarine is not a hybrid between the peach and the plum. The nectarine is just the peach's sweeter and less hairy cousin; I have one of those myself. The name of course comes from the word "nectar" and refers to the nectarine's sweetness. California now grows over 95% of the nectarines grown in the United States.

Nectarines found in the store are usually about 2 or 3 days away from prime ripeness. To slow ripening, refrigerate. To hasten it, put in a closed paper bag. To let nature take its course, put in a decorative bowl and enjoy the fruit as a natural fresh scent-maker. You could even paint a pretty picture of the bowl with the fruit and call it "Lunch, in 2-3 Days."

Nectarines are right where peaches went wrong. Peaches are okay, but they taste a little funky to me. Some people eat them with sugar, a thing that would never ever be necessary with a nectarine. And that fuzz, it just bothers me. Plus, when you eat a peach, there is just juice running all over the place. I find it distracting. A nectarine would never dribble all over your chin like that.

Food Lion had the most excellent sale a couple of weeks ago. I buy nectarines whenever the price goes below a dollar a pound (or if I am just really depressed). It usually runs about twice that during the summertime. I don't even bother looking in the winter. However, Food Lion was nice enough to provide nectarines for the lovely price of $0.88 a pound. Just so you know, I went to Food Lion three times that week, for completely unrelated things. But each time, I came home with a couple pounds of nectarines in my clutches.

There was a young guy at Food Lion squeezing the nectarines. I came up and began doing the same. Actually, I got a bag first and followed my squeezing by putting some fruit in bags, something he seemed unsure about. Sensing that I was not a nectarine virgin, he asked me, "How do you tell a good nectarine?" I immediately wanted to correct him, saying, "Okay, first of all: every nectarine is a good nectarine," as if I were some sort of optimistic social worker for delinquent fruit. But I resisted the urge, and instead told him I was just squeezing for ripeness. He said he was trying to do the same thing, but that nectarines "don't squeeze the same as peaches." Well, obviously. They squeeze better. Again, I had to hold myself back, because I did want to start a lecture on picking fruit of varying amounts of ripeness so that one could enjoy the nectarines over a period of time. Or I could have told him the ripening tips above, had I known them at the time. Then the young man would be afraid of nectarines for the rest of his life, because of the zealous girl at the grocery store. He would never buy them again.

Not even at $0.88 a pound.


kansas revisited: two-b or not two-b.

Sandra is not a common name for people of my age. I've never been crazy about the name, but at least I didn't have fifteen other Sandras everywhere like some unfortunate Jessicas and Ashleys I know. Most of the Sandras that I know are people's mothers. Actually, I think there were at least three volleyball mothers named Sandra when I played in high school.

However, it seemed to be a name that my mother's family likes quite a lot. I am named after my mother, so that's two, plus I have a cousin named Sandra as well. (As a confusing item of interest, the other Sandra's mother's name is Rita, and my mother Sandra has a daughter named Rita.) So at the recent family reunion in Great Bend, Kansas, there were no less than three Sandras in attendance. This led to a joke that if you couldn't remember someone's name, just call them Sandra and your chances of being right were good.

I've met my cousin Sandra twice, including the recent reunion. The first time was when I was twelve and she came to visit my family (meaning my siblings and their families) in North Carolina. There is a picture of her, my sister, and me doing the can-can. I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. Sandra is a lot of fun in an offbeat kind of way, the offbeat kind of way that most of my mother's family is. And she is ridiculously tall. She is about 6'2", and I don't like standing next to her. At 5'10", I am used to being the tallest girl around, and being near taller women makes me stand up straight and be a little sulky. The competitive thing again.

I mentioned to my friend Ashley that I had a cousin named Sandra who was "like six feet tall and kinda weird." Ashley looked at me and said, "I think you just described yourself."

Sandra has two doe-eyed children. The report was that when the first was born, Sandra claimed that she had just given birth to the cutest child in the world. And they are both decidedly adorable. The girl was especially cute as she dog-paddled across the pool, a big grin on her face, her eyes even wider than usual, her breath gasping, and her floaties flying. However, my children will be much cuter, no problem.

Our visit was short, but I got to have a feel for what people with common names go through. At the reunion, we had a naming system to cut down on the confusion. Not that there was any actual confusion, we just thought it would be fun. The system was generational, so Mama was "Sandra One." Both Sandra and I are second generation, so she was "Sandra Two-A" and I was "Sandra Two-B," because she was born first. My name, of course, led to a lot of Hamlet jokes which were even funny the second time around.

We took a lot of pictures at the reunion. Ones of the whole family, some of individual families, some of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. So many pictures and no one ever had any idea of which camera to look at. And then there was one of the three Sandras. Sandra One, Sandra Two-A, and Sandra Two-B.


the milk drinking contest.

Now I'm a firm believer in milk. My mother raised herself a bunch of milk drinkers, I figure because of the rule that we could never leave the dinner table until we had finished our glass of milk. So you'd think that I would be entirely in favor of such a thing as a "milk drinking contest." Not so.

The rules of the milk drinking contest as are follows. The contestant must drink one gallon of whole milk in an hour. In that hour and another quarter of the hour following, the contestant may not throw up. I'm also thinking that the contestant may not urinate, but I'm not sure on that rule.

I've seen several people try it, all boys. They always throw up. You'd think that with such an obvious pattern here, we'd have a hard time getting new people to try it. Oh no. It's not that hard to find some unsuspecting male and get him to try and impress us with his macho milk drinking skills, even if the new victim knows the history of the game.

I just don't think it's possible. Someone explained to me once how it wasn't possible, something to do with the stomach acids or something. If that explanation couldn't convince you, the long line of veteran contestants could probably do the trick. They've tried pacing themselves, starting off strong, waiting for a second wind. No matter how you put it down, the milk comes back up. But each new boy always thinks he knows the way that has never been tried before.

I hate to generalize here and say that the milk drinkers are all male. I'm sure in the illustrious history of the milk drinking contest, there have been female contestants. I just don't happen to know any.

And boys enjoy the whole contest when they're not the drinker, too. Maybe boys like vomit. Note that while I might call these same people men at other times, it is not when I'm describing how they point and laugh as their friends throw up into the bushes.

I don't enjoy watching the inevitable end of the milk drinking contest. I turn my head, and hope that I can't even hear the sound of a gallon of milk's revenge, not that any of them get the whole gallon down before they start bringing it back up. I do enjoy rolling my eyes with any other females in attendance at the ridiculousness of it all. Once each new boy fails, he becomes part of the team of recruiters, trying desperately not to be the last guy that made a fool of himself by being bested by a measly gallon of milk.

I don't guess I mind it. It's stupid, of course, just another ridiculous thing that we do that makes old people say that youth is wasted on us. But it's cheap entertainment, even given the price of dairy products lately, and even the old would agree that there are a lot worse things we could be drinking on a Saturday night than a gallon of milk, though the end result is pretty much the same. Then again, milk won't give you a hangover the next day or impair your ability to operate heavy machinery, and I've never seen a milk-induced table dance. Drinking milk and then throwing it up? Why, that's downright wholesome.