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.