improving my aim.

I use Gmail for my personal email (and if any of you would like to do the same, let me know and I'll send an invite your way; I've got about 50). There are a lot of features that I like about Gmail, the ridiculous amount of space I have being one of them. I was used to Hotmail, where if I didn't check my email every two hours and delete all the spam, I was in danger of going over my space limit. At Gmail, I'm using fifteen times as much space as I had in the old Hotmail, but the bottom of my inbox states "You are currently using 1% of your 2432 MB." That's good stuff.

Anyway, Gmail also has these sponsored links that show up on the right toolbar of each email. I assume these are powered by Google, because there's obviously some sort of search mechanism that relates the ads that appear to whatever email you're looking at (again, as opposed to Hotmail, which seemed to think that all my correspondence is related to meeting blonds or getting in touch with people from high school). I suppose Google goes by keywords in the email. I've gotten in the habit of checking the sponsored links, just because it's sort of interesting to see what Google has deemed relevant in my email. For example, I got an email from a friend a week or so ago that was just sort of all over the place, and there were links for Italian food, Muppet memorabilia, and luncheon meat. I got an email from an old roommate about her new apartment, and the links were about finding roommates, finding apartments, and, inexplicably, expatriating to Brussels. Today, I got an email from my sister-in-law regarding the recent change in my relationship status. These were the links that appeared beside her email:

Overcome Breaking Up
Powerful subliminal methods. We'll get you through this.

I Used to Miss Him
But My Aim is Improving: Not Your Ordinary Breakup Survival Guide

Find Highly compatible Matches Get A Free Compatibility Profile.

I like how the links tell a story. Notice how they go through the stages of a breakup: depression, bitterness, and moving on.

I'd kind of like to experiment with this feature. If someone sends you an email with about three letter X's in a row, do you get porn advertisements? Of course, if you mention any sort of product, I imagine that makes Google's job really easy, but what about more abstract concepts, like numbers or gravity or sarcasm? And do those ads even serve the purpose of attracting site visitors? I read somewhere that an obscenely large percentage of the population couldn't tell the difference between a search result and a sponsored link (The big hint for me is the heading "SPONSORED LINKS"). So maybe people think it's part of the email, as if they happen to be friends with a lot of marketing people.

It's kind of creepy, both the ubiquity of ads and the fact that Google is "reading" my email. But most email providers do that anyway, if nothing else for spam-blocking. So maybe you might not even get your email with all those letter X's, because it's been sent to the spam can.

But enough. I've apparently got better things to do, according to Google. I've got to move to Brussels, buy some salami, and practice my aim. Maybe not in that order.


throwing silence to the wind.

I was just sitting here thinking about Mrs. Hartso. And I wanted to tell the goofy little story about Mrs. Hartso, but there just wasn't enough for a full entry. So it's Substitute Teacher time, Three Things Style.

Thing 1: Mrs. Woodring
I never had a very flattering view of Mrs. Woodring's intelligence. Maybe I always figured that the reason she wasn't a full-fledged teacher was because she couldn't get into full-fledged teacher school. She was the standard substitute; in elementary school, I probably had her more than any other sub. But the thing that drove me nuts about her was the way she pronounced "apostrophe." And it seemed like every time she taught us, we had to learn something about contractions or possessive nouns. I'd like to find her now, give her a good shake, and ask her, "What in heaven's name is an 'a-pos-ta-pee?'" Come to think of it, I think she said "li-berry" too.
Now I'm wondering just what kind of weird, anal-retentive ten-year-old I was to be bothered by this so much. Perhaps the kind that grows into a weird, anal-retentive twenty-two-year-old.

Thing 2: Mrs. White
In the observatory. With the candlestick.

No, no. Mrs. White was a perfectly normal lady with a penchant for leopard print up until about seventh period one day during my eighth grade year. Then she became a completely absent lady with a penchant for leopard print. She just left in the middle of the day. I'm not even sure why. We hadn't been terrorizing her at all. It had just been normal science class with us sitting there nicely doing busy work. There might have been some friendly banter with the jocks. The ironic thing was that she left (crying, by the way) right before the advanced class came in, which probably would have been cake for her. Silly lady. She probably wasn't a full-fledged teacher because she couldn't hack it in full-fledged teacher school.

I tell this story a couple different ways depending on the audience. Sometimes it's the more accurate crazy lady story. Other times, it's more like "Once, my class made a substitute teacher cry and leave before the school day was out." Everyone is always very impressed.

Thing 3: Mrs. Hartso
Ah, the inspiration for this whole entry. I only had the Mrs. Hartso experience a couple of times in middle school. She was an old, squat woman with a cheeky mouth that comes from years of raising/teaching children in the South. She used to tell us that she was a hundred years old. She was probably more like seventy. She liked me because she knew my dad and liked him. So she'd get up close to me to talk in conspiratorial tones, all the while spitting on my face with every word.

You didn't mess with Mrs. Hartso, because she came from a time when children were meant to be beaten and not heard. We were too young to logically come to the conclusion that she couldn't legally take us over her knee and light a fire on our hides, so we minded her. Not that she ever actually threatened to do that, but the threat was somehow implied by her nature.

But the thing I will always remember about Mrs. Hartso was when she made us write sentences. We were apparently being loud as a class, and so she decided that we would write a sentence one hundred times as punishment. She wrote the sentence on the board.

"Silence is the best policy."

What? No. Silence is golden. Honesty is the best policy. Of course, I could hardly argue with her, seeing as she thought silence was the best policy. I really wanted to, because I still believed that it was honesty. I can't figure why she didn't go with "Silence is golden," except that maybe she thought we deserved a longer sentence. But if she was going to abandon sense and just go for length, she should have gone all out with something like "Silence in the hand is worth two birds in the bush" or maybe "Early to bed, early to rise, and shutting the heck up makes a man healthy, wealthy, wise, and silent."

In any case, I do enjoy using Mrs. Hartso's example from time to time for silliness. You can say anything is the best policy, and no one can argue with you, because you sound very wise. I told my coworker today that caution was the best policy. He started mumbling something or other about throwing caution to the wind, but that can't be right, because caution is the best policy. It's also golden.


english letters.

My parents are in Israel. Yes, my mother, age 63, and my father, age 70, are in Israel. Even better, my mother, the rural mail carrier, and my father, the retired teacher, are in Israel participating in an archaeological dig. Things like that are what keep me from worrying that I can't write fiction. I got a message this morning from my mother, the rural mail carrier, age 63, all the way from Israel.

Posted on 7.21.2005 9:13 AM
I wrote down the exact addresses of special sites I wanted to visit while in Israel. It is so good to read your blog sitting in a foreign country. This computer has English letters like a regular keyboard, but also Hebrew letters.
Love ya,

I could just picture Mama, sitting in the holy lands, having a cup of kosher coffee and logging onto my journal. I smiled, because the note was from the other side of the world and was still just so very Mama, even down to the all-caps signature. And then I wondered what other sites she wrote down to visit. The Drudge Report? Her stock portfolio? Her hometown weather (just to remind herself of home)?

I never know how to explain why my parents go on trips, even when I used to go with them. "Because we want to" never seems to be an acceptable reason to most people. People thought we were nuts when we went to Australia and New Zealand. Apparently, it's perfectly reasonable to go to Myrtle Beach because you want to, but not the Southern Hemisphere. Okay, so my folks had a good reason to go to China a couple years ago (baby-fetchin'), but even still, why would someone ask for a reason to travel somewhere new and exciting and foreign? When a person asks why we go to Kansas, I understand. Kansas is rumored to be flat and boring and only my loyalty to my family's history will keep me from agreeing. But Australia? Not flat! Or boring!

But anyway, my parents are in Israel. It was Daddy's idea. First he was going to go by himself, and then Mama signed up. Depending on which parent you ask, she either signed up because she couldn't stand be without him or because she didn't trust him to be by himself in a foreign land. I was invited, and maybe I should have gone. For some reason, spending hours digging in the desert sun didn't strike me as my ideal vacation. But now I think, man, Sandra, when are you ever going to get another chance to go dig in the desert sun?

My camera, however, did go to Israel. That's even how I described the situation last Friday after my camera left my clingy little hands. "Well, my camera has gone to Israel. Oh, and my parents went with it, too." I didn't even know my camera was Jewish. Mama wanted a camera, but she didn't decide on this desire until a week before their flight out of the country, and that is not enough time for a practical person to make a major purchase. So she asked to borrow mine. Knowing how I feel about lending things, she even said that she wouldn't be offended if I said no. But even so, there was this subtext of "I gave you life, and you can't lend me a stupid gadget for two weeks?"

So my camera went to Israel. Worst case scenario: even if she loses it and she has to buy me a new one, I will forever be able to say that I lost my first camera when my mother dropped it in the Dead Sea or flung it against the Wailing Wall. And then, I'll have to explain why my camera was in Israel, and subsequently why parents were in Israel.

Because they wanted to be.


curtis dessertis.

I think for a long time that I thought "Dessert" was Curt's last name. Curt Dessert is what I called him, because that's what the desserts he made rang up as on our computer system at Vintner's. I called him Curtis Dessertis if I was feeling scientific.

Curt started working at Vintner's a couple of months after I did. He was our in-house pastry chef. He was a bit overweight and losing his hair though only in his late twenties, but he had this great boyish grin. And he made the best desserts, and was generous in letting the staff sample them. The desserts had french names that I could never spell and could barely pronounce, but I could taste them, and they were wonderful. Curt made me fall in love with creme brulee, and his cheesecake is still the best I have ever tasted. All the servers looked forward to brownie-cutting day with a passion, because there were always end pieces waiting to be gobbled up, and if there is anything servers ever did well at Vintner's, it was eat.

But Curt also had to make these creme horns. The pastry chef before him made them, and possibly the pastry chef before her. Who knows where those stupid creme horns came from, but Curt hated making them and they sold better than anything else he ever made. They were cheap, and people would walk in the door and order a dozen of them to go. I never understood it. Why would they want those creme horns, when the filling was far too rich, when they could have a big creamy slice of delicate cheesecake?

Curt had a crush on every girl that ever worked at Vintner's. No, I'm exaggerrating. Curt had a crush on every girl that ever worked at Vintner's while he was there. He was the kind of guy that would hit on you as a joke, secretly trying to test the waters. To say that he liked all the girls is misleading of his character. He was not a pervert. I like to think that Curt was just really good at finding the beauty in any girl, and he loved us all for our different beauties, however hidden or obvious they were. He liked girls for qualities they didn't know they had, and for the ones they were most proud of but thought that no one ever noticed.

I was decorating a plate with a colored syrups once to put a piece of cake on it. I never really got the knack for plate presentation, and Curt used to make fun of my vain attempts at syrup art. I got particularly frustrated that day, finally just taking all the colors and wildly squirting them around. I sighed, defeated, and said, "It looks like Jackson Pollock decorated this plate." Curt looked at the plate, looked at me, and said, "That's why I love you. No one but you would ever say something like that." Curt knew I had a boyfriend that I was pretty attached to, so he knew we were just friends.

Curt and I were two of longest-working employees I ever knew to work at Vintner's. People rarely last over six months, much less over a year. So we knew each other fairly well, and would tease and pick at each other a lot. And whenever I ran out of comebacks, I told him that we were out of creme horns. He would usually just flip me the bird at that point, which I took to mean that I had won.

In the last few months that Vintner's was open, I saw Curt less and less. When I did see him, he was in a foul mood. As great of a guy that Curt is, I knew to steer clear of his bad moods. Curt hated working there. He hated the way the place was managed, he hated the hours, he hated having to make creme horns all the time when his talent would allow so much more. He was rotting there.

So he left about a month before the restaurant closed anyway. For the last few weeks, we had another pastry chef named Sara Lee. She was good, but nowhere as good as Curt Dessert. Her pre-cut portions were smaller, her cheesecake wasn't nearly as creamy, and she didn't smile at you with that great boyish grin and tell you that you were gorgeous. But we never changed the computer menu, and we still rang them up as "Curt Dessert," which felt like lying all the time. But people never noticed that we never had tiramisu in a glass or triple layer chocolate mousse cake anymore. Fickle things, they just noticed that we never had creme horns.


west side.

"Hello, welcome to Backyard Burgers, may I take your order?"

"Yes, I'd like a Hawaiian Chicken combo, with-"

"Okay! One Hawaiian chicken combo! Yes, ma'am!"

"Um. Yeah. With seasoned fries and a Dr. Pepper with just a little bit of ice, please." He's enthusiastic.

"That's a Hawaiian chicken combo with seasoned fries and Dr. Pepper, light ice?"

"Yes, please." He's going to forget the light ice.

"Right away! Your ta-zotal is $5.59 at the first window!"

"Um. Thank you." Did he just say ta-zotal?

(Drive Around)

"That's $5.59, please! Ma'am, are you laughing at me?"

"Yes." Busted.


"You are, uh, very enthusiastic about your job." Also, I'm pretty sure you said ta-zotal.

"Why, thank you. Hey, I like those earrings."

"Oh, thank you." Is he hitting on me? Hard to tell, these are some awesome earrings. Mudflap girls.

"I saw that girl once on a motorcycle. It was pretty cool."

"Oh, yeah?" He saw her once? Dude, it's the mudflap girl. He's hitting on me.

"So...do you go to West?"

... West? West what? I used to go to West Caldwell High School, but how would he know about that? That's an hour and a half away from here. Wait, does he mean West Forsyth High School?

"Um, no." West Forsyth High? High school? Is he kidding me?


... He thinks I'm dissing him now because I didn't tell him what high school I do go to.


... High school? Dude, I'm 22.


... Poor guy. He thinks he's been shot down.

"Here's your food, ma'am. Have a nice day."

"Thank you." I still got a way with the overweight high school drive-thru employees. Poor guy. I should say something, so he won't feel bad. I should explain that I didn't mean...that jerk, he forgot the light ice.


near and far.

Thing 1: Sexy Code!
In addition to my build master duties, I am actually doing something at work that I went to college to do. Yes, they let me write code now. And let me tell you, I've written some sexy code lately. I told Josh that I'd written sexy code, and he asked, "What does that even mean? Efficient?" Yes, that is what I meant, but then we started discussing possibilities of actual sexy code, like erotic novels for computers. I'm resisting the urge to reproduce some of the examples I came up with. The people who don't understand code wouldn't get them, and the people who did understand code would be appalled. Trust me, it was funny.

Thing 2: Up! Up! And away!
I bought a mass-produced shirt at a retail store. Tsk, I know. I rarely buy shirts like that, both for cost reasons and the fact that I don't want to be wearing the same thing as everyone else. This is particularly true for t-shirts with slogans on them. Usually by the time a slogan makes it to a t-shirt being sold at the mall, it's no longer clever, if it ever was. So a shirt has to be really good, and really on sale. I found a shirt at an outlet store featuring Super Grover. I can resist Elmo and Oscar and even the Cookie Monster. I might, if I were feeling particularly strong, could resist plain old Grover (unless he was featured doing that Near/Far thing, then it would be all over). But I can't resist Super Grover. I cannot resist an obscure character like that. Everyone knows Elmo or Oscar. But the people that can see my proud new shirt and go "Hey! Super Grover!", those people are my kindred spirits.

As a side note, I did a little searching to see if I could find a picture of my shirt online. No dice. I did, however, find a Guy Smiley shirt, and now I am just wrought with t-shirt desire.

Thing 3: Casey and I broke up.
And that's all I have to say about that.