just beachy this time.

I understand, perhaps only on an intellectual level, that some people have crappy families. I know several people who have seriously awful relatives. I mean, everyone's got a bank robber uncle somewhere along the line, but I'm talking about those who have actual people in their house living with them, sharing their blood, and being blights upon the human existence. Yes, fine, I understand that. That idea computes.

I do not understand family disloyalty. This fact indicates that while I comprehend that the rotten relative situation exists, I've not really experienced it to the point of saying to a person outside my family that my sister/brother/mother/father is a jerk/loser/waste of oxygen/overall bad person. And when people say those sorts of things about family members, I'm always sort of shocked and embarrassed, like I've stumbled onto some family secret that I should not be privy to. Then, rather than think bad things about the offending family member, I think terrible things about the person dissing the family member.

I met this kid at church, and by kid, I mean three years younger than I am (but I consider the years between 19 and 22 to be quite formative). He hated his family. He would say something negative about his parents, his brother, his third cousin eight times removed to anyone who would listen. And I kind of passed the guy off as someone who was just immature, who didn't have any kind of perspective of the points of view of others. And that is unfair. It was quite possible that his kin are just lousy human beings. I know that there are crummy people out there, so why don't I realize that they have relatives who might agree with that assessment?

I lucked out in that my family members are pretty good people. They are nice and considerate, and sometimes they really piss me off, but that's it. The most insulting thing you could get out of that would be that sometimes we clash, which is only natural when you combine people who are irritated by the character flaws they share.

Slander against my family isn't even allowed when I'm complaining about them. Even if I've been ranting and crying for hours about how my brother drives me absolutely nuts and how he is quite possibly evil incarnate, the proper response is to be sympathetic without judging. You say stuff like "That was unfair of him" or "You have every right to be upset with him." The minute you agree with me and go, "Yeah, what a contemptible person," then I start complaining to my contemptible brother about you.

I know a couple guys who are good friends. One guy has a sister who apparently sucks at the art of being someone that anyone would ever want to associate with. Anytime this guy ever brings up his sister, no matter what he says about her, be it that she's moving or she got a new car or that she's been volunteering at the orphanage, after the inital conversation is over, the friend goes, "Man, she's a bitch." And the guy goes, "Yeah." I've heard variations of this conversation several times, and I'm floored every time. I've never met this chick, and all signs seem to say that she is, in fact, a bitch. I might think my sister is a bitch, and I might even say it to someone that I really, really trusted. More likely, I would say, "My sister was kinda bitchy today," or something else noncommittal and temporary-sounding. And I would be very upset if a friend called my sister anything negative. Even if I said "My sister was kinda bitchy today" every single day of my life, she is my bitchy sister, so please keep your opinions to yourself.

Of course, that is the issue. I have every right to judge my family. They are mine. An outsider has not had the full experience of my family. An outsider is coming to the table without enough information to pass judgment. An outsider does not remember that time that my contemptible brother and my bitchy sister built that fort in the woods with me.

I realize that I'm being unfair and showing a severe lack of perspective. I've just rubbed it in everyone's face that my family is great and then scolded anyone for not having a similar situation. But that was the point, really, just for me to say, "I'm sorry, but I don't get it." So call me a bitch if you must. Just don't say it around my family.

Note: The author would like to stress that she neither has a bitchy sister nor a contemptible brother. For any sisters or brothers reading and still not believing, just assume it's one of the other ones.


sandy and beachy.

Ah, the many facets of Sandra! Well, three of them, anyway.

Thing 1: Stupid.
I was eating dinner at Josh's dad's place the other week. It was an every-man-for-himself, make your own taco salad situation. There were all the basic necessities of taco salad: ground beef, nachos, lettuce, refried beans, cheese, tomatoes, thousand island dressing. Wait, what? The thousand island was apparently a selection of Josh's dad, and the rest of us looked askance at the way he liberally poured it on what had been a perfectly good taco salad until then. He said, "There was a taco stand in Eden that made taco salads with thousand island dressing." I laughed, because I thought that was a great way to defend food quirks. Me, I like cottage cheese on my pancakes with syrup, so I can just scoff at naysayers with "There's an Waffle House in Eden that serves cottage cheese on their pancakes." Also, the image of Adam and Eve in the garden, surrounded by all God's creatures, beautiful fruit trees, and a lone taco stand is amusing. Then Josh told me that his dad had grown up in the small town of Eden, North Carolina. And then I just felt stupid.

Thing 2: Pretty.
A small family with three sons lives in the apartment next to mine. The boys range in age from about eight to thirteen and are often hanging out in the parking lot outside the apartment building. The littlest one talks to me sometimes. I drove up from a trip to the grocery store last week and they were all standing in the parking space next to mine. As I got out, the little one said quickly and loudly, like he was just going to burst open with the information, "My big brother is thirteen, and he likes you!" To which the big brother replied, "Do not!" So the little one clarified, "Well, he thinks you're pretty." The big brother's response to that was "Nuh-uh! That's a bunch of bullcrap!" I really don't think I'd heard the word "bullcrap" since I was thirteen. It's nice to see that neither eight-year-old nor thirteen-year-old boys have changed much since I was that age.

The trouble was that I couldn't think of anything to say. I wanted something that would handle the situation calmly, making me come off as cool and saving the thirteen-year-old from embarrassment. But I couldn't come up with anything, so I just smiled, tried not to laugh, and brought my groceries into my apartment. My impulse was to giggle and blush, thinking, "Someone thinks I'm pretty." Looks like I haven't changed much since I was that age, either.

Thing 3: Bitchy.
Dave, at my office, likes wordplay. He is ridiculous with his puns, and though some are better than others, I have to admire how quick he is with them. I seem to have more appreciation for that sort of humor than most at my office, so apparently, I'm a dork, too. He also likes to make up poems and songs and things. I sent him a website once where some group was compiling an online dictionary where all the definitions were limericks. I'm pretty sure Dave's productivity went way down that day.

Dave was grumpy with work-related stress today, and so I encouraged him to make up mean limericks about the people who were pissing him off. Unfortunately, those people have names that don't rhyme with much (We happen to work with a very irritating guy named Nebuchadnezzar). Even though I am nothing but charming, he apparently decided to attack me with his rhyming rapier. He sent the result to me (note that the rural Southern pronunciation of "Nietzsche" would rhyme with "peachy"):

For David, life was not peachy.
He felt as morose as a Nietzsche.
He had, at the sea,
this epiphany:
What's Sandy, quite often, is beachy.

The lesson here is that you can get away with calling me a bitch if you are clever about it.


the full spectrum of music.

Note that I wrote this a couple of months ago when it happened, and am only now getting around to posting it. I hope that I am not a writer whose relevance is lost as time passes.

Saturday night was a night of music for me, and the full spectrum of music at that. I saw not one, not two, but three live performances.

Piedmont Chamber Singers
If not for my student ID, I would not have been in attendance for the 7:30 concert at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church. Rob is a member of the Piedmont Chamber Singers, but the bounds of our friendship does not cover paying for a $15 ticket to hear him sing. Luckily, student tickets were $6, and without getting into the moral discussion of whether I should be using my student ID to get discounts anymore, I would like to say that if I hadn't gone as a student, I wouldn't have gone at all.

Going was kind of an impromptu decision, so I was late, mostly because I couldn't figure out what to wear. I ended up looking severe and not at all feminine in some black pants and a gray sweater. I slid into a pew just as the Piedmont Chamber Singers or at least some other group of smiling people in black formal wear filed out.

Yes, yes, the music was lovely, the arrangements were splendid, and the direction was superb. Which is to say that my mind started to wander well before intermission. The theme was folk songs, and I started thinking about the ridiculousness of the group singing folk songs. These were white-collar, upper middle class Southerners singing about hunting caribou in Inuit. I felt that the moment someone decided to make an arrangement of a folk song, it ceased to be a song of the folk. The folk do not sing while wearing tuxedos, the folk do not sing from sheet music, and the folk do not drive to the event in their SUVs.

One other item of interest: An arranger of some of the songs was present that night, and it was his wife's birthday. The director made us all sing "Happy Birthday" to dear Olive. Aside from the people up front, there were professional, or at least well-trained, singers all in the audience. I'd just like to say that you've never heard "Happy Birthday" until you've heard it in four-part harmony with several lingering sopranos at the end of each line. I myself sang quietly, as I am neither professional nor well-trained, nor even any good at all.

The Finks
Part of my difficulty in choosing what to wear that night was the fact that I would be appearing at two very different venues. Before I went into The Werehouse, I took off my gray sweater for the second part of the evening. Don't worry - I had something on underneath the sweater; it wasn't that kind of evening. I had a vintage t-shirt on underneath, also gray, but I think it used to be black. I'd call that ready to see a rock show.

I didn't know I was going to see The Finks until I arrived at The Werehouse. I'd never heard of them, because they are a local band, and I am only recently local to the same area. I was lured into conversation with a banker sitting next to me who was here to see them. He was a fan. He told me about The Finks, and then we talked about chaos theory. It was a weird night.

They weren't bad. I toe-tapped to the music, but I didn't find it striking. The Finks are a regular local rock band, though I will admit that they are leagues ahead of most local bands. Plus, they put on an interesting show to watch. The guy in charge of the witty banter in between songs was not as witty as I would have liked, though he had his moments. Later, the banker who was a fan came back to me to ask what I thought. I might have exaggerrated my opinion a tad. He said, "Yeah, they're great! They're like the Pixies without the melody!" I decided that I agreed with him, and at that moment, I realized that one of the things I liked most about The Pixies was...the melody.

Captured! By Robots
I would just like to note that the exclamation point is part of the name of the band. The exclamation-point-in-the-middle is the new version of the umlaut-over-any-vowel-ever so prevalent in 80s metal bands.

The banker was at the Werehouse for The Finks, but as I told him, "I'm here for the robots." I'd never heard any of C!BR's songs. All I know that it was a guy who, discovering his talents for computers and therefore his lack of friends, decided to make his own band by programming some robots. The result ended up being like some cross between those giant mice at Chuck e' Cheese and Johnny Five's foul-mouthed cousin. There was a trio of politicians making up the horn section in the back and a pair of stuffed gorillas playing cymbals, though I think those were all more for show, as their command of their individual instruments seemed limited. The gorillas did talk, though. The drum-bot and the guitar-bot were pretty cool, though. They had personalities and they played instruments; if they'd been skinny and pale, I would've hit on them. Part of their speech seemed recorded, particularly during the songs, but at other times, the actual living person in the band was speaking through some microphone/speech modifier.

Casey told me once that Captured! By Robots is something everyone should see at least once, but that one viewing was probably sufficient. As entertainment, it was worth the fiver I spent, but as music...well, let's just say I didn't buy a CD. Although maybe I should have, again for pure entertainment value. C!BR's latest CD features songs about the movie The Ten Commandments, and anytime you have a song where you have Moses rapping that he is a gangsta' Old Testament style, then you have something special on your hands.

I don't know why the rest of the audience was there. Maybe for The Finks. In any case, about midway through the show, the one non-AI member of of the band just left for a song. And the robots played a whole song unattended. Me, I thought it was pretty cool, but about half of the audience members took it as a good opportunity to make an escape. Perhaps they thought the show was over, but more likely they figured it wouldn't hurt the robots' feelings if they snuck out then. I think a lot of people were there out of curiosity. I talked to a couple before the show who admitted as much, and even I could tell from my prior knowledge of C!BR and by looking at these people in their Gap gear that they were not going to stay the whole show. There's nothing wrong with that - foul-mouthed animatronic musicians are not for everyone. The same could be said for chamber singing and garage bands.


nothing tragic.

One of my coworkers was making small talk back when I first started at the company. He asked when my birthday was, and I told him that it was in late October. He then asked if I had been forced to wait an extra year to go to school because I didn't turn five until the end of the month. I thought it was a really odd question. Most people make some sort of Halloween comment when I tell them my birthday. Turns out his kid was going to turn five this year, right after the cut-off for starting kindergarten. He was worried that being made to start school would adversely affect his child.

Not to worry, I said. I'm sure it affected me, but nothing tragic.

The funny thing is, I knew exactly what he was talking about as soon as he said it. I did have to wait an extra year, and I remember it being an issue. I don't think it was so much a problem for me - I didn't care. But I remember my mother explaining to me that to start kindergarten in the fall of 1987, you had to turn five by October 15 of that year. I would not turn five until October 30. Two weeks. Maybe my mother was put out by the inconvenience of having to keep me around the house for another year. It did seem stupid to miss it by only fifteen days, but the school system has to set a firm date somewhere, and I suppose that's where it landed.

So I started school in the fall of 1988, almost six years old. Ever since my coworker asked me how the extra year has affected me, I've been thinking of all the ways. The answer I should have told him is no, I've never been able to tell any adverse effects, but yes, it will affect your child's life in ways that you will never know. Of course, there's no way to know every difference - perhaps I would've been killed in a class field trip or won some sort of lottery only available to children born before October 15, 1982. It's a massive game of "What if?" where you don't think about that promotion you didn't get or that girl you rear-ended, but you start at the very beginning with something as basic as your birthdate.

This isn't the first time this idea has occurred to me. I used to be very glad that I waited a year to start school, because I didn't like a lot of the people in the class ahead of me. Also, it was always really cool to be older than everyone else. I hit all the major rite of passage ages before all my friends: 13, 16, 18, 21. Then I hit 22, and I realized that 21 was probably the last age when it was cooler to be older. When I hit 30, I'm going to look around at all my 29 year old friends and wish I'd been born a couple of weeks earlier so that I'd be hanging out with older people. Or maybe I should just start hanging out with some older people before then.

But now I realize there was a lot more to it than being able to tell a friend that being seven was so passe when she finally reached it months after I did. In high school, I might not have gotten the same scholarship opportunities that I got, because the graduating class ahead of mine had two very ambitious students that worked the system better than I would have thought possible, and I worked it pretty darn well. I might not have gone to Appalachian. That's a toss-up, depending on whether I would've been serious enough about my relationship with Casey to follow him to school, given that he and I even got together in the first place. Even if I had gone to ASU, I probably would not have ended up with a job in Winston. I know the guy they hired at the end of what would have been my graduating year, and I'm thinking he would've beaten me out for the job.

But the difference I think about most are the people. The people surrounding you make such a huge difference just by being a part of your life. They influence your decisions, both the daily ones of what movie you watch that night and the major ones, like where you go to college. Plus, I know some really amazing people, and I have to think that they are way better than anyone I would have met in the life of the Sandra that was born before the fifteenth of October. I look down my buddy list, and I can check all but a few as being people that I only know because I was born two weeks "too late."

Granted, I realize that I would simply have a different group of friends that I would probably like very much, but that's not the point. These are my friends, and I want to keep them. My grade school and high school set would be completely different. I would not have my college roommates, all my ex-coworkers, my friends from all those high school summer programs. And yes, I would still have college roommates and ex-coworkers and old high school buddies, but they would be a completely different set of people. And true, I'd never know the difference, but I look at those friends of mine, and I am nothing but relieved that I decided to hang out in the uterus for a couple more weeks.

Those are only the differences that are obvious. Things like where you went to college and where you get your first job, those are the major crossroads where it's clear to you that one path is very different from another. Differences like the fact that I wouldn't have gotten the chicken pox from that kid in my kindergarten class - who can tell how much or little effect that may have had on me? Everything affects everything, and it is only by a very long series of events and choices and chances that I have ended up as this person sitting where I sit. Ending up this girl right here was very unlikely, though just as likely as any of the billion other girls I could've turned out to be. So that alternate Sandra, that one who is two weeks older than I am, she may have my eyes and my mother's thighs, but she is somewhere completely different, and she is someone else.

All of this struck me hard while I was standing in Josh's kitchen, which I was only doing because I had been born two weeks too late. Otherwise I wouldn't be in Winston, I wouldn't know Josh. I wouldn't be standing in his kitchen, eating pancakes and bacon, unwinding from a long day of packaging installs, wearing that green shirt with those jeans, sporting those Buddy Holly glasses, and thinking about the importance of fifteen days, because I would be someone else. I asked him, "Did you know that if I had been born a couple of weeks earlier, we never would have met?" He flipped a pancake, shook his head and smiled at me as he answered, "That would have been tragic."


bad taste.

There's a vineyard a mere five miles from my apartment, one I've driven by but not officially visited. It's getting to be grape harvest time, and the vines are all laden with fruity burdens. Vineyards can be very pretty indeed, and rows upon rows of healthy green plants appeal to both my outdoorsy and my mathematical sides (look at all the straight lines - how pleasing!). So I thought I'd go down to the vineyard with my trusty camera and capture some memories of the 2005 growing season.

I'd been meaning to do this for a couple of weeks, but finally got around to it Sunday afternoon. So I made the short drive, parked my car in the visitor lot and then trotted the dozen or so yards to the vineyards. I didn't even have to hop a fence. I was meandering up and down the rows, taking pictures wherever I managed to find a break in the netting used to keep out the birds. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and this particular vineyard has a kind of rustic southern charm about it. I was tempted to eat a couple of the grapes, but I resisted, since I figured the owners of the vineyard might not like that so much. I even made a point to not even touch the vines or look as if I were doing so, so as not to even look like I might be eating the fruit. I'd been perusing the vines for maybe ten minutes when a voice called out behind me.

"Can I help you?"

That question can be such a loaded one. If I'd gone up to a vineyard employee or if I'd been obviously looking confused, then asking me if I needed assistance would have been very helpful and proper. But when I'm clearly not seeking help of any kind, asking me if I need it is only telling me that you think that I do need it. I'm always confused as to how to answer it in these situations. The answer is no, but people don't seem to care for that response. But seeing as I haven't yet found a better one, I still go for that one.

"No. Thank you." I try to tack on the thanks so as not to appear rude. I also explained to the man that I was just walking around and taking pictures, even going so far as to compliment the beauty of the vines for good measure, because I was getting the impression that I was in trouble. The man went into an extended lecture about pesticides and liability. He told me that if someone wishes to explore the vineyards, the person should first come to the sales room and ask permission, so that they can receive the pesticide and liability lecture in advance. That all made good sense, and honestly I felt a little foolish for not thinking of that myself, so I apologized very nicely and promised both not to eat the grapes and to ask permission next time. He seemed to want to say something more, but instead just unsmilingly accepted my apologies and walked back towards the sales room. I got the impression that he had more lecture planned, as if he expected me to resist or argue.

I continued my wandering tour, but found the temperature to be a little much after a few minutes. So I found a shady spot under a tree at the edge of the vineyard, sat down, and pulled out a notebook to write awhile. I was a little grumpy from my encounter with the old man, not because I didn't understand why I had been lectured, but because of his seeming lack of acceptance of my apology. I had said I was sorry and I had been very nice about it, so if there was nothing more, why hadn't he just smiled and let it go? I idly considered some amusing forms of payback, some of them more clever (buying a bunch of table grapes, hiding the bag, and eating them in full view) than others (taking a picture of my extended middle finger).

After another quarter hour, a shiny silver Mercedes drove up and stopped right on the other side of the fence from my shady spot. A woman with platinum hair got out, and there was that question again:

"Can I help you?"

I was really confused now, because the tone was very angry. What kind of place is it that customer service representatives agressively seek out people to help and then yell at them?

"No." I was so confused that I forgot to thank her for her very unfriendly offer.

"Excuse me?" This woman apparently really wanted to help me.

"No, uh, thank you?" Now I was just asking what the right answer was. Apparently, mine wasn't it, as she began a long tirade, very similar to the one I'd just heard, but in a much angrier voice. I was still very confused, but my righteous indigation did not kick in and I did not interrupt until she got to the phrase "refused to leave." I informed her that I had not been asked to leave, so I could have hardly refused it. The statement seemed to take the wind out of her sails, an unforeseen ad-lib in her thoroughly prepared script, like when you prove to a telemarketer that you're already getting a better rate.

Regardless of whether I'd been asked to leave before, I was clearly being asked to leave now. Not content to let me walk through the vineyard back to my car, the woman told me that she would drive me back. Also, she wanted to talk about pesticides and liability some more. When we crossed into the parking lot, she suddenly seemed to realize that I was a member of the grand class of consumers and decided to make nice. She said, "You're still more than welcome to come into our sales room and try some wines. I just don't want you to just leave with a bad taste in your mouth." I thanked her, resisting the urge to say, "Well, I hardly think tasting your wine is going to help that."

I perused the sales and tasting room for a few minutes. I considered buying something to show that I held no hard feelings, but that would have been dishonest, since I was holding some hard feelings. I didn't even partake in a free tasting. The old man who had originally lectured me was giving a tasting, and he asked me if I'd gotten all the pictures I'd wanted. After the required five minutes of browsing, I headed for the door, pausing once more to apologize for the misunderstanding to the Mercedes lady. She was all smiles now, but it was clear that she just wanted to get me out of there, particularly since I was obviously not buying.

Sales room or no, I left with a rotten taste in my mouth, and judging from the salt content, it wasn't just because of my sweat. I was grumpy and pouty. I have a fear of consequences anyway, and when they are doled to me unfairly, I get unpleasant. I tried to make light of it to myself: I'd just gotten kicked out of a vineyard, and I'm not the kind of girl who gets kicked out of anywhere. I realized that in few years time, I'd find the whole story pretty amusing.

But not yet.


over my left shoulder.

Thing 1: "I've got a bad feeling about this."
Last night, I went to see Revenge of the Sith at the two buck theatre with Josh. So now I've completed my Star Wars education, having seen all six movies (it should be noted that I'd had a couple of drinks while watching The Phantom Menace, so I really couldn't tell you what happened, but whatever). I have seen so many hands get cut off by light sabers, it is ridiculous. I dunno, the movie was okay. Everyone's lost faith in this new trilogy that's come out. And while they were fine, they weren't of the caliber of the originals. But let's face it, it would be very difficult to achieve that kind of greatness. The special effects, by the way, were amazing. But maybe next time, spend a little more time on the script, okay? Oh, and someone please tell Samuel L. Jackson that Jedi Knights do not strut.

Thing 2: A crick is more than just a little river.
Apologies for the heading - my roots are showing. Somewhere along the timeline of Wednesday, I developed a crick in my neck on the left side. I can only hope that somewhere along the timeline of some future day, I will develop an absence of a crick in my neck. I've never had a crick that a night's sleep didn't cure, so I'm finding this one unpleasant in its staying power. It's not so bad, but the worst is when I'm driving and I would like to change lanes, so I check my blind spot. Or rather, I turn my head to check my blind spot, feel a sharp pain, make a pathetic little whine, and then pout and change lanes at the same time. Also, it was very difficult to lean over and make snarky comments to Josh during the movie last night because he was sitting on the injured side. However, being a devoted snarky comment professional, I did not let a minor injury keep me out of the game. I'm sure the other movie patrons were relieved.

I looked up home remedies. One was some sort of stretching thing that I must not be doing correctly. It doesn't help and I just look stupid. Another was to apply heat. So I tore my apartment up last night looking for this Christmas gift I'd gotten a couple of years ago and not used. It's not that I did not appreciate the gift, I just hadn't had cause to use it yet. It was a homemade heating pad, a pink fabric bag with three segments full of rice. Throw it in the microwave, heat for a couple of minutes, and BAM! Hot rice in a bag. Now that I have finally used it, I can say that it works marvelously, and that my crick situation is improving. My one complaint is that it makes me smell as if I've been necking with Uncle Ben.

Thing 3: What do athiests say when they're glad the week is over?
I don't know when I became one of those "Thank God It's Friday" kind of people, but I am now. It probably happened about the time that I stopped having to wait tables, and weekends actually became time off for me. In any case, Amen. It's been a long week spent reading transmission protocol specifications, which is just as exciting as it sounds. If only J.K. Rowling wrote those, my job would be much easier. Even having had a better than usual beer-thirty afternoon yesterday, I'm glad to embrace the weekend and not look back at this week. Particularly not over my left shoulder.



At The Bistro, I learned the hard way that if you don't go to the first social function to which you are invited by your coworkers, you will not be invited again (with the exception of company-wide shindigs, in which case everybody, even that weird kid who only works on Thursdays and always wears that same shirt, is invited). At Vintner's, I learned the hard way that if you don't work night shifts, you will not be included in any post-night-shift shennanigans. At Winn-Dixie, I learned the hard way that if you don't go to the same high school as everybody else, no one will talk to you, and the baggers will ignore you even when you are neck deep in baby food jars.

I'm beginning to doubt my own social skills.

The social scheme here in the real world is very different. For one thing, these people are bona-fide adults. While adults can still be petty and immature (and frequently are), they have the sense to do it privately. So basically all invitations are extended to everyone on the same employment level (meaning we don't invite the higher-ups or the intern). For another thing, I'm the only female employee under the age of thirty. Youth is very valuable, and they like a girl who can talk back to the men. So yeah, I get invited.

Post-work gatherings are different here in a lot of other ways. For one thing, they're not held every night in attempts to drink away every cent made during the day. They're generally more once a month or biweekly events. Remember, these fellas have to call and get permission to have beer with the boys (and the girl) from the little woman. Also, the events last maybe an hour or an hour and a half. None of this out til dawn mess. They're more of an out til dusk crowd, and sometimes not even that late during daylight savings time.

So we all head out in a giddy we-are-leaving-the-office convoy and head out to the pre-approved watering hole. Sometimes First Street Draught House, sometimes Lucky 32, sometimes Fox and the Hound. Never the kind of sketch dive bars college-age waiters would frequent. We go to clean places and we take our white collars with us. We talk about the coworkers who aren't there, what our weekend plans are, whatever home improvement topics we're working on, and what we'd be doing if we weren't being computer programmers. If the waitress is a pretty lady, we talk about that, too. If the waiter is an attractive man, well, we never talk about that, but I think about it privately while the guys talk about home improvement.

Sometimes we plan these things a week in advance. Sometimes it's decided that afternoon, as the day drags on and we find ourselves buried under documents and processes and code. You alert the right people, and the information spreads like SARS across the office: beer-thirty this afternoon. Beer-thirty is the understood password that means we're going out for a beer after work. Beer-thirty is the time, because the joke is that it's always beer-thirty. And it's always beer; these guys don't have cocktail or wine habits.

Sometimes it's a lot of fun, and sometimes things are a bit dull. It varies depending on how much the boys want to talk about woodworking or landscaping or football or other things I'm not even vaguely interested in. But hey, free beer, because one or two guys usually pick up the tab for everyone, and I'm a girl, so I never have to. There are some sexist double standards that I'm willing to hold onto. In any case, I go when I can because I've finally figured out that your work social life is important, whether you want someone to help you bag baby food or figure out some algorithm. You could probably suck pretty hard at your job, but if everybody liked you, you might get by. Of course, I'd rather be competent and well-liked, but we can't have everything, now can we?