t-shirt theology.

"I like your shirt. Are you a med student?" The man was probably in his mid-thirties, a bit overweight, a good ole boy in a baseball cap behind me at Food Lion. I frequently get comments from strangers on my t-shirts. This one featured the human skeleton on a black background, each of the bones labeled with their scientific name.

"No, I just like the shirt." A lot of people have a hard time with the fact that I wear shirts because I like them, not because I have any particular association with the stuff pictured. For instance, I do not own a Harley Davidson motorcycle, nor do I particularly like them, but I do own a Harley Davidson shirt because I like the Harley Davidson shirt. However, in the case of the bone shirt, I do own my very own skeleton, so I suppose I'm as qualified as any.

"Oh. I was in a car wreck not too long ago, so I've really been reading up on the human body."

"Oh, uh, well, I'm sorry about your accident. The human body is neat, though." I'm such a conversational idiot sometimes.

"Jesus is going to heal me." Bam! Conversation killer!

"Um. That's good." I love the South, but it seems like you can't do anything without encountering a would-be missionary. I admire their devotion, but I rarely agree with their views or the way they handle them. And sometimes, man, you just wanna go to the store. It was at this point that I started wishing that the cashier would hurry up and ring me out. I just wanted a soda, I didn't want to be witnessed to, and certainly not by someone who appeared to have a very different view of God than I do. Honestly? Part of me wanted to stay and argue with him, but this was some poor old guy who had some health problems. He did not need some smart-aleck non-med student with a super-cool shirt picking at his faith.

But his kind of faith bothers me. It's not faith at all, it's bargaining. It's saying to God, "Hey, I'll believe in you, but you gotta do what I want." I wanted to ask him, "What if He doesn't heal you? Will you turn away?" Maybe his logic is that God loves him and so will do the best thing for him. But I kinda see it as God will do the best thing for everybody as a collective whole, and the best thing for everybody requires that some people not get healed sometimes, that bad things happen to nice men who pay compliments to strangers in grocery stores. God has a plan for you, but it is impossible to separate it out from His plan for everybody and everything. It is all interconnected.

And who knows whether healing really would be the best thing for this guy? Maybe his relationships with his friends and family will improve and his life will take on new meaning just because he is not healed. We are all like little kids. We want the candy bar, we know it will taste good, and we think that if our mother loves us, she will want to do the best thing for us and give us the candy bar. But Mother has additional knowledge that tells her that the candy bar is really not the best thing for us. Simply put, God has additional knowledge - like all of it. So, Mr. Man at the Food Lion, if you trust this God to heal you, do you trust Him enough to know whether or not He should?

I saw a fortune cookie a while back that said, "The only thing we know about future developments is that they will develop." All discussion aside as to whether that is in fact the absolute worst fortune cookie message ever or not, the Food Lion guy reminded me of it. We do not know the details about God's plan. It is not on display at City Hall nor in a monastery somewhere being updated constantly by a monk with very tiny handwriting. I doubt we can ever truly know God's plan, even after it happens, because we can never have all the additional knowledge. The only thing we know about the divine plan is that it's going to happen. So we have no choice in what happens, regardless of whether we even accept that or not, but we can experience it and examine it and enjoy it with the belief that there is a point, that Someone who knows what's going on is pulling the strings. That is faith.

And all this from a stupid t-shirt.


new neighbors.

I have new neighbors. Apartment 3 has been vacant for months, ever since that nice family with the three little boys and the cop dad left. I've seen the manager show the place a couple of times, but either the people pick a different apartment, or they pick a different apartment complex, which I suppose means they really pick a different apartment. I do not blame any of these people. I was shown that apartment when I first came here - it has the most hideous wallpaper with pink flowers in the downstairs bathroom. I'd go somewhere else, too. In fact, I did.

But finally, the apartment manager was able to find someone with an affinity for hideous pink flowered wallpaper, or at least someone with no more attractive options, and so apartment 3 is vacant no more. I liked having no neighbors. I didn't have to worry about my music being too loud or someone else's music being too loud. I didn't have to deal with someone not understanding that slamming the front door means slamming my front wall. I didn't have to worry about someone taking my parking space. While having an apartment with hideous pink flowered wallpaper is no good, living next to one is quite desireable.

But I drove into my parking lot this evening and noticed that someone was in my space. Then I noticed that someone was standing next to a lot of furniture in apartment 3. I had new neighbors. I assume they moved in this weekend while I was out of town. Hrmph, oh well, now I would have to deal with people. But as I got out of my car and unlocked my front door, I noticed something else about my new neighbors.

They had stolen my doormat.

I...uh, wait, they stole...my door-wait, what? I am so confused. I did not have a nice doormat. It was ugly and mildewy and green. It is still all those things, but now it is those things about three feet to the left of where it should be. In fact, as I went into my apartment with dirty feet this evening, there was even still a wet spot where my doormat had been, right in front of my door.

I am trying to give these new people the benefit of the doubt. I am trying to assume that they figured that my apartment, apartment 4, was uninhabited. They, seeing that they had no doormat and this supposedly empty one did, took the doormat. Sounds perfectly reasonable. So I shouldn't, say, worry about my car suddenly moving over to the next space.

But now I don't know how to handle the situation. I am secretly hoping that they, seeing their error, will put my doormat back. Maybe they will leave me a nice, apologetic note. But if not, I feel like I should say something. I don't care two cents about the doormat - it actually came with the apartment. But it came with apartment 4, not apartment 3. They got ugly wallpaper instead. And I don't want to encourage this sort of thieving behavior, in case they get the idea that stealing is okay in Lewisville. So do I casually wave in passing, then as an afterthought say, "Oh hey, did you steal my doormat?" I'm all worried about what they might say in return, like they might actually try to deny it whilst picking the lock on my car as I stand in front of them.

It's just a very weird situation. I guess I could knock on their door and welcome to the neighborhood, maybe sympathize with them about their wallpaper, and then ask about the doormat. I mean, it is their own fault if I come knocking at their door. After all, their, I mean, my doormat does say "WELCOME."


pre-menstrual syndrome.

Days like these it's all I can do to stay afloat. Go to work, don't take unnecessary vacation days, don't curl up into a ball under my desk, don't buy a tub of Edy's ice cream that isn't even on sale and eat the whole thing. Keep on keepin' on, you know? I suppose there are vicious people out there who could play mind games on me, talk to me in such a way that I would begin to doubt myself, doubt those I care about, doubt anything that mattered, but no one could ever do it as well as I do it to myself. And the thing is that I can't see when my own body chemicals turn against me, like maybe I could be suspicious of another person, but how am I supposed to be able to see these things in myself? I never see it coming at all, though supposedly it's like clockwork, and the only way I ever know is after it's all over when I see a stain and suddenly it's all clear like a blood red epiphany. No, sometimes I do realize it before it's too late, but I see no advantage to that, as my lack of control over my own emotions and paranoia only depresses me further. Sometimes I don't realize it until I'm sitting in my car, cursing at the little old man going 10 under the speed limit through the stream of tears brought on by that stupid Dido song that just came on the radio. I am amazed not only at my range of emotions, but the fact that I seem to be able to feel them simultaneously. I cling to my relationships and then am disgusted by them, alternately fearful that no one actually likes me and then irritated at everyone for, I don't know, breathing loudly. Don't even get me started on my body image. I've heard that some women get bloating - I think I just seem to notice my own general fatness more.

I got a letter in the mail inviting me to participate in a medical study, the qualifications being women between the ages of 18 and 40 who suffered from severe PMS. And I threw it in the trash, thinking, Nah, I don't have it that bad.



I'm on the guest list at every show. I get free or discounted beer and food anywhere the band gets free or discounted beer and food. I hang out with the band all the time. I go to pre-parties and after-parties and just parties in general. I get to watch every show with the exciting knowledge that I've made out with the bassist and that I probably will again after the show. I get free CDs and stickers. I get songs written about me.

Being a rock star's girlfriend is awesome.

Then there was this party, see, and the guys were playing over in the corner in the basement. The crowd, whether from the vodka and energy drink cocktails or the music or a combination of the two, was digging it. This one girl dressed in a snug black shirt and jeans (Do you think she looks like a slut? I think she does, really.), she apparently was really digging it, and so she decided to dig it with her hips right behind the performing bassist, the one I've made out with. She wraps her arm around him from behind, her hand rubbing on his chest. The lead guitarist looks at her, and then at me, his eyebrows raised and spelling out the question "Are you going to do anything about this?" Me, I was watching this girl grind up on my boyfriend (MY boyfriend, MY make-out-later bassist) while he ignored her and continued to just be a bassist, my eyebrows raised and spelling out the question "Am I going to do anything about this?" And then she quit, once her girlfriend took her picture (I was right, she does look like a slut, a big one.). And it finally occurred to me to wonder how many times this sort of thing had happened, how many girls had thrown themselves at my boyfriend.

Being a rock star's girlfriend sucks.

Now I raise my eyebrows at you all and they ask you, "Should I have done anything about that?" I still don't know. The girl was drunk, and she undoubtedly had no idea that the bassist already had someone to make out with. It was a whore first, ask questions later situation. Making a scene in the middle of a rock show probably wouldn't have been the solution either. Everyone was there to have a good time, and that's what they were doing. Although, who knows, maybe a cat fight was exactly what that party needed. I don't blame him for the way he handled it; ignoring someone's plea for attention is probably the way to go. Of course, had he spit in her face, I would have been okay with that, too.

Even if I had done what I would've very much wished that I had the assertiveness to do, which was run up there and punch her in the face, or at least pop her with a rolled-up newspaper and say "shoo!", I can't be at every single show, and I can't punch them all in the face. There is no way that I can be the buffer between my boyfriend and an affair. Only he can be that buffer. That's a concept that a lot of people do not understand, that it's not their responsibility to keep a partner faithful. I tell my boyfriend that I trust him, and now I am being tested. It is hard. I think of myself as being very trusting, but there are times when I wonder if I'm not just being naive, that most guys are not made to play rock music, drink, and then turn down free love on behalf of a girlfriend who will likely never find out. It's the times when I put the situation into that kind of perspective that I start to flip out and want to outfit him with a homing device. Even if I feel that my faith in him is being tested way beyond the norm of most relationships, it still boils down to simply trusting him, and that's just what I have to do if I want to be with him, not go around punching girls. There are always going to be more girls, drunk ones that just want to put out for a rock star. And you know why?

Because being a rock star's girlfriend is awesome.


baby, it's cold inside!

A friend of mine from Boone told me that once I spent a summer down here in Winston, my blood would thin out and I'd turn into some kind of cold weather wuss. I don't know enough about the human circulation system to know whether blood actually does that sort of thing after a period of hot weather - seems like a Southern expression with no scientific basis - but the wuss part seems to be true.

My office is freezing, which is another expression with no scientific basis. They're doing some construction downstairs, and it seems like they jimmied with the air system. At least that's my excuse. I bought a space heater this weekend, one so tiny that I skeptically kept my receipt because I didn't think it could do the job. Until my investment, though, I borrowed a heater from a guy down the hall who sat in his short sleeved t-shirt and laughed at my shivering misery.

I liked the little heater that I was borrowing. It had a bunch of automatic functions for temperature control, but I could never figure out how to use them, so I just stuck with the "On" setting, because that seemed to work just fine. I also worked with the "Off" setting when the "On" setting got to working too well. And now I have my very own, and I think that I will be able to throw away the receipt and write my name carefully with a Sharpie on it so that no one will steal it. I've only had it a day, but I've become very attached to it, because it's awfully cute and only cost me twelve dollars - I was expecting to have to spend at least twenty. Also, I've figured out how to use the thermostat on this one, because it came with instructions, so that's another one up on the borrowed model.

So I come in every morning and turn on the heater. Then I shut my office door and huddle at my desk until the contraption works its heating magic. Then I take off my jacket and often my shoes. Sometimes I drink hot tea, too, like a Brit in a sauna at 4 pm.

The added perk of using this thing is that I get to close my door. I rarely close my office door because it seems unfriendly. And while I probably am unfriendly, I hate to seem that way. Previously, I only closed the door to use the phone or when I was so swamped with work that I wanted to discourage visitors. But this extra privacy bonus of using a heater is nice. I can turn my music up a little louder and worry less about the disapproving stares I may attract by pulling my legs up into my chair with me like a little kid. No more do I have to worry whether I'm supposed to respond to the people who give me a passing hello on the way to the bathroom and then again on the way back three minutes later. For some reason, I feel more productive and the day goes by more quickly with a closed door. I get twice as much web surfing done as I did before. People still stop by to chat and make sure that I am still alive, and I talk to them nicely and try not to think about all the warmth they are letting out as they stand blithely in my open doorway. Then, when those people leave, they never shut the door properly, because my door doesn't latch. And so I have to wait a little while before I go and close the door the rest of the way, because if I do it too soon, then I seem really rude, rather than just really cold and really anal-retentive.

The only real downside is when one particular guy stops by to ask me some question about the software that I'm working on, he always knocks twice and then calls out, "You decent?" It was funny the first couple of times, but now I just want to say, "Yes. I am always decent while I am at work. I do not take my clothes off at my place of employment, particularly in an office whose door does not latch." But that would be unfriendly, and I hate to seem that way.


judge not.

I was sitting with a friend of Josh's and the friend's girlfriend, Emily, Saturday night, waiting for the band to sort out their technical difficulties and start the show. As often happens at these college town bars, there was a big table of sorority girls sitting beside our own table. To be fair, I do not know that these girls were actually in a sorority. None of them were wearing anything that bore any greek letters, but they were, you know, that type. Before you protest that I should not rely on stereotypes to judge and describe strangers, I would like to point out that you no doubt have a very accurate picture of these girls in your head from that description.

I had already noticed these girls earlier in the evening and passed them off as people that I would likely have nothing in common with. I'm not sure if it was their matching designer clothing, their careful manicures or their spaghetti strapped shirts in the dead of winter. I confess that while I very frequently read books with unappealing covers, I am notorious for being quick to judge people. I'm like rapid-fire, I've already determined an opinion of someone before you can get out the words, "Wow, look at the way she openly displays her breasts despite the sub-freezing temperatures outside."

Emily is fairly regular in terms of her appearance as compared to other girls her age. She is blond, wears some makeup, and buys the things that are on display in the front window of the Gap. But now Emily had taken notice of these girls and she was talking to her boyfriend and me about the absolutely ridiculous way one of them was dressed, one who looked like she wore things that always ended up on the sale rack of the Gap because they were made for women in some other, much more fashionably advanced town than Raleigh, North Carolina.

"Look at that girl's hair. You see the way she's got it curled out at the top, where it's all hairsprayed so it can't possibly move? I mean, that part alone must have taken her, like, hours. And she's wearing that weird shirt that comes down really far, plus she's got this stupid belt thing that's bright gold, but she's wearing it like right under her boobs. You can just tell it took her hours to get ready to go out tonight."

And I just sat there, amused at Emily's altogether correct description of the girl. I felt free to giggle openly, because I am a girl and well, we're catty like that. Except I was not laughing in judgment of the girl at the next table. I was laughing because I had thought very similar thoughts to myself more than once about Emily herself. I had thought that her outfits were kind of silly and inappropriate for the weather conditions and that she probably spent too much time on her appearance every day. Of course, I was showing up in a jeans and sweatshirt, no makeup, after having showered and then taken a nap with wet hair. So Emily was sitting there judging the other girl, while I was sitting there judging both of them, and honestly, they were probably both looking at me, thinking, "Well, at least she showered."

So what's my point? I'm not sure. That we all judge? Yeah. That we are all being judged? Also, yeah. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that we all judge each other so ruthlessly just to feel better about ourselves, when true confidence is not to look around and feel superior to everyone else, but to not need to assess anyone else. It's being comfortable with where you are on the great scale of humanity without having to try and place anyone else. It's not "This is better than you are," but "This is me." Maybe girls like the one in the bar wear their flamboyant fashions to stand out, because she believes that the amount of attention a person gets is directly related to her quality. Maybe girls like Emily self-consciously get dressed every day, blindly hoping that they look socially acceptable, ready to find strength in the fact that most everyone else is wearing approximately the same thing. And maybe people like me are too practical for the whole mess and proud of that, but at the same time we realize that we're not going to get the same kind of attention and instant acceptance that other girls will, so we think, "Well, at least I am comfortable and not pretending to be anything that I'm not like she is." All of us feel like we've won some point over the other two, but at the end of it all, we still look down and wish we were someone else. None of us are even as confident as we pretend to be, and honestly, I doubt that true confidence is ever attained. It's just an ideal that we are all shooting for, though we'd settle for fake confidence if it made us feel better about what's in the mirror.

And you know, all of this was based on the assumption that the girl in the bar was also judging Emily and me, which, of course, might be complete fiction. But I feel certain that she was. She's a college-age girl who obviously cares spends a lot of time and energy on her appearance. Or maybe I just have decided that she was the type to judge others to feel better about the fact that I felt the need to judge her. It never ends.


a set of really nice towels.

Bridal showers at Littlejohn United Methodist Church are pretty rote. I grew up attending this church, and I've seen many a bride be showered there. When I was a kid, a shower was exciting, because it meant a potluck lunch after service. Now that I am an adult, it's exciting because it means a potluck lunch after service. Some things never change.

I confess that my experience in potlucks is almost completely limited to my old church, but as far as Littlejohn potlucks go, I'm an expert. There will be at least two plates of devilled eggs, and I will take one egg from each. The same goes for chicken pie, though I may just take a serving from whichever one has fluffier bread and more colorful vegetables. There will be coconut cake, which I will shun, and banana pudding, which I will enjoy. My mother will bring BFYRs (big fat yeast rolls) and lima beans, causing two or three people to go into a frenzy of lima bean excitement. This in turn will cause my mother to shake her head in wonder, because really, it's just beans, butter, salt, and pepper. There will be a table full of pre-poured drinks, all of which will be watered down by the time I try to figure out which of the yellow sodas is not diet and choose incorrectly.

Aside from the predictability of a potluck itself, the shower has a set schedule. First you eat (which includes a blessing by the pastor, then everyone lining up behind the bride, groom, and their respective families to get food). Then once everyone is more or less through with dessert, the bride and groom sit at a couple of metal folding chairs next to a big metal folding table piled with presents. There is a scribe, usually a female relative or friend of the bride, who dutifully notes down the giver of each gift. There are little girls who fawn all over the bride and fight over the opportunity to throw away extra wrapping paper and transfer the unwrapped gifts from the bride's lap to the unwrapped present table. There is a mother or aunt or grandmother (or all three) taking pictures. There are sundry women who sit around and watch to see how many Pyrex gift sets the couple receives, and there are sundry men sitting in the back, ignoring the whole process.

I've been to a bunch of these showers. As I got older, I would pay more attention to the actual gifting part - I was once likely one of those little girls who wanted to help, but probably just got in the way. My mother used to give the couple towels, and I always made fun of that. True, she gave really nice, thick towels, because she said everyone should have a set of really luxurious towels. But they were never the ones on the registry, and they likely didn't match anything the couple had, and getting married appears to be all about getting a bunch of new stuff that matches. Then gift cards got popular, and she switched to those. Like all the women in the church, she signed the cards as if they were from the whole family, but the understanding is that the matriarch is really the only one involved. The woman picks out the gift, the wrapping paper, and the card, and though every family member's name is on the card (even on down to any in-utero children), it's all written in the woman's handwriting.

These church showers are unusual among showers in general in that men are even invited. The reason for that is only because the event is a potluck and is held right after service. We can't very well deny the boys entrance to a church potluck; it's probably why a lot of them come to church at all. At most showers, the groom is often not even in attendance. But no one has any delusion that this is at all about any man. It's ironic how everything about celebrating how a girl got a man has nothing to do with him. Weddings and showers are about the women involved, and while that may not be very enlightened or modern, that's pretty much the way it is.

I went to Laura's shower a while back. If I used to be one of those little girls getting in the way, obnoxious, but tolerated, then Laura would have been one right there with me. She grew up in this church with me, and now she sat at the head of the circle with her fiance and opened presents while little girls crowded around. I sat next to her, because, Lord help me, I was the scribe. Women sat around us and oohed and aahed at all the Pyrex and Corningware while making jokes about Laura bringing dishes to potluck. Her mother took pictures.

More and more in my life, I come across times like these, times when I look around and think that I surely cannot be old enough to be in this position. I don't feel old, I feel too young, like I'm just a little girl playing pretend. But no, that is my car and my college diploma and my 401k statement and my twenty-third birthday growing ever more distant behind me. That is my childhood friend opening presents wrapped in paper with ivory-colored bells on it. Someday it'll be my childhood friend signing cards from her in-utero children, someday it'll be my childhood friend taking pictures of her daughter getting showered. We will both likely go through all the stages of womanhood as displayed at a country church bridal shower just like our own mothers and aunts and sisters did. I remember when the little girls crowding around us were born and when their mothers were showered, just like their mothers look at Laura in her engaged bliss and think, my, but she's grown. And someday the both of us will sit with our little daughters and try to keep them from being in the way of these little girls all grown up, the next generation of brides unwrapping the next generation of Pyrex.

We are hitting all the stages and filling all the shoes, from the crocheted booties to the Mary Janes with tights to the strappy heels to the sensible flats. We are taking our spots within this sisterhood, and it's not until far too late that we realize that we are turning into our mothers. If we are horrified at that thought, give us a few years until we realize that that was all we ever really wanted anyway.

My family gave Laura towels, and I picked them out. In my defense, they were the ones on the registry: Infinity collection, Ecru. Also, I had a coupon. I walked through the linen store fingering towels and thinking how I wished that I had a set of really nice matching towels, how everyone should have a set of really nice matching towels. And though the card said that the gift was from my entire family, it was in my handwriting.


job offer.

Mom's Home Cookin' in Boonville, North Carolina is right on Highway 601 on the edge of town. Of course, this being Boonville, every place is on the edge of town. I stop in for a bite on my way back from Dobson because I've been passing by this place four times a week for months now and I've decided that it was time to give Mom a try. There are easily two dozen tables, but only a few are occupied in one corner of the room. Obviously, Mom's is a place where you go to eat on the same night every week and then stick around for a cup of coffee and conversation with the other Tuesday night folks. I'm new here, so I sit down at a table for four by the door. Then I look around expectantly for a menu or a waitress or some indication of how things work around here.

A woman from the small cluster of people extracts herself and shuffles over to the counter. She's maybe seventy years old and is wearing house shoes. She brings me a menu from the stack on the counter, and I can only assume that I am looking at Mom herself. Her voice is gravelly as she asks me what she can get for me. I ask for a glass of sweet tea. She writes down "tea" on her pad, either because she figures she'll remember that I wanted it sweetened or because in Boonville, NC, there is only one kind of tea. I had ordered the drink with the hopes that she would go get it and give me a minute to pick out some food, but she stood there waiting for me to make a selection. Most people who came into Mom's probably had the menu memorized already, so they knew what they wanted; plus, walking did seem to be a slow process for her.

Feeling pressured by her hovering over me, I picked out the first thing off the specials board: Homemade Chicken Salad Sandwich with chips and tea - $3.95. I like chicken salad, but I hesitate to order it in unfamiliar place, because chicken salad done improperly can be really bad. Lettuce? Tomato? Mayo? Yes, yes, yes, I said, and then Mom slowly made her way back to the kitchen. I heard a bell ding. Then she came back to me with a glass of tea and a straw.

"You're a pretty girl."

"Oh, uh, thank you."

"You're not lookin' for a job now, are you?"

"Oh, no, thank you. I have a job."

And then she shuffled on back to sit down with the regulars. I was a little flushed at the unexpected compliment from a stranger and also curious about the impromptu job offer. I could only assume that these were just friendly country people who liked to hire pretty waitresses because a smile from a nice, pretty girl can make the everyday troubles a little lighter, not that Mom's Home Cookin' had some sort of brothel in the back. I thought about working here while I waited for my sandwich. I am southern and have waiting experience, so I am qualified to pour coffee and talk to old men about the weather. And yet it would be completely unlike the restaurant experiences I had thus far. I was used to waiting on tourists and well-to-do retirees. These were salt-of-the-earth people, the kind of people who wouldn't ask me whether I was still in school, but whether I was married or had children yet. It would be so much more real working here than in fine dining.

My sandwich and chips are brought by a girl about my age coming from out of the kitchen. She asks if there's anything else I'll be needing at the moment, then goes back to the kitchen, pushing a cart laden with dirty dishes in front of her. I wonder if she's the chef, too. I'm still stuck on that job offer, so I try to decide if she got hired on looks and if she is prettier than I am. I determine that she might be very attractive, but at the end of a day's work at Mom's is not the time to tell. I notice something else: it's hard to tell because of her loose t-shirt, but I can tell that she is pregnant, probably about 4 months along.

The chicken salad is excellent, every bit as good as the $6.95 (chips, but no drink included) one I used to serve at Vintner's. I would be proud if I could make chicken salad of this quality.

An old man goes up to the counter to pay his check. The girl rings him up, $1.05. I assume he just had a cup of coffee, drunk slowly to give him time to listen to the other folks. He talks to the girl as she checks him out. She says that her New Year's resolution is to just have a good year, because she hadn't had one of those in a while. I was sad for her in this tiny restaurant, about to have a baby, stuck in Boonville, NC, resolving for her life to at least not be quite so bad this year. And here I was just passing through on the way back to my carefree and well-paid existence, fortunate enough to have been born to my parents and not to hers.

I left her a 50% tip, realizing that an extra dollar to her was a lot more than it was to me. Even when you wait on tourists, it sometimes is the generous stranger who keeps your head up on a long day. I silently wished her luck as I walked out, realizing that a person can be happy in any life, but glad that I didn't have to try it in hers.


happy hour.

The clock on my office computer reads 5:13. I suspect this clock is set by some official time-keeping device out there in cyber space every morning when I log on, so it is probably correct. So I could use this clock to verify the other clocks in my life, such as the one in my car or the one in my kitchen or the one on my home computer. But I don't know what they say right now, because I am not there to look at them. Because I am here, pondering the ponderables of a clock on an office computer.

I stayed late at work last night, only maybe 25 minutes or so. And it wasn't bad. The difference between yesterday and today is that today is Friday. My weekend should have started about 15 minutes ago, depending on which clock you consult. Another difference between yesterday and today is the fact that while I spent my post-quitting-time minutes yesterday actually working on something, I am spending my minutes today waiting on someone else to finish working on something so that I may press a button and then copy some files. I am useless here for now, just complaining about clocks while on that of the company.

The clock on my cell phone now says 5:22, which also now agrees with the one on my computer, but it is on my cell phone that I call and cancel the 6 pm dinner plans in Chapel Hill that I had made with the intention of leaving work by 4:30 (because I stayed late last night). But no, as a reward for being such a team player and staying late last night, I am staying late again tonight and I am far more annoyed. Aside from having to call and tell my friend that she won't be dining with me tonight, I have to also call and tell my boyfriend that I am no closer to him than I was a minute ago, nor does it look like I will be any closer at 5:26, one minute from now. I'd like to be one minute's worth of 74 MPH interstate travel closer, but it is not to be. He can't even look forward to my arrival at this point, only my departure.

I feel no remorse about spending this time writing blog entries. Had I started this entry at 4:59, I would've felt a little bad, but after those numbers change, I consider this time to still be my time whether or not I have to spend it here. I'm on salary, so I don't get overtime. The most I get is a positive comment on my annual review that says "Sandra was willing to repeatedly stay late to facilitate the completion of company projects, even if she did spend the whole time looking at novelty earrings on eBay, calling her boyfriend, and complaining." My annual review is next week, and I suspect that my program manager is spending his post-quitting-time minutes filling out comments about me, so I limit my complaining tonight to a blog entry that he will never read. I do not sit in his office and tug on his shirt sleeve, repeatedly asking if I can leave yet. I will do that after next week.

But now I've stretched this entry out as long as I possibly can, and I've killed twenty-three minutes that could've been spent at 74 MPH. Twenty-three minutes and still not enough, because at the end of it all, I'm still watching the clock on my office computer.


because those are the good kind.

"Why do some girls like shy guys?"

What a silly question. To me, it was like asking why girls like attractive guys or guys who like to buy presents, the answer being "Because those are the good kind." I am one of those girls who likes shy guys, so I was fit to answer the question, but I had to think about it first. Then I thought about it some more and I even took an informal poll of girls I know, not all of whom like shy boys at all. Here's what I came up with. (Be forewarned that there are going to be mass generalizations here. I know a lot of extroverted people that I like very much, and I also know some shy people that suck. But I am afraid that there is no way to answer a question like that without relying on generalizations.)

* * * * *

The Challenge.
For the girls who like the chase, shy guys are the way to go. Of course, these girls are in it for all the wrong reasons, and they are taking the shy men and making them bitter about women. Those girls suck.

The Charm.
Shy boys are sweet. They are endearing and often don't expect much. He's going to just be surprised that you like him, and he going to take care of you so that you don't stop liking him. It may be surprising to some that a shy boy can be very charming, but not in the way that an outgoing man can be, where you get suspicious of what he wants. It's unassuming, natural charm, not weaselly.

The Coincidence.
Some girls have a defined type with a list of characteristics that go with the man of their dreams. Though shyness may not be on the list per se, shyness may naturally go along with other characteristics. Say a girl really likes computer dorks: that girl likes the shy boys by default. She also will never have a problem getting a date.

The Mystery.
Mystery is sexy. You want to get to know this person simply because you haven't been able to immediately categorize him, and you are curious. Then by the time you figure him out, you're already invested, and you might as well stick around.

The Security.
He's too shy to go around cheating on you, because he can't even talk to other women. I don't particularly like this reason, but a couple of my girlfriends mentioned it, so I thought I should pass it along. Me, I just think that only means that the other girls will be more aggressive when chasing him. And I wouldn't rely on this to keep your boyfriend faithful - maybe go out with someone who doesn't cheat on you because he's a nice boy, not because he can only get it together enough to ask out a girl once in a blue moon.

The Commonality.
Some girls are shy. A lot of these girls are going to like shy guys, partly as an avoidance of the extroverts. To a shy person, an extrovert can be absolutely terrifying. Better to be safe. Also, introverts and extroverts alike do not tend to understand why another would be otherwise from what they themselves are. My extroverted friends probably think I'm sad and pathetic because I go to the movies and eat out alone. I tend to think that people who do not enjoy solitude have something wrong with them: if even they cannot stand to spend time with themselves, why would I want to spend time with them?

The Buried Treasure Factor.
I think that this one is a big one for me. I am an elitist in pretty much everything I do: that's why I like wine and vintage clothing and independent music. I tend to think that having to work for something makes it better. Completely ignoring the fact that an elitist is kind of an obnoxious thing to be, I apply it to boys, too. I want to have a boy that is amazingly cool and interesting and intelligent, and I want him to be a secret. I do not want the boy that is in the middle of a big group of people at a party; I want the one who is standing against the wall whispering clever sarcastic commentary. I want the guy who others may pass over because is not obviously and instantly interesting due to a lack of social graces. Then I get to talking to him, get to know him, and I find out that there is someone amazing inside that slouching aloof exterior. To be one of the select few that gets to know this guy for the wonderful person he really is makes me feel special.

Granted, that's not always going to be the case. Sometimes shy people are really boring, too. And you could argue that there are a lot of traits that a person could have disguising their true wonderfulness, such as arrogance or garrulousness or a case of narcolepsy. However, shyness is much less obnoxious than those traits and is much less likely to be painful to work through.

* * * * *

And those are my theories regarding why girls like shy guys. Now you all want to run out and go nab yourself one, and I don't blame you. Just stay away from mine.


room for improvement: no mvp.

I never was much of a basketball player. That didn't stop me from playing for five years or even from being a starting player. When you are 5'10", you do not have to be very good. You just have to be able to stick your spindly little arms straight into the air. I was the shortest center in the league, but I was still the tallest thing we had.

I struggled with free throws, along with pretty much every other aspect of the game, except dribbling. I did not struggle at dribbling, I avoided it completely. Luckily, everybody on my ball team pretty much sucked at everything, so I did not stand out. The fact that I had about a 20% average from the foul line put me about par with the rest of the team.

During my sophomore year of high school, we played an exhibition game with some tiny mountain high school. They sucked, too. I know because we managed to keep up with them for the entirety of the game. We were one point down with only a few seconds to go when someone on my team fired a last minute shot that bounced off the rim. I was in the perfect position to catch it, right by the goal, because if nothing else, I at least knew where to stand while I stuck my spindly little arms straight into the air. I caught the rebound, I was hacked viciously from all sides, the clock ran out, a foul was called. The other team had more than seven team fouls, so I would shoot a one-and-one, one point down, no time left.

A quick basketball lesson: shooting a one-and-one meant that if I missed the first one, I got no more shots and the game was over. If I made the first shot, I got another one which I could also make or miss. So I had a chance to:
A.) Singlehandedly win the game and the glory of my high school.
B.) Tie the game and take it into overtime, giving us another five minutes to beat the tiny mountain team that also sucked.
C.) Blow it all completely.

What? You picked answer C? *Dingdingdingding*, you are right!

I cried. My coach cried. My teammates cried, because we were high school girls who hadn't won a game all last season. You see those game-winning shots and you think it must be nice to feel that kind of rush. You never think about those poor saps who blew it.

There was never a conscious effort on my part to improve my free throw percentage. I do not remember ever thinking to myself that I needed to at least not suck at something. All I know is that at the end of year banquet, I was receiving a Most Improved plaque because I ended the season with a free throw percentage of about 80%. That's some improvement, and I was kinda proud at my new skill. Of course, I probably would have just rather made those two shots that would have won the game. Give me one game's MVP over an entire season's Most Improved any day.


room for improvement: selling out.

In the fifth grade, penmanship was still a school subject that you could get graded on. I would like to remark that I have exquisitely lovely handwriting - strangers compliment me on it. But it is not, shall we say, technically correct as defined by...whoever defines those things. It is stylistic. Over the years, I have strayed from the careful teachings of my penmanship teachers to develop my own style. And while the result is very pretty, it's not something you'd see on a bulletin board border in an elementary school.

I had already begun developing this style by the fifth grade, which was bad, because we were being graded on how well we stuck to the established method of writing proper cursive letters. We even had assignments where we had to write stories or a series of sentences that were alliteratively focused on specific letters. I received dismal marks on these assignments and a B on my report card. It pained me to stray from my developed style, but I wanted to get good grades, so I had to play by the rules. So I switched over to proper writing for these assignments. I began getting these papers back with A's instead of D's.

But I still made a B on my report card.

I realize now that I should have been making much lower than a B on my report card for the first go-round. My average on those handwriting assignments was easily a low C or a D. But I was otherwise a good student, a pleasant kid, and the teacher liked me. Besides, handwriting is a colossally stupid thing to be graded on. I understand that they probably do it to encourage students to write legibly, but in that case, make it a pass/fail situation. You could read my writing just fine; there was no need to go docking my GPA for it.

I am not bitter.

After I made the second B, I realized that my handwriting was not just being judged on the specific handwriting assignments - it was being graded all the time! Even when I was writing assignments for legitimate subjects like english and social studies and science, my penmanship was still being examined! So if I wanted to make that B go away, and I really, really did, I was going to have to play by the their silly handwriting rules all the time. I was going to have to reject my own developed personal style, the thing that separated me from the me that the state of North Carolina wanted me to be.

Of course I did it. And I magically got a neatly-written capital letter A for my next report card. At the end of the year, I got the most improved award for the remarkable turnaround in the quality of my handwriting. I realize now that my teacher most likely thought I had worked really hard all year to straighten my lines and smooth out my curves to earn my A grade, rather than my slow selling out to the system.

I look at my handwriting now, the smooth curves and soft lines, the letters that are drawn with influences from the cursive, print, and (in some cases) Greek alphabet, and I think, this is me. This is how Sandra writes, and it is gorgeous. But it would probably make me terrible handwriting grades in the fifth grade.


room for improvement: awesome AND modest.

It's supposed to be a celebration of your determination, your drive, your will to better yourself. But no, being most improved means that you sucked in the first place, with only the slight consolation that you now don't suck quite as much as you did before. I've received a couple of most improved awards in my time, and I tell ya, I was embarrassed to accept them. I did not want it to be widely known that I had previously had so much room for improvement, whether or not that room had since been lessened. It's like now that I've worked so hard and finally managed to get away from my previous sorry state, someone has to stand up and shout, "Yeah, she's okay now, but look what a loser she used to be!" Okay, so I'm a little arrogant and short-sighted, but I am working on improving that.

There is also the idea that a improvement award is kind of a throwaway. It's the sort of award you give to the fat kid with the good attitude or the girl who is about to graduate after a long, faithful, and entirely mediocre career. However, at my high school, the sports teams had an award called the "Coaches' Award" that covered the base of recognizing someone who didn't really help the team, but was very likeable. That way, they could save the actual improvement awards for calling attention to one's prior flaws.

Are there people who celebrate their own improvement? I suppose I do, but I prefer to do so in a private environment, namely, my own head. I prefer everyone to focus solely on my current staggering achievement and not even know how far I'd come. Let them simply compliment me now, so that I may thank them nicely and then thank heavens that they don't know the truth. Maybe I'll even make a modest reference to my prior incompetence, but then they will just not believe me, because how could one who is now so fabulous ever have been anything but? And then they'll think I'm awesome AND modest! Score!

And yet for all my arrogance, I do believe that improvement should be celebrated, because it in fact is determination, drive, and a will to better onself. It is even an inspiration to those who continue to wallow in their own shortcomings. So maybe it should be changed to some kind of determination award, one that focuses on overcoming obstacles instead of an initial lack of quality. No one has to know that the obstacles were your own stupidity or lack of coordination. Let the masses believe that you came through successfully, despite external exigencies, not internal inadequacies. Let the masses believe that you're awesome AND modest. Score!


the great uniter.

I know that none of you will be surprised when I tell you this: during the final exam period of my wine tasting class, we had...a party. True, we did have to turn in a short paper detailing what we took away from the class, but more important than that was that we bring a bottle of wine and whatever food we signed up for. Higher education at its finest, folks.

This class was awesome. I wish that I lived closer than 45 minutes away from campus, so that I could take the class every year. Or I wish that there was a wine club near where I lived, an opportunity for me to go someplace every week to talk about and try new wines with people who are equally interested and then leave feeling great about God's invention, the grape. Individually, I could never afford to try half a dozen new wines a week. And yeah, I suppose I paid for my share in my tuition, but it was more than worth it to share these new wines with new friends.

I have next to nothing in common with my new friends. Namely, I have exactly one thing in common, and that thing is wine. Otherwise, I would never have gotten to know these people: Nick, who installs security systems and was in the Air Force, Ben, a professional waiter who is determined to have a college degree by age 32, and Cindy, a fellow ASU alum and self-employed caterer who drives all the way from Raleigh every week, Pat and Clyde, a married couple who spend their retirement going to wineries that specialize in fruit wines, Junior, a hispanic with a thick Surry County accent. And then there's me, Sandra, a software developer with extra time on her hands.

Some of these people, they are really doing the wine thing. These are middle-aged people who have quit their full-time careers to be full-time students of the vine. Kenny was a mechanic for thirty years when he decided to turn his hobby of wine-making into a career. Michael was in health care finance, but became disillusioned with the business and so left it to follow a dream. I cannot help but admire these people, who have left their secure positions to make wine in North Carolina. And this place is no Eden; it's not even Napa. But they're going for it, because they are fascinated by what happens when you squish something and let it sit awhile.

Wine is a great uniter. Don't like the person? Have a couple more sips. We don't always agree on wines, but we generally agree that wine in general is a good idea. We are the wine dorks. We held our party at a local winery, and we eagerly listened while the owner detailed what grapes he was growing and what kind of cultural practices he was using. When Dr. Bob couldn't get a bottle open with his cheap corkscrew, a full third of us had corkscrews on us at that very moment (including me). We wear shirts that say "Life is a cabernet" or "Screw it! Don't cork it!" Just in case you don't believe in such a thing as a wine dork, get us together and start a debate about French versus American oak barrels.

I was a little nervous about the party, mostly because the only potluck food I can make consistently is devilled eggs. I mean, I make darn good devilled eggs, but they're not exactly a typical item on a wine/food pairing chart. But screw it (don't cork it!), I brought my devilled eggs, made with tender loving care. Then I saw the pigs in blankets, and I felt a lot better. I felt even better when I took home an empty dish.

Man, the food was good. And man, the wine was good. I had a lot of it, sampling what each person brought: Cindy's shiraz, Lisa's zinfandel, Pat's cyser (a mixture of hard apple cider and mead). For dessert, we all enjoyed the Danish cherry wine that Alan brought, something we had discovered in our tasting adventures in class. We ate rich cheesecake and thin Italian cookies, took a sip of that delicious cherry stuff, sighed in contentment, and saluted Alan, "Good man."

It was a good time, and not just because we were lubricated. We would have had a good time without the wine, if not for the fact that without wine, we would not have been there. We would have been just a dozen separate people in separate lives with nothing in common with each other. Luckily, we have the great uniter, and though we are all still very different, that seems to be enough.


the grown-ups.

A group of six twenty-somethings is sitting around a round table with a white candle centerpiece, eating butter mints at a wedding reception for another twenty-something. One of us is still in school, one semester away from a college diploma, while the rest of us know life on the other side. We have real jobs with regular hours and holidays off and insurance, four teachers and one software engineer. But we are still the same as we were five or ten years ago: she still makes those goofy jokes and the other one still dances in her seat to the music and I still do things like throw butter mints into the ample cleavage of the girl across from me. We are old, but we are not the grown-ups.

One of us is telling a story, a P.E. teacher. He has to teach sex education to the kids. We all remember those days nearly a decade ago when we were submitted to discussing gonads and chlamydia and various fluids with our peers and a stern teacher who glared at anyone who dared to giggle. But having to teach it? What a nightmare. He is talking about how he frequently has to have the students read the material aloud, no doubt embarrassing them as they stumble over unfamiliar terms to describe the same things as the slang terms they use in the locker rooms. Meanwhile, he hides his face behind his own book, shaking with his own trapped giggles. He specifically makes the kids read the book to the class, because he himself knows that he will never be able to make it through without bursting into laughter. We all laugh, thrilled to see a new generation of adolescents going through the hell of learning about the birds, the bees, and the clap.

Then I realize that our own teachers must have felt like this as well, that they must have gone out with their friends and told great stories about the kid who had to stand up and blushingly describe nocturnal emissions. They laughed at the subject matter and they laughed at our discomfort, too. They told immature jokes to their friends. They might have even thrown butter mints at each other's cleavage. We are the grown-ups, and God help us all.