the guy in the cream sweater.

There's a middle-aged guy in my wine class, one who is talkative and opinionated, but has enough knowledge and sense that those two traits don't get on my nerves so much. I don't always agree with what he says, but he says it eloquently enough that I don't automatically go into eye-roll mode whenever he opens his mouth. He wears an eye patch, which has nothing to do with his thinking abilities, but the fact fills me with curiosity and wonder. I suspect that his eye patch is not treatment for a lazy eye, but rather a cover of something horrifying and tragic. I can't decide what would be worse, an empty socket with a concave eyelid covering it, or a horrible and mangled bit of flesh. My intense desire to know more about what is hidden underneath that little black patch was only heightened when I noticed he was missing half a finger on his left hand.

Unfortunately, there is no good way to ask, "So, uh, got anything underneath that there eye patch?" In fact, to find that sort of thing out, it appears that I would have to become very close friends with this man, and I'm afraid I'm just not that interested.

One night, a couple of us were trying to find out the name of the eye patch guy, since Eye Patch Guy isn't really appropriate or even clever. None of us knew him well enough to know his name, much less to find out just what happened to the rest of his finger and the rest of his eyes. So another man, Clyde, asked a woman sitting next to him, "Hey, what's that guy's name over there?"

"Which guy?"

"Uh. The, uh, guy, um, you know, over there. With the...cream sweater."

Okay, so he was the only guy in a cream sweater, but there were a lot of other descriptors that would have narrowed down the field much more quickly and efficiently. But no, we're polite.

And I still don't know the guy's name.


this is a drill.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006: 11:07 AM

I'm sitting at my desk, working on a crossword puzzle crucial and incredibly important software task, when a buzzer starts going off. This is different from the periodic beep from one of the many surge protectors around the office, this is continuous and really annoying. I turn down my music and realize that it's a fire alarm. It's been a long time since I've heard a fire alarm, and so I'm not sure what to do. Then I remember my years of training and I suddenly feel some sort of Pavlovian urge to exit the building, like now. So I save my work on my incredibly important software task, even going so far as to save it to the company server. That way, if my computer were to burn down, my work would not be lost. Of course, the server is in a room in this building on this very same floor, so my precaution was probably pointless.

People start to stream past my door toward the exit. Some of them stream the other way, saying that they were going to get their jackets or maybe some marshmallows. Even with all those years of training in school, fire alarms do not have the same effect on adults as they do on children. Little kids immediately react, knowing to leave everything behind and file quietly to the nearest exit, testing all doorknobs with the backs of their hands. Adults pause for ten to fifteen seconds to see if the alarm will stop on its own before leisurely grabbing personal effects, then chatter and joke as they burst through doorways. Some of them probably try to use the elevator. At some point in all our years of drills, we lost the idea that a fire could be very very scary. I remember still doing fire drills in high school, but they were a joke, something that had to be done to meet regulations somewhere. The teacher always told us when they were going to happen so we could go ahead and be ready. I had one teacher who even had the habit of screaming, "Oh my God, we're going to die!" to scare the freshmen students during the first fire drill of the school year.

I guess as adults we figure that we have the sense to assess the gravity of the situation. There was no smoke or screaming or any other indication that there was a real emergency at hand, so we determined that haste or panic was not necessary. We teach kids to just react, not sniff the air and decide if they have enough time to run to the bathroom first. If we had assessed the situation and determined there was real danger, we would have known exactly what to do, because if nothing else can be said for public schools, the system at least taught us how to make for the hills.

And then we stood outside for 20 minutes while the fire trucks came and the people with funny suits went inside and officially certified what we had already determined: there was no fire. Some of us went to lunch, others of us discusssed offsite data backup options. Me, I just felt bad for the people downstairs. You see, our office is upstairs from an OB/GYN office, and I just know there was some poor woman naked except for a thin medical sheet, lying with her feet in stirrups, enjoying the one-of-a-kind feeling of a speculum when the alarm went off. No amount of elementary school fire drills can prepare you for something like that.


one of those girls.

Laura is one of those girls. There are a bunch of ways to describe her, all of them beginning with "She's one of those girls who..." and then the other person immediately goes, "Oh yeah, I know someone like that."

Laura is one of those girls whom everybody likes.
Laura is one of those girls who looks good in every picture that was ever taken of her.
Laura is one of those girls who was popular in high school while remaining down-to-earth and normal.

See? I was right. You know that girl.

But: Laura is one of those girls that has embarrassing stuff happen to her all the time. You know that girl, too. Laura's life is the stuff that high school sitcoms are made of. She says the ditziest stuff in front of professors. She trips and falls in front of the entire student body. She makes silly faces and then realizes that guy over there is watching. I've known Laura since we were babies, and so I've seen public humiliation at its finest. As a result, she is very good at laughing at herself. I would like to be so good at it, too, but without having to go through what she has gone through. Her ability to bounce back from embarrassment is just another thing that makes up her very Laura-ness.

I have a favorite Laura story. It is also my favorite embarrassment story, my favorite high school angst story, my favorite story involving black lights and white gloves.

I'm not sure if you've ever seen a black-lit performance of hand waving to music, but it's not that cool. Basically, you have a bunch of people dressed all in black except for white gloves. Then they stand in the dark while black lights shine on them. They do some sort of synchronized routine to the music, the effect being that you can only see their glowing hands. I imagine that the idea could be really cool, but not when it's carried out by a bunch of underehearsed kids to a bad song. Laura was a part of a group of students that was doing such a performance in front of the entire senior class as a part of a variety show. We were sophomores at the time, but I was in the audience because I was a part of a different act that had already performed. She didn't have a black shirt to wear, so she borrowed a cheap, thin one from the drama department.

The lights were dimmed, the performance began. We were all bored and distracted, until we started to notice something in particular about one of those figures in black, namely the one that has embarrassing things happen to her all the time. You see, that thin black shirt might hide you in normal lighting, but it was unable to overcome the powerful combination of a black light and a clean, white bra. So yes, there were a dozen pairs of hands waving around, and one brightly illuminated bra in the middle of the group. I confess it: I was laughing. But so was everybody else, and I at least had the grace to feel guilty for laughing.

After the act was over, I went backstage to check on the unintentional exhibitionist. She was crying in the bathroom, but she came out looking defeated after I knocked softly. The variety show still had several more acts to go, but I suggested we skip out and go get some lunch in the cafeteria. Which we did, and I swear, by the end of our lunch period, Laura was already starting to giggle over the whole thing, telling and retelling how she looked down mid-performance and saw the bright thing that was her chest and how it was all she could do not to run backstage before it was over. And then it was okay for me to laugh about it, not that I could have helped it anyway.

I asked permission from Laura to write this story so that the whole wide world could find out about her and her freakish glowing undergarments. I asked permission because it's a pretty embarrassing story, but I had it all written out all ready to post before I asked, because I felt confident that Laura would laugh and give me the go-ahead. She's just one of those girls.


emergency flashers.

Josh lives in a two story house with four other guys. The basement floods when it rains, there is a washer and a dryer in the backyard, and the guys won't turn on the heat because it's run by gas, which comes somewhere after beer on the prioritized budget. I find the house charming.

The downstairs bathroom has a window in the shower. I am strongly against windows in the bathroom anyway, but I really disliked this particular window because it had no curtain or blinds or shade of any kind. That's right, anyone outside could simply see into the shower. I complained about the window situation. None of the guys cared, because the window only displayed the upper torso of a bather. A girl such as myself has more reason to care about such things than boys do; namely she has two more reasons.

I complained to Josh every time I showered. He made promises, but then forgot about it. Apparently, it was not a priority. And honestly, the more I showered there, the less of a priority it became to me. There was a neighboring house, but it was pretty far away, and there were a lot of trees between the window and the neighbor's. Plus, after the shower ran awhile, the window steamed up anyway. After a while, I stopped mentioning it.

Then one day, I was showering with the window slightly open at the top when I heard a door slam outside. I looked and saw no one, but I did see the back door to the sunroom and realized that someone coming out of that room would have a pretty juicy view. In fact, it was possible that someone had just gotten such a view as he came out of the sunroom. I turned the heat of the water up to hasten the steaming process, but forgot about the event almost immediately since there was no way to know if anyone had even seen me.

I was talking to Josh midweek, when he said, "Oh. By the way, Dave says he sorry. He hopes he didn't offend you or anything." It took me a minute to realize what he meant. I had been spotted while showering. I laughed for a good long time. Josh was relieved that I was not upset, and I was relieved that he was not upset at me for not thinking enough of the door slam to mention it to him.

But the next time I was over there, there was a makeshift shade covering the window. Apparently all I need to do to get what I want in this relationship is to flash his roommate.


romance is romantic when you've got the answers.

I was thinking about my entry last night, and I thought about how cynical I sounded. I am not down on love. I used to consider myself a hopeless romantic, though I think a more accurate description would be "sixteen-year-old girl." I have become cynical about Valentine's Day. The overadvertising and prepackaged gifts you can buy on the side of the road on your way home from work haven't helped. Then I think that waiting tables made me cynical about every holiday, because I had to spend them helping other people celebrate. Nothing sucks the joy out of a holiday like not having one. Every holiday I've spent in my post-server days, I've sent out more than a little good karma to those still in the trenches. I remember my time served, and it was the overflowing parking lot at Cha-Da Thai last night that reminded me of one working Valentine's Day.

I was working a Valentine's Day lunch shift, a shift which turned out not to be all that much busier than any other lunch shift on a holiday weekend, which was busy enough. We had a reservation on the books, which was not just unusual for the day shift, it was unheard of and pretty unnecessary. Sure, we had large parties who would call and reserve a room, but to have a couple of people reserve a table for lunch didn't happen. What's more, the guy had come by early and selected the table himself, as well as brought some flowers to be ready and waiting at the table.

None of us who were working had taken the reservation, so we didn't know who to expect. We were all curious, being proud owners of double-X chromosomes, what kind of gallant and romantic man might appear at our door claiming the 12:00 reservation. Someone wealthy and cultured, European perhaps, charming and respectful. A true romantic like the ones we saw in the movies, but detected only traces of in the college boys we dated.

And then he entered with his young date, and the mystery man was revealed. Except he was more like a mystery boy. His date was young, but he wasn't much older, a high school kid with what was probably his first girlfriend. They were both right at that age where the braces have come off, but their awkward stages were still clinging visibly to them, refusing to let the poor kids turn into human beings who fit into their bodies properly and boasted clear skin.

I led them to their reserved table with its carefully pre-placed flowers. As I set out the menus and silverware, the boy pulled out his date's chair. Oh my Lord, it was so cute. They sat in their fancy high-backed chairs and fiddled with the starched white tablecloth and looked kindof out of place as they ordered sodas and chicken sandwiches with french fries. I tried to put on my most professional snooty waitress voice, wanting to give the boy every advantage he could get.

Oh, that boy, he was trying so hard to do this holiday right, to take a pretty girl out and make her like him with all the things that he'd heard somewhere were romantic. Us waitresses watched and giggled at the pure and innocent sweetness of it all, remembering when we used to be teenage girls with ridiculous pre-conceived notions about love. We looked at the scene as if it were an old and gone part of us. But I think now, that if some boy took us out for lunch with reservations and arranged to have flowers waiting at the best table in the house, we'd melt like the 16-year-old girls we still are inside.

It is that boy that I think of whenever I see those roadside teddy bear stands with their impersonal, cellophane-enclosed gifts. It is that 12:00 reservation in an almost empty restaurant that I recall when I become nauseated with the ubiquity of Pepto Bismol pink in February. It is that pulled-out chair and those flowers that I remember when I hear another radio ad promoting unflattering stereotypes of both women and men. Valentine's Day sucks, but romance is still a pretty good idea.


little frozen symbols.

Yesterday morning, a half-dozen roses were delivered to apartment 3, which, if you will recall, is not where I live. They were tucked halfway into the bushes that grow in mulchy ground between the cement porches. I took a peek at them: four red, one white, one pink, lots of baby's breath. No mailing address, no return address.

Tonight, they were still there by the door.

I am concerned for the flowers. Temperatures have been down into the nether regions these past couple of nights - it ain't a fit night out for man nor beast. Or cut flowers. To be honest, shh, quietly: I want to take them. I want to bring them into my house and put them in a nice vase - I have a very pretty one - and smell them and pretend that they were for me. I will even leave a nice note saying that I was worried about the flowers, but they are safe and ready for retrieval upon knocking on the door of apartment 4.

I feel certain that this is a terrible idea.

So I will leave the flowers there to be cold and wilt, outside and lonely, while I wonder who sent them and who was supposed to receive them. I will make up melodramatic scenarios of heartbreak and unrequited love. In a few days, when they are still out there and getting ugly so you can't tell the four red from the one white and the one pink, I will feel sorry for not taking them. Now they sit outside as little frozen symbols of love's misunderstandings and miscommunications and missed opportunities.

Happy Valentine's Day.


cop out.

I used to have a job that yielded many interesting blog-worthy stories. Now I do not, but I get paid a lot more, so I guess I could buy interesting people to tell me stories. Not that computer programming is not interesting - don't get me started on the day we realized that the USB DLA would cause the Dundas Gauges to crash on the Humvee project! Hooo boy.

But anyway, today, some waiter stories with a theme of stupid customers.

This tastes like sour cream and dill
Customers do not listen to waiters. You say we're out of ranch dressing, that is what they will order. You say the coffee is brewing, they ask why you didn't bring their coffee. We had a special at The Bistro once, a salmon special. We had these long, flowing descriptions of the specials there that made everything sound like it was something served in Eden. The special that night was salmon, baked with sour cream and dill. Shall I say it again? Salmon, baked with SOUR CREAM and DILL. The man at the table, hearing this fine description of salmon, ordered it. Fine, dandy, I put in the order and brought it out when it was ready. I come back to check after a minute to make sure everyone was happy. The man clearly was not so. He was poking at the salmon, looking uncomfortable. I asked if there was a problem, and he said disdainfully, "This tastes like sour cream and dill."

A side of bacon
I had a couple eat for breakfast once, and the man was parking the car while the woman sat and had some coffee and looked over the menu. She was asking all sorts of questions, ones that could be answered by reading the menu, but I was used to that. Literacy is wasted on some people. Anyway, after a slew of questions, she asks me, "Could you tell me about the side of bacon?" I don't remember what I told her, probably that it was three strips or something like that. She responds with "Does anything come with that?" I spent the rest of the day coming up with responses to that question, like "grease," "a fork," and "a convertible." What comes with a side of bacon, honestly.

The traditional food of Independence Day
I made a lot of jokes with my customers. They were not always successful - for instance, apparently not everyone knows who Jackson Pollock is, so they don't know why I think the plate presentation resembles one of his paintings. Blank stares all around. But I had a woman order a reuben once on the Fourth of July. It struck me as funny, eating this very German/Jewish sandwich on the Fourth, so I joked, "You know, that is the traditional dish of Independence Day." She looks up at me with wonder, nods, and says, "Oh really? I didn't know that." After that, I had to go along with it so I wouldn't make her look stupid. Sure, it's the most American corned beef with sauerkraut sandwich on rye bread ever. Actually, right after Washington signed the Declaration, history notes that he leaned in to Jefferson and whispered, "Man, I could go for a reuben." Silly woman.


airing out my crazies.

"Hey, I know you drink a lot of tea, so I just wanted to let you know that I bought a little electric water warmer," Seth said as he popped by my office this morning. My tea habit is surprisingly well-known around the office (though no one yet knows about my nun's habit). Seth likes gadgets - he also has an apple slicer that he has let me use on occasion. I am not in favor of most kitchen gadgetry. I don't like paying extra money for something that only does one thing, particularly when that one thing can also be accomplished by some other common kitchen implement, like a knife. But I was a little curious about a "water warmer," and I noted how carefully the producers of the item did not call it a "water heater" or even worse, a "hot water heater," which might cause all sorts of confusion. I think if I had made the product, I would have called it a "warm water warmer."

Seth came to my office all aflutter last week because he had been introduced to green tea, and knowing about my tea habit, figured that I would be able to discuss green tea at length with him. I don't like green tea. It just tastes like slightly off water to me, maybe water that has freshly-cut grass in it. Now Seth has apparently developed a tea habit, enough of one to purchase a warm water warmer. I must have given him a funny look when he told me about it, probably because I didn't know what a water warmer was, but he misinterpreted and continued, "I don't like using the microwave. It does weird things, even to water."

Um. Right.

You know, this isn't even the first time I've heard about a microwave causing harm. My sister refrains from using hers. She also has a warm water warmer, though I think she calls it "the stove." I was at her house once when she and her husband had a short discussion on whether the microwave was, in fact, "evil." I mean, I dunno, there may be something to the theory, but, man, it's a microwave. My sister is a little extreme when it comes to food and the preparation thereof. But the good thing about having someone like her in my family is that when someone like Seth comes along with kind of a nutty view, I can let it slide because I've probably heard it before.

You might think all this is going to piss my sister off; she does read this journal. But nah, she knows she's crazy unorthodox, and she's proud of it. I suspect she brings it up unasked in casual conversation. I think everyone in my family realized at some point that you can either hide your idiosyncrasies or you can claim them and be proud of them. And I gotta tell you, it's much more fun to air out your crazies. Although, you do tend to attract some weirdos.


standing inside a messy apartment with a bobby pin in my hand.

My apartment is a mess. One of the many troubles of adulthood is you have a feeling that you should live in a tidy environment combined with a complete lack of motivation to follow through on that feeling. I looked around my apartment, realized it was getting a bit disgusting, even if no one was going to see it, and decided that I should clean. So I wanted to come up with some way to make myself clean, some game or something like that spoonful of sugar song (though I would have much preferred a magic nanny to clean it all for me).

Then bam! Random childhood memory!

When I was a kid, I had this game that would ease the room-cleaning process. I would listen to the radio (or maybe some CDs on random play). Then I would write down the name of each song as it came on. I would count the letters in the title, and then I had the duration of the song to pick up that many items and put them away. Of course, I would count very tiny items like bobby pins as individuals, but really, the game was pretty effective at fooling me into doing work. Some songs had short titles and were therefore really easy, and so I got to goof off for the rest of the song after fulfilling my item count very quickly. But then other songs would just screw me over and I'd have to resort to finding a whole lot of bobby pins, like when that Primitive Radio Gods song came on ("Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand"). Somewhere in some lost and forgotten notebook in my parents' house is probably a list of song titles with numbers written beside them.

So now I'm listening to 95.7 streaming online because I can't get it in Winston. I'm in my messy apartment, and I have the rest of The Beatles "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" to pick up twenty-two items and put them away, because punctuation marks count, but spaces do not. So I really don't have time for you people.


sister/aunt sandra.

Call me Sandra. Most people do, though a lot of them mispronounce it. They call me "Saundra," with that exotic "ah" sound. So I correct them and then purposefully mispronounce their name until they get it right or they just start calling me "obnoxious girl" instead. I let little kids misprounounce my name, because it's cute. My nephew used to call me "Sanra," which I thought was so adorable that I kind of regret that his parents worked with his speech impediment.

Some of my nieces and nephews call me "Aunt Sandra." Again, I'm not going to correct them, because it is true that I am their aunt. But I don't like that either. It is too formal, a name for some distant sister of your mother that you never see who sends you birthday cards featuring bunnies even up until you are in your twenties. A young woman who picks you up and snuggles you and blows raspberries on your stomach and sneaks you some candy when your parents aren't looking, she's more of a plain old Sandra. My siblings teach their children to refer to me as such to teach them respect, because as an adult relative, I am in a position of authority, so I get a title. I guess this makes sense for little kids. Older kids will have figured out the concept of authority by then and will know without having to rely on a word to help them tell the difference. So even though I don't particularly like it, I don't want to make an issue of it. I'm not trying to undermine my siblings' parenting. Whatever variation of my name a cute kid uses, and cute ones are the only kind we have in my family, I'm going to answer.

My brother Knocker calls me "Sister" as if it were my name, which makes me feel like a nun. I'm not a nun, or if I am, I am the worst nun ever. All the other nuns are singing "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sandra?" as we speak. Knocker calls me "Sister" to stress our relationship, because relationships are the actual fabric of our lives, no matter what those cotton people tell you. I approve of this idea, but I think that referring to me as "Sister" actually has the opposite effect. It stresses that we have a familial relationship, but it makes it seem as though we lack a familiar one.

My identity is very wrapped up in this name that I carry. I am a sister many times over, but to refer to me solely as such leaves out all the other things that I am. I am a software engineer, I am a wine drinker, I am a writer, I am a southerner, I am a cheapskate, I am a smart aleck, I am quite a lot of things. I cannot be defined by a simple noun. It would take far too long to refer to me by all the things that I am, so just call me "Sandra" and that encompasses all that other stuff, even the stuff you may not even know about. And yes, I know that there are other Sandras, even ones who share my last name, for instance, my mother. But I can say with all honesty and modesty that no one is Sandra quite the way that I am.

I probably worry about this too much, and I think I know why. It's actually because I am a sister, specifically the fact that I am a baby sister to five other people. You try growing up with five older siblings and not developing a bit of an identity obsession. Other people treat my relation to someone else as my name. I do not know how many times someone has asked me, "Oh, are you such-and-such's sister?" I'm sure I just grit my teeth and smiled and replied in the affirmative. I think now that I will start responding with a big smile and "That is just one of the many things that I am."


exactly one time.

Thing 1: Clickety clickety.
We've hired a new guy, a fresh-faced new Virginia Tech graduate who has come to relieve me of the installation duties, but still did not manage to relieve me of the title of "Youngest Person at the Company." I've been doing a lot of work with him, showing him around, training him, and also working with him when installation tasks come down the pipe that are still beyond his experience (unfortunately, some of them look to be beyond mine as well). Making installs can be a slow process a lot of times. You often just have to hit a button and then wait for the computer to do something. I guess I've gotten used to this fact, so it doesn't bother me much anymore. But this new guy, he is apparently not the patient sort. He insists on wiggling the mouse or repeatedly clicking on something to make the computer hurry up what it is doing. In fact, he actually argued with me that he read an article (ah, the elusive source of "an article") that said that doing these things makes the computer finish its tasks faster. Actually, what it does is drive me nuts. I'm of the opinion that constant clicking while the computer is already bogged down will only make it go slower. Luckily, we've worked together so much that I feel comfortable screaming, "STOP THAT INCESSANT CLICKING!" at him whenever it gets to me. I am one step away from bringing in a fly swatter and popping his hand whenever he even touches the mouse. I've found that I am frequently impatient with impatience.

Thing 2: Nostalgia.
I found a copy of a VHS called The Last Unicorn at a thrift store last week. I remember this movie from my childhood. In fact, I remember two things: the title and something about a scene with a caravan. So I bought the thing for a dollar and watched it last night for nostalgia's sake. It's an animated fantasy movie about this unicorn who goes looking for all the other unicorns, but can't find them because they all drank too much Red Bull and ran into the sea (or maybe it was that a giant red bull drove them into the sea - whatever). Anyway, without the advantage of a five-year-old mind, this movie is not very good, despite the voice talents of Angela Lansbury, Alan Arkin, and Mia Farrow and the songs by America. Luckily, somone is remaking it at this very moment, so you'll all be able to not enjoy it at a theatre near you soon. I do confess the scene with the skeleton did make me laugh exactly one time.

Thing 3: Hey la, hey la, my doormat's back!
My neighbors put my doormat back. They did it during the night after our first realization of each others' existence, possibly at the very moment I was writing about the incident. I assume they were just hoping to sneak it back before I noticed its absence, not knowing that I had alerted the entire internet to what they had done. Take that! In any case, I am feeling much better about my new neighbors. Someday, I may even speak to them.