pure and sparkling.

Everyone at Summer Ventures (a.k.a "Nerd Camp") took the Purity Test. We all took it, we all knew our scores, the scores of our closest friends, the score of whatever boy we had a crush on. The Purity Test dealt mainly with sexual purity, though it asked questions about criminal activity, drugs, and eating veal (not kidding). The questions varied from "Have you ever said a curse word?" to "Have you ever licked someone's eyeball?" to "Have you ever had sex with an animal belonging to a member of your family in a moving vehicle in exchange for cocaine?" Okay, I made that last one up, though some of the questions did vaguely remind me of the form you have to fill out to give blood. I actually learned some new terms - the rule of the Purity Test was that if you didn't know what it was, you probably hadn't done it. I remember the day we all took it in the computer lab in the student union. From 4pm to 5pm every day, we were required to be out of the dorms, I suppose to encourage physical activity. We solved this problem by going to the computer lab.

So, the Purity Test. It was an online quiz on a website called The Spark, which also makes abridgements of classic novels so that high school students can get pass English with only a minimal of thinking. There were a hundred questions, each of them asking whether or not you had done something. For everything you hadn't done, you got a purity point. So your score out of a hundred was a percentage of how pure you were. We were mostly middle-class high school kids who were good at science and math, so you can imagine that we were mostly pure. But there were people on either end of the spectrum.

Sharon was a bubbly girl who couldn't decide if she loved Jesus or mortal men more. Had we gone to high school together, we probably would not have hung out. She was too pretty, too popular, too cheerleadery, and I was too straight-laced and too sarcastic. Sharon had been around the block a few times. I think the block had to be repaved because of her. I remember the day she took the Purity Test, with the rest of us girls standing behind her, giggling, and watching her answers, getting a vicarious thrill at being so close with someone so experienced. Her score was a 45. Then later that day, she came to me and confessed that she had lied on the test because we were all standing there, so she had gone and retaken it and gotten a 34.

Then there was Steven, who was stiff and square and wore argyle sweaters and golf caps. His idea of a good time was to grow a tree close to a property line so your neighbor would cut it down, and then you could sue him. Steven got a 94 on the Purity Test. I'm not sure how that was even possible. I've tried to figure out the six things he had done, like swear, hold hands, had a dirty dream, said he hated someone, touched himself, and cheated on a test (not all at the same time, though). I dunno, maybe he'd never eaten veal.

I got a 71 on the Purity Test. Then I had to go back and retake it, because it turns out that I had done one of the things that I did not know the slang term for. So I was at a 70. I felt pretty good about this score. Most people I knew scored in the 70s, so mine was still in the acceptable range while still being a little dirty and exciting and mysterious. Of course, I was comparing myself with kids who went to science camp.

This past weekend, I tried to go back and take the Purity Test. It's been seven years since I first took it, and I know that my score has flown a little south. There are a lot of purity tests out there, some of them mind-numbingly long and filled with questions about completely disgraceful acts, but The Spark does not seem to have a purity test any longer. I'm a little disappointed. I have fond memories of that summer and that ridiculous test. I wonder what Sharon and Steven would score now. Sharon's score couldn't have fallen much lower; maybe she decided to love Jesus and it hasn't fallen at all. I highly doubt that Steven's is the same - he's probably down to at least a 91 by now. Maybe a 90 if he's eaten veal.


ugly dishes.

Why does this picture piss me off?

a.) There are ugly dishes in my kitchen.
b.) My kitchen is a mess and things like pieces of cardboard with pennies glued on them are allowed to run rampant.
c.) Some unknown reason impossible for the reader to gauge from the picture alone, which I will then procede to rant about so that you know.


These are my new dishes. I only recently got them, and I would like to be sure that you know that I got them at a great price. In fact, they were absolutely free. Just ten minutes ago, I got them out of the dumpster. Soon, likely tonight, I will take them to the Goodwill truck down the road, along with items that came from my house, not the dumpster.

I was taking out my own trash when I discovered them. My trash is full of trash-type things, like unwanted mail, egg shells, and AOL CDs. You know, trash. My trash is never full of perfectly good, if ugly, dishes. In taking my trash to the dumpster, I found these dishes inside, sitting in the hot sun, clean and still perfectly capable of holding food items.

Okay, I can be a little wasteful at times, but I believe in the great circle of life for things. I take pretty much everything to the thrift store when I'm done with it, I take things that I'm not even sure they'll accept. But I know that they will accept dishes.

I've gotten lots of things out of the dumpster at my apartment complex. People are moving in and out all the time, and so the things that they can't or don't want to move goes into the trash. I have a nice big dresser in my room that I dragged all the way from the dumpster where it sat with the other two pieces in a matching set. Usually I just check for things that I might need or want. I have no need for ugly dishes, I actually have nice ones, but I was unable to bear the thought of these ugly dishes being thrown away for no good reason. So I pulled them out with the intention of donating them and then claiming the tax write-off for myself.

So the answer is C, the secret reason being that someone threw away perfectly good dishes when there is Goodwill truck less than two minutes down the road. And that pisses me off.


dressing for high school.

The fundraiser dinner at my old high school reminded me one of really great thing about my alma mater, and ironically enough, it was something about the food. I lined up with all those other members of the community and went through that same twisting cafeteria line that I once raced to get to at the sound of a bell. I remembered how I used to pass underclassmen mercilessly and kind of regretted being such a jerk. I waited patiently this time, asked for one baked potato and one piece of bread, then proceeded to the drink line, where I opted for Pepsi instead of sweet tea. I was helping myself at the salad bar, getting lettuce and other vegetable items while my mother examined the salad dressing choices. I couldn't see the dressings from where I was, so I asked, "What kind of dressings do they have?" I was really asking, "Do they have that Hidden Valley ranch crap or something I can stomach?" Mama didn't understand the true intent of my question, so she answered, "Italian, ranch, and thousand island."

I finally got to the dressings, and there I saw it: a big squirtable jug of ranch dressing. Then I remembered one of the truly great things about grades nine through twelve - my high school made the best ranch dressing.

We're talking as good as my mother's homemade here. In this world of institutionalized food and canned and processed meats and vegetables, the ranch dressing was the one thing you could count upon. There were always two big canisters of it at lunch sitting on the condiments stand, and if you had second lunch, those canisters were dangerously low. We all abused it. Our lunch trays were those thick plastic kind with partitions, and for most kids, one of those partitions was just for ranch dressing. Tater tots, french fries, even those square pizzas were improved by dipping them into the ranch partition. I won't say that I didn't experiment with ranch dressing and green beans a couple of times. We very rarely even had salad at lunch, but the dressing was always there.

Some lunch lady that works at my school probably makes it. She wears a hairnet, is old, and likely does not make very much. She is referred to by the rest of the staff by Miss and her first name, which is probably some old lady name like Florence or Ruth. Her job, by all accounts, probably kinda sucks. She gets there early to prepare institution food, and then has to stay and clean up after a swarm of ungrateful and messy kids who have no perspective on life at all. But she makes homemade ranch dressing in huge batches for those stupid ingrates, because even a lunch lady can have pride in her job. It comforts me that after five years, she is still there, providing excellent ranch dressing and making school lunch tolerable.

This woman, whoever she is, she probably does not realize how important she is to the school. When she retires, the morale of the entire student body will crumble the day her last batch of ranch dressing runs out. No one will even know why, but everyone will notice a general malaise over the school. No one will think to attribute it to a lack of good ranch dressing.

So lunch lady, I salute you. Thank you for making high school that much better.


my high school glory days.

My friend Amy goes to high school every day. She has to, because she teaches there. I don't know how she does it. I remember high school, and it was fine while I was there, but as soon as I graduated, I shook high school off of myself like a dog shakes water. I was done with that. I've been back to my alma mater once in the five years since I graduated, and that was four years ago. But I found myself back there one recent Friday night at a fundraiser dinner with my parents.

The fundraiser was put on by the athletic boosters club, a group basically consisting of the parents of student-athletes and possibly some bored former students who still find themselves living in the area. My parents are not in the athletic boosters, nor were they ever, not even when I was a student-athlete. But they like a nice tax writeoff every now and again, so they attend these dinners. I called at the last minute and said I was going to be in town the night they were going, and so I got roped in, too. Free low-grade steak? Okay, but only if it comes with a baked potato.

I am always afraid of running into people who knew me when. I'm not sure why. It's not as if I have anything to be ashamed of in terms of my status in life. Graduated from college early, steady job in an industry known for paying well, living in the comparatively big city, unmarried, but seriously involved. I think I just hate having to reduce the past five years of my life to a couple of sentences for someone who, truthfully, does not care. What I do now and where I live and my marital status do not define me, thanks for asking. But what can I say? I ask the same questions of these people, and maybe they hate giving me their answers, too.


Since this was an athletic boosters event, most of the school staff in attendence were coaches. I was pretty involved in the athletic program, playing three years of varsity basketball and four years of varsity volleyball. These were the people I was dreading to see, these were the ones that I knew would want to make small talk with me. I took a deep breath and prepared myself.

No one recognized me.

I haven't changed that much. My hair is longer, and I wear glasses now, but other than that, I am the same exact person. I used to walk through these halls with the knowledge that everyone knew me. Not everyone liked me, but they knew who I was. I played varsity sports, I was the salutatorian, I was in half a dozen clubs, I was a news anchor on the morning announcements. My face was on the TV twice a week. I was important, darnit, and now you people don't even know who I am. You, the coach over there, you used to know my free throw average and my shoe size, and now you can't even put a name to my face. A couple of people looked at me and realized that they probably were supposed to know who I was, and some of them probably even narrowed it down to a couple of people based on the fact that they recognized my parents. No one called me by name.

I've gotten used to being anonymous in my post-graduation days, but I guess I still clung to the fact that there was a time when my name and face carried some clout, and now it seems as if that has been taken away, too. I didn't even consider high school to be that much of an important time in my life; I called them my high school glory days as a joke. Like I said, it was just this period of my life and then it was over and I was done with it. I remember high school as being kind of fickle, and well, I guess I was right.

That night, I also saw some former classmates of mine, a pair of brothers who were the basketball coach's sons and team stars. I was well-known, but they were popular. Everyone wanted to be their friends, and the girls all had crushes on them. Sure, some of the nerdy kids who didn't understand about what was cool wanted to be my friend, but they were the minority. Nah, everyone, and I mean everyone, liked these guys. Even cynical as I was, I remember being delighted when one of them laughed at my joke once, though I had the sense not to show my pride. I didn't talk to the guys at the dinner, partly because I was afraid of them, still the popular kids in my mind, not recognizing me. Despite my vestigial feelings of awe, I realized that they are not important anymore either. Realizing their similar situation admittedly made me feel better about myself. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, I thought, not caring that some probably would have counted me among the fallen mighty.

I suppose that is the nature of high school. It has to be in a place where the cast of characters changes every year. Some other kid is playing my role there now, and everyone thinks that kid is important somehow in the grand scheme of things, not knowing about how I used to matter and then faded away. I mean, I was only following whoever it was before me, and maybe our names are all on some school plaque somewhere in the basement, but we're all just names. Since my high school doesn't matter all that much to me anymore, I suppose it's only fitting that the people there aren't overly concerned about me either.

It's sort of a relief, actually, that high school doesn't matter. We all get another chance to be important, whatever that even means, and though I did well in high school, I would not want my life to be judged based on what I was then. I was just like everybody else: a stupid kid. And though I don't always agree with how people are ranked out in the real world, I have to admit, it's better than it was in high school.

But I admit it, my pride was wounded, which is probably healthy, considering my over-healthy ego. I thought I'd said goodbye to my high school glory days five years ago, when in fact, I didn't really let them go until an athletic booster dinner a couple of weeks ago. And you know what? I'll probably still cling a little to them. Because along with all those other kids thinking I was important, I sure thought I was, too. I was mighty in my own mind, and oh, how I have fallen.


nowhere is safe.

The worst part about living in the dorms was that there was no place to cry. Your bedroom, which at home had been your sanctuary, was now shared with someone else. You couldn't have a good cry without inviting questions that you would then have to either answer with a (probably) lengthy explanation or a sniffled, "I don't want to talk about it." Then, whether you answered or not, your barriers are down and there you are in all your vulnerable red-cheeked glory. Even if, by chance, you have a sympathetic roommate who does not think you are a weirdo, no one likes to have someone cry in front of them, because it makes things awkward.

You can't go into the bathroom, because that too is shared. Most students can't even go have a sob in their cars, because they had to park them far, far away, and by the time you get there, you've sobbed in front of half the students on campus. No place is your own, and if you, by chance, happen to find somewhere that for a while at least is your own, you can never be sure that someone won't come along and make it their own, too. I actually can't decide if that's worse or better to have a stranger see you cry than someone you know and will have to face again.

Some cry a lot and others not so much, and so perhaps they've not ever thought of this disadvantage to communal living. Maybe they've only noticed that there's no safe place to have sex, but no one is sympathetic towards that. Complain to someone about that, and they'll tell that, son, in their day, they had to have sex in the backseat of a Corvair during a snowstorm then walk home barefoot, you kids these days. Complain about having no good place for a sobfest, then someone will ask whatever reason you have for one, and you're back where you started. Even now, you are all judging me, wondering just what was going on during my first year of college that I've come back four years later to gripe at length that I didn't have a haven for my tears.

I don't want to talk about it.


the high price of furniture and rugs.

Just in case you ever wondered...*

*Please note that this link may not do much for you if you don't have a highspeed connection.**

**Sorry, Mom.


my party.

A Saturday night, spent out beyond the reach of all cell phone towers on top of a mountain and down a gravel road while dance music played loudly and a girl in jeans and a do-rag twirled balls of fire on opposite ends of a long rope.

Did I mention that I was at a wedding?

Did I also mention that the girl twirling fire was the bride?

I've been to a lot of weddings, but none like this. I've even been to outdoor weddings in the middle of nowhere, though technically, I didn't go to this one. Josh and I arrived after the ceremony, just as the cake was being cut and the wedding party was finishing up their toasts. Either our arrival was the signal for the fun stuff to begin or we're just lucky like that. No, scratch that: Josh is just lucky like that. Me, I always arrive embarrassingly early or on-time. If I try to show up fashionably late, I'm still earlier than everyone else or I'm too late and all the cool people have already left.

Once we got there, we spent the bulk of the evening away from the regular reception with a bunch of other kids our age, sitting in the grass, drinking, and goofing off. The bride would frequently sneak off to join us, her dress bunched up in her arms to keep it clean, revealing her painted Chuck Taylors. She'd hang out, smoke a cigarette, then sigh and say she had to go back and be social or dance or whatever it is that you're supposed to do on your special day. We were the real party, the group of twenty-somethings messing up their dress clothes by sitting in the grass and talking about whatever.

It got dark and Josh and I walked back to the official festivities to say good-bye. When we got back, we noticed the fire-dancing. I was dumbstruck. I wondered if I could think of any girls who would even change out of their wedding dresses at their reception. I came up with no suspects. Twirling fire was definitely out of the question. Everyone was clapping in time to the music, dancing, having a good time. It was at that point that I realized: People could have fun at a wedding.

I suppose I've had fun at a wedding. But it was dress nicely, free food and drink, socialize quietly kind of fun. It was not drinking, partying, fire-twirling kind of fun. A wedding day is supposed to be the most important in the life of the bride, but brides never seem to enjoy the day all that much. They're stressed out from planning and dealing with family. They enjoy it in that they realize they're doing something grownup and significant, but they spend all their time being the focus and mingling, hello, thanks for coming, yes, I look lovely. They don't get to do what they want.

Someday, I want to get married. I want to look beautiful and be surrounded by everyone I love and eat chocolate cake with cream cheese icing. Then I want to be able to realize that it's my party, and I can twirl fire if I want to.



I was walking back to my car in the Southpoint Mall parking lot in Durham when a black guy in a silver car pulled alongside me. The lot was jam packed, and so I assumed the guy was stalking me for my parking space. He rolled his window down and said something to me. Rather than try to figure out what he said, I figured he was asking about my parking spot, and so I answered, "Yeah, it's right over there," while pointing to my car twenty feet away. He shook his head and decided to enunciate as he repeated, "Do you smoke?"

Oh. A real life drug offer experience! Cool!

Thanking the heavens I hadn't coincidentally answered something affirmative that had made sense the first time, I shook my head no and kept walking. He drove away. My mother and my D.A.R.E. officer would have been proud.

The whole situtation seemed a little weird and very sketchy. Why had he asked me that? Even without knowing the answer to why he asked, I'm pretty sure that answering in the negative was the correct solution. Still, there are a few explanations for his question.

One: He was looking to buy some drugs - highly unlikely. White people may drive around black neighborhoods asking people if they have any drugs, but black guys in nice cars do not drive around malls asking white girls for drugs.

Two: He sells drugs and was looking for someone that might be interested in making a purchase. That is possible - this was in a private college town, so there are probably lots of rich white girls who like to smoke pot. But does this dude really need to go around soliciting? Durham is a town with many sketchy areas. I'm sure there are plenty of people who will be happy to buy his wares without him having to go out and find them. Advertising is always a good idea in business, unless your business happens to be illegal. I confess, I do not know much about business or drug dealers, but demand never seems to be a problem for them.

Three: He was recruiting crack-whores. I guess that's a rather harsh way to put it. But imagine that this fellow fancies me, because he's got bad eyesight or whatever. As a drug dealer, he knows that he has a valued commodity, and as a girl, he knows that I, by definition, have a valued commodity. It's not uncommon for drugs or sex to act as currency, and it could be that he and I would build a sort of business relationship based on the exchange of our special currencies.


What's most upsetting about that third scenario is the fact that he picked me. Apparently, I look like a future crack-whore; I fit the profile. I really don't know all that much about girls who sell their bodies for drugs, but I in no way imagined that I look like I would fit in with them. I was wearing jeans, sandals, a vintage t-shirt, and glasses. The drug addicts in the movies never wear specs. Maybe I should get a haircut or something.

The whole scene lasted probably five seconds and was only scary afterwards, when I realized what had probably happened and the implications thereof. I realized that my fifth grade D.A.R.E. program had prepared me to say no to drugs, but the curriculum never said anything about what to say to a life of prostitution in exchange for drugs. Luckily, I managed to come through without having been coached. My mother and my D.A.R.E. officer would have been proud.


a big to-do.

I found a website that was basically a compilation of lists of things people wanted to do before they died. I made one of these lists once, back during my senior year of high school. I don't remember what was on my list, though I probably have it lying around somewhere. I'm pretty sure "milk a cow" was on there.

Anyway, the website is an interesting read, though a lot of the lists share the same items. Apparently, finding a soul mate is pretty high on everyone's to-do list. I picked out some of the more interesting ones that I found to share with you so that you don't have to peruse 100 lists to find the gems. Oh, what a good girl am I.

It's possible that I'm going to come off as a colossal bitch when I write this, because these lists are kind of personal, and I'm just one more random blogger offering my opinion. Who am I to critique someone's life goals? I want to milk a cow.

Pamela, 41, Ocean Springs, MS
- Color my hair
- Buy new furniture
- Get my dog groomed

See, I kinda think Pamela didn't understand the assignment, unless Pamela knows somehow that she is going to die today. That's a Wednesday list, right there. Or maybe Pamela is very depressed, and she just needs to take things one day at a time, by order of her therapist. On the opposite end, maybe Pamela is very happy and has accomplished all the major things she ever wanted to do, and really, being able to have a nicely-groomed dog, new furniture, and a kicky new hair color is just icing on the cake.

Pablo, 24, Carcass Cobh, Antartica
- Ride in a hot air balloon
- Save the North European Earth Worm
- Invent a cure for depression, epilepsy, diabeties, kidney failure, schizophrenia, brain damage and eating disorders
- Become good at something meaningful
- Own children

Such a weird list, though maybe that's what happens when you live in Antartica. Aside from the amusing phrasing of "own children" (perhaps to pull the sleigh around in the snow?), I like the fact that after he saves a species and cures all the diseases, he wants to really tuck in and do something meaningful. It makes me wonder what Pablo is good at now that he recognizes he's good at something, but it's not that cool. Maybe he's a computer programmer or something. By the way, is there really a place in Antartica named Carcass Cobh? Awesome.

Leo, 15, Wyoming
- Go to college
- Build an invention to benefit mankind
- Have kids (1 boy & 1 girl)
- Live till I'm at least 70 years old
- Visit all 50 states
- Make an animation for the internet
- Be thought of as someone's hero
- Go on all the roller coasters in Cedar Point
- See a natural phenomenon
- Buy a penguin
- Go to the Playboy Mansion
- Learn how to play poker
- Go to a baseball game with my dad

This one depresses me. A lot of these lists depress me. This one seems like your typical fifteen-year-old boy list, including the token reference to attractive, mostly-naked women. It's very ambitious, though a couple of them are easily do-able, and some of them are somewhat bizarre. But then you get to that last one, and you realize that visiting the Playboy Mansion and inventing something grand are at about the same rank as going to a baseball game with his dad. I wonder where his dad is, and why they're not going to any baseball games. Maybe he could get the Playboy bunnies to play baseball while he's visiting and thereby knock out two items at once.

Scott, 39, Dallas
- Run naked in a desert
- Visit all major Civil War battlefields
- See a game at all Major League ballparks
- Read all works by Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Ian Fleming
- See Liverpool play at Anfield
- Summit one of the world's top 20 highest peaks (probably #20)

Not a bad list for Scott, though the reason I noted it was because of the literature item. Aside from the idea that reading all of Shakespeare will take up all the time Scott probably has left, there is that very unlikely trio of Shakespeare, Hemingway, and...Ian Fleming. I like James Bond and all, but I would hardly put him up there with the Bard or Hemingway. I also wonder if reading all of Fleming includes one of his lesser-known triumphs, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

J, 19, Torrance, CA
- Start up my own (successful) clothing company
- Buy a Welsh Corgi and name him Ein
- Lose weight and keep it off
- Tour/live in Europe and Japan
- Live in Portland, OR (again)
- Get full sleeves (tattoos), a back piece, and a hip piece
- Have a smart baby that I've trained before birth to be trilingual
- Eat shark fin soup
- Visit Montreal
- Own a mansion with the following ameneties: Recording studio (for the bf), Design Studio, gi-normous bathroom, a front gate complete with 20' statues in the classical greek style of myself and my boyfriend (complete with gems for eyes), and a gaming room
- Obtain a position of influence

J did not submit a good list, and that's probably why she didn't submit her whole name. Some people seem to confuse the idea of the list with some other list, perhaps the list of things you would do if all laws of space and time were null just for you. The house idea is kinda hokey and unrealistic, and that trilingual fetus thing is downright ridiculous. I wonder what languages she's going to teach it (I assume French, English and Japanese, so she can take it to Japan and Montreal). I guess my idea of the list is different from people like her. Me, I would put things on my list that could possibly happen. Yes, I would like to birth a trilingual baby as well, but I'm going to stick to wanting to milk a cow. Suggestions like hers make me think that she just wasn't taking the idea seriously, that she was just someone who offhandedly answered it without sitting down and thinking what she really wanted. I guess I see this as an exercise for someone to figure out what they actually want to do with their time and then do those things. That's just me. I would also suggest that she clarify the position of influence item. You could say that a club bouncer is a position of influence.

Jenny, 33, San Jose, CA
- Design and make costumes for a children's theater
- Build a strawbale house
- Forgive my father being an alcoholic

Jenny made a good list. She wants to do interesting things (like the house), plus follow a dream (the theatre), as well as make amends with her past and her dad. I tend to like these short and realistic, but obviously meaningful lists.

Mo Mo, 33, Pennsylvania
- Divorce and find true love


Lorna, 18, Stamford, Lincs, UK
- Complete my make-up course
- Be a well known make-up artist/Designer
- Be eco-friendly
- Go back in time and change things for better
- Have my own brand
- Watch my kids grow
- Fall down Angel Falls
- Travel round south east Asia
- Prove people wrong

Again, I don't like this list much because of the conflict with reality, but I am curious about the last one. It seems like people always save the last one for the best, like maybe that was the first one they thought of, but they didn't want to put it first and emphasize it because it's the most important one, but kind of secret. Anyway, I assume that it means that Lorna has had a lot of doubters in her life, and she just wants to show them that she's not a complete loser, that she can go back in time if she wants to. However, I like the idea that Lorna is just some sort of correctness freak, and maybe she wants to go around accosting people and conclusively proving them wrong about something, anything, even if it's their spelling.

Bethan, 25, Melbourne, Australia
- Have a collection of my photographs published in a book
- Live in New York
- Learn how to leave the perfect answering machine message

I saved this list for that last item alone, and all I can say is me too, Bethan, me too.

* To read more lists without the benefit of my delightful commentary, head here.


hot and now.

This morning, a gentleman in a nice suit was standing in the lobby of our office, looking to speak to our director of software and holding some Krispy Kreme boxes. A few minutes later, he was shown into the office across the hall from mine, which happens to belong to that same director of software. From what I overheard before the door was shut, it seemed to be an interview situation. I thought this odd, because interviews were typically done in the conference room with several people. Also, interviewees don't usually bring food.

After he left, I trotted across the hall to ask who the guy was. Apparently, he was a very persistent applicant who wanted a summer internship here. He'd called several times, each time being very forward and clear about his abilities and his goals, and now he'd come in.

And the doughnuts?

The guy is currently employed at Krispy Kreme, and he brought those in, I suppose, to suck up. He must not have realized that we are a small company, only thirty or so people deep, and so he brought six dozen doughnuts. Six dozen fresh, hot-and-now, glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I hate to encourage brown-nosing, but give that man a job!


a new way to walk.

I remember, from back when I knew you before, the way you walk.

I remember looking up from my book and seeing you return from class while on my park bench. You had this casual swaying gait, always leaning slightly to your right (I think). You carried one of those messenger bags for your books, and so I thought that you swayed that way because of the extra weight on the one side. I notice the way people walk, it's the easiest way to recognize them from a distance when haircolor and approximate body shape let you down. I can't figure out my own walk. I've spied on myself in shop windows and glass doors, but either the angle is bad or I'm too self-conscious to behave naturally. I worry that I swing my hips too much. I wonder what a walk says about the person who owns it, what I am broadcasting to the world. I wonder if anyone else notices and thinks about these things and whether they know what it all means. I wonder, if I do swing my hips too much, what that says about me.

Who knows?

I can still picture you over the top of the book I pretend to read so I don't look like I am waiting for you. And now, after all these years, I see that the sway is yours and not a byproduct of your baggage (not physical anyway, though possibly emotional?), as you come toward me with empty arms, asking me to fill them.

Which I do.



And now for a word from our sponsors.

I found a new music website recently, and I think I'm in love. It's based on the idea that if a person likes a musician, that person will like other artists with similar features. You enter an artist or a band or a song that you like, and then the site will play other songs that you might like based on what you already like. As songs play, you can say whether or not you like them, which I assume is used to further determine a specific style that you enjoy. You can enter more bands and create a bunch of different "stations" based on your tastes. Basically, the site is like that guy you meet at a party somewhere who asks what kind of music you listen to and then suggests other, much cooler and more obscure things you might also like so as to impress you. Except that the website is not hitting on you, so you can trust it.

The site is free, though it will stop playing every dozen or so songs to ask you to register, which consists of nothing more personal than your email. I think this might just be for identification purposes, because they haven't emailed me anything yet (and I used my real email address). Once you do register, there are no interruptions whatsoever. There are no commercials, just song after song. It runs within your internet browser, so you can just minimize it and listen while you work. Sound quality is very good, though obviously I wouldn't recommend it on dialup. Each song is accompanied by artist and album information, plus helpful links.

It's an interesting concept. Obviously, it has its limitations as there are some qualities of music that may be enjoyable but not necessarily defineable. For me, originality and uniqueness are fairly big factors in how much I like a band. So if the program plays a band because it's what I heard before and liked, I wonder if I will dislike the new song just because I have essentially heard it before. When you enter an artist, the program will tell what the defining characteristics for the artist are going to be that allows the program to pick other similar artists. I've not used it enough to see how thorough it is - does it rely simply on the kind of instruments featured or the song style, or do things like the wit or subject matter of the lyrics factor in? The website claims it looks at everything, everything, but I am not yet convinced.

I have been impressed with the variety of artists. This program has brought up some very obscure, independent music for me, and I've already become interested in a few new-to-me bands through the site. I feel like I'm hard to impress in that aspect. However, it seems almost necessary to include the smaller labels to make this project successful, otherwise it's just another streaming radio station. No one is going to learn about new bands if all the bands can be heard on the radio anyway.

I've only been using the site for about a week now, so it's hard to say how it will stand the test of time. I wonder how well it will get to know me - will it manage to figure out my tastes so completely that I never again hear a song that I have to give a thumbs down? And like any sort of new media, it seems a matter of time before it goes commercial. I see this as only more reason to enjoy it now, while I can.

I feel like the idea is solid. It really is just like having friends who know what you like and suggest things they've come across, and I've found most of my favorite bands through the suggestions of others. It's just a matter of the implementation. To do the job right is no trivial task, but I feel like these people are on to something. Of course, you have to keep in mind that this program is not meant to be a radio station, so you're going to get repeats on artists and songs within a short time frame. It's just a suggestion box.

Alright, I'm done with my endorsement. I'm sorry to burden you with such advertising, but I'm not being paid or hitting on you, so you can trust me, too. For those of you who are interested in finding new, good music, I do recommend the site. For those of you who are not interested in that, well, what's wrong with you?



uncle walter.

Your Uncle Walter's going on and on.
Where did you go that you were gone so long?
How could you leave me here so long with Uncle Walter?
-Ben Folds Five, "Uncle Walter"

The cool kids think I'm cool because I have an Uncle Walter. Nevermind that he goes by his middle name, and we all call him Uncle Freeman. Come to think of it, Uncle Freeman's a pretty cool name, too.

I associated Uncle Freeman with several things, but most of all, I associated him with fishin'. Uncle Freeman lived down on the North Carolina coast, where my dad would take us kids to visit him and Aunt Esther and Aunt Jane and Grandmother Dolly before she died. We usually stayed with Aunt Esther and all of her cats. One morning of our visit, usually Saturday, we'd get up at the crack of dawn and go to Freeman's house after a breakfast of slightly frozen Eggo waffles and skim milk. Freeman would be waiting with his boat hooked up to his pickup. We'd all pile into the truck and drive a couple of miles to some local access area, where we'd push the boat into the Bogue Sound. Uncle Freeman's dog, Blacky, would come, too. Blacky was a black lab, a constant fixture in all those years of visits. I remember wondering the last time I was there if it was even the same dog, or if perhaps Uncle Freeman kept getting black labs and naming them the same name. Either seemed likely.

We never went pole fishin'. I've been pole fishin' only a few times in my life, but I've been net fishin' a lot. It seems to me now that net fishin' is cheating, though. You basically make a big circle with a net that extends from the surface of the water to the ground, trapping all the fish that happen to be in the area at the time. Then you walk around and scare them into the net. When you see a splash, you know some poor fish is thrashing around, trying to get out of its nylon prison, and you go and untangle it and put it in the bucket. I was never really brave enough to try and extract the fish from the net, so I was in charge of the bucket, which was this big metal basin with a piece of twine tied to one handle. I would drag it around to wherever Freeman or my dad had caught a fish and they would throw it in. Sometimes I couldn't get there quick enough and I'd see Freeman walking around with two or three fish hanging off his fingers like slimy shoes.

Sometimes we'd catch a big haul, sometimes not. Blacky was a big help - he was much better at running around, scaring all the fish into the net than we were. After we stopped getting hits, we'd climb back into the boat and start bringing in the net. We'd often find a bunch of fish caught in this last haul, sometimes crabs, too. Either we'd missed their desparate efforts to get free, or they'd just not made much of an effort. Either way, we had them now. All the fish we'd caught would go into a cooler, their eyes staring ahead, their little gills pumping back and forth, unable to extract air from air. Some of the more stubborn ones would still flop around for a while, but after a few minutes, they all fell still with their eyes still open, but their gills not moving. Uncle Freeman would drive the boat to some other spot and we'd do it all again. I guess he knew the layout of the sound pretty well; to me, it all just looked like water, water, and more water. I never tried to pay attention to where we went or how we'd ever get back. Mostly, I'd dangle my hand over the side of the boat and feel the spray as I looked around at the birds and the other boats out on the sound that day.

Mostly we caught mullet, which I didn't even know was a hairstyle for a long time. But sometimes there were flounder or bluefish or hogfish - they always delighted me with their little grunts. It never occurred to me to doubt my dad's accuracy in identifying each fish, because my dad taught high school chemistry, and he was a scientist.

Once the sun starting getting up high enough in the sky, we'd head back to where we'd parked the truck. Back at Freeman's house, my dad and Freeman would go out in the backyard and clean fish. I might have watched this process a couple of times, but mostly I stayed away. It was smelly, nasty work, and if you hung around too much, you'd be enlisted to help. So I'd play outside with Blacky or maybe go inside and watch the Ray Stevens video Uncle Freeman had. If Uncle Freeman didn't already have a half-finished game of solitaire going on his coffee table, I'd start one up with the battered deck of cards he kept on the accent table next to the couch. Uncle Freeman and Aunt Sally's house never changed. It always was laid out the same, with the same lava lamp that only got used when kids like me who were born in the 80s came over and asked to see what it did, the same old exercise bike gathering dust in the dining room, the same old carpet. It even smelled the same, a smell that I could never recall when I wasn't there, but as soon as I walked in the door, went, "Oh yeah, that's it."

I never really knew Uncle Freeman as an adult. I hadn't been out to see him in several years, ever since Aunt Sally died. I probably haven't been fishin' in a decade. If I had the opportunity, I'd go again in the heartbeat. There are few things in this world that are worth getting up at dawn for, but fishin' with Uncle Freeman is one of them.

We buried Uncle Freeman last month. It was cold and rainy and no one cried much. Uncle Freeman was old, and his health had been declining for a long time. After the family had potluck lunch at the church after the funeral, we all sat around and told Freeman stories. For me, that was the saddest part, because my father and aunts and cousins were telling stories about a man I didn't even know. Older relatives slip away before I'm adult enough to know them as anything but another grown-up that shared a family name. The only time I could even see that the Freeman they talked about was the same one that I knew was when they told fishin' stories. True, there were a lot of those, because Uncle Freeman liked to fish. But he also liked to help out his neighbor and garden and tell stories that he'd read in the Reader's Digest as if they had happened to him. I heard tales about a man who told stories that were always entertaining, but that you couldn't always quite trust, and I was surprised at how it reminded me of my brothers and sisters - a new generation in the same family. I knew Freeman and I were relatives in the blood sense, but I don't think I ever got before how much we were related.

I suppose that is the way at funerals for people that you knew in a limited sense - you come out not saddened by what has been lost, but by what you missed out on by not knowing the person more completely. You didn't lose it, you never had it. It was the same at my grandmother's funeral, and at my grandfather's, my aunt's, my other aunt. Maybe you have to be an adult to see the older generations as anything but old. It is only the stories that keep people young and illustrate how they were before time started to catch up with them. I worry that my children will never get to know my parents, that I will tell them stories later to have them respond with surprise because the person in the story didn't sound like the grandma or grandpa they knew.

Even though I came out feeling like I has missed out by not knowing Freeman outside his old boat, I came out saddened by the fact that the younger kids in my family were missing out on even that much. There was a lot more to my uncle than going out on the sound with an old black lab and some netting, but even that much was pretty good.


brilliant brunette.

I want you to be honest with me here. Whatever you say, it's not going to hurt my feelings, okay? I think we have that kind of relationship where I can ask you a question about my appearance and you can tell me the honest-to-God truth and it's cool, you know? I mean, if I can't take the truth, then it's my own fault for asking for it, so you really can't be to blame. I'm not going to get mad. Really.

Does my hair look browner today?

There are a lot of shampoos out there. I have never been convinced that one shampoo is any better than any other, at least not for the price you pay. I'm sure there's something out there that costs $50 for four ounces and is made of ground-up peacock bones, but I tend to buy whatever is on sale and smells nice. I pay an extra fifty cents for the smells-nice factor, because I can tell the difference. I like to get free samples of the more expensive ones to try them for special occasions and to reaffirm my belief that I'm not missing anything by buying sub-buck hair products.

I got one in the mail yesterday and used it today, even though today is not a special occasion. These samples are always new products that have some sort of gimmick, whether it be volumizing or strengthening or revitalizing, whatever that means in terms of hair. This one is made to make brown hair more brown. When I signed up for the free sample, I remember picking out my hair color, so there aren't poor blondes out there receiving shampoo to turn their hair brown. My sample included a Shine Release shampoo, a Light Reflecting conditioner, and a Shine Shock glosser, which I think I used incorrectly. I particularly like the idea of the Shine Release shampoo, as if there is a treasure trove of shininess hiding within each individual strand of hair, but it's trapped and has to be set free. The Light Reflecting conditioner seems kinda weird. It apparently makes my hair reflective, which seems to be the same thing as making it shiny. Maybe it contains ground-up glass or something.

The idea is solid. This gimmick is a good one because it's not been done before (that I know of, but I'm really not an expert in the field), and because it's going to appeal to women. It says, "You are beautiful already, and if you had one flaw, it would be that there just isn't enough of the natural you shining through. Release your inner beauty." Of course, releasing your inner hair color just seems to mean to make your hair shiny, which has been done before. Luckily, people are stupid.

My hair is brown. I'm not sure how you could make it any browner, so I think maybe the idea is to make hair go from plain old brown to BROWN!. The series of products is called "Brilliant Brunette," which I can only assume means that your hair will become exciting, not that you will become smarter. I might pay extra for shampoo that did that.

But you have to think that the makers of this shampoo only made a brunette version because they couldn't go excluding half of their market. Even the picture on the package shows a girl with the reddest brown hair you could still call brown. Brunettes are the smart ones in the jokes because they don't get anything else - it's assumed they're staying at home studying every night instead of going out on dates. Brown is the color of mud, of rat hair, of animal waste. Even when it's shiny, then it's just the color of fresh animal waste.

Or maybe the makers of these products thought of them because of brunettes. Hmm, they said, we need a group of sensible women who think secretly that they are a little drab but who are too practical or proud to dye their hair to some exciting color. Hey! Brunettes! Let's make their hair shiny! What if we just smeared fresh animal waste in their hair? Yeah, good idea! But make it smell like coconuts.

My hair does smell like coconuts. It also seems softer. But BROWN! doesn't look that much different from brown - maybe the stuff doesn't work in fluorescent light. In which case, the thing is a bust anyway, because those are the kind of lights used at the library, and that's where all the brunettes are anyway.


a short entry about a long day.

"Hey, uh, Mike?"
"You ever get the feeling that you're writing really bad code?"
"All the time."
"Just making sure."


a slight chance of showers.

"Jennifer is pregnant."

My reaction to this statement was something along the lines of "How can Jennifer be pregnant? Isn't she like 8?" But no, my mother told me, Jennifer is like 17 now, and all discussion aside as to whether 17 is emotionally mature enough to be having a baby, 17 is definitely physically mature enough to have a baby. I remember Jennifer as being the ash-blond little girl who used to show up at the neighborhood swimming pool or who used to always want to help take care of the little babies during Sunday service. And now she was well on her way to taking care of a little baby full-time, all without a high school diploma, a wedding ring, or (likely) any indication of what exactly her life is going to be like.

The announcement wasn't widely made in the church until she was about four months along. And then what? She's going to keep the baby. The father is known, around, and involved, but not proposing, because he's probably just a kid, too. Her parents are not going to kick her out. It's going to be a girl, and it's going to be named Madison. Most surprising of all, the ladies of the church are throwing her a shower. Okay, so the shower isn't going to be held in the fellowship hall after service like most church showers, but the women of the church are all invited.

For those of you who are not familiar with rural Southern United Methodist church-goers, they by and large are not really down with premarital sex. I'm sure they realize that it happens, and they are willing to overlook that fact as long as it's not thrown in their faces with things like cohabitation and unwed mothers. When I found out that Jennifer was pregnant, I wondered how the church family would react. Usually the birth of a baby is a wonderful, joyous occasion, met with much hugging and tears and requests to hold the tiny new person. But if that baby was not wrapped within the safe and traditional two-parent family, if that baby stood for something considered sinful just by being alive, what would the reaction be then?

I am so proud of my old church. I was afraid that Jennifer would be shunned, mocked, turned away when she most needed the help of a long roster of experienced mothers. Not having the shower at the church is a compromise, but having it at all is a big step in the right direction. Condemnation would not be the answer when the deed is already done. Sex is not the issue anymore, the baby is the issue. And no matter the situation, a birth should still be something to celebrate.

My mother says that everyone sins, but that some people's sins show up more than others. It's easy to condemn those who suffer from vices we do not share or who wear great big scarlet letters of their trangressions. Far too often that is what Christians do, though it is decidedly not the Christian thing to do - casting the first stone and whatnot. But it is easier to distance yourself from obvious sin so as to not have to face the fact you are no better, just more concealed. And even that concealment is only from other humans, other imperfect beings. There may be visible sin, but there is no invisible sin when it comes to God. He's got magic sin glasses or something.

Of course there will be talk, and there may even be talk at at the shower, but I feel certain that the gossipers will fall silent as time goes on, particularly once the baby starts attending church. Rural Southern United Methodists love little babies, no matter how the parents chose to make them.