names upon names upon names.

You can't see my face very well (which is totally the point, because reflected in a muddled surface is really my best look), but I look very pensive and deep as I ponder the weight of names upon names upon names.

And that's all I have to say about that.


medium well.

You liked your steak medium-well, a minor thing that I always secretly considered a major flaw. I remember that time, at my graduation dinner, where we both ordered the filet - my parents were paying - and you ordered it like you always do. The chef joked that you had to leave for asking for a filet mignon cooked that way, and I, honestly, was a little embarrassed. You were always "medium-well, pass the A-1," while I was content to eat my red meat solo, the steak's juices better than any sort of thing you can buy in a bottle. When meat is burnt, it all tastes the same to me. You always acted like I was gross, I was nasty for putting such a bloody-looking thing in my mouth, and I didn't argue back much (unusual for me), because I didn't want to let on how unsophisticated I thought your preferences were.

Do you remember our seven-year anniversary, the one where we actually dressed up and had a nice dinner for a change? I ordered some sort of chicken thing, and you had steak. Medium-well, please. They brought your steak and it looked like a fine piece of delicious meat, to me, anyway. You cut it in half and saw the red juices seeping out, natural marination that made the whole table smell like a fresh kill in a nature documentary. Unacceptable, and I looked pained as you prepared to flag down the waitress to send your steak back for another round with the grill.

But first, you cut off a bite out of the reddest, juiciest part and held it out to me, because you knew. The way steak is divine to me is gross to you, and the way you prefer it seems like only a waste of a good piece of meat in my eyes. You fought back a scowl of disgust and held our your fork, its passenger dripping. I received it gratefully.

It was delicious.

I am with someone now who agrees with me on the matter of meat preparation, and I cannot tell you how relieved I was that first dinner when he ordered his lamb chops medium-rare. It's a little, little thing, one that I am ashamed has taken on such importance on my mind. That's why I'm still here, writing out these words that paint me so poorly so that it will be out in the open that I am a medium-rare snob and that once I loved a man who preferred medium-well. You were so picky about your stupid steak, about your cheese-only cheeseburgers, about everything you ate and it drove me crazy, but only after. It was just one of those things that grew out of proportion in my mind once I didn't have you around to remind me why I put up with it.

And now it's all fading, our years together. I can't even remember if you liked the stalks or the trees of your broccoli anymore, even though I must have watched you cut and separate your green vegetables a million times. But the bitterness is fading, too, all that anger I had about the stupid stuff like your steak is slowly melting away. Now I can just look back on it all and think not about the times I was embarrassed to order dinner with you, but the time that you held out that one piece of medium-rare steak to me, and how delicious it was.


the hundred dollah lady.

"That's a hundred fitty dollahs, deah."

I raise an eyebrow and look at the cashier. For $150, it better be a great cup of coffee. But then I look at the cash register display and see that it says $1.50, which, while still a little much for a small cup of joe, is more in my price range. Ha ha, it's a joke, I get it. I hand her two singles and hear, "Out of two hundred dollahs, here's fitty dollahs back. You have a good day now."

I thank her and walk over to the sugar and cream station behind her. I hear her ring up the person behind me, telling him "That's five hundred, sixty-foh dollahs, deah." I begin to wonder if she does this all the time.

We've moved to the new building, and we've got a cafeteria on the bottom floor where we can buy coffee and snack and lunch. I'm talking to a guy who used to work here before with another company, and he says, "I'm glad to see that the gay sandwich guy and the hundred dollar lady are still here."

"The hundred dollar lady? She does that all the time?"

"Oh yeah. It's her thing."

"It never gets old?"

"Not to her."

The whole scenario reminds me of a Monty Python sketch, where a clerk in a mattress shop multiplies everything by ten and a different clerk multiples everything by three, so customers are constantly having to do division, all the while keeping up with which clerk uses which multiplier. But that was just silly sketch comedy - what is this woman doing? Is there some British woman in a cafeteria somewhere who inspired the mattress sketch by pretending to charge one hundred pounds for a scone?

I suppose it's an amusing enough joke the first time, but this woman has been here for a while. What's more, the people she checks out are mostly the same day in and day out. So the joke is rarely new to anyone. Does she just live for the times when someone does a double-take, or has it become so ingrained that she actually thinks in those terms?

It's silly, I think, and then I think again, what's wrong with that? This woman works as a cashier in the cafeteria of an office building. Her job is not very exciting, and yet she's always in a pleasant, chatty mood. So if a little silliness helps her get through the day, then that's just fine with me. You know, we could all use a little more silliness in our lives, which is exactly why I've taken to doing the twist in the elevator. Just kidding.



original parts.

"A girlfriend of mine had a bunch of plastic surgery, but nah, not me. I'm all original parts."

"Yeah," I reply, not particularly interested in the conversation, but participating minimally because I want to have good working relationships with my coworkers.

"Well, no, I take that back. I've had some crowns on my teeth. But other than that, all mine."

I snap my head to attention, and my tongue automatically goes to the left side of my mouth to feel the smooth porcelain amongst the enamel. I just had a crown put in, and though I had dreaded it for all the traditional reasons of dreading major dental work, it never occurred to me that it would be a rite of passage. It hurt to get it done and it was expensive, but that part was over. Now I have to face the fact that I am already having to replace body parts.

Man, I'm getting old.

Aging becomes a different process the more you do it. In the not-too-distant past, getting older was good, because it meant you could do more stuff, have more freedom and privileges. Now I'm not growing any closer to adulthood, I'm growing closer to the infinite.

I feel like my car. My car is only five years old and was made by reputable Japanese people who want young American girls to get to their destinations safely. But I've run her hard during the past five years and 105,000 miles, and I've been noticing signs of her age. You know, some more bumps in the ride, a little more noise, a few more vibrations. I've had to replace a couple things: a headlight, a taillight, a belt. But then a couple weeks ago, I had to replace a catalytic converter. The first shop wanted to charge me $1400, approximately a third of the value of the car. And I had to decide how much this car was worth to me, whether it would be better to get it fixed and wait until the next thing went wrong or just sell her off and upgrade. I feel rotten for even considering this betrayal, when it was me who put her in this condition, and she has never let me down.

In the end, I managed to find a shop that did the work for $300, which was still less than a tooth-shaped piece of porcelain in my mouth cost me. And though a crown for me is more like a headlight than a catalytic converter or even a belt, it makes me feel world-weary and used up. The crown is just the first step on a path that leads to dentures (new pistons), titanium hips (differential replacement), and pacemakers (aftermarket distributor).

Before you protest, once again, let me affirm that I know I am whining about nothing. It's a struggle to be an artist when there's nothing wrong with your life. It's just a tiny crown, and if I'd been more devoted to my dental care when I was little, I wouldn't even be having this premature life crisis (or I would, but it would have to be about my one grey hair again). I am still young, and I can still do anything. I may not be 100% original parts anymore, but I'm still running, and I've got a lot of miles left in me yet.



Totally unrelated question: since you are a former waitress, I thought you could answer this for me. Should a tip be calculated from the pre-tax amount, or the full billed amount? I've always done it from the full amount, but my dad says it should be from the pre-tax amount.
-Doug, Sandra's brother-in-law

People ask me tipping questions quite a bit. It gets old, usually because I tell them to tip more than what they want to hear. Then again, even if I hate being asked, you can bet I'm looking over your shoulder to see how well you do it. It surprises me to see how many people still don't know how to tip. I had a girlfriend tip $2 no matter what the total bill. It made me want to cry. I tried to teach her the easy math of taking 10% and then halfing it again to add to the original 10%, but she waved me off, "I just put down two dollars." Maybe I should've warned her not to frequent the same places, otherwise she'd start getting her drinks spat in.

I'm sorry, but you have to tip the waiter. Servers make about $2 an hour, so they really do just live on tips. That is unfortunate that the industry is set up so that customers have to support wait staff. I agree totally. Write to your congressman, but in the mean time, you still have to tip.

My rule is about 20%. Pick your own rule, depending on how you feel about it all, but please don't make your rule less than 15%. Then, depending on the service, the food, and the restaurant, go up or down. I've given as much as 50% (on a very low-total check, sure) and my lowest was about 5% (wretched service). Note that nicer places call for higher percentages. You might use a 15% base at a Waffle House and a 20% base at someplace fancy.

I'm sorry that there isn't really a definite rule. There are, but I don't like them. I think they were made by people who never waited tables. For instance, there is the old double-the-tax rule. I think it might be from a former generation, but it doesn't seem to apply anymore. North Carolina sales tax is 7%, so that rule yields a 14% tip every time. Not enough. You might say that 14% is close enough to 15%, which remains an acceptable rule in many cases, but I say no. I always err on the side of the server. These people are relying on strangers for their living and you can afford to eat out - give up the few cents.

And that brings me back to my brother-in-law's question. I'd never heard of such a thing as tipping pre-tax. Again, my answer here goes back to whether 14% was close enough to 15%. How you do it is only going to make the difference of a few cents, and chances are good that the server makes less than you do. So be a nice guy and calculate your tip post-tax. Which brings up another, very important issue: if you have a coupon, always always tip on the amount before the coupon. The server did the same amount of work regardless of your coupon and should be tipped accordingly.

All that being said, I still think that crappy service deserves a crappy tip. There are things that a server cannot control: food quality, atmosphere of the restaurant, crying babies next to your table, (sometimes) food preparation time. But the server can keep your drink filled, be pleasant, make every effort to make you feel better about the things he/she can't control. If your server left you hanging with an empty water glass for ten minutes and was surly, then by all means, leave a poor tip. Yes, I am sympathetic to servers, because I used to be there. But when I was there, I actually tried to treat my customers well, and I've no sympathy for those who do not.

So there's your answer. Happy tipping.


just what i wanted.

Giving gifts is an art form. Some people are just really terrible at it, and unfortunately, some of those people give me presents. But that's okay. Presents are presents (and some can be exchanged for store credit)!

Since this is my blog and I don't have to be objective, I want to say that I'm good at giving presents. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I don't really buy presents for people unless I know them really well. But part of it is the fact that I'm able to pick up unusual things because I don't spend a lot of time in traditional retail stores. You know what? You might even get a used gift from me, but I guarantee that if I've bought you a pre-owned present, it's going to be awesome.

That being said, I received a perfectly marvelous present for my birthday a couple weeks back. Josh called me the week after my birthday to tell me that he had bought my present. I was confused, because my birthday was over. He also was too excited to keep it a secret from me. That is some sort of excitement. I am frequently so excited about a present that I can only barely keep it a secret, but I've never spilled the beans outright. Josh is apparently a big bean-spiller, a new fact which might come in handy someday.

"Okay, so what is it?" I asked.

"A vintage gumball machine," he answered proudly.


"Yeah. I found it and it looked like something that you would really want but would say was too expensive to buy for yourself." I thought back and realize that on more than one occasion, I'd seen a vintage gumball machine at a thrift store or yard sale and wanted it oh, so badly. But always, it was too expensive for me to justify dropping the dough on what was a limited-use toy. The boy knows me pretty well. Adding to my amusement was him telling me how he negotiated the price down $20. I could practically feel his own pride at his find, because he's just not the kind of guy who goes around telling people how much their gifts cost.

"Well, is it the stand-up kind? Does it have a base and everything?"

"It's exactly like what you would picture."

I didn't see it until the following weekend, but man, he was right. As lovely as any gumball machine I've ever seen, this was something I was going to be proud to have in my living room. Josh helped me carefully pack it into my car for the long drive home, all the while giving me safe driving tips so as not to damage the machine. It was so funny and cute to see his gift-givers' pride, a feeling I've experienced more than once. Sometimes you find gifts so serendipitously that you start thinking some supernatural force is involved in your shopping.

So this week's picture is of my newest addition, a thing that I've always wanted but never bothered to buy for myself, fully stocked. And while I would love Josh even if he repeatedly bought me rotten presents, I am relieved that I have only marvelous gifts to look forward to.


finishing next-to-last.

Ned is a nice guy.

No, I mean that Ned is really a nice guy. You could take the most eloquent writer in the world, with the absolute best vocabulary, introduce him to Ned, and the writer would say, "Now there's a nice guy." Other people at my company worry about getting more clients or improving efficiency, but not Ned. He's worried about employee morale. Ned is average height, of average looks, and is slender. I imagine that he eats nutritious foods and goes jogging five days a week. He attends church regularly and gives to charity. He has investments in safe, slow-yield companies. Ned is a nice guy.

I like Ned, because I cannot help but do so. I do not talk to him much, because, well, nice people tend to seem bland to me. The people that I am drawn towards are nice people, but if you were to describe them in one word, "nice" would not come up in the top ten. Niceness is just not their defining characteristic. So my thought on Ned tend to be "what a nice guy," and then dismissal and my concentration goes on to someone more interesting.

We have an annual company picnic at a local park, which everyone dreads. Families are invited, so that everyone's families may also dread the event. The picnic isn't bad, and people seem to have a good time, but I think it's just the idea of attending a work function on a Saturday. Last year was my first picnic, and so my first time meeting Ned's wife. Petite and slim, exotic and foreign, with waist-length black hair and olive skin, one look at the gorgeous Mrs. Ned and the beautiful little Nedlets tells me one thing:

There's something more to Ned.


someone's uptight mother.

Picture this: a giant, university lecture room with seating for 100, less than half filled. I'm sitting in the next-to-last row, head bent down over an impossible physics exam (as if there were any other kind of physics exam). My friend is sitting next to me, looking equally confused and frustrated. The professor, seated at a stool at the front of the room, gets up and walks out of the classroom. In an instant, my friend springs into action, grabbing her physics textbook out of her bag and flipping expertly to the correct section. I stare. She glances through it quickly, then offers the book to me. I attempt to shake the shock out of my expression and look cool and confident as I refuse the offer with a slight shake of my head. I go back to my test, my eyes still wide in amazement. I want to say in the scandalized whisper of the ten-year-old that is somewhere deep inside me, "But that's cheating!"

I don't like cheaters.

I cheated once, taking a test in my fifth grade AG class. We'd been doing this long study on whales (which must have been a favorite topic of the teacher, because I see no other reason for us studying it in such depth), and we were having our final exam on the topic. The class was in a small room with two tables where the students sat. During a test, we would stand slightly-opened books up between us to discourage us from glancing at our neighbor's papers. I had my Trapper Keeper standing up between me and the girl next to me, the same Trapper Keeper that contained all my notes for the class. So I used my notes.

The really stupid part was that this particular test had a brain dump section for extra credit. Basically, you just listed everything you could think of about whales that hadn't already been tested and you'd get bonus points. That was where I used my notes. I ended up with 156 score on this test, and that is on the traditional 100-point scale, mind you. Another girl in the class ended up with 175, but I think she just studied.

Cheating seemed really pointless after that to me. Trust me, there have been some times when cheating would actually have been beneficial to my test scores rather than just overkill, but I never did it again. There have been times when I've been handed back a dismal result, but my thought was only that that's what I got for not studying harder.

I never let people cheat off of me, either. That sort of thing was rampant, particularly in high school. Kids wouldn't do the homework, and then in the morning before class, they'd borrow a buddy's paper to get the answers. My friends, even some of my closer friends who only found themselves in that situation once in a rare while, didn't even bother to ask me for my paper. They knew they could get the same answers elsewhere.

I take that back: I let my best friend Amy copy a worksheet for French class in college. I don't remember why she didn't have hers, but it was a pretty good reason. Plus, these worksheets were kind of silly, basically fill in the blanks of sentences taken almost word for word out of the accompanying textbook. I knew perfectly well that she could do the worksheet, she just hadn't, for whatever reason. I don't feel bad about that one.

I was always very protective of my answers, too. I was expert at covering up my paper from any roaming eyes. Once, I sat right next to a kid who was a well-known habitual cheater. We were taking a quiz, and I knew, knew that he was attempting to look at my answers. Fine, then, we can play that game. I wrote down the wrong answers. Then after he was finished, he turned in his paper, and I erased my paper and wrote in the correct ones. I will never forget the priceless confusion on his face when we got our quizzes back as he looked at the rotten grade on his paper and the perfect score on mine. He took to sneaking glimpses at his notes after that.

There are unfair, ridiculous tests out there. Fine, that's the way it goes. Take comfort in the fact that the exam was unfair and get over it. But more often than not, cheating is just desperate act of the unprepared. I should know: I've been unprepared before. In that case, I see it as your own fault. Unfortunately, cheaters do prosper. Half of the students in my senior high school class saw borrowing answers as a fact of life, and, folks, these were the honors students. These were smart kids were just too lazy to actually put in the time and study, and so I have no sympathy for them if their system fails them. They got away with it, got scholarships to college and probably have good jobs now where they still probably don't have to do any independent thinking.

But enough. I'm done ranting. I feel like someone's uptight mother. Someday I probably will be.


mr. gauge man.

Part of being in charge of a project is dealing with people who are involved in the same project, but who work outside my office. I'm writing software for a new prototype vehicle and I've had to talk to a different person for pretty much every part of the truck. There's the tire guy, the suspension guy, the brakes guy, etc. I guess when all these guys write in their blogs, they complain about the software girl.

Today, I talked to the gauge guy. The creators of this vehicle thought it might be beneficial for the driver to know how fast the vehicle is moving at any point, so they decided a speedometer might be appropriate. There are also five other gauges. The gauge guy sent me a set of these gauges so that I could test my software on them.

They didn't work.

I raised the flag, after much double and triple checking. We sent the gauges back and received new ones that had been newly programmed to work the way they should. I plugged them in yesterday to do some more testing. All of them responded nicely to the messages I was sending them, except for the voltage gauge.

It didn't work.

I raised another flag, which raised a flurry of emails asking questions about what I had tried and how the gauge should work in the first place. I limited my responses to plain english, because I've found that I've had to deal with a lot of non-technical people, and if I started going into too much detail, they would just get confused. This morning, I received my first ever communication from the gauge guy, who copied and pasted a chart from our own document about how I should be constructing the message to send to the voltmeter, asking "Does this help?" He might as well have sent an email that said only, "Are you sure you're not a moron?"

I was a bit insulted at the email. After all, all it said was the message that I was supposed to be sending to the gauge and how it was constructed. Thanks, I know. Throughout the course of this project, I have felt more than a little doubt that I am experienced enough to be running this project. I am young and green behind the ears and were our company not experiencing a staff shortage, I would not even be in this position. I would not be surprised if any error in the communication between the gauges and my application were on my side. I know, I know: I am a newbie.

But he doesn't know that.

Needless to say, it was very difficult to not reply sarcastically. What I did reply was a friendly and humble email, sending him the details of my message in base-16 numbers, asking him to check it and make double-sure for me. I decided if he wanted to get technical, then I could do that.

What I wanted to say was this:

Dear Mr. Gauge Man,

I just wanted to thank you for your very helpful email on the matter of the voltmeter. Please, praytell, where did you get this information? If only we had such charts detailing every message that truck components communicate, our program might not just sit there like a stalemate game of solitaire. We do have pretty graphics, though.

I feel so foolish to find out that I had been going along communicating with the voltmeter incorrectly all along. I had tried a number of things: I had sent it extensive text documents, I had tried tapping the value on its case, I even tried standing quite near to it and shouting "26 volts, please!" in case it was hard of hearing.

Now I feel ready to procede upon the appropriate course of action. Thank goodness for your email! I can only imagine that there are others like me who wish to communicate with their voltmeters, yet do not know the way. Perhaps you should look into a career in consulting.

Miss Software Girl

Mr. Gauge Man did reply to the message I actually did send him. He said that there was an error in the gauge programming, that it was programmed to look for a different message. If only he'd read his little chart, we could have avoided all this trouble.


strange in general.

It's past midnight and I'm in a strange city, strange in general and strange to me. By following bad advice and making a bad decision, I've ended up in Detroit two hours later than I was supposed to and separated from my colleague. I don't know what else to do but take a cab to the hotel and hope for the best.

I get a cab outside baggage claim, feeling self-conscious and out of my element. I am wary of the cab drivers, as if I have "SUCKER" written on my forehead. But if I am a sucker, then I am, and the bottom line is that I need to get to my hotel.

I tower over my portly, dark-skinned driver as he loads my bags into the trunk. I get into the backseat and settle in for what the driver tells me will be a twenty-five minute wait. I'm tired and ill-tempered, frustrated at myself for having gotten myself into this mess of a situation. I decide to talk to the driver, just because he's foreign and possibly interesting, just because he's a distraction.

I'm not good at small talk with strangers, or at least I feel like I'm probably not, because I think that I ask questions that are not really small. I ask about history or family or job satisfaction, because those things are interesting to me. I like to know where people are from, how they got where they are, if they like it now that they've arrived. My cab driver was from Bangladesh, and he'd been in Detroit about ten years. He had family living in New York, but none around here. He asks a little about my life and seems to think it's novel: a girl my age with a career, living alone. I don't know much about Bangladesh, but I know that it's not known for its women's lib.

"Do you like driving a cab?" I ask.

A pause. "No, not really. But the economic situation is very bad here. One of the worst unemployment rates in the nation."

"Really? Why is it so bad?"

"Because the automobile companies are sending their jobs overseas."

I want to laugh at the bitter irony. Undoubtedly this guy's family came to the States for that elusive American dream, to find work and better pay. And now he was stuck working third shift driving a cab because all the jobs were being sent to his homeland. This is why I ask questions like these, because the daily struggles of people who are regular but still completely unlike me are what interests me.

As we pulled off the interstate to my hotel's exit, my little Bangladeshi cab driver invites me to lunch the next day. I tell him that I will likely have to work through lunch, which is a complete fabrication. But I am charmed and quietly flattered at this man who has tried to quite literally pick me up. I wonder if he harbors a special place in his heart for southern women who are much too tall for him or if I've just charmed him by taking an interest in his life. Maybe he figures I want to be rescued from my lonely existence by someone who will support and impregnate me.

We arrive, and he gives me his business card in case I need a ride back to the airport in two days time. It says that his name is Al, and I ask if that's short for something long and hard for Americans to pronounce. He says yes, but doesn't tell me what.

I get safely into the hotel, and Al drives away. I'm exhausted but relieved to at last be at my destination, even if my destination isn't somewhere I particularly want to be. At least I'm not stuck driving a cab.


a tall drink of water.

Another Washington picture tonight, just because I have a slew of them.

I discovered that I like monuments. They're like the epitome of a grand gesture. Rather than buy your wife a dozen roses to show that you love her, why not erect a fifty foot high structure? I understand that they are basically meant to be impressive, and in me, they've reached their goal. Look at me, I'm impressed. It's kind of art for art's sake, or for history's sake or for remembrance's sake, because really, monuments serve no other purpose. You might could argue that they bring in tourist dollars (and I bet that they do), but really, they're pointless.

I seem to like the Washington Monument, because I sure do have a lot of pictures of it. Granted, that may be because it seems to be in the background of a lot of shots of other things. But it's so tall and stately and simple and utterly pointless. The Vietnam Memorial has all these names that bear down on you with all the deaths they represent and Lincoln is all noble and stately with his ideals engraved around him, but the Washington Monument is just kinda there, saying, "Look how TALL I am!" Maybe I can relate to it. I'm not particularly deep or noble, but I got some height going on. That counts for something, right?


slutty slut.

It's not Halloween, but it might as well be. It's the Saturday before, and the college kids of Wilmington are using tonight to celebrate by coming out in costumes of various levels of cleverness. I look around and realize that most of the girls my age are using the evening as an excuse to wear shamefully little. Apparently, Halloween is an opportunity to take a regular costume and make it slutty. When you can't think of anything clever, showing your breasts will have to do. Josh and I are calling out the costumes to each other as we see them.

"Look, slutty cowgirl."

"There's a slutty stock car driver."

"Slutty Rainbow Brite, eleven o'clock."

"Is that who that is? I thought it was Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dream Slut."

"Slutty nurse in the corner, talking to Maverick."

"Check out the slutty flight attendant."

"What about the girl next to her? Who is she supposed to be?"

"I don't know. Something slutty."

"There's a slutty Dorothy. I think I'll be slutty Toto next year."

A girl walks in wearing what appears to be her underwear. We both stop and gawk: mostly likely, her intention.

"Slutty...slut?" Josh suggests.

By that time, we've run out of actual costumes and are just suggesting possible costumes that a girl could make promiscuous. We try to outdo each other by coming up with costumes that are as anti-slut as possible.

"Slutty Beethoven."

"Slutty grim reaper."

"Slutty Joan of Arc."

"Slutty rabbi."

"Slutty George Washington."

"Slutty smurfs."

"Slutty Fidel Castro."

"Slutty Darth Vader."

"Slutty Santa."

We run through a slew of possibilities before we get tired of the game, having exhausted the possibilities. We've turned our attention elsewhere, when in walks a girl in tiny green shorts, a plastic shell on her back, and a purple eye mask painted on her face. We turn to each other and, in our excitement, much too loudly proclaim "Slutty ninja turtle!".

We never even thought of that.