twenty-two down.

WHOOO-UP WHOOO-UP! WHOOO-UP WHOOO-UP! May I have your attention please. This is a fire drill. Please make your way to the nearest exit. Do not use the elevators. WHOOO-UP WHOOO-UP! WHOOO-UP WHOOO-UP! Puedo tener su atención por favor. Esto es un simulacro de incendio. Haga por favor su manera a la salida más cercana. No utilice los elevadores.

We all received emails a week ago that there was going to be a fire drill soon. One of our program managers was designated Fire Warden for our floor, and we made fun of him for that, because we used up the bad coffee jokes years ago. We were informed that during this drill, we would be expected to completely exit the building, rather than just stop at the 18th floor like we had last time. I secretly hoped that the fire drill would come at some point after my last day.

But no. And so when I started hearing that WHOOO-UP WHOOO-UP!, I grabbed my jacket and followed Lee, the guy who has the office next to mine, because I hadn't finished reading the email about the fire drill and so I didn't really know what I was supposed to do. Lee seems like the kind of guy who reads his emails. I used to read mine. Then I gave notice.

The nearest exit turned out to be about twenty feet west (which I did not know) and twenty-two floors down (which I did know). I'm sure you don't hold any illusions about going down seemingly endless flights of stairs as pleasant. Just in case, I'll describe for you what it's like.

After five floors, you get a little bored of the scenery, unless you happen to get stuck behind someone with some head scars that look like maps of Latin American countries. After ten floors, you start to feel like you might be trapped in an Escher picture or maybe you're one of the lower classes in Brave New World. You may feel like a nameless drone, depending on how often that thought occurs to you during your workday anyway. After fifteen floors, you are sure that you are ready to cause personal harm to the pair of secretaries (noted by their business dress matched with tennis shoes and who you have dubbed Cathy and Kathy) who have been listing off each floor the whole way, making the same joke about wishing the sign said "Lobby" every single time. And while yes, fine, your calves are starting to feel a little weird, you do realize that gravity is doing most of the work here and to complain about it incessantly would be obnoxious. After twenty floors, you feel a little wobbly in either your ankles or your knees, depending on which sport you played in high school. The secretaries have slowed the pace considerably, the equivalent of aged Florida tourists on a single-lane curvy mountain road, a line of locals behind them. You imagine a real emergency, wherein those same secretaries would suddenly become Olympic athletes and the stairwell would be much too smoky for them to make lame jokes. Finally, the wildest dreams of Kathy-K and Cathy-C come true: the sign actually does say "Lobby." And you can exit the building towards your designated meeting spot where the Fire Warden will count you safe, which makes him sound like more of a Fire Umpire. Then you will stand there for less than two minutes before turning around and heading back into the building.

You will take the elevator.



I know I haven't done a Thousand Words Thursday in a long time, and I apologize. The reason for this drought is simply that I ran out of good pictures. I have lots of pictures that are kind of similar to the ones I've already posted, and I have lots of pictures of people that I know but you might not care about. So I can't really post those. I've decided to make up for the dearth of photography posts by giving you a really good one today. Well, it's a good one if you like dinosaurs and whales and giant flowers, and everybody's got to like at least one of those things, right?

A dude at work told me that there was a sculpture garden in Lewisville that was a must-see. Despite his glowing review, I did not see the must-see for a long time. It was on the list in the back of my mind, along with replacing the tire on my unicycle, learning to sing, and taking pictures for my blog. But then it turned out that I was leaving Lewisville, so while singing and my unicycle tire remain flat, the sculpture garden visit took a new priority.

The sculpture garden appeals to me for a couple of reasons. For one, it's in the middle of nowhere, with no advertisements or signs showing where it would be. It's the kind of thing you just have to know about or stumble upon. Secondly, it's freakin' awesome.

You drive down this road, then take another road, and BAM! It's on the left. You are greeted by a pair of dinosaur skeletons, a giant grasshopper, man-sized daffodils, a tiki hut next to a pond surrounded by shorebirds and containing a whale. Since a lot of the things seem to have nothing to do with each other, it's kind of like a sculptor's resume, where he just shows everything he can do, be it an egret or an overfed daisy.

The pond. Across the way, you can see a dinosaur and a big grasshopper.

It's hard to get a picture that kind of captures the whole experience, so here are some close-ups of the highlights. There were two dinosaur skeletons, a generic T-Rex type and a generic Brontosaurus type, which was covered in vines. Right in the shadow of the carnivore, a grasshopper that looked like it could have had a B-movie career.

Ones like these used to plague Kansas all the time. Behind, a Brontosaurus who wears plants rather than eats them.

The whale was kind of a masterpiece in itself. There was a pump system inside it, and so water would shoot out of its blowhole. Periodically, the whale would dive down into the water to collect more water to shoot out.

The whale goes up...

and the whale comes down!

But I have to confess that most of my admiration and my camera's memory card went to the mermaid. Careful, she's naked, so this might not be safe for work.

The mermaid and um, a really big flower.

She's just kinda hanging out by the pond, checking out the whale, holding some little flowers, enjoying the shade of a mammoth ten-foot daffodil. I wish her face had a better expression rather than what looks like mermaid constipation (an issue which raises a lot of questions about merperson digestion), but I can hardly complain.

She looks better from the side.

There's a driveway to places unknown separating the pond from the dinosaurs/grasshopper. As I was walking around snapping pictures, a big white pickup pulled into the driveway and continued on up. The man driving waved, as if he was used to a.) having a ridiculous metal menagerie and b.) having strangers stop to look at it. I suppose he is.



Sometimes, more information is not a good thing.

I've been looking for a new apartment, because I'm not really in the mood to commute an hour and forty minutes every day; plus, I did honestly get this new job to be closer to Raleigh and a particular resident anyway. I've hunted for living space before, but this is the first time that I basically had only a couple of days to find something. Before I had weeks, even months to find the perfect spot and barring that, the cheapest one. I had no such luxury this time. Plus, I was disadvantaged in that I was hunting from long-distance. I could look up apartments on the internet, but in the end, I still had to visit them in person. Facing east and squinting just doesn't quite cut it when you're trying to examine a walk-in closet.

I discovered a web site that is aimed to help those in the market for rented living space, called ApartmentRatings.com. I found it not helpful, rather I found it depressing and discouraging. It seems that there is no apartment that doesn't have roaches, unfriendly staff, paper-thin walls, shady characters walking the grounds, and unfair policies.

I tried to justify it to myself that only people who want to complain bother commenting about their experiences. There are probably thousands of people, so happy and so shiny, thinking about how great their Raleigh rental is. They are off composing upbeat songs in tribute to their spacious living rooms, their fantastic views, their reasonable rent, and so therefore have not the time to get on a silly web site and reassure me.

Then I started thinking about my first apartment, way back in downtown Boone, North Carolina. I thought about the review that I could write.

This apartment is incredibly spacious and ridiculously inexpensive. The appliances are reasonably modern in that they are probably less than ten years old. No dishwasher, disposal, or drawers in the kitchen. Very little counter space. The management is reasonable and helpful if a bit aloof. If there is a lot of rain, it will flood. Luckily, the institution carpeting present is quite absorbent. Be sure to spend a lot of time out in the cozy and private courtyard, as you're going to want some sun, seeing as the apartment has only two windows. The floors are noticeably uneven and badly stained and scuffed. There are pipes from the upstairs apartments jutting out from the ceiling in the kitchen and back bedroom. They may leak, which will cause the maintenance man to arrive at your apartment and drill at 7 am every day for a week before just ripping the ceiling apart. There is a giant hole in the wall of the largest bedroom, but if you leave the cardboard that covers it, you won't even notice it after a while. As you stay, the mildew on the walls will get progressively worse, and you will develop a cold that will not go away. Officially, there is no parking, but you can park in the alley, where your car will be frequently blocked in by a stranger right before you need to go to work. Your car will rapidly depreciate in value as the scratches left by others increase. You may hear upstairs neighbors dancing, doing rhythmic dance, and/or fornicating. Not pet friendly (except perhaps for mice), but the management is forgiving about that if you act really sorry. Very safe, but mostly because you are in Boone, where the stranger on the street is more likely to offer you a joint than rob you.

Parking: 1 out of 5
Maintenance: 3 out of 5
Construction: 2 out of 5
Noise: 2 out of 5
Grounds: 1 out of 5
Safety: 5 out of 5
Staff: 3 out of 5


And to think that I lived there two years. In my sweet, Ramen noodle college innocence, I loved that apartment. So I think I can deal with whatever comes my way in the new apartment, no matter what those other big complainers say.


i learned i had to kill them myself.

Everybody who read The Jungle Book knows that Riki Tiki Tavi's a mongoose who killed snakes.
When I was a young man,
I was led to believe there were organizations to kill-a my snakes for me,
i.e. the church, i.e. the government, i.e. the school.
But when I got a bit older,
I learned I had to kill them myself.

-Donovan, "Riki Tiki Tavi"

The first week of school is one alternately filled with excitement and boredom. There's all the newness, and there's all the orientation. New teacher! New forms to fill out. New classmates! New syllabi to cover. New school supplies! New speech about attendance that doesn't really seem all that new somehow.

You get the idea.

During my first week of the third grade, my teacher Mrs. Allen gave a speech that I had not heard before. It was a long speech, as I think she was trying really hard to communicate a point to us, but didn't have the right words. As it is, I didn't even get it until recently.

The basic point of Mrs. Allen's speech is that we were allowed to punch each other in the face.

Of course, there was quite a bit more to the speech, like I said, which was her clarifying why she said we could clock classmates so she wouldn't get a lot of calls from angry parents. She explained that despite our forward and enlightened thinking in modern twentieth century society, sometimes, there are bullies. And sometimes, after rhetoric and good sense and tattling have failed us, what a bully needs is a good right hook to the jaw. Then she told us that if any of us gave a bully what he needed, she would punish us to the full extent of the elementary school law. Principal's office, note home, suspension, whatever it was that happened to kids for fighting in the third grade.

My understanding of the speech at the time was that she used to get picked on as a kid, so if we did end up giving some kid what was coming to him, she would secretly give us a high-five as she escorted us to the principal's office. I remember being confused about the whole thing, wondering how someone could condone and not condone an action at the same time. Of course, I didn't yet know the word "condone," so my thinking was probably even more muddled.

I've since decided that Mrs. Allen's speech was really about consequences. There are several messages that I've gleaned here. One, we all have the ability to do anything allowed by physics without anyone really stopping us, but there are consequences for all actions. Two, sometimes the establishment cannot protect you, and you must kill your own snakes, for which act, the establishment may even punish you. Three, sometimes the consequences for breaking a rule are preferable to not breaking the rule. In short, Mrs. Allen was telling us that sometimes you have to stick it to The Man.

Now this all seems to be a rather adult message, and though I agree with all of it, it still seems pretty radical to tell third graders to think about rules in this way, i.e. that they might need a good breaking. If I were my mother, I would've called up and voiced some concern, at which point, Mrs. Allen would have said, "Don't worry, Sandra won't really get this for another ten years or so." I don't think we were ready for it, but maybe she was hoping that at least one of us would file it away in the back of her mind to bring out every once in a while and poke at it before finally understanding and writing a blog about it. Considering blogs hadn't even been invented yet, Mrs. Allen was impressively ahead of her time.



I remember when I was looking for a job a little over two years ago in the months leading up to my college graduation. I was discouraged. I'd not been job hunting before, but I found the task not to my liking. It seems like I spent hours pouring over job sites, trying to find jobs in my target region that I was qualified for. Finding none of those, I applied to jobs in my target region for which I was grossly unqualified. Having no luck with those, I started pelting companies as far away as Kansas City with my resume, figuring I'd just get back to my Kansas roots. I despaired that I somehow did not know the right things, and I sent off resume after resume into the black hole that is the internet, never hearing even so much as a "Yeah, right."

You know, not much has changed.

I did all of those things again. Even though I had just spent a couple of years working in the industry, again, I did not learn the right things. I was looking at taking classes so that I could finally learn the stupid right things, but thankfully some poor personnel managers took pity on me and gave me some interviews. Luckily for me, I am good at interviews. Or maybe I'm not, but I'm just better than most of the computer science world. You remember those kids in high school who never quite grasped being normal in public? A lot of those people are my competition. And that's very, very good for me.

But very, very bad for those other people. I look at some of my coworkers, and I wonder how they will ever get another job. These are incredibly smart people, great programmers, fantastic employees and coworkers, but I don't know how they ever convinced anyone to hire them. They get nervous talking to me, and I don't want to imagine how they'd be in front of a panel of judging strangers. I honestly don't even think that I'm all that great at interviews, but maybe the standards are just low in this field. I show up, do not wet my pants, manage to eek out a few complete sentences without hyperventilating, and I have a job! Staying calm really seems to be the only thing that I do differently, and it apparently makes a big difference. The answers to the questions don't even seem to matter. Of course, the percentage of right (or at least reasonably correct) answers to incorrect answers probably has a lot to do with the stress levels of the interviewee.

I've done a lot of interviews. This go around, I did two in-persons and countless phone screenings. A couple years ago, it was about the same. I got my start in high school, though, back when I was trying to convince scholarship committees that they wanted to pay for my college education. My first interview was for the Morehead Scholarship, UNC's free ride. I didn't want to go to UNC, but no one in my school had ever won the Morehead, so I applied. The interview was a fiasco. I did not have butterflies in my stomach, I had ferrets or something. My hands and voice were shaky and I sat with those judges, everyone in the room knowing with complete understanding that I was not going to get this scholarship. And after that, I was fine. Sure I'll get a little nervous, but my stomach never hurts. I don't shake. I manage to come up with good, yet unique answers. Maybe I just know that nothing could ever go as badly as that Morehead interview, and since I've already survived the worst, I might as well chill out.

I remember another scholarship interview, an all-day affair where fifteen candidates met with three judges separately. This was a big scholarship, and the downtime hanging out in the hall in between meetings was tense. One of these judges was your typical genius college professor; he was eccentric, had crazy Einstein hair, and asked really hard, thoughtful questions. At the end of my session with him, he shook my hand and said that I could relax because it was over. I shrugged and smiled at him and replied, "I'm alright." He cocked his head to the side and looked at me before saying, "I believe you are." I really don't know why I do so well at interviews. I'm just really glad that I do.


way to go, paula!

You know that great scene at the end of An Officer and a Gentleman where Richard Gere comes to the factory in his dress whites and scoops up Debra Winger in her arms to carry her to her new destiny as an aviator wife? And all the other factory girls are all clapping and cheering for her, "Way to go, Paula! Way to go!" because she is escaping her job.

A former Naval officer is standing outside my office in his khakis clapping and saying those words. He does not come and scoop me into his arms and carry me out, which is good, because that sounds like a great way to get fired. He has to explain all about the movie to me, because I've never seen it, and I've no idea why in the world he's clapping and calling me Paula.

In other words, I quit my job.

Officially, I resigned my position to pursue other career interests. My other career interests include a different software job in another city, coincidentally the one where my boyfriend lives. However, in great news, I'm really excited about my new job, which sounds dorky and challenging. Also, I can wear sandals and jeans every single day, and there are free sodas in the breakroom. These are the things that make me happy.

I've never quit a job before, at least not a real one. I quit being a cashier at Winn-Dixie, which consisted of me handing in my teal shirt and nametag. I quit being a hotel housekeeper, but I had to be told by the boss that I was quitting. I quit being a waitress, but mostly because the restaurant was closed, and I was having a hard time getting any tables.

I'm just glad I can be done with the secrets. For three months I've been furtively searching the want ads, avoiding telling anyone at work about what I really did in the evenings. For a while I didn't tell my mother, because doing so would give her reason to ask about it every week, and if things were not going well, I'd have to tell her that. I don't like admitting that I'm trying something unless I'm assured of success. I don't mind being a failure, but I prefer to be a secret one.

But now I can tell everyone, and no one is much surprised. I heard tell that my boss, upon hearing the news, said, "We expected that, right?" Everyone knew about my weekend pilgrimages, and so everyone easily came to the conclusion (as I had) that a move to Raleigh was the next step. I am taking that step now, subdivided as it is into little steps. Find new job, check. Quit old job, check. Find new place to live...I'm tired already.

At least I can whine about it here now.


the hardest there is.

Stuck again in a car with a strange man. This time I'm driving myself to my office with Ken riding along so that he can take my car back to the garage to figure out why my check engine light insists on shining. Ken makes a couple of banal comments about the weather and the brightness of the sun as we drive towards it. I ask him a couple of questions about the software they use in the garage, trying to gauge how similar it is to the applications that I write for trucks. It becomes clear that Ken is just a change-the-tires-check-the-oil kind of guy. When I ask him if he likes his job, he thinks for a moment before saying that he doesn't mind it.

"Okay, so what do you really want to do?" I ask.

"Race cars." No hesitation in his voice this time.

"Fair enough," I laugh, delighted at such big dreams.

"Yeah, I mean, what I'm doing now, it's automotive, so that's a start."

"Well, have you ever done any actual racing?"

"Well, yeah, I mean, I've done some. I just, you know, five years ago, I thought I would be closer to it by now."

"I imagine that's a tough thing to break into."

"It's about the hardest there is, that I know of."

I think to myself that the hardest field to break into probably is the one you really want. In any case, I am no longer delighted. I wonder how many people are stuck in dead-end jobs that they cling to because it bears some resemblance to what they really want. How many middle-aged men are still changing tires after twenty years because they wanted to race cars when they were twenty-five? I wondered how long Ken will say "I want to race cars" before switching it to "I used to want to race cars."

The world is full of accountants who wanted to be astronauts, cashiers who wanted to play for the Miami Dolphins, computer programmers who wanted to be writers. Every time you meet a salesperson or a bank clerk or a delivery person, you have to wonder if they're working the job they dreamed of when they were eight or sixteen or even twenty-five years old. Few people give up on their dreams instantly, it's a gradual process where reality and sensibility slowly get their grip on you, and then one day you wonder whatever happened to that kid who wanted to race cars.