don't y'all love your phones?

Fifteen years ago, "new phone day" meant nothing. And fifteen years from now, well, really, who can guess? So the day that your cell phone contract runs out and you can get a new phone is probably a special and specific thing to right here and right now. Think of all the advertising generated by companies trying to sell you the contract with the promise of a new gadget. Some of that is going to survive, just because there is so much of it, and future generations will use it more than our great works of art to figure out what it was like for middle class Americans at the beginning of the 21st century. Man, these people really loved their phones.

My new phone day came up a couple weeks back. Josh and I both ended up getting Droid Bionics. I even found some neat bionic sounding ringtones. He used the same built-in one that he used before, which I think is boring, but whatever. The Bionic is a 4G, so it has the new technology. I was talked into this by a guy at work, who reminded me that I was going to have this thing for another two years, at which point they would probably have like 10 Gs. The stupid things upsell themselves. The Bionic is not the newest and shiniest, but considering how quickly new models come out, whatever I got was going to be immediately obsolete. So I decided to save a couple bucks by getting slightly older, but still new technology.

Another thing I learned by talking to people who get really excited about looking at phones, even when they are not in the market for a new one: you can get your phone cheaper if you order it through Amazon, and holy crap, that saved me $80. So I pass that along to you. Tell everyone you know.

My mom asked about all the new and crazy things that my phone could do, which is the kind of question that a person with a regular phone asks (regular cell phones are called "feature phones," which is their way of distracting you from the fact that it has fewer, you know, features). My phone does not do much more than my old one. It just does everything faster and better. We have discovered exactly one new feature - FaceTime. You can have your own personal video conference with someone. Josh and I tried this out while standing about three feet away from each other. I remember there used to be such things as video phones (seems like there was a Designing Women episode about it), but they were impractical, because even if you got one, no one else had one. And now we have them and it's no big deal.

Whenever my mom had her most recent new phone day (it sounds like some weird rite of passage, doesn't it?), she considered joining the smartphone crowd. But she frugally decided not to, explaining that she "just doesn't use her phone that much." Maybe it's impossible to explain to the feature phone crowd, but the reason you don't use your phone that much is because you cannot check your email or do crossword puzzles or check your stocks or tune your guitar or look up ANYTHING on Wikipedia or play asynchronous hangman with your best friend in Boise.

These are not really phones anymore. If you ran Skype off your laptop, you would not suddenly start calling it a phone. These are little pocket computers, and one of their features is the ability to make calls. But it also navigates me to yard sales, so you could just as easily call it a GPS. It gives me instant access to email, so I could call it my portable mail device. I play games on it, so I could also say that I just got a new GameBoy. The power of these things is in the programs they run. The "phone" provides a platform for applications to do any old thing you could possibly want, and so it becomes all those things. That's why my new phone doesn't do that much more than my old one. Because my old one already did most everything.

During the Flaming Lips concert, at one point, the guitarist used his phone to call up some sort of synthesizer app, where you use the touchpad to control the tone (whoever you are, there is an app for you). He played that through the microphone for a song. In that moment, his phone became a theremin. While this was happening, Wayne asked, in that sort of dreamy way of his, "Don't y'all love your phones?"

Later, he asked the same thing about the moon, which was bright and vivid that night. I do not equate my phone with the moon, but I do love my phone.



Twice recently, I was browsing the book section in a thrift store when I came across some scanners. These are book resellers. They buy books from thrift stores or yard sales, then resell them online through various online marketplaces. There are tons of websites that facilitate this - Amazon, Half, eBay. It's one of the great things about the internet that sellers of unusual and obscure things have been connected to prospective buyers. One of the downsides to shopping secondhand is the limited selection. The internet has solved this problem by creating the world's biggest flea market, with individual booths spread out all over the world. I often see the limited local selection as the hand of fate - what I find determines what I buy, rather than what I want to buy determining what I look for. But when I do want a specific thing, the global flea market does not let me down. And I can still pay secondhand prices!

Internet, schminternet, I don't like scanners. I call them that because they carry around little devices that scan barcodes and tell them how much a book costs. My cell phone can do this, but the devices that are made to do that one thing are faster and better at it. While "scanner" is the name of the tell-tale equipment of a reseller, you could call the person a scanner, too. When I am picking out books, I look at the cover, the title, the author, the reviews, maybe read a few pages. The scanner's examination of each book is only cursory. Like the electronic scanner translates an ISBN into a price, a scanner reduces a book to its market value, too.

None of that is fair at all. The only reason the scanners bother me is because they occasionally are in my way, or I am afraid that they are going to buy a book that I want (as if I didn't have too many already). I recognize that these are not valid reasons to invent derogatory nicknames for a group of people, so I invent more noble reasons for disliking them. I like to think that my reason for wanting the book is more legitimate somehow. I'm going to read it, which is what a book is for. The scanner is just going to sell it. Pah! Of course, he's going to sell it to someone who will probably read it. Not to mention the fact that after I read it, I will take it to a used book store and exchange it for store credit. Logically, my position is no better than a scanner's, but it feels like it should be.

The first time I met a scanner was at Goodwill. It was a husband and wife team. For some reason, I channelled my mother and talked to a stranger in a store.

"You guys are resellers?" I almost called them scanners. They were very friendly, so I talked to them for a while. Did you know that one way to learn about the world is to talk to people? It's true. My mother taught me that.

These people, these scanners, went to thrift stores and yard sales every weekend (just like me). They'd gotten into it because they loved books. He had a regular job, but she had quit her retail sales job at the mall to be a reseller full-time. She gave me a card for their shop. They told me about how some resellers just use the scanner to look at the price and don't care about the book at all. The man, still looking at the books while we talked, told me that he could usually find a stack of books even after another scanner has just gone through them. He pulled a book from the shelf, one called Daughters of the Conquistadores: Women of the Viceroyalty of Peru. Freaking obscure. And I decided that I was perfectly okay with what these particular people were doing. Maybe somewhere out there is someone who desperately wants to read about the role of women in sixteenth century South America, but they may not live anywhere near the Goodwill on New Market Road, nor do they know that the book is there. But! Now they can get a good price on it from this guy.

After I walked away, I heard them talking to a lady who sells dolls on eBay. She was telling them with great gusto about laws that regulate what kind of toys you can ship to Italy. The world is strange.

The second time I met a scanner was at the Durham Rescue Mission. I'm not supposed to be buying books at all, because even though I am reading a lot now, I still have stacks and stacks of books in my to-read pile(s). I've bought fewer books since I put myself on a buying diet, but there are times when you find something amazing for fifty cents. And then Josh brought home a calendar from the Rescue Mission with coupons for each month, with January's coupon offering ten free books. Pricewise, this is really only 5 free books, because the Rescue Mission has so many dang books that they are perpetually buy-one-get-one-free. But I decided that I was allowed to go redeem my coupon. It would be wasteful not to, right? Right.

As I was looking, a dude came by with a scanner. He glanced at each shelf, picked up one book and scanned it, then put it back. Then he muttered something to himself and went away. At that moment, I felt redeemed in looking askance at scanners, because clearly, that guy did not care about books. I did not try and learn about the world by talking to him. What would I want to learn from a mean old book-exploiter anyway?

But he did the same thing a few more times. Ten minutes would pass, and he would come back, glance around and leave. Like I said, there are a lot of books there, and so it was taking me a while to look through them to pick out my ten (It took me an hour to pick out fourteen before I just stopped looking, then I had to decide which four to put back). Once, when he came back, he said, "Ha, I keep running into you!" I gave a non-committal friendly chuckle, but what I wanted to point out was that I hadn't gone anywhere.

I finally got the idea that he was waiting for me to leave the book section. For whatever reason, he did not feel comfortable looking for books while I was there. It could have been that he was just not much for being in close proximity with other people. Or maybe he thought I was competition. Perhaps he could sense that I did not trust scanners and he was in fear of my wrath ("Take that! And that! I buy books to READ, you illiterate jerk!") I don't know. I have no reasonable guesses. But I did feel a kind of small pleasure, as if I had defeated him by driving him away from the books so that the actual readers could look at them. Geez, I'm petty.

I would like to make peace with the scanners, just because I'm bound to come across them from time to time and it would be nice to not feel irritable during those times. They are not my competition. They buy stuff from the secondhand market, which I wish more people would do. They probably love books, which is why they decided to become resellers. And even if they don't, they are doing the world a service by increasing the selection at the global flea market.



The brunch had been scheduled to happen on a Sunday morning while Josh was on tour. That was just fine with me, in fact, it was perfect. I like my social gatherings to happen while he's going to be gone anyway, so that I don't have to choose between the gathering and spending time with him. But then it got postponed to the first Sunday he was back. That was less than ideal, but I said I would be there anyway.

The night before the brunch, I was filled with dread. Why would I want to go hang out with a bunch of people when I could stay home with the one person I like most in the whole world? That's not fair to the brunch ladies. I knew most of them and liked the ones I knew. It was not a dislike of them that filled me with dread. It's just that socializing makes me so tired. Thinking about it makes me tired, too. I have to make myself do it, because I've analyzed the data, and I've decided that it's good for me. Sometimes I have fun and sometimes I don't, but it's become clear that I need to have friends that are not Josh.

So I make myself be social. It's so stupid. Why should I have to make myself go out and do fun things with fun people? I have no complaints about the women that I have met through meetups. With few exceptions, they have been smart, funny, interesting people. I've been to enough events that I can pick out which ones will be the ones I'll enjoy rather than the ones where it's all awkward get-to-know-you conversation. It's not them, it is all me.

I knew enough people at the brunch to be a part of the conversations. I ate the food and drank the coffee and mimosas. There were boys there - three of them. I had thought about asking Katie, the hostess, whether I could bring Josh along. But then I didn't want to be that woman who always has to have her man with her. Plus, I knew I'd spend my time talking to him.

Then the board games came out - Cranium, something called Loaded Questions, and Taboo. I like Taboo. I've had good times playing Taboo. I've played Cranium only once before and did not particularly like it. It's trying to be all kinds of games at once - Pictionary, Charades, and Trivial Pursuit. Loaded Questions advertised itself as being "for adults," and I was concerned that it would involve answering personal questions. There just wasn't enough champagne to make enough mimosas for me to be willing to share openly with people that I don't know very well at all. Whereas I do a reasonably good job faking my way through most social situations, that was one where I was going to be sitting by myself in the corner.

We played Cranium. I was so relieved that it was not Loaded Questions that I didn't mind.

The group that was playing was sitting in a circle on the floor, while a few people like me were on the perimeter. I realized that other people were choosing to opt out. I considered my options. I could also sit back and watch, but I imagined that turning into me sitting back and looking out the window or sitting back and browsing the internet on my phone. I'd driven all the way to Durham to come to this, for my own good, and so I was going to participate.

Katie, who was throwing the brunch, said she would be my partner. She and I are not particularly close, but she is probably my one friend in Raleigh. I set out to make new friends by going to meetups, and I made one. This is progress. I was grateful to her for volunteering to be my partner, even if I could see she was trying to get people to play. She was helping me, and while I felt embarrassed that this was necessary, I was also touched. It's a shame that a twenty-eight-year-old woman needs to be personally invited to play a board game, but at the same time, oh-my-goodness-thank-heavens-katie-wants-to-be-my-partner.

When it was our turn, our card came up as a Charades game. We had to decide who would act and who would guess. Katie volunteered to perform, saying that it was a job for the extrovert on our team. She did an impersonation of Fonzie, and after four guesses (Fonzie, Arthur Fonzarelli, Henry Winkler, The Fonz), I finally picked the specific wording that was on the card. Everyone was impressed by my knowledge of The Fonz.

As the game went on, I started feeling like I wanted, no, needed to leave. This is a feeling I'm very familiar with. I just feel very strongly like I need to get out of there. It's almost like sensing danger. It's not quite at fight or flight levels, but everything is colored by a vague urge to be away from wherever I am or else (or else what?). Away from people. I have no idea how others perceive me, but inside I'm anxious and twitchy: need to leave, need to leave, need to leave. Even when I'm having a lot of fun, that feeling comes on. I don't know how to predict it or make it go away. It's like I hit a wall, where suddenly I can socialize no more.

It used to be a huge problem at Josh's shows. I would hit my wall, but I would have to stay because the show wasn't over or the equipment wasn't packed or Josh wanted to hang out with his friends. I even learned how to dismantle and pack up the drum kit so I could leave more quickly. It took a while for me to realize that I was the problem. Aside from being sort of aloof and sullen, I was making Josh miserable, too. I have made great strides in this. I still hit the wall, but I don't make my boyfriend miserable anymore. That bar is so low that it's depressing to admit how much of an improvement it is.

I have no concept of how common these feelings are. My impression has always been that it's just me, because everyone else seems to be having fun. They could be faking it, too. After I got home from the brunch, I told Josh about my wall. He knew exactly what I was talking about; turns out he has one, too. Apparently what I've always thought of as "my wall" is more commonly called "being an introvert." Maybe the reason I never see anyone else feeling that way is because all the other introverts just stayed home.

I thought about what Katie said about being the extrovert. I was surprised to find that a.) she is an extrovert, and b.) it's glaringly obvious that I am not. I wonder what gave me away (no, really, I do). I'm always surprised to meet people like her. They're so foreign to me that I don't really believe they exist. Once I met another one at a dinner meetup. It was her very first meetup, and about halfway through, she said to me, "This is just another one of those times when I meet a bunch of people and I immediately feel like we've all been best friends for years. You know?" And I was flabbergasted. That had never, ever, ever (ever!) happened to me. Is that what it's like to be an extrovert? I have so little concept of what it must be like that I can't even tell whether it would be a good thing.

It was appropriate that Katie would be the acting half of the Charades team. To me, socializing is performing. I can't tell whether the extroverts don't feel that way or if that's what they like about it. I've always felt like I couldn't really relax and be myself except with a few people that I know very well. I am myself, but sort of a lesser version. Sandra Lite, if you will. It's exhausting being someone else, even if that person is a subset of yourself.

For the most part, I don't mind being an introvert. But I recognize that there are times when I will have to remain in the company of other people long after I've hit the wall. I would like to not be miserable for no reason. Having reached my socialization quota is not one. If having a wall is common, has anyone figured out how to scale it?


it's complicated.

My book club's most recent selection was The Leisure Seeker, by Michael Zadoorian. This is not a book that I would have ever picked up on my own - it's about two old people going on a road trip. I have nothing against the elderly or extended car rides, but it just didn't sound interesting. That's one more point in favor of the book club - my horizons can always use a good broadening.

That said, I loved this book. It was told from the point of view of an old lady with lots and lots of cancer inside her. Her husband has Alzheimers. So they go on a road trip, taking what's left of Route 66 to Disneyland. They've been together a long time, and in their current fragile states, rely on each other even more. The wife is old, overweight, and in pain, so she relies on her husband for mobility and support. He doesn't know where he is a lot of the time, not to mention how he got there or what year it is or that his baby daughter is now middle-aged. The one thing that he consistently knows is that his wife is his anchor.

Since it is told from her point of view, we get a lot of her frustrations of dealing with him. He wanders off once, and she has to bum a ride with a complete stranger to go looking for him. He will ask her the same question every two minutes, forgetting that he asked her before. He asks about friends who died many years ago, and she has to choose between lying to him or breaking the awful news to him over and over again. He has forgotten how to do many things.

Once, when she is particularly annoyed, the wife thinks to herself that he's just faking it out of laziness. It's a cold and cruel thought, but I can't say that I wouldn't have had the same one in her position. Often I've thought that someone was doing something to me, when really they were just acting the way they thought best, with no thought on how it would affect me. Lucy Grealy once wrote, "Part of the job of being human is to consistently underestimate our effect on other people."

All the while the wife is worrying and looking out for him and sometimes sniping at him, her love for him is never uncertain to the reader. She craves and cherishes his few and fleeting moments of lucidity. (One particularly heartbreaking scene was when he was his old self, talking over some of his memories while she was in incredible pain from her sickness. The conversation and the discomfort battled for her attention; she remarked that when you are old, there are no perfect moments.) But if you only saw her sniping at him or suspecting him of faking dementia, you might think she was an awful mean old woman who didn't love this old man at all.

Love makes us stick with somebody even when they make us miserable. There is this idea that love is supposed to make us happy, and the disconnect from that idea and the reality of loving an actual, fully-formed person sometimes makes the hard times worse. We think it's not supposed to be that way. Love, of course, does not care what it's supposed to be. It just is, and if we don't like it, I guess we can opt out.

Some women in the book club absolutely hated this book. Of the ones who really despised it, most of them were currently or had previously dealt with elderly relatives. One woman was apparently having a hard time with her mother; her main complaint with the book was that it barely said anything about the children of these renegade old people (in fact, it portrayed them as whiny and interfering). She didn't talk much about her mom or the situation, but what she said was laced with bile. You would think that she hated her mother. But I don't think she did. She probably loves her mother as much as any sailor with a Mom tattoo. It's just complicated. Because we're complicated, and the people we love are complicated, and so love is complicated.

Probably better than the alternative, though.


of, by, and for.

The walls of Deep South Bar are red, though it's hard to tell just what kind of red because the place is a bar, and bars don't make money off bright lighting. If you saw that lady at the other end of the bar under florescents, you might think twice before you bought her a drink. Then again, she might look at you and think twice before accepting.

While the red walls might have made the place look like a cave of doom, the effect is mitigated by the quotes. Most every piece of wall in the bar has a lyric written on it in black or white. Then there is the name of the person who wrote the lyric, followed by the name of the person who put it on the wall, as if hearing a song and writing it on the wall were equivalent with the act of writing the song in the first place.

Of course, looking at all those quotes makes me think what I would write. It's the sort of question that I would agonize over for so long that I never actually wrote anything. I'd want something just a little bit obscure, because I'm a snob. But it would also need to be self-explanatory and pithy and embodying a true and relateable thought. It should stand independent of the song.

It's a neat project, and it underlines a commitment to music that most bars only pretend to have. And also, a commitment to democracy. You can tell that these walls were made by the people.

Maybe my inability to pick a lyric is based on all those people who made such poor choices and then wrote their names on them. Now, I should write a little disclaimer that these opinions are my own, and they count no more or less than the opinions of people who once wrote a crappy song lyric on the wall of a bar. It may well be that the songs are meaningful in some way to the person who chose to put their name underneath them. Or it's possible that I am the one with bad taste.

Now that I've said all that, can we all agree that one should never, ever write a Ratt lyric on a wall? Does the world need to be reminded of the first two lines of "Love is a Battlefield?" And to the person who quoted the Mötley Crüe song "Girls Girls Girls" by writing "GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS," really? The thing that you want to represent you is something that, put in neon, would be a sign at a strip club? And to Christina, who quoted Nickelback with the lyric "You look so much cuter with something in your mouth," okay, that just pisses me off. Christina probably complains that guys don't respect her. Gah.

Aside from the lyrics that were just bad, a lot of them were more like catchphrases. Sure, lots of people like "Imagine," but quoting that you're a dreamer and you're not the only one sorta gives the impression that you're not enough of a John Lennon fan to know any of his other songs. But maybe I just didn't like that example, because I did appreciate the Janis quote, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." It's possible that I am not a dreamer, but I'm probably not the only one.

Good, bad, or trite, this is democracy. This is allowing people to make their own decision and to have it count, no matter their reasoning. And while you'll get some really terrible lyrics on the wall of your bar, no one can say you're not recognizing that rock 'n' roll music is of, by, and for the people.



"Will no one at this table blow on my dice?"

You'll have to forgive us, but it was towards the end of the night, so we all had a few giggles at that.

A couple hours before, when it was still at the beginning of our company's casino night, Lauren was standing next to me at the Craps table. It was her turn to roll, and she asked me to blow on her dice. For luck, or whatever. Something deep inside me said Absolutely Not, and so I gave her a funny look and said no. She persisted. I sighed, and gave a half-hearted blow in the direction of her outstretched hand. I figured I would just get it over with, and then we'd all be free to continue enjoying our gambling. I was wrong. A few rolls later, she wanted me to blow on her dice again.

I've been trying really hard since then to figure out why I was so resistent to blowing on the dice. Now, if a man (other than Josh) asked me to do that, it would be inappropriate, but I'm not quite sure how. Is it the puckering? The hot breath? You wouldn't have much of a case in divorce court, and it probably wouldn't even be worth fighting with your boyfriend about, but something about it is too intimate for me to be comfortable doing it with any male but my significant other.

It's entirely possible that I am a prude.

But this wasn't a man, this was another woman that I work with. We were at a company holiday party, playing Craps. I really, really did not want to blow on the dice. At that point, the intimacy was not the issue. It's just that the whole thing seemed geared toward drawing everyone's attention to two women doing something vaguely sensual. It was flirty. I don't care if Lauren acts that way, but I do not want to be drawn into it. I do not want that kind of attention, particularly not from my coworkers.

When she asked the second time, I realized that my earlier policy of appeasement had been ineffective. I needed to let her know that I wasn't down with this. She had no intentions of making me uncomfortable, and she probably didn't even realize that I was. I have to assume that she likes that kind of attention, and just as I can't imagine why she would, she can't imagine why I wouldn't. But seriously, I needed to put a stop to this. So I said no.

She pleaded. I remained firm. I sought out sympathetic glances from those others at the table. You see what I have to deal with?

At this point, I was dug in. It's been a week or so, and I've had some time to think about why I didn't want to blow on the dice. But at that point, all I felt was resistence. I shouldn't have to say no more than once. I was about to tell her that there was no point in continuing in attempting to break my resolve, because I am a stubborn, stubborn woman.

But then I looked at her and saw that she was dug in, too. Whatever inside her told her that having me blow on her dice was a good idea was telling her to keep pushing. I imagined this going on and on, my coworkers increasingly irritated. Already, I was tired of it. By drawing this out, I was making the spectacle worse. I sighed and blew on the dice out of the side of my mouth while rolling my eyes. I like to think that it was the least sexy dice-blowing ever.

When it was her turn to be the shooter once more - you guessed it - it started all over again.

"Why won't you blow on my dice?"

"You just want someone else to blame if you get a bad roll. Then it's my fault, rather than yours." A-ha! This was a major point for me.

"Will no one at this table blow on my dice?" she wailed, and we all laughed. See? If it's not vaguely sexual, then why does it make us giggle like seventh-graders? She was embarrassed, and I felt triumphant. Then I felt bad for feeling happy at her discomfort. Then angry that she put me in the position in the first place, when I was just trying to enjoy a nice game of Craps, a game that I enjoy very much and only play once a year. I wondered why her insistence matched my resistence, and why either of us were acting this way at all.


old man sweaters.

Josh says that when your grandmother calls you on your cell phone, you have to pay attention. Disregard the fact that she is using a regular phone, that to her it is a regular phone number that she dialed, and that the cell phone is the only phone he has. When your grandmother calls you on your cell phone, you better sit up, son.

She called about sweaters and pocket knives. She was going through his grandfather's things and had called each of the grandchildren, maybe even on their cell phones, to ask them if they wanted anything. But she didn't want them to take things that they didn't need, she didn't want to be the reason for clutter. After all, there was a neighbor man who was going to come and look through the clothes after them, and she supposed that whatever was left could be taken to the Goodwill.

We showed up with a pitbull for Sunday lunch. Grandmother was still wearing her church things, an old lady purplish pantsuit. I wonder what I will wear when I'm old.

She remarked what a pretty dog we had, and I only had to stop Remix from jumping once. The rest of the time, she wandered around the house, smelling the new smells. Whenever her tags stopped jingling, I went looking for her, afraid that she was up to mischief. She must've heard my footsteps, because she always appeared almost instantly from some other room, her head cocked to one side. You needed me, boss?

Grandmother showed Josh the two closets and the couch covered with folded sweaters and told him to take whatever he wanted. She said again not to take things just to be nice. I told her that we had a high tolerance for clutter.

While he was looking, she went into the kitchen to make lunch. I decided to follow her and help. It seemed perfect in that it fulfilled my twin goals of being a more helpful person and talking to old people. Maybe some people just do things like that, but I still have to decide to.

Brunswick stew was heating on the stove. She made the coleslaw and assigned me to cut up the peppers and onions. I asked how she wanted them cut, because some people care about these things. I know I do. I diced two small white onions carefully, and they only started getting to my eyes at the very end. I felt a strange need to show her that I was competent, that I knew how to dice vegetables. I diced half a green pepper, too. I was instructed to slice the other half, in case someone wanted to just have some to munch.

Grandmother asked about marriage and babies. I don't know why I worry about her opinion of my onion-dicing skills, since she is clearly anxious to see my child-bearing skills. She always asks, but I can tell her that there are no firm plans and she lets it go. Well, she lets it go after saying that she doesn't understand these young people who aren't interested in babies.

Remix stretched out in the middle of the kitchen floor. I made a comment about her being in the way, but Grandmother was fine to step around her, not minding an animal that is content to lie down wherever the people are. She told me about a dog she had growing up, named Poochy, who they fed corn flakes with sugar, even when the sugar was being rationed and the kids ate their corn flakes unsweetened. She said that she loved dogs, but that she had finally convinced her concerned daughters that she didn't need one.

Lunch was leftover Brunswick stew, coleslaw, baked beans, and tea. Dessert was some kind of fruit cake and Heath bar ice cream. Just in case you were thinking that those things do not go together, I'll let you know that you're right. But it was fine.

She talked about some of the clothes that Josh had picked out; several items that had come from the "Snob Shop," which I gathered was some kind of consignment shop. She and Josh talked about secondhand clothes.

"Sandra, surely you don't buy used clothes with that good job you have."

I looked down at my outfit for confirmation, then said, "Everything I'm wearing was bought secondhand."

"What do you do with the extra money?"

"Put it on the mortgage," Josh said, beaming proudly. Money management was emphasized in my childhood home, but not in his. He's taken to it very quickly. I suspect that he learned to appreciate thrift in this very house. I have his grandparents to thank for him being attracted to a woman with a good credit score.

After lunch, we went back to the bedroom, where Grandmother put a pile of pocket knives on the bed. Grandfather subscribed to the Boy Scout motto of being prepared, and that must have meant always having a pocket knife. Then they went through the jewelry, the tie pins and watches, the attendance pins from the Lions Club, still in their little plastic boxes with the spongy blue squares of padding. There were several watches, and Grandmother seemed a little dismayed that she didn't remember which one he had favored. They went through everything, even drawers and boxes that she hadn't gotten to yet. They came across a piece of shrapnel that had landed right next to Grandfather in France and that he had saved all these years. Josh had heard the story many times and was in awe at being offered this lump of family history. All his cousins had already come and made their selections, so whatever was left was his, but he felt guilty at getting so much. I got the impression that no one else had taken much of anything. Admittedly, the clothes were old-fashioned, and it's possible that some people don't like those kinds of mementos. A high percentage of our stuff was separated from its previous owner by death. We thrive in the past.

We needed to leave. Josh had to work that afternoon. I was getting antsy, not because I needed to be anywhere, but because schedules and the adherance to them make me anxious. But it was the kind of scene that I didn't want to break up, so I went in the other room to look at the sweaters. They were mostly cardigans, folded up and stacked up in four piles. Grandfather was a man of sweaters. And a man of taste: most of them were cashmere. There were a couple that I found myself admiring, and I went ahead and tried them on. While they were too small in the shoulders for Josh, they fit me pretty well. I picked out two - a gray and a vibrant fall orange. Grandmother seemed happy to let me have them. I felt a little weird about it, but I shouldn't. After all, Josh has some old ammunition boxes salvaged from my grandparents' house.

Finally, we really really had to leave. We loaded up the car with sweaters, shrapnel, and a pitbull. Half an hour later, we stopped for gas. I filled up, while Josh went inside. He came back out with a large soda and a Snickers bar that held two half-sized bars in one package. A share pack. He pulled out one of the four pocket knives he had just inherited and cut the wrapper neatly in half so that each fun-sized bar had its own sheath. He handed one to me.

"My grandparents used to do this. Cut a candy bar in half. I thought it was stupid, because I was a little kid and I wanted a whole one. Now I think it's sweet."



In The Happiness Project, the author states that there are several types of clutter, meaning things that you keep but don't really need. I found these types helpful because they explained the many reasons that humans seem unable to get rid of certain objects. Here are the types:

  • Nostalgic - Things which have sentimental value.
  • Conservation - Might be useful someday!
  • Bargain - I got such a good deal on it!
  • Freebie - Someone gave this to me.
  • Crutch - I need this.
  • Buyer's Remorse - I bought it, and by gum I'm going to use it.
  • Outgrown - I used to use this.
  • Aspirational - Someday, I will be the kind of person that will use this.

The only thing on that list that I don't relate to is the crutch clutter. I couldn't think of anything that I owned that would fall into that category, but perhaps I am so in denial that I just don't realize it. As for the rest of them, I could take you through my house and show you lots of examples of each.

Obviously, I have a high tolerance for clutter, and I'm okay with that. I don't mind there being a lot of stuff about, and so a lot of stuff will appear. I do try to purge often, but really that's more about getting rid of stuff to make room other stuff. It's about upgrading my clutter, not getting rid of it.

All this clutter talk brings me to an email that I got an email from my sister-in-law, asking about a bridesmaid dress I'd worn in her daughter's wedding (that's my niece, if you are keeping up). Her other daughter (my other niece) was going to be heading to D.C. with her choral group, where she would go on a dinner cruise. So she needed something kinda fancy to wear. This niece was also in the same wedding that I was in (her sister's), but since then, she has grown in some places that teenage girls grow (well, some of them do, sigh). Her bridesmaid dress no longer fit, so she was interested in mine.

I was pretty certain that my bridesmaid dress would not fit her at all. Because women in their twenties grow in different places than women in their teens (sigh, again). But I did have some dresses from high school and college languishing in the back of my closet that might fit her. These dresses are clutter, because as it is now, I cannot wear them. It's been that way for a while. Every time I see them, I feel bad because I am reminded that there used to be less of me. But I keep them. Why?

Apparently, some clutter can actually fit in multiple clutter categories. These dresses are nostalgic, aspirational, and bargain clutter. They are nostalgic because I wore them to fancy events that I remember fondly. Also, I'm nostalgic for the time when I was able to zip them up. They are aspirational clutter, because I aspire to be thin enough to wear them again. Finally, they are bargain clutter, because everything I have is bargain clutter (I did the math - the average dress price was less than five bucks).

I handed the dresses over to my niece and we had a little try-on session. I told her that whatever she wanted, she could keep, but she should not feel obligated to keep anything that didn't fit or wasn't her style. Of course, they all fit her just great (SIGH). It's silly, but it was hard for me to part with them. I didn't think about how they don't get any use now, I thought about how I used to look in them and how I could look like that again. But good sense won out. If and when I am that size again, I can always find another $5 dress. I've got the room in my closet for it now.


mexican wrestler finger puppets.

Josh likes to start Christmas traditions, or at least try out other people's traditions to see if they are fun. Last year, he decided we should borrow a tradition from the good people of the United Kingdom and have Christmas crackers. These are little paper tubes full of Crackerjack-type prizes that you pull apart with your neighbor at the dinner table, sorta like a wishbone. They generally contain a joke, a paper hat, and then a small trinket or toy. They're supposed to make snapping noises when you pull them, thus the name. You can buy crackers already assembled, but we're contrary types, so we put together our own. We bought a bag of small toys from the thrift store. I had the good fortune to visit my sister on Christmas Eve, who had used store-bought crackers at a dinner the night before and so had some leftover paper hats and jokes. The things inside are supposed to be fun and silly, rather than necessarily anything you'd want to keep and treasure forever. It's about the experience, not the stuff.

He decided that he liked crackers, so we did them again this year. They were completely homemade. Like last year, the tubes were paper towel rolls with tissue paper wrapped around them. For the surprises, I found some old international coins at the flea market. Then I bought a bunch of Mexican wrestler finger puppets out of the quarter machine at Food Lion (Random passerby: "Those are for children, you know."). I made the paper hats out of more tissue paper, and Josh wrote the jokes. They were uneven in funniness and some of them didn't quite make sense. My favorite:

Q: What letters does Jesus draw in Scrabble?
A: M, N, U, L

My boyfriend, ladies and gentlemen!

We all had a good time reading aloud the jokes to each other, then asking Josh to explain the more obscure ones. The coins were interesting, but the finger puppets were the big hit. Sitting there on Christmas, reading silly hand-written jokes, wearing silly homemade hats, and playing with luchador finger puppets, I thought that I like being me.

It is a easy and leisurely sort of existence where I can spend time thinking about what kind of person I want to be. As I have no major strife, I might as well try and be the best Sandra I can. I have many people in my life that I use as models of being that I can strive for. Pretty much all of them demonstrate much nobler qualities than providing excellent homemade Christmas crackers. But it is a pleasant, if small, victory, to look at something that you have done and think that if you were someone else, you'd think you should be more like that.


cuddly-wuddly was a pitbull.

I try to hold back on the gratuitous pet entries, because y'all may not care. I know, because I used to sigh inside (and sometimes outside) when people wanted to tell me about their pets. What I have learned since getting a dog is that people who talk about their animal companions all the time are just trying to share something that is important to them in an effort to relate to other human beings and not feel so alone in this world. I'm not boring you with stupid dog stories, I'M SHARING MYSELF.

Thing 1: Ambassador
We had some friends over for Christmas dinner, a couple and their roommate. They have a miniature poodle, mostly because they live in an apartment and therefore needed a smaller pet. I guess the roommate is not a fan of the dog, because upon meeting Remix, he commented that at last, here was a "real dog." I have nothing against poodles in general, nor theirs specifically. There are many types of people in the world, and they have many different ideas of what they want out of a canine pal. I personally like an animal with a little physical heft, but if you want something you can carry in your handbag, that's cool, too.

Anyway, the guy spent a lot of time with Remix. He pet her and played tug with her and asked us lots of questions about adopting from the animal shelter. He seemed to have the idea that shelter pets are all damaged in some way, otherwise they wouldn't be there (Hint: the problem is overpopulation). She was the first pitbull and the first shelter pet that he'd ever spent any time with, and I can proudly report that she was an excellent ambassador. It's exactly what we want. We want people to meet our dog and change their minds. They don't have to go out and adopt one immediately, but their general impression should go from "face-eaters" to "not all face-eaters."

Thing 2: Cuddly-wuddly
At the New Year's party, someone asked a general question of those assembled: What was the best thing about 2011 for you? I was about to make fun of these kind of cutesy conversation starters, because I can be kind of a jerk sometimes, but then I realized that I had a really good answer.

"I got a dog." Everyone agreed that a dog was definitely the kind of thing that would go into the Plus column of a personal year-end inventory.

"Did you get the cutest widdle cuddly-wuddly puppy in the world?" some dude said, I'd never met him before. In fact, that is not an exact quote. He continued on in the cuddly-wuddly vein for a while, complete with hand motions that you might make about some sort of genetically engineered tiny fluffy creature that would break if it fell off the couch. I let him finish.

"She's a pitbull from the pound."


As much as I want to convince the world that pitbulls can be good dogs, sometimes it's fun to let people think that I live with a ferocious beast, particularly people who assume, for whatever reason *cough* 'cause I'm a woman *cough*, that I go in for cuddly-wuddly.

To be perfectly honest, Remix is actually pretty cuddly-wuddly.

Thing 3: Tug

I mean, little dogs are fine, but can they pull you out of bed in the morning?


prominent diarists.

Josh's mom is a solemn person. She has a serious earnestness (or maybe a earnest seriousness) about her. I like earnest and sincere people. In fact, I like to think that I am one. But my earnestness is of a more silly variety. I have a hard time talking to her sometimes. I make a silly joke, then she turns it into something very serious. I end up feeling sort of deflated and newly sad about something that I had previously been cheerful about. She probably thinks that I am incapable of taking anything seriously, and that is a fair complaint.

My favorite example of her gravity is a birthday letter she sent me a couple of years ago. For you young scrubs out there who have never written out a letter by hand, the result is that you can't go back and edit it. You're mostly just writing down your thoughts as they come. There were some birthday greetings, then some general news stuff, including a paragraph about a book that she was currently reading. This book was about the Holocaust. Ooooookay, a little grim. Her next statement was about how awful it was that some people went around saying the whole thing never happened. It was like she one-upped herself in grim. I've tried to think of something more depressing than Holocaust denialism, and I can't beat it. For a fun game, see what you can come up with!

This all brings me to about half an hour into 2012. I was sitting in a living room at a house that had cable. A few other squares and I were watching Ryan Seacrest's New Year's Rockin' Eve. I don't remember the conversation, only what I said next.

"That would be like Anne Frank being your mom." And then I sort of stopped in horror at what had just come out of my mouth. What I had meant was that it would be like having a prominent diarist as your mom. That was even what made sense in the context of the conversation, and the first diarist that I came up with was Ms. Frank. Even now, I can't come up with another example where everyone would know what I was talking about, so probably I should have just avoided making a joke about diarists at all. I realized too late was that my statement did not make sense, because Anne Frank did not get to be anyone's mom, what with the Holocaust and all. I tried to explain myself, and they understood, but still thought it was more fun to tease me about it. I made it a joke, because that is a skill that comes with never taking anything seriously. You're welcome, folks, I am the source of your very first conversation about the Holocaust in the new year. Cheers!

At that moment, while we were all laughing at me, I thought about telling them about the birthday letter. But then I realized that I would be responsible for the first conversation about Holocaust denialism in the new year, and I stopped. Phew!


convenient medical care.

I was just a little bit sick over the Christmas holidays. I had a low fever and was coughing up goo. The worst part of it was the fever, which meant I was always cold and achy. This started Monday night, about an hour after I struck a blow for feminism by spraying caustic chemicals within a small and enclosed space. I knew that it was probably not the pesticide, but it did make me consider why the exterminator had been wearing a breathing apparatus.

So Monday night was kind of miserable, with me balled up under a blanket, wearing a full set of fleece pajamas and wool socks. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like I'd been in an oven, because my body decided it was tired of being freezing cold and went the other way. My temperature was at 100. I got a reasonably good night's sleep and woke up feeling fine, just fine. I pumped my fist in the air, thinking that my rock star immune system had just kicked the flu to the curb. Take that, germs. I don't need no stinkin' flu shot.

However, by about 5 in the afternoon, the chills and the aches and the wool socks were back. As an aside, do you have any wool socks? I recommend them. They are warm and scratchy in a comforting sort of way.

This continued throughout the week - fever starting in the early evening, peaking sometime in the night, then subsiding in the morning. All along there was some light coughing, but my sinuses were clear. I did some at-home medical research, which is a fancy way to say that I googled my symptoms. Guys, I'm just not sure in this case whether more information is better. If you tell the internet that you have flu-like symptoms only at night, the internet will tell you that you have lymphoma, dementia, a bun in the oven, or some combination of the three. Thankfully, I am a sane and reasonable person, so I dismissed all of these. I thought about Josh, who is neither sane nor reasonable when it comes to his health, and how he would have convinced himself that he was going senile. Every time he spills when pouring his beer into a glass, he assumes that he has a degenerative nerve disease.

So the internet did not help, though I did learn a new word: sputum. It was the goo that I was coughing up. Josh had suggested that I had a sinus infection. Let me tell you that I know when I am having a sinus infection. I did extensive research in the having of sinus infections when I lived in basement apartment in Boone. It's a condition that comes with headaches, because your body makes more snot than it has storage room for. My sinuses were free and clear. Whatever I was coughing up was coming from somewhere else. Goo that comes from the lungs is called sputum. Based on this, I self-diagnosed myself with bronchitis. Not because I know anything about bronchi or medicine, just because it seemed like a simple sickness that a body might pick up. Sure, why not, bronchitis. It sounds much better than saying that my lungs are infected.

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, after a few days of this being sick, then not being sick, I decided that I was tired of it. While I mostly felt fine during the day, I never felt well enough to really be doing anything. And this was my Christmas vacation! I should be out and about, enjoying the unseasonably mild weather, not sitting on the couch playing Lego Harry Potter on the Wii. Or maybe I'd be playing video games anyway, but I'd rather not need to do it in wool socks.

I do not have a primary care physician. I have an eye doctor, a dentist, and a lady doctor, but I don't have anyone I go to for these sorts of minor sicknesses. However, the Minute Clinic at the CVS does not deal with infected lungs, so I would have to go to an actual doctor. There was a primary care place that just opened up in a shopping center near the new Food Lion, so I decided I'd check that out. Something about the strip mall location and the fact that they accepted walk-ins lead me to believe that it was kind of like the Minute Clinic, but prepared to treat sputum problems.

I turned to the internet again, not for a diagnosis, but for an appointment to get a diagnosis. The doctor's office had a live chat feature to make appointments. I am wary of live chats, because my experience with them has not been great. It seems like the people on the other end are never really comfortable with the chat medium and also are completely unable to answer my questions anyway. But I tried it this time. I logged on at around 10 in the morning. Five minutes later, I had an appointment for 11:30. I could have had one even earlier, but I decided that I should probably take a shower first, otherwise my diagnosis would be "probably just kinda gross." I spent another ten minutes filling out and submitting my new patient paperwork online. There was a question about the reason for the day's appointment, and I used the word "sputum," because I am a show-off.

The waiting room was bright and modern - filled with flat screens and furniture made of synthetic materials. I had to sign something that indicated that I'd read and understood the privacy materials. I did this at one of two terminals set up in the waiting room. I clicked a button that said I'd understood, then signed a little device, similar to the ones at the grocery store.

While I waited, I noticed that there was a sign on the wall that listed the prices for various basic procedures, for the benefit of people with no insurance (euphemistically called "self-pay patients"). Okay, here I was impressed. My experience with health care is that the pricing is hidden and obscure, perhaps intentionally. Here, it was posted right there on the wall in the waiting room, like a menu. I'll have one tetanus shot to go, please!

I waited only a few minutes before being called back. The nurse, who couldn't have been any older than I am, carried a tiny laptop. She also had lots of earrings, a tattoo, and a pair of Chuck Taylors. I appreciated her ability to show a little personality even in pastel scrubs. She took my vitals, asked a few questions, tap-tap-tapped on the laptop keyboard. Then she went out again.

While I waited for the doctor, I read another sign. It said that if I did not have a primary care physician, the doctors here would love to serve me in that capacity. They had some advertising bullets, for instance about walk-in hours and electronic medical records. The first word in their tagline was "convenient," and I groused at that. My very first thought at that was that medical care should not be focussing on convenience but efficacy.

Yeah, it was a pretty stupid first thought.

I personally can afford medicine to be inconvenient. After all, I had the whole week off anyway. But if I didn't have that kind of work stability, I would really appreciate the walk-in hours and the fact that I got an appointment the same morning I asked for one. I came because I was tired of being kinda sick, but there are a lot of people who can't spare the time to be sick. It wasn't just convenience, it was access.

The doctor, a petite woman who looked to be Southeast Asian, came in carrying another tiny laptop. She asked me more questions, listened to my breathing, typed up some more electronic medial records. She said I had bronchitis and said she'd fax a prescription over to the CVS down the road. I guess CVS does not use only electronic records. I sheepishly asked if the antibiotics would prohibit me from celebrating, i.e. drinking, on New Year's Eve. She said that by that time I'd be fine, which was just one more reason to like this nice doctor lady.

And that was it, my first experience with convenient medical care. I got an immediate appointment (convenient!), used no actual papers (electronic!), and saw a female doctor with a funny name (diverse!). The future is now.



Something was eating the siding on the back of the house, so I called in a professional. The exterminator, a short and wiry young guy, pulled up and then immediately began putting on his work gear. This consisted of some heavy duty kneepads and some sort of breathing apparatus. I decided that being an exterminator was not something I'd ever like to do. I periodically have to go into the crawlspace to clear out the water filter. I only have to go in about five feet, there is a light, and it's more of a hunch-space at that point. But I don't like doing it. It's creepy and dirty down there, not to mention infested with camel crickets, who are not dangerous, but still very spooky with their long and bendy legs.

The exterminator went around and under the house and finally told me that we had carpenter ants. These are ants that eat wood, rather than ants that build little ant garages and wear cute little ant toolbelts. And I guess they prefer house-flavor, rather than all the many many trees that we have. The exterminator said that if we were willing, we could buy products at the local home improvement store to take care of this problem ourselves, rather than paying for guys like him to use the same stuff.

If ever I have any future exterminating needs, I will definitely be calling Swift Creek Exterminators. They tell you how to fix it yourself.

So I listened to his advice and then wrote it all down before I forgot it. I bought a fogger for the crawlspace (oh yeah, we have German roaches, too) and some spray for the perimeter of the house. The day after Christmas was lovely, and I was home from work while Josh toiled away at the restaurant. I figured that it was a good day to take care of my house.

It was a simple job. The stuff comes with its own spray attachment. I just walk around the house and spray the bottom foot of the wall. No biggie.


We have a back porch. The exterminator said that I should spray the house both above and below the level of the porch. Above was fine, easy. Below would mean crawling around under the porch for the length of the house. This was an actual crawlspace. There was probably a foot and a half of clearance under there. I did not have any heavy-duty kneepads, not that I would have room to go up on my knees. This would be more like shimmying underneath a locked bathroom stall door, or maybe something from boot camp.

I did the other three sides of the house, plus the area on top of the porch. It was my plan to leave it at that. Then, when Josh came home, I would tell him that I had done most of the work (four-fifths, in fact, nearly all), and I just needed him to do this last little bit. I would even have a nice cold beer ready for him when he was done.

I knew this was a raw deal. I tried to justify it to myself, saying that it really more of a man's duty. But then I got all offended on myself. I can do the stuff a man can do, but what if I don't actually want to?

I sat on the ground next to the porch and peered into the shimmy-space. I sat there for a good long time, feeling bad about making Josh do the dirty part, but not quite bad enough to start. I sighed several times. Earlier, I had been happy that the exterminator told me how to do it myself, but then I started thinking that there was a reason we paid people to do this job.

Finally, I just did it. It was a blow for feminism. Or homeownership. Or something. I would like to feel like it was a larger act than just me belly-crawling through the dirt and old leaves spraying chemicals on my house. It was a blow against carpenter ants.