Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Graduate

I know, I know.  I'm risking pee on rugs and becoming one of those (gasp) dog people who talk about dogs like they are children.  My reporting is becoming biased and unbalanced.  But, I couldn't not blog about graduation day.  That would be Fonzie's graduation from training classes at the local Petsmart.  And here is the graduate... (Photos by Willie)

...contemplating the privileges and responsibilities of the hand-written paper certificate hanging on the fridge...

...realizing that commencement really means "beginning"....

...with Rhonda, the Petsmart trainer (who should have been a stand-up comedian)...

...and with proud-as-heck me.  For the two minutes that Rhonda tested Fonzie on all of the things he learned over the course of the eight weeks -- things like sit and stay and sit-stay -- I felt myself doing one of those beaming-from-the-inside things where the giddiness and delight you feel results in smiling like an idiot. 

But Fonzie was a crowd pleaser that night.  "Wow, look at Fonzie," the two other people in the class said.   One of them even asked if I had replaced Fonzie with another dog for the test. Because for those two minutes, Fonzie wasn't being his normal whining, barking, anxious-as-hell self.  He was calm and focused, and well, just about the smartest dog ever.

By minute three, the real Fonzie returned and the whining began.  

In truth, after about the fourth Petsmart class, I was kind of down on the course; I realized that we probably weren't going to learn much more beyond "give your dogs lots of treats."  It took me a couple more weeks to discover that, no, Fonzie doesn't actually know what to do when I say "sit."  But, he knows that when I reach into my pocket for the plastic baggie, he will probably get a treat if he sits, and that if he's been bad, he can probably make it better by sitting.   

And maybe, along with the pictures worth the $108 price of tuition, that's good enough.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

House of Pee

This week, I was going to write about deep and profound things.  Like how the political corruption in Illinois only makes me more homesick for Chicago.  Or how the 70-degrees-on-Thursday-and-40-degrees-on-Friday winter here in North Carolina is just plain confusing.  Or how I love my big bowl of cereal in the morning just a little too much.  But then, something bigger came up and trumped my plan to wax poetic.

That something is cat pee.

This, of course, is Scout, the cat to whose pee I'm referring.   Yes, she kind of resembles an alien, and true, she has ears big enough to replace wiretaps. 

She looks like she couldn't care less that, with the addition of a giant white smelly beast in her house, it's becoming Old MacDonald had a farm around here.  However....

This is the box where Scout should do her business.

This is the back-up box in case Scout gets picky and needs two separate boxes to do her business. (Note the unblemished litter.)

And this is Scout's new litter box, as evidenced by the giant pee stain taking up, oh, practically the whole rug.

Although Scout has been occasionally randomly picky about the where's and when's of going in her litter box, she has entered a new phase, going on six days in a row, of no-I-will-not-pee-in-my-box.  

On Thursday, I got so worried that I took her to the vet.  Two hours, $87, and a tested urine sample later, Scout was diagnosed as fine.  Fine, with a behavior problem.  The vet sent me home with a number for a pet therapist.  I wasn't sure if it was for Scout or me.

Since then, I have promised Scout a new car, a trip to the Caribbean -- anything, if she will only go pee, once again, in her litter box.  

And then I finally realized what was really going on.  As far as blogs, the score was Fonzie: 3, Scout: 0.

So I type.  And wait.  And pray for pee in a box.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Running Away from Progress

"It will get better," they said.  "You're just starting out, it's just the beginning -- give it time."  

Well, I'm here to report that it's past the beginning, I'm no longer just starting out, and it's still not better, even with time.

Yes, I think you know what I'm talking about.  I officially suck at running.  And my dog officially sucks at (or, wait, maybe he is good at it?) pulling.  And so together, five mornings out of seven, he pulls like crazy and my calves pound in agony as we attempt to run around the gravel path of Duke's East Campus.

But let me break the two suckinesses down:

Before last year, I had lived with a certain amount of pride in not exercising on a regular basis and eating what I wanted.  Although everyone in my immediate family ran, I was pretty sure that I hated running and that I wasn't missing anything.  

And then I bought a car and started commuting to the suburbs.  And as the year went on, whether it was real or imagined, I felt like crap -- slow and stationary and pent up with hatred of certain privileged teenagers.  

So, as soon as the temperature got above 20 degrees -- you know, spring time in Chicago, the second half of May -- I made a running mix for my ipod and started my career as a non-runner.  I began with the run a block / walk a block strategy, and I was surprised at how quickly I was able to shift the balance to more running.  Sure, I tried to catch the stoplights, and yes, sometimes I just had to stop and walk.  But I was on my way, dammit.  

And then, by July, I wasn't.  In fact, I felt like I was getting worse.  How could it feel harder to do the exact same run?   Although, as it turns out, I actually did like getting exercise on a regular basis, I never felt that runner's high, and I always always dreaded the run.   "All I have to do to win is suffer," I'd tell myself -- a Muhammad Ali line that I learned from my old boxing teacher.  But, although I had the suffering part down, there appeared to be no winning in my future. 

Fast forward to a new state and a bunch of months later, and I'm still trudging along five out of seven days a week.  When I first got Fonzie, I was so distracted by him, that I almost didn't notice the actual running.  (True, there was not as much running going on, what with stopping and checking and picking up poop.)  But that only lasted a couple of weeks before my focus returned to each insufferable block, insufferable until Fonzie went poop and the run came to a grinding heaven-sent halt.

Although Fonzie gave me a brilliant excuse to stop for a minute, he also gave me hell on the leash.  And although I thought everything would be better when I got that genius, head collar, gentle leader, muzzle-looking thing, it hasn't stopped the pulling.  Fonzie stills dashes from one side of the sidewalk to the other as if peeing on that particular bush was a matter of life and death.  He still lags behind and occasionally goes on strike and stops moving all together.  At other times, he is out in front pulling, wondering why the hell I'm so slow and why the hell he has this annoying thing on his snout.  

Most days, between my lame stamina and his impressive stubbornness, our runs are a mess.  He is always almost tripping me (and, yes,  I have heard the horror stories involving broken legs and messed up pelvises from running with dogs), and yesterday, I think I actually tripped him.  Either that or I kicked his leg.  The poor dog let out a yelp and then actually started limping.  He started limping!  We pulled over to the side, and a man who had been walking behind us was kind enough to ask if the dog was okay.  "Oh yeah, he's fine," I said, worrying that I had, in fact, broken some bone in Fonzie's body.  

Yesterday was so all-around bad, that I deemed it "the worst run ever."  And I'm sure it will be until the next worst run ever.  Luckily it didn't happen today, as my calves trumped the pulling as the real unenthusiastic losers.  

As much as I know that the perfect storm of a terrible run is and always will be out there, the fact remains that I do like being able to exercise outside and with Fonzie.  I can't see myself ever joining a gym, especially in a state where it won't ever really be too cold to run outside (I'll get back to you about the heat next summer).  

I guess for now I have a standing date with myself and six uncooperative legs each morning. So bring on the stoplights, crank up the "Footloose," and god bless the poop that interrupts my run.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mr. Rogers Had it Right

When I was still a high school teacher and had to dress all nice and professional, the first thing I'd do upon arriving home was change my clothes.  And we're not just talking switching out the office pants for some jeans; I had to strip myself of all items that had been contaminated by school air, including jewelry, socks, and depending on how I was feeling, my bra.  Even on the days when we could wear jeans to school, I had to change my jeans when I got home (because, of course, there are school jeans and non-school jeans).  The only thing that could carry over from school day to night was maybe my underwear.

See, my school clothes were my costume, and the second I could stop pretending to be a put-together mature adult, it was imperative that I change back to my real self via my real clothes.  This is not to say that I disliked my school clothes -- they were fine, for school clothes.  But, I needed to keep the two identities separate, and the clothes were the medium for my transition.

For those long four years, I thought that this was a hating-school thing.  I  fantasized about a future far-off job where I could wear my crazy-colored sneakers and my sweatshirts and track jackets to work.  I wondered what it would be like to live in a world where the work me and the non-work me were seamlessly merged into one. 

Now, I'm not so sure.  Two weeks into my new non-teaching job, I'm realizing that the changing-of-the-clothes has not stopped.  The second I get home, I still need to take off my rings, switch out the pants, and take off the button down shirt.  True, I might keep on the long sleeve shirt I was wearing underneath or even keep on the black socks, depending on how lazy I'm feeling.  The cooties factor of my work clothes has definitely decreased now that I'm not breathing in the same air as teenagers and school administrators.

And now, as I ponder my fantasy of wearing my bright yellow Brazilian track jacket with matching bright yellow Mr. Happy shoes to work, I'm realizing that Mr. Rogers and Clark Kent were on to something.  Granted, both men did have good reason to change their clothes: Clark Kent couldn't walk around all day in his Superman get-up, and Mr. Rogers had to change into his bum cardigan to comfortably check out the Neighborhood of Make Believe.  But, maybe their wardrobe changes also helped them transition into their taking-care-of-business psyches.

As for me, having a clothing distinction between my work self and my normal self has become a concrete way for me to mark the distinction between the two.  I still need to pretend to be a put-together rational adult at work, while I can spiral into a whiny self-centered kid who starts sentences with "dude" at home.  (It's possible that some members of the house in which I live might wish that I would leave on my work clothes/adult identity a little longer, but this request has never been made official.)

When I ponder the deeper meaning of this work self v. real self distinction for too long (that would be right about now, for example),  I'm soon wrapped up in the dilemma of how separate these two identities should be in the first place.  Should I aspire to have one unified identity -- where work self is real self?  Will I never fully a) either have a "career" or b) really like my job until there is no distinction? (Assuming that the only way to truly love your job is to get paid for doing your passion.)

But then I find myself at the what-am-I-doing-with-my-life question, and no one wants to think about that for too long.  After all, even Tom Hanks in "Big" had to wear a suit to go to work and play with toys.

So, for now, I think I'm okay with my 5:30 p.m. phone booth wardrobe change.  Then again, maybe the self that does my laundry will feel differently.  

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Homeward Bound

I have a problem with going to work in the morning.  The problem is: I don't want to go.  Now, I know that most people don't want to go to work (see last blog), and that most people would rather stay home.  However, what I'm not sure about is how normal or abnormal the sick-to-my-stomach feeling is -- the one I get when I leave home in the morning, where five pairs of legs and varying degrees of smells and hairiness remain.

But I guess I should start at the beginning, where my retardedness (and by retardness, I'm going to steal Sarah Silverman's definition of "I can do anything") begins.  See, back in the third grade (my default grade for whenever I can't really remember when something happened), I had some issues with going to school in the morning.  My family and I had just returned from spending a couple of weeks in London together, and I was used to spending every minute of every day with them.  For some, going back to school might be a welcome relief.  For me, it was cause for tears every morning before school.  I was just too homesick to leave home in the morning. 

This homesickness carried over to issues with sleep-overs and stuffed animals.  For years and years, I could not do sleep-overs.  I would get as far as, oh, say 10:00 p.m., and then, inevitably, I'd call home, claiming "sick" to my parents and my poor friend.  I thought I'd never be able to go away for college, let alone the one-nighter at Camp Timberlee in the fifth grade (and, yes, it was actually the fifth grade).

With stuffed animals, it was similar feelings about leaving my family...except...right, they were stuffed.  animals.  But I felt bad leaving them in the morning, and I so looked forward to winter and summer break when I could spend all day and night with them.  Yes, I could do anything.

So, therein lies my early weirdness, except I did go to Camp Timberlee and I did make it to college.  And things seemed to be going along just fine.  Until I got the brilliant idea to become a high school English teacher and no one stopped me.  That's when my trouble with going to school in the morning began all over again.

Of course, there are many reasons to dread teaching, and that sick-to-the-stomach feeling, I think, is not completely abnormal when you have to perform in front of teenagers.  The thing is, though, it never got easier.  During my second year of teaching, I occasionally needed to call a lifeline on the way from the L to my school, just to get myself to go in.  And then, by my third year, I needed anti-anxiety medication to get myself to go to school.

So, I switched schools.  And I went off the medication.  However, I still spent too many before-school minutes sitting in my car in the school parking lot on the phone with my mom or Willie, sniffling away tears, and hoping for some kind of miracle encouragement.  Every morning when I locked my car, all I wanted was for it to be 3:15 so that I could return to my car, unlock it, and go home.  (By the way, if you feel any pity for it, I have no problem with that. Please, pity away.)

So, I switched careers.  And two weeks into my new job, I'm definitely not crying in the morning.  The wishing it was the end of the day is definitely less than it was with teaching.  (That was one of the reasons I got out of teaching: I wanted to stop wishing away my days -- hoping and praying that it was already 3:00 or June 15.)

And yet, although I don't need to make a call or ingest small white pills, that homesicky it's-time-to-go-to-work feeling has not completely gone away.  True, the job is still brand new and so I'm still dealing with nerves and anxiety.  And Fonzie's face at the window, which I can see all the way from the car, definitely doesn't help.  

I know that, ultimately, I should feel very lucky that I have had and continue to have happy homes that I don't want to leave.  And maybe, as I get more comfortable with the job, my morning homesick-y feeling will get better.  Or maybe not.  Maybe I'm just a weirdo (who can do anything) with separation anxiety who will always want to stay home and play with her stuffed animals.  

Well, at least I got the sleep-over part down.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Will Work For Fun

As of last Monday, I am officially employed.  Just when I was ready to reenter the world of food service, I got hired as the School Service Learning Coordinator at Duke, a nondescript mouthful of a job title.

On the first day of work, I learned that I work in three different offices at Duke (the Office of Community Affairs, the Program in Education and the Community Service Center), and that I am responsible for coordinating two different tutoring programs: America Reads / America Counts and the tutoring program required of students in service learning classes.

On the second day of work, I learned that the woman who I thought was my boss is not my boss.  I was kind of bummed, because she would have been an awesome boss.  And I'm still not positive who and how many bosses I have.

By the third day of work, I realized that I'm not sure how I feel about the word "coordinator."  I'm learning that it's a euphemism for dealing with shit that goes wrong.

And by the fourth day of work, I realized that, for the first time in my life, I need a date book to keep track of all of the meetings and places I'm supposed to be, as the post-it note system I used to rely on will no longer suffice.

It's a given that starting a new job is stressful and that I have no idea what I'm doing.  And I probably won't really know what I'm doing until I've messed everything up nice and good.  My responsibilities seem like a foreign language at the moment, and I don't understand how anyone can keep the two tutoring programs straight, given that they seem to have just as many similarities as differences.

But, in this economy at this point in time, I feel lucky as hell to have a job -- a job that will get me out of the office and into schools once a week and where everyone, so far, has been super nice.   

But, the real kicker?  It's not a teaching job.  Which leads me to a preliminary list about what is in and out, good and bad, about going back to a normal non-teaching job:

Let's start with the bad:
  • No Christmas break. (I just found out yesterday that I only get December 24th and 25th off and that I am not entitled to any vacation days or sick days until I have worked for 90 days, which means, basically, that I am fucked for the holidays.)  
  • No summer break means no end in sight. 
  • The work day no longer ends at 2:55 p.m.
  • I can no longer claim that I can't stay after school because that would be over union time.
And now the good:
  • I can wear the same pants every day of the week without any teenagers noticing.
  • My day doesn't depend on the mood of 120 teenagers.
  • I no longer have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. 
  • I could actually schedule a dentist appointment at, say 10:00 a.m. on a Wednesday in February.
I know that a job is a job and that 99.9% of people would rather be doing their life than their job.  I will still get the Sunday blues and will still be tired.  

But, I'm hoping that I won't be so exhausted by the end of the week that I want to kill myself.  And that I'll still have time and energy to, say, start my own t-shirt making company (for example).

Having been employed for a stretch until this fall, I had forgotten how good it feels to get up in the morning and have somewhere to be, to know that you can pay your bills, and to be a part of whatever kind of community the job provides.  

I had forgotten how great Friday late afternoon feels, when you've made it through the week and arrived at the weekend.  

Yes, working sucks.  But unemployment sucks more.

The Good, the Bad, and the Fonzie

So, week three with dog.  As the walks and plastic bags and failed attempts at "sit" accumulate, my complete ignorance of dog ownership has channeled itself into one doggie question: how good does my dog need to be?

Now, for the most part, Fonzie is a good dog (said in that universal dummy doggie voice where you raise your voice five octaves and add some guttural throaty "let's rough house" oomph to it).  He doesn't bark in the house, he doesn't go to the bathroom in the house, he leaves the cat alone, and he has only chewed through one computer cord and one can of trash.  (Translation: he has not touched the sneakers.)  Outside of the house, however, Fonzie has a mixed track record.  Again, for the most part, he is good.  He walks well on a leash (whatever that means), and sometimes he runs well with me. 

Other times, though, he pulls and pulls.  The trainer at the dog obedience classes warned me about getting leash burn on my hand, and sure enough, there's some redness that I pretend I don't see.  Fonzie has also taken to barking at other dogs and occasionally tries to jump up on me or others.

And then there's his PTSD.  On a couple of occasions, Fonzie has completely lost his mind.  At first I thought it was crowds or loud music, and that something traumatic must have happened to him in that kind of setting.  But then, on a perfectly normal Sunday afternoon, while taking a perfectly normal walk on a path we walk almost every day, something clicked in Fonzie's brain.  He began barking like mad and attempted (almost successfully) to jump over the wall enclosing the path where we were walking.  It was a full twenty minutes before he calmed down.  It was embarrassing as hell.

So, there's anxious/PTSD Fonzie, and then there's normal dog Fonzie.  And the anxiety -- well, not sure what I can do about that except hope that it gets better.  But it's the normal "bad" behavior that I'm unsure about.  Is it bad that he barks at other dogs?  Or is it okay and normal?  Or does it depend on the bark, and somehow I'm supposed to distinguish between good bark and bad bark?  I know that I do not want a dog that jumps up (or that sniffs human crotches), but the "ignore the jump" advice I was given does not seem to be working.  Fonzie is responsive to getting squirted with a water bottle in class; do I just start carrying around a water bottle on a holster?

All of my issues and insecurities came down to a decision I had to make in this week's obedience class of whether or not to use this gentle leader leash that the trainer recommended I try on Fonzie.  It goes around the dog's snout and head, so that he can't pull on the leash.  It looks like a muzzle, but the trainer assured me it's not.  "He can pant and chew and everything," she said.  The trainer let me try it out during class to see if I wanted do purchase it.  Fonzie, of course, hated it.  He pawed and pawed at it, and we didn't learn a single thing in class.  Finally, he was able to pull the gentle leader leash off of his mouth, after the trainer had loosened it slightly.   I knew that the muzzle-looking leash wasn't cruel, and that it would help Fonzie not pull when we walk.  But, I just couldn't do it.  Partly it was watching him with it on, and partly I wasn't convinced (or ready to admit) that he needed it.  Sensing my reluctance, the trainer showed me pictures of other dog graduates with the gentle leader / muzzle-looking leash on.  "See?!" she said, except the dogs in the pictures were all pit bulls or other scary-looking breeds.  Not like my sweet, female-looking, innocent Fonzie!

I know my question of what is acceptable dog behavior comes down to the question of what is acceptable to me.  And I know that I do want a well behaved dog and that that requires me to be a disciplinarian, although I've been told that my "NO!" is way wimpy.  To what extent do I accept that Fonzie is not a perfect dog (the Craig's list ad did say "near perfect," and now I understand the "near)" and to what extent do I insist on perfection? 

Part of the problem is definitely me and my vanity about walking around in public with a squirt bottle or a dog who looks like he has a muzzle on.  Will I appear vicious or cruel?  And would that be worse than looking (accurately) like I can't control the dog?

Well, yesterday at 3:00 p.m., I had sided with my vanity about not using a leash that looks like a muzzle.  

By 3:30, I had changed my mind.  Oh, the difference a walk makes.

The freak-out was a Fonzie standard, and this time, it was prompted by a noise coming from the Just Tires store.  "Really?" I asked him, "Just Tires?"  After his panic attack kicked in, he pulled and pulled and barked and couldn't walk normal.  It as a full 15 minutes home, and he pulled every step of the way.  

By 4:45, I had purchased a gentle leader head collar.  And by 5:45, I could have done an infomercial.  Fonzie definitely does not like it, and I'm starting off really slow; so far, we've only been on shorter walks and we've gone at a snail's pace.  I have to figure out how to properly use the thing so that it can effectively teach him not to pull.  But the little instructional manual converted me to the belief that the leash will help with Fonzie's anxiety and freak-outs, and that his resistance to the leash means that he is the kind of dog who could use it.

The gentle leader leash still looks like a muzzle.  And I interpreted a look we got from a lady on our walk today to mean, "how could you muzzle your dog!"  But, worrying about what other people think is my problem, not Fonzie's.  And if he can be fine with the muzzle-looking gentle leader leash (even if takes 57 treats to not get him to pull at it), then I should be, too.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Big Apple, Little Durham

When I booked a plane ticket from Durham to New York a couple months ago, I was primarily going to see family.  But, a small-to-medium part of me was very curious about what New York would feel like after Durham and what Durham would feel like after New York.  Would the crazy crowdedness of New York make me feel good about coming back to deserted Durham?  Or would I not want to leave the big city and return to the land of cars and crap parked on front lawns.

Disclaimers/caveats: now, of course, New York is an anomaly -- no other place feels like New York -- not even Chicago.  And, of course, it's only been a couple months of residing in Durham.  What was I expecting -- severe culture shock on either end like my college classmates who would return from their exotic, transcendent, 10-week trips abroad and describe their struggle to return to the culture of cows, colleges and contentment in Northfield, Minnesota?  Puh-lease.

But still.  The trip might offer a tiny glimpse of an answer to my big question: do I need to live in a big city?  The subtitle being -- can I really live in Durham?

The first night in New York was all about family and getting to hang out with my sister -- walking the streets of the Upper West Side, eating at a Vietnamese spot and, of course, getting Tasti D-Lite.  Yes, there were more people on a single New York block at any given moment than there were on all of Durham's (lack of) sidewalks in the entire two months that I've been there.  But, so far, no major life realizations were coming to me.  I was too busy looking into store windows and trying to tell if people were dressed in Halloween costumes or if that was just their normal get-up.

Then came Saturday morning.  Everyone was out walking their dogs, getting their bagels and coffee, running in Central Park or walking down by the river.   Walking the streets of New York that morning, I was accompanied by a loud voice in my head crying, "I want to live in New York!  I can't live in Durham!  There is nothing in Durham!"  I felt panicked.  Could the move be undone?  Could I ever afford to live in New York?  Could I sacrifice space and comfort?  And would Fonzie be able to come along?  (I couldn't believe how many dogs I saw walking around New York.  And not just little dogs.  Apparently, dogs go with New York as much as they go with North Carolina.)

I quieted the voice in my head by getting some pizza for breakfast (ah, the things you can do when you're on your own) and by mapping out my shopping for the afternoon.  I had decided to hit some sneaker stores while I was in town.  Although I love my sneakers, I had never made it a point to look for sneakers in New York on previous trips -- probably because I was living in Chicago (although the majority of my collection comes from the internet).  But, now that I was a country bumpkin, I had to hit the big city to get my fill of civilization (aka colorful high tops and American Apparel). And get my fill I did.  I spent the afternoon with my cousin and his wife in Soho and the East Village, first eating a $15 corned beef sandwich, and then fighting the crowds to walk down sidewalks to peak into packed music-blaring shoe stores.  It was the deadly combination of being in store heaven and being on a budget.  I'd blink and see a store I like and have to steer myself away from the entrance.  

Luckily, after a few hours of what felt like shopping blob tag in Soho, I felt done for the day.  I had drained my budget and had that raggedy blown-out feeling you get when you spend the entire day running around going places or when you spend too long at the Super Target.  It was nice to go back to a home-cooked meal in my aunt and uncle's calm and beautiful Upper West Side apartment.  

The next morning, while 40,000 people ran the marathon, I slept in and ate bagels and lox for breakfast.  And then it was time to head to the airport and go back to that place where I live.

The planes I took to and from North Carolina were little -- so small, that, on the way there, they had to put sandbags in the cargo area to increase the plane's weight, and, on the way back, passengers had to move to empty seats in order to balance out the plane.  Apparently, no big plane is needed to schlep the people to and from North Carolina.  In fact, I was a little concerned that I had got on the wrong plane, as I had been on the phone when we boarded, and it was one of those small-commuter-Comair-no-sign-on-the-board-at-the-gate-we-don't-really-care-what-small-city-you're-flying-to-because-we-would-never-want-to-live-there planes.  But, sure enough, I spotted a man in Tarheels Carolina blue gear sitting a couple seats ahead of me.  I was on the right plane.

Willie picked me up from the airport, and it was a beautiful warm sunny day in North Carolina.  I took Fonzie for a walk as soon as I got home.  There were a couple people out -- it was a nice day after all -- but it was back to Deserted Durham.  

DD keeps me out of stores, as there are few to go into that don't require a trip to the mall, and even fewer open past 5:00 p.m.  It gets me outside, with the help of Fonzie and his ever-curious nose.  But, one short trip to New York has not given me any answers to my big question.  I still don't know if I need to live in a big city, and I probably won't for a while.  What's more, I really have no clue how I feel about living in Durham.  But, at least for the moment, there is a four-legged creature helping me to crowd the empty streets of this place where I live.


Last night Fonzie answered one of the questions for me.  As we were taking our nightly walk, we came upon an outdoor music fest of the alternative variety.  There was a small hipster crowd, and people were drinking beer and hanging out.  (Interestingly enough, or maybe not interesting at all, a couple people have told me that Durham has been referred to lately as "Little Brooklyn."  If that were indeed true, there would be an American Apparel here.)

I tried to get close enough to see what was going on while staying far enough away so that Fonzie wouldn't get freaked out. (He is not a fan of Petsmart or other chaotic places.) It took him only a minute before he started to lose it.  We started heading away from the crowd and even crossed the street.  It was too late; as the band started to play, all Fonzie hell broke loose. He began barking loudly and pulled hard at the leash as he tried to run free.  I hung on tight as he pulled me for about a block.   We passed people who were giving me disapproving looks and moving out of the way -- here came crazy dog and girl with no control over crazy dog.  It was extremely embarrassing, although I also couldn't stop laughing.  

Fonzie wouldn't last a second in New York at this point in his life; he needs the deserted in Deserted Durham.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Introducing: Fonzie!

I have wanted a dog for as long as I can remember.  My family was not a dog family, however.  We had fish at one point, a failed rabbit, and a hamster named Clinton (named by my brother before William Jefferson).  No cats, as my brother and I are allergic, and certainly absolutely no dog.  I identified with Vanessa from "The Cosby Show," whose response to everything was, "Well, then, can we get a dog?"  But unlike Vanessa, I knew enough not to even ask.


Exactly one week and a day ago, I found an ad in the pets section of Craig's list advertising "Frosty, yellow lab/husky 1.5 yrs male with bobtail!"  The ad went on to describe Frosty as low maintenance, crate and housetrained, "and the most loving of all.  He likes to be loved on and adores children.  He is very quiet and content looking out glass doors and windows just watching [...] He loves on kittens and bunnies and doesn't bother puppies and is not aggressive toward the bigger dogs.  He is pretty close to perfect!"  Needless to say, I was smitten.  Mostly by the line "loves to be loved on" and by the allure of a "pretty close to perfect" dog.

Now, however close to perfect Frosty was, I had no business being in the pets section of Craig's list.  Nor did I have any business filling out an application for adoption (he was in foster care).  Within 24 hours, my application had been approved and his foster mom was emailing me about meeting up to get Frosty.  What had I done?  

The out-of-control-pursuing-a-dog person who had taken over my body drove into the country last Sunday, about 50 minutes away to Dogtoberfest.  In a clearing of a large tree-filled park were a dozen or so tents -- some adoption and rescue, some pet services. 

I found the 2pawsup tent and sure enough, there was Frosty.  He was cuter than his picture, but after taking him on a walk, I was torn. He seemed great, but he was also hyper and energetic and not as low-maintenance as he had been described.  I will spare you the details of the tears and the drive home without Frosty, and will jump to the part where I email his foster mom  a couple hours later asking when and where I could come pick him up. 

At 5:55 P.M. I was at Petsmart frantically buying dog food and a dog bowl because I was supposed to meet Frosty's foster mom in the parking lot at 6:00 except Petsmart closed at 6:00.  I had no idea how to pick out food or a bowl or a leash, as I know next to nothing about owning a dog.  Within five minutes, I had a basket full of food and was signing up for dog obedience training classes (waiting and seeing before purchasing has never been my strength).  The nice man who was helping me took one look at my basket and said, "Yeah, that's not going to work."  I had chosen puppy-sized bowls and food that would make Frosty poop big and often, he said.  He replaced my food and bowls, and at 6:08, I was running out of Petsmart with my arms full of a two-hander bag of dog food.

Frosty's mom and I had not exchanged cell phone numbers (despite my request for hers); she had just told me to look for a green van.  As I half-ran the food to my car, I saw a dirty old green van pulling away.  "Wait!" I shouted as I started to run after it, the dog food falling out of my arms.  But, the van kept going.

"Shit!"  I was pissed that I had been late and pissed that I didn't have a number for the woman and pissed that Frosty had slipped through my hands.  Again. 

I put the stuff in my car and wandered around the Petsmart parking lot desperately looking for any sign of any green van.  I called Willie frantically, who told me to wait until 6:30 before I left.  A green van pulled into the parking lot, but a muscular man came out with no dog.  And then I spotted the same old dirty green van that had pulled away and that I was convinced had Frosty in it.  Except the van drove right by the parking lot and didn't stop.  Finally, at about 6:25, a green mini van pulled into the parking lot, and I could see Frosty's foster mom at the wheel.  She waved. Here was Frosty.

I wrote a check and signed my name and watched her put flea stuff on Frosty, and within a couple minutes and before I was able to ask her any questions like, "Um, how do you take care of a dog?" she had left and it was me and Frosty.


The first 48 hours went okay minus the fact that I had no idea what I was doing.  When Frosty (whose permanent name I had not yet settled on) took me for a walk, I was literally tripping over the dog, as he would crisscross from one side of the sidewalk to the other.  I had no idea how long to let him sniff, how hard to pull when he would just stop, or even how to pick up his poop.  In my attempt to get the whole thing in the bag and leave no trace, I ended up spreading it around (sorry for the gross factor).  

And, jumping way ahead of my skill level, I even tried to go running with him.   He stopped frequently and stubbornly.  He pulled me and got tangled up in the leash.  I stepped on his paws more than a couple of times.  He wanted to chase squirrels.  There wasn't a whole lot of running going on.  To make matters worse, we passed a woman running with her dog who had her leash tied around her waist, her dog dutifully trailing just slightly behind her as they both trotted at an equal pace.  I hated that woman.

But Frosty was a good dog for the most part.  He didn't bother my cat, Scout, when he saw her, although poor Scout hissed and growled and looked at me like, "Excuse me, I did not approve this."  He was quiet and good about hanging out in the one room we were keeping him in for now, and he didn't tear anything or chew anything or go to the bathroom in the house.

In fact, except for some bursts of energetic jumping and play-biting, things were going pretty well.  I was brainstorming names and was looking forward to our first training class the following day.

And then, on Tuesday night, when we were going on a walk, Frosty stopped in the middle of the street.  He was smelling, and I pulled him.  He pulled back -- hard enough so that he slipped out of his collar.  And he took off.  A group of six hipster guys in a van -- they had to be in a band on tour -- stopped and got out to help me.  I got close to Frosty a couple times, but there was no way to grab him without a collar, and he had no desire to come to me.  He wanted to run and be free.   For a couple blocks and for a good five minutes, the guys in the band tried to help me corner Frosty and coax him, but to no avail.  "What's his name?" they asked.  "Um, I don't know -- I just got him," I said, feeling like the worst dog owner in the world.  

After remaining in sight for a few minutes, the dog started to fun full speed, and I ran after him.  This time, within seconds, he was gone.  I had no idea which way he had gone and no idea what to do.  I ran the few blocks back to where the van had stopped, but the van and the hipster band was gone.  Frosty, whose name was not really Frosty, was gone, too.   Just 48 hours and I had lost him.  I was the one who had adjusted his collar to be looser, after reading on the web that most dog collars are too tight and that this is dangerous for the dog.  I used to wonder how it was that so many people lost their dogs.  My edification had come quick.

I ran home and cried and Willie quickly helped me print out signs.  Within 10 minutes we were out looking for Frosty and plastering lost dog signs on light poles.  The poor dog didn't have a name that he responded to or a tag.  The most useful information we could put on the lost dog sign was that he had a distinct short stubby tail -- the history of which I have no idea.   

The whole thing was kind of surreal; I had had a dog, and then I didn't.  I would have to tell everyone I had told that I had lost the dog, that it was over.  I was the worst dog person ever.

After the 25th sign, we returned home.  And who came walking down the street?  Frosty.  Except he didn't stop, he kept going.  We jumped in the car and tried to follow him, but he was gone.  We spotted him a few blocks away.  I got out and tried to coax him, but, again, to no avail.  There was no way to grab him.  We'd have to hope that now that he knew where he lived, he would choose to come home.

When we got back to the house, I sat on the porch for an hour. At midnight, I pushed the couch in the dog's room by the window.  I left food outside on the porch, and hoped that if he came back home, I would hear him on the porch.

I didn't sleep much.  Scout kept me company as I tossed and turned and kept my eyes peeled to the window.  The role reversal was not lost on me: I was holed up in the dog's room, waiting for him to come home.  I felt like the mom of a teenager, hoping that Frosty would choose home over his partying ways.

At 7:30 A.M., my phone rang.  "Um, I saw the sign about your dog, and I think I just saw him," the nice nice man said.  He had spotted the dog a block from the house.  I thanked him and threw on some shoes and went outside.  Within minutes, Frosty came bounding down the street.  And this time, he came up the steps to the porch to greet me and walked in the door.  He had come home.  The dog that almost wasn't seemed meant to be.  It was back on.


After I put on his collar on the smallest hole,  I knew I had to name him and get him a tag right quick.  I spent the day trying out names.  By the 7:00 P.M. obedience training class, I had settled on "Fonzie" -- somewhat close to Frosty, but without the snowman and with the added benefit of "Fonz" or "the Fonz."

Name and all, we showed up at the class early.  I was excited, Fonzie was freaked out.  Upon entering the Petsmart, he barked and whined and pulled and jumped.  We watched the other dogs coming out of the puppy training class.  They were small and demure and just cute as buttons.  Fonzie and I were big and loud and out of control.  

We had gotten approval to sign up for the puppy training class because the class for dogs five months and older wasn't starting for another month.  So, it was Fonzie and two other puppies, one who truly looked like a baby Ewok.  Fonzie would not stop barking and jumping, and upon taking a seat in the class, the trainer sprayed both of us with a water bottle.  Fonzie got quiet.

The trainer began the class.  "Did you bring the rabies information?"  she wanted to know.  The two other dog owners had theirs; I did not.  "You will need to bring treats for your dog every week.  Did you bring treats?" she wanted to know.  The two other people had treats; I did not.  So far, we were failing dog obedience class.  A few barks and squirts of water later, Fonzie calmed down for a minute.  We only learned a few training techniques -- all treat based, except Fonzie wasn't interested in the treats.  "Bring him hungry next time," the trainer said.  I hadn't fed him since morning but nodded in agreement.

The class was mostly lecture, but effective enough to instill in me that I am responsible for making Fonzie's behavior what I want it to be.  I learned that I had been holding the leash incorrectly.  We got our homework for the week, and we left Petsmart, none too soon for poor Fonzie.


The run this morning was the same tangled up mess.  I definitely got some looks from other walkers/runners.  And Fonzie has taken to jumping up on me and chewing things (luckily not the sneakers).  He is a dog after all, not a robot.

But, I was a little better at cleaning up the poop today (although I still need two plastic bags), and Fonzie mastered the three little training techniques we learned.  He's fast asleep and snoring on the couch in my room, where we are both holed up.  So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to my dog, Fonzie:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

My State Fair is Better than Yours

Before last week, I had been to one state fair in my life: the Minnesota State Fair, of which, with it's busts of pageant girls carved out of butter and the cheese curds and the absolutely everything on a stick, I'm a big fan.   So, I wasn't sure if the North Carolina State Fair had a chance. Certainly, the abundance of McCain and Dole buttons and stickers that was evident just on the walk through the parking lot to the fair didn't bode well.  Nor did the high cost of everything -- $5 for a ferris wheel ride?  In fact, it took me a little while to let my judgmental fair guard down.  

True, we were greeted at the entry way by the Weinermobile.

And, yes, there were the old men beating little kids at the classic game of who can get the bear up the ladder the fastest.  

But then we came across  "Tiny Tina: The World's Smallest Woman Alive," who was advertised to be 29 inches, wear a size two shoe, and to hail from Haiti.  "She's here, she's real, and she's alive," the booming male voice kept repeating.  I had no idea that freak shows were here and real and alive and was further saddened by the fact that the 29-inch woman was the biggest bargain at the fair -- a mere fifty cents.  

But Tiny Tina was soon trumped by the "Museum of World Oddities: Nature's Mistakes." This exhibit advertised all kinds of "freaks," including Three-Eyed Bill, Horrifying Man, Mule-Face Woman, Frog Girl, Two-Headed Baby and Elephant Skin Baby.  Just seeing the signs made me feel icky.

"Nature's Mistakes" was the low point of the fair -- that and the $3.50 price for an ear of corn.  

But then, once the sun went down, and Tiny Tina was replaced by exhibits of baby pigs and giant pumpkins, I made a little space for the possibility that there were good things at the North Carolina State Fair.

Like the BMX bike show.  I had never seen one in person, and maybe because we were seated in the second row and I was worried about the bikers hurting themselves, I felt obliged to scream so loud and often that I made myself hoarse.  I can't even get myself up on a curb on my bike, let alone get up a ramp, let alone do a full flip while on bike off of ramp.

And as I finally gave into a $3.00 ear of roasted corn (you just had to look for the competitive prices), I also settled on some if-not-now-then-when food: fried mac and cheese, apple fries, a turkey leg, fried pecan pie, hot apple cider and some good old fashioned kettle corn.  

(Although the turkey leg took me back to the Renaissance Fair that my friend and I went to in high school (shhh), it was both really tasty and really disgusting.)

Along with fair food indigestion, I couldn't stomach throwing away money on a game that I would probably lose (like those "skill" games involving basketballs and fishing poles).  But, I decided that I wouldn't leave the fair without trying my hand at the guess-my-age/weight/birthday month game.   If the man or woman running the game guesses your age within two years, your weight within seven pounds, or your birthday month within two months, you lose.  If he or she is wrong, you get to pick a prize.  

Although it's a pretty sure bet that when I get carded for alcohol, the response of the person doing the carding is some variation of "you look like you're 12" (not helped by the usual barrette in my hair and a Snuffleupagus t-shirt), I've never had the opportunity to actually win something by looking like I'm not old enough to be doing whatever it is I'm doing.   (And by "win," I mean pay $3 for a stuffed lion that sheds.)  So, I plotted carefully.  We walked by man after man after woman after man who were mc-ing the game.  It couldn't be a woman, we decided; she might catch on.  But a man on the youngish side?  That just might do.

After a couple laps around the midway, I found my guy.  Willie hid so that he wouldn't give anything away.  I wasn't wearing anything too unusual for me -- barrette, bright green jacket, bright orange scarf, Wonder Woman t-shirt costume, high tops -- but I girl-ied up my act.  I smiled and tilted my head and asked the man if he wanted my money.  The guy wasn't stupid.  He could see right through my Wonder Woman t-shirt costume act.  But I waited in anticipation for him to be way off with my age.

"28," he said.  (Okay, so at 32, he wan't far off.  At all.)  But, I had WON.  I jumped and cheered and screamed.  "You dress like a little girl," he said lightheartedly,  "You should dress your age."  Not if I want to win, buddy, not if I want to win.

Long after the man was onto guessing someone else's weight, I was beaming at my choice of prizes.  For $3, they really weren't that great.  But the stuffed flammable lion who sheds?  Priceless.

I thought that was it, and that the fair had redeemed itself, and just as we were licking the fried pecan pie off of our fingers and thinking about the exit gate, my cousin, who had showed up after the BMX bike show, suggested that I shoot my first gun.  After all, would it be the North Carolina State Fair if I didn't?

So, we lined up at the turkey shoot, and my cousin and his wife assured me that anyone above the age of 12 could participate.  Given that I dress like a little girl, this wasn't especially comforting.

When it came time for us to head into the turkey shoot cage, we were asked if anyone there had never shot a gun before.  My hand was the only one up, so a nice young lady came over and showed me what to do: put on your sound-proof earphones attached to a string, put on your goggles attached to a string, raise your gun attached to the counter like so, put the thingy in the thingy, click back and shoot!  I did and it was loud and I screamed.  I had no idea if we were actually shooting at turkeys or not, and, for better or worse, I didn't hit anything.  

By the time we left, full bag of kettle corn and shedding lion in tow, we were tired and it was dark and cold.  We didn't stay for the fireworks.  And we hadn't seen any pageant busts made of butter.  But I had done the North Carolina State Fair and had a flammable stuffed toy and a paper target with no holes in it to prove it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Teamster Fever: One Temp's Story

Part One: The Preparation

The job would last 3 days at 14 hours a day and $15 an hour.  As monitors of a union election in Raleigh,  a job we got through Willie's dad, all Willie and I had to do was check people's i.d.'s, have them sign their name on a list, hand them a ballot, and show them the box where the ballot goes.  Stuff that a monkey could do.

But, that's where the monkey's job ends and a professional's begins.  A professional food packer, that is.

Now, if my parents reared me for anything in life, it was to never be outside of your home without something to eat.  (Never being outside of your home without something to read was either tied for first or a very close second.)  I had grown up seeing my parents pack food for car trips as if the possibility existed that we could get trapped in our car for three months; no matter how short the ride, the number of food bags almost always trumped the amount of luggage.  Even as I type this, my mom has several recycled water bottles in the fridge ready to go in plastic bags, so that at a moment's notice, she can slide down the ladder, grab the water and go.  Hunger and thirst outside the home are not matters to be taken lightly.

So, ala the very hungry caterpillar, in true Kraut form, this is what I packed for Day One of the temp job: two bananas, two granola bars, a large bag of pretzels, two little bags of cookies, two turkey sandwiches,  four pieces of celery with peanut butter on them, two apples, two oranges,  four little chocolate mints, one bag of sourpatch kids, two rootbeers, a large bottle of water and a big bag of grapes.  That was the lunch and the snacks; I assumed we would buy dinner.

In between feeding times, for reading or other activities, this is what I brought: three books, two New Yorkers, one dictionary, a pad of Wonder Woman stationery, a sketching notebook, pencils to sketch with, beads and thread to make bracelets (including a small scissors), and my computer.  For the computer, I had five letters of recommendation to write, two television shows and one movie to watch.

I was ready to feed and entertain a family of five.  

Part Two: Chillin'

Although we knew we were monitoring a union election, this didn't mean much until we pulled into Teamsters Local Union No. 391, cool sign and all.  Yes, we had arrived at a photo op. 

And although I had technically belonged to a teachers union in Chicago, this had meant nothing to me.  But the Teamsters?  UPS and DHL drivers and cops?  Much cooler.  Maybe it's the uniforms or maybe it's that anything UPS makes me excited because someone, somewhere -- hopefully me someday -- is receiving a package.  For whatever reason, I got into the Teamsters theme of the temp job.  Even the union hall seemed cool.

The easy work was made even easier by the few numbers that turned out: the first day we had 11 voters, the second day we had 5 voters, and the third day we had 7.  (We didn't work over the weekend, when most people showed up for Teamster appreciation day and voted since they were already there.)

Despite my big activity bag, the things I actually accomplished during those three days were:

- Faux voting

- Finishing one of the long articles in The New Yorker
- Going to the mall down the street to buy my first cooler
- Taking a nap in the car
- Watching a lot of "Curb Your Enthusiasm"

No bracelets were made, no sketches were sketched, and no correspondence was conducted on my Wonder Woman stationery.  

But, we did get to be around the higher-up's of Teamster Local No. 391, who were easy-going and friendly and unconcerned with what we did to pass the time.  One guy offered me his pocket knife each morning after he saw me trying to cut a slit in that day's ballot box with a scissors.  Another guy went out and brought back biscuits for everyone from Bojangles.  

To make the voting festive, the Teamster heads-of-the-office set up a tent each morning right outside, where they served complimentary chili dogs and potato chips.  They sat under the tent and talked and ate and smoked an occasional cigar up until 9:00 PM, when voting ended.  Other Teamster members who came to vote joined them under the tent.  On the second day, when the temperature dropped by 30 degrees and it rained on and off, one of the guys went out and bought some shower curtains and rods and made a walled-in tent, complete with heater and all. These guys weren't messing around.

And they could talk.  One older fellow stood in the doorway of the voting room and chatted up Willie and me for awhile one afternoon.  His accent was so thick and mumbly that I only caught about every other sentence, but I'm pretty sure I learned why you can't change a man and how you can tell the difference between male and female corn.  

Part Three: Election Fever 

Once the voting ended, our final duty was to drive the ballots an hour away to Greensboro and to help count all of the ballots from the three different polling sites.  I was anticipating a couple more hours of light work; little did I know that I would catch Teamster fever.  

When we showed up, there was a lot of activity at the Greensboro office.  All of the Teamsters on the ballot and then some were there to watch the results come in and to help monitor the counting process.  And many of them had on their Teamster gear -- jackets and t-shirts with the union logo or with "Teamsters for Obama" on them.  Right away I coveted the Teamster paraphernalia and not-so-secretly hoped for some swag.  

Willie and I were part of a team of six -- the other four being lawyers -- who were helping to count the ballots.  The process was very tight and organized -- from making piles of slate votes or non-slate votes, to counting out the ballots into piles of 25, to recounting the piles of 25, to clipping them, and finally to marking on official tally sheets the numbers of votes each candidate received as the ballots were read out.  We made tick marks in columns and called out "slash" whenever we marked the fifth tick.  The crowd of Teamsters watched our every move, monitoring the process and making sure everything looked clean.   I was taken aback by how serious and closely observed the counting was, but it was a good kind of serious.  A sanctity of the voting process serious.  A kind of seriousness that the bright blue nail polish I had applied the night before, unfortunately, did not convey.  

Once our tallying was done and Willie and I were no longer being monitored, I could relax and fully take in the atmosphere.  As the numbers from the three sites started to be tallied, the Teamsters waiting for the results huddled around either the woman working the adding machine or around a computer which kept an updated tally on the numbers.  Even though I had been told that the incumbents running were all but guaranteed to win, I felt nervous and excited for them.  Nervous and excited for them and for Obama and for elections everywhere.  I had democracy fever.  

When the numbers were finally in, there were cheers and hugs and high fives and thank you's and lots of congratulations.  Here is a photo of the winning Teamster candidates:

I got so into it that I didn't want to leave.  I wanted to hang out with the Teamsters, the reelected Board of Trustees and the Business Agents and their Teamster friends.  I wanted to find out who was who, to put faces to names.  I wanted a Teamster jacket and I wanted to work for the Teamsters.

Willie and I didn't go home empty-handed.  We got a Teamsters for Obama sign as well as a lot of leftover pizza.

Part Four: Epilogue

This morning, as I began my daily job search, I typed in "Teamster jobs" on the computer, just for the hell of it.  Yes, they are mostly if not exclusively truck driving jobs, and seeing as I hate driving and am afraid of trucks, I realized it is probably not the union for me.

So, I suppose I'll stick to applying to snotty-ish or self-important organizations because that is the "respectable" thing to do with $150,000 worth of education.  

But, I still have Teamster fever and am thinking about investing in my own pocket knife.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Suburban Outfitters

When the possibility of moving to Durham first came up, one of my very first acts was to look up whether or not there was an Urban Outfitters in the area.  There was.  So I told Willie I'd consider the move.

Now, I know that Urban Outfitters is over-priced and overly-trendy and that their whole look, as illustrated in their catalogs, is the coked-out waif who lives in a forest with her rocker grunge boyfriend and and that they spend their time typing on their vintage typewriter and eating off of plates in the shape of birds.   And it's not even that most of my wardrobe comes from there.   I'm a much more equal opportunity shopper than that.

But, somehow knowing that I could make the 20 minute drive to Urban Outfitters if necessary was comforting.  Like finding your same brand of rice in another state.

Well, yesterday, the trek to Urban was necessary.  Necessary because I had plotted it out two weeks ago and had been looking forward to it ever since.  I wasn't going to go crazy; I had a little list of possible things I "needed" and was mostly excited to see what kind of Urban Outfitters it would be (as there are better and worse ones).

Because of the chickenshit bingo law of high expectations, my giddiness was checked soon after the trip began.  First of all, driving to a giant suburban mall on some country-ish roads to go to "Urban" Outfitters felt somehow wrong.  There was a traffic jam just driving into the mall (what recession?), and I had to drive around to find a parking spot.  It was so un-waif-in-the-forest like. 

Then, like in any Urban Outfitters, I had to contend with the gaggles of teenagers and their moms who are buying them clothes.  Where was my mom, I wondered.  

Of course, I spent way too long in the store,  picking something up, deciding I couldn't live without it, carrying it around, and putting it back.  I changed my mind about 37 times and stayed long enough so that I heard the mix cd one-and-a-half times and saw the staff do at least a couple rotations of greeter to dressing rooms to cash register.

As I finally made my way to the cash register to get only what I needed (Wonder Woman t-shirt costume, thermal shirt, plastic bracelet with saints on it, yellow scarf), I felt tired and dirty and lonely amidst the southern suburban teenagers.  I longed for the Urban Outfitters in Chicago situated on streets in neighborhoods with sidewalks accessible by bike or public transportation.  I started composing invitations to my UO pity party.

And then she appeared.   Her name was Karina, and she was the employee at the end of the register counter.  It started with a conversation about a scarf which led to layers which led to cold which led to Chicago which led to her hailing from Texas and moving here a year ago just for the adventure which led to me wanting to get her phone number and ask her to hang out all the time but that's weird, so I didn't.  

In the two minutes that I spent with Karina, she wasn't too preppy, and she wasn't too hippie -- she was just right.

Who knows if I'll see her again, who knows how often I'll go back to the mall, but all it took was one normal-seeming person working in a store I hate to love in the middle of some giant suburban mall in South Durham to feel like maybe, just maybe, things will be okay.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Gambling with Poop

The invitation read "Chicken Shit Bingo."  That was all I needed to know.  I was psyched.  A girlfriend of a guy Willie kind of knows was putting it on as a fundraiser for her trip to Italy.  I told anyone and everyone I talked to that I was going to Chicken Shit Bingo on Sunday.  This was it -- that weird stuff that goes on in the South -- the stuff that was just screaming to be blogged about.  My expectations couldn't have been higher.

Which is never good.  

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, and at 2:15, I told Willie we had to leave right then for Chicken Shit Bingo.  The first round started at 2:30.  We couldn't miss it.

We showed up at 2:30, beating the chickens there by half an hour.  When they did arrive, and the set-up was complete, I realized that the bingo part of Chicken Shit Bingo is actually not really true -- it should be called Chicken Shit Gambling.  This is how it works: there are two chickens in a chicken coop, standing on a board divided up into 20 numbers and then covered with seed to help the pooping along.  You don't spell anything out -- you just pick a number out of a bag and hope that the chicken goes poop on your number.  

There were only a few people there for the first round, so we each got to pull two numbers.  We gathered around the chicken coop and watched as the chickens pecked at the seed.  We held our collective breaths, and sure enough,  three minutes in, one of the chickens went poop -- twice -- on square #3.  I was not a winner.

That was the end of the first round.  When the second round got underway forty-five minutes later, the crowd had grown.  So we only got one number this time.  

This go-around, the chickens were not in a pooping mood.  Everyone sat and stood around looking at the chickens who, this time, took 30 minutes before doing any business.  It was square #17 this time, and, given that it was not my number and that I had spent most of those 30 minutes inside the house trying to sneak cookies, it was a bit anti-climatic.  Here is a picture of what waiting around for a chicken to poop looks like:

Two hours after showing up, Willie and I were out of money and covered in mosquito bites. It wasn't Chicken Shit Bingo's fault; with my sky high expectations, I suppose there was no way that the actual game could live up to the sheer joy of the name.  

And it did get me thinking about my own cat's pooping abilities, and if I can't figure out how to parlay her talents into a little money around here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Preppy to Hippie and Back Again

Yesterday, Willie and I left the house.  And I mean left the house.  We started off at noon for a tailgating gathering that his friend's company was hosting before the UNC v. Notre Dame football game.  Willie spent the week trying to get tickets to the game, but given that Carolina is good in football for the first time in a long time, and that they were playing Notre Dame, we had no luck.  But we decided not to forgo the free food and festivities.

Walking around the area near the stadium, we passed by many a tailgating party in the parking lots surrounding the field.  And holy buckets, if it was more preppiness than I have ever witnessed.  Not only was everyone in Carolina blue, but a lot of the gear was Polo shirts and Izods, guys in khaki shorts and women with their Coach purses.  People had Carolina tents and flags and chairs and beer cozies and seat cushions.  We saw a woman who was so dressed up that she looked like she was going to a wedding (she was actually one of the few not in Carolina blue).  I assumed she was going to a wedding until Willie mentioned that some of the sorority sisters get way dressed up for the football games.  After that, the Polo shirts and white shorts and braided belts looked pragmatic.

"Do you have the fever yet?" Willie asked.

"What fever?" I answered.  It felt like seeing a big game of preppy blue blob tag that I couldn't quite get excited about it.

What I could get excited about was the free bbq spread at his friend's tailgating spot.  Lots of pork and mac and cheese and hush puppies.  Willie and I ate so much that our stomachs hurt.  He was sad we couldn't go to the game, and, even without the fever, I knew that it would have been a good time.

But, sans tickets, we went with Option #2, which was the Shakori Hills bluegrass festival at a farm about 30 minutes from Chapel Hill.  The festival happens twice a year and lasts four days, and people are invited to bring their tents and camp for the weekend.  

Driving out to the country and seeing cows made me a little giddy after all the preppy blue.  In 30 minutes, we had driven to the opposite end of the spectrum (echoing the car show to pride fest jump a few weekends ago), and 19-year-old women with their stomachs painted "U," "N," "C" were replaced by middle-aged women with full-length tie-dye dresses.  

Walking into the festival, the tie-dye increased exponentially, as did the dreadlocks and the clogs and the crocs.  There were hula hoops and a drum circle and a poetry slam and face painting and ethereal clothing for sale.  The food vendors were selling Indian food and fry bread tacos and Middle Eastern fare.

The people watching was overwhelming, and after a couple hours, I was actually a little blown out.  But we did hear some good music, and below are some pictures Willie took:

A painted face

The Carolina Chocolate Drops

This member of the group seemed to play about 3o different instruments, sometimes all at once.

The Del McCoury Band

The drum circle

And the hula-hoopers

While the rest of the hippie crowd kept on beating their drums and hooping their hulas, Willie and I headed back to Chapel Hill to meet up with some of his friends after the game.  First we hit the football game traffic, and then we hit the preppies.  All along Franklin Street -- the main drag in Chapel Hill -- were crowds and crowds of Carolina blue college students -- gaggles of drunk girls and guys walking in threes and sevens, getting their slices of pizza and their pints as an early Saturday night of partying got underway.  

Willie and I lasted about 10 minutes before we headed back to deserted Durham.  After our preppy-hippie-preppy sandwich, our quiet former-crack-house block didn't seem so bad.

Friday, October 10, 2008

And what do you do?

is a question I have hated for years, even though I am certainly guilty of asking it.  You = your job, your life is your job, you are defined by your job, I will put you in a box based on your job is everything that question implies.

I remember being publicly opposed to this question after college, as I struggled to find a job that would allow me to answer it with pride.  It's half the reason I answered an ad to become a ballroom dance teacher my first year out of school -- it sure sounded better than "consultant," which is the job every other college grad seemed to be doing.

And that question is half the reason I went to grad school (the other half being that working sucks).  Going to grad school and becoming a teacher, no matter how long I lasted, was a way to answer the question, to get a "career," to finally decide what I was going to do with my life.  Well, we all know how that turned out.
Last night, at my hip hop dance class that I'm taking here in Durham, I struck up a conversation with a young woman in the class.  I was sitting with another woman I had already met a couple weeks ago, a woman named Marissa, who, as a Master's of Public Health student, has a purpose and a schedule and a cohort and all of those things that seem so great and so elusive at the moment.  This other woman introduced herself as Amy and asked Marissa and me if we were students.  When I answered no, she asked me, "What are you?"

I froze.  What am I.  I had panicked enough when Marissa asked me what I did a couple weeks ago, and I had given her a long mumbled answer of just-moved-from-Chicago-was-teaching-high-school-boyfriend-is-from-here-um-don't-know-yet.

But what am I.   My first impulse was to say, "Nothing," but I knew that was too existential or sadsack.  "I don't know," I said, and we got past the awkward moment by laughing it off.  Kind of.

It wasn't this poor woman's fault -- she was sweet and friendly and one year out of school.  But since she asked me that question, it has been circling around my head.  In response, I could make one of those touchy-feely identity charts and list my personality traits and things I like to do - yay! (Barf.)  Or, I could get all mad at American society for placing so much emphasis on your job being your identity/purpose. (Snoozeville.)  Or, I could muster up some resentment towards my family, for providing such unrealistic role models as people who actually do what they love for a living. Damn them!  (Totally kidding, especially as they account for 87% readership of this blog.)  

Blah, blah, blah, right?  And some more blah blah about how the pressure is really all me and how that darn over-achieving / make-something-of-yourself impulse that is supposedly a good thing when you're in school or doing something respectable comes back to bite you when you don't choose a "path."  

What am I?  At the moment, I'm a little sleepy and am contemplating a nap.  And after that?  I think I'll be a little hungry.  Who knows what I'll be by dinner time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Here's the church, and here's the steeple, open the door -- where are all the people?

When I was little, we had those Richard Scarry books in our house -- with all of the scenes and pictures of everything from airport tarmacs to life on the farm.  There were no words -- just hundreds of things to look at in each scene -- details and colors and busy-ness.  What I remember most fondly about the books is, in fact, the airport scene, because I thought that the bear who had the job of directing the planes to the terminals was holding giant lollipops as signals.  How did I get that job, I wanted to know, and, more specifically, those lollipops?

I'm still on that same  quest for job with giant lollipops.  And I hadn't thought about those Richard Scarry books for years until I was driving through Wicker Park one Saturday afternoon with my friend, Dave, on our way back from beloved Saturday basketball.  We came to a stoplight at the intersections of all intersections -- North, Damen and Milwaukee -- and had a few moments to look around.  Here, in adult incarnation, was a Richard Scarry scene!  This one was hipster meets Lincoln Park, with the bikers and the faux-homeless and the short skirts and the heels with jeans and the boots with skirts and the little dogs and all of those shopping bags filled with more boots and heels and short skirts.  I remarked to Dave that the scene was Richard Scarry-esque, and we probably laughed and made some judgmental comments at the expense of the folks of Wicker Park.

In my attempt to figure out where the hell I currently am and what the hell I'm presently doing here, I go back to Richard Scarry, to his depictions of everyday people and places.  And if Richard Scarry were to draw scenes from Durham, I'm not quite sure what he would draw.  So far as I can tell, his scenes might be on the empty side.

Take, for starters, downtown.  Now, my very first reaction upon seeing downtown Durham just a mere couple months ago was: okay, now take me to downtown.  There was nothing there -- just empty storefronts and a couple of banks and one-way streets and a few people crossing those streets.  But who were those few people?  And why the heck were they downtown?  Were they going to the bank?

(The upside of this emptiness is that you can pretty much bike, drive or walk around downtown blindfolded and ears-plugged and not worry about getting hit by a car.)

Along with the empty downtown, Richard Scarry would have to include hills in his scenes of Durham.  In the eight years that I owned a bike in Chicago, I don't believe I ever shifted my bike gears.  In fact, I didn't really know why I needed bike gears.  No, it wasn't until Durham that I appreciated the gears on my bike or the fact that an incline, no matter how small, is an incline.  And in climbing this incline, whether on bike or foot, I only need a sidewalk square to feel like an out-of-shape huffing and puffing old woman.

In his scenes of Durham, Richard Scarry could not draw bike lanes, as they don't exist.  This is occasionally a problem for a biker, as Richard Scarry could also not draw sidewalks on which his biker could ride (see title of blog).  What's a biker to do?  Especially when the streets are narrow and curvy and hilly and when cars are not necessarily used to bikers.  Well, lucky for Richard Scarry and the biker, he doesn't have to draw too many cars in his scenes of Durham. (One way to achieve bike safety.)

And yet, aside from the emptiness, there are a few things that I would tell Richard Scarry to include in his scenes of Durham, a few of my favorite things, if you will.  For one, there are solid well-functioning blue mailboxes with large signs on the side that tell you what time the last pick-up is.  And these pick-up times actually vary, allowing someone without a job or anywhere to go to schedule her afternoon walks based around the 3:00, 4:00 and 5:oo mailboxes.

And although most of the storefronts downtown are empty, Richard Scarry could slightly expand his downtown radius to include my new favorite store, Dolly's -- a cool, vintage, they-carry-some-of-the-same-stuff-as-Strange-Cargo shop with an even cooler owner, a place called the Scrap Exchange, which is where the Durham hipsters hang out, as far as I can tell (it really is a place of scraps -- from paper to science to sewing), and LocoPop, a store that sells exotic ice and cream-based popsicles with flavors like mojito and apple mint.  

On the other hand, Durham probably isn't Richard Scarry material, and some days the deserted-ness is downright depressing.  I don't know how I feel about the fact that I can drive backwards down a one-way street when I've realized I've gone the wrong way and not encounter any car for a solid 3.7  minutes.  

But, even if the job of holding up giant lollipop still eludes me, at least I know where to go for a pomegranate chocolate chip popsicle, some small beakers and a hooded sweatshirt that says: Durham - Love Yourself.  And, who knows, maybe that bear directing the planes has retired anyway.  Perhaps he spends his days walking to the bank and mailing letters.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

DMV Part Deux

There were no tests to pass this time.  Just a line to wait in at the Northgate mall, where the nearest NC License Plate Agency lives.  

Compared to the last 48 DMV hours, this one was nothing.  The woman who helped me was only slightly crabby.  The best part was that the whole thing of her sitting behind the counter and writing and asking me to sign things and looking at all of my different forms took awhile, allowing me ample time to study the back wall.

And on this back wall were a whole lot of fake license plates that you could get for the front of your car, North Carolina being a state that only requires a rear license plate.  Between God and fishing, I didn't know how to choose.  Here were just some of my options:

Buckle Up With Jesus

I live with DANGER and sometimes she lets me go FISHING

World's Sexiest Grandmother

Life is Precious / Handle with Prayer

A Woman and her Truck: It's a Beautiful Thing

No Riders / Except blondes, brunettes or redheads

Laugher is God's Sunshine


Fish tremble at the mention of my name

Wild Woman

Girls Rule

John Deere Logo (that one was actually kind of cool -- a nice shade of green)

It takes a lot of balls to play golf the way I do

Get in.  Shut up.  Buckle up.  Hang on!

I'd rather be shopping  (okay, maybe that one is true)

Ain't Skeered

Heaven Bound

There were even more options involving angels and heaven and fishing and trucks.  As I sat there in judgement at the North Carolina plates, I wondered how this boded for me and my new state of residency.  True, there are lots of people in Illinois who like to fish and pray and ride in trucks.  And perhaps their DMV's back wall would look similar if the front plate was anything goes.

Perhaps the craziest part of my time at the License Plate Agency was that at the end, the woman just reached down from behind the counter and handed me my First in Flight license plate.  What?  I was expecting a yellowish/orange temporary one and for the new one to arrive in the mail in 6 - 8 weeks.  But, no, they just store those bad boys at their feet.

In the end, the good people at Jiffy Lube, who inspected my car and put on my back plate, offered me the perfect option: they let me keep my Land of Lincoln plate on the front, allowing part of me, the front part that is, to still emotionally reside in the great state of Illinois.