20 December 2012

Miller Lite Wishes and Tuna Fish Dreams

FUCK YEAH. Dinner's on me!

As long as dinner is ramen. Bon apetit.
Today, as every Thursday for the last few months, I received my paycheck in the mail. If you're wondering what I make, it's enough to stop the gushing wound of a punctured carotid artery that is our bank account, but not enough to enjoy the healing process. Nice ballpark, right? Anyway, as I took the envelope, I chortled half to myself and half to Adam, the dog, the cats, and the Christmas tree, "oooh, I wonder if I get a Christmas bonus?"


I received an amazing gift with my paycheck, a lottery ticket called "Golden Wishes" that cost the staffing agency I work through $1. Joke's on them! I GOT $2 OUT OF THIS DEAL.

I know I should be thankful this holiday season. I have a job, we have a roof over our heads, heat, food, wonderful friends and family. And I am, really, thankful for all of those things and more.

I am not, however, particularly thankful for the strange, somewhat insulting, and not a little annoying lottery ticket in my paycheck. Don't get me wrong, I love me some scratch tickets. In fact, I love them almost more for the satisfying scratch than the possibility of winning scratch. I do love a good scratching off of that weird coating that I think is really made out of the disappointed, alcoholic tears of Nicholas Cage's character in Leaving Las Vegas. (Also, "scratch for scratch" new lotto game. I thought of it first, copyright 2012. I'm sure I didn't think of it first but whatever. Stop being pedantic.) It just seems so... insulting. So belittling from an employer. I can't quite put my finger on it, but looking at that $2 win in my paycheck feels so far from a congratulatory "thank you for your hard work" that I can't fathom what do with it. And the weirdest part is that a week ago, the head of the staffing agency stopped by the office.

"Courtney!" He said as I anxiously yanked my headphones out and looked dumbly at him. (I was only one cup of coffee in, my brain needs a good solid kickstart.) "I wanted to tell you that your department has singled you out for your hard work. They said you're doing 'phenomenal.' So thank you so much for that."

We traded other small pleasantries and he went on to say hello to the other temps. I didn't correct him that people actually do "phenomenally," and considered that my "not-being-a-know-it-all" win for the day. It did feel good to be told I'm doing so well, inane as my job may be. It always feels good to be told you're doing well. But that brief flash of "fuck yeah, me!"dissolved quickly into, "then why the fuck don't I have a full-time gig yet?" And I went back to listening to Prince and clickety-clacking away at those orders.

So, phenom that I am, I get a $1 lottery ticket (which has appreciated in value by 100%!) along with my paycheck and pat on the back. It's more than many people get, but all the same, a lottery ticket?! I think I would have preferred a nice, meaningful note, thanking me for being stupid enough to work for pennies without benefits, vacation, or anyone to talk to. (Seriously, almost no one talks to me at work, but that's a post for another day.) But the place I actually work isn't at all better.

This brings up the organization's annual gift box give-away. Every employee received a gift box at a large assembly that we were required to attend. The HR manager went through the usual business lingo gobbledy-gook and summed up with, "All associates will receive a box, give your name and you'll get checked off. Temps, you won't get anything, but hopefully this gives you some insight into the culture of the organization."

There was the sound of a man laughing at the end of a very long hallway in the back of my head at this point. I walked back upstairs to my desk, sat down, and proceeded to vacillate between hysteria and annoyance, mostly at the fact that they just plum wasted my time. Seriously, temps don't really expect gifts and lottery tickets and, you know, common courtesy, but to make us sit there and watch everyone else get gifts was bizarrely insulting and offensive. And kind of like that time in middle school when the rich kid was having a big birthday party, but you only you and Margot von Titsack, the German exchange student with BO, didn't get invited.

My department heads, kind and generous people that they are, very magnanimously gave the six temps in our department gift boxes that they made and paid for out of their own pockets. These were far nicer, presumably more expensive packages than the employees received, and I am planning a nice thank you for them once this weekend passes, but what.the.fuck. First of all, they shouldn't feel obligated to do that, especially out of their own pockets. Second of all, I couldn't think of a single person in the room that needed a damn gift. We need decent pay and maybe comprehensive health insurance and possibly sick time. Maybe that's asking too much. They do have a nice cabinet full of various generic cold and flu remedies in the kitchenette on our floor. You know, so you can share you cold in the incubator that is a cubicle maze, rather than take sick time (which you don't have, HA!).

Seriously, being a temp is like being on the wrong end of the longest running joke ever told. And I'm working 8:30 am - 7 pm tomorrow, so things are only getting funnier. With that in mind, I really hope the world doesn't end tomorrow. I'd hate that to be the last place I see. On the other hand, I need to find a place to cash that $2 in the next few hours. I'd hate to let my Christmas bonus go to waste in case there is an apocalypse. I'll have to grab two nips at the counter when I cash it. Livin' laaaarge this holiday season! Enjoy the alpacalypse.

29 November 2012

Play the Game

I added this video because Queen has a song for just about everything. But I'm not talking about playing "the game of love," as Freddie would have you believe. I'm talking about playing the professional game.

A few weeks ago, Adam and I went to Brooklyn to celebrate the engagement of my best friend to her long-time girlfriend. Her parents, whom I've known almost as long as I've known her, were obviously at the bar, 4 Berry, where we celebrated. Over numerous beers, a rather delicious chicken sandwich, and a few shots of Jameson (which Adam promptly lost in the street), her dad and I got to talking.

Much of the conversation was a one-man campaign to get me to move to New York, which is about as probable as me moving to the moon, but that's a post for another day. But what it really revolved around was how I was selling myself short, brutalizing my own potential by aiming firmly at the middle. And it's true. Mr. O was absolutely right about the fact that, no, I'm in NO WAY achieving my potential - as a professional, as a woman, as a human being. I have an amazing education, an acerbic tongue (in print, I'm always dumbfounded in person), and a not inconsiderable vocabulary. 

But the truth is, while I'm capable of so much, and I'm aware I am (not to say Mr. O's pep-talk wasn't a great boost to my ego, because who doesn't like being told their a genius for an hour?), I don't know how to, as he put it, "play the game." Rather, I am conceptually aware of how to play It, but something in me just refuses to capitulate to the lowest-common-denominator sense of playing It.

Let me paint you a scenario. Yesterday at work, we were forced to go "meet" the new VP of Self-Importance (Client Relations) who flew in from HQ to press the flesh of the peons. For almost an hour, I listened to a pretty blond woman talk about a) her love of softball, b) how her daddy and "strong family values" helped make her the successful woman she is, and c) that we need to behave like we're on a reality TV show. Standing at the back of the cafeteria, I think the kitchen staff probably found my eyeballs still rolling around hours later, amid the dust and grime under the industrial fridge. (Note to self: work on passive expressions.) I work at a place that processes junk mail orders. They way she spoke, you'd think we were curing dengue fever. 

But more than that, reality TV? REALLY. Really. reeeeaaaally. Okay, what she was probably saying was that we need to behave like Big Brother is watching, which makes a workplace enticing in SO MANY WAYS, but I was rather hoping she meant I could drink Chardonnay at 10 am, slap people who bother me, and shout things at other women like "PROSTITUTION WHOOORRAH!" (My entire understanding of any of the Real Housewives franchise - or any reality TV - is filtered through Gawker Media, so, do with that what you will.)

I have an innate aversion to meaningless power structures. She's the second VP of Client Relations, which is under the Senior VP of the same, who reports to the CEO. And our VP of somethingor other reports to the new VP, to whom my boss reports. I then report, as a temp, to my boss, who, bless her simple heart, looked horrified when I joked that I wanted to throw my (malfunctioning) computer out a window. If you can't tell that someone is joking about that, go back to kindergarden and try relating to sentient creatures again.

But I've never been able to Play the Game. I take people at their word, even when I'm not supposed to. When, at a previous job, the CEO asked the entire organization for suggestions on cost-cutting measures, a few coworkers (and still good friends) and I brainstormed a litany of ideas and sent it off to the silver-haired demon. Apparently, our bosses were deeply offended by this. After closer inspection, I think they were mostly offended because we sent the ideas directly to the CEO, as he seemed to request in the email we received, and thereby side-stepped their involvement, which meant they couldn't take credit for our ideas. I say this because prior to the great Cost-Cutting Email Kerfuffle of 2010, the entire organization tried to foster a visage of accessibility and transparency. The second we stepped out of our pre-determined boxes of servitude, shit hit the fan. Not to say that every organization operates similarly, but there's often a prevailing sense that an employee, entry-level or middle-management, needs to take his or her lumps for a predetermined, though ambiguous, number of years, and maybe, maybe, he or she can make it to... upper  management. Of Client Relations/Reality TV Programming/Softball Enthusiasm and Traditional Family Values.

Even beyond that, though, is that I'm a temp. I'm a temp for an indefinite amount of time, and I still can't understand how that's legal, but it means I have either EVERY reason to Play the Game, or ZERO reason to Play the Game. A co-worker told me last night that she was a temp for two years at my play of employment. TWO YEARS of making peanuts, working ridiculous hours, and having absolutely no benefits, vacation time, or so-called "perks." Fuck. That. Noise.

My honesty is occasionally a boon to my professional life, as on occasion, people in power like to be told the truth rather than what people think they want to hear. But more often than not, that is truly not the case. My inability unwillingness to censor myself when I can clearly, articulately, and not tactlessly identify issues with a project or a concept is a double-edged sword, and I still haven't learned to walk on the flat of the blade rather than the edge. It's not as though I don't know how to play the game, it's just that I'd rather be playing a different sport. A sport that appreciates skill and competence and honesty and creativity, rather than just paying lip-service to these ideals.

Until I find a job that will both progress my career and appreciate my insistence of playing Quidditch when everyone else is playing polo, I'll keep my headphones turned up, clickety-clicking at my job like a bored silver back  gorilla, rolling my eyes at the idea of behaving as though I'm in a zoo, even though I'm pretty sure I am being watched carefully...

Note to my boss: I wear glasses, I can see the reflection of you peering over the cubicle behind me, checking to see if I'm being a good gorilla.

02 October 2012

Koko Love Kitten

Koko and her kitten, photo courtesy of this place (though I doubt they originated it).
I have now reentered the world of gainful employment. There's a reason I don't say "fun-employment" or that I am now an "enjoyee." I'm a temp. I'm a data-processing temp. And when I was hired, the company I work for, which distributes junk mail (no joke, I'm involved in that; you can thank me later), informed me that due to the economy, I may end up remaining a temp for one, two, or even three years if it behooves them. Apparently, they are so hooved.

Okay, I haven't been there long. I've been there for exactly 55.5 hours, so I'm not fully posited to complain about "remaining" a temp. (Though I am awesome and my awesomeness should have caused my hiring managers to weep with joy and offer me their jobs upon our first encounter, obviously.) But I don't consider myself un-funemployed. The last time I stopped adding to this blog, it was because I thought I had embarked on the next chapter of my career. Apparently, that would have only applied if by "the next chapter of my career" I meant "bleaching my brain every evening." But whatever. This time, I know this job is just a job. It pays the bills (or rather, it helps make a teeny, tiny, ball-peen hammer-sized dent in them). It's the responsible thing to do. I'm practically a full-fledged adult.

So I did as I said before, and I relinquished some idealism for a paycheck. (Incidentally, I did so for a lot less than I mentioned in that post.) On the upside, my working environment is very diverse and full of very amicable people (a few grumps here and there and one woman who refuses to cover her mouth when she coughs), and extremely laid back. I am encouraged to wear jeans to work. There's endless free coffee... not that I need it. I'm pretty sure they pump oxygen into the building like they do in casinos. And they keep giving me baked goods. It's bribery, but so far, it seems to be working.

On the other hand, my job could be done by a sign-language-fluent gorilla, or even signing-familiar gorilla, or a sleepy orangutan, or a dead cat. I take information from one sheet of paper, put it in the computer, and make the computer pop out THE SAME INFORMATION in a slightly different format. It's remarkable how many steps are required to do that. Or clicks, rather than steps, I should say. And what's more remarkable is how my trainer - yes, I will have a trainer for the next two months, not unlike Koko - treats me as though I'm some kind of coke-fiend-cum-idiot-savant because I can execute these clicky-clicks rather quickly. I feel like standing on my desk some days, when I have to ask for more work because I've finished what I was given, and shouting "KOKO LOVE KITTEN." I'm not working quickly because I'm trying to impress. I'm not working quickly because I find it enjoyable. I'm working quickly because if I don't I'll be bored into a medically remarkable coma not entirely unlike Robert DeNiro's experience in Awakenings, but without the touching humor of Robin Williams' furry arms to offset my depressing tale. (Seriously, I love that movie.) For Dog's sake, most of the people in my 30-or so person department aren't even allowed to contact that individual who originated the information. We have to go to a special point of contact individual who translates our gorilla-signs for the high-ordered thinking folk.

All that said, though, beggars can't be choosers. And I know I sound like the intellectual snob that I am, but I go, and I'm punctual and quiet and amicable. And I'll continue to hit this job every day until I find something that might - hopefully - be more in line with a career path I can ideally love, but more realistically survive. In the meantime, I'll be snuggling my kittens and trying to convince others that I understand more than I feel comfortable signing saying at this time.

27 August 2012

Lilac Manicures and Other Sartorial Disasters

via Poorly Dressed
My friend Kat writes a fantastic, bookish, adorable lifestyle-y blog called Unbecoming, and she was actually the impetus behind my decision to start writing on this again. She writes about her vintage market-finds in London, how she's learned to embrace eyewear (as she's bespectacled like me), updates book reviews, adds recipes, and shares her cute and hipster-eque outfits when they strike a chord. Every so often, apparently when I'm high on the fumes from my ill-fated lilac manicure, I think that FOR SOME REASON, I could possibly dress like that, too.


The truth is, I'm almost twenty-nine years old and I have no idea how to dress myself. This is not to say I get it completely wrong, I usually manage to have one leg per-leg-hole; but what I'm saying is, if it's not a tee-shirt and jeans, I'm lost.

I have no fucking clue what "casual jewelry" is. To me, that's an imminently confounding oxymoron. I can't wear what is "in" for several reasons. One, I can't keep up with the ever-changing world of fashion. And two, I'm not two-dimensional. I wear scoop or vee-neck tee shirts, slightly slouchy jeans, and whatever pair of shoes seems weather appropriate. This is because, like many women, I'm not wholly comfortable in the skin I'm in. I have rather large boobs, and I feel like widely and lower-cut shirts minimize my D (for dumb) bust. Sound contradictory? Put me in a turtleneck and I seem to sprout what can only be referred to as the Great Mammary Mesa, spreading endlessly sideways and downways, making my bust and, through guilt-by-association, my waist, appear more expansive than either is, but less defined than they could be. 

It's more complex than that, though. I didn't know what a hair-straightener was until my freshman year in college. My roommate demanded one evening–as we were preparing to go out and exercise our fake IDs for all they were worth–that she get the inaugural opportunity straighten my hair. I mean, I wasn't totally clueless. I was aware that such devices existed, I had just never USED one. My mother had told tales of her sister ironing her hair in the '60s, and the process seemed like the shortcut to facial burns to me. Plus, I had read Little Women, and Meg's hair gets burned off with a curling iron, so there was that. But Ria happily showed me the wonders of heat-abuse; and ten years later, I still have a flatiron, though I rarely use it, mostly due to sheer laziness. Honestly, I cut my own hair because I'm going to complain about whatever cut I get. I might as well save $50 and only have myself to blame when I walk out of the house looking like a late-'80s Dave Mustaine impersonator. Which is exactly what I looked like when I tried to embrace whatever curls occasionally pop up in my hair. Not a good look, especially when a bald man-of-a-certain-age sees you at the post office and says sympathetically, "Oh, bad hair day?" 

When I was little, if I refused to brush my hair, my mother had it cut shorter to save both of us tears and pain, I'm sure. I have had short haircuts on and off since childhood and I am perpetually in a state of inbetweening as a result. It's pretty awful. Someone please remind me of this the next time I go to trim my bangs. 

The first time I saw my mother in make-up, I'm fairly certain she and my father were on their way to a Heart concert sometime around 1988. She simply put on light eye shadow and some mascara, but the memory of my usually bare-faced and naturally pretty mother in makeup stuck. It looked abnormal to me, and it was. My mother is spartan with her makeup even when she elects to wear it, and didn't promote play-make-up to her daughter. 

When I was three or four, I was at a girlfriend's house, and we were allowed to play with her mother's out-of-style makeup. Having only previously been exposed to ChapStick as a remedy for chapped lips, I managed to give myself a clown face with a deep shade of crimson while the other girls I was with drew perfectly bowed pouts as if they had been using Clinique in utero or some shit. I remember being laughed at by the others, which stung strongly at the age when you are first becoming aware of the horrible feeling of shame, and have to this day never been able to pull off lipstick. I am always fascinated by women who can incorporate it into their daily visage. 

I never learned to accessorize. I can't wear earrings without fiddling with them, and I'll be damned if I know what an appropriate necklace for whatever outfit looks like. Scarves? Those are for keeping winter-wind at bay, not for matching to my socks. Handbags? Those things are simply for HOLDING MY SHIT, I will not spend more money on one than I will ever carry in it, and I can't see why women have closets full of them. I'd carry a wallet if I weren't guaranteed to lose all my important stuff and probably break my phone that way. The Coach bag I carry now was a gift and was only put into play when my $15 JC Penny bag ate it. Prior to that, it was filled with cat toys and was affectionately known as Oscar's Bag, since that cat has a much greater fondness for bags than I ever will.  

My glasses qualify as fashionable only because that's what was offered and what I could afford when my old pair finally succumbed to the weight of super-glue that had been holding them together a few months ago. I wear my shoes until they fall apart. My jeans are pock-marked with holes, not because I sought out the "distressed denim" look, but because I'm clumsy to the point of self-endangerment and my Old Navy jeans are usually the first casualty in my daily war with my appendages. 

I hate shopping for clothes, and for myself in general. If given the choice between shopping and a hour chatting with Goebbels, I would probably opt for the latter. Clothes shopping is almost exclusively an anxiety-filled rush, executed like the world's most poorly planned military strike. I get clammy hands if the trip takes longer than expected. My blood pressure soars. Sometimes, even now, there are tears of frustration (but usually only when I get into the car). As such, I will never understand the women who love to discuss "retail therapy," as if hours in department stores sifting through racks of over-priced, mass-produced clothing made by under-paid, under-fed workers in a far flung sweatshop was somehow a great way to blow off steam. I've been kicked out of more than one store (Abercrombie & Fitch, in particular) for asking leading questions of other shoppers on how they feel about wearing clothing made under such conditions. Then again, my distaste for shopping might stem from not having any money myself. But to put it in perspective, I'll gladly hit Home Depot and browse paint chips for hours. Household decor, I can do. Decorating myself? That's usually a disaster. 

In high school I inconsistently flirted with a goth look, and a punk look, and had a stripe of magenta purple hair which I dyed in the kitchen sink. (If I can locate pictures, I will share.) I would show up looking like I escaped from the set of a Tim Burton film one day, and in a sweater-set the next. Slowly, my wardrobe devolved into monochromatic mania.  I would dismantle and reconfigure clothing to suit my needs, mostly my needs were to look as much like a John Hughes hero as I could. It was odd at best, and schizophrenic at worst. While things got a bit better by college, that is, more consistent, but I just melded into blandsville. A sophomore year roommate, Juliana, finally convinced me to stop wearing only black tee-shirts and I hesitantly ventured back into the color spectrum. I still have my Morrissey tee-shirt from high school, though. (Hot Topic's finest.)

After that, I bought a few work-appropriate staples, in shades of gray and black, and a few tops to match (in white, black, and gray). A former boss once suggested that I hire a personal shopper at Nordstrom. Myopic (and monied) bitch looked utterly confounded when I emitted a belly laugh and walked out of her office shaking my head. 

But, as I sit here in yoga pants and a stained tee-shirt, basking in the glow of Real Time with Bill Maher, I've realized that what it boils down to is that I'm neither responsible enough nor vain enough to even attempt to follow, lead, or rediscover "fashion" in my life. I'm just irresponsible and vain enough to write a blog.

14 August 2012

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Everyone I know is pregnant. Okay, not EVERYONE, some of them already have kids, but I swear that it's a baby invasion. I guess I'm at that age.

I only use "invasion of the body snatchers" as a joke. Sort of. The reality is that the concept of pregnancy and delivery scares me on a level so extreme that all I can think of is that scene in Alien when the alien bursts out of John Hurt's chest (and I end up totally pulling the face that Ian Holm is at the start of that scene). Every time I learn about a new aspect of pregnancy or delivery from my friends who are mothers, like that time I Googled "episiotomy" (do not do that if you don't know what one is), I seriously consider sterilization. And all the people are having the babies.

Don't get me wrong; I am happy for my friends who are expecting because they are all so excited and enthused at the prospect of growing their families. I just don't know what to do with the idea on a personal level.

That more than anything demonstrates that I am in NO WAY ready for babies myself.

I say, "Oh you're pregnant? Fantastic! Let me tell you how that makes me feel."

Gah! I'm a selfish tit! I'm still going to write this though.

Babies are kinda cool. Kids can be hysterical. Adam says I light up when I'm around babies and children. I say they amuse the shit out of me and I can light up because I can always give them back to their parents when they start crying or pooping or trying to gouge their own eyes out. I have momentary commitments to these small persons, not a minimum of 18 years.

I also have no idea how to talk to kids. I cannot gauge the ages of children, either, or determine what is age-appropriate.

"Oh, he's four? So, what is he reading lately? Moby Dick? War and Peace? ..."

Teenagers frighten me on a level even beyond the chestburster scene above. Like scare me to my core. Eventually, I will explain my most recent interaction with teenagers en masse and why I think corporeal punishment should be brought back in a big way, but that's a story for another day. I know some wonderful teenagers, but I've known them since they were born and I used to babysit them and they're chilled out and independent and non-judgmental. They are, from my experience, not the norm.

The thing is, I'm pretty sure I didn't understand kids when I was one. I certainly didn't understand teenagers when I was one. Nothing confused me more than the way some of my peers thought and acted in high school. Make fun of the way I dress? Um, okay. Make fun of the fact that I speak up in class? Fine. Insult the kid with disabilities? Or the fat girl? Or the poor kid? Pretend you don't know someone's name after four years and 15 classes with them? What in the name of fuck is wrong with you people? And now I see teenagers have only gotten worse. They have more Internets now. (And also, get off my lawn!)

My point is, I am not ready to sign up for being responsible for one of those things. And from my understanding and limited experience, babies will inevitably grow into teenagers, even if you try to put them in jars to keep them small.

Babies and toddlers are frightening to me on a different level, though. I get so panicky around them, and the only way I can describe watching a child do something potentially dangerous is that the backs of my knees get nauseous. Watching a friend's 18 month-old leap into the pool into her grandmother's arms made me feel faint. I suppose these are my Olympic worrying skills at work. Obviously, she was safe and watched by an entire party of like 40 people, but I still freaked out (on the inside). She's also damned cute, which doesn't hurt.

Little kids are fall-over funny though. Friends of ours have three boys between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, who are probably the smartest, funniest little dudes out there. And their parents are totally laid back and cool and just take everything in stride, which is probably why their boys are so chill. My kids? Holy neuroses, Batman! I'd probably give birth to 7 lb., 6 oz. Woody Allens.

More than those realities, though, is the idea of carrying around what I can't help but think of as a parasite for 9 months. Yay! It's a miracle! (No one ever says that about a tapeworm.) I know they're not technically parasites, but like, okay, it scares me when mothers-to-be are like, "Look! You can see the baby's foot pushing out from my uterus!" And all I can think is, "That is some Wes Craven shit right there."

It's fascinating, sure, and I do believe that it has to be so truly and utterly amazing if you're excited about parenthood. And I'm not even such a sourpuss that when people post their ultrasounds or 8 million baby pictures on Facebook that I get annoyed. Certainly not. Kids are adorable. I support the theory that nature ensures that babies of all species were cute so we wouldn't kill them, but that's another issue altogether.

I actually welcome those baby pics, and I wouldn't install those horrible Facebook apps that actually filter out your friends baby photos. Frankly, you're a shitty friend if you do that. Friends SHOULD be happy for one another when such monumental things occur. If you're not happy for your pregnant friend, your friend who cannot stop posting about her wedding plans, your friend who thinks his kid is a six-year-old Picasso, then maybe you don't deserve to be their friend. They deserve better. Their kids deserve better. You should just get the fuck over yourself. Sometimes, the highlight of my horribly-stuck-in-job-search-mode day is a friend posting a video of his daughter talking at him for a half-hour straight while he attempts to install a garbage disposal. Hysterical! Or a friend sharing her day at the beach with her awesome son. Adorable!

I think more than anything, I'm simply cut out for vicarious parenthood. I want to be the awesome aunt, like my own aunt Karen. Or like, the kooky cat lady who lets your 3 year old into her oil paints and sends the munchkin home with a painting that won't dry for six months, because that makes sense.

Our society places so much onus on women to procreate, sometimes distilling us to nothing more than uteruses with heads. I don't really have a desire to procreate, but that doesn't mean I am not happy for those who do. Some women are made to be mothers, in addition to all that they are, some are not. It's that simple.

But it's not simple. I still don't know if I truly do not want my own kids (whether natural or adopted). Adam doesn't know, either. He says he would love to be a coach for a kids' sports team, but we live in an ugly world where if he weren't a father, we both fear he'd be regarded with suspicion should he do so.

For now, though, I can be ecstatic for all the wee ones popping up here and there in my social and familial life. I can share their parents' joy, because that is kind of what life should be about; not necessarily having children, but sharing the happiness of others.

Even if that happiness comes in the form of a sticky, sweaty, first grader.

11 August 2012

Unclogging Drains Naturally and on the Cheap - A How To

Supplies: Baking soda and vinegar. (Optional paper towel roll and scissors.)
Does this really need a "how to"? I don't know. I wrote one anyway.

Slow drains are a common problem. Our bathroom drain has been slow pretty much since this house was built in 1973, I think. The fact that I have two cats, a dog, and a very facial-hair prone boyfriend does not improve the flow of water in our goddamned sink. It has been so bad that even washing your hands would result in a good four  inches of slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y draining water. (I forgot to take a picture of our sink pond, but I have no reason to lie to you about this.) And slowly draining water after brushing your teeth results in a slew of disgusting soapy-saliva build-up on the bottom of your sink. It's nasty. It's unhealthy. It's frustrating.
It's a little scary.
You also don't often see "mucous membranes" in print.

Since we moved here in January, we have been battling this sink drain. Every six weeks or so, we go buy a bottle of Drano or Liquid-Plumr, or whatever generic chemical drain agent we happened to grab. They are expensive. They are smelly. They are not exactly safe. The warnings are disturbing and unnerving. I worried that our cats will accidentally get too close to them when they go on their sneaky expeditions into what I thought was a latched cabinet. I worried that the dog could get into it. Mostly, I could make worrying an Olympic sport, but that's not the issue. What's more, I got tired of buying the shit. Ugh.

My mother has always loved using vinegar and baking soda to clean. Our house used to smell like a pickle factory every so often. She goes through periods of fully embracing the natural way of doing things, and would periodically stock up gallons of vinegar and surplus boxes of generic baking soda throughout my life. (Though she will still use Round Up to kill poison ivy, so there's that. Round Up is evil and so is its maker, Monsanto, don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.)

I never listened to her on this before. I was wrong. Don't tell her I said that.

The vinegar and baking soda make truly effective, totally safe cleaning agents. They scour without scratching, foam without chemicals, and are so so so SO CHEAP. I'm funemployed, and I don't even want to think about how much money we've spent on drain cleaner! Crap!

Anyway, it's really simple.

Step 1: Remove your drain stopper and remove any debris you can immediately access. (I opted not to share that picture. It wasn't pretty.)

Stuff it in there!
Step 2: Pour baking soda into drain. I made a quick disposable funnel out of a paper towel roll so I could cram as much baking soda in there as possible. Also, baking soda tends to be clumpy and fall out in surprising bursts. And I'm clumsy. So I went with the funnel. I have no idea how much I put in there. I just kept adding until no more would fit. I still spilled it. BUT unlike drain cleaner, it will in no way harm your sink, tiles, or anything else. This clog solution is also totally safe for septic systems.

Step 3: Cram it in! I also made a little divot in the baking soda. Not really sure why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

How very science fair-y.
Step 4: Add the vinegar and let it do its thing. I added about a cup of vinegar. Look at it go!

Five minutes later... still going!
Still working... This picture kind of fascinates me because you can see the baking soda in the bottom.

And ten minutes later, one fantastically clear drain! Woohoo! It was so much more effective than any commercial cleaner I have ever used.

Now I can finish cleaning the bathroom. And repeat the process in the shower drain. Less woohoo...

10 August 2012

I Don't Know...

Gorgio A. Tsoukalos, aka "The Ancient Aliens Guy."
The A might stand for AquaNet.
I love Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. I love that show almost as much as I love Nicholas Cage. Clearly, I am not alone, as History routinely shows AA marathons for hours and hours until you start thinking that styling your hair like a member of the Centauri nobility is the way forward. (I watched a lot of Babylon 5 as a kid, what of it? Bruce Boxleightener rules!)

Seriously though, Tsoukalos is the icing on the cake. I can't quite put my finger on why I love AA so much, aside from it being downright hysterical at times. Of course, the featured commentators make outlandish, unsubstantiated, absurdly broad claims about history, technology, and extra-terrestrial life. They routinely minimize the intelligence and capabilities of ancient peoples worldwide in their desire to prove that we've already made contact with E.T. But the idea that there exists alternate explanations to our understood histories is intriguing. I like the folks who exist outside my reality; I've always like the freaks and geeks, the mold-breakers, the rules-ignorant, and the oddballs. Ancient Aliens is chock full of them!

More than that, I think it's the History Channel's sneaky way of actually trying to offer information on, oh, I don't know, HISTORY. Does anyone else remember when TLC stood for "The Learning Channel" and not just The Lunatic Channel (as I like to call it)? Or when shows like Ice Road Truckers weren't the backbone of History's programming? Reality shows are eating our brains. But when Ancient Aliens spends half a show on Göbekli Tepe, I have a feeling it's because History's number crunchers didn't think they'd have enough viewers to justify an entire show just on the site. Personally, I would watch that on repeat (and I read the National Geographic article on it about six times), but by inserting it into Ancient Aliens, at least they're reaching a broad audience about that remarkable discovery.

I used to joke that I learned far more from The History Channel (which we used to jokingly call "The Hitler Channel" around our house since they showed WWII documentaries 20 hours a day when they first came on the air) than I ever did in history class. I learned about Boudica, the warrior queen who kicked some serious Roman ass in the first century, for the first time on History. I discovered the origins of our Arabic numeral system, the mysteries of the Maya, the life of Gavrillo Princip, and  visited the vastness of space with Carl Sagan because of the History Channel and the Science Channel. And when the first introductions to such concepts are provided in such digestible, accessible pieces to the average mind, one hopes that curiosity blossoms and we continue to learn. And I did! But it was also thanks to The History Channel that I was able to explain Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement to my college 300-level history course in a way our professor could - or would - not. "I got this!" I remember thinking. "I watched a whole two hours about this on The Hitler Channel in ninth grade."

Certainly, TV shows are no replacement for actual education, reading, discovering, or listening. Yet, in all my years of schooling, we never even got past WWI in our attempts to grasp the broad and untenable strokes of what a flustered instructor would try to call "world history." But what I was able to do was spend quality time with Greg. Every day, when I came home from school, my father had The History Channel, or one of its sister stations, on. And we'd talk about my day and watch the Third Reich goose-stepping on celluloid, or an excavation in Nazca, or Malcolm X railing against oppression, or an exploration of the technologies of the Chinese Empire. And we discussed what we watched, as you should discuss history and perspectives and what it means to us now. And it piqued my curiosity and satisfied a need for eclectic and important knowledge and factoids that I will probably always possess.

And now we are supposed to watch these various vacuous and ubiquitous reality TV shows, which simply attempt to reflect whatever reality we choose to see, devoid of the fascination, and beauty, and often uncomfortable truth of what has come before us. And, so absurd as it can be, I think Ancient Aliens does something that our media so often fails to do these days; it fosters curiosity and demands that we question the status quo. After all, if Boudica, or Princip, or Malcolm X, or Sagan hadn't questioned the way things were, we would live in a vastly different world, for better or for worse. In a society where we question so little, where we mindlessly consume infotainment instead of legitimate news reporting, at least we have these eccentric individuals on Ancient Aliens trying new thoughts on for size, outlandish as they may be. And I'm not saying Tsoukalos and his cohorts are anything like the revolutionary thinkers of the past, but maybe, just MAYBE in some small way, the curiosity they start to pique, the imaginations they can, perhaps, enhance, will help grow a revolutionary thinker of the future, because God (or aliens) know that we're doing a pretty shit job of it on the whole these days.

And then perhaps we'll finally get a legitimate explanation for his hair.

09 August 2012

Of Scotch and Solitude

Left to right: my paternal grandfather's silver shaker, Glenmorangie single malt, Confucius,  Laphroaig single malt, Buddha.
(Buddha and Confucius came home with my grandfather from his tour in Korea. They live with the scotch because scotch makes everyone a philosopher.) They are flanked my my maternal grandmother's dishes, which I will someday write about.
The first scotch I ever drank was Laphroaig. It was a bottle of 10 year old single malt that my friend Smith gave me the day before I left for my sophomore year in college. We had had a bit of a fling that summer, and it was a romantic and funny and strangely appropriate end of the affair kind of thing. Honestly, it must be that I've already had a few sips of the Glenmorangie pictured above that I am even using a term like "end of the affair." Seriously, WTF is that? Whatever, I'm keeping it. At any rate, that bottle, which I know was not cheap, completely ruined me for any other whisky.

Now, I didn't become a raging alcoholic by any means. Though if you happen to grace Marist's campus at any time, you might beg to differ. The sports Marist students are best at happen around the beer pong table... but I digress. That bottle of Laphroaig was like nothing I had ever tasted. It was cool and hot at once, smokey, sweet, painful, and even a bit salty. I know nothing about scotch even to this day, really, but unlike wine, about which I often lie regarding tasting all sorts of fancy things, I can taste different bits of Scotch. (If I recommend a wine, it's because I find it tasty and its aftereffects manageable. No more, no less.) But you can feel scotch from the moment it hits your lips to the second it settles in your belly, and sometimes even after. I find the warm sensation that the cool drink - I take mine on the rocks - soothing and pleasing and unique.

Adam says it smells like magic markers. He might be right.

I nursed that bottle for a year or more. It was my go-to when I was looking to experience something earthy and real. It was brilliant for the throes of depression, and exciting when manic. The Laphroaig was a friend I'd visit every once in a while, and put back on the shelf to be forgotten for another month or so. You can't chug scotch. I'm not sure if they've done studies on this, but I'm pretty sure your body would close any and all sphincters if you tried to down more than a sip at a time. It forces you to taste it, to appreciate it. To drink it slowly and get warm and fuzzy but never fall-down drunk.

I started ordering scotch at bars. Big mistake. Usually, the college haunts we frequented at the time didn't really carry scotch. And if they did, it was Dewar's and I found that it was flat and flavorless and boring.

I have since tried their Quarter Cask, which is deep and lovely as well. And while I still profess to know nothing of scotch, I am aware that there is a very snobbish, very vocal, and very proud scotch community out there who have a vernacular particular to the types of malts and such. I am not prone to educating myself on this - I don't want to make a career or a hobby out of drinking scotch. I just like it, and it makes me happy.

Except, here I am, drinking a small glass of the Glenmorangie that my brother and sister-in-law gave me for my 27th birthday, entirely alone except for the pets and somewhat melancholy. I'm always melancholy when I have scotch. I once explained to Adam, after his protest that it smelled like magic markers, that you have to hate yourself a little to drink scotch. These days, I don't think that's quite so true for me anymore, but there is a sadness in each glass. An aloneness and a sweetness, it's drinkable melancholy on ice. And because no I else I know enjoys it, except for my sister-in-law's awesome peanut of a grandmother, I'm always alone when I drink it. It's not a party drink, it's a thoughtful drink.

And as I'm sure you can tell, it really does bring out the poet-philosopher... even if the hangover I get tomorrow is merely an existential one.

Slow Cooker Scotch Pulled Pork - A How To!

Low Cookin'
Adam and a sizeable group of our male friends are currently heading up to Watkins Glen to watch cars turn mostly left for the weekend. (Actually, I have been corrected many times that "The Glen" is one of the few NASCAR tracks that includes right hand turns. Very exciting.) It's an annual trek to New York, and Adam was put in charge of food this year. Seeing as the drive is five hours, I offered to make pulled pork for tonight's dinner so he won't have to cook too much during the set-up of their campsite.

Now, I'm not one much for how-tos, mostly because I'm not organized enough to follow, never mind write, directions, save baking recipes, but that's more of a science than I think cooking is.

Cooking is an art, baking is a science, and scotch makes everything better. Words to live by.

Generic vinegar, Laphroaig scotch, BBQ sauce.
I happened upon my scotch pulled pork because I had my favorite scotch around, Laphroaig (pronounced: laFROYG), and I thought it would taste yummy in pulled pork. Lo and behold, I was right! (Pulled pork is like the pizza of slow-cooker meals anyway; even when it's not that good, it's still pretty good, so I am not afraid to experiment with it.) Anyway, here goes.


  • Slow cooker big enough to hold your pork (mine is a 6 quart capacity)
  • Whole Bone-In Pork Shoulder Picnic with skin
  • White or Yellow Onion(s)
  • Garlic Powder or one fresh clove garlic, minced
  • Ginger Ale (any type, I used Canada Dry)
  • Your favorite barbecue sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray's because it's deliciousness in a bottle)
  • Vinegar (I used white this time, but apple cider vinegar is good too!)
  • **Laphroaig Scotch (BRAND IS IMPORTANT!)**

I started with a 6.5 lb (roughly 3 kg) whole pork shoulder picnic, which was about $15 at our local Stop 'n' Shop (or Stop 'n' RobYa, as a some say). I also opted to use two onions, since the pork shoulder was so big.

Slice the onion in rings, placing half the rings on the bottom of the slow cooker. Place pork on top and cover with remaining onions. Add minced garlic or powder - I gave it a good dusting, all over the top of the shoulder. (I usually use fresh, but forgot to pick some up this go-round. Oh well!)

Add one to one and a half cup ginger ale.

Set cooker to low.
Leave on low for 12 hours. 

While cooking, I highly recommend not opening the cooker, even though it'll smell like awesomeness, and also going out for a beer or two with friends. Just a thought. Beware of overly-helpful sous chefs.

Simon, my sous chef.

At the 12 hour mark, remove shoulder from cooker. Strain the onion out of the liquid. Discard liquid and retain the onions.

Remove the bones, cartilage, skin, and the majority of the fat. I use the tongs pictured below. Pull using tongs or a fork until it looks like this:
Pulled Goodness.

Set cooker back to low. Return pork and strained onions to the cooker. Add two cups of BBQ sauce, and half a cup of the vinegar. Add scotch to taste. I added about 1/4 of a cup, but less can be used. A little actually goes a long way!

**The brand is important for two reasons. One, Laphroaig is delicious and awesome and my favorite. But more importantly, they use blue peat in their distillery process, and the smokiness of the peat shines through the pork. It almost tastes like you've smoked the pork, without all that crazy work of cranking on a smoker for a zillion hours.**

Stir well and leave covered on low for another 6 hours.

When your six hours are up, serve and enjoy in whatever fashion you prefer your pulled pork. Adam likes his on potato rolls, I will throw mine on a plate with some cole slaw, and I'm sure there are many other ways to enjoy it. The best part is that it freezes really well, and a shoulder of this size will feed a group of about 12 with ease. Enjoy!

P.S. A very happy birthday to my big brother!

01 August 2012

Chickens and the First Amendment

I don't often write about current events. There are far more (too many, perhaps?) individuals far better versed in journalism than I, already reporting and blogging and throwing their voices into the cacophony that constitutes whatever it is that we call "news" these days. 

But the recent hullabaloo around Chick-fil-A (that's CNN's take) struck a nerve.

I doubt I have to clarify where it is I stand on the issue at hand - that the CEO is a small-minded bigot, but free speech is free speech and that douche canoe can say whatever hateful things he'd like, he should just prepare for people to disagree, and strongly. Therefore, we are all at our liberties to boycott or patronize Chick-fil-A at our leisure, be it man or muppet alike. 

Here's the thing, though. The issue didn't end at the boycott, at many politicians tossing in their two cents (no, Menino isn't really within his rights to do any of that, e.g. zoning permits), or those who agree with Mr. Cathy to go on washing down cholesterol-laden chicken with haterade. If that were the end, I would have said, well, business as usual in the good ol' US of A. What got me was the protracted fuckery that has gone on since.

We have barely conscious imbeciles who have NO CLUE what the meaning of free speech is complaining that there is a conspiracy to silence those God-fearing Christians who would like the government to be wholly uninvolved in everything but everyone else's sex lives. Free speech does not protect you from people listening to what you said, deciding you're an absolute asshole, and taking non-violent, entirely legal action AGAINST YOU. Stop waving the First Amendment around until you fucking understand it!

More than that, though... More than the undercurrent of untenable ignorance that runs through this entire ridiculous issue... is the fact that a man that was once running for President declared today Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day and there are lines around blocks at some locations. And you know what? Those people can eat there if they choose, but underneath it all, underneath the homophobia, the sensationalism, the dearth of comprehension regarding the Bill of Rights... lies a nation so enamored with its own ability to hate that we will politicize a fucking chicken sandwich.

24 July 2012

One Soul for Sale

This is my soul.
We may or may not have been under the influence during the composition of this document.
Actually, that's entirely misleading; my soul isn't for sale. I sold my soul for 5 dollars and a cigarette to my best friend in 2002. We drew up a contract and everything on the back of an East Windsor Diner menu, after losing the original at Denny's in Enfield. She gave it back to me for my 25th birthday and I used to carry it in my wallet. (It was nothing like that episode of The Simpsons, if you're wondering.) So, technically, I don't think I can resell it. I'm far too attached to it by now; it has so much more meaning.

One of the most frustrating aspects of my job search is trying to weigh my crippling idealism with even a modicum of pragmatism. As you may be aware, I don't do that very well. If I did, I would probably still be fully employed at my last job (which was, incidentally, at a non-profit), ignoring the blatant bigotry in favor of the practicality of having a job, and maybe even one day, a career. The practical aspects of employment have never really been enough, heretofore, to keep me employed. Of course, I could have tried harder to change things at my last place (which shall be called That Place from now on), but there is no telling some people. (It's really difficult to look a grown 40-something-year-old woman, who is also your boss, in the eye and explain that "I have [insert marginalized group here] friends," does not negate the racism she just vomited out.)

So when a friend of mine, miserable in his corporate job, elbows me and only half-jokingly asks if I'm willing to sell my soul yet, it gives me pause. At some point, I do need to marry pragmatism and idealism, but where does that point lie? I often think that corporations actually have better protections against the kind of bullshit that went on at That Place, but does not mean that what one may do while at a corporation is meaningful in any significant way. 

My whole life, I've been told that I can change the world, help others, become some fantastical force for positive change. Well, I'm not changing a whole hell of a lot from the couch. And it is misery-inducing. Volunteering at Meals on Wheels was such a great experience, but now I'm even afraid to spend the gas that it would take to make once-a-week deliveries. When my grad school called, desperate for funds, I cringed. I have always given, even a measly amount, whenever I could because I love that place and believe in it as one of the best chances some students have to actually spread true and permanent good in the world. I apologized profusely to the student on the phone, and hung up feeling miserly.

But the truth is, I don't have the luxury of idealism, most people don't. All the insistence on my exceptionalism, and I know I'm not alone in in this, warped me in a bizarre way. I am self-aware enough to know I really hit the high notes on occasion. Moral superiority? Check. Intellectual snobbery? Yeah, I do that too. In my defense, I've been getting progressively better at identifying it and reigning it in before I come off like a complete tit (at best).

So right now, I'm procrastinating filling out the applications for a few jobs my sister-in-law sent me from her company. I know I don't have the option of not applying, but my soul, as it lies in the bottom drawer of my jewelry box next to my passport, is probably wriggling in discomfort. 

Ten, fifteen, eighteen year old Courtney was told to change the world. Twenty-eight-year-old Courtney is trying to change her outlook... and maybe make change with her soul, which, interestingly enough, could probably be leased for around $40,000 a year.

23 July 2012


I decided to update the look of my self-indulgent blog here because it was about time. I was tired of the old drab brown map. But more importantly, I completely procrastinated cleaning today so I thought I should do something to make myself feel marginally productive. However much I love the smell of Murphy Oil Soap, it doesn't improve the actual task of cleaning the floor. (And apparently, it's no good for wood floors according to the site I grabbed that pic from, but whatever. I'd bathe in it if it were acceptable.)

Beyond that, things just need to be cleaned. I feel tidying up my small corner of the known world is a desperate attempt to keep order; the world lately is getting more and more surreal every day, and not in a good way.

22 July 2012

The Loaded Cupcake Conundrum and the Politics of Food

Key lime and blackberry cupcakes with blackberry filling and buttercream. (My decorating could use a bit of help.)

Okay, so, I like to bake. It's my obsession of the moment, and next week I'll probably start practicing calligraphy or something, thinking that I'm going to make a mint painstakingly writing out the wedding invitations of spoiled Millenials or some shit. But this is not my point. 

I've liked to bake since I was about 13 and my mother brought home my grandmother's extensive baking supply cache. Way back when, my grandmother ran a small wedding cake baking business out of her kitchen. She was really good at it, and would spend hours making sugared flowers and custard fillings. Like me, she tended to have fleeting obsessions with crafty things; she taught herself to knit, dabbled in watercolors, quilted, baked, and even gardened. My suspicion is that she was bi-polar, but that's a discussion for another day. By the time I was old enough to be left to my own devices in the kitchen, my grandmother was already deep in the abyss of Alzheimer's. The brutal disease had robbed her of herself, took away my grandfather's partner, and robbed us of our matriarch. My brother and I, as the eldest grandchildren, were fortunate to have a small piece of her as she once was, but even we mostly remember her as the more-child-than-mother that she became. When I started to bake, leafed through her Wilton baking books, I felt like I knew her, even a little.

Baking is more than that, though. It's scientific, each ingredient dependent on a type of unique exactness that I don't concern myself with when roasting a chicken or making pulled pork. Not flavorful enough? I'll throw some scotch on my slow-cooked pork shoulder. Too mild? Red pepper all the way. But baking? Miss one tablespoon and your cake might fall. Skip the butter and use margarine? Well, let's just say butter is a flavor and margarine just doesn't cut it. The precision, the timing, and the elbow grease come together to make the most amazing confections. I started baking en masse, and when I was staring at a dining room table covered in six dozen cupcakes, I began delivering them to friends and family. Who doesn't like a cupcake? It's your own damn cake and it doesn't even have to be your birthday! 

When I bake, all the frustration of my job search, our financial fears, the fact that the puppy just ate another one of my shoes, goes away with each stroke of the spatula, every whirr of the Kitchen Aid (that I have all but appropriated from my mother who never used it anyway). When people say something was baked with love, I say that my baked goods were baked with anxiety and fear and frustration and a pinch of catastrophe, and it's therapeutic to place those anxieties into something that will, almost without fail, make others happy. (Plus, cupcakes are especially easy because they're so sharable and portable and conveniently portioned. And they make really awesome breakfasts.)

But there is something inescapably girlie about cupcakes. Something so fucking Etsy-cutesy-by-way-of-Zooey-fucking-Deschannel-and-June-Cleaver about the cupcake fad. It oddly almost romanticizes the housewife, the homestead, the Martha-Stewart-without-the-business-acumen girlie-girl, ensconced in frothy pink innocence. 
My grandmother quit school in 8th grade (at 14), to take care of her sick mother and grandmother. When she met my grandfather, she was working as a very adept draftswoman at Pratt & Whitney just before WWII. She was capable, almost exclusively self-taught, and probably pretty amazing. But when she married my grandfather, she became the housewife. She gave birth to four children and stayed at home, except for a few odd jobs here and there that were probably not nearly as stimulating or demanding as her previous career (lunchlady, for example). And I wonder if it was this that created in her the searchingness that left her bouncing from one domestic or creative pursuit to another. 

And I can't help but feel I am not alone in this thinking. The best master chefs -- even patissieres -- the world over are almost exclusively male. The boys club persists even as the daily grind of cooking for the home and family is often still seen as women's work. And this is even more pointed as I have become the primary cook at home, as Adam works and it's really the least I can do (in addition to the laundry, the dishes, the pets, the floors, the windows...) It is a trade, a balancing of the financial burden with domestic one, but I can understand why Mother's Little Helpers were once so prevalent (and really, they still are). However fulfilling one batch of cupcakes may be, sometimes, even when holding my Guinness chocolate with Jameson ganache and Bailey's buttercream frosting beastly delicious creations, I feel like I'm just slathering calories over some serious cultural, familial, personal baggage. 

Or maybe I'm eating too much into it. Maybe sometimes, a cupcake is just a little cake, even if it has a lot of booze in it.

P.S. I have loads of delicious recipes for those looking to get some ganache-based therapy.