Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"No Yelling on the Bus!"

For the last five months, my primary mode of transportation to work has been the city bus. Now, I know what you're thinking and I want to tell you that you are wrong, I do NOT clean houses for a living. Somehow, though, I still ride the bus to work.

The people who ride the bus are baffling. As are apartment people, for that matter. You see, when I moved to an apartment, I thought our neighbors would be paragons of civility. I mean, why would they be loud when they knew I could be loud in return? It seemed to me that house parties and loud sound systems were for houses; apartment people kept it down.

Of course, I was wrong. Dead wrong. Apartment people (and now I've discovered that the same holds true for townhouse people, as well) think more along the lines of, "If I'm as annoying as possible, I won't even notice your feeble attempts at annoyance." Thus the answer is not to keep the stereo turned down, but to get a stereo with a maximum volume higher than your neighbors, then turn that sucker up to eleven.

Well, bus people are the same. I thought there would be some sense of community, since I see these people every single day, twice a day, five times a week. Perhaps an acknowledgement, if nothing more than a nod. But the most regular riders on my bus (Number Six, Clockwise mornings, Counterclockwise evenings) intentionally avoid eye contact with me when waiting for, entering, riding on, or exiting the bus.

Although, by being a regular rider, I am something of an anomaly myself. Most people ride for a few weeks at a time, then never come back. There have only been two people who have been on the bus as frequently as I have for as long as I have: a guy with earrings and headphones who gets on at my stop and off a mile later, and a girl with a large mole on her forehead who gets on after him and stays on past my stop.

There was a regular rider, a woman with a purple scarf and knitted cap. She got on right before the earring guy got off. One day, though, I had to take our car in for service, so I drove to the station and dropped it off, then waited for the bus at the corner. Well, it was the corner where the woman with the purple hat got on. When she showed up at her stop, I was sitting there, reading a book. She was not on the bus for the next month, rode once more, saw I was still there, and has not been back since.

Riding the bus should be like a party! There are enough creeps and weirdos on the bus, anyway. I want the regulars to be friendly and the wack-jobs to keep quiet, but as soon as some regular thinks you might be stalking her, she starts carpooling or something.

And another thing: she might have been the cutest lady on the bus, but it doesn't take much to win THAT contest. I have better things to do with my time than to stalk marginally-attractive women. Like buying the biggest stereo I can find, one with specially-made knobs that register up to eleven.

Title from Billy Madison.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

New Mexican Cuisine

Last week I was in Santa Fe again. Tito was there again, and so was another coworker, Arty. Since there were three of us, I couldn’t do my own thing with impunity the way I did last trip. Instead of two people who were eating alone, it would be one guy who wasn’t eating with “the group.” So the first day we went to lunch and Tito blazed a path to Marisco's. We arrived at eleven-thirty, but the place was closed. The sign said they opened at eleven. We didn’t know if they were closed for the day or just operating on a looser interpretation of “eleven” than ours.

That night, after I blew off the “group” and ate by myself at Red Lobster, Tito and Arty went back to Marisco's. Still closed. Tito was so distraught that he then went looking for their second location downtown, where he got lost. We work for a map company. He gets lost with stunning frequency.

The last day we finished a little early and headed back to Albuquerque. I suggested we eat lunch at Sadie’s, since past statistics indicated I had a 100 percent chance of sitting next to Lily on the plane home, and it would be awkward for me to say, “I’m still ignoring your restaurant suggestion.” So we headed to Old Town, where I remembered Lily saying it was.

Lily was wrong. Or I remembered wrong. Or both, but not neither, because Sadie’s was, in fact, NOT in Old Town. Actually, it was quite distant. So we ended up parking and walking around looking for another restaurant. There are few things so soul-crushingly awkward as being a tourist with two guys from work. Finally, a woman in a gift shop suggested Monica’s El Portal, so that was where we went.

Here’s the problem with “authentic” cuisine, and with the whole “anti-corporate” mindset in general: people want all the benefits of big business without actually involving big business. For instance, everyone wants unlimited chips with their meal, but only large chains manage to sneak the cost into everything else all over the country. Mom-and-Pop places give you a thimble-full of chips for free, then charge a dollar-fifty for each additional thimble. I don’t begrudge them this--I understand why it happens. But the guys I was with, after spending three days trying to outdo each other’s distaste for chain restaurants, complained vociferously about the stingy chip service. Drinks, also, were non-refillable. More complaining. Meanwhile, they took the occasion of actually having me at a meal with them as an opportunity to stick me with the bill for all three of us. “You’ll get reimbursed,” they reminded me, as if it made it okay. Somehow, though, reimbursement didn’t make it okay enough for THEM to pick up the tab. And while I was being given the bill, the waitress took away my last sopapilla. I was going to eat that!

The good news was that I didn’t see Lily at the airport, so I didn’t have to explain the Sadie’s fiasco. But I did manage to sit on the airplane next to a sixty-year-old woman in a hot-pink cowboy hat. Somewhere in America there is a girl who thinks, “I’ve got the coolest grandma EVER!

Monday, April 17, 2006

"East of Omaha"

One of the most gratifying parts of my most-recent county-gathering trip was that I have finally driven on “a long and lonesome highway east of >Omaha,” but I didn’t quite “listen to the engine moaning out his one-note song,” on account of the screaming kids in the backseat.

The point is: eight new counties. Seven of them in Iowa and one in Missouri. A few highlights of the trip are as follows:

  • I ate catfish at Cracker Barrel in Council Bluffs.
  • I stopped at Gerald Ford’s birthplace, even though, technically, Gerald Ford was never born. Omaha has a knack for marking the sites of birthplaces after the buildings are gone. Malcolm X’s birthplace used to be marked by a sign in an empty field. The sign is gone now. And the house where Leslie King, Jr. (the president later known as Gerald Ford) was born burned down nearly 35 years ago. But at least the site is now a park, while Malcolm has a weed-covered lot.
  • My wife went incommunicado for a while at the zoo in Omaha, leaving me convinced that someone had absconded with her and our kids.
  • I discovered that having your wife go incommunicado is not as exciting as having your wife go commando.
  • We stopped at the Danish Cultural Center in Elk Grove, Iowa, where my wife and kids celebrated their violent Viking heritage and celebrated my victimized Slavic heritage by cowering in fear of them.
  • I raided a state welcome center, coming away with about three thousand tourist pamphlets.
  • My seven new counties in Iowa mean I am past the twenty-percent point for that state.
  • My one new county in Missouri has raised my Missouri total to 75, which is my highest total for any state (second place is Virginia with 72).

That’s all that’s new and exciting for me. How about you?

Title from Bob Seeger's "Turn the Page."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Neck Stabbing, Coming Soon

I work with a woman who, when she becomes frustrated, threatens, “I’m going to stab you in the neck!” It always makes me laugh. Sometimes I try to remind her of frustrating things just so I can hear her say it.

Well, I have my own urge to stab some necks. Of course, these days you can’t really say anything like that, right? Next thing I know, I’ll be sued. But it’s not really like I own anything worth taking away from me. I doubt an auction of my possessions could yield sufficient funds to justify a lawsuit, so I can threaten people’s necks with impunity. (Watch out!)

Do you want to know what is most frustrating to me: when something has the potential to be good and it isn’t. For instance, I was not too angry when I got done seeing the movie Big Top Pee-Wee. Yes, it sucked, but I never expected it to do anything but suck. In fact, I would have been disappointed had it NOT sucked. But when I got done seeing Pleasantville, I was disappointed, because it could have been a really great movie but instead it turned out to be, “Hey, sleep around because only closed-minded bigots from the days of black-and-white TV still believe in morals and ethics.”

Well, my job (the place where I am right now as I type this and they monitor my every keystroke) is disappointing because it had the potential of being really great and instead it has turned out to just suck. And it's not just sucking any teat—-it’s sucking the hind teat, the one right under the sow’s anus, so as it sucks it gets crap released on its head. That’s my job, in a barnyard analogy.

Do you know who reads my blog? You and one other person. That’s right. Only the two of you. That’s no hyperbole. That’s an accurate assessment of the futility of my efforts. And my blog started as an accident, anyway. But then I got all excited when I had that unknown guy comment on my post about New Mexican cuisine, which got my hopes up, only to be crushed on the rocks of reality. Two people. That’s not even a blog. There have been postcards with larger readerships than that. Most postcards, probably. Any time you've received a postcard and said to a friend, "Hey, check this out," that postcard had a higher readership than my blog (you, your friend, and your mailman).

FOLLOW UP: How much does my job suck? Use a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 equals the complete absence of a vacuum and 10 equals the distant reaches of space. The answer is 9.2, or slightly less than a Leif Garrett/Freddy Prinze, Jr. buddy picture starring Phyllis Diller as Freddy’s romantic interest.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Judging Things By Their Covers Works Surprisingly Well

I was at the library yesterday and I was pretty bored with my book (IRS tax policy vis-à-vis tax-exempt organizations in the early 1960s), so I knocked off reading a little early and I went to browse the CDs and movies. Our area of the country was put on alert for The Mother of All Tornadoes yesterday, which would mean Persephone’s book club would be canceled and I would not be able to use our computer, so I got a couple videos we could watch, just in case we were going to die. However, much like its similarly-named predecessor The Mother of All Battles, the storm didn’t turn up and the weather was great.

While I was in the CD section, though, I got a couple albums to listen to at work to drown out the inane chatter of Tito, now that my desk is right outside his office. I saw a CD entitled “Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs.” It had a funny title and a neat looking piece of art on the front, so I got it. I figured, “It’s free.” And I was right about that. It was.

Here’s the best part: I kind of really dig Andrew Bird. I listened to it that afternoon at work, then again last night at home. This morning I’ve been repeatedly thinking of a line from the song “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left.” And all because I liked the cover.

I’ve had similar experiences of selecting things based on trivial criteria, and they usually turn out well. Like my wife. (Just kidding!) But I think I would like the band Bad Astronaut because they have nice looking cover art and they have a funny name, my same criteria for selecting Andrew Bird. I mean, if things like that weren’t important, no one would put any time into them. The entire world would be like the episode of “The Simpsons” when the IRS took over Krusty’s show and renamed it “The Herschel Krustovsky Clown-Themed Children’s Variety Program.”

A name accounts for something, and so does a cover. It would be foolish to intentionally ignore something so important as the cover, just because you want to appear more erudite than others. Sure, some covers are wrong indicators, but if all covers were wrong, or even most covers, there would be rioting in the streets and covers would be banned, replaced by statements such as: “Poor-Quality Fictional Work,” which should probably be the subtitle of my first novel.

FOLLOW UP: How easy do I have to make this for you? EVERYONE’s had an experience with “judging a [thing] by its [other thing].” Discuss.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"You Get a Line, I'll Get a Pole..."

It turns out that old song just represents the trappings of the bourgeois elite. Who needs a line and a pole to fish when God gave you two perfectly good hands? (Editor's Note: If God did not, in fact, give you two perfectly good hands, dude, I'm so sorry; I didn't know.)

I speak, of course, of noodling, the most abhorrent practice to take place in water since Rob Schneider scored with Kirstie Alley in the hot tub at the local homeless shelter.

Catfish have come to dominate my life lately. Here is how it happened:

Last Tuesday I went over to the other side of the office and saw an empty plate with a container of tartar sauce on a woman’s desk. (Sidelight: said woman mysteriously stopped working here today.) I asked her if she had had fish and chips for lunch, and she said it had been catfish. I said, “I see catfish on the menu at a lot of places and I’m scared to try it because I’ve never had it before.” She recommended it. A neighboring woman overheard us and asked if I had seen the documentary movie, Okie Noodling. Despite my urgent pleas that she desist, she went on in great detail about exactly how noodling is done.

I came back to my desk and spent some company time looking up noodling on the Internet. It turns out that a former Miss Teen USA once told the judges that she enjoyed hand fishing, a synonym for noodling. And yet, she still won, which goes to show the judges had no idea what hand fishing was.

Quick synopsis of noodling: you get in the river and dive under the bank to stick your hand in a hole, hoping it has a catfish and not a snake or a snapping turtle. Should you turn out to have found a catfish, you let it bit your arm, then you grab it by the gills and try to wrestle it to the surface before you drown. I guess there is some debate among noodlers whether or not you should use a glove. Without a glove, a catfish can tear the flesh from your arm, but with a glove, it’s harder to tell when you have a catfish.

I went out of town that evening, driving to Columbia, Missouri with a coworker. One day our meeting ended a little early, so he wanted to go to Bass Pro Shop, a mammoth outdoors store, complete with its own ten-acre outdoor lake. He browsed for fishing things while I realized there was a whole nother sect of the Common Man with whom I had nearly nothing in common. I love baseball and bratwurst, but when they start to delve into sport hunting and NASCAR, I bow out.

Well, in Bass Pro Shop was an enormous fish tank with a lot of different fish bumping their heads into the glass. Up swam a sizable catfish (although according to the Internet, they can get much, much larger). It was easily the ugliest fish I had ever seen.

But on Saturday my family and I went to some buffet restaurant in Nauvoo and they had catfish. It was the perfect situation: if I hated it, I hadn’t just wasted my entrée. I could go back and get more of something else. So I tried it. And it was surprisingly good. I made Persephone try a bite, and then I even talked Crazy Jane into it. (Grunty Joe refuses to eat most things that aren’t applesauce or bread.)

Now I want another opportunity to eat catfish. The draw might be powerful enough to entice me to go noodling. And let’s hear it for the coolest Miss Teen USA ever, Kristi Addis.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Counties Up the Wazoo


I was out of town for bidniz again this week.This time I went to Columbia, Missouri, which, despite it being in Missouri, was actually pretty nice.

Thursday evening, however, I was sitting in my hotel room at about seven in the evening, reading and writing, and the tornado sirens went off, so I took my stuff downstairs to sit in the lobby. The lobby, though, was full of windows (and a piano that had a large sign reading, “Please Do Not Play the Piano”), so they made us all sit in the first floor hallway. It was a nice way to get to see who else was staying in the hotel (including a math team and the Southern Illinois University girls' cross country team), and all the US Bank employees who were having a meeting in the conference room. About a half-hour later the tornado watch expired and we went back to our rooms.

The best part of the week, though, aside from eating lunch at Shakespeare’s Pizza, was the weekend trip. Persephone drove over with the kids (Crazy Jane and Grunty Joe) to pick my up Friday afternoon and we drove up to Keokuk, Iowa. This was not my first time spending the night in Keokuk, but it might be my last. Every time I go, I am less impressed with Keokuk and more impressed with Fort Madison. We might make the switch next time.

But we are all losing sight of what’s most important here: the counties I visited.

I got fifteen new counties, putting my total for the year at eighteen. Friday I got: Macon MO, Knox MO, Adair MO, Schuyler MO, and Scotland MO. Driving home on Saturday, I got: Van Buren IA, Davis IA, Appanoose IA, Wayne IA, Putnam MO, Sullivan MO, Mercer MO, Grundy MO, Linn MO, and Livingston MO. This means my overall total is now 652 (20.82%), while my Missouri total is 74 (64.35%) and my Iowa total is 13 (13.13%).

“Top ten states?”, you ask? Here they are:

7New Mexico20/3360.61%
8Nevada 10/1758.82%

We had a great time in Nauvoo. We learned the commands for directing an ox (Gee” with a hard “G” for “right” and “Ah” for “left”), both of our kids petted the oxen, and I ate catfish for the first time, which was fantastic enough of an experience that it should probably be its own post. Anytime I wonder why no one reads my blog, all I have to do is remember this moment, when I thought, “My eating catfish for the first time was fantastic enough of an experience that it should probably be its own post.”

FOLLOW UP: You people don’t take your assignments seriously enough. Tell me what your most-interesting county-getting experience has been. Is there a particular county you enjoyed visiting, or a funny experience that happened there? Respond now!