Thursday, December 3, 2009

A: Hairsicles!

Q: What do you get when you walk back from a swimming session to your apartment in 27* F weather without bothering to dry your hair first?

Yep. My hair froze in its usual waves, and I didn't notice until I heard the wind jingle something against the back of my trench coat collar. It sounded cool, like I had wind chimes on my head, and my roommates were impressed when I walked in with a head full of rattling curls, but it didn't feel all that good once the chill approached my scalp. Brrr.

I'm almost done with most of my end-of-semester assignments (most of which are due the day of the final, hooray), so right now I'm concentrating on surviving without digging into my chocolate stash and studying to make sure I get the grades I want. While it's reassuring knowing that you literally cannot flunk a class due to the work you've done and the points you've accumulated (or several classes, as the case appears to be for me), there's no reason to decide that the job's done and drop everything on the spot.

Granted, I'm very tempted to do that, since I have several piles of yarn and four new pairs of knitting needles just begging to be used, but, as with all things, work comes before playtime. I have to study for my finals and take them before I can start hibernating with several pounds of acrylic, cotton, bamboo, wool, angora, and alpaca and a pair of pointy sticks.

I have no idea where Dr. Moreau is now. We've been incommunicado since the day before Thanksgiving. I hope he's well, and that he ends up just serving someone coffee for his entire deployment. The man's been acting too thoroughly convinced that someone's going to kill him over there.

Knitting has to be better therapy for this kind of separation than stuffing my face. At least I can wear the result fashionably, and I have a ready weapon for stabbing anyone who makes an off-color remark about my choice in boyfriends.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

May they flunk and go home to their unloving mothers.

I have seriously had it with our downstairs neighbors.

Remember how I mentioned they puked in the stairwell earlier? And how the banister was ripped down after their Halloween parties? Did I mention the loud parties virtually every night of the week?

Apparently, the Sunday before Thanksgiving (long after I'd departed for break), they decided they took offense to our repeatedly calling the police on them. One of them wandered down in front of our apartment and pissed on the door. Fifteen minutes later, while one of the roommates who remained was calling the police, the alleged adult in question wandered back and did it again.

No response from the rental company on whether or not they can evict the residents of the apartment who went this far. No helpful action from the police. I'm fucking tired of this.

At least the roommates of mine who were here didn't call and tell me. I had enough to deal with. (Dr. Moreau was sent off for deployment after Thanksgiving with his family. I was fine up until it was time for him to go. Then I lost my shit and had to spend Thanksgiving in hiding lest I send some heads rolling at the dinner table with family members that manage to get under my skin without trying.)

I've got enough crap to deal with during this week and Finals week without their adding to it. May they soundly flunk and be abruptly introduced to a cold, harsh world that does not put up with these boy-child shenanigans.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

And the world (nearly) turned upside down.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Of gunpowder, treason, and plot-
I know of no reason that the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, 'twas his intent
To blow up the King and Parliament
With thirty-six barrels of powder below
Poor old England he'd overthrow
But by Providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and a burning match!

Granted, the day also marks a personal family anniversary, but it's still fun to wonder what would have happened if the epic fail of getting caught "with a dark lantern and a burning match" had not happened and the Plot had gone off without a hitch. Apparently those barrels would have still exploded, degraded gunpowder or not, and then...hmmm.

Unfortunately, tonight is a night for me to work on homework before taking off for an archaeology conference in the next state over, so someone else will have to do the obligatory History Channel and "V for Vendetta" marathons for me, as well as the bare minimum of setting off way too many barely legal firecrackers.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Superpowered Drunk People.

Seriously, that's the only explanation I have for my neighbors not killing themselves by now through their own stupidity, or flunking out after their weekly celebrations from Thirsty Thursday to Tequila Tuesday.

I was out last night with some friends to hide from the aforementioned neighbors' party that started at two in the afternoon. We had fun and ate dinner while having an anime marathon (Witch Hunter Robin was the series of choice - hey, we're all female and drooled over Crispin Freeman's voice), and I had a few quiet hours away from these drunken idiots. I managed to get back by eleven without being hollered at by too many drunks, but the party was still going strong and getting worse.

I finally zonked out around midnight and somehow slept until seven this morning (flexible work hours are awesome, as is a boss who doesn't care what time of day you work as long as the job is done by such-and-such time.)

What do I see this morning as I head out the front door of the building?

A splintered banister. Brackets and all. Ripped out of the wall - keep in mind we're discussing a solid wooden pole as thick as my wrist - and smashed on the floor with no obvious blood. Damn, I was hoping one of the jerks impaled themselves on the thing.

A brief conference with my roommates brings out the fact that one of the night owls among us stayed up long enough to hear something that sounded like people smashing into the wall.

If the landlord makes us all pay for this rather than placing it squarely on the guys who did it, I'm ripping an equivalent chunk of meat out of the culprits' asses. What's the going sale rate for college guy meat if it's pre-marinated?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Never say "I'm bored" out loud. It tempts the gods.

1) One of the secretaries in the anthropology department at Big State U has come down with a case of swine flu - a woman who interacts with just about everyone who works in and around that office, I might add. There's the prerequisite panic over whether or not she was contagious and the fact that Big State U has been dragging its heels over getting the H1N1 vaccine (and there was a hell of a run on the normal flu vaccine this year too, I might add.)

2) Someone smashed a pumpkin outside of the smaller grocery store positioned between Big State U and State Christian U. No rhyme or reason, it was just there, right next to some broken bottles and what looked like someone's broken cell phone.

2a) It seems the radiator in my apartment is hot enough to dry pumpkin seeds thoroughly for storage before planting. Let's see if they actually grow next spring.

3) People need to have certain ideas hammered into their heads over and over before they get it, such as a mutual friend of my roommates' and mine thinking I'd automatically get the word about a birthday party via Facebook, or drop everything and come over when my roommate asked me whether I was coming to the party in question.

I've repeatedly told this mutual friend (Jake, just to give him a name) that I'm not on any social networking sites. (Shhh. This blog is meant to be anonymous. It's more fun that way - I can do the internet equivalent of standing on the roof screaming with nobody knowing who I am.) He knows that I refuse to join them for reasons he keeps trying to shoot down. He has my school email address, he knows which apartment I live in and where, and he knows who my roommates are. You'd think that would be enough.

4) I can't tell if my upstairs neighbors are installing a bowling alley or if they're taking turns dropping each other on their heads. Really. Every now and then I hear a very heavy, solid *THUD* that sounds like someone dropped a medicine ball or equally large weight. There are also occasional screams and loud trampling sounds, and then sudden silence. All I can hope is that they're going insane and will soon be forced to move out and finally let the rest of us have some quiet.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Paper Metamorphoses

Considering how little effort I've really invested, I'm irrationally proud of myself at this moment.

Three weekends ago, I invested six dollars into buying two paper grocery sacks at my nearest public library, and then snatched up any book, CD, audiobook, and the like that looked even the slightest bit interesting or useful and packed it away into these sacks as neatly as possible. The various used book stores and pawn/secondhand media shops around here are so variable in what they want that this approach will usually yield more in returns.

This weekend, after sorting through all of the media I had sitting in the bags (and around - one bag ripped open and sent a pile of paperbacks sliding across the floor), I finally started feeding the books I was not 110% sure I wanted to keep or give as they were to family and friends into the different secondhand stores around the two cities Big State U occupies.

This is always an interesting time of year for me, and certainly the time when I get the most exercise hauling around several cubic feet of printed matter in grocery sacks as I attempt to spread out that volume of books, CDs, audio tapes, and the like to maximize the returns. I never know exactly what's going to come out of hauling around all of the printed material, although I'm pretty sure of these possibilities:

1) More books - fewer than I started with, but definitely of better quality, since they aren't just what initially looked good when I scooped them up during a bag sale.

1A) Store credit at the places I bring the books to - this is always a gamble, since the used book stores aren't always stocked with what you're looking for, but it usually pays off.

2) Money - never as much as I expect, but more than enough to recoup the initial investment. Hey, even if it's just some quarters, money is money.

2A) This was an unexpected side effect, since one of my roommates wanted several books of a particular type but couldn't go to the sale. She asked me to pick up one or two of the books and promised to reimburse me. I've had books turn into dollar bills after I feed them through this whole process, but I've never before had them turn into ears of corn to pay the remaining debt.

3) There are just some things that nobody will take, for whatever reason - it's too old, nobody wants it (often the case with video game cheat books), or it's just too commonly available or otherwise undesirable (which is why I avoid picking up romance novels during the initial scoop the way you'd avoid touching someone who had the plague). Those remainders usually get dumped at the nearest library with a donations box or a secondhand store (which means some of the books I've been sorting might have already been through the process two or three times).

Yeah, it takes some work. But I've already made about twice my initial investment in credit at just one store, and gotten back half the money I spent in both cash and food just from doing my roommate a favor. And I've gotten plenty of exercise walking or riding my bike with the first load of books to each of the local stores, which is a heck of a lot better than paying to go to a gym.

Who says you can't see this sort of transformation of books into food, money, a healthier body, or new books right before your eyes? Now, if I could just do the same with loud neighbors (but what would you sell them for? Alarm systems? Pest scaring devices?), I'd make a mint and get two more hours of sleep a night.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Don't trip now!

Eight more weeks to the end of this semester, then twenty-two weeks to the end of the next, and I'll officially have my degree in hand. This knowledge is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. I've made it to the end of the racetrack, but what's waiting for me after the finish line?

Please don't let it be more neighbors who think it's fine to party every night from Thirsty Thursday to Tequila Tuesday. Or the prospect of living with my parents if the internship places are swamped. I get along fine with them, but I'm not happy about the whole idea in general.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Up late (not of my own volition this time.)

Either my upstairs neighbors are putting in a bowling alley, or their latest game is "see who can jump off the furniture and land with the hardest stomp without putting holes in the floor."

If anyone has a truly disgusting soundtrack from any film, the kind that would make even farm animals wince in disgust, and a very loud DVD or tape player, I have a voice recorder with fresh batteries, infinite loop, and the ability to be hooked up to the speakers of choice. We can make this work.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's a knack, I'm telling you.

I seem to have made a bet (in the form of an independent study course) about whether or not someone could have survived on the wild foods that were available 2000 years ago, or whether it was possible to survive on these when you were just one person or one family making the effort.

At least I didn't offer myself up as the guinea pig to actually survive on this diet for a semester, which saved my butt twice already this afternoon from one misadventure in experimenting with acorns. I didn't know two things a few hours ago:

1) If you're scooping up acorns for food, check the shells. If the acorn is cracked, has a neat little hole bored in the shell,or is soft enough to squish with your fingers, toss it. Why?


And I didn't find this out until I came back with my booty, left it there for an hour or two while I took off for my last class of the day, and then returned to discover that the bag I'd scooped up everything in had a few holes in it. Apparently the worms didn't like hanging out in a plastic bag with nine pounds of acorns all that much, and liked the carpet much better.

A sweep with a vacuum and a thorough inspection of all of the acorns outside took care of that problem, which reduced the nine pounds down to two that might have been trustworthy.

(Sigh. I can already tell this is definitely not a solo effort if you're trying to feed yourself...)

2) With the two remaining pounds of semi-trustworthy acorns, I flipped through a tree identification book to check what type I had (I hadn't thought to look straight up to see if I was picking up acorns from under a red or white oak at the time.) Turns out I had red oak acorns, from the oak trees with the sharp, pointy tips to their leaves. Fine. I dug through the wild foods cookbook I had... discover that red oak acorns were considered too poisonous to prepare. The thing about acorns is that they're loaded with tannin, which is great if you're trying to process leather but absolutely rotten for a human to eat. Too much of it and your kidneys will crap out on you. You can dry and then repeatedly boil the acorn meat through several changes of water to leach out the tannin, but red oak acorns have too much in them to do this unless you have a week or two to spare.

Out goes the remaining two pounds.

If I'm ever so hard up that I'm considering eating red oak acorns, I should just let the squirrels eat the acorns, and then I'll eat the squirrels. And next time I'll make sure I target the white oaks and start harvesting the nuts as soon as the acorns start hitting the ground.

Monday, September 28, 2009

File this under "the inventor was on crack."

During my weekend wanderings, which included a detour through the Saturday farmer's market, I managed to stumble into another knitting shop completely by accident. I noticed a sign on the outside of the building it was located in, stepped inside, and was promptly lost in a maze of twisty little passages for ten minutes while I tried to locate the stairs and the doors. I managed to find my way up to the shop eventually, where while wandering around I tripped over a pair of size 50 needles.

Don't clean your screen or your glasses, you read that right. Size 50 knitting needles.

For the non-knitters, needles in the United States are sized a little oddly - instead of going by millimeters in diameter, they each have a numbered size. Size 8 is about average and can handle most sweaters, hats, mittens, and the like, and it's five millimeters in diameter. I had previously believed that the thickest needle was size nineteen, which is maybe as large as a human index finger.

Size 50, as it turns out, looks like a sharpened broomstick. And not a small broomstick, either. Maybe it should be called a sharpened shovel handle, or a short spear. An atlatl dart, maybe, or a long lawn dart. In any case, each needle was about three-quarters as thick as my wrist, and some maniac had actually started knitting with them. Granted, it was a rug and they were using roughly spun roving (roving is semi-raw wool - not exactly straight off the sheep, as it's been cleaned and generally combed into shape or wound into long strands, but it isn't spun into proper yarn yet), but still...

And naturally, guess who had to try knitting on these things.

I can be a moron in the pursuit of the satisfaction of my curiosity.

Twenty minutes to complete as many stitches later, I managed to complete the row and gave up on the idea of another. I'd had enough already. I just scooped up a helmet liner pattern and a ball of ordinary brown wool on my way out.

Later that evening, I got to find out firsthand just how emotionally draining it is to be in the audience for a performance of Equus, but that's another story altogether. I'm still trying to get my wrists to work properly again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Annoyance of Bobo

I'm not calling it the wrath of God, despite how it looks. For one, nobody's done anything big enough to piss off the Big Guy lately. For another, although it looks like one of the plagues of Egypt, it's not yet to the point of serious disruption of human activity. And I'm dead certain that the translation was "flies" and "locusts" when it came to the insect-based plagues, not "soybean aphids."

For the non-Midwestern readers, soybean aphids are insects about half the length of a human eyelash that live on the sap secreted from one of our main two crops. They're ordinarily kept well in check by the weather, the food supply, and the resident population of ladybugs. Around this time of year, you might see the occasional cloud of what looks like extraordinarily fast-flying dust motes in the late afternoon or evening, never more than three to five feet in diameter at its largest and generally with plenty of room between the individual "motes."


This year, it seems we had favorable conditions for a population boom. The aphids responded by multiplying exponentially. The thing about aphids is that they don't need to be inseminated to be able to reproduce. They can do it asexually. One aphid could produce three to five more in a day, and in favorable conditions the population only needs two or three days to double. And we didn't start with just one.

And did I mention that, when they run low on food supplies, these normally wingless insects sprout wings?

The result is everyone walking around campus waving their hands in front of their faces, covering their noses and mouths with whatever's handy, and brushing and shaking everything off once they get inside. The bathrooms overflow with people spitting, wiping out their eyes, cleaning their ears, and blowing their noses to clean out all of the bugs. (Aphids are apparently not born with any sense of self-preservation and gravitate to the human respiratory system's entrances.) Fifteen minutes after you step out of the mist of flying insects you can feel hitting your skin as you walk, aphids will still fly out of your clothes if you shake them.

A good hard frost will kill them or at least reduce the mist to those negligible clouds I mentioned earlier, but in the meantime the student body has been advised to not wear yellow, which apparently attracts the bugs. I'm personally keeping my window shut, covering my face with a finely woven scarf, and contemplating whether I should order some ladybug egg cases or just wait for the first frost.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. OVER?

I hate it when it turns out I didn't know someone as well as I thought I did. I'm ready to punch the next person who mentions anything to do with relationships in general.

A little background: I'm in a (currently long-distance) relationship with someone who overwhelmingly resembles Dr. Moreau of H.G. Wells' tale of the mad scientist - the sort of person whose science experiments turn out to be great and terrible (in the same way as "I am Oz, the great and terrible"), and who, when he was a bit younger, you never quite knew which dimension he was in at the moment. Somehow we managed to hit it off without leveling a city in the process, but that's another story. He's currently serving his country by jumping out of perfectly good airplanes and the like, but all too soon he's going to be in a place where people are going to be shooting at him on a regular basis. I have my fingers crossed that he'll return from the latest hellhole he's being dropped into with all of his appendages and psyche still intact.

Yeah. Being in love drives me nuts in all senses of the idiom, especially now that I know a few months from now I'll be freezing and then praying that a certain name doesn't pop up when there's an announcement about an attack on US troops. Be careful who you love, folks.

Which makes what happened the other day all the more upsetting.

I was out getting in trouble in the nearest fiber craft shop (I knit, crochet, spin wool, sew clothing so it'll actually fit me, and do other things with pointy sticks so I am not tempted to stab willful idiots with them) and had just selected a few orphan skeins to buy. While I was getting the yarn wound into useable blobs rather than the long, twisted hanks it's sold in, I got into a conversation with an older woman in the store I'm familiar with. She has plenty of advice, generally good for whatever situation I find myself in and always good for calming me down out of my initial panic when I think I'm in trouble. It was nothing serious this time, we were just shooting the shit about the semester starting and whether I think I'll do well in my classes.

So I was caught utterly flatfooted when this came out of the blue:

"Are there any cute boys in your classes?"

I know I've mentioned Moreau to her, but I thought she might have mixed me up with someone else.

"Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler, and Michael Sheen don't attend Big State U, last I knew. And besides, I have one in uniform out East."

"But what about here? Having a boyfriend doesn't mean you have a ring on your finger, and there's-"

At this point my brain shut off the connection to my ears. Luckily, it also disconnected my mouth for about thirty seconds, or I would have been screaming obscenities to the tune of:


I stammered something about being loyal that probably looked and sounded weak. I can never articulate clearly when I'm upset. It's hard to enunciate when your lips are pulled back so far you're showing off the scars where your wisdom teeth used to be, or when your teeth are chewing on nothing because they can't take a chunk out of what upset you.

Then I paid, grabbed the bag of yarn, and bolted before I could do something stupid. I was beyond upset. I wanted blood. I wanted to rip down the whole building with my bare hands.

More than anything, I wanted a sympathetic ear, but the one I knew was immediately at hand was no longer there.

Great. As if I didn't have to deal with "he's military, you know what they're like" and encouragements to break up so I can "graze in greener pastures," now I have someone who had a military husband from when she was my age giving me a wink-wink nudge-nudge encouragement to cheat on my boyfriend just because our connection isn't formal. This is upsetting on too many levels to articulate. I can't even swear properly. And I thought I knew this woman well enough to...oh, damn it.

Looks like I'm not setting foot in there for a while. Or sewing my mouth shut before I do. It's the only fiber shop in town, and I want to be able to go back more than I want to show her exactly what I meant when I said I used to be a little ball of rage.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Next time, just use a d*** flyswatter.

Ah, college. Where else can you be entertained by just looking out the window?

I was completely oblivious to this whole scene until I came out in time to watch the tow truck come and haul away the vehicle in question, but apparently my little chunk of the Midwest is good for something aside from universities, the occasional meth lab, and idiotic urban planning. It seems we're also growing a bumper crop of future Darwin Award winners, as demonstrated by the story that led to the tow truck hauling away a certain vehicle outside the apartment building and an upstairs neighbor getting the fear of God put into him.

Note: all names and some minor details have been changed to protect the gormless from embarrassment and my butt from being sued.

The neighbor (who will be known from here as N for obvious reasons) and a friend of his (F, for ****ing idiot) are returning home from a late-night errand when F notices that they have an extra passenger. Somehow, a trilobite-sized spider has climbed onto their car antenna and is clinging on for dear life. F is an arachnophobe, which I can sympathize with after a bad reaction to a bite in my past, but I have no earthly idea why F decided that what he did next was anything but a Bad Idea.

F has an airsoft gun in his car. He decides that the best way to get rid of Shelob is to shoot it off the antenna with this gun, which looks remarkably like a very real weapon. He pulls out this gun and shoots it, apparently dispatching Shelob after a few shots with attendant screams of terror.
Another person witnesses what looks like a deranged man shooting at cars and calls the cops, who understandably react badly to this piece of information.

N is the first to notice the first black-and-white following them with its lights flashing, but F tells N to ignore it. Then, about two blocks later (and right outside the building, as things turned out), seven cop cars swarm their car and bring it to a halt, both occupants are yanked out and thrown to the ground with the BFGs pointed straight at their heads, and the cops promptly tear through the car searching for the gun. All of this with everyone screaming at the top of their lungs, sirens going, and the safeties on some very serious weapons being removed.

And, yes, I was completely oblivious to all of this. Even though the apartment I live in was separated only by a front yard and a sidewalk from the action.

F spent the night in the pokey, the car was impounded, and N was sent on his way to change his underwear and stop shaking.

I wonder how F's going to explain that one to future employers.

*edit* Grr. Stupid spacing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Proof that money does not equal class.

My living situation is such that I'm in one block of relatively cheap apartments, but live a parking garage and a dumpster away from the newer set of apartments that cost two to three times what I pay in monthly rent. The whole block is owned by the same realty, but the apartments across the way are generally the roomy ones that are ideal for parties.

On my way back from the library earlier tonight, I was about to cross the street when I saw two objects come flying off of one of the top balconies and hit the rock gardens underneath, both landing with weird splatting noises. After making sure no more of the mysterious objects were going to follow, I picked my way over to the garden to take a look...

...and found a flip-flop of the type favored by 85% of the students here and a slip-on shoe.

I don't care who you are - civilized (or at least sober) humans generally do not throw shoes off of balconies at odd hours of the night. Pity they didn't throw the mates, or I'd have some new shoes right now.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Crawling out of hibernation...

I'm still alive, just somewhat swamped by the world and in the race to finish my degree on time without letting the stress get to me. (A stock tip, for those still interested: invest in any pharmaceutical company that makes antacids. You'll make a mint in December and April.)

One hurdle to "official" adulthood I've cleared is moving into my own apartment, although I doubt learning how to deal with loud neighbors was on the "official" list. I have not attempted to take matters into my own hands after three in the morning by greeting them with sharp implements and an evil smile. I really must be mellowing with age. Five years ago, I'd have knocked down their collective doors (yes, my neighbors on all sides are the culprits) and done some very distressing things to the sound system, drinks, and the host in short order. Breaking crockery and blasting music at two in the morning does not make for a very happy neighbor, especially when you do it right outside that neighbor's window.

The beginning of the semester also brought back both of my jobs, although this year I got tossed to a new professor and a new class, along with another TA. (With about a hundred students in the class, most of whom regularly attend - there's a surprise for a Gen. Ed. class - we're kept quite busy, especially thanks to the agonizingly slow system known as Blackboard that the class also uses for the occasional online quiz and assignment submission.) The pickings at my primary job aren't quite as rich as they used to be, but I'm waiting for the "harvest" at the end of the semester and just before and after the big vacation times. There's still plenty, anyway - you just have to know where to look.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Things I did not know two hours ago:
1) Although they look and feel solid and outweigh their average user, most exercise machines are actually made of hollow bars and tubes of metal. They're pretty lightweight, and ordinarily that's a good thing. Ordinarily.
2) While aware that repeatedly stressing the same portion of anything will eventually deform or break it, I had no idea that the amount of force put out by the leg of an exercising human over a period of maybe a month was capable of creating sufficient stress.
3) Hollow metal hitting a concrete floor sounds like a gunshot when you're standing on top of the metal in question. It's also loud enough to be heard on every floor of a two-story building with a basement, although the basement's construction means it generally "eats" sound.
4) It cannot put a dent in cement - however, it also doesn't absorb the shock of more or less stomping full force on said cement. In other words, folks, it hurts when you land on it barefoot, and if you aren't hanging on you're going to fall over sideways.
I'm fine, aside from a really jumpy heart rhythm and a sore heel, but the machine's totaled. Good thing it was free. It's going out to the curb as soon as we figure out how to muscle it up the stairs.
And here I was, thinking the most exciting part of my day was locating some worthwhile stuff at a few garage sales.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Did I miss a bulletin?

Because lately it seems like more and more people are loudly and proudly proclaiming themselves to be willfully ignorant on several basic levels, and to be of the sort that would gladly meddle in my life when I couldn't care less about how they conduct theirs.
For instance, people who, when they hear about my choice of profession, ask whether or not I have to believe in evolution to be accepted. Aside from treating evolution as a belief, which is on a par with saying you believe in digestion, they act as though I'm going to glance side-to-side nervously, then lean over and whisper in their ear about instances of good True Believers being oppressed because they refused to believe in evolution.
I've discovered I have a hell of a talent for bullshitting when it comes to getting away from these folks as fast as possible without burning sneaker rubber or someone getting more than their pride hurt.
Then there are the folks I tried reasoning with about contraception at a pro-birth protest. Oy vey. I would have gotten further with the proverbial brick wall, and at one point I started looking around for a camera as a sign that this was actually going on a prank TV show or a sign reading "Every Sperm is Sacred." There's just no other explanation as to why someone would flat-out tell me to my face that the invention of the Pill "caused the idea of abortion."
(And I nearly broke a rib trying to not laugh when I explained that birth control and abortion had been around for as long as humans have been able to put two and two together. There are just some things you don't want to do, like douse yourself in steak sauce and then kick a Doberman in the nuts, or laugh at the kind of people who shoot OB/GYNs.)
Well, fine, let those ladies live with their delusions. Even my former Roomie, who, as darling as she was to me, insisted on being infuriatingly immune to logic, history, and any knowledge of what humans are like beyond the ideal that her religion promoted, and asked if I ever felt empty or incomplete due to my not giving a toss one way or another about religion.
The problem comes when they want to make sure I don't get to live my life the way I want to live it.

Grubbing in the dirt, Part #41792367

Contrary to popular belief, I wasn't one of those kids who walked home caked in enough dirt to add an inch of topsoil to the yard, so doing what I usually do around the house is sort of amazing considering how I hated getting dirty in elementary school.
Fast forward to undergraduate school at a university that's chock-full of...well, I'll save that for another time - and I'm the one willingly shoving my hands into trash cans full of everything except human body fluids and/or waste to fish out something that looks interesting. I apparently got a serious case of the "Oooh, Shiny" from a magpie, and finding everything from laundry money (seriously, how did several pennies, nickels, and dimes wind up in a trash can) to an extra load's worth of detergent in the bottle by just looking around does nothing to discourage it.
Over the summer, I've switched to occasionally looking in boxes dumped on the curb and mostly throwing around bags of dirt and sand while I look after the garden my family keeps trying to start in most of the yard. Potatoes are high-maintenance - you have to keep piling up dirt and sand or they won't actually produce anything - and really good for building upper body strength.
And now I just learned that I've been accepted into the community college's summer field school program. It won't even be a sleepaway field school, since it's so close to home. It'll be three hours each afternoon of shovel bumming at a chosen location, and cataloguing and otherwise learning how to properly handle artifacts in the morning.
I don't know if my rapidly darkening skin pigment comes more from being out in the sun so much or from the fact that I'm actually covered in dirt up to the knees and elbows until I take a power washer to myself.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hey! You in the toga with the "Muse" tattoo!

Get back over here!
Or at least leave me some of those ideas you're scribbling on your notepad. I could use some right about now.
*insert sound of someone dropping a box of ten reams of paper into my lap*
Oh. Thanks.
I'll be back as soon as I sort through all of these things, folks, and get the growling about airline travel out of my system. I just got back from visiting Dr. Moreau and my brain's still settling itself.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Your scheduled annual superbug panic will start...NOW.

I know I'm coming in on the late end of things for the current brouhaha, but I doubt we've seen the last of the swine flu (or H1N1, or whatever its name has been changed to now. I've been up to my ears in notes, old assignments, and schedules, and haven't really paid attention beyond the pandemic level and the infectivity rate versus death toll. Mea culpa.) Still, maybe this will get people to sit up and pay attention to the fact that maybe we're not as invincible as we think.

I'm not terribly worried yet, even though my roommate sounds like she's going to hack up a lung, but I am keeping my eyes open and being a little more careful than usual. If it hits, there's nothing I could do but ride out the resultant cytokine storm and hope it doesn't kill me or leave me with brain damage. I'm remembering what I can about the 1918 pandemic, but it's not really helping. There's not much prevention mentioned in those accounts and too much of what went wrong.

And it seems that my paranoid streak finally came in handy. I have plenty of food and minor medicine (fever reducers, rubbing alcohol, and bandages) on hand if I can't go out for some reason. But I doubt it'll get as bad as the fall of 1918. I hope, rather.

In the meantime, I'll be occupying myself (between finals and other assorted junk) trying to exterminate the human race here:

Pandemic 2

And having fun reading old End of the World science fiction. I'm getting a little tired of fielding e-mails and calls from the phantom students who never attended the class I TA'd for.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I'm back, what'd I miss?

Sorry for the dearth of posts lately, but things have gotten a little crazy, work-load wise, up my way. I'll probably be more coherent once finals are over.

The next encounter with the vampire technician was cut short due to a little thing called an infiltration, so now I have a very interesting bruise on one arm. No data on whether or not he was going to discuss biology versus theology with me, but while everyone else was running around patching me up so I didn't bleed out into my arm or all over the floor, we both made fun of Twilight, which was playing on the TV they set up for the donor's distraction, and got into the vampire vs werewolf squabble (my stance: I'd rather be a vampire, at least at first, so I still have some control over myself rather than risk hurting someone I care about. Werewolves still rock just as hard, so if I got to spend my "training" well away from humans, I wouldn't mind at all. As to who wins in a fight: assuming equal experience, it goes to whoever gets the drop on the other.)

The pro-birth, anti-contraception, anti-willingly childless groups came through campus, so I got to spend some time playing with their heads. I think most of what I said went over their heads, such as the fact that being pregnant with me nearly killed my mother not being an inspirational story. (Yes, one of the girls said that. Inspirational. That sizzling sound you heard was every neuron in my brain frying at the thought of someone being forced through this being "inspirational." I felt terrible when I learned just how hard she'd had it, and she fought tooth and nail to be able to have just me. Imagine if she hadn't wanted to be a mother....)

And before I get hate mail about that, I'll call you pro-life if you're consistently so: vegetarian/vegan (I'm generally lenient on this point, since if you're dirt poor you don't really have much of a choice and meat is still great stuff - just show some consideration for non-humans, like no throwing away your dog at the side of the road when the dog becomes inconvenient), anti-war, anti-death penalty, promotion of good health care for everyone from womb to tomb, and all that other good stuff. And be intelligent about it. Don't tell me shit like "the birth control pill was the inspiration for the idea of abortion," or "NFP is 99% effective," or even "there is never any reason for an abortion."

Anyway, it's crunch time. I'll probably update once I'm semi-coherent after turning in the last of four large papers and slogging through my work shifts.

Friday, April 17, 2009

"The Sun Will Rise," Round Two

A while back, I wrote about a vampire (read: a medical technician who does all of the messy work of handling human blood and plasma) back at the plasma clinic who was apparently trying to pick a fight over evolution. I did manage to get him a list of literature, but throwing something out there and hoping it sticks is not what I'd call a proper rematch.

Just the other day, I wound up in his section again. He was reading the literature on the list I wrote out for him, and he seemed genuinely interested. Maybe it wasn't an attempt to pick a fight after all.

I'm not holding my breath, however. Tomorrow will be round three, and I'm not certain if

A) He'll be there

B) He'll have time to discuss what I offered, or

C) If he'll come up with something else to try to pick a fight over.

I'm hoping that he's honestly looking at what I've offered instead of deconstructing it, but I'll keep my mouth shut until I know more.

Friday, April 3, 2009

I had a little bird...

...and his name was Enza
I opened up the window
And in flew Enza.

I made a slight mistake when I was grading tests in the middle of class while the students watched a movie. My mistake was to listen with one ear, and occasionally look up at the screen.

Of course, this being a class about human adaptation and a quick overview of evolution, it was about a recent disaster that showed how a different genetic roll of the dice would spell out life or death - the 1918 influenza epidemic.

That epidemic has lived at the back of my mind ever since I learned about it, along with all of the other ways the world as we know it could end. But it's terrifying for two reasons, one of which is that it defied all logic as to how a disease should behave. Microorganisms, be they bacteria or virii (viruses?), don't want to kill their host quickly. They want the host to survive so that they have a chance to spread, and not be stuck in a rotting body when the host keels over. And it's the flu, for chrissakes - you feel miserable for maybe a week, you spend some time recovering, but you do recover. But the Spanish Lady moved so fast that people were healthy in the morning and dead by nightfall. Sometimes entire households would fall sick, and on occasion everyone or nearly everyone under that roof would die, in a week or two.

The other frightening thing is that the epidemic was forgotten so quickly. How on earth do you forget things like shortages of coffins and a backhoe being needed to dig a mass grave, or the carts collecting the dead like something out of the time of the Black Plague? How do you forget people dying because their lungs filled up with fluid and drowned them on dry land?

And how on earth can anyone be so arrogant about the human race or science being invincible after being slapped in the face like this?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The hunt was good, and the gods are pleased.

I love it when libraries hold book sales, mostly because you can find books that the stores tend not to carry that are amazing in their own right and can get them pretty cheaply. This is a good thing for a bibliophile like me, and hopefully I've managed to snag some things I can give as gifts. Finding books for my family and Moreau and his kin can be trickier than usual. I never seem to find exactly what anyone wants, but I think I've turned up some good ones in this trip.

Tomorrow, I'll sort the bunch out into keepers and secondhand store books, and then see if I can haul the bunch over to either of the stores and trade them for credit. With any luck, the pile will be large enough to make the trip worth it without breaking my back or straining my shoulder when I inevitably drop the pile one way or another.

Hopefully I won't drop it on my foot. I managed to whang myself with a one-pound padlock Sunday night. I had no idea that smashing one toe would mess up my walk so badly. Still, I'm walking, and I'm not on crutches or in a cast. It could always be worse.

And I'm still grinning. I got to haul out as many books as I could carry with no help (and I can haul a lot when properly motivated) for only three dollars. Now, if only I had enough shelf space...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hypothermia (almost) in the name of education

Something I didn't know this morning: while it is unpleasant to be heavily rained on while bicycling, it is physically knock-your-breath-out painful to be heavily rained on while trying to ride into the wind, especially when the wind chill is below freezing. I'm still not totally sure whether my fingers have thawed.

Before you start thinking I'm that much of an idiot or masochist, I have to say in my defense that it was dry, if a little gray, when I originally set out. I headed out to check out one of the new exhibits at the local historical museum and to pick up a few groceries on the way back (in what may or not be coincidence, the exhibit was all about food preparation and eating, and how it's changed over the years from settlement to modern times). Getting almost blown off my bike was unexpected, as were the sudden gusts that felt like hammer blows once I was soaked.

As for the exhibit, while they could only fit in four kitchens, they crammed a lot of information into those four exhibited time periods. What we think of as "American" food was by and large brought in by the immigrant population. The actual diet that most Americans ate was top-heavy with meat and bread or other baked goods, made mostly with corn due to wheat being so expensive. Settlers didn't care much about vegetables and ate as few as humanly possible when they had the choice, from what I gathered.

Oh, and a lot of women died from being burned. Childbirth was the primary cause of death, but death from a cooking-related accident, particularly from the open fire they had to work over, was a close second. And, given this, people wonder why I nearly fall over laughing when they start talking about the good old days.

Things got a little better with the advent of indoor plumbing or a close approximation, but not by much. The post-World War 1 period just looked sterile to me, with white enameled everything - I understand what drove it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

And then came the "modern" kitchen that was supposed to be set in the '50s or '60s but looked alarmingly like the kitchen at home, even down to the fridge that abruptly went kaput when I was nine or so. (I finally learned that that color was supposed to be avocado.) That was in conjunction with a lot of the appliances that we think of as kitchen staples (although I am still personally baffled by automatic dishwashers) and the auto boom.

One interesting little point I learned was that I am apparently in a county known for having the most fast-food joints and restaurants per capita. No wonder this is a car town - cars and restaurants apparently exist in a feedback loop of their own beyond the usual urban sprawl.

Then I had to make my way back through the aforementioned rain with a quick stop for beans and rice. It was still worth the adventure, even if my legs are only now thawing out from my jeans nearly freezing on.

Monday, March 23, 2009

So when do I get the broomstick?

Ethnology was...interesting this afternoon. I really don't want to analyze the results too deeply, because I'm paranoid enough as it is, but this really is interesting.

At the start of the class, the prof announced that she knew someone in the class was a witch (in this context, it could have been male or female). We had to guess who it was by a silent write-in election.

If you want to know, I wrote in that it was the prof. I was being a smart-ass more than anything else, since nobody I knew of claimed to have been involved in anything remotely paranormal.

Come the end of the class (during which everyone sort of nodded off), she announced that the class had elected yours truly as the witch. Apparently I violate the social norms of the class by asking questions, volunteering information, and being the first with my hand up as opposed to sitting silently and only waking up long enough to ask if something will be on the test. The other person who's nominated the most often is the prof, who's capable of doing the most harm to another. It just happened to be me this time.

Hmm. I wonder if that means I have to have a cat now. I'm allergic to cats, too. Can you substitute a dog or another animal for a familiar, or is there a hypoallergenic cat I can adopt? And when do I get to start making things happen like ensuring my garden gets past the seedling stage or getting those stupid extra thirty pounds off my waist?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Klotho: Spinner of Life

...As opposed to me. I just figured out the whole "turning rough, cobwebby strands of wool I think are about to disintegrate in my hands into useable yarn" two or three days ago, and there's no way I could manage anything as complicated as the raw makings of a life.

As of now I have a respectable lump of electric green wool I'm still turning alternately into chunky single-ply and something that could be used for dental floss, a big bag of odds and ends (they came free with the class), a blob of brown wool the size of a child's head (that wasn't free, but it's cheap enough for practice material), and a couple of weird-looking spindles I think I could more easily bonk someone over the head with than use for their intended purpose. And I still keep bursting out laughing at the look of the larger one - a giant "My First Pencil" for the shaft and a wooden toy wheel as the weight. Is there anything on this earth or elsewhere that screams "beginner" quite like that?

The dogs won't have to worry about our family affording their kibble if I can get the hang of this, though. Their fur is long enough, I can convince them to hold still long enough for a bath and brush time, and they shed enough to make another dog between the two of them in a week. Now, if I could just convince my neighbors to let me brush out their long-haired dogs....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Will the weather make up its gods-be-damned mind already? I'm sick of freezing in the morning under a pile of three blankets and two dogs! Especially when their idea of waking me up for their walk is to sit on my chest and breathe in my face. It's always too early for dog breath.

But the ground did thaw enough for me to get the first seeds planted in the house garden, even though the only crop worth sowing this early is peas. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to get a double crop this year. Hell, maybe I'll be lucky and the plants won't be eaten by the squirrels and rabbits.

And I'm glad I don't have anything too serious to think about right now. Two big research projects, two book reviews, and class registration - that's pretty much it, although I'm fretting over which classes to get out of the way in the upcoming semester and whether a summer in a field school would be worth the splurge. It blew my mind when I heard a few of my classmates chatting about their upcoming weddings instead of school. None of us is over twenty-two, and these people want to spend the rest of their life with one person. I couldn't make a decision like that. I don't even know what I want to have for dinner today, and I'm nowhere near certain if my sweetheart is someone I'd be willing to go through the rest of my life with. How on earth could they get engaged before college freshmen year? I'd have run away screaming.

I wonder how the weddings are going. I think at least one was supposed to take place over Spring Break.

Edit: I hate these spacing snafus.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Oy vey and ouch.

Poorly Executed Good Idea: attempting to break off a sugar addiction (I'm sorry, but when thumping withdrawal headaches set in a day and a half after the last candy bar, it's an addiction) by going cold turkey in the middle of midterms. I am now past the headache stage, but I've gone into a crash that apparently hasn't stopped since Saturday afternoon. I'm terrified of how my blood sugar must look now, and I don't even want to think about what my weight is doing.

Bad Idea: mentioning graduate school and field schools to an academic advisor, even in passing, when your desire to attend is uncertain at best, you have no clue what you would study in graduate school, you're tired of being a student, and you're already wondering where your next month's rent will come from, let alone any savings and "oh, SHIT" funds. I understand the desire to get more archaeologists with Master's degrees and field experience out into the world, but dismissing my wish to leave school debt-free with "get some loans" does not count as financial advisement.

Very Bad Idea: hoping against hope that the business majors actually give a damn about their grades for once and did well on the test, rather than blowing it off and apparently trying to get the lowest grades possible. This is right up there with hoping that at least half the class or more will show up, and that half of the attendees will not do the crossword/Sudoku, text in class, fall asleep, do homework from other classes (barring a serious time crunch - I've been there), or talk and completely ignore the subject matter. And people wonder why I don't want to teach unless I get a dart/squirt gun to use on those students.

Good Idea: finding fiber craft projects to work on, grabbing some of the bargain-bin balls of yarn, and hoping that some manic knitting time over Spring Break will smooth out any internal rough patches. (Reciting the Litany Against Fear gets old after a while, and people don't bug you when you're doing something with your hands and thinking.)

I'm going to finish some of the rougher outlines of some big projects, study for my language midterm, and crash. I hope whoever might be reading this is having a slightly better day.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"I'm in it for the money, I'm in it for the money..."

That's what I keep telling myself every time something comes up in the class I TA for. I'm in it for the money. I'm in it for that boost to my paycheck that means I can afford both the rent and groceries. (That's a rant for another time - paying rent on an apartment you're not living in yet.)

That's how I can withstand frustrations like students who've done nothing but sleep or the daily sudoku in class calling me over to ask me for the answers during one of the four exams.

That's how I can take a non-lethal approach to things like tearing down every flyer for an old test/homework/answers to everything site you can find, only to be approached by two classmates handing out those palm-sized ads as you walk out the door to your next class.

That's why I haven't brought an air horn or water pistol into class (the prof loved the idea, but she vetoed it in the end) to wake up and publicly shame students who fall asleep or do the crossword or text in the middle of class. I don't care if it's just one of the graduation requirements. Suck it up and at least look like you're paying attention and taking notes. Hell, actually take notes. Then you wouldn't have to call me over during a test to ask me something you would have known if you'd applied one neuron to taking notes or studying.

And it's why I don't throw up my hands and quit when only twenty people out of a class of a hundred come back after a break for the day's notes after the exam.

On the other hand, I did love the story of the nun with the blow gun (who was the physics teacher of the prof I'm TA-ing for.) That woman was infinitely better than my physics teacher, who attempted to use quantum physics to prove that Creation occurred. And I'm loving all of the conversations I get to eavesdrop on. Not intentionally - the profs apparently just see me as part of the furniture when they're having a conversation. I get free academic career advice, a heads-up on future courses, and an honest sounding board for some of the things I don't dare say out loud to people my own age or immediate family.

Well, maybe I'm not just in it for the money after all. But it'd still be a lot easier if I didn't have to deal with the idiots.

Did someone drop a coin roll?

For the past week, I've been finding nothing but pennies everywhere - indoors, outdoors, on the sidewalk, on the carpet, under vending machines (yes, I do crawl under and behind vending machines to reach loose change if I can squeeze in), and wedged into the lounge furniture cushions.

I've amassed somewhere in the area of two dollars in change, and only three of the coins I've found this week aren't pennies. I literally scooped up a handful off the sidewalk just two or three days ago - they were just lying in a cluster on the sidewalk. I picked up something in the area of fifty cents just on that square of sidewalk.

Now, the snow's been gone for quite a while, even if it isn't exactly balmy. Someone would have seen these long before I happened by to scoop them up, and judging from the salt and patina on all of them, they've all been there for a while. So what exactly happened? I can't be the only one who's picking up loose change left and right.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Quick question.

Why is it that, now that more and more formerly middle class people are getting public assistance like food stamps or even welfare, that suddenly getting assistance is no longer a bad mark of character? The last time I looked, it was all to do with the fact that you were too poor to afford all of your grocery or utilities bills or your rent, and not with you being stupid or lazy or whatever it is, the same way making $500,000 had nothing to do with your being a hard worker or a good person or anything but stupidly lucky.

I am directing this question to the people on the bus I rode this morning who I overheard sneering about "welfare queens" (for the record, Ronald Reagan's example never existed - he made her up) a few months ago. For the past week or so, several of the bus route regulars who made those remarks have been thankful for being able to get help in the form of food from a church group or food bank. Some were talking about hellishly long lines in the social services offices, or tragic stories they've overheard about other people in that office, or telling the driver and other fellow passengers about relatives or friends or friends of relatives who were hit.

Did you ever realize that, one bad turn later, the woman you sneered at for daring to use food stamps in the grocery line could be you?

Just asking.

A rant and some minor updates.

To all of the doom-sayers on both ends of the current economic predictions: quit it. I don't believe we're going to be reduced to Donner Party measures, but neither do I believe that the economy has to keep growing. We were overdue for this, actually. What I want to know is how you plan to soften the impact for those of us who don't have three years' living expenses socked away. I'll do my part, but I expect you to do yours, got it?

Now, with that rant over with, on to some of the week's highlights.

I somehow managed to win a book in a raffle this afternoon. Granted, I wasn't expecting to win something like "Food Security & Sustainability For the Times Ahead," but it might be a good read anyway once I get a chance to sit down with it between classes and work. What's even better is that I didn't have to pay anything to enter.

There's been a serious temperature rise in my area of the Midwest - we're talking about T-shirt weather a couple of days ago, and as far as anyone can see there's no snow or ice anywhere outside. Not having to slip and skid on the only bridge that leads to my main grocery store - good news.

And while it might get boring after a while, I now have enough rice and frozen veggies to make quite a few healthy meals. I don't know how long the soy sauce will hold out, though.

Now to get the free loaf of bread from the local bakery, and life will be good for a couple weeks.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


What's the fastest way to find out the limitations of a human body?

In my case, I have two answers:

1) Go through four hour-long exercise sessions with demanding (some might even say sadistic) instructors.

2) Fall down a flight of stone stairs. After successfully navigating three icy patches at a run outside, no less. How does falling on your butt and cracking your ankle lead to your skull ringing like a bell, anyway?

There was a third, but one night in the ER, losing fifteen pounds in less than six hours, and four stitches in my face were plenty. I'd rather not take the food poisoning route again. (But I will take the fifteen pounds knocked off my stomach and waist.)

At any rate, geography doesn't look like such a bad deal now.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"The sun will rise, the sun will set..."

If it wasn't for the fact that I find being stuck with a needle a very unpleasant experience, I would probably have spent a few mornings at Vampires, Inc. by now, instead of just this morning.

Then again, I'm not so sure that I'd want to go back, money or not, after this morning's encounter.

One of the vampires who was working in the half of the clinic I was in asked me if I was a college student, and what I was studying. I answered that I studied humans as a phenomenon in and of themselves. The vampire promptly asked me if we considered evolution to be a law in our profession despite its flaws.


Folks, never ask an anthropologist - or any reputable scientist - anything about evolution without reassuring them that you're not trying to tear it to shreds unless you want to see what a human undergoing a sudden spike in stress will do.

I answered every question as politely as I could, which turned out to be very polite even for me. Having a needle intended for patients over five hundred pounds in your arm tends to do that to you, especially if the person you are trying not to offend is the only one who is allowed to remove it.

Aside from the usual confusion over the common vernacular version of "theory" and the scientific "Theory", the vampire had issues with why humans have stopped evolving (we haven't), how life got started (the Theory of Evolution doesn't cover that, it just covers what happened after that: if you want an answer for the beginning of life, consult a chemist, not a biologist), how a rock can turn into a single-celled organism which then turns into a human (even I'm not sure what left field that came out of), and a glance in the direction of irreducible complexity, although that was never touched on.

I offered to find some basic material that answers these sorts of questions, but I doubt he'll read them. I think this was really an attempt to bait me more than anything else.

At any rate, I left the clinic minus a pint of plasma and a sawbuck richer, and with some arguments to puzzle over. I've never been so glad to be an atheist, either. You can change your ideas. Beliefs? Not so much, from what I've seen.

Edit: crud. I can't tag to save my life. I'm yanking those.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Watching grass grow would be a carnival after this.

Discovery of the day: the only thing duller than taking a test where you know all of the material backwards and forwards, and have had it drilled into your head to the point of nausea... having to watch a room of approximately 100 students take that test.

I would have fallen asleep if I hadn't had to continually stalk around the room, keeping my eyes open for signs of cheating, looking menacing, and threatening to confiscate any cell phone that went off during the exam. I almost did during the ten minutes or so of notes that followed if not for stabbing myself in the leg with my pencil.

Lessons learned today:

1) Eat a better lunch before coming to marathon days.

2) Pack a better dinner.

3) Get my ass to bed at a reasonable hour.

4) If I can stay awake through something this boring, I can most certainly stay awake through the most boring presentations imaginable.

Either they're brilliant or they're idiots.

While digging through the humble-jumble piles of stuff on the Manager's Special table the other day at Kroger, I stumbled across something that was worth a giggle.

Naturally, it had to happen when I didn't have my camera or cell phone with me.

I was eyeing a bottle of cooking sherry and wishing I had the facilities to cook a chicken with the sherry - what I'd give to have a meal I cooked myself - when something decidedly odd about a box of bagged candy caught my eye. I'd glanced at it earlier, but since I'm trying to bring my weight back down to a healthier range I'd ignored it after that.

Now, though, I took a closer look at the price tag someone had stuck on the nearest bag. These tags are impossible to miss, at least at the local center for comestibles. They're bright yellow with an eye-stabbing orange stripe across the new low price, and just under the barcode on the yellow patch is the original price. I guess the idea is to make sure the cashier doesn't miss the fact that it's discounted, and to show the shopper how much they're saving.

Manager's Special price: eighty-nine cents per bag.

Original price: thirty cents per bag.

I checked most of the bags on top, and all of them had the same price tag. Oy. So a fifty-nine cent jump in price is the new version of saving money?

I couldn't help it. I just started giggling. When a stock girl wandered over to see what I was laughing about, I just pointed to the price tag. She started laughing too, and took the bag to the service desk to show a friend of hers while I decided I'd stayed long enough and headed for the checkout line, laughing all the way through and all the way home after that.

But...really, if that helped get people to buy it, wow. I'd better take a closer look at the price tags next time.

In The Details

I'm not the most observant person in the world. Actually, I'm pretty sure I'm less observant than your average half brick. But even I can't miss some things, even if it takes me a while to put together the picture they form.

For one, I've seen the price of the cheapest staples you can buy without eating cardboard - beans, rice, bread, flour, and the like - jump incredibly, such as brown rice going from somewhere around ninety-nine cents a pound to $2 a pound. Adding to this is the fact that, in my home town at least, the demand for unemployment/assistance programs and food banks has risen, and the main local employers are cutting jobs.

I've never seen a "Manager's Special" table before - I told you before, I'm about as observant as a half brick, and did most of my chronological growing up in years of plenty. But now there are carts and tables of specially marked goods scattered through the stores where I shop. Sometimes it's worth the trouble to fish something out (like a pound of dry pasta for fifty cents), sometimes not, but I always look to make sure. It's worth a laugh on occasion, anyway. (More about that later.)

In both of my cities - the one I call my permanent home, and the one I attend school in - the major employers include at least one university and one community college. They're still hiring, as far as I can tell, but a lot of students aren't going to make it here in the first place without financial aid. I really don't want to know what it looks like at the graduate school level, or what the profs I work around are saying when I'm not close enough to eavesdrop.

My other part-time job is working as a trash and recycling hauler (you'd laugh your ass off if I told you the actual job title), which means that every morning I get more of an eyeful of someone's life and culture than I'm comfortable with, even as an anthropologist. Most of the time in archaeology you end up digging in someone's trash anyway. It's always the insignificant stuff that tells you the most about Joe Average's life. I wonder what my profs would make of the fact that I'm not finding as much brand-name food packages any more, or food in general unless it's growing lifeforms on the verge of sentience.

You always find stuff that buries the needle on your Weird-Shit-O-Meter when you work with trash, but sometimes it's the absence of something that buries the needle. I used to find mostly unused notebooks as a matter of course, but lately the only pages I find are covered in notes, and the notebooks themselves are nowhere in evidence. Or the "throwaway" books, the type that are only good for one class for one semester, are so covered in notes that my hands get smeared with graphite when I pick them up, and there's little to no notebook paper at all. The bundles of coupons everyone gets with their books are also suddenly nowhere to be found.

I shop at thrift stores when I need clothes, but I'm never used to them being so crowded.

My boss for the trash and recycling gig just told me that his customers - the people who process the recycling - are screaming for purer and purer stuff, because they're cutting back on the hours and tech needed to sort and wash the "dirtied" paper and other stuff. And he's asked us to cut back on the amount of hours we work per week. I know a pay cut when I see one, but I'm not too worried. On the other hand, if I depended on this for my tuition and rent, I'd be sweating and thinking about taking on a third job. I wonder how my coworkers are doing.

So, tell me: how many devils do you see?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I think you picked the wrong person to be angry with.

I may have made a mistake the other night when, in the middle of a discussion of sustenance patterns (how people get most of their food and what you can extrapolate about their society from that), I admitted to occasionally dumpster diving and scavenging at the side of the road. It's nothing I connect with shame or being the lowest of the low. It's just another way to get food, sometimes clothing, and a few other items that make life a lot easier than having to buy them, especially when you have very little cash in your pocket, have a morbid fear of debt, and are saving all of your pay for the rent on an apartment.

Yeah, I'm that much of a tightwad. I'm not ashamed of it. There are worse things I could be, or could be called.

There was a second class after this that most of the same students shared. While a few of us were sitting in the next room, waiting for class to start, one of my classmates from ethnology (the first class) walked in and declared that dumpster divers, freegans, and other people in the same vein were stupid for "playing poor" and trying to save the world by what they did. I didn't want to start a fight, but neither did I want that remark going unchallenged, so I just told her as calmly as I could that I never pretended to be poor or meant to save the world.

That started a conversation - more of a monologue, really - about her views on the situation.

Now, everyone has issues, but she had several volumes worth, and rightly so. She grew up in an extremely poor area in one of the major cities here in the Midwest. She excelled in her class just because the bar was set so damn low that showing up and doing all your homework meant you were an overachiever. From the sound of it and some of her remarks, either she was orphaned or kicked out, and she spent quite a bit of time as a homeless high school student. She's done well for herself, I admit - how many college students can say they own their own house, work at least twenty hours a week, and still go to class full time? Hell, I'm jealous of her for owning her house.

And she tore me open from stem to stern for daring to buy clothes from thrift stores or taking sealed cans of soup out of a trash can if I see them there. She told me I was stealing from people who needed cheap clothes or free food for prying a frozen bedsheet off the ground in the middle of winter.

To me, it sounded almost as though she was trying to one-up me for not having had as hard a life as she did. Then again, the wiring in my brain isn't completely straight, so I could have very well misinterpreted what she said. And it sounded like she really needed to rant and get some of that poison out of her system. I just happened to be a convenient rich kid to take it out on. I had no problem with that, once I heard part of her story. It wasn't me personally she was ripping apart.

But I'm really tired of people seeing me at Big State University and thinking of me as a spoiled brat who's never known what it's like to be anything but a spoiled brat. Even white noise can drive you nuts if you have to listen to it for long enough.

I don't know what it's like to be you. I'm not you. I'll listen and try to understand. That's what I'm learning to do. I'm an anthropologist. It's my job to listen to people talk about their lives. I'm still learning and don't have it down perfectly yet, but I'm trying.

Would it be too much to ask that you offer the same?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

At least it's not a life-or-death matter.

As one of my many oddball attempts at frugality, I turn in those soda cap points online and exchange them for stuff I can use myself, give as gifts, and in a pinch sell on eBay (assuming someone is kind enough to teach me how to use the site(s) necessary for this option.)

I did the usual turn-in of points today, and then started looking through the prizes to see if there was anything I might need in the future.

Tall veggie steamer? Nope.

Rice cooker? Not unless it does more than that.

Pans? Got plenty of those.

Magazines? I only renewed the subscription on one that I like to read.

$1,000 to pay the bills? N- Whoa, hold it! Back up, take a better look. I had to have seen a decimal point in the wrong place there.

As it turns out, no. They really did have a $1000 gift card under the sweepstakes. Oy vey. That's a sign of some sort - but whether it's "the best time to make money is when people are panicking" or "we know people are really going to need this money" is up for debate.

And yes, I did toss in an entry just for the hell of it. Two months' rent or a year of groceries - hey, I can dream.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Two weeks down, and no screams.

No screams from particularly fundamental students, at least, or anyone who might be offended by the idea of all modern humans originating in Africa, or that our very distant ancestors were glorified squirrels, or by any of those fun factoids that poke holes in the idea of our species being terribly special. I'm not going to do my victory dance yet, though. I still have fourteen more, and then there's the possibility of my proctoring one final in addition to all of my own.

I don't think I'm doing too badly as a TA, but nobody's come to me for help beyond finding out where the Powerpoints for the previous lectures were and how to get onto Blackboard for the class. They have the contact info for Prof S and the graduate student TA, so I'm not too surprised. An undergrad is at the bottom of the pecking order in any academic hierarchy. I'm not going to complain as long as the pay keeps coming.

Keep your fingers crossed. Next week, we tackle intelligent design, creationism, and "teaching the controversy."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Chief...

...and hang on to your hat. These next few months, and probably the next few years, are going to be rough.

I'll withhold my opinion of how he's doing until after the major shocks have passed. But for now, congratulations, President Obama.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What happens when you ASS-U-ME

To all financial advisors, economists, and chronological adults who base their predictions of my behavior on my educational status:

There is nothing to be gained by telling me to use the university's meal plan instead of eating out. Where do you think most of my nutrition is coming from?

I don't drink coffee, much less buy Starbuck's all the time, so please don't sneer at me to cut back on the froufrou lattes when you see me glancing through my wallet to see if I have enough cash for a bulk bucket of rice. The missing twelve dollars went to buy my meds, which jumped from $10 at the last refill to what it is now. My last few paychecks went into my savings, and I'm not touching that fund until after graduation.

Don't tell me I should be loyal to the death to any company that hires me, or become a human remora when I'm interviewing for jobs. I've seen the results of that while I was growing up. I will show up on time, I will do my best work for the pay you give me, and I will be courteous. But I will not extend loyalty to an entity that expects me to kiss its feet between the punches to my face.

I don't spend my pay on mind-altering substances. I look draggy and out-of-it because I've just been to Vampires, Inc. this morning, and the sample bottle of Gatorade hasn't made it into my bloodstream to replenish the liquid portion of my blood they took. At least I didn't faint this time. I was smart enough to not run to catch the bus afterwards.

Telling me to get off my parents' dole isn't helpful. I'm applying for scholarships left and right to make sure they don't go into debt getting me through school without accumulating a backbreaking debt of my own. You'll notice I'm working, in addition to going to school full-time. Did you really think all of that money was going to frivolous stuff?

Please, don't ask again why I have a "useless" major. You're not helping. Although I'm tempted to go through with my original senior thesis idea, "Shovel Bum Versus Wild." It'd probably be a great hit on cable, and I'd have an excuse, if not a license, to do things like harvest the fruit and nuts off the trees on the quad and hunt the squirrels for meat.

And do not - repeat, do not - try to sell me credit cards. I don't like credit cards. I don't need more than the one I have. And I don't need the bait-and-switch tactics you guys love to use eating what's left of my stomach lining.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

This is why I try not to play morbid games.

Mafia - or "Paranoia" as I originally learned it - is one of those games that sort of degenerates into a screaming, yelling mob no matter what you do. With any luck, the screaming and yelling comes from people accusing each other of being mafiosos or werewolves or the featured antagonist of your favorite version. The trick is apparently all in the narrator. The story makes or breaks the game, although any touches like dim lighting and almost dead silence can also help.

The choices for game night were either poker (which I literally learned to play at the table) or Mafia, and while neither really appealed to me, Mafia was at least semi-familiar. I got killed off pretty quickly in the first round as a townsperson, and then the narrator decided he'd join in and hand off to me.

Whatever else you could say about my performance, I'd say "memorable" would be among the adjectives.

It seems that the instructions "be creative and interesting" do not also include "let your have you lost your gods-be-damned-mind side out to play." Or, at least, "don't make people wonder what's going on in your head."

Hoo, boy. The backstory wasn't all that memorable - the mafiosos want to take over a suburban community and they've resorted to force with the last stubborn holdouts who won't sell their property - but I went nuts about the ways people died off. "The worst case of suicide I've ever seen", "if he wasn't already dead he'd have died of embarrassment," suspiciously loose ceramic roofing tiles, and at least one sentient computer eating its owner.

The town hall accusations were also grim, although I didn't need to do a whole lot of work. Those were chilling without any help from me.

And I literally just met some of those people about two hours before I went a little bonkers as the Mafia narrator. I got at least three yells of "oh my God", one of "you need to talk to someone" and various squeals of disgust or delight. And laughter. Lots of laughter. I'm not sure if I should have been more disturbed by what I came up with or with everyone laughing at the result.

On the other hand, a great time was had by all, and nobody seemed to walk away with the impression that they had a lunatic living down the hall to worry about. A few even wanted to know if I'd be available for future sessions of Mafia.

I'll call that a win.

*CLANG...thunk, thunk, thunk*

That rattling sound you hear would be the balls freezing off the brass monkey. Eight inches of snow and a wind chill near twenty below.

Naturally, classes were canceled in the wake of Jack Frost getting cranky. (A minor miracle in this area of the Midwest, where the usual response is to salt early and often, and to make grouchy noises about kids being wimpy these days.) This wouldn't be a problem if they met more often, but none of mine meet more than twice a week, and a day and a half of classes have been canceled.

Half a week into the semester and I'm already a week behind in linguistics. Crud.

And at least there's no frost on the inside of the windows this time, maybe because they face the south (but what I'd give to be allowed to put up insulating curtains.)

Well, at least they didn't cancel before the class I TA for could meet. Not that I could offer much insight or help for the first few classes of Human Origins, but let's face it, I need to plump up my pay somehow. But I have a sneaking suspicion that no amount of pay is going to make up for the shouting that I think we're in for if there are any non-believers of evolution in the class.

I'll be right back after I see if the bottle of tea I left on the windowsill has thawed yet.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Bambi on ice" springs to mind.

Everyone in this area of the state woke up to find a fine crack-glaze of ice on everything that had stopped moving for longer than ten seconds. What's more, it's misting on and off, with occasional snow that at least clings to the slick spots long enough to let you know where to throw the salt on your sidewalk.

This would be normal January weather for the Midwest, including the penguin walk everyone adopts on occasions like this and the intrepid soul who attempted to bicycle down one of the remaining brickwork streets we have (and got soundly dumped on his poorly padded rear), if you discounted the absolute lack of snow and the lack of traction in general.

For one, it's rather disconcerting to realize that, while crossing a dip in the sidewalk that serves as a driveway, your feet slip and slide down what might be a slope of five degrees to the point where, if not for some fast and fancy footwork, you will fall on your arse.

And it is damaging to your pride to realize that you can't get up a similar grade not five feet after you slid down its mate, even clinging to a drainpipe with your feet scrabbling and skidding on the ice until you look like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon come to life.

There were no falls on my part, and only one for the entire family. Nobody's hurt beyond some interesting bruises, but our egos didn't do so well.

Edit: Growl. I hate it when the spacing doesn't come out the way I've typed it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

That word doesn't mean what you think it means.

I personally don’t think I’ve earned the “Luddite” reputation most people outside my immediate family have bestowed on me. I just dislike using more advanced technology than I have to (the fewer the parts, the fewer things to go wrong), and I don’t feel the need to make my face, location, and latest mishap public.

This has led to…interesting events I doubt would have happened to a more connected person.

I baffled at least two roommates by not having a MySpace or Facebook page for them to investigate before we met face to face, but I didn’t actively attempt to take down either website or trash the computers they were using to (try to) look me up. This led to quite a few misidentifications and baffled people with my name wondering who the hell from Big State University was trying to look them up as a roommate when they had already graduated from University of Faraway State.

That was when I first heard the term “Luddite” applied to me. That honestly perplexed me. I don’t run around actively destroying anything more advanced than last century’s technology. I just read about it in the newspaper and then move on, reminding myself to wait for the final verdict about its use and for the gadget to hit a more reasonable price if it looks like something I'd want to have.

I’ve gotten stranger names applied to me. The most memorable was being called “Connor”, as in the hero of the Terminator series who’s living so far off the grid that the grid is just a distant blip on the horizon. So is sanity, towards the end of those movies, but I digress.

Allow me to clarify.

I’m wary of GMOs in the food chain or as potential organ donors and new health treatments that declare themselves to be the best things invented since the wheel, but can never seem to point to any studies from reputable sources that back up their claims. While these are necessary advancements, I don’t want to be included in the first mass case study where the people pushing the technology find out that “laboratory conditions” do not equal “what the real world will dish out.”

I’d rather not find out the hard way that they spliced cat genes into whatever sheep gave up its wool for my sweater, or that salmon is showing up in my potato patch when I didn’t toss a rotten fish in there myself as fertilizer. You have to prove it’s worth the trouble before I’ll bite.

Just because most of my birthday “would like, but isn’t a necessity” wishes come out of a non-electric catalog doesn’t mean that I’m going to give up running water or modern medical treatment. I’m not yelling “stop!” That’s pure idiocy. I’m just asking “Are you sure this is such a hot idea?”

Some people would think being next to immortal is the best idea humanity’s come up with, but I can’t figure out anything beneficial to do on a rainy day. Machines that enhance human performance? The possibility that one day the phrase “ghost in the machine” won’t just refer to rogue programming? I feel like a cyborg already, and all I have is two fillings, an anti-grinding device, and glasses so anything beyond arm’s reach isn’t an amorphous fuzzy blob.

And the idea of implants making you better than you were before they were buried in your skin gets under mine for reasons that are hard to put into words. I can’t help wondering what we’re leaving behind in our race to be the best of the next generation.

But I’m not going to destroy your technology just because it scares me. I want you to think about what you’re doing. I know you can’t see every consequence, but please think ahead. That’s all.

And I want you to fully understand what a word means before you use it. All right? It’s a pet peeve of mine that people use Spell Check and synonyms the computer suggests more than they use the dead-tree version of a dictionary or a thesaurus these days.