Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Do you consider yourself humorous?"

My office is moving to a new location in the spring. Meanwhile, we are trying to sell the current building. This means we all have to do a little cleanup work, since most of our organizational systems at the moment are not especially appealing.

The boss has also seized this purging opportunity to get rid of a few things she dislikes.

I had been noticing that most of the helpful notes I put up around the office came down after a few days or weeks. No one ever mentioned a problem, though, so I naturally assumed that the cleaning crew was amassing a valuable collection of original Clara artwork.

To prove authenticity and drive up the Antiques Roadshow price quote for future generations, I started signing my masterpieces.

In retrospect, that may have been a bad idea. Rather than illustration enthusiasts, my gifts to the art world were falling to the CEO, who apparently really hates it when I do stuff like this:

That one stayed up for about three hours, so I toned down the alert level, aiming for more “Get off my lawn!” and less “THEY WILL NEVER FIND YOUR BODY!”

The new version lasted another three days, due to some key staff taking vacation leave. I didn’t learn the awful truth, though, until another round of guerrilla seat-peeing inspired this:

With the scotch tape still fresh on its corners, another manager finally told me that the Big Boss found such missives distinctly less than entertaining, and I lost my last thin excuse to draw pictures at work.

Now I’m limited to being this obnoxious at home. My roommate is a really good sport, but it’s a little too passive-aggressive to communicate via notes with the only other member of your household. That restraint reduces me to posting warnings for myself in my own bathroom, which is considerably less satisfying.

I guess the other option is to learn a lesson about maturity and appropriate forms of workplace communication. I’d really prefer it if everyone else had to adapt and grow instead of me, though, so please just quit peeing on stuff and find me amusing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Speedy Grease

I recently got an oil change at an establishment that, to avoid attention from their legal department, I will call “Speedy Grease.”

My town has almost 20 Speedy Grease locations, which is good because I can never return to any of the three I have used so far. The first time I couldn’t figure out how to pull up to the service bay, so now they know that I’m not competent to care for a vehicle. The second time I absentmindedly tried to get in my car without paying, so that crew knows about my tenuous grasp on the conventions that govern society.

In my shame, I slunk away to a third Speedy Grease shop. This time I managed the whole transaction with only minimal failures of sentience.

All that success went to my head, and it took until Monday to notice the impressive constellation of scratches on my windows. These new decorations can only have come from that adorable little dance where they pretend to wash your windows, presumably using an old sweatshirt stuffed with gravel.

I was upset for about ten minutes, and then the battle joy started seeping in. After work, I got to go yell at Speedy Grease!

I love the prospect of a conflict that calls for righteous speech-making. Planning out a biting diatribe satisfies my primal need for occasional violence, with the added bonus of minimizing the bloodshed. On the other hand, 100% of confrontations work out better in my head than in reality. Typically, I’ll plan something like this:

…but thanks to a genetic tendency toward anger-crying, I usually discharge that frustrated energy through my eyeballs in the most humiliating way possible:

This is the same recipe by which I accidentally got a grade changed in college. It only takes a few key ingredients:

One misunderstood assignment...

One attempt to explain...

A double handful of panic about damaging a GPA over an elective music class...

…and one terrified grad student instructor who did not see this coming.

Ultimately, though, I did not so much as sniffle at the Speedy Grease guy. I also didn’t get such impressive results. In fact, the reward for my little wrath spree doubles as its own punishment: I have to go back and face that same crew to redeem my 50% discount on another oil change.

At least now I know which direction the door opens.

P.S. If you are forming a band, you can have "Wrath Spree" for free.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NaNoWriMo II: Exo-Cuter and the Statue of Liberty

We’re hitting the home stretch of National Novel Writing Month. Anyone trying to reach the 50,000 word goal needs to be about 38,341 words in by now, especially if you’re planning to take a break for your turkey-induced nap on Thursday.

I, on the other hand, already promised not to write a novel, so I’ve been turning everything within reach orange instead. See, last month I was given this forty-pound Fairytale pumpkin:

So far, the first two thirds have become three pies, three meals, three dozen cookies, and three pounds of puree for later use, plus a light spray of pumpkin paste on every surface in the kitchen.

It’s important to do my part for promoting literature, though, and I still have a crate full of spiral notebooks from elementary school. Unlike every word I wrote in high school, all of this stuff happened long enough ago that by now it’s cute instead of mortifying.

Cowrite credit on the masterpiece below goes to my brother, who was six when I was nine. He had written the original story and shown it to me. Being older, obviously superior, and entirely without my own ideas, I decided that his version was dumb and I could improve it.

The first-grader was thus responsible for the character names, setting, and plot, including all events and strategies. I was in charge of dialog tags, adjectives, and stealing the phrase “calm yourself” from Disney’s Jafar.

Our mother didn’t think my exploitative reimagining was fair, but with that reasoning Hollywood would have had to close up shop twenty years ago.

Hello. My name is Ted. We are here in TechnoWorld. Here are Ringtail, Dabson, and Exo-Cuter. We are investigators. We are on a case. We have to find the person who is scaring everyone in TechnoWorld.

Uh-oh. Dabson, do you hear what I hear? It’s the Evil Howl! We’ve got to find who’s doing it to complete our mission! Dabson, get behind this rock. Ringtail, climb that big tree and find out if you can see the culprit from there. Exo-Cuter and I will go out and find the noise-maker. We need you to tell us where to go.

“A-a little to the right,” said Ringtail. “Now straight, and to the left,” came Dabson’s deep voice from behind the large rock. “Now! You’ve got him! Throw the net over him!” cried Ringtail again, suddenly excited. “Who is he? Why was he scaring all of TechnoWorld?”

“Calm yourself, Ringtail,” said Exo-Cuter slowly. “He says his name is ThunderBeast, and that he was howling for someone to help him find the person who wants to steal the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, back on Earth.”

“Oh, Earth,” said Dabson sarcastically. “Why would we want to go back there? Didn’t we all come to TechnoWorld to get away from Earth?”

“Now, Dabson,” reasoned Ringtail, “our new friend is right. We can’t just let it be stolen.”

“You’re right, Ringtail,” I broke in. “But he isn’t exactly our friend. I mean, do you think that we can trust him?”

“Of course we can’t,” agreed Dabson. “Didn’t you hear him howling out there?”

“Calm yourself,” said Exo-Cuter a little less slowly. “Let’s trust him for now. If he tries to hurt us later, then leave him behind. But for now, let’s save the statue!”

“Yeh,” shouted Ringtail and I together. And that was only the beginning of our adventure to Earth.

My brother’s original version of the story sews it up with this tidy ending:

All of a sudden, ZAP! We’re at a race. Let’s race in it. We won!

I, on the other hand, made it my own by applying my trademark inability to finish writing anything. It's clearly better this way.

The tale of TechnoWorld teaches three important lessons:
  1. Stealing from weaker people is the best source of creative material.
  2. Howling is evil.
  3. Exo-Cuter is the voice of reason and justice.
Happy Thanksgiving, and good luck to any novel writers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

3 or 6 Ways to Recognize Me on the Silver Screen

I might have been in a movie on Saturday.

Last week my boss forwarded an email looking for volunteers to drive 60 miles and sit in the wind for free to be extras in an independent film. My other options for Saturday all involved responsibilities or personal betterment, so I immediately RSVPed to the casting company.

We played the audience at a horseshoe tournament, which is 90% of what I know about the movie. There’s also a guy who is planning to jump off of a bridge, and (SPOILER ALERT) one of the horseshoe players has a little dog with a vest on.

It’s difficult to tell where the camera was pointed or which footage will be used, so I’m providing this useful guide to help you look for me in the finished work.

Girl Who Is Really, Really Into Horseshoes
The extras’ main job was to cheer wholeheartedly for the horseshoe game, which was apparently the most exciting thing to happen in the known history of this little town. We clapped, we whistled, we stood up, and one little girl kept shouting, “Is it okay to talk yet?”

Pretend enthusiastic clapping is considerably more tiring than real enthusiastic clapping, since you don’t have the actual excitement to lend you strength. As a result, we may be the only group of people in history who can honestly say, “Watching that game of horseshoes wore me out!

Of course, we weren’t actually watching a game. We reacted to a professional horseshoe thrower hitting all the ringers, and then to the actors throwing shoes wherever they happened to land. Thanks to the confusion, I didn’t know who won the tournament until just after I finished applauding for it, setting me up for a long-running role as Girl Who Has Been Cheering for the Wrong Side.

Girl Who Just Stole That Frozen Hamburger
This film didn’t have a lot of spare money lying around. As a result, all of the extras were paid in sack lunches and the possibility of a half-second of screen time. We did get some exciting perks, though, including food props that we were allowed to nibble on for increased realism.

Crew members started salting the crowd with hamburgers and sides at 9 a.m. I was not among the chosen, which was fine because Breakfast Coleslaw is not an accustomed feature of my morning routine. By about 11:00, though, the abandoned plates littering the bleachers started to look pretty enticing. I finally located a burger with no obvious bite marks and did my part for authenticity.

Fifty-degree temperatures and several hours of wind do no favors for bottom-shelf meat products.

On the upside, outdoors was even safer for food storage than a refrigerator. Also, the experience prepared me for another role, later in the day, as Girl Who Really Appreciated That Free Turkey Sandwich.

Girl Who Is In Six Places Causing Continuity Problems
The scene needed about 200 extras, and 70 showed up. We started the morning with the instruction, “Remember this seat because it’s your spot for the whole day.” After half an hour, it changed to, “Try to take up a lot of space.” Finally, the crew gave up and started moving groups of us to whichever area of bleachers was in camera range at the time.

This approach means that every shot of the crowd includes the same people in a slightly different arrangement. I’m particularly looking forward to the sequence in which I am standing behind the two championship horseshoe throwers and simultaneously looking on from the bleachers 30 feet away. If the editors cut back and forth between those two shots, I’m planning to start internet rumors about a cloning conspiracy plotline abandoned in the final version.

Then again, they may cut me out entirely thanks to my brief cameo as Girl Who Totally Looked at the Camera Just Then.

Anyway, if you have a chance to see a film called Stars with a horseshoe-related subplot, keep an eye out for me. I’ll be the one clapping, gnawing, teleporting, and otherwise lurking around looking like this:

Also, don’t forget to prepare your glowing compliments for my inevitable IMDB page. I’m currently seeking copious uses of the words “witty” and “brilliant.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for those who are saving the extra syllables for use in their literary efforts.

The idea is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel over the course of the month, which averages to about 1,667 words per day. It’s not too late to start, but you’ll have to put in some overtime.

I am not participating, since I am too much of a sissy for serious fiction. As we all know from high school, a book cannot have literary merit unless terrible things happen to any characters worth liking. Whether an honest farming family slowly starves on the way to California or Death Eaters slay a loyal house elf, the good guys have got some suffering coming.

I have taken a few creative writing courses, but my short stories always chickened out when I reached the possibility of anything important happening. I had just made up lives for all these people, and it didn’t seem right to invent them a bunch of pain.

As an alternative, then, I am celebrating NaNoITrToWriInFoGrMo by presenting excerpts from the Novel I Tried To Write In Fourth Grade.

Most of my memories from that year involve the ambitious plans I had for my world-changing contribution to literature. I worked on it during every writing hour and rainy-day recess, filling double-spaced pages and occasionally leaking previews to my teacher so that she could enjoy the privilege of witnessing my genius.

As a basically show-off-y kid (who totally grew out of that), I wanted two things to surround this epic: Absolute secrecy, and universal knowledge that I had something super amazing and was keeping it to myself.

I installed a homemade lock on my spiral notebook, limiting access to only advanced masters of paperclip-and-string technology. To foil those remaining wily invaders, the first few pages were filled with warnings and cunning deceptions.

The problem was that my security measures worked. No one cared about seeing my story, and no one from school could access its hiding place under my dresser. The only audience left was my little brother, so I had to whet his appetite for my sweet, sweet, secret magical prose. I “accidentally” revealed my storage spot. I started leaving the notebook in the middle of my floor, with a hair across the pages to detect tampering. I held little readings of the most impressive parts and dropped tantalizing hints about the plot.

The plot in question was the combined product of my all-consuming Dog Phase and roughly twenty viewings of Babe, specifically the parts with the border collies. I also saw a local production of Camelot and discovered the dramatic potential of betrayal and revenge.

WARNING: Top secret material below! Continue at your own risk! If you tell anybody, I WILL KNOW AND GET YOU!

“Blaze was a one-year-old workdog on the McLoftlen farm….He had a happy life on the farm. Hearding seep, and chaseing rabbitts, birds, and butterflies. But one day he was afraid that it would all come to an end—much too soon for Blaze.”

He is out herding one day when a duck brings him a threatening, anonymous note about how the farmers think Blaze is responsible for a recent sheep killing. Sure enough, the farmer’s wife tries to shoot Blaze, but fortunately she is as bad at aiming as she is at maintaining a consistent personality from page to page.

As Blaze recovers, his most feared enemy dog, Mordred, shows up in the field. An epic dog battle ensues, featuring the grittiest action I could conceive: “First Mordred jumped at Blaze, then in a burst of fury, Blaze would jump back. This went on for almost an hour, and then Mordred slyly slunk away.”

The farmer and his wife tend Blaze’s wounds while producing authentic country dialogue such as, “I reckon’e got in a fight with a’other dawg.” Farmer McLoften calls his neighbors about their dog bully, and they hang up on him.

…and with this cliffhanger finish, I stopped writing my masterpiece and forgot what else was supposed to happen. Probably a lot more jump-fighting and apostrophes.

Despite all my careful buzz cultivation, chances are good that I just got distracted. The next thing in the notebook is this piece of fine art:
I remember spending most of 5th grade on these and stussies. That specific distraction is the biggest threat to NaNoWriMo, from what I hear.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I love Halloween. We need a lot more holidays that allow people to dress in costume and eat an entire bag of Reese’s cups. Seriously, just think about how much better Valentine’s Day would be if you could buy yourself a box of chocolates while being an imperial stormtrooper.

I squandered a few Halloweens in my childhood by wearing the same fairy princess dress for multiple years in a row, thus forever missing my chance to be baby Yoda. Since then, I’ve learned to show greater respect for the idols of my formative years.

[Important Update: It has come to my attention that some people think the creature pictured above is Cookie Monster. If you missed this important part of Sesame Street, I feel really bad for you.]

In addition to dressing up and sugar, I also love being good at things, which is why I rarely go dancing. However, one of the community centers in town has swing dancing every Tuesday night, and my roommate convinces me to come roughly once per year for the Halloween costume contest. A little coordination-based loss of dignity is a fair price to pay for dancing with the Dread Pirate Roberts and Dr. Horrible.

This year I couldn’t settle on an appropriate nerd culture role model, so I wore this:

I received a couple of compliments and only one “You look like you’re twelve,” but I just joined the contest for the fun of it. My outfit could never compete on the level of the guy who built a Transformer suit out of spare car parts.

But to my intense surprise, when they started announcing the winners, I had come in first!

In the children’s category.

Specificity was clearly not this contest’s top priority, though. Other winners, as announced from the stage, included:

“The robot”

“The Fantastiks

…and finally, “The Star Trek dude.”

I asked Jean-Luc how he felt about being demoted from Captain to “dude.” Apparently it’s a little like dressing as food and being mistaken for a middle-schooler.

Picard did dance with me, though. My level of excitement was probably sufficient to put me on some kind of watch list for deranged stalkers of fictional characters. I elected not to mention my own tenure on the Enterprise.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Stop Callin', I Don' Wanna Think Anymore

Humanity really loves telephones. We’ve had them for a hundred and thirty years, and for the last couple of decades we’ve been carrying them around with us at all times. At least two people I work with daily keep their phones clipped to their heads, and people don’t even think that’s weird anymore.

So, with this vast cultural store of phone knowledge and a lifetime of personal experience, how can I still be so bad at it?

One of the reasons I’ve been blogging less regularly of late is a messy business situation that is taking up a lot of my time and requiring a lot of important-sounding phone calls. That’s how I discovered the danger of Sudden Aphorism Syndrome.

With email, you can spend a few minutes to formulate a thoughtful reply. You can also ignore messages for days until the sender confronts you in person, and then you can lie about internet connectivity problems. On the phone, meanwhile, you keep having to think of another thing to say RIGHT NOW.

When I’m pressed for meaningful statements without any prep time, some ancestral storage facility in my brain takes over and I start to spout down-home wisdom like an old-timey farmhand.

On the other end of the situationally-inappropriate-word-usage spectrum, I have now caught myself saying “pursuant to” over the phone in three separate conversations with people I know in real life.

Even without someone asking questions on the other end, the danger doesn’t stop. My second-greatest telephone enemy, after myself, is voicemail.

At work I leave a large number of phone messages, primarily of the “please send money” variety. These usually sound confidently professional right up until the last ten seconds, when my mouth has words left over after my brain has run out of information.

The wonderful thing about this medium is its permanence. Unlike the aforementioned conversation, recipients can replay messages to their hearts’ delight.

P. S. In case you finally got this out of your head.

EDIT: Yeah, so I did not watch the official video of that song before posting it. This is a different one with a lot less of...everything, really...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We Would Like to Extend to You an Invitation to the Ants Party

We’ve already discussed the fact that I am not afraid of ants, since it’s ridiculous to fear a non-poisonous creature 1/54,000,000 my size. I hate them instead, because burning rage at God’s creatures for their inherent species characteristics is perfectly reasonable.

The ants made a move Sunday morning that I’m not sure how to interpret. It seems like they are trying to change our arrangement, but I can’t tell what direction they are hoping to take.

That’s right—I took a swig from my water bottle and subsequently pulled a live ant out of my mouth.

I’m uncomfortable with the speed at which the ants seem to want our relationship to progress.