Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tough Love

An open letter to graduating seniors from The Real World:
As you will be joining me shortly, I wanted to give you a little friendly advice because things are very different here.
Hang on to your laptops, cameras, cellphones, PDAs, sunglasses, books, pens, jewelry and everything else you value.  If you lose them when you get here, you are unlikely to have them returned.  Forget the nice emails where you ask for them back.  By the time you send those, your belongings will already have been sold to the highest bidder.
Plan to park legally.  I really don’t care what your excuse is.  If you are parked where you aren’t supposed to be, I will ticket you.  And you will be paying the ticket.  Don’t think I care if you are driving someone else’s car or using someone else’s sticker.  I will simply bill them.  And they will need to pay.  And I won’t give up until I get the money.
Late is late.  If you need to meet a deadline, plan on having the door shut in your face if you don’t.  Again, save your excuses, I really don’t care.  There are plenty of people ahead of you in line who cared enough to meet the deadline and those are the ones that are going to get the good stuff. Whatever it happens to be.  Don’t bring a note from home because I don’t care about that either.
Don’t expect me to pick up after you.  If you don’t bring your dishes back to the dining hall, there will be no more and you will do without.  If you don’t pick up your trash, expect to sit in it.  If you don’t do your laundry, you will be wearing dirty clothes.  If you damage your surroundings, you will pay to get them fixed.
Rules are rules.  If you break them, we are not going to sit around and talk about how it makes you feel.  I will fine you, arrest you or penalize you depending on where I happen to sit on the day you cross the line.  And the rules do apply to you.  You are not special.  I don’t care if you overslept, you just need an extra day or your dog ate it.  Chances are you are not going to talk your way out of it.
Things are not going to be decided by committee.  They will be decided by people older and wiser who have more experience than you.  You will need to live by those decisions.  Deal with it.
Unless you are independently wealthy (and maybe even then), you are going to start at the bottom and pay a whole lotta dues.  You aren’t going to play the lead.  I don’t really care how special you were in school.  Things tend to start over here.
Respect everyone around you.  YOU are the newcomer and it will be your job to adjust, not everyone else’s.  You are a speck as far as I’m concerned and while it is important to have an opinion, remember that it is your opinion, not the opinion.  You aren’t right about everything.  You may not even be right about anything.  Trust me on this one.
So plan on growing up over the summer and thinking long and hard about how you will behave when you cross into my territory.  I am going to play hardball.  If you respect me and how I do business, you and I will get along just fine.  However, if you think I owe you something, you are in for a world of hurt.  Decide fast because as I said, I really don’t care what your excuse is.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Houston we have a problem . . .

I recently bought my husband his own laptop.  He uses it mainly for email and web research.  It is a fairly simple, straightforward laptop.  No bells, no whistles, pretty much what Staples had on sale.  I have several computers in my home office but they are geared toward the kind of IT work I do.  My own background is in computer science and my ‘day job’ consists of a lot of programming, systems analysis, report writing and other high-geek stuff that I won’t bore you with.  Suffice it to say that the computers that I work on are not exactly user-friendly.  In fact, I would characterize some of them as positively user-hostile.  Hence the need for a simple laptop to perform straightforward tasks.
My husband had been using an older laptop of mine whose hard drive finally went to the big component roundup in the sky.  I was lucky enough to creep in an electronic back door and salvage all of his email and document history before the thing gave up the ghost.  I set up his new laptop with all of his internet history and his entire email configuration so he did not lose anything.  Given the state of the old laptop, pulling this off was the IT equivalent of skating’s quad jump.  I was justifiably proud of myself.
So why am I telling you all this?  Simply because today, I wanted to look something up quickly so I sat down with my husband’s laptop.  SOMEHOW I pressed just the right – or wrong as it happens – combination of keys which turned the entire display upside down.  Not kidding.  I also apparently got the keypad to work upside down and backwards.  Seriously.  So there I am, sitting in a chair in the family room staring open-mouthed at something I have a.) never seen before and b.) wasn’t even aware you could do.
OK.  So question number one.  How is this ever useful?  I guess if you were weightless in space this might – and I emphasize might – come in handy.  Other than that I have no clue.  And since I have never been nor do I ever intend to work in outer space, any other use this might serve escapes me entirely.  Maybe the manufacturers included this just to prove that they could.  Again, no idea.  It’s a really nice laptop and it was very reasonably priced.  This clearly was not on my ‘must have’ feature list (is it on anyone's?) and is about as meaningful for me as those pens that can write upside down – also, by the way, designed for the apparent hoards of people reporting for work beyond the stratosphere.
So if we remove astronauts from the mix, I’m guessing the number of people salivating for this particular feature is right around, just guessing here – ZERO.  HOWEVER, and judging from the research I did on the Internet, there is a considerably larger number trying to figure out how to DISABLE it.  This I located in pretty short order.
Fixing it required logging back into the computer upside down and left to right.  Up is down, right is left: you get the picture.  Then I simply had to press three keys together and –voila – back to planet earth.
So I spent a half hour learning a valuable lesson about how to fix something that makes no sense in the first place.  Which, come to think of it, pretty neatly sums up my day job in a nutshell.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Deliver us from Weevils

OK – as always, I will begin with the back story.  Many years ago, I had a little Meyer Lemon tree.  It grew in a sunny corner of our family room and when it was filled with flowers, the wonderful spicy smell filled the room.  Long story short, it died.  Since then, I have wanted another.  Fast forward to Christmas of 2009 when a tall cardboard box appeared under the Christmas tree.  I was given specific instructions not to touch, move or rattle so the secret of its contents would remain, well, a secret.  So naturally, I deduced immediately that it was a new little Meyer Lemon tree.  We all played the “you’ll never guess what this is” game for about six seconds when I stunned everyone by correctly guessing that they had gotten me another tree.
Meyer Lemons are difficult to grow in New England.  They need just the right combination of light, heat and moisture and will either bear fruit, or not, live or drop dead, based on some cosmic whim at which we mere humans can only speculate.  My husband, who has an unfailingly green thumb, took this problem ‘child’ on as a special project.  I should mention that he is eminently qualified to do so because he has a thriving crop of fig trees and has these Mediterranean natives flourishing and bearing fruit even in our wintry corner of the world.
He experimented with different soil mixes, fertilizers and finally, after many months, my little lemon tree began to leaf out and set flowers that did not drop but instead, grew into lemons.  And here is where our story begins.
Around November of last year, our daughter called to say that upon arriving home from work, she found a notice taped to her door stating that she had been visited by a USDA agent and that she should call as soon as possible.  Imagine her surprise upon learning that their visit to her home in Nebraska concerned the tree she purchased for me in her name back in December of 2009. 
This tree that had been bought from a dealer in Georgia in fact, came from Florida where there is a ban on exporting citrus trees of any kind due to some kind of disease or parasite – I neither know nor care which.  Apparently, the dealer had been travelling across state lines and illicitly bringing back <gasp> Meyer Lemon trees and selling them over the Internet.  The USDA caught up with him and was in the process of tracking down each and every Meyer Lemon tree, rounding them up and destroying them.   My daughter told the USDA that it was a Christmas present and that it was at our house in Massachusetts.   We both promptly forgot all about it.
So let’s stop right here.  The same government that has no handle on how many whackadoodles  are wandering around the U.S. planning to blow us to Kingdom Come tracked down ONE LEMON TREE.  But wait, as the man says, there’s more.
Fast forward again to December of last year and a ring of my doorbell.  A nice young man in uniform presents himself, his USDA credentials and his shiny badge and asks me in his very best NCIS voice if the infamous tree is on the premises and would I lead him to it.  My tree, which, at this point, has about eight nice lemons all about to go completely ripe and is the picture of, if not complete health, at least a tree nicely on its way.
He is very sorry but he is going to have to SEIZE the tree.   Which, after much signing of things in triplicate, he does.  By my estimate, the United States government has now invested a LOT of time and money to this point to track me down, come to my house and separate me from my fruit tree.
And now, gentle reader, you might be tempted to assume our story ends.  BUT NO.  I received a phone call not 2 hours ago from my father who played a message on his answering machine from the USDA regarding a Meyer Lemon Tree and giving a contact name and phone number.
Here is where your author went a little off the rails.  No sooner did I hang up from speaking with my father but I dialed the USDA.  I explained the thoroughness and care with which the USDA brought its not inconsiderable investigative power to bear on the mystery of my MEYER LEMON TREE OF DEATH.  On how they prevented a serious outbreak of Citrus Whatsis in the vast lemon orchards of New England, which, as we all know, is a major player in the citrus industry.  Or not as the case may be.  I explained that they had tracked down my daughter, me AND NOW MY PARENTS all in the cause of finding one tiny tree who never did anything but make me happy and smell nice.
I suggested that the agent round up all of his coworkers and that they report forthwith to the Department of Homeland Security where they should tell everyone at the TSA  (who are now apparently sanctioning the pat-down of six year olds at the airport) to step aside and that they would take over.  I said that if they could track one plant across time and space, their time might be better spent protecting me from TERRORISTS inasmuch as I do not feel especially threatened by PIECES OF FRUIT.
How can the same government manage to locate a single tree and, I might add PUT  A STICKER ON EVERY SINGLE APPLE IN EVERY SINGLE SUPERMARKET and  yet lose track of maniacs riding around with enough explosives in the trunk to take out a city block?  Never mind full-body radar.  Put a couple of these guys at the airport and we’ll see who has a bomb in their underwear.  Now we’re talkin’.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lost and Found

There is a story told about my husband’s aunt and uncle who lived in rural Illinois. After driving around and around getting further and further lost, the aunt spotted a farmer out in a field on his tractor. Believing he could help them find their destination, she immediately insisted that her husband stop the car and get out and ask the farmer if he knew anything. To which the uncle finally agreed. He pulled over and walked to the fence. He motioned the old farmer over. Slowly, the tractor made its way to the edge of the field bordering the road. Slowly, the farmer got out of his tractor and ambled over to where the uncle was standing. The uncle looked him up and down and said, “My wife wants to know if you know anything.” At this the old farmer stopped, looked at the uncle and replied, “Nope. I don’t guess I do.” At which point the farmer went back to his tractor and the uncle, back to the car. His wife immediately demanded, “Well? Did he know anything?” To which the uncle replied, “Nope. I don’t guess he did.” All I can say is that it is a damn good thing she was not privy to the preceding conversation.

If I ever get lost, I have told my husband to grab the nearest female to help him look for me. Otherwise, I swear to god, he will drive by my last known location, roll down the window, slow down, look out the open window and go “Nope. Not here.” and drive on home. I don’t for one minute believe that this is confined to him; I think it goes with the testosterone territory.

Men have a kind of selective homing sense. They can’t find a car in the driveway but that last pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream that you’ve hidden underneath four packages of frozen hamburger meat, 2 boxes of corn and a roll of low cal ice cream sandwiches is just not safe. Trust me on this one.

Part of it ladies, is our fault. They ask where it is. We tell them. They tell us it isn’t there. Then WE jump up to prove – YES – THERE IT IS, RIGHT WHERE I SAID IT WAS. So let’s see what just really happened. They weren’t motivated to look for it in the first place – they knew that. They also KNEW which of our buttons to push. They knew that if they didn’t really look, we would stop whatever we were doing, run over there and just GET THE DAMN THING FOR THEM. I believe that generations of women have actually altered the DNA of men so that they are no longer able to locate things even with directions. In a few short thousand years from now, men will stop even looking for things. This will become known exclusively as the province of females and emerge as a marketable skill. Single men will be able to hire women to find a whole range of items from car keys to girlfriends.

I have a mania about lost things. They unsettle me. If I’ve realized I’ve lost something, I really can’t focus properly until I find it. I once bought one of those clapping devices that help you find lost keys. That worked great until I lost the clappy thing. To be fair, it was pretty small. If it were the size of say, my REFRIGERATOR, it might not have been an issue. Also, I have never, ever, ONCE lost my refrigerator. Or forgotten where it was. If anyone comes up with a refrigerator that can also find lost keys, I will be all over it.

So that’s the word for today. If you will excuse me, I have to go do something. Just can’t remember what it is . . .

My Sew Perfect Day Sew Far

Like a lot of things, this begins with a back story so bear with me.  About 2 months ago, my husband and I bought two La-Z-Boy recliners to replace the two derelict ones we had in our family room. (By the way, never look at your discarded furniture when it is outside in the sunlight waiting to be picked up.  However bad it looked inside, trust me, it looks ten times worse in the light of day.)
But I digress.  The new chairs arrived ahead of schedule but when they did arrive, I noticed that the fabric squares usually provided for the protection of the back and arms of the chair did not arrive.  So I called my friendly showroom only to be told that the reason they didn’t arrive is that they are no longer included.  For a ‘nominal’ fee – and I don’t know what your idea of nominal is but around eighty bucks a chair doesn’t qualify in my book – they could be sent to me.  And I should mention that this princely sum buys three 16”x16” square pieces of fabric.   I asked if I could just buy a yard of the material and was happy to find out that I could and at a fraction of the cost so I ordered a yard.
Fast forward to Saturday when a package arrived containing my fabric.  Here is where, as the British say, things began to go pear-shaped.  I took the fabric to my sewing room and tried to find a matching spool of thread.  It turns out I have thread for almost every other conceivable sewing project.  But not this one.  Not this particular shade of blueish, greyish, greenish.  This is apparently a HIGHLY popular color in La-Z-Boy circles, but not at my house.
Fast forward again to today when I decided to visit my local quilt shop.  I located the thread, bought a couple of spools and got back in my car.  Fortunately, I remembered that I also needed the little screw pins to hold the squares against the back of the chairs (more about those later) so I backed right back into my parking space and went back into the store.
Upon arriving back at home, I unpacked the serger (trims and sews a clean finished edge on fabric), and began to change the thread color.  My mother-in-law whose serger this is taught me a handy trick for changing thread.  Instead of pulling the old color out, just cut the old and tie the new on.  Yah.  Not so much.  Picture one of those corn mazes shrunk down to the size of a slice of bread.  Only without the neat little “I give up” flag you get to raise in the air if you get lost.  Now picture four of them.  Yup, so four strands of thread that weave mysteriously around little color-coded bits of metal.  And the instructions are written for people with more than two hands - a lot of "swing presser foot out while turning wheel while threading . . ." Whoa.  That's three hands right there and they weren't finished yet.  Every time you get one threaded and go onto the next, you manage to yank the first one out of place.  Hooray!  This is FUN!  So 2 hours pass and I’m not going to lie to you – bad words were said.  Out loud.
Now it’s time to take the serged squares fold and sew the edges.  I haven’t used the sewing machine in a while and apparently all of the little holes in the bobbins have shrunk in size by at least 50%.  Or at least that’s what it feels like when I try to thread one of them.  Amazingly, the sewing part was pretty uneventful.  Now time to fasten them to the chairs.
I don’t know if you have ever seen one of these gizmos they call screw pins.  Picture a small plastic button on top of a wickedly sharp corkscrew affair.  Put your square of fabric on top of the chair, affix a screw pin and start twisting.  At least that’s the theory.  While these time-saving devices are quick to screw themselves into anything else, including I might add, body parts like FINGERS, getting them into two layers of upholstery fabric is just not as easy as it looks.   And after I did get five of these suckers in there, turns out they were in the wrong place AND guess what – just as hard to get them out as it is to get them in.
So now it is almost 2 PM.  I have done nothing else today but fool with two squares of fabric.  Two squares, I might add, I could have bought ready-made.  They seemed like a huge rip-off at the time but now?  Not so much.

Friday, March 18, 2011

On Sports

Sports-wise, I have pretty simple needs.  College football on Saturdays – BC and Notre Dame and pros on Sunday – in this order: New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, NY Giants (love me some Manning QBs) and then a selection of teams which vary by year.  The occasional Red Sox game.  Once in a great while, a Bruins game.  But basketball?  The Celtics?  Not likely.  Soccer?  Never.

You have to keep in mind that I come from an area of the country that up until 2001 from the football and baseball perspectives was pretty much a sad story.  Not Cubs-sad, but almost.  We have had some classic disappointments.  If you wanna hear a Bostonian groan, just say the name Billy Buckner.  Not gonna explain.  Still hurts.  Google it.

Then in 2001, a miracle occurred.  Adam Vinatieri kicked a field goal in the last seconds of the game and the Pats went on to win Superbowl 35 or as the Latin scholars of the NFL refer to it, XXXV.  Then, in 2004, lightning struck in the same spot again as the Boston Red Sox grabbed their first World Series title in 86 years.

Hockey Stanley Cups and basketball championships have been ours in recent memory.  But the point is, I don’t care.  Especially basketball.  I’m Short Attention Span Suzy; when the score creeps up above hundred, I lose interest.  Plus I’m used to being able to follow along and catch on.  Basketball?  Not so much.  And the rules seem, well they just seem made up.  You can’t walk without bouncing the ball, you have to throw the ball at the net in a certain amount of seconds.  That free throw thing where you try to shoot while the other kids are making fun of you?  Uhuh.  Call me crazy but the last time I encountered rules that whacky, I was on a playground.  Still can’t believe professional basketball has no rule about not stepping on a crack.

We are big celebrators here.  If you want evidence, just show up for the St. Paddy’s day parade in Southie.  We party hearty (picture it with the accent) and if you want to know how our teams did, don’t ask us – just look us in the eye on the day after.  We experienced collective elation after our first Superbowl win and the entire area took the day off to watch the Red Sox take their victory parade lap through the streets of Boston in 2004.  When we tanked in this season’s football playoffs, we suffered a kind of communal depression.  People didn’t show up for work.  OK – to be fair – people don’t show up for work after a win but that is for different reasons, mostly to do with grain alcohol.

There are now a whole generation of kids that have no idea what it is like to lose year after year after unrelenting year.  These are kids who come from the home of the superstar Pats and Tom “Ponytail” Brady, from the mighty World Series Red Sox and Schilling’s Bloody Sock.  They just have no idea what sports suffering is.  Does it make us oldtimers better people?  I like to think so.

Extraterrestrial Abductions Day

March 20th is apparently Extraterrestrial Abductions Day.  Really?  Do these nut jobs need yet another platform from which to advertise their already tenuous grip on reality?  Personally, if I was sticking by my story that I been taken up to the mother ship, I probably wouldn’t be going public with it.  I can’t imagine this ever ends well.  In fact, I rather suspect that a lot of these people go on to be the subject of nightly news segments featuring 500 cats and a copy of every newspaper since the Eisenhower administration. 
Then again, who am I to question?  If the memories, real or otherwise, of being abducted by aliens make people happy, far be it from me to disillusion them.  A better question is why a civilization technologically advanced enough to visit us from billions of light years away is so inordinately focused on extracting strategic information from the wrong end.  It’s just that no one really talks about the kind of alien abduction where the abductee is interviewed by a panel of dignitaries, given light refreshments and sent on their merry way.  Nope, all of these encounters pretty much run along the same rather distressing lines.
And now they have their own day.  I just don’t imagine there will be too many cards.