July 23, 2014

July 23, 2014


Portland, Oregon, strikes me as the sort of town that’s full of hipsters and good intentions. It’s a place with farmers markets and cyclists and more than one store selling bowler hats. Like Madison, Wisconsin or Austin, Texas. Not to say there aren’t good people there—friend-of-blog M lives in Portland and she’s one of the few people I would pull out of a burning building. They’re just…a people less impressed with Hello Kitty and Ikea than your humble blogger is.

If this article is to be believed, though, they are just as enamored with carbohydrates. Perhaps more so. For Portland is currently home to a donut* vandal. Egad! To wit:

For more than a month, mysterious vandals have been smearing pastries on cars, depositing donuts in lawns and leaving cakes strewn about the streets.

According to Hillsboro police, the baked-goods bandits first struck on June 1, smearing a maple bar across a car windshield.

In the weeks since, the pastry perpetrators have occasionally turned to healthier fare, leaving yogurt, bread and potato salad on vehicles and in driveways, although most of the incidents have involved sweets.

Great crime, or GREATEST crime? Though I don’t have a lawn, I’ve owned a car for years and not once—NOT ONE TIME—has anyone put even the smallest of baked goods on it. Gypped.

(Also, someone get me on the diet plan wherein potato salad is considered a healthy food.)

Leaving free food in public places? Dare I say it, this seems almost Canadian. Where will the bandit(s) strike next?

Sorting single-stream recyclables. Sure, the sign says you can mix your plastic, metal, and paper. But it looks so much nicer when you put like with like.

Organizing restaurant table sweeteners. No more rifling through a pile of Equals looking for a Splenda.

Leaving a penny. Only a penny taker and not a penny leaver? How dare you.

Portland, in this one area, I like the cut of your jib. (You’re still on notice about the other stuff.)

* Let's not start on "donut" versus "doughnut." Language evolves. Deal with it, and be thankful I didn't just use a donut emoji.

July 18, 2014

July 18, 2014

Service for a Smile

There I was, minding my own business enjoying some delicious reheated Trader Joe’s pizza, when I felt it.

A crunch. Right about where my chipped-in-two-places cavity filling was. Immediately, I spit out my pizza*, grabbed the mirror I use for flossing, and checked out the situation.

Missing: One cavity filling.

Now, keep in mind that I have a severe—A SEVERE—aversion to saliva. Blood? Fine. Poop? Fine. Spit? Pardon me while I lose the entire contents of my stomach and then pass out.

So we were already on pretty shaking ground here, but I had to determine whether I had already eaten the filling and thus was about to die of heavy metal poisoning (assumption). Hence my spitting out the pizza I was eating as soon as I realized what was happening. The part of my brain that fears eating metal works faster than the part of my brain that’s afraid of spit.

Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say that I located the filling. I felt about it how I assume people feel about kidney stones, babies, etc. “This used to be a part of my body. I want to keep it.” I popped it in a teeny plastic bag that at some point must have held a spare button or something. Why did I have it in my desk drawer? Because my office desk drawers are like Mary Poppin’s carpet bag. I have one of everything in there.

Coincidentally, I’d already scheduled an appointment with my dentist for an exam and cleaning. I love (LOVE) going to the dentist, so I was looking forward to it. This filling incident, though, put a new spin on things. Some brief Googling convinced me to call and set up a second appointment to get the filling replaced. (Also according to Google: I either could or SHOULD NOT UNDER ANY MEANS use gum as a temporary replacement.) I realized it would probably have to be done on a different day, but so long as it could be taken care of by the time the Wisconsin State Fair starts on July 31, I’m cool.

Here follows a transcript of my conversation with the dentist’s office:

Receptionist: “Dr. Silverman’s office.”
Me: “Hi. My name is Heather, and I have an appointment on Monday for an exam and cleaning. But I just had a filling fall out, and I’d like to go ahead and schedule another appointment to have that replaced.”
Receptionist: “I’m sorry, who are you?”
[Small warning light starts flashing in my brain]
Me: “My name is Heather and I have an appointment Monday at 8:45.”
Receptionist: “And what do you want to do?”
Me: “I had a filling fall out. I need to schedule another appointment to get it replaced.”
Receptionist: “Well, I’ll ask him if he can fit it in on Monday but he’s all booked that day.”
Me: “I understand that. Can you see what his schedule is for the rest of that week?”
Receptionist: “He’s all full. I mean, I’ll ask him if he can do it when he comes in on Monday.”

And so on until I realized I should have just opened the phone call with “When is Dr. Silverman’s next available appointment?” without any of the backstory. The more information you give people, the more likely the confusion.

I’m not rude. I’m concise. And isn't the customer always right?

Here's hoping for a bionic tooth that can broadcast radio waves and stuff.

* Why? Stay tuned!

July 17, 2014

July 17, 2014

You're Not Getting Any Younger

(When searching Google for an image to use with this post, most of the results were old people walking on beaches. So, no.)

Every morning, our local news/talk/sports station has a brief segment about federal government issues presented by a guy named Mike Causey. He actually works on Federal News Radio full time (this is an actual DC thing), but spares five-ish minutes a day to broadcast his opinions on government stuff to the DC radio market at large.

More often than not, these opinions are on the subject of retirement. I don’t know about your country and industry, but in American government, we’re told regularly that ALMOST EVERYONE YOU KNOW COULD RETIRE AT ANY MOMENT.

Me myself personally? I’ll believe it when I see it. The first Baby Boomers came of age years ago, and we seem to be no closer to the anticipated retirement tsunami than ever we were. A Baby Boomer’s job is like Charlton Heston’s gun: You get it when you pry it from his cold, dead fingers.

(Am I coming across as a bitter young person whose career advancement is blocked by Baby Boomers at the top, refusing to step down? Good.)

Anyhoo, this got me thinking about retirement in general, and how people in private industry get watches and laudatory dinners and all sorts of celebratory whatnot when they retire. I think in government you get a piece of paper signed by someone important (not President important but, like, Secretary important, which is still pretty phenomenal). Though these things are an after-the-fact reward rather than an enticement, what if we could offer people quid pro quo?

National Institutes of Health: All the smallpox vials you can carry.

Department of Defense: You may fire one small missile into the Nevada desert.

Department of the Interior: You get a national park named after you for one day.

Social Security Administration: You can pick your own new SSN. If someone already has it, they have to trade with you.

Tennessee Valley Authority: You can shut that thing down. Why do we still have an agency whose mission was accomplished by the end of World War 2?

Think of the possibilities.

July 10, 2014

July 10, 2014

The Other Meaning of "Fresh"

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. By which I mean the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. Though modern agriculture and transportation mean we can have, like, bananas in winter and whatnot, it still seems like the produce is better in the summer.

(To be fair, 95% of what I eat comes out of a box or a can. Your mileage may vary when it comes to taste.)

Corn on the cob. Watermelon. Peaches. Plums. Cucumbers. Tomatoes. The only thing missing is the roll of paper towels. (I speak from experience.)

Even better for us city dwellers, farmers markets are a thing now. You can get access to stuff that was in the ground earlier today. (Ish.) When I was a kid, I feel like the closest thing we had to a farmers market was that dude on the side of the road with a truck bed full of watermelons. I didn’t trust that guy for the same reason I didn’t trust the woman handing out apples at Christmas? Obviously everything would be full of razorblades. #Milwaukee

But now? Now you can walk a few blocks from your office at cabinet-agency-that-shall-not-be-named and shop to your heart’s content. Not just for produce, but also for ice cream and baked goods and pickles and all sorts of things. As I did, just the other day.

Correction: As I tried to do. At 2:52 on a recent afternoon. When I was told that they weren’t open for another eight minutes.

See, the market runs from 3 to 7 pm. And it’s actually Freshfarm Markets, a whole network of markets, all over the DC area, with different locations on different days. So perhaps there’s some Farmers Market Code of Ethics that forbids vendors from opening early.

Despite the fact that the produce is all laid out long before 3.

Despite the fact that there are no signs, cones, police tapes, or other barriers to the market area or individual stalls.

Despite the fact that MOTHER LOVING CAPITALISM would advise you to take my money when I try to give it to you.

However, I’m no expert at commerce or labor laws, so I just walked away and started composing this blog post. I’m confident that eight minutes of my time* is more expensive than hers**, and IT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING.

What amuses me even more, though, is the reading comprehension fail that followed my Twitter complaint: 

Keep looking.

* $5.96

** $1.48, according to the Bureau of Labor Statstics’ median pay for bakers in 2012. Backing up my rants with robust data is just the sort of extra service I like to provide for you people.

July 4, 2014

June 30, 2014

June 30, 2014

Once There Was a Tree

Every Friday, our building sends out a little newsletter with important (and not so important) announcements. They’re generally about things that don’t affect me, like pets and storage and the pool. But every once in a while, I’ll see something like the recent notice about the communal herb garden and it’s like a little light shining down from above onto FREE FOOD.

I’ll be honest: I’m a little suspicious about eating anything that I’ve actually seen come out of the ground. We who grew up in the city are the exact opposite of the farm-to-table movement. If it hasn’t been washed, processed, packaged, and shelved, how can it be trusted? You know what grows in nature? DEADLY MUSHROOMS and POISON IVY. End of story.

However, in the spirit of broadening my horizons and yada yada yada, I decided to check out the communal herb garden. And I recognized what was either a giant chive plant (bush? vine?)—and I love me some chives—or something that would end up killing me. MAYBE BOTH. Long story short, I bit the bullet (or the chive, heh heh) and lived to tell the tale. Now I have fresh chives whenever I want them. It is glorious. Basically, I'm feeling what the Pilgrims felt at their first harvest.


As per usual, the universe spotted the door that I left ajar and kicked it WIDE OPEN and I don’t know what to do. Just when I’d gotten comfortable with the idea of eating something that didn’t come in plastic wrap, I see a woman hanging out at a tree in my building’s driveway, pulling something off the tree and eating it.

I repeat: She was standing at a tree, pulling something off the tree, and eating it. Like some freaky scenario out of The Giving Tree.

Maybe it’s a result of growing up in Wisconsin, where we have few-to-zero trees that grow anything you could eat. When I was very small, we had an apple tree in our backyard. But then I grew up and met people who had effing ORANGE trees in their backyard and I’m getting cold sweats just thinking about that. GROWING YOUR OWN CITRUS IS UNNATURAL, YOU GUYS.

So back to the woman and the tree.* My first thought was that she was a hobo, because eating directly from a tree seems like something a hobo would do and also because I’m living in 1935. However, she appeared to be clean and well-dressed, and hadn’t tied her belongings in a handkerchief attached to the end of a stick, as all hoboes are required to do. Confusing.

I told TheBoy all about this—IN EXCRUCIATING DETAIL—and he agreed to take a look at the tree with me. As we approached, I kept an eye out for the corpse of that woman, but didn’t see it. So either the tree’s fruit was safe to eat or the poison was slow-acting enough to allow her to die after getting back to her condo. (“The Mystery Tree: berry eaters check in, but they don’t check out.”)

We took a good look at the tree, and saw something like this: 

I’m the first to admit that this seems pretty positive. But my top-notch Brownie training kicked in a reminded me that the best stuff in nature is always deadly. See: Poison dart frogs. Jellyfish. Angelina Jolie. Even after Google almost-incontrovertibly points to this being a mulberry tree, I’m not totally convinced. Why not?

1. Mulberry trees attract silkworms. It seems highly likely that I would go in for a berry and end up eating a silkworm, that would then burrow its way out of my stomach a la that scene in Alien.
2. The mulberries are probably covered in squirrel pee.
3. And weird microscopic aphids.
4. Per Wikipedia, “Unripe fruit and green parts of the plant have a white sap that may be toxic, stimulating, or mildly hallucinogenic.” Don’t mind me; I’m just over here TRIPPING OUT ON MULBERRIES WOO.

It’s just not worth it. You want the produce? I can’t handle the produce.

* IMO, this segue works equally well when telling the story of Adam and Eve.

June 27, 2014

June 27, 2014

Frank Yankers

When ZIP codes were introduced in 1963,
this fella—"Mr. Zip."—was used to educate the public
about the new system. WHY DID THE GOVERNMENT
STOP DOING THIS? Obamacare would have been a
zillion times more successful with an adorable
animated mascot.
Despite our childhood dreams of becoming astronauts, cowboys, and/or President of the United States, by now we’ve settled into our ultimate career fields, yes? Whether by virtue of education, experience, nepotism, or bribery, you have a job and—let’s be honest—it’s probably a little late in the game to quit everything and pursue a career in sand sculpture.

(Unless you’re reading this while still in school. Children of the world: Follow your dreams! Anything is possible! I’m sure plenty of paying work exists for English majors!)

Yet I think we all occasionally hear about a gig that makes us think “what if.” For the athletically-inclined, has the World Cup has brought back memories of college soccer* greatness? Did the National Spelling Bee make you wish Webster had pursued a system of human rather than paper dictionaries? Does trivia night make you realize that producing questions based on uncommon and archaic knowledge is quite possibly the one area in which you could be a functional rather than a support employee?

(Not to crap all over my chose field, but administration is not at all sexy or interesting to talk about at parties. It is in fact one of the main reasons I avoid attending parties, the others being my misanthropy, my crippling social anxiety, and the tragic lack of spinach dip at 99% of parties.)

Anyway, the daily Now I Know trivia newsletter today introduced me to yet another job I think I could have killed at: Postal Service data conversion operator.

(You should subscribe to NIK, both because it will make you a better, more informed person and because you obviously have time to read amusing things in the middle of the day.)

In short, data conversion operators translate wonky handwritten addresses on letters and packages into something the computers understand, keeping the mail flowing while simultaneously assisting our future robot overlords. It’s quite possible that the only thing keeping us from the idyll of the Matrix is the insistence of people (let’s be honest: old people) on addressing things in cursive. I’m all for calligraphy on notable documents, but does the envelope my birthday card comes in REALLY need to look like the Magna Carta? *dismissive hair flip, followed by two snaps*

The New York Times article about this whole operation also mentions “impossible letters, like the one addressed to the house ‘down the street from the drugstore on the corner’ or one intended for ‘the place next to the red barn.’” It’s been 51 years since the introduction of the ZIP code, so I reiterate: Humanity, we are doomed.

But if you have to spend the time between now and the day the computers seal you in a pod to harvest your body’s electricity in order to run a universal computer simulation doing something, it might as well be something like this. Something that makes everyone’s lives a little easier.

* Or, if you went to school in Latin America, fútbol. ¡Olé!**
** I don’t actually understand how the upside-down punctuation works (is it mandatory?), but I like the idea of it.