The Error of Negative Thinking

So today I drove to a friend's house (40 miles from mine) and I noticed my tire light came on (yes, the one of the infamous "blinka-blinka" post. It usually comes on when one of the tires' pressure doesn't match the others. Lately, it's popped on two or three times, but after the initial discovery that there wasn't much difference in pressure between all four tires, I started ignoring and resetting it instead of, you know, actually checking to see if anything was wrong.

Yesterday I washed the car. As I bent to scrub down the rear driver side wheel, I noticed, "hey, that tire looks a bit low." It had been awhile since I checked them, and the tempurature's dropped, so maybe it was time to adjust for the denser, colder winter air.

I checked it. First the tire pressure gauge said 8.0. As in 8 pounds of air pressure per square inch of tire. That's right, EIGHT. Zer-o-eight-o. If you know anything about automobile tires, you would know that the pressure shouldn't be reading in single digits. Ever. I checked it again.


Technically double digits, but not any better. Worse, in fact. I had even driven on them that day. It was a short jaunt to the library, but come on. Someone should have knocked me aside the head for that. And I was wondering why my gas mileage has been so shitty lately. Barack Obama would be ashamed.

I checked the other three tires. They were all in the low 20's. Better, but not much. The manual states that they should be at least 33, and 38 if you're loaded up with four people and luggage (laughable in my car, but I guess the law requires them to put the recommended tire pressure for the "what if/it could happen" situations).

Now here's my question--when the tire pressures barely varied, the idiot blinka-blinka light popped on. But it didn't for a rear tire with a reading of 8? Did the manufacturer run a deal with the tow truck companies to drum up business? So when things are normal, the light comes on and I panic, but when they are clearly and visibly unsafe, no light? Wha happened?

Today I was heading to a friend's house and not long after I merge onto the highway, you guessed it--blinka blinka. "Oh, shit." I think, knowing that the rear tire was flat just yesterday. I glance in my side view mirror to cop a peek at the tire. Surprisingly, 1) I can see it and 2) it looks a-okay. The sidewall is not scraping the pavement. I continue on, passing a green Cadillac SUV with West Virginia plates. I know what you're thinking, "ha-ha, nothing good ever came out of West Virginia." I know--I thought it too. Hey, I'm not proud.

I stop at a local mall (vs. the one 50 miles away), find an empty parking area and check my tires agains. I use my portable compressor that plugs into the lighter and I fill the rear one (oo, smart, you're saying, but really I bought it because I'm too stingy to feed quarters into the ones as the gas stations). The rest of the tires match up (they are safely in the mid-30's, while the rear driver's side is about 1.5 pounds less than the others.

As I was going around to check the tires, I noticed the same West Virginia small Cadillac SUV in the parking lot. Now this wasn't the regular lot--this was theone that is only used during the last two days before Christmas. This is the overflow lot. "What the hell are they doing here?" I think, but I continue along, hoping I can fill up the tire and be done with the idiot light for good.

After I finished filling the rear one, they pull around. Don't make eye contact, I think. Maybe they're lost and need directions. West Virginia is a long way from here (not really, but suburban Marylanders like to pretend it is). My music is playing on the stereo and my back is turned. Keep it moving, I think. Then I realized they were talking to me.

I turned around to face two women. "We saw you pull over and we wanted to help, but we weren't sure how. We saw you had a little one..."

me: (thinking): but that was why I got the windows tinted, so people wouldn't "see" anything back there--

"...and we just want to make sure everything was okay. "

"Ohhh..." I say. "I'm an asshole," I think. "Thank you. The tire pressure light came on and..." I try to coherently explain my ongoing battle with the light and how I think filling the tire solved the problem. I'm an idiot describing an idiot light.

"Okay," they said before peeking through the open door and admiring my daughter (three year olds are best viewed from outside of the car, when they are half-asleep and still strapped into their booster seat).

I thanked them and honestly it was such a sweet thing to do ("That's so sweet of you" were my words). I feel awful for feeling distrustful when I saw they pulled into the same area. So shame on me and yay on them. And yay for anyone else out there who has gone out of their way to help or check on a total stranger.


I know we’re in a recession but--

A few days ago I received this message as part of a mass email blast:

All - Someone may have mistakenly taken my cup from the Kitchen located next to the Bubble Conference room.
Description of cup: White with Company Logo and has my name on the bottom of the cup. If someone finds it, could you please return to me or replace it in the Kitchen.

I wish I could say this was a unique incident, but the truth is, in my office, we have a mug bandit in our midst. Last year one of my good friends in my office also had her cup go missing. The last time I saw that cup was when it was filled with water sitting by the sink, post oatmeal breakfast. It’s not even so much that these are valuable things, it’s just the principle of stealing someone else’s cup that disgusts baffles me .

I know we don’t get great salaries, but why would someone steal a mug? We have all kinds of shops that sell mugs downstairs; take your pick between Starbucks, Rite Aid, the Hallmark Store, and the multitude of cheesy souvenir shops, there are probably more mugs available than people to steal them.

I keep my own mug on my desk, free for the taking, except it hasn’t walked away just yet. It seems that the crimes are occurring in the kitchen, where, say, it wouldn’t be at all obvious to grab the cup loitering near the sink or the countertop. No one would question you there, but if you took it straight from someone else’s cube, with an outer wall clearly marked with a name that’s not yours, it might be more obvious.

I don’t understand why anyone would want a used and possibly dirty mug? Why would you want someone’s dried hot cocoa dregs or lipstick stains? Do you go to the restaurant and ask for unwashed coffee cup when it’s time for dessert?

Never mind, I don't really want to know.


The stages of reading a not-so-good book

Writing regularly means you also have to be a good reader. I always read books and even took a high school job that offered me regular access to books. Even now, the old library worker tendencies are hard to fight. I went to the library this past Saturday and shelved two books that were out of place. Not because I had to, but because old habits die hard.

I also found a few books, one of which I had been meaning to read. Strangely enough, it was released back in the spring, which usually means it would still be with the new books, but there was no tell tale blue dot on the binding and nothing that would otherwise suggest it was out of place. When I saw this, the conspiracy thinking gears started turning. Was this relatively new book shelved with the rest because the author was a gay black male? I know, I’m ridiculous, but when a book released in 2007 is still in the “new” section and one that was released in spring of 2008 is not, I start wondering.

I'll save the conspiracy theory for another time. This post is about reading itself, specifically reading something you expected to be good, or at least decent, and slowly discovering that it is, in fact, very, very bad.

Sometimes you get through the first few pages and give up, or “Cut your losses” as they say. This is probably best because in the end you haven’t lost much time and if it came from the library, you didn’t lose any money.

I’m reading my latest library pick and hovering between “I know he could have written this better” and “How close am I to reaching the last page?” It’s never good to want to rush to the end. I feel obligated to finish because I started the first two thirds with hopes that the storyline would improve. With that much invested, I might as well stick around till the end. Again, this is never good.

When you pick up a book, you do so with the hope that it’s going to be good. Sometimes it really is good. Sometimes you want to recapture the magic so badly that you return to the same author in hopes that the rest of their work is as good. When it’s great, you use every waking hour to finish the book while at the same time wishing it could last longer. But when it’s bad, you feel duped. More than that, when it’s bad but the majority of people who have read it think it’s good, you feel like you’re on crazy pills.

It’s happened too many times for me to count. I don’t know if it’s because I'm less forgiving now that I have gotten into writing or if I’m just completely not seeing what everyone else gets the book. Sometimes I find myself scouring the one and two star reviews on Amazon just to confirm that I’m not the only one who missed out on the magic.

The stages you go through when you realize you are reading a bad book mirror the stages of grief:

1) Denial (This book is going to get better. It has to get better.)

2) Anger (Who let this get published?)

3) Bargaining (If I return it to the store, at least I'll get my money back. If I get away with it, I'll borrow books from the library for the rest of my days.)

4) Depression (Will I ever read a good book again?)

5) Acceptance (Okay, it sucked. Let’s see what else the library has)


The Rice Farmer in China

I recently enjoyed the privilege of being my best friend’s maid of honor (okay, “matron” since I am an old married lady and haven’t been a “maid” for some time now). Duties included buying a dress in the shade of “Apple” and showing up at the right time. Honestly, she was a fabulous bride and not demanding in the least. She was the Anti-bridezilla.

Oh…actually one of my duties included giving a speech. I knew this was coming and she deserved a good one. A week before the wedding, she called and checked to make sure it was okay with me. “Oh, sure!” I said, “I have an idea, I just have to sit down and write it up.”

Those of you who know me best know that I do okay with writing, but the speaking, the delivery of the words, even if they are prepared, needs some help.

I’ve always admired people who can tell a tale so well that you feel like you were right there with them when it happened. In some cases the story is even better than the truth, and even though you know the story might be better than the true version, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you were entertained. When I tell a story, consider yourself lucky if I manage to recall at least half of the details. Weaving in humor is a whole different level that I’m not ready to do. Instead I rush through, hoping not to get tongue tied, hoping that at the end, everything I’ve recounted was understood.

I’m also a procrastinator. I strongly believe that if you wait till the last minute, your task really will take a minute. Now that doesn’t mean what you do will be a success or that it will have any value at all, but what do you expect when it takes a minute?

I knew I had to write that speech. I had an idea of what I wanted to say. I figured I’d knock it out on the laptop over the weekend, or even better—on the plane ride—a five and a half hour stretch of time where I had no choice but to sit there. What I didn’t anticipate was that my keyboard time would be cut into by a two year old who really really wanted to watch Charlotte’s Web. I know, I know, excuses, excuses. It’s what we procrastinators do best. I really had it down to the wire when I arrived at the wedding site with my little notepad at the ready for my speech. If I wrote it an hour before the ceremony, the feelings in the words would be more genuine—more fresh, if you will.

Well, we went through some pre-wedding stuff, I walked through flower girl duties with my daughter, and the next thing you know, I was on deck to walk down the aisle. Time had run out and I had no speech to give.

I know, excuses, excuses.

Needless to say I was thankful when the wedding reception flowed without any calls for me to step up and present my speech. Was it that I had nothing to say? No, not at all. It was that there was so much to say that I couldn’t figure out what to mention and how to tie it all together. I still haven’t figured that out, but my best friend still deserves her speech, so I’ll take a crack at it here.

We used to speculate over the men we’d marry. The guys were always real men, grown, and mature in body, mind and spirit, that is to say, the “soulmates” we envisioned for ourselves were never the grown up versions of the ones we liked in school. There was always hope for better than the “slim pickins” we saw every day. Beyond that, there weren’t any real specifics to these future husbands. They would come along one day, and somehow we would just know.

Well, her big worry was, what if he didn’t come along. There was never a doubt that the soulmate didn’t exist, but what if meeting him was impossibility? In my best friend’s exact words: “What if my soulmate is a rice farmer in China?”

Now there is nothing wrong with being a Chinese rice farmer, the problem was when the guy lived halfway around the world in a country (population:~one billion), then what were the chances you’d meet him?

It wasn’t a stupid question, but I dismissed it just the way I dismissed her worries about Global Warming. “Oh don’t worry,” I said, “that’s not going to happen!”

The truth was, I didn’t know and besides, look how my prediction on global warming turned out. I didn’t know, but I also thought she was pretty, smart, generous, talented and funny enough for someone to notice, and not only that, I was banking on at least one of the guys who noticed to be someone worthy. I didn’t know it would happen, but I had faith.

My best friend often lamented that she wished finding a good guy could be as effortless as our friendship had been. We met in 8th grade—both new kids in a school where the same people had known each other since kindergarten. We were also outcasts—she was an overweight redhead while I was from across the country, and well, not white. Usually these things aren’t major issues, in 8th grade in the school we attended, apparently they were. We spent many lunch times discussing our misery in each other's company.

Things got better in high school. I had a group of friends, but many times it was just us. At first glance, we were opposites. She was white, I was black. She was tall, I was short. She was Penn and I was Teller (okay, I think you get the point). The superficial differences didn't matter because we found a lot of the same things funny. Earl Grant Christmas music would have us howling. A certain word uttered in English class ("discharge") got us sent to the hallway where we could freely roll on the floor in hysterics (yes, we were really on the floor).

As if we didn’t spend enough time talking, we also passed notes to each other between classes, so we could carry on discussions when we were apart. High school in general sucks, but it would have been so much worse without her there.

I left for college two weeks after graduation, so we didn’t even have a proper last summer to hang out. Instead, I was going through the drill at West Point. We still carried on our tradition of notes, this time in the form of letter writing. I used a few of my once a week phone calls to talk to her because I knew she would make me laugh, whereas calling my mom would make me cry. After I told her we were not allowed to keep chocolate or any kind of candy in our rooms, she sent me a large envelope with three milk chocolate Hershey bars—the big ones—one for me, and one for each of my roommates.

We took different routes into adulthood, but we stayed in touch. I visited when I could. She overcame her fear of flying too—not enough to make it in time for my graduation, but later, when my husband and I had our wedding ceremony at West Point. It was an interesting trip because she not only got to see the place I had written about for four years, she also saw the house where I grew up, and we got to hang out in the hotel room the night before the ceremony. When you can hang out with someone and not need TV or any other traditional form of entertainment, you know you have a true friend. We have entertained ourselves by blowing bubbles, feeding aerosol easy-cheese to a cat, stealing pumpkins, and dumping food into an open toilet but I can’t promise that any of these activities would have been fun with anyone else. It was fun because it was us.

I didn’t meet Richard until this past June. Everything I knew about him didn’t send up red flags. I wasn’t even convinced by the text message saga of 2006. His humor is a perfect match for Heather’s. He’s smart, sweet and talented too. He adores her. Best of all, he wasn't a rice farmer in China, so there were no language or geographical barriers to get in the way. I knew he would show up eventually. I don’t know how I knew; I just had faith. (I'm also glad I was right this time!)


Observations on the Road to Old

Some signs of getting old(er):

A song by your favorite group is regularly piped into stores as easy listening/shopping music (“Friday I’m in Love”)

A song by The Fixx is used to sell Toyotas (“Saved by Zero” isn’t really about zero interest financing)

You have to explain to your decade younger co-worker that the muzak being played is not based on the song by the Notorious B.I.G., but the one by Lisa Stansfield (All Around the World)

You remember when “Our House” was played on the radio, and it wasn’t about coffee.

I Like To Move It” wasn’t geared towards kids.

Songs by Queen and The Police came programmed on your 3 year old's toy guitar.

You can identify (and tend to prefer) the songs being sampled over the newer songs borrowing from the original.


Thoughts on Things to Come

Art can be a sculpture, a painting, a photograph, a poem or a play. It can be the Blue Man Group or Van Gogh. It can be a concept or something tangible. A crumpled piece of paper in a wire wastebasket can be art if someone deems it so. Art is about expression. If you're good, it can be iconic. If you're great, immortal.

There’s art, and then there’s “art.” One person’s art may be another’s “art.” What determines the difference is usually up to the beholder. Dogs playing poker, Velvet Elvis paintings and Karaoke generally fall into the “art” category. “Art” is Thomas Kinkade and Nicolas Sparks. “Art” is Bob Ross and his canned oil paintings of happy little trees. “Art” is a formula that doesn’t involve much risk. Most people like it for its camp factor, or else they're indifferent--but also--they don’t spend much time thinking about it.

After last week’s election of Obama, I have a sneaking suspicion that there is quite a bit of “art” yet to come.

Yes, I know, it was a historic election (or "an" historic election, if you're into saying it that way). Yes, I cried, hell, my eyes were puffy for two days straight. Yes, I understand the significance, the importance, the great amount of hope and faith exercised in voting for a man whose story might not even be possible in another country. Yes, I know the newspapers were sold out. Trust me, I get it.

What I don’t get is the inevitable “art” that is spawned from events like these. "Art" that boils down to people banking on others' desire to capture a piece of the moment and keep it in their homes. NBC’s already pitched their DVD. I’m sure there were a number of bootleg t-shirts and stickers that in no way benefited Obama's campaign. Americans are enterprising people. When you see a man hawking Sean Taylor #21 skill caps and t-shirts outside the metro station less than a week after the man died, you don’t think it’s because the seller really wants to keep Taylor’s memory alive; it’s because he wants to make a buck of off someone else who does.

Can we talk about this?

I don’t even know where to begin. The unicorn? The "God" rays? The “aura?” The strategically placed twinkles? The roses? The bridge to nowhere? The open shirt? The “B” belt buckle? The “water”? (or is it fire? Or is it water on fire?) This is just the beginning, folks.

I get feeling proud. I felt proud. I don’t get the reasoning behind someone who buys these things. The following popped into my head on a train ride home: oil on canvas of a scene involving Obamas entering the White House. Around the perimeter? Ghosts of slaves with beaming faces as they watch their descendants enter the house they built with their own hands. The image is heavy handed enough to knock you over. I couldn’t find anything online, but there’s a feeling deep within me that someone is working away on this very thing as I type. If you read that, nodded your head, and thought “I’d buy that,” well...if I ever come to your house and see the aforementioned oil painting, please excuse me if I look like I’m trying not to laugh. It’s not so much that it’s funny, it’s more that it’s awkward.

Like when you go to a home and there’s a life-sized statue of Jesus on the cross hanging from the wall? Awk-ward. 16X20 bridal portrait of the bride (and only the bride because it was her day, y'know) over the fireplace? Awk-ward. These are the kinds of things that leave me lost for words. I respect your convictions, but you don’t need to clobber my eyeballs with your questionable taste.

Is there anything wrong with this? No, not really (okay, sometimes there is). I have seen all kinds of “art” in the shops downstairs from where I work. I’ve seen framed photographs of the patron saint of conservatism, Ronald Reagan, I’ve seen a painting of presidents (dead and alive, Democrat, Republican, and Bull Moose) playing poker, I’ve seen an embroidered throw pillow with the letter “W” on it. The difference is that while it’s hokey, I don’t feel too embarrassed because these things come without the weight of history in the making (and I know it’s highly unlikely that anyone I know would buy it). Obama hasn’t even taken office and people are already talking about his “legacy.” I want him to do well too, but at least allow the man some time to get started. I can see keeping a newspaper, or making a shadow box to commemorate the election, but there’s a certain point when you realize it’s gone too far!

Over the next 4 years, and possibly the 4 after that, I can only hope the worst that comes out of it is the "art" that results.


Whoooo are you, hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo

Now that this election business has been settled, I can get back to focusing on the important things. Today’s subject? C.S.I.

No, not the real stuff, the pretend one on T.V., specifically the original version (I have never watched one episode of the N.Y. and Miami versions). Yes, it's a T.V. related post. Yes I watch the show. Shut up.

A long time ago, before a mortgage payment and a kid crept into my life, my husband and I caught one of the first episodes. The intro excited us week after week—who could have thunk of a more captivating start—you have a sweeping view of Las Vegas lights at night paired with The Who’s most memorable (and memorizable) song.

As soon as the show started, we would plunk ourselves down for an hour of whodunit paired with C.G.I enhanced autopsy visuals. There was nothing like it anywhere else on T.V.

Now, eight years later, the episodes collect on the DVR, taking up hard drive space like dirty clothes in the hamper. What happened?

1) The love story—

Sidle and Grissom sittin’ in a tree. Why? Why was this even necessary? Why was it hinted at with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge manner? Were we really supposed to care when this relationship was mostly kept secret, even from the audience? Then Jorja Fox’s contract gets canceled and bingo-bango, she has to get out of this career path and get the hell out of Dodge. Fine, except they brought her back for A Very Special Episode..Oh! Which brings us to--

2) Warrick. Okay, we knew he got shitcanned his contract was not renewed. But then on the show they kill him off (because we already saw one character ride off into the sunset, I guess that would have been too predictable), and not only that, introduce a son no one knew about. These people have been working together during all kinds of odd hours of the day and no one knew this? Again, why? What was the point? To make us feel sorry? As if it wasn’t enough to witness the guy realize he was going to be shot and then wait it out for the entire summer to then watch him bleed out all over Grissom?

3) Loose threads

When Grissom was evaluating the sound coming from the nightclub against the gunshot (re-enacting the setting for the investigation of Warrick's murder), I said to my husband--

"Whatever happened to his degenerative hearing problem--wasn't that the BFD from a few seasons back? Why would you have someone who is supposedly going deaf see if he can hear a gun shot while music blares from the nearby nightclub?"

We have never heard about that again, yet at the time the episode aired, Grissom was hanging his head like he was facing some great tragedy. What changed? Did he purchase a whisper 2000? Did a faith healer get the demons out of him? Beats the hell out of me. Maybe after the season when Grissom was diagnosed, the audience was then expected to get some kind of degenerative memory problem and forget all about that.

(okay, he had surgery. I missed that episode. Thank you wikipedia.)

4) Stretching out the blindingly obvious over the course of an hour

The recent bank robbery episode with "twist" involving the hypnotist was absolutely lazy and insulting. We're supposed to believe these people are professional crime solvers and no one recognized the fake beard the instant they saw that footage?
I know, I know, the show is grasping at realism without even trying. No one in forensics is going to study evidence in a room lit by a single 10 watt blue hued lightbulb. A C.S.I. isn’t going to wear skintight pants and a low cut shirt while gingerly stepping over a dead body to collect evidence (I’m looking at you, Marg Helgenberger). So much of this is fiction for entertainment’s sake and I recognize that, but these types of shows have a limited shelf life before they get stupid and resort to inserting gimmicks like contrived love stories (check), killing off characters (check) and uninspired, easily solved mysteries (check). Bringing in new characters with the hope of breathing some new life into the show. (Lawrence Fishburne, check). Google "E.R." if you need another example.

Maybe it’s just time to zip the bag.