Monday, July 30, 2007

Hypocritical Mass

I don't eat meat because I have no desire to chew and digest anything that would hold it against me. And while I'm not a militant vegetarian, I am human and American and am therefore comforted by news items that validate my choices: vegetarians are more likely to be more intelligent, says one story. "Clearly," I say. I don't eat particularly well, and so I find little to interest me in stories about the ill effects of meat on the heart; I pretty much fill the "ill effects" gap with baked goods. But I've always been able to feel a certain superiority of character whenever I hear about the treatment of livestock in megafarms and the, well, slaughter of living things perpetrated at slaughterhouses.

Once again, however, television has found a way to knock me off my high horse. It's held a pixelated mirror up to my face and said, "See? You're not so great. You think that high horse wants you on its back, especially after all those baked goods? And you say you care about animals. Ha!" For though I hate the thought of animals slaughtered for consumption, though I believe whole-heartedly in their ability to think and feel in a way completely on a par with human beings, though I will surely go to the special hell reserved for puppy kickers and Ann Coulter, I must admit, I love The Deadliest Catch.

The Deadliest Catch
is a brilliant show that follows six fishing boats locked in a deadly showdown with the merciless Bering Sea for the potential riches of crab fishing. There is an absolute ton of money to be made: a deckhand on a successful ship like, say, The Cornelia Marie could make more than $30,000 in a few weeks fishing. That's if you've got a good captain like Phil. I'm sure there are plenty of vessels out there that are not doing so great. It all depends on where the captain strings the pots, huge metal cages that sink down to the black and freezing ocean floor. The fishermen bait the cages, let the pots "soak" for a few days, and then come back and pull them up.

And this is where this shit gets awesome. These fishermen have their whole livelihood riding on what's in the pots when they go back and get them. They've only got so much time to catch their crab. The Discovery Channel's helpful computer-generated crab reenactments show the complex workings of the ocean floor. Giant herds of crab rove along the seabed, crawling over each other in an enormous rolling mass in search of food. The captains of the crabbing ships have to try to predict where their quarry will go next and then string their pots in the path of the crustacean stampede. It's awesome.

Over the course of a crab-fishing season, you get to know the ships, their captains, and crews. And if you, say, watch a marathon on the Discovery Channel while your roommate is away for the weekend, you might even end up peppering your speech with ill-used lingo of the Bering Sea. "That pot's coming up empty," you might say when you see someone trying to parallel park their SUV on a crowded city street. Or when giving directions, you might tell someone to take a starboard turn on Victoria Street. The king crab season ends, and the opilio season begins. You watch it all, rooting for the underdog Time Bandit but secretly reveling in the predictable dominance of the Northwestern.

Watching this show, I am reminded of a harrowing experience from my youth. My brother and I were camping with our dad at a park on the Mississippi River. A big part of the camping experience for them was fishing. For me, that meant sitting on the cooler in the middle of the canoe and reading a Nancy Drew mystery.

On one such outing, we came across a log apparently floating upstream. Further investigation revealed fishing line tangled around the driftwood. Something was dragging that log upstream. My dad caught hold of the log and started to pull in the line. There was something big, something powerful on the other end of that line, and after a few minutes of tugging, my dad gave up, to my enormous relief. I had watched, clutching the handles of the cooler on which I was perched, absolutely terrified of what could be on the other end of that line, lurking in the depths of that ancient river...and how pissed off it would be to find itself dragged to the surface. I imagined its eyes breaking the surface and darting from the line caught in its fish lips to the line strung on our fishing poles. It would do the math and squint angrily at me as it launched itself out of the water on prehistoric fins and snatched me right off the Igloo, dragging me to my murky end on the riverbed.

If you find yourself tossed into the Bering Sea, your only hope is in a survival suit. Even then, if you're not rescued within an hour, your chances of getting out of the water alive aren't great. While I'm sure any number of sea creatures would dub the season they're fished as "the deadliest," the crab fishing season claims the most human lives of any. And that is why this show is epic. That is why I can't take my eyes off it. The producers are banking on the audience's willingness--perhaps even desire--to see horrible things happen to animals and humans alike. People die all the freaking time to bring crab to the dinner tables of the world.

And so Deadliest Catch covers all the major epic struggles of literature and lore...
Man vs. Man: which boat will bring in the greatest share of the crabbing riches? Man vs. Nature: can the captains outmaneuver Poseidon as he blasts them with arctic gales and tosses their ships on 30-foot waves? Man vs. Shellfish: can the crabbers stay one step ahead of their elusive, ever-moving prize, or will the crafty crabs sidestep the sunken pots and force the men home with empty hulls and empty pockets?

I watch with hungry eyes, if not a hungry stomach. With every pot that's winched up from the ocean floor, my heart races: will it be full of crab, empty, or will some other creature wait between the bars of the cage? The monster I envision is twisted in on itself by guilt, a tortured soul that wants to do right but is weak in the face of great entertainment. I'm on the edge of my seat, which has come to feel oddly like an Igloo cooler.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hurry While Supplies Last

As a citizen of these fine United States, I feel compelled to bring to light a looming danger of which, sadly, only those who cannot sleep but rather watch the Sci-Fi channel in the wee hours of the morning are aware. It is called the MXZ saw, and it will surely be our end.

Seriously, people, $19.95 is all that stands between countless nerds sprawled on their couches, lazy but also bent on world domination, and the total annihilation of our civilization. I've seen it's power. It can cut through bricks, steel piping, coffee mugs, and drywall! If the wrong people get their hands on this weapon, no number of cinder blocks, no amount of plumbing-grade rubber tubing will stop them.

But wait; there's more! If we don't act now--and I mean within the next five minutes--these would-be evildoers will have within their grasp a saw that will win the hearts and minds of all who behold it. For while it is brutal, ruthless even, toward formidable enemies like ceramic tile and garden hoses, it is gentle and, if you can believe it, will not harm the one who wields it. That's right, folks: its edge is serrated but knowing, sharp and cunning. Its teeth will not pierce the flesh of the one who sends check or money order and thereby commands its mighty strength. I've seen it glide harmlessly over a man's outstretched hand mere moments after laying waste to metal sheeting!

Even I, who have no designs on power and influence, found myself tempted by the prospect of mastering such a blade. Scanning my living room in the flickering light from the television, I saw at least 14 things I could easily have cut straight through with the MXZ saw. And as I imagined the uneven legs of the dining room table, the slashed bookcase, the gore of stuffing spilling from the couch, I glimpsed the corrupting power of the blade.

We must hurry. We have only that small window "while supplies last" to avert disaster. It might just be time for an epic quest to rid the world of this powerful and affordable menace. Or it might be time for a rerun of the X-Files. Oh, yeah, this is a good one. Never mind.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The End

--No spoilers for Harry Potter follow. None.--

Oh, man. I've been so busy lately with all I've been doing math...and other grown-up things. I've been, you know, paying bills and taking meetings.

Oh, I can't lie to you, blog. I've been reading Harry Potter. I read most of the seventh and final book over the weekend and then spent an agonizing day at work on Monday while 250 pages of the last of the unread Harry sat at home, all its secrets and revelations practically shaking its binding with the effort of remaining undiscovered--or at least that's how I imagined the book while I tried to concentrate on working.

I was like a hawk--no, the opposite of a hawk--all day. I strove to have the senses and world perspective of a mole. I avoided any internet sites I didn't absolutely have to visit for work, and I didn't even read the news. I needed groceries, but the fear of some loud-mouthed preteen at the store yapping on their cell phone about the ending of the series drove me straight home after work.

The bittersweet moment came, I turned the last of those pages, and now it is done. And I have to say I'm glad. Those damn books made a tool of me, and frankly, I've had it. Upon the release of book six, I sat on one chair in my mom's otherwise empty house, reading for two days. And that's what Harry has done for me: revealed who I am when no one's looking. When there isn't anyone there to cast a look as they pass your completely immobile body at all hours of the day; when there isn't anyone to see the stains on your clothes from food you finally forced yourself to eat, evidence of failed attempts to balance a 700-page book and a plate of macaroni and cheese; when no one is around to watch the shower go unused or to finally ask, "What's that smell coming from that chair?" then, I say, you meet your true self.

So I think that, like people who discovered these books much earlier in their lives, I, too, can say I've grown up with Harry. It took real maturity to turn out the light on Sunday night, set the alarm, go to work Monday.

And now it is time to get on with my life...

...and, I have to admit, most likely find some other series of books for adolescents. But you know, until they label a section at the bookstore "Old Adult Fiction with Whimsy," I'll just have to remain a young adult at heart...and in posture.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Warning: the following is rated PG-13 and may not be suitable for some audiences. Parental discretion is advised.

Recently I realized that, were my life a movie, it would be rated PG-13 for language and possibly "intense situations." I wouldn't get an R rating; that's for sure. I don't swear much, and the naughtiest thing that's happened to me lately was being felt up by a two-year-old at a tea party on my front lawn.

The invitation to tea had been extended to my roommate and I by our ten-year-old downstairs neighbor. She and her mom and little sister have become something like a surrogate family to each of us, inviting us to birthday parties and piano recitals, borrowing kitchen items, and sending up portions of whatever they bake. The oldest girl is taking a summer finishing class--you know, where little ladies learn real manners--and had some sort of a test the next day.

So it was that we all came to be sitting on a blanket on the front lawn of our apartment building, a plastic tea set and plateful of cookies spread before us.

"Do tell us about finishing school, won't you? It's ever so interesting." I prompted, pinkie up as I sipped carbonated juice from a plastic teacup. We learned about how to properly hold your saucer and cup and how to signal when you shan't have any more tea (lay your upside-down spoon across the top of your cup, of course).

At one point, the middle-aged woman who lives in the other downstairs apartment came home and walked past our little spread. "Oh, a tea party, huh?" She was holding a styrofoam container of leftovers and told us there were buffalo wings inside. "I just love the hot stuff," she explained.

It's hard for me to look at this woman without thinking of a recent incident in which she answered the door, plastered and pants-less, after an evening of drunken shouting at no one. I'd finally knocked on her door sometime around midnight when the banging on the wall started to worry me.

"Are you okay in there?" I'd asked. "Do you think you could stop the banging? Because I have to get up for work in--"

"Honey," she'd slurred, flinging one hand out while the other struggled to pinch together the strained edges of a very small towel she'd wrapped around her waist, "I don't care what time you have to get up in the morning."

Now she cast a wary eye on her leftovers. "Sure doesn't help with my hot flashes, though. And we'll just see how much I love the hot stuff in the morning."

My young neighbor stirred her plastic spoon in her make-believe tea and searched for a ladylike response to talk of menopause and bowel movements. "Well, have a pleasant evening, won't you?"


As she walked into the building, I felt glad to be on the blanket with the family, an observer of crass behavior rather than a practitioner. A few months after we moved in, I scandalized the ten-year-old by saying "crap." Scandal has since proven to have a sliding scale, and it's slid quite a bit.

One Saturday, after working a few hours of overtime, I came home to a note from my roommate: "Margaritas in the freezer. Help yourself!" Perfect. I ate dinner and sipped--
Whoa, tequila! The ice and citrus flavor were footnotes to the liquor in this stuff, and who reads footnotes anyway? The dog watched as I sat alone at the table, each sip bringing a shudder and a puckered, cartoonish expression to my face.

"Bleh!" I said to the dog. "That's a strong drink!" I hadn't even drank 1/3 of the large glass I'd poured before I started feeling a little buzz. I sipped about half of the concoction and then, in what I considered a very wise and responsible move, poured the rest down the sink. It was one thing to have a little drink after work on a Saturday, but it was quite another to get boozed by myself at 4:00 in the afternoon.

What I needed was some fresh air, and what the dog needed was a walk. I put two and two together and congratulated myself at how unimpaired were my powers of reasoning as I fumbled for the dog's leash and a poop bag.

"Poop bag," I snickered.

The dog looked at me like I'd just stumbled out of a bar, pulled my keys out of my pocket, and said, "I'll take you home. My car's just over here." In the end, though, she was more interested in going outside than she was in judging me. She let me clasp the leash to her collar, and we headed down the stairs and outside.

My little neighbors were in the front yard and greeted me with their usual enthusiasm. "Let's play a game!" the oldest one said. By this time, I was a little drunk, and I readily agreed to a fairly straightforward game called "tell a funny story." I regarded my audience and decided bathroom humor was the way to go--and, man, was I right. They loved this stuff! I regaled them with my entire potty-story repertoire, the finale being a cautionary tale about the wrong way for a girl to pee in the woods.

"See?" I thought, congratulating myself on being fun and informative. "They can use this."

The buzz had started to wear off by the time their mother came to check on the girls. We were all rolling with laughter, and the toddler looked up and said, "Jess pants were down, and then she fell."

Somehow my camping story seemed less funny as I quickly repeated it for an adult audience--less funny, less educational, less appropriate for children. I resolved to watch my tongue around the little ones.

And I did. I was being really good for a long time, but there, where I least expected it, at a tea party emphasizing manners, my resolve to be proper was sorely tested. The youngest girl suddenly decided she wanted to sit on my lap, and I obliged, extending a polite invitation for her to take a seat on my knee.

Without so much as a "how do you do," the toddler dramatically hit my left boob and exclaimed "What is this?" I laughed a little and looked around at the other tea party attendants. Only her mother had an inkling of all the good manners about to be smashed to pieces. The little girl turned her attention to the right boob and tapped that one. "What are these?"

So great was her horror at her discovery that no one could ignore her screams this time. It was as if she had just stumbled upon a spaceship on her front lawn. "WHAT IS THIS?" she yelled tapping and hitting and genuinely astounded.

And we all laughed. Teacups were forgotten, half-chewed cookies spit out. Her mother shouted her apologies through her laughter.

"What are these?" A string of euphemisms went through my mind: boobs, tatas, knockers, hooters. None of them seemed to have the right shade of meaning for a 2 1/2 year old girl. "Ask your mom," I finally said. Somewhat at a loss over the scene she'd created, the little girl soon gave up her crass line of questioning and moved on to exploring the ant hills on the sidewalk.

My niche in this place seems clear to me now. I just have to find the right towel to keep by the door.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Depths of Despair

St. Paul begins its slope down to the Mississippi River just across the street from my apartment building. From my second-story window, I can't see the river, but I can make out the trees on its opposite shore. This is the Mighty Mississippi, on which riverboat sailors once called out the depths as their ships glided south--of course, south.

Two fathoms of navigable water? "Mark twain!"

Today a man's voice booms into my living room through the windows I've opened to let the summer air in. "ONE!" His voice is an angry bark, as if he's spotted that good-for-nothing One who took all his money and knocked up his sister, kicked his dog, and left town months ago. Ah, but now he's got him in his sights. Don't you walk away from him, One! He sees you. "ONE!"

"TWO!" he bellows. His voice bounces sharply off the concrete retaining wall that sinks the community center's basketball court down into the hillside. I can't see the court from my window, but this time I notice the metallic thump of a basketball hitting the rim of the hoop, followed by several soft, quick bounces on concrete. I stop what I am doing and admire the man's courage. He's decided to better his game and to bravely announce his progress to the world.

Thump. Bounce.


Oh, dear.

There is a moment of silence.


I ask about him the next time I go to the community center gym and discover that he is actually "a very nice man" whose Tourette syndrome unfortunately prevents him from exaggerating his abilities on the court. Day after day, the Tourettes Baller, as I've come to call him, strives to improve his game, but his curses ring through the neighborhood, stopping mothers in their tracks, their trailing toddlers running into the backs of their suddenly immobile legs. Middle-aged middle-class fathers hover around the court, rehearsing their speeches to him about how much they'd appreciate it, man, if he'd watch his language around all these kids.

But no one ever really confronts him. The twangs of his ball bouncing off the metal hoop reverberate down the street, and he never gets past twain.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Moving Target

It's an odd thing to stand behind someone in line at Super Target. There, spread before you on a conveyor belt, are items that will soon be tucked away from public view in medicine cabinets and cupboards beneath bathroom sinks, in closets and underwear drawers. You get to know a lot about a stranger while pretending not to notice their creams and powders and pills and candies. Coupled with the collection of stuff strewn out in front of you, the way a person acts in a check-out line is, I think, very telling of their general character.

Take the family in line before me at Super Target yesterday night. This little nuclear treasure consisted of a mother, a father, and their grown daughter. Mom stood at the pay station while the daughter was posted at the end of the aisle, moving bags from the counter to their cart. It was Dad's role in life, from what I gather, to circle the scene like some hyperactive satellite, keeping his eyes peeled for a chance at what I'm sure he'd describe as hijinks.

To find the exact opposite of this family, one needed to look no further than the cashier handling their soon-to-be possessions. These pasty, pair-shaped gasbags were defined in opposition to the stoic African cashier. She was movie-star pretty, possibly even model-who-dreams-of-acting beautiful, and she barely said a word as she worked--no small feat, considering the odds her silence was up against.

The mother marveled at the cashier's bagging abilities. "You really organize all that stuff before you put it in the bags, don't you? You're probably the best bagger we've ever had. Do they train you how to do that?"

The clerk shook her head in a silent "no."

"Wait a minute," declared Dad. "I gotta get my cold coffee drink." He bounced quickly over to the cooler in the next aisle and grabbed a Frapuccino. "I know. I know. I'm bad. But I just love cold coffee."

"Dad, you're so weird," said his daughter, turning to the cashier. "Isn't he the weirdest guy you ever saw?"

Coffee? Cold? That is wacky! Did this fella escape from the loony bin, or what?

Mom picked up her daughter's thought and reassured the clerk. "It's okay to say he's weird. You can't get in trouble for telling the truth."

Get in trouble? Did this woman imagine that the cashier had a history of falsely pronouncing men to be "the weirdest guy she ever saw"? Had Target management reprimanded her for not telling the truth? I imagined a managerial type's response to one of the clerk's submissions for the title of weirdest guy. "The weirdest? Really? That guy over there with the tattoos? Does he even drink cold coffee? Why don't you just go back to your register and let us know when you've got a real contender in your line?"

The clerk silently picked up a frozen pizza and slid it into a bag of frozen foods.

"She is just amazing," exclaimed the daughter. "Isn't she great? You know, one time, we had this guy who put so much stuff in every bag that they ripped when we were carrying them into the house."

Still the clerk said nothing.

The woman continued. "And I said, 'Damn it, Kevin,' 'cause that was his name, Kevin."

There was not a flicker of recognition in the cashier's face for either Kevin or this absurd creature talking to her.

I had started out hating this family as representatives of my race and my country, but I had slowly come to loath them as people. The Target logo was everywhere, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to imagine the red bull's-eye floating over their hateful faces.

They reminded me of my years in retail and that class of customer who views the $9.74 they hand over to you as a direct payment of your bills, the only means by which you will be able to put vittles on the table tonight. And even after you've wished them a great day and good health and sufficient prosperity to allow them to come again, they linger like they're waiting for a curtsy.

I told myself that when it came my turn at the register, I'd make amends for these people. I wouldn't say a word. I'd just slide my credit card through the machine, collect my things, and go. By completely ignoring her, my brilliant logic went, I'd show this woman behind the register real manners.

But when I was face-to-face with this woman, I wanted nothing more than to strike up a conversation with her. She was quiet, but she had an open face and a kind smile. I thought of things to say to her. Wasn't it busy in here tonight? Was it always like this on Sundays? "No," I told myself. "You had a plan. Now stick to it."

By the end of our silent exchange, I just felt rude. I packed my things into my cart as the elderly lady behind me chatted to the clerk about how tired she was. "Ugh," she groaned, "I don't even care if you use paper or plastic. That's just how tired I am."

Feeling like nothing so much as a cog in a machine of blinking lights and conveyor belts and credit card scanners, I started to wheel my plastic cart away.

"Ma'am," the cashier called to me. I turned back, perhaps a little too eagerly. Here was my last chance to be nice to this woman. She held out a 12-pack of toilet paper I'd just bought. She was silent, of course, but her eyes said, "You forgot this."

I gushed as if she'd just stopped me from stepping out in front of a moving bus. "Oh, thank you! I didn't see it there."

The clerk just turned back to the tired woman, who was going on about how busy it was for a Sunday night. I threw my toilet paper into the cart and made for the door, intensely aware of the bull's-eye on my back.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bastille Day

I am happy to report that I didn't run over anything on Bastille Day. Specifically, I did not run over any French prisons. This might not seem like cause for relief. There must be cause for concern before there can be cause for relief, and really, what does a French prison have to be concerned about? Answer: nothing...364 days out of the year, that is. But on that one remaining day, Bastille Day, there is one thing that should make its stony foundation quiver with fear: me behind the wheel of a car. For I have the most obscure and useless super power: I run over the symbols of holidays ON the holiday they represent.

The first display of my "ability" came a few years ago when I was driving home from a holiday shift at the video store. I always worked holidays because they paid time and a half. This day was Easter.

The family had gathered at my mom's house for Easter dinner, and I was turning left into her driveway when a rabbit bolted out in front of my Toyota Camry. I didn't even have time to swerve. I stopped in the driveway and tilted my mirror down until I could see the lifeless body of the poor animal lying on the side of the road. It only took a few seconds to confirm that there would be no Resurrection this Easter. That bunny was dead.

I didn't tell anyone about the incident, afraid I'd be shunned from normal society because of my newfound power. No, I'd go on about my life as usual, speaking of this to no one and just trying to lead an ordinary life. And for a long time, it seemed like I had managed to suppress my ability. Maybe I got too comfortable. I let my guard down.

My dark secret came violently into the open earlier this month when, on the Fourth of July, that most hallowed of American patriotic holidays, I ran over the flag of the United States of America with my friend Sarah's Buick LaSabre.

We had gone to Canada to see the White Stripes play in Thunder Bay on July 3rd, and we had decided to symbolically reenter the United States, declaring our independence from Canada on the 4th. We awoke in Thunder Bay on the 4th, a Wednesday, to find everyone going about their Canadian business. Banks were open, and people were going to work. With no one else taking notice of the birth of our nation, Sarah and I made do with what we had and celebrated America by going to Wal-Mart and eating breakfast at McDonalds (two things I NEVER do in the States). As we made for the border, we joked about getting out from under the heel of the oppressive Canadian number system. This country didn't take into account our beliefs in denominations like miles and inches, and that was something we just couldn't live with. No, we'd flee to America, where numbers really meant something. There we'd find acceptance.

Once over the border, we headed down the two-lane highway to Duluth, taking in the grandeur of America and Minnesota's North Shore. We went a steady 55 American miles per hour, slowing down for the occasional town.

We came to one town where the line of cars slowed considerably. Up ahead, there was a pickup truck towing a flatbed trailer that was decorated with sparkling streamers and a sign extolling the virtue of "sticking together" or something. A few townspeople were standing in the bed of the truck, practicing their parade waves for the people walking on either side of the road to and from a classic car show. Behind the truck was a motorcycle with several flags sticking out of the saddlebags.

The parade truck turned left, and I was just trying to read its sign when a fateful gust of un-American wind dislodged one of the flags from the motorcycle. Old Glory fluttered lightly to the pavement in front of Sarah's car. I had only a few seconds to decide whether to stop, risking being rear-ended by the line of cars behind me, swerve into the other lane of the highway, or embrace my destiny.

Time moved slowly. To my left, the sun glinted off the sparkling float decorations. The motorcyclist had pulled over and was running back along the right shoulder of the road toward his fallen flag. Sarah had seen it all from the passenger's seat and seemed to also see the inevitable future as well. The look of horror on her face was a silent testimony; I, on the other hand, screamed as I accelerated. "I'm running over the flag on the Fourth of July!"

All of our windows were open, and what had simply been a loud statement of tragic irony must have seemed like an impromptu protest cry to anyone outside the car. The motorcyclist threw his arms up in disgust as the star-spangled banner yet waved under the Buick's tires. Sarah was pinned to her seat in horror, and my knuckles were white on the wheel as I sped up on the road out of town, checking my mirror nervously for motorcycles and the angry fists of a small-town mob.

People always fear what they can't understand, and so I must learn to look over my shoulder, remain vigilant against a world that might be, say, offended by my actions. Maybe one day I can harness my ability and use it for good. I could become a an anti-colonialism champion on Columbus Day or provide hungry families with roadkill turkey on Thanksgiving. I didn't ask for this power, but I must learn to live with it.

Friday, July 13, 2007


I started a fight in my family once when I got fed up with my younger brother always calling my littlest brother "a girl" when he wanted to really zing him, hit him with a verbal punch that was almost below the know where it would really hurt a guy.
"You throw like a girl."
"What are you gonna do, cry, like a girl?"
"You're such a girl, Sally."
And although I feel like I'm losing the war--to this day, my littlest brother is Sally--I won a battle that day when my mom sided with me.
"Well, you know," she hemmed and hawed in her most placating tone, "she does have a point."
The menfolk wouldn't allow that there was anything inherently sexist in their use of "girl" as a derogatory term; we were surrounded, but at least I knew my Mom and I were in it together.

When I signed up to get braces through the University of Minnesota orthodontics program, I guess, without even realizing it, I assumed my doctor would be a man. But she wasn't. She was a woman about my age, but there the similarities stopped. She was petite, blonde, and didn't run into things. Plus, when people addressed her, they said "doctor" before her name without laughing. I wondered at the vast differences in what we each had to show for roughly the same amount of time spent on the planet. She used words like
"malocclusion," "infradentale," and "radiographic imaging." I used words like "dude." She wore a lab coat, surgical mask, and latex gloves to work. I barely wear shoes anymore. She was pleasant and talked about her husband and dogs like I might talk about my extensive collection of TV on DVD; sure, they took up a lot of time she should have spent reading, but they were happy together.

Well, my lady doctor graduated this month, and today was my first appointment with my new would-be orthodontist, a young man who wouldn't be at all out of place on the sales floor of a car dealership. His ultra-firm handshake should have been a red flag. "I'm not as gentle as your last doctor," he warned. "Oh, that's all right," I joked, "do your worst."
And he did. My wisp of a lady dentist had flitted about her work like a hummingbird, her thin and nimble fingers barely pressing against my teeth. This guy made me feel like one of those people who try to break the record for most hot dogs shoved in a mouth at once. At one point, grunting as he leaned into his effort to ram the metal wire into one of the brackets on my teeth, he said without much concern, "I don't know how this is going to work."

My torturer was singing along with the piped-in music ("I can't drive 55") when I recognized the voice of a friend from work in the next cubicle over. Pinned to the dentist's chair, the mirrored light shining bright in my eyes, a mouth full of manhands, I felt like I was in a war movie--you know that scene where the good guy has gone in search of his captured friend, but he's been captured himself, and now the bad guys with sinister accents have strapped him down in the interrogation room.
"I'd be careful if I were you, my American friend. I'm not as gentle as your last torturer."
"That's okay," our hero says. "Do your worst."
They smack him around a little, but, of course, he doesn't talk. In the end, the baddies decide to give him time to think about what he's going to say when they come back, and then they leave him alone in the room. He hears a voice in the next room, faint and feeble but familiar.
Our hero calls to the next cell. "Murphy! Murphy, is that you? I've been looking for you."
Murphy rasps, "Get out of here, man. You got to get out while you can."
"I'm not leaving without you."

When Dr. Manly McManning had finished, I took a tongue tally and accounted for all my teeth. Despite his best efforts to jar them from my head, they were still there. I left through the next cubicle, stopping at the chair where those bastards had my friend.
"Aw, Murph, what have they done to you?"
We joked about how we were supposed to be at work and how we'd both be eating pudding tonight. But our laughter was hollow, our jokes a ruse to throw our captors off the scent of our fear and woe.

I looked down at my friend, reclined in the dentist's chair. "Come on," I said, "We gotta get out of here." But his doctor wasn't done with him yet.

"No, you go on without me. Ladies first."

I cringed against the sounds of whirring dental machinery as I walked away, and I thought about my gentle female dentist of yore. The highest compliment for any of these dental students, I thought, would be to say they practiced orthodontics like a girl.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Is this thing on?

So this is a blog.
Nice. Spacious. Black. Like outer space. Look at all those sentence fragments! They're just sitting there, verbless and unending. Like outer space.
Now what? I bet that's what most people who go into space say when they get there.

Today I must report a newfound kinship with people who use the word "kin." I slipped on my sandals this morning on the way out the door, only to find my roommate's dog had apparently spent the better part of her morning helpfully applying a layer of saliva to the soles of my shoes. I winced with each squishy step to the car and then into work. But once my feet were safely under my desk and free from the prying eyes of the world, I slipped off the spitshoes and felt a freedom I never thought possible. The stale office air moved freely across the bare bottoms of my feet, a soft whisper of freedom in the workaday world. I felt secretly rebellious and kind of naughty.
Like all rebels, however, I soon became complacent in my disregard for societal norms. The next step, of course, was to spread the revolution. When a coworker called me across the room to her desk, I didn't slip on my shoes but rather marched over with my naked feet. And as I stood there, hair all messy because I woke up too late to take a shower, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, completely devoid of footwear, the final phase of my devolution flashed before my eyes. Take me in my current state exactly, stick me on a dusty porch, and just you try to come onto my land!