Friday, September 30, 2005

On a Claw and a Prayer

To begin, let me clarify: Dave the Crab is not Jesus. Dave hasn’t purged any sins. He hasn’t clothed the naked or fed the hungry, nor has he healed the sick. He hasn’t done a thing for my peeling fingertips.

But today Dave rose from the dead. I swear to...well, I swear.

This morning, I emailed a few friends: Dave had gone to the big terrarium in the sky. If you didn’t receive the email, not to worry -- I just didn’t want you to know my attachment. Getting weepy over a dog or cat, that’s one thing. A canary or gerbil could be “dearly departed,” I guess. But a hermit crab?

Remember the “Cosby Show” episode where Dr. Huxtable holds a funeral for Rudy’s goldfish? Touching, sure (I mean, it is “The Cosby Show”), but also a tad silly. And then there’s the fact that Rudy was 5 in that ep (way, way before the “Rudy Gets Her Period” episode...shark jumping, anyone?). I’m two decades older -- wiser, not sadder.

Only I was sad. Dave has been with me since March. When I offered to take him (and Connick, RIP) off the hands of the Highlights toy department, I figured he’d last two months, maximum. Dave lacked goodwill from the start (another reason he’s not Christ. I wouldn‘t describe Christ as “surly.”). He escaped his shipping crate while I was editing a manuscript, and it took me, Mary, and Joelle at least 30 minutes on hands and knees to locate him. In the meantime, Connick watched patiently from a desktop. Connick: the good seed.

I plucked Dave off the floor, and he clamped down on my thumb. Left a purple mark. I contemplated offering him to the next fourth-grade tour group, or serving him with butter. Zoot alors, what a we go, in zee sauce!

Dave knew I didn’t like him much. While Connick frolicked amongst the plastic palm trees, Dave sulked in his fake-shale cave. Every time I took the crabs out to “exercise,” Dave ran away. More searching, more carpet burns. “Look, man,” Connick waved his antennae. “Can we get rid of this guy?”

Then, affer a month or so, Connick switched shells. I mean, with Professor Coldheart as a roommate, he had nothing better to do. The new shell must have been an upgrade -- like trading a Sentra for a Jaguar. The Sentra was nice and everything, but the Forget Dave. Let’s ride spinnaz, baby!

Dave stayed in his Volvo. After awhile, I kind of felt sorry for him. I’m not much of a risk-taker, either. It wasn’t a risk moving to Charlottesville; I had no choice. Living with your parents at age 25 is only romantic in indie movies -- the kind that star Hope Davis and that guy from Sideways. Paul Giamatti. I drink Merlot, and I’m too self-conscious to wear my cat-eye glasses. “That’s okay, Dave,” I thought. “I understand.”

If Connick had been at all familiar with the “tortoise and hare” fable, he would have kept his old shell. Slow and steady wins the race. Fast and impulsive, better luck next time.

Connick’s “next times” ended right after the New Orleans move. Only a heartless bastard would say “I told you so.” I’ll just note that I’m sticking with the Merlot.

We grieved a bit after the ceremonial flushing, but things got better. Despite Lizzie’s googly-eye/plastic mouse ear get-up, she’s really an introvert. When she moved in, Dave emerged from the cave. He stopped pulling the Todd Bridges act. Dare I say it? He was born again.

Now, though, he’s sick. A couple of days ago, I found an unattached crab leg a few inches from the cave. Lizzie still has all of her limbs. According to this link, we‘re going to need a prayer:

And I thought the New Orleans move was stressful for me. If Dave sheds another foot, the eulogy will be forthcoming.

He didn’t move at all yesterday. Lizzie brushed him with her antenna. I poked his claws with my finger. C’mon, always enjoy a good fight. Nothing. I placed him outside the cave overnight. He didn’t crawl back to his favorite corner. That’s it, then. Dave’s gone.

Good thing I didn’t bury him. I’m pretty sure the resurrection wouldn’t have happened if he had to roll back a stone or dig himself from under a shrub. He’s not omnipotent. I left him in the middle of the terrarium around 11:00 (ever hopeful), and...lo and 2 or 3 I found him perched on the water dish. Who said miracles don’t happen in suburbia?

At the time of this post, Dave is still alive, but I’m not confident he’ll last through the night. We’ve cashed in a lot of our blessings, Dave and I. We made it out of the Big Easy; we got a courtesy week at the Best Western; we found an apartment and gainful studentship (well, I did, anyway. Dave mostly eats peanut butter all day.) Our cup runneth over -- and the water dish runneth, too.

So, instead of asking for more “deus ex crab cove,” I’m going to get a handle on my anxiety. Set a good example for Dave. No more psychosomatic stressors. No more waistline or white-tooth envy (at least not this week). We know His eye is on the sparrow. We hope it's on the crustacean, and, once in a while (when I'm behaving) me.

Hey, Look At Me!

I'm famous for not being famous! Well, sort of. Okay, not really. Forget it -- I'm going to the gym.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Flakiness: A 100-Word, Study Break Post

The skin on my fingertips is peeling off. I’ve been reading a lot of abnormal psychology lit. Mix the two, and what do you get? Psychosomatic leprosy.

I expressed this hypothesis to my friend Wynne. Her response: “I think you have dry skin.”

For future reference -- displaying your dry skin to classmates isn’t the best “getting to know you” technique.

“What do you think of Charlottesville so far?” offered a ponytailed guy in Developmental Psychopathology.

“Crazy! See my fingers?”

I knew that wouldn’t fly, even in a psychopathology class. Self-destructive antisocial tendencies? Suddenly, the fingertips aren’t looking so bad.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Along for the Ride

In my next life, I want to be an A & J Cab driver. Not just any A & J Cab driver, but the one who delivered me to the first-year grad kegger Friday night.

It’s not that I’d like to trade vehicles -- I’d say the cab has 50,000 miles on my Acura, at least. And a shag-carpeted shotgun must be hell to vacuum.

Then again, if I were the A & J driver, I probably wouldn’t lose sleep over a few dust mites in my shag. Nor would I worry about blackheads, water retention, or the whiteness of my teeth relative to Jessica Simpson’s. In a moment of weakness, I might flex my bicep against Vin Diesel’s. Eh, screw it.

You, Vin, that moron in the next lane...not a concern. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.

Aretha provided the soundtrack for most of my 10-15 minute ride. No comments on the weather (humid, 80s); no predictions for the big Homecoming Weekend game (UVA Cavs vs. ?); no inquiries about my destination other than its address, which I provided in a semi-apologetic, lowercase voice.

I shouldn’t have called for a cab -- I didn’t plan on drinking much, and the kegger wasn’t terribly far from my apartment. But I placed zero trust in my ability to follow Mapquest and keep four wheels on the road. I’ve mentioned my constant disorientation and my eentsy driving phobia (which, incidentally, is improving since Charlottesville is an auto-essential town). Combine these two idiosyncrasies, and you get a DWL. Dangerous When Lost.

As soon as I’m lost...usually, we’re talking 5 minutes from the driveway...the panic light flickers. The advisory message says “Turn around immediately.” Decent advice, but perhaps too elementary. What’s meant by “immediately”? My brain interprets it as “instantly,” “now,” “without delay.” Thus, I tend to swerve into the turn lane before checking for oncoming traffic. Or I attempt a U-Turn in the middle of the road.

The last time I engaged in a “lost maneuver,” a fellow motorist yelled a compound word that rhymes with “duckbread.”

A cab seemed like the smart way to go.

Who would’ve guessed, an A & J Cab driver can get lost, too. Well, not “lost,” exactly. We reached the correct street with Motown trumpets blaring. Once we pulled into the neighborhood, though, there was the small matter of finding the right house.

Had I been driving alone (assuming I made it that far alive), I would’ve looked for the house with a bunch of cars in front. Long-standing TFA Delta rule: when it’s party time, find the home with foreign plates in the driveway.

Alas, I would’ve failed miserably. Charlottesville is a college town: pubs on every corner; a Starbucks at every stoplight; and Friday-night keggers at every one- and two-story within 20 miles of the school. My destination street looked like a mid-high SES parking lot.

Aretha segued into Lionel Ritchie, and the cab got very quiet.

One minute of address hunting...two...three...I wanted to say, “You can let me out here! I’ll find it!” But the street stretched for at least a mile, and what if we were at the wrong end? I watched the digital meter rise by half-cent. The cabbie leaned diagonally, mentally cutting the leafy mailbox camouflage. Prince Valliant, minus saber, plus Chevy.

“Can you read that house number?” No, I couldn’t. Damsel in distress? Oh, c’mon... If I wanted to be the A & J Cab driver, I’d have to accept the challenge. Er, take the wheel. I craned toward the righthand window. “I think I see”

A pair of headlights flashed behind us.

You might think that a little extra light isn’t such a bad thing, when evening darkness proves stubbornly obfuscating. If your mind works this way, you’re not my cab driver.

Time was on our side, but speed wasn’t. If we had any hope of negotiating this great “I Spy” street scene, we had to move slowly.

Unfortunately, most college students don’t move slowly toward a keg. Especially not on Friday night.

I pressed against the window. Lionel harmonized about precious love sent from above. The cabbie sighed sharply. And the anxious frattie crept inches from our bumper.

All the makings of a Vin Diesel car chase, in slow-mo.

Well, like a blockbuster chase scene, it ended in a blaze.

Two beaming porch lights illuminated a white, country-style house, front porch already littered with red Dixie cups. We found it! Or, the A & J Cab driver found it! No, we both found it. A joint mission. Us vs. the Night, the Frattie, the Shubbery.

I reached over the gearshift, past the boundary that separates brave cabbie from small blonde girl. In my hand, I clutched the fare, plus 50% tip. Money seemed beside the point -- an impersonal celebration of our victory.

The A & J Cab driver leaned toward me. He stopped.

He stuck his head out the window.

He shouted: “Fuck you!”

“Have a good time, sweetheart,” he smiled into the rearview.

Then, he was gone.

Maybe someday I’ll share that surly confidence. In my next life -- if not in this one -- I’ll make the road obey me, instead of vice versa.

In the meantime, I’m buying an atlas.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A "C" Rime, Part II

As promised, here’s another C:
This poem’s Continuation.
But sleep prevails o’er rhyming tales,
...Forgive the abbreviation.

Coleridge gave his Mariner
A bad run in Part II --
Heat increased, bird deceased...
What’s a guy to do?

This sequel isn’t half as bad,
Though humidity’s a beast.
The ‘Net’s still free, as is TV,
They even change my sheets. (not quite a rhyme - too near bedtime)

The mightiest of Cs has been
The one of crimson hue:
Thanks to the Red Cross debit card,
‘Tis sea, not me, that’s blue. (a grammar slip, "I" hope you'll skip...)

Best of all, the profs emerged
Preventing Consternation.
The Mariner now has three forms
For psych course registration.

Last, the lease was signed today:
Bed, bath, communal den.
No slimy bugs, nor moth-bit rugs,
Just two crabs moving in.

So, Samuel’s poor chap and I
Concur upon this matter:
That which does not kill you
Makes damn good wedding chatter.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

A "C" Rime , Part I

It is an ancient Mariner!
...alright, she’s 25,
And instead of sailing seven seas,
She’s facing four or five.

The biggest “C” for Charlottesville
In VA, where she landed
‘Twas 10-hour drive, not deep-sea dive
But either way, she’s stranded.

Stranded? Okay -- too harsh a word,
Yet, nonetheless, Confusion
That’s the second “C” she sees
Coupled with delusion

The Mariner convinced herself
She’d find lodging straight away
Classes? Please! A sweet C-breeze
You can sign me up today!

Turns out, it’s not that easy
There’s an albatross or two
Leases aren’t so plentiful
And profs have work to do

Starbucks, Starbucks everywhere
(That is, instead of water)
But it’s clarity, not buzz, this Mariner needs --
A personal i-dotter.

With no sense of direction,
Either literal or metaphoric
The Clouds begin to gather in
And the sailor feels sophomoric.

The Best Western where she now resides
Is where she’ll leave Part 1
God save thee, lovely wireless card
This epic’s just begun….

Sunday, September 11, 2005

I'll Take My Future on Wheat

Beyonce Knowles shares my birthday. So does Mitzi Gaynor. If the stars are correct, the three of us should take a break today from being bootylicious and washing various men out of our hair. It’s time for us to do something nice for others...or submerge a pumpernickel. Our Murfreesboro Daily News Journal horoscope for Sunday, September 11 says:

VIRGO: Cast a little bread upon the waters today and you’ll receive a baker’s dozen in return when you need it. People you treat generously at this time will later respond liberally with you. a “little bread” a pinch of sourdough, or a literal “little bread”? A muffin? A ‘Nilla wafer? I’ve never dunked bread in water. I don’t even dunk Oreos in milk. I prefer my complex carbs high and dry. But if destiny commands it....

For the last consecutive three days, my grandparents have been delivering my Dallas Morning News horoscope via the telephone. Instead of “psychic friends,” I have psychic immediate family. As far as I know, Grandmother and Granddad have never been regular zodiac followers. Then again, they’re lifelong crossword puzzle devotees, and horoscopes usually appear in the same section, don’t they? Maybe Granddad was contemplating a three-letter word for “fruit sampler” when his attention wandered to the star signs.

Yesterday’s Dallas Morning News suggested that I “wait until the dust settles before making any big decisions.”

“But,” Granddad added, “don’t wait too long.”

My grandmother is also a Virgo, so this advice could be meant for her. It might even be a message for Beyonce or Mitzi (or Amy or Mary). Perhaps Beyonce just had a squabble with Jay-Z, and she’s debating whether or not to pack her Prada bags. Wait until the dust settles, Beyonce, or get a second opinion.

“Horoscopes are funny,” Granddad said, after giving me the latest starcast. “They’re so vague and optimistic. You’ll never get a horoscope that says, ‘Tomorrow you meet your doom.’”

True that. Horoscope writing must be an exercise in getting specific while speaking in generalities and offering direction while spinning readers right ‘round. What bread? What waters? Does that baker’s dozen come with powdered sugar?

Why, Dionne Warwick, why is it all so hazy?

Since Katrina, much of life feels hazy....nonspecific. Follow the stars; follow my heart; follow Granddad’s advice. It’s all experimental. Ultimately, my hands aren’t on the wheel. As someone who likes to grip the wheel until my knuckles fall off, this is a rather uncomfortable realization.

I didn’t check my horoscope in the NYT this morning, but I did locate this article about self-experimentation:

(I, too, find it disconcerting that the word “freak” is capitalized in the html address, but this is a reference to the book Freakonomics, not to the article’s writer or readers).

In summary: a psychology professor at UC Berkeley is using himself as a lab rat to test hypothesis on weight control. He caught onto the idea of self-experimentation while in graduate school. As the article says,

“If you knew Roberts 25 years ago, you might remember him as a man with problems. He had acne, and most days he woke up too early, which left him exhausted. He wasn't depressed, but he wasn't always in the best of moods. Most troubling to Roberts, he was overweight: at 5-foot-11, he weighed 200 pounds.”

Time to test a few theories, Roberts thought.

I won’t details his methods here, I’ll only reveal that they worked.

“When you encounter Seth Roberts today, he is a clear-skinned, well-rested, entirely affable man who weighs about 160 pounds and looks 10 years younger than his age.”

Surprised? Neither am I. If Roberts’ experiment had failed, I doubt he’d be profiled in this article. He probably wouldn’t send class notes to his alma mater, either.

That’s the nature of experiments, though –- sometimes they produce clear-skinned success stories; sometimes they lead to more nights of crying over the Clearasil tube. And there’s always a variable or two that can’t be predicted. Like, er, a hurricane.

I still don’t know where I’m going from here. I have an offer of readmission from the University of Chicago, but the program’s a one-year Master’s, not a Ph.D., and it packs a heavy financial wallop. My Tulane advisor is setting up at the University of Virginia, so I may follow her there. But will I succeed in research at UVA? Who knows. I might be able to whine my way back into Highlights....postpone school for another year? Forever?

Wherever I go, it’ll be an experiment. Might turn into an oozing, green mess...or maybe I’ll end up “a clear-skinned, well-rested, entirely affable woman.” I don’t know if the stars are smiling on me or on Beyonce. All I can do is take a deep breath, cast my bread, and hope it’s a zesty focaccia.

(PS: The three-letter fruit sampler: EVE)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

All That and a (Small) Bag o' Chips

“Did you ever have to make up your mind?”

This song lyric keeps running through my head. I don’t know the artist, don’t really care to. Most of the tune has nothing to do with my current situation -- it’s about some skeazy guy who can’t decide whether to stay with his girlfriend or “get distracted by her older sister.” I’m playing my violins for you, buddy.

No, it’s time for me to “make up my mind” about bigger issues. Or the issue: my entire future.

Got any suggestions?

At the moment, I’m asking myself if I’m an editor with a side interest in psychology or a psychologist with a side interest in editing. Reading between the lines of this sentence, you might conclude that I won’t go back to Tulane, or even back to school. But anyone who uses the cliche “reading between the lines” (or the often unnecessary adjective "current") probably shouldn’t be a professional editor.

Last time I checked, neither editors nor psychologists routinely use the word “skeazy.” Maybe I should be a blogger.

“It’s not often easy and not often kind.”

No, not kind at all. There are few feelings I hate more than uncertainty. Humiliation, looming confrontation, and toe-stubbing come close, but lack-of-direction sends me into padded wall mode. My biological father used to say, “I don’t want to be well-rounded. I want to be pointed in one direction.” That’s me, too.

I’m not really seeking ideas. Or pity. I’ve received more than my deserved share of both. Though Katrina has left me disoriented, it hasn’t really displaced me -- I have my home in Tennessee; lovely friends; and, oh, one other thing: a big chip.

I don’t mean Dorito. This chip is on my shoulder, not in a bag. It’s not large and triangular (or nacho cheesy). It’s really more Frito-sized. But it’s long overdue.

Though I’m unsure of many things, I know that, pre-Katrina, I was the least assertive person you’d ever met (or not met). You might have called me a doormat, but I prefer to think of myself as a welcome mat. Telemarketers, you are welcome to chat with me for 5-10 minutes. Red Honda, you are welcome to cut in front of me; your destination is likely more important than mine. Drunken frat boy, you are welcome to hit on me, and I’ll just smile and ignore you. No need to say “thank you.” You’re all welcome.

That was then. Enter: hurricane. Exit: welcome mat.

What’s the psychology of this phenomenon? (Psychology, editing, psychology, editing...). Again, it’s pure selfishness. I’m not Jesse anymore; I’m The Hurricane Victim. You’re welcome to step on or over Jesse, but for The Hurricane better stand up and recognize, boy, or step aside.

Example #1: The exodus from New Orleans. Pre-hurricane, I suffered minor auto-phobia. As in, I wouldn’t drive. Okay, if I absolutely had to drive....If your head is falling off, I’ll drive you to the hospital. If it’s just an arm or a torso, maybe you can hitch with someone else. Driving requires assertiveness, even aggressiveness. Once you’re behind the wheel, there’s no way of saying “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry.” I’d like to get in your lane, but you won’t scoot over, so nevermind. I kind of wanted to go to this strip mall over the interstate, anyway.

Something about the word “evacuation” changed my driver’s mentality. Perhaps because “safety” is a slightly more important destination than “Wal-Mart.” On the Saturday of my flee from N.O., I took Andie Acura on the road for the first time in five days -- since my mother left the city. I can now personally identify with road rage, or Darwinism. Blinker be damned. You are going to let me in your turn lane right now. It’s survival of the fittest, and my sedan is in far better shape than your SUV.

“Did you ever have to finally decide?”

Example #2: Chicago. There are lots of stories from Chicago (more to come), but for this post, I’ll only share one. The setting is Friday, 9/2, on the steps outside the Hancock Tower Cheesecake Factory. The characters are me, Jessica, Jessica’s boyfriend Nick, and a leering, beer-in-paper-bag-drinking homeless guy. To be fair (and PC), the guy might not have been homeless, but he was jobless. I know this because he told me.

Scenario: Jessica, Nick, and I are chatting while waiting for our outdoor table. Beer Bag Guy totters over and plops down at my knee. He extracts a cigarette from his paper bag and puffs amiably in our direction. That’s fine, but Jessica is asthmatic, and I can’t say that I enjoy secondhand carcinogens. So, the three nonsmokers shift a few steps away from BBG. Less than a minute later, he’s at my knee again. “What the hell, lady? Hey, I ain’t got a job....”

Hold on a minute. Before the hurricane, I would have smiled sympathetically, opened my wallet, engaged in the requisite 5-10 minute conversation.

As I’ve said, that was then. BBG got on my chip. It’s not that I have some Scrooge-like grudge against charity. I don’t want to “decrease the surplus population,” but I do think charity should be, well, charitable. Not bullying. Time to scoop up the welcome mat.

“I don’t have a job either,” I snapped. “I just evacuated my home.”

BBG took his Budweiser and left.

“Did you ever have to make up your mind?”

I realize this all sounds a little b-witchy. Wait a few weeks, and I’ll be the Statue of Passivity again. Give me your tired, your poor, your homeless, your dateless, your call-plan pushing. Whatever.

But in the meantime, let me in your lane, and please, change the radio station.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Life According to Bill

Day 5 of the stand-off between me and Channel 4 News. It’s much like a silent game of Taboo. Can you get me to say “Hurricane Katrina” without using the words “flooding,” “looters,” “ailing,” “loss,” “plight,” “overwhelmed”...? So far, there’s no tally, because the news hasn’t been willing to play. Fine. Be like that. I’ll just watch “The Cosby Show,” instead.

And, you know, “The Cosby Show” is a pretty good alternative. I like to think that if Cliff and Clair were forced out of their brownstone by a New York City hurricane, they’d put the sass in disasster. (Yeah, that’s the ticket...) Dr. Huxtable would tease Vanessa about waterproof eyeliner, and the younger kids would coordinate a jazz number with wind-and-rain sound effects. At the end of the show, Cliff would give a little speech about the Lesson of Hurricanes: people are more important than possessions. He’d toss in a corny joke at the end, and Clair would smile indulgently. Oh, that Cliff!

I haven’t yet reached a “Cosby Show” acceptance of Katrina, but I’m not cursing with the frequency of “The Sopranos” or crying like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. Right now, the closest fit is Groundhog Day.

You’ve probably seen it. Bill Murray is a blowhard news anchor who gets trapped in February 2. The alarm clock hits 6 a.m., Sonny and Cher croon on the radio, and Bill blinks twice: deja vous? Yup, it’s Groundhog Day again. He’s stuck.

What’s so bad about limbo? If I remember the movie correctly, Bill adopts several attitudes toward his plight. (Ah, I said the word “plight.” I lose.) After a brief period of panic, he celebrates. If today’s actions have no bearing on tomorrow, then why not get started on that DUI record? Because Bill is not a typical male, the idea of consequence-free sex doesn’t really tempt him. He only wants one girl: Andie MacDowell.

Hey, I didn’t write the script.

But after awhile, hedonism gets old. Bill wants out. He picks a fight with the hapless insurance salesman. He clogs his arteries with extra whipped cream and butter. He even drives his car off a cliff. No luck. Morning comes, and Sonny and Cher re-warble.

This is not a Quentin Tarantino movie. Andie doesn’t maim and slaughter Bill at the end (though that would be interesting). Nor does Bill maim and slaughter himself, much as he tries. No, like besweatered Bill C., Bill M. decides to “make the best of it.” He learns several languages, takes piano lessons, and becomes a friend to young and elderly alike. Wouldn’t you know it....he becomes just the type of man that Andie MacDowell goes for. Oh, that Bill!

In the spirit of Murrayism, I’ve progressed from giddy shock to sorrow to anger, and by yesterday night, I was ready to rescue a few kittens. So, I took a CPR class at the local hospital with my parents. Tomorrow I’ll still be in limbo, but I’ll know how to save an infant from choking “on a foreign object” (as opposed to choking on a familiar object which, apparently, never happens).

Now, wait, though....don’t bring your choking infant to me. Nurse Ashleigh had to gently correct my technique several times. “Okay, hon...good, good. Next time, try to administer the rescue breaths without grasping the infant by the neck.”

Honestly, if you don’t grasp them by the neck, how can you keep the little buggers still?

It seems I’m much better at hedonism than altruism.

That said, I’m going to Chicago tomorrow. Jessica has a futon, and I have a bunch of Southwest Rapids Rewards miles (courtesy of Mom). Even the worldlier, wiser Bill wouldn’t turn down this combo.

Again, thank you, thank you, thank you for the support. I would say thank you several more times, but that might get repetitive....cue Sonny and Cher.