Monday, September 18, 2006

I Hope Not to See Fire or Rain

Tomorrow we are heading off on vacation. I have had a devil of a time figuring out where to go--even though living here in Portland we are surrounded by some of the prettiest wilderness areas in North America, all within a day's drive. The problem is there are massive forest fires in Oregon, Washington, and Northern California. Very discouraging and depressing.

In fact, much to my dismay, every place at the top of my list seems to be in flames. Not true entirely. One place I was thinking of going was Mt. Rainier National Park. It's not burning, but there aren't a lot of places to stay there. I don’t think we could just roll in and expect to find a room ready and waiting in one of the classic lodges in the area. It’s the kind of destination where people book a couple of years in advance—not days in advance (my preferred style—at least lately).

Also, Rainier is notoriously rainy (it should be pronounced "rain-i-ER,” not “rain-EAR”). If it's raining that would mean we wouldn't even see the mountain. So I nixed Rainier. Then I went ahead and nixed the whole rest of the state of Washington. It's too much of a destination--three national parks, a national monument, plus Seattle. And even though it's after Labor Day, I was just getting this vibe that it would be super rainy and/or crowded. The highways would be clogged; there'd be competition for resources; the whole thing would make me cross.

Somehow staying in Oregon just started to sound a lot safer to me. Even if it rains, it will be Oregon rain, which in some crazy way I feel I can cope with better than Washington rain, which I have no doubt is far more bone-chilling, incessant, and miserable than Oregon rain. Insane logic, but there it is.

Anyway, we are going to southern Oregon, around Ashland. As you may know, Ashland is the home of a famous Shakespeare Festival, known—if its Web site is to be believed—for its “delightful ornateness of detail.” (What on Earth can that mean? Is "ornateness" even a word?) We won’t be going to any plays. I’m not interested in culture when I'm on vacation.

We’re staying in Ashland simply because it is a pretty good base for hiking in the Siskiyou Mountains and the Rogue River Valley, and it has good restaurants and locally brewed beer. Those are my vacation requirements. And if we get some of that Oregon rain, I can just knock around Ashland’s book shops and coffee places. Also, thanks to Diana’s timely recommendation, I’m taking a copy of John Daniel’s Rogue River Journal: A Winter Alone, which should make for very place-appropriate reading (although there is no way in hell I would ever spend an entire winter in a cabin without electricity, as Daniel did). And I’m taking my knitting, which has lain forsaken in the closet for a couple of months. Must get cracking on that.

The big dilemma now is do I or do I not take the laptop with me? The place we are staying has WiFi. Would it not be good to have it with me just in case any urgent e-mails come in from clients? It would save me the hassle of trying to figure out how to set up autoresponder. Plus, what if it’s really rainy? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to set up shop in some funky and welcoming little Ashland coffee shop and write a blog entry about my adventures thus far while drinking a liter of coffee? Wouldn’t it also be nice, since we haven’t figured out the second half of our trip, to be able to do some online research to make sure we don’t drive a hundred miles only to find out that our destination is currently being burned to a crackly crunch? But would it not be even better to have a vacation from all things computer and Internet? I can’t decide.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Birthday Blogging

Today is my birthday. Here’s a card my brother sent me that I quite like.

What Does it Want?

I’m not sure if it’s legible. It says: “Why does it keep coming back? What does it want?”

I like how it captures the “Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m another year older--al-freakin'-ready” sentiment without being one of those loathesome old fart-type cards. You know, the kind where there are so many candles on a cake that they leave a scorch mark on the ceiling or the fire department has to be called.

I’ve always despised that over-the-hill category of so-called humor, even when I was younger and had no reason to take it personally.

Another thing about this card is that it expresses just how mystified I feel when I try to wrap my mind around this new number that is supposedly my age. How could I possibly be that old?

The number sounds quite staggeringly ancient to me (which is why I can’t bring myself to reveal it). And yet, I don’t feel old or decrepit in the least, even though I am of an age where a lot of people my age (and younger) are seriously starting to fall apart physically. For example, my college roommate has a horrible degenerative neurological disorder; a friend who’s a few years younger than me is slowly going blind; another friend has lupus; and many people my age and younger are so out of shape they can't hack climbing a flight of stairs.

Through good genes and plain old luck, I feel just as fit and energetic as I did when I was 18. Scratch that. I’m probably more fit and energetic than I was then. And I’m definitely just as immature and prone to juvenile behavior.

That is definitely something to celebrate, which B and I are going to do in exactly one hour by having dinner here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Mr. Federal X. Press, Esquire

Yesterday, I went to my neighborhood FedEx-Kinko’s hybrid to send a package of materials to a client. The assistant manager, a guy with an art-school necktie and long black hair tidily knotted into a bun, helped me. He was the very epitome of professionalism and efficiency. He weighed my envelope and found that I’d exceeded the envelope weight limit, but assured me that that was “easily remedied” and slipped the envelope into a larger envelope with a flourish.

He then asked me if I had any questions. I’ve sent about a million FedEx packages in my life, but one thing I’ve always wondered about was the “declared value” section of the airbill. I’m always sending bits of paper here, there, and everywhere that represent many hours of work. To the unschooled eye, however, they would seem to have no value. For “declared value” I’d like to give the fee I’m charging my client, but I’ve always suspected that the transport companies would have a bit of a quibble with that, so I never know what to put down. I decided that if anyone would know the ins and outs of “declared value” it would be this guy, so I asked him about it. He said that the value of my package would be the value of the paper—so in other words, about 75 cents. I felt strangely bummed out to learn that.

Being the kind of person I am, I for some reason had to relay to him an abbreviated account of my harrowing ordeal with DH(HEL)L (AKA Destroyed, Hidden, or Lost) , which lost one of my packages, quickly following up by saying I’d never had any problems like that with FedEx. Without a moment’s pause he said in all sincerity, “Well, you certainly chose the right carrier this time.” Wow. You just don’t encounter that kind of company loyalty these days.

I was quite bowled over. I looked him straight in the eye to see if he was having me on, but there was no sign of any nudge, nudge, wink, winking. He was perfectly serious. I was so stunned, I laughed. I think I must have repeated the fact that I was quite happy with FedEx’s service, because he wrapped up the transaction with something along the lines of, “We’ll try to keep it that way. Thanks for choosing FedEx.”

Yeah, I know, lots of service-oriented businesses train their staff to say stuff like that, but I really got the feeling he meant it. He takes pride in his work. And, weirdly, I came out of the FedEx-Kinko hybrid feeling good about my choice to use FedEx. Isn’t that kind of fucked up? Or at least a little bit 1984ish?

The prehybridization Kinko’s (Kinko'ses? how do you make it plural?) were very different places. My brother used to work at one in a suburb of Chicago. He worked the swing shift, so perhaps things were a little more, um, relaxed. Anyway, here are a few of his reminiscences, so judge for yourself whether things would have been different if Mr. Federal X. Press, Esquire had been my brother’s boss.
  • The manager at my brother’s store was a guy named Cas, which was short for "Casanova," a nickname he invented for himself and which he insisted everyone use.
  • One employee showed up one night dressed in a gold lamé jumpsuit with a bullet belt. To give Cas his due, he sent the employee home to change.
  • Another employee was always accepting poorly counterfeited twenty-dollar bills. After one such incident, Cas became so exasperated that he snatched a sheet of photocopier paper, scrawled “$20” on it with a red Sharpie, thrust the paper into the employee’s hand, and demanded change for a twenty. (This is my personal favorite of all the Kinko's stories.)
  • My brother heard another employee answer the phone once. Apparently, the customer on the other end asked who she was speaking to and the employee got sort of flustered and said, “This is … Kinko!”
  • Employees were not allowed to make any kind of editorial changes to customers’ documents, no matter how gross the customers' errors were. As a result of this policy, my brother once found himself making several hundred copies of a document in which a woman made numerous references to her son “Brain.” Spell checker is a wondrous thing!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Improper Etiquette

Here’s a situation for Dear Abby or Miss Manners or whoever it is these days who’s in charge of etiquette.

On September 7, I received an invitation for a wedding reception on September 16. Pretty ding-dong short notice, wouldn’t you say?

Some background:

I haven’t heard a peep from the bride-to-be in over a year. She and I and a couple of mutual friends used to get together for a beer from time to time. These get-togethers were always dominated by the drama that was/is her life. Oh, the “crazy” methhead wife of her boyfriend (soon-to-be husband). How the crazy twitcher lied to get money out of him to support their two small sons. How the county refused again and again to grant custody to them and instead allowed the methhead to have full custody.

I have no firm idea how much of the drama was manufactured, but every time we got together a new, somewhat-difficult-to-swallow outrage had been perpetrated against the bride-to-be and the boyfriend. The saga of his divorce (which took forever to come through--naturally) was always good for about an hour’s lament. Once one of the other gals/audience members had the audacity to turn the conversation away from the bride-to-be and ask me how things were going in my nondramatic and even-keeled life. Bride-to-be immediately took the opportunity to nip off to the ladies room. *

Additional facts:

  • The wedding is a farkin’ potluck. The wedding invitation mentions (in two different places!) that guests are to bring a dish to share. Oh, and guests are “encouraged” also to provide beverages.
  • The bride-to-be and her fiancé have been living together for a couple of years.
  • Both have been married before and so presumably received the full complement of toasters, fondue sets, and other typical wedding gift crap--twice.
  • Both have good jobs and make a lot of money. They recently purchased a very expensive house.
  • For guests’ convenience they have registered at Home Depot. Their registry includes close to $10,000 worth of stuff including a $500 portable generator and a $200 espresso maker--things no newlywed couple can live without, obviously.
Am I hopelessly out of step with the times in thinking that it is tremendously greedy of them to register for thousands of dollars of crap they don’t need and then not even provide food and drink for their guests? Isn’t the purpose of wedding gifts supposed to be to help out a financially struggling young couple with some basic household goods?

OK. I know that hasn’t been the case for a long time. But I have always had a problem with this whole registry thing. To me it’s as if the couple is saying, “OK. We definitely think you should get us a gift, but we don’t trust your judgment/taste—and we’re afraid you’ll cheap out on us, so just to make sure that doesn’t happen, we’ll provide a list of stuff so we'll know exactly how much you spent on us.” It’s crass and it's insulting. If they’re really so fucking worried about their friends and family getting them stuff they won’t like, then just put “no gifts” on the invitation. I haven’t been to a single wedding where the bride and groom didn’t already have a much nicer, more expensive, better appointed home than I have. And I don’t buy the argument that registers make it “easier” on guests. In my view gifts shouldn’t be annoying obligations that can be gotten out of the way by consulting a register. Ugh.

I’m not against wedding gifts per se; I’m against excess consumption and gouging friends and family--and very much against gouging acquaintances (which is really all I amount to in the case of the bride-to-be). Whenever friends—true friends—get married, I get them a gift certificate to a nice restaurant—if possible, to their favorite restaurant, if I know what it is. It’s foolproof and it doesn’t add to the heap o’ shite that’s no doubt already mounting up in their basement and will be sold off at next year’s annual garage sale.

Will I be getting a gift certificate for the happy Home Depot couple? No, I will not. Will I be attending their potluck reception? No, I will not. September 16 happens to be my birthday, and making a vat of potato salad and driving 100 miles into the boondocks is not my idea of a fun way to celebrate my birthday. I’m sending them a card—with a picture of a toaster on it.

I think that’s more than generous, given the circumstances.

*You may wonder why I put up with the bride-to-be's histrionics. When I first met her, I didn't know many people in Portland, and I really did like the other two gals/audience members and I wanted to maintain the friendship with them.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Four Pounds of Dust

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
My brother and his girlfriend are arriving in about half an hour from Chicago. Naturally, this triggered an extraordinary session of cleaning yesterday. To mark the occasion, B decided to change the vacuum cleaner bag.

Who knows when we last did that?

That thing weighs four pounds. Imagine if we never vacuumed. Four pounds of cat fur, human fur, dust mite corpses (and--EW!--their feces), dead skin cells, and heaven knows what else would be distributed in a half inch layer (I'm extrapolating) over ever surface and in every crevice in our house.

Food for thought. Or perhaps not.