Quagmire’s Quarterly Review

“Your utter disregard for regular office hours has been a point of concern.”

Thank you, Quagmire, for coming in today. Several matters have come up which we feel the need to discuss with you, yet again, during your quarterly review. Please be advised that this review will be a permanent part of your personnel record.

We will address each bullet point individually, and if you have any questions, please let us know so that we can provide clarification.

First, there’s the issue of dress code violations. This company only allows Hawaiian shirts to be worn on casual Fridays, and yet you seem to wear them every day of the week. While we do agree that you look quite handsome in these shirts, we feel that formal attire would be more appropriate for our head of security. A suit and tie might go a long way toward avoiding those hostile encounters that you seem to have with the mailman on a regular basis. And, for the love of God, you simply have to start wearing trousers. Remember, you are the public face of this company. Please dress accordingly.

Next, despite the fact that your resume specifically states that you have a business degree, and that you graduated with honors, there seem to be several distressing… shall we say… gaps in your general business knowledge.

It has come to our attention that you believe that you are paid by the bark. In this, you are sadly mistaken. Like all of us, you are in a salaried position, and it’s a quite generous salary, given your productivity. While enthusiasm is usually appreciated, we have received several complaints about the fervor with which you greet visitors to our establishment. It is alleged that several potential business partners have felt the need to run for their lives, and are refusing to set foot on our property again. I hope you can agree that this is not an effective business model if we wish to maximize our profitability.

Your utter disregard for regular office hours has also been a point of concern. Per company policy, you are allowed two 15 minute breaks during your shift, and yet you’ve been found snoring in some very unusual places, for hours on end. This sets a bad example for the rest of the staff. We understand that you still manage to put the hours in, and we appreciate that, but yours is not a flex schedule. We need to be able to count on you.

Yes, we agree that you’ve been quite effective at deterring thieves in the early hours of the morning. However, it is difficult to prove the genuine motivations of a racoon or a rabbit, and since charges rarely seem to stick in those instances, we feel that your talents might be applied in more effective ways. The graveyard shift, in particular, would greatly appreciate it if you would cease all covert operations in the wee hours, as it tends to interfere with their ability to have a good… work routine.

And speaking of wee, we have been informed that you still insist on marking your territory even though that territory should have been well established during your probationary period. The janitorial staff is becoming extremely frustrated with your behavior, and they have threatened to report the company to OSHA, because they feel that you are creating a hazmat situation.

If your behavior does not improve post haste, we have been told to provide you with adequate references so you can seek other employment. Do you have any questions?

Please, sir, try to maintain some level of dignity. It’s not as if you haven’t been told all of this before.

Awww. Don’t look at me like that. You’re just so cute. Tell you what. Take the day off. Maybe go to a spa and relax. Get pampered.

Then, think long and hard about your particular skill sets.

We’ll revisit this on Monday to see if we can come to a consensus as to whether or not you’re a good fit for this organization. If, upon reflection, you feel that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, we’ll discuss opportunities for retraining and remind you about the Employee Assistance Program’s many benefits. Give my best to your family! Have a good day!

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A Meandering Route to the First Alphabetic Sentence

From language to writing to hopeful words on a lice comb.

As a writer, I’ve always been fascinated with linguistics, especially those studies that pertain to the social aspects of human language. Languages, after all, are created by people. Over time, the societies in which these people live shape the languages in which they speak as well as the way people write.

For example, it’s safe to assume that fishing cultures will have more vocabulary related to fishing than a culture that is desert-bound. Language is what we use to communicate, so words are created only if they are useful to the people in question. That makes perfect sense to me.

Through language, we can trace historic patterns of travel and trade. As people with different languages interact and attempt to communicate, they often adopt words in other languages and make them their own. Before the internet age, the dispersal of language tended to indicate the dispersal of people.

The history and culture of languages and the history and culture of humans influence each other, and that fascinates me as well. It’s almost as if languages live and breathe and grow just as we do. They certainly evolve like we do.

And humans have come up with several different writing systems to convert their languages into visual form. A highly simplistic way to loosely classify these systems is to break them down into three groups:

  • Logographic systems use a symbol to represent a whole word, as they do in China.  
  • Syllabic systems use symbols to represent syllables, and these symbols, together, make up words. A not-very-familiar-and-therefore-not-so-helpful example of this would be Cherokee. (Japanese, on the other hand, uses both logographic and syllabic systems.)  
  • What you’re reading right now is the Alphabetic system. In a gross oversimplification, suffice it to say that each symbol represents a unit of sound.

The current understanding is that the first alphabetic system was the Proto-Canaanite or Proto-Sinaitic, which then came to be the Phoenician alphabet. You might say it’s the granddaddy of all alphabets, including ours. It is so old that we don’t know its exact date of origin, but it’s assumed that it was as early as 1200 BC. The letters were derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Clearly, we humans have been trying to communicate for a long time. It’s kind of sad to realize that we still aren’t very good at it. If we were, there would be fewer conflicts and more compromises.

Having said all that, I must say I was quite excited when I came across this article: Oldest known sentence written in first alphabet discovered – on a head-lice comb. Needless to say, I had to drop everything to read that one, and having done so, I’ve taken you on a circuitous route from language to writing to our final destination: words of hope on a lice comb.

It seems that this oldest alphabetical sentence in the world is on an ivory comb that was found in south-central Israel. The lettering is so faint that the archeologists found the comb back in 2017, but the writing was only noticed last year.

The fact that the comb was made of ivory means that it must have belonged to an upper-class individual, because ivory would have had to have been imported. Regular folks would have used combs made of wood or bone.

Scientists confirmed that it was a lice comb because there were little pieces of head lice membranes still stuck in its teeth. (Shudder. It makes my scalp itch just thinking about it.)

So, what words of wisdom did these bronze age people have to impart to us on said comb? What knowledge did they have to share? Well (and I can’t decide whether this disappoints or delights me), the sentence on the comb translates as follows:

“May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”

From that, I can draw several conclusions:

  • The battle with lice has been going on for as long as humans have had hair.
  • Lice don’t care how rich you are.
  • People have been worried about hygiene and appearance for centuries.
  • People like to hope for the best.
  • Proto-puns are every bit as bad as modern puns.
  • We have been putting puerile instructions on products for as long as there have been products to sell.

This earliest known sentence links us to these people of the bronze age in that the above conclusions can still be drawn to this very day. We may think that we’ve modernized and increased our knowledge base over the years, but some things, like lice, are eternal.

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

This Barbie Comes with Accessories

My insane bedtime ritual.

I’m very particular. And at the age of 57, I’m only just now discovering why. (But that is a blog post for another day, once I have confirmation.)

But, yeah, particular is what I am. I don’t have OCD. I look around at the clutter in my life and I know that if I had OCD, it would be intolerable. But I do have a few quirks.

I don’t like garbage lying about. I’m the first person to cut off a mattress tag. And feeling comfortable is of primary importance to me. If I can’t get comfortable, I’m… well… uncomfortable. This is particularly true at bedtime.

I have this whole insane ritual have to go through if I’m to even entertain the possibility of sleeping. It goes like this.

  • Let the dogs out to pee.
  • Make sure they’re back inside.
  • Lock up and turn out the lights in the rest of the house.
  • Then it’s my turn to pee.
  • Prep CPAP machine for use. (This includes cleaning, and adding distilled water to the reservoir, etc. Things were much simpler prior to using a CPAP. I could just crawl into bed, sleep on my stomach and… stop breathing several times an hour.)
  • Take nighttime meds.
  • Floss.
  • Brush teeth with sonic toothbrush. (Old school tooth brushes leave my teeth feeling gross now that I know how much better a sonic toothbrush is.)
  • Put in my night guard, or risk grinding my teeth to powder as I sleep.
  • Ask Dear Husband to put lotion on my back. (My back itches like crazy at night. I once asked a bunch of women my age or older on a Facebook group about this, and it turns out that old ladies with itching backs at night is a thing. The medical profession doesn’t take us seriously enough. It’s maddening.)
  • Ask Dear Husband to set the alarm. (I can set the alarm myself, but then I wake up several times a night worrying that I haven’t done it properly.)
  • Kiss Dear Husband good night.
  • Arrange my MedCline pillow with it’s accompanying body pillow for maximum comfort. (Since I use a CPAP I can no longer sleep on my stomach, so I sleep on my side. But without a MedCline pillow, which raises my torso up and allows me to stick my arm and shoulder through a hole, I would wake up with my shoulders hunched so far forward that I’d be in pain the rest of the day. I also created a pillow case for the body pillow by sewing together three pillow cases. That keeps it cleaner.)  
  • Wad up a sheet for under my head. (A pillow on top of a MedCline pillow is waaay too much. I’ve decided a wadded sheet works better.)
  • Arrange blankets just so (so I can kick them off and pull them on as my hot flashes come and go all night, and also so that my dachshund, Quagmire, feels welcome to come snuggle.)
  • Get in bed. (Bet you thought I was already there, didn’t you? Nope.)
  • Lotion my feet. (Dry feet scratch against the sheets, and that, to me, is like fingernails down a chalkboard.)
  • Say a prayer that I haven’t forgotten anything, because now I have greasy feet and will be loathe to get out of bed again.
  • Put on my chin strap. (I’m a mouth breather. I’m trying to get out of that habit. I had to try a half dozen different strap designs before I found one I liked. I’m hoping that if I eventually learn to keep my mouth shut at night, I can use a smaller CPAP mask that is just over the nose.)
  • Pull hair out from under chin strap. (By the time I’m using all my implements of torture, my hair is covered in straps, so I try to pull it loose so I don’t walk around during the day with “strap head”. I can always tell when someone uses a CPAP and does not take that extra step.)
  • Call out to dogs and say goodnight.
  • Ask Quagmire to come cuddle, and tell him he makes me sad when he doesn’t (which is about half the time).
  • Put on my CPAP gasket. (That’s what I call the thing, anyway. Most people call them CPAP face liners. They’re Basically a triangular shaped donut of t-shirt like material that is placed between my face and the CPAP mask. Otherwise it rubs my nose raw and I get pimples. These things also reduce seal gaps that shoot jets of air out and wake you up.
  • Put on CPAP mask.
  • Ask Dear Husband, in muffled tones, to please turn out the lights.
  • Lie down.
  • Wrestle with sheets, blankets and CPAP hose.
  • Ask Dear Husband to turn on the lights again because I can’t find something.
  • Put arm through hole in MedCline pillow.
  • Rest wrist on airport pillow so I remember to not bend my wrists up under my chin like a squirrel clutching a nut as I sleep. (Without that pillow, my wrists hurt the next day. Sometimes I have to resort to wearing wrist braces, especially if I’ve had a high stress day, because days like those really make me want to squirrel up.)
  • Listen to the sounds of relaxed breathing emanating from Dear Husband, who can fall asleep before his head hits the pillow. Must be nice. I sometimes have to resist the urge to hit him with a pillow out of spite.
  • Convince myself that I don’t have to pee again, because I don’t want to have to take all this crap off so I can see where I’m going, and then untether myself from the CPAP hose.
  • Pull a batik sarong through the part of the mask that arches over the bridge of my nose. This is to block out any remaining light, and, in the event of a CPAP seal break, it prevents the jet of air from hitting my eyelashes and waking me up.
  • By now you’d think I’d be so exhausted that I could drift off to sleep. But no. I do a mind grind for anywhere from a half hour to all night long.
  • And then of course I have to turn over and rearrange everything accordingly at least twice during the night.

For me, it takes a village to have sweet dreams.

What’s so funny?

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

The Teleportation of Gil Pérez

That had to have been startling.

On this very day in 1593, it was widely reported that a soldier of the Spanish Empire, in the Guardia Civil, was guarding the governor’s palace in Manila, Philippines when he suddenly felt exhausted and dizzy. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, and when he opened them again, he found himself 8,845 miles away, in the Plaza Mayor in Mexico City. His name only popped up in a retelling of the story in 1908 (who knows how they figured it out), but supposedly he was a man named Gil Pérez.

I know. But suspend your disbelief for a minute and imagine what it would be like for someone wearing the wrong uniform to suddenly find himself smack dab in the middle of the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. That had to have been startling. Lucky for him, no one has ever reported that they witnessed him arrive (or disappear for that matter), or he would probably have been attacked on the spot.

Instead, he was taken (supposedly) to the Viceroy, Luis de Velasco, to explain himself. By way of proof, Pérez gave him a bit of news. It seems that the governor-general of the Philippines, Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, had been assassinated the day before. No one in Mexico City could have known that yet, as news traveled by Spanish Galleon at the time, and was usually many months old upon arrival.

Think of it as the 16th century equivalent of, “If you’re not a catfish, then send me a picture of you holding two fingers up, and also holding today’s newspaper in your other hand.” Unfortunately, that “picture”, in this case, would take about 3 months to arrive. Oddly enough, the Viceroy was satisfied with this explanation.

But then the religious authorities got involved. Unfortunately, this “miracle” occurred right in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition, so these officials were already in a foul mood. They promptly threw him in jail for being a deserter (as if he would have had a choice under these weird circumstances), and for good measure they also declared him a servant of the devil.

Pérez, it is said, preferred being in jail to fighting (I’m quoting this article, so don’t blame me) “the jungle men of the Philippines”, so he was on his best behavior. Over time, the guards found him to be a good Christian, so charges were dropped, and yet he remained in prison, because what can you do with someone who has such magical powers?

Months later, the news of the assassination finally got to Acapulco, and Pérez was ordered back to Mexico City. In an amazing coincidence, some of the people on the boat with him recognized him as a palace guard from Manila, so with all that “evidence” he was set free and went back to his post in the Philippines.

This story has been repeated through the centuries by many writers. The one most recognizable to Americans will be Washington Irving, of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame. The tale has even found a home on YouTube. Check out this cute animation:

And this longer, more serious treatment of the subject from Mexico Unexplained:

I couldn’t let you down, dear reader, so I actually did “research” for this post. And I was immediately able to blow a hole in this myth. It all has to do with Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, who is a legitimate historical figure who was, in fact, assassinated. The problem is that he was assassinated at sea, and no one in Manila would have known this by the next day. And according to Wikipedia, the assassination took place on 10/25, not 10/23.

But I don’t know where anyone got either of these dates. I’m fairly certain the assassination took place on 10/19. The most reliable source I could find is a very legitimate looking report entitled, GOMEZ PEREZ DAS MARINAS, CAPTAIN GENERAL OF MURCIA IN THE LAST THIRD OF THE XVI CENTURY, by José Raimundo Núñez-Varela and Lendoiro, Official Chronicler of the city of Betanzos and the City Council of Miño. (It’s in Spanish, but Google can translate it for you, if need be.)

The point is, if you’re going to tell a true story, then you should at least get your dates straight. But if our hero can teleport, maybe he can time travel as well. But with such powers, why cool your heels in jail, man?

Regardless, interpretation of this tale has changed with the course of time. These days, rather than speculating about Pérez’ congress with Satan, those who care to theorize seem to rest firmly in the teleportation camp. Pérez would not be the first person to show up in Mexico City with a strange story to tell. (I can attest to that. It’s a long story for another day.)

But a few decades ago, people were less apt to theorize about teleportation and much more likely to believe that he had been abducted by aliens and returned to the wrong location. Pardon me while I scoff.

First of all, have you noticed that claims of alien abduction are all but nonexistent these days, now that we all have cameras on our phones? Second, if aliens have the technology to travel through space, why on earth would they need sadistic probes to see our inner workings? And more importantly for the sake of this story, why would they forget where to dump Pérez once they were done with him?

I mean, come on… let’s be realistic, shall we? Hmph.

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

The Angry Asteroid

Imagine you’re an asteroid, minding your own business, and out of nowhere… KaBlam!

All things astronomical tend to intrigue me. I find nothing more comforting than looking up at the night sky and realizing that all my cares and concerns don’t even amount to a grain of sand on the celestial beach. I also enjoy the fact that there is still so much to learn about our universe. For me, as long as there is the potential for knowledge, life is worth living.

So imagine my joy when I learned that NASA was once again attempting something that had never been done before, and we’d be able to get an unprecedented view of their efforts. They were experimenting, for the first time, with a type of planetary defense system that, if successful, might one day save us from Armageddon in the form of an asteroid impact.

DART, or Double Asteroid Redirection Test was, in essence, a suicide mission for this unmanned craft. The scientists wanted to see if crashing DART into an asteroid at the speed of 14,000 miles per hour would alter said asteroid’s trajectory in any significant way.

This was an impressive feat indeed, because at the time of impact the asteroid Dimorphos was roughly 6.8 million miles away from earth. And we managed to pull off a direct hit. Granted, they were able to make a few course corrections along the way, but still, what are the odds of that?

One of the reasons for course corrections is the fact that we couldn’t even see Dimorphos until we were about an hour away from impact. Didymos, the much larger asteroid that Dimorphos orbits, was too bright to allow us to discern its little companion. It was only discovered because of radar echoes and optical light curve analysis.

To make sizes and distances more comprehensible, I asked NASA for a simile back on October 1st (really, I did), but they have yet to get back to me. If they ever do, I’ll be sure to update this post. Meanwhile, I did a little sloppy math and came up with this simile for you:

DART hitting Dimorphos at that distance and speed would be like me standing in Melbourne, Australia and throwing a walnut at a dodgeball in Odessa, Ukraine. And that walnut would have to go 18 miles per hour for a little over three weeks before its fateful crash.

Course corrections notwithstanding, that’s hardly a piece of cake. The fact that I was always last to be picked for any sports activity throughout my years in school will tell you just how improbable my success in that endeavor would be. The idea that anyone could pull off such a caper blows my mind.

I was relieved to see that it was a kinetic impact, not some sort of a bomb, like they would use to save the day in the movies. First of all, since there’d be no atmosphere, the force of an explosion would dissipate into space rather than blowing the thing to smithereens. (Think path of least resistance.) And I’d rather not launch nuclear bombs from earth, for fear that there’d be some malfunction during liftoff that we’d be regretting for centuries. And who knows what impact nuclear waste would have in space.

When I saw this footage, the impact looked like everything Hollywood tries to achieve with nuclear warheads. It was spectacular. I must confess that, while still intact, Dimorphos looked to me like a chocolate ball crusted in chopped nuts. It looked delicious.

There will probably be months of analysis before we know how effective the impact was. Apparently NASA had no idea what Dimorphos was going to look like, and the impact was bigger than they expected. Those unknowns kind of make me nervous. That inspires me to take you on a flight of fancy away from my science-loving brain and crash us right into my fiction-loving brain. Conspiracy theories are bound to follow, but remember, you heard it here first:

If we never actually saw the thing we planned to crash into until an hour previously, and the resulting impact was larger than expected, do we actually know what we have done? Yes, NASA chose an asteroid that has no chance of hitting earth, but, what if it was a living thing, minding its own business, and out of nowhere… KaBlam! Or what if the Little Prince was living there? Oh, the humanity!

Either way, somebody would be pretty darned annoyed. I know that if something intentionally crashed into me or into my home, I’d be irritated and want answers. I’d be taking off my earrings, preparing to throw down.

So we better keep an eye on Dimorphos. If it suddenly goes out of orbit and starts making a beeline toward Earth, we might be in trouble, because hell hath no fury like an asteroid scorned. Or maybe its anger would have dissipated before it got here, and it would therefore just drop a shower of chocolate balls on us. You have to admit that both theories are equally plausible.


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The Thing About Prefixes

…in which you get to dip your toes in my stream of consciousness.

For the purposes of this post, a prefix is “an element placed at the beginning of a word to adjust or qualify its meaning,” according to Oxford Languages. For a handy list of English language prefixes, consult the Wikipedia post. They’ve got you covered.

One of the many games I play in my head (I have a rich inner life) is that of stripping words of their prefixes. It’s amazing how many of the stem words have fallen out of fashion even though their prefixed versions thrive.

Take “overwhelm” for example. When’s the last time you heard anyone use the word “whelm”? If you heard it frequently in your youth, you are probably about 700 years old. Congratulations!

Which leads us nicely to the term “congratulations”, and its interesting stem word “gratulation”, which is a manifestation of joy, and something we need a lot more of these days. It’s time to bring gratulation back. Who couldn’t use a little gratulation in their life?

One of the more maddening prefixed words, in my opinion, is “inflammable”. I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many decades I operated under the false assumption that inflammable was the opposite of flammable. And I come by that confusion honestly. The prefix “in” usually signifies “not”. So logic would dictate that inflammable would mean “not flammable”. But no.

This delightful article from Dictionary.com will clear it all up for you. But in a sloppy nutshell, “in”, in this instance, means… in. (You can’t make this stuff up.) So inflammable actually means “in a state of being easily set on fire.” In other words, flammable.

But it gets even more strange. It seems that the word inflammable predates the word flammable by about 200 years, and in truth, flammable only became more popular than its counterpart around the year 1970.  But it did so for good reason. It seems that I’m not the only one who has been confused by the word inflammable, and that confusion could be downright deadly. Because of this, safety experts have long advocated for the shorter version on labels.

In other words, it pays to read the label, especially with regard to children’s pajamas, and that label should not be confusing. Research for this post led me through a maze of websites, including one by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, which assures us that children’s sleepwear is required to be flame resistant.

But what does flame resistant mean, in actuality? Is it different from flame retardant? That led me to this website, which explained that flame resistant clothing is “less likely” to catch fire, and if it does catch fire, it will self-extinguish once it’s removed from the combustion source. This might not seem particularly comforting to the average parent, but the best thing about flame resistant material is that, when it is exposed to heat, it won’t melt and adhere to the skin like some freakish distant cousin of napalm. Yay.

But I will say this. Polyester is supposed to be flame resistant, but I have vivid memories of my teenage sister’s boyfriend attempting to impress us by taking off is polyester shirt (It was the 70’s, so you’ll have to forgive him) and dropping it in the fireplace. We watched it melt, and I remember that it stank to high heaven. So there’s that.

Now I’m wondering if something is “inflamed”, can’t we just call it “flamed”? You’ll have to look that one up yourself. These digressions of mine are making me tired.

Digress is similar to deviate, but oddly, the “di” in digress is not a prefix, despite the fact that “di” is quite often a prefix, whereas the “de” in deviate is. The prefix “de” means off or remove, and so deviate basically means to remove oneself from the “via”, or “way”. But there I go, digressing again.

Aren’t words fascinating? I could study them for hours. I always wanted an unabridged version of the Oxford English Dictionary, but where on earth would I put it? Its current version consists of 20 volumes, with a total of 21,728 pages. Sadly, authorities on the subject say that the next edition will most likely never be printed. It will only be in digital form. Even thought trees the world over will be grateful for the reprieve, for me that will be a sad day.

Because of this digital insult to humanity, children of the future will probably never experience the pure joy of lifting one of the heavy volumes up, smelling the dust, and flipping randomly through the crispy pages to learn something unexpected. What a shame. The memory still gives me butterflies.

We seem to be dipping our toes in my stream of consciousness today. That makes me self-conscious. Which leads me back to… Where were we? Oh, yeah. Prefixes.

I feel the need to mention one last thing before you move on with your day: Even the word “prefix” has a prefix. Shouldn’t that be considered a conflict of interest? I want to lodge a protest. But then “pro” is a prefix, too…

Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

I Sure Could Use a Mashed Potato Mystery

Are you suffering from news fatigue? Me too.

I wrote this humorous blog post about Jackson, Mississippi before they had their horrific water crisis, which isn’t going away anytime soon. They need our help. If you are able to do so, please read this article for some ways to support them. Thank you. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/how-to-help-people-in-jackson-mississippi-right-now/ar-AA11kcDP

Are you suffering from news fatigue? Me too. Worrying about the death of our planet, the death of democracy, the death of kindness, and the death of civility takes energy. Unfortunately, my reserves of energy are at an all-time low these days. Nothin’ left in the tank.

Worry, in moderation, can be useful. It promotes action. It thrusts you into problem solving mode. And that’s fantastic when that action produces positive results.

The problem, as far as I’m concerned, is that we have so much more access to information these days that it’s easy to feel that there are just too many problems, and whatever effort you put into a problem doesn’t budge the solution needle one iota. As a result, the type of worry you find yourself embroiled in is not the action kind. It’s the helpless, staring-into-the-abyss kind. And indulging in such worry is pointless.

I do believe we all need to remain vigilant regarding current events, lest the bad guys win more than they already have. I understand the importance of staying informed, but it’s been a long decade. We’re tired.

I think we could all use a distraction. Not in the form of an “opiate of the masses”, mind you. That seems too eternal. And not in the form of a person shouting, “Look! Squirrel!” and then stealing your credit card. That would be unsatisfying, to say the least. We just need something to briefly and harmlessly take our minds off the Sturm und Drang of our current reality. We need the information equivalent of an amuse-bouche.

We need a feel-good piece with just enough meat on the bone to be satisfying. We need a non-threatening whodunnit to try to solve. We need an opportunity laugh at the quirkiness of humanity. We need, in short, a mashed potato mystery.

Back in April, 2019, in Jackson, Mississippi, someone was leaving random bowls of mashed potatoes in people’s mailboxes, on their cars, on their porches. This confusing, intriguing, and mildly creepy story took the internet by storm for, oh, about 6 days. Newscasters were joking about doing the mashed potato, and then the cameras would switch to the weatherman, who was getting quite a chuckle from the whole situation.

My search engine found at least 20 articles on the subject, but this one seems to be the source document. These articles were all saying practically the same thing, and quoting the exact same quotes, so I’d say this is a story written by one reporter and then shared or stolen by various news outlets throughout the country.

Everyone wanted to know who this mysterious purveyor of mashed potatoes was, and what their motivation might be. Fortunately, no one seems to have eaten these mystery spuds, because lord knows what might have been in them. For the most part, people found it gross, yet funny. They didn’t involve the authorities.

And that, unfortunately, was where it all ended. I’m sure if anyone had found the culprit, that would have hit the news, too. The perpetrator did not leave a manifesto, so we have no clue as to his, her, or their motivation. And that bugs me.

But it also gives me license to come up with my own theory about the message that was sent to Jackson, Mississippi on that fateful day. And here’s what I came up with:

O, ye people of Jackson! Gaze upon these vessels of pulped spuds and take heart! For I shall give sustenance to all those who are hungry and imprudent, if they but follow me! But take heed, for this nourishment comes with a helping of insight, to wit: distractions are plentiful for those who wish to shun the vexing realities of their irksome routines. Yet distractions of a carb-ish nature, if indulged in frequently, can lead to obesity of the mind, body and spirit. Mayhap ‘twould better serve you to sup on a balanced diet of both reality and fantasy, fact and fiction, for optimum mental health. Blessed be.

Being Beaten by Baguettes

Assault with alliteration. And carbs.

I love alliteration, and I love bread, so the title of this post came naturally to me. It actually manifested long before the content did. But I knew that a title that trips off the tongue so tantalizingly should not be tossed out. (See what I did there?) I had to find a way to make use of it. But how?

And then I had an exceedingly bad day.

We all have those, of course. But I didn’t handle the situation well at all. It was entirely too triggering, and I therefore had a massive melt down. Whenever someone witnesses that occasional coping flaw of mine, I can see them looking at me like I’ve become completely and utterly unhinged, and the look of confusion and discomfort on their face makes me feel worse. Off I slide into a negative spiral. It’s not fun. (It could be argued that it’s not exactly a picnic for those who helplessly bear witness, either.)

Welcome to my world.

It’s really hard to explain an apparent overreaction to someone who is basically cool, calm and collected. They are seeing a minor thing and what appears to be an over-the-top response thereto. To that I say: you have no way of knowing what negative memories one has rotting in the basement of one’s brain. You don’t know which straw will be the last one for the camel. You see a surface situation and a surface reaction, but you don’t see the crux of it. You don’t see the scar tissue or the deep, deep down final freakin’ straw of it all.

So back to the headline. It alludes to assault with alliteration. And carbs. So here’s what I came up with to accompany it.

Imagine this: You’re walking down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris (lucky you!), and you happen to see a man hit a woman with a baguette. Naturally you are startled by this. One does not witness such a contretemps every day. Oh non.

Before you can react, the man disappears down a side street. You aren’t even sure you got a good look at him. Was he dressed as a mime? (Probably not, or he would have been on the receiving end of the assault. But I digress.) It all happened so quickly. It’s hardly surprising that your main focus was on the yeasty weapon he chose to employ.

When you turn back to the woman, you see that she has dropped to her knees and is doing that kind of chest-heaving, exhausting, cleansing cry that most men cannot imagine. (Unlucky them.) They don’t understand the subtle healing powers of some negative emotions.

But why such a strong reaction? I mean, yeah, it was a strange situation, but after all, it was bread. There are much worse things in this world to be hit with, literally or figuratively. Bread probably won’t even leave a mark. Nevertheless this “hysterical” female is drawing a crowd.

Why is it that so many of us default to judgment rather than comfort? Do we have to agree with her feelings for them to be valid? Must we empathize in order to feel compassion?

For all you know, this woman is being stalked by that man, and this was not the first baked good she had been pelted with this week. Perhaps baguettes remind her of her recently-deceased and much-beloved father who owned a boulangerie not far from this very spot. Perhaps she has a health issue that magnifies even the slightest pain to excruciating heights. Maybe she has a serious problem with food that is not gluten free. It could happen.

I’ve never understood people who believe there is a right way and a wrong way to feel. We are all individuals with different life experiences and different trauma. Our feelings are our own, and we have every right to express them as long as there’s no violence involved.

It may not be easy, especially with strangers, but if you see someone suffering, offer comfort, not judgment or solutions or any phrase that begins with “you should.” Just acknowledge their feelings and offer your presence in whatever way you both feel is appropriate. Don’t pony up unsolicited advice or roll your eyes.

I would like to think that if I saw a woman being assaulted on the street, even if it were just with a pillow, I’d ask if she needed help, or a hug, or just wanted to talk about it. This type of offer allows dignity and agency to be restored to the victim survivor. This gives a fellow human being the opportunity to gather him or herself and take the next step on what will most likely continue to be a very complex life path.

Only the receiver can know just how many “baguettes” they can take before they begin to feel like these implements of destruction are actually baseball bats. And that’s as it should be. But because of that, it behooves all of us to cut people a bit of freakin’ slack.

And… now I’m craving bread.

Choose your weapon wisely.

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Acidophilus… Wow…

I had a very strange morning.

I wake up to a very strange smell. I can’t quite place it. Then I realize that my dogs are running frantically around the house, but for some reason they’re not barking, and that strikes me as wrong.

I sit up, notice that it’s 9 am, but it seems too dark outside for that. Once the dogs see that I’m up, they start barking in what seems like a weird combination of agitation and relief. And what is that smell?

I leave the bedroom, and call for Dear Husband, but get no response. Everything around me looks… it’s hard to explain. Abandoned? Dusty? Sandy? I don’t know. Surreal.

I head to the back door in search of DH, and when I open it, I’m hit by this wall of sensation. The park and woods behind our house are engulfed in bright orange flame and muddy black smoke. The weird smell gets even stronger.

I discover that I’m screaming, and I run across the back deck, going God knows where. I nearly trip over an old-school, red and black surfboard, the long, heavy kind. I’ve never seen it before. And the house is surrounded by… trampolines?

Then my husband comes around the side of the house, jumping from trampoline to trampoline, and I must say that he’s getting an impressive amount of height. He’s wearing nothing but board shorts, combat boots, and a red bandana. His hair is long, wispy and dark, as it was as in his youth (which makes me grateful that I met him later in life).

His face and torso are covered in green and grey paint. A feverish sweat is coursing down a serious case of 5 o’clock shadow on his jaw. He looks exhausted yet adrenalized, as if he might spontaneously combust at any moment. He’s holding what appears to be a supersized fire extinguisher with an unusually hardcore nozzle.

As he bounces past, and is rounding the next corner, he’s shouting, “Good morning, Babe! I got this! The perimeter is secure!” 

His words alternately fade and intensify as his head pops up above the roof-line. “DON’T worry, I’VE got THIS!”

And what is that smell?

I look back at the fire. It seems to have originated from a PBR boat that has appeared out of nowhere, and is now stranded at a cockeyed angle in the middle of the field. At this point there are balls of flame curling skyward above the tree line, and that’s when I hear the squadron of helicopters that is roaring toward us. Black helicopters. The front one is blasting the song, “Ride of the Valkyries.”

I finally realize what the smell is. Napalm. Napalm in the morning.

Then I wake up for real, gasping as though I’m coming up for air after being submerged too long.

The sun is shining. The birds are singing. I can hear Dear Husband puttering in the yard. I am buffeted by the wave-like whoosh of the cars passing by on the highway out front, and Quagmire, my dachshund, is snoring gently beside me. The sounds of home. So this is not the horror of war after all.

“The horror…”

I think, “That’s what I get for staying up late, eating too much junk food, and watching the extended and even more surreal version of Apocalypse Now.”

I decide that what’s needed is some yogurt to settle my stomach. Thus begins my day.

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Exploding Trucks, an Abandoned 4-Year-Old, and Drawbridge Heat Expansion: One Helluva Day

I need a hug.

The day in question was a recent Thursday, Day 4 of an unprecedented week-long heat wave in Seattle. Dear Husband woke me up at 10:30 am, because he knew I’d want to get dressed and go to the YMCA pool before work. That’s where we do our own aqua aerobics routine 4 days a week. And it’s true, I wanted to go. I always feel better when I do. But he woke me in the middle of REM sleep, and my dream popped like a bubble. I spent the rest of the morning in an incoherent fog, wishing I could go back to bed. In truth, that turned out to be the theme for the entire day.

While getting ready for the pool, I glanced at the news, and discovered that at 8:15 am, a ferry in Seattle had crashed into part of the pier’s protection system, which is made of steel and concrete and is called a dolphin for reasons I’ve never understood. It sits just off the end of the pier and is designed to absorb the kinetic energy from an impact so that the pier isn’t destroyed. Thank goodness it did its job. (You can read about the incident here and here.)

No one was hurt, but several cars on the ferry were damaged. (Note to self: stop trying so hard to be at the front of a line of cars when you take the ferry.) The vessel itself sustained millions of dollars of damage and will be out of commission for many months. At first the news reported that that particular ferry terminal would be closed for the rest of the day.

I remember thinking, in passing, that this was going to cause traffic problems, because a lot of people who work in Seattle live on Vashon Island, and the only way to get there is by sea or air. All those people would have to drive much further away to get to other ferry terminals if they wanted to get home with their cars. And there are only so many ferries. And those ferries are already experiencing extreme staffing shortages as so many people got fired after refusing the COVID vaccine. (Selfish fools.)

(It was only later that the word spread that the terminal was to be reopened at 3 pm. But by then, many people had already detoured. And how.)

Meanwhile, where was I? Oh yes, headed out for a morning swim. It was so hot that I was really looking forward to it. It had been in the mid 90’s for the past 4 days, and while that may not seem all that bad from a Southern standpoint, especially since the humidity wasn’t that high, you have to understand that this almost never happens around here.

Historically, the average temperature on this date is 78 degrees. Most people didn’t even bother to have air conditioning in their homes in this area until about two years ago. And of course, the less affluent people still don’t have it, although it is now desperately needed. I can’t imagine the strain this sudden use of AC is going to put on the power grid. (Thanks, global warming deniers.)

So, when we arrived at the pool, it was full to overflowing with children on summer break attempting to beat the heat. I’ve never seen so many people in that pool, and we’ve been going there for years. There was no point in even trying to swim. I felt sweaty and defeated on the ride back home.

Had I known the day would get exponentially worse, I might have gone back to bed.

Still in a mental fog, I tried to get some housework done with mixed results. Then I attempted a nap before work, but the dogs apparently took umbrage with that, so I was never allowed to fully sleep.

On this day, I’d be working from 3 to 11 pm, so as per usual I left the house at 1:30 in hopes of arriving around 2:30. I do this because you never know what the commute will be like. On this day, I’d be grateful that I did that.

A brief Seattle geography lesson for you: Seattle has a population of 733,919, all crammed into 83.9 square miles. That’s nearly 8,748 people per square mile. And there’s no room for expansion, because it’s squeezed between Puget Sound and Lake Washington. You get a good idea of how packed the area is when you consider that the average population density for the whole country is about 94 people per square mile, and the average population density for all of Washington state is about 116 people per square mile.

And it’s so expensive to live in this city that many workers, like me, live elsewhere and commute in.  According to this report by the Seattle Department of Transportation, at its pre-COVID peak, the average daily traffic volume in Seattle was 1,015,722 vehicles. So, yeah, crowded is an understatement.

It was a good thing I left early, because little did I know, there was a truck on fire, with a payload of liquid oxygen that caused multiple explosions, and that completely shut down the southbound interstate. Granted, I was going north, but this caused a lot of looky-loos, and even more people being rerouted onto the surface streets I use to reach my final destination.

I arrived for my 3 pm shift at 2:59. I hate arriving so late. The bridgetender I relieve can’t leave until I arrive. If I had arrived at 3:01, by rights he could have screwed me out of a half hour’s pay, although most of us aren’t that cruel. And I had been texting him about the delays.

Between the truck on fire, the ferry disaster, and the blistering heat, I knew this would be a long day. And of course, in my rush to get from my car to the tower, I left my phone to bake on the black dashboard of my car. Great. Just great.

On days this hot, bridgetenders have to worry about heat expansion. If the bridge expands enough, it can bind together and be impossible to open. Needless to say, this is something we’d prefer to avoid. So I knew that in addition to opening the bridge for boats, I’d also have to stop traffic so that our flusher truck could make multiple passes on our metal span to spray cooling water on it.

Here’s a video I took of one such pass on the day. It’s shortened to not take up as much digital space, but it gives you an idea. The average pass that day took about 4 minutes, and on my shift alone they came through 7 times. In addition to that, I had to open the bridge 9 times for vessels, and each time I had to do these 16 things, traffic was backed up for miles in both directions, adding to the citywide snarl.

On non-holiday weekdays, the coastguard allows our bridge to remain closed to vessels for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, to allow for rush hour. (An extension of those timeframes is long overdue in Seattle, in my opinion.)

But on this day, due to the heat, the flusher trucks had to keep coming, so even though I was still able to not open the bridge to vessels during the closed period, I was still required to stop traffic to allow the flusher trucks to make their passes. That decision was well above my paygrade, although I did point out the problems involved.

I kept thinking of the people whose cars would overheat and stall during those backups, and it would be even worse for those who had cars with air conditioners that blow hot air when the car is not moving forward. (I’ve had a few of those in my lifetime.) Believe me, I really don’t like backing up traffic even on the coolest of days, but I only have so much control.

In the average week, 19,000 cars cross University Bridge, but that greatly increases when a good portion of the 233,000 weekly vehicles that usually cross the interstate’s Ship Canal Bridge to my west have to detour. (Again, this is based on 2021 data. One can assume that it was even higher prior to telecommuting.) So you can imagine how stressful it was for me to realize that I was adding quite a bit to the traffic problem, and that wasn’t even counting all the bicyclists and pedestrians I was baking in the sun.

At 4 pm I had to run downstairs to sidewalk level to measure all the gaps in the bridge, to see if we were in the danger zone yet. (I took that opportunity to retrieve my sizzling hot phone from my car.) By the time I got back to the tower I was drenched in sweat, and feeling kind of sick from the heat. And since I hadn’t had a chance to exercise that morning, my shoulder was killing me.

During all that shift’s chaos, I also had to respond at length to several time sensitive and confrontational work e-mails, maintain various log books, deal with cranky overheated pedestrians who were crawling under the lowered traffic gates during bridge openings, thus putting their lives at risk, and writing reports thereon to get ahead of the inevitable complaints.

And then somewhere along in there, I got a call from 911 dispatch re: a 4-year-old girl walking across the bridge, un-escorted. I looked everywhere, but I didn’t see her. Never hearing the end of such stories tends to add to my stress. I hope she is okay, but in a way I was kind of relieved, because the only thing I might have been able to do is coax her into the bridge tower with me until the police arrived. That would have been uncomfortable and distract me from the other things I was dealing with, and may have left me open to liability.

Despite all the bridge flushing, their efforts that day only increased our bridge gaps by 2/10ths of an inch. They were ordered to keep coming until 7:30 pm. This, despite the fact that the bridge traditionally stops expanding around 5pm because the sun is now low in the sky.  

Finally, I was hoping to catch my breath around 8:30 pm. I would have liked to have had dinner. I was starving. But then tug Island Chief, pushing a 3000 gross ton gravel barge, requested an opening. It’s not like he’s able to slam on the brakes or paddle in circles. Sigh.

I was able to let him through promptly and efficiently, but during my closing of the bridge, I noticed two middle-aged ladies on the other side of the span who had gotten past the gate. This was kind of startling, because it’s usually young men hopped up on testosterone and idiocy who pull that kind of caper. Truth be told, they were probably standing in a safe place, but since they had already proven that they were willing to ignore the rules and behave unpredictably, I couldn’t be sure that they would stay in that safe place. That’s how people get hurt or even killed.

I had to stop the opening, which always enrages the vehicle drivers. I got on the intercom and politely asked the ladies to get back behind the gate for their safety. They pretended to ignore me, but they reacted by crossing their arms and glaring, and did not move. I asked them two more times. Finally, when I described what they were wearing, where they were located, and that they were backing up traffic, other pedestrians stepped in and embarrassed them into getting back behind the gate.

I knew this should generate a report, but things weren’t slowing down, and frankly, that happens all the time. (But these two ladies are repeat offenders, so I had the pleasure of reporting them days later, in hopes that my coworkers would be on the lookout for them.)

I decided to heat my TV dinner and did some more openings while I waited. I was starting to get the shakes, both from hunger, and the adrenaline dump of the day. I heard my food exploding in the microwave, and had to salvage what I could from its interior walls after the bridge was once again seated.

I finally ate and was able to turn on my personal laptop for first time at 9 pm. Now, I’m two days behind on building up a blog post surplus for my next vacation, but obviously work obligations will always come first. I made a futile attempt to gather thoughts for blog, but my brain was too scattered at this point.

It was getting dark, and for the first time I looked up to see that the previous bridgetender had left the ceiling lights on. They’re practically unnoticeable in the daylight, but they do get up to 100 degrees when left on. Huh. No wonder I hadn’t been able to adequately cool the tower all shift.

Usually things slow down after sunset, but sailboats continued to trickle in until 10 pm. (They do seem to enjoy spacing themselves out. It’s quite irritating.)

So that left me an hour to clean the tower, breathe, and visit friends in the virtual world of Second Life for a few minutes, to vent, much like I’m doing with this post. Usually, we have the place where we hang out entirely to ourselves. That has been the case for more than a decade.

But not on this night. Of course not. Instead, some random avatar popped in. His profile said he was a guy from Russia who was here to practice English. He insisted that we switch from communicating by text to communicating by voice, and we refused. He got agitated and asked how he was supposed to know we were really women.

That’s when I knew we were being trolled by a teenager, most-likely American, looking for cybersex. Why else would our gender matter? One of the many joys of Second Life is to be able to take new people at word value and not worry about the minutiae. That can always come later, once you’ve formed an opinion as to their character and have decided if they’re trustworthy.

Can I be blamed if, after the day I had, I got a little snarky with him? He promptly disappeared. (I can’t remember if I had the chance to say, “And by the way, stop killing Ukrainians, you Russian baby-man!” before he popped out. I hope I did.)

I was finally able to leave the bridge at 11 pm. I was so tired that I felt like crying during the commute. Halfway home I got a text from the on-call supervisor, asking if I could work half of the graveyard shift on another bridge, as someone had called in sick, and we are desperately understaffed. I sent her a long, rambling, probably incoherent voice text describing my day and my exhaustion. But my message boiled down to hell no, and she was decent enough not to argue with me about it.

I got home at 11:40 pm. I plopped down on the recliner and had a lime popsickle. I took a shower. I went to bed at 1215 am. Dear husband was wonderful and gave me a back rub in the hopes that I would be able to wind down and get to sleep.

I think I only managed to get about 3 hours of sleep, because I was so adrenalized and I was doing a mind grind. That was highly unfortunate, because the next day I was working the day shift, and had to get up at 5:20 am to be to work at my usual 6:30 am, in hopes of actually getting there before 7 am. And that day was every bit as hot and every bit as busy. But at least the traffic was a tiny bit lighter. No explosions. No ferry catastrophes.

If you ever hear someone say that bridgetending is all about some lazy person sleeping in a chair and occasionally pushing one button in order to let a boat through, without any regard to safety or traffic flow, kindly slap them for me. (Just hard enough to startle them, not hard enough to hurt them.) Then make them read this post.

And then tell me about it. I’d like to enjoy the moment vicariously. I could use an emotional cookie right about now. And a hug. Yeah. That would be good.

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