Monday, August 25, 2008

Cone of Uncertainty

We spent most of last week watching Fay’s “cone of uncertainty.” Most of the time we don’t worry much about hurricanes, they tend to hit further south and even when they hit near us, they weaken once they're over land and so Gainesville, snuggled right in the middle of the state, doesn’t get much more than some rain and wind, nothing we’re not accustomed to.

For those of you who are not blessed to live in a state annually pummeled by hurricanes, the cone of uncertainty means that the hurricane, weather’s most fickle force, could turn on a whim. It could come straight through your town, or miss you entirely. You just don’t really know until it happens. The only thing that’s certain is that it’s coming somewhere.

But every once in awhile, the projected path cuts right through our city, and even though the storm was not as strong as we’ve seen, its tentacles spanned almost half the state and it just sat there like the stubborn person waiting for the close parking spot (even though the people leaving said spot still have to load up four kids and a cart full of groceries.)

The cone of uncertainty usually covers the entire state may very well be the meteorologist’s way of covering his ass. But it did occur to me that the cone of uncertainty is a good metaphor for life. We might be on a basic trajectory, but there’s a wide margin to swing in either direction, or we could turn from a set path entirely and go back the other way.

On Saturday I talked to a certain person whom I love very much. I’ve known her since she squeezed out of her mother’s womb. It is quite a special thing to know and love someone for the entirety of their existence on this planet. This certain someone whom I have known and loved for the entirety of her existence, told me about her upcoming life plans.

I was a bit taken aback, and my heart couldn’t help but break at what I thought was surely a huge mistake. I’m scared that the ocean of life will swallow her up and she will never realize the truly beautiful and talented person that she is.

I want to tell her not to take that path, but ultimately, I am powerless. She is an adult and the trajectory of her life is her own. I can only hope and wish and try to gently guide her in (my idea of) the right direction.

After talking to her, I wondered how my mom must have felt watching me and my brother's "cone of uncertainty" as we found our ways in life. How hard was it for her when my brother said he’d joined a gang (in our Norman Rockwell-esque suburban Chicago town mind you, but still).

It must have been horrible for my mom to see me hanging out with the pot smokers every weekend in high school. Wondering if her bright, smart (if I do say so myself) daughter was doomed to a life working at the beach t-shirt shack, getting high every weekend. At 18 that life seemed semi-interesting, cool even. But even then I could see that by the time I hit twenty-five it would be dismal and decidedly lame. My mom must have breathed a sigh of relief when I instead started dating the captain of the math team, traded in my one-hitter for a TI-85 calculator and started applying to colleges.

What do we do when we feel uncertain and scared about the path someone we love is taking? My mom tried to pull me in one direction or another, but in the end the choice was mine. Barring natural disasters, illnesses and circus clowns (long story), I am responsible for the path my own life takes.

The worst of Fay came on Friday, and then again unexpectedly on Sunday when I looked out the back door to see a swamp marsh where my yard should have been and yelled to Danny, “You know how I said I’d be worried if the water rose above the patio slab?”


“Well I’m officially worried.”

The water never quite touched our house though. It stopped raining, Fay moved on, and the water receded. Maybe no damage is irreparable. Even if we did get flooded, we’re related to our insurance agent, so maybe everything will be okay in the end, no matter what path the storm takes.

P.S. In case you were wondering, my brother currently works at a bank, is not in a gang and is an all-around upstanding citizen. And as for myself, well I wouldn't exactly call myself "upstanding"...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Michael Phelps is an Alien (and announcement of events in the real-life Olympics)

I have two theories about Michael Phelps.

My first theory is that he is not a native of earth, but rather some chlorine water planet in a galaxy far, far away. On this planet (let's call it Chlorgar) he has to swim really, really fast in order to escape being imprisoned by the evil jellyfish creatures that have taken control of his homeworld. Tired of bring on the run (er, swim), he put on an ill-fitting human suit and came to earth in search of Olympic glory.

The second theory is that he is a sophisticated robot created by the masterminds at Universal Studios to make people interested in the Olympics again. Think about it, the biggest story about the 2004 Athens Olympics was that there WAS no story, no ratings, nobody cared. And now, all of a sudden there's this swimmer guy who can't be stopped and everyone's tuning in? Something's fishy.

But regardless of whether Mr. Phelps is alien or animatronic, the Olympics have got me thinking about my own personal path to Olympic glory. I perused the list of events to see if any of them could be my road to gold. It can't be anything where I have to be stronger or faster than anyone else so that eliminates all track and field events. I never learned to swim and am slightly afraid of the water so that leaves out anything pool or boat related. Also I probably shouldn't compete in any event where I could shoot my (or anyone else's) eye out.

My options are pretty limited, so Danny and I sat down to think about some Olympic events that would give me, and other normal, non space alien folks, a shot at gold. Feel free to peruse the list of events and start training now.

Real Life Olympiad 2012

Furniture moving: This would hands down be my best event. I'd team up with my mom to crush the competition. Weighing in at just over a hundred pounds, and measuring up to about 5ft 2in., my mom's stature doesn't stop her from inexplicably being able to move couches and heavy appliances down stairs by herself. I've been known to move an armoire or two myself, we're clearly the team to beat here.

Grocery Store Line Choosing: Danny is the favorite here. This event is tricky, because often a line seems the shortest but then you discover the person in front of you has one of every different kind of fresh fruit, forty-two coupons, and insists on counting out exact change. Other obstacles include price checks, shift changes and old ladies with check books.

Parking: I'd draft my friend Lisa for this one. Lisa drives a car I lovingly refer to as "Big Mama." It's a station wagon that seats about twenty-five and Lisa whips it into spaces I wouldn't attempt with my compact car. The second part of this event would be parking sharking. A crowded parking lot, three spaces, four cars, go. (Pick up difficulty points if you have passengers yelling, "There! Right there! No, over THERE! Someone's leaving. Oh wait, sorry they're not leaving.)

E-mail answering: Probably one of Real Life Olympics most stressful events. Imagine the scenario, you've just gotten back from a two week vacation, you open your inbox to two hundred and fifty messages. You must identify and delete the forwarded jokes and Youtube videos, make dinner plans with your friends, pay your overdue bills online, give feedback on everything your colleagues sent you, and answer every single e-mail without accidentally copying your boss on the one where you said you'd rather stick a frilly drink umbrella in your eye than go back to work.

Other events include:

Suitcase and Car Trunk Packing


Avoiding the check at dinner with friends

Figuring out how to vote on forty five ballot initiatives and amendments

Clothes shopping with toddlers

Driving on I-75

Shit, Shave and Shower Competition

Insect Killing and Disposal

Qualifying rounds will be held next month at Ikea. Stay tuned for more details.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why I Possibly Have to Find a New House

Last night something horrific happened at my house. It's very possible I'll have to move.

Danny witnessed the entire event, which is good, because if it had been me, I'd be perusing the real estate listings right now instead of typing this.
Sunday night, at approximately 10:08 pm, my kitchen was the scene of a gruesome mass murder.

Here's what went down. I was drunk on the couch (since I'd capped off my three-day women's liberation conference with about seven hours of drinking at various Gainesville establishments.) I was flat on my back, watching a Christian rock concert infomercial and contemplating whether or not I had to throw up when I heard Danny in the kitchen.

"OH...MY...GOD..." (Said with the tone of voice you'd use if you found a severed head in the trunk of your car.)

"What?" I said (notice that I didn't bother getting up even though Danny's tone of voice indicated something along the lines of a severed head in the trunk of a car).

When Danny didn't respond, I was compelled to drag my drunk ass into the kitchen to see what the deal was.

Danny stood with his back to me, his hand in a sneaker, staring at the floor.

"What?" I said again (drunker and more insistent this time). And then I saw it, "OH...MY...GOD!"

A spider with a body the size of a freakishly large peanut was dead on the floor. It was huge even upside down with it's legs curled in was laying in the middle of a thousand hyper baby spiders which were quickly spreading across the tile like a nasty, living spill of nastiness.

Danny's eyes were wide, "I killed it and then these just exploded out."

I froze for a second. And then drunk brain kicked in. "I have a plan!" I ran to the bathroom to retrieve a large can of aerosol hair spray and re-entered the kitchen like the banshee of low end hair styling products. I blasted the babies with gale force winds of Aussie medium hold control spray.

The baby spiders were so small that the spray had one of two effects. It either blew them clear across the floor or left them feebly swimming in sticky little orange-scented pools. Some of them were quite possibly enjoying themselves.

"Ummm....Stephie?" Danny said from the doorway, "Don't we have bug spray or something?"

"This is working fine! I'm immobilizing them so I can squash them all."

When the entire area was covered in three-fourths of an inch of hair product, I grabbed the trusty Clorox wipes and started squashing. Danny watched the massacre. Which was fine. His heroic deed had already been done. Because if I had been the one to see that monster in the kitchen I would have gotten right in the car and never come back to the house ever, ever again.

Some of the tiny little bastards escaped into the floorboards and I laid the mama and 9, 967 of her babies to rest in the garbage can.

But this morning, as I ate my breakfast of toast and aspirin, I looked at the floorboards and wondered how long it will take for the small band of rebels that escaped my wrath to grow up and avenge their family.

Because that's basically how long I have to find a new house.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Columbia House—Ye Olde Mp3 player

Last week I was on a plane trying to fall asleep. The only way this is possible for me is with my mP3 player. As it cycles through the 700 songs ranging from Donna Summers to Interpol to Dolly Parton, I am distracted from the fact that the plane smells vaguely like a port-o-potty stuffed with dirty socks, and that I have to be elbow to elbow with a surly teenage boy for six hours.

As I drifted into a music induced slumber, I was thinking, could I explain to my thirteen year-old self what an mp3 player is?

When I was thirteen, besides having to walk uphill in the snow to school (which I did by the way but that’s beside the point), cassette tapes were still the main implement for getting your groove on.

Whenever I heard a band or song that I liked, I had two options. I could either, (A) wait until I heard the song on the radio and then jump from my bed to press record on the blank tape that was ready and waiting, or (B) wait for my allowance, ask (no, beg) for a ride to the mall and purchase either the cassette single or the entire album (depending on whether I’d already spent some of my money on several issues of Teen Beat).

It seems barbaric now, when all I have to do is type a band’s name into Rhapsody, click click click and I have every song they’ve ever produced as well as all their solo albums. I then put them in my magic little machine along with their hundreds of little musical friends and we’re off.

Thirteen year old Steph would just, like, die. Could she possibly even comprehend it? Every song she could dream of, new and old, just a few clicks away? Actually, at that point she wouldn’t even know what “clicks” meant. What Black magic do ye speak of?

So how to explain? (And yes, in case you’re wondering, I actually did spend time imagining how I would explain this if I could go eighteen years back in time.)

The closest I could come to imparting what it feels like to have an Mp3 player to someone in 1990 is Columbia House. Columbia House was a music club which to me was like magic and to my mother seemed like it should be illegal for them to solicit business from teenagers.

They would send you this crazy offer--twelve tapes for a penny (a penny!) and all you had to do was buy one (one!). (Plus pay shipping and handling and buy an album a month for a year.) But you can cancel any time! (ANY time!)

Included with the offer were sheets and sheets of tiny stamps with album covers on them. I felt like the world had opened up when I was perusing those pages of stamps. Every album I had ever heard of and hundreds I hadn’t. So many choices! It was better than Christmas. A few weeks later when the long rectangular box came with my twelve cellophane wrapped treasures I would blissfully listen to music for hours.

Of course a month later, when I had forgotten to cancel my membership and Columbia House automatically sent the “selection of the month” (always something lame like Michael Bolton or Boz Scaggs Greatest Hits) at a criminally inflated price, I would beg my mom to pay for it and call them to cancel. Damn kids.

I guess I could tell 13-year-old Steph that an mp3 player is a little like being able to have all the little stamps you want, instantaneously, all in one magic little machine, without the worry that a month later you’d have to pay $26.00 for Marie Osmond’s comeback album.

Or I could just say, "Just wait, you’ll understand when you’re older," and go back to sleep…