March 30, 2008

Retardcapades; or, our heroine breaks her blog

Seriously, how the hell do I fix it so the entries aren't weirdly indented and running way off the right side of the screen? I can't figure out what I did. Is it somewhere in the stylesheet?

Posted by katie at 12:03 PM

March 03, 2008

Retardcapades, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Global Capitalism

Imagine for a moment that you are buying, oh, an extremely expensive high-tech pair of hiking boots. After much shopping youâve found the pair that you think will serve your needs for clambering over some hypothetical mountains. These hiking boots cost a lot, as they tend to, but youâve decided that theyâre worth it because theyâll do what you need. And for the heck of it, letâs say that this brand of boot comes standard with a cushiony gel insole. Are you with me?

Now imagine that the store youâre buying them from offers, for an extra couple of bucks, to include an appropriate pair of hiking socks with your boots. Letâs say itâs a special deal on buying the two together. âGreat!â you say. âI need both hiking boots and hiking socks, and they have taken the trouble of finding some that go together and selling them both to me at a discount!â

Now letâs imagine that youâre halfway across the Grand Tetons in your extremely expensive hiking boots and conveniently included socks, when you realize what the store didnât tell you: that they knowingly threw in a pair of socks that, in combination with the cushiony gel insoles of these particular boots, would cause your feet to catch fire. Q: Does this make any sense?

I have a new friend at the tech support call center who seems to have solved the mystery of why Iâve had three (3!) debilitating virus attacks, each requiring a full system wipe, in the two (2!) months I have owned my new computer. The issue becomes clear when I tell you a secret: the above story is merely a fable. Make the following substitutions to decode the secret meaning!

Yup: Stupid Dell runs Windows Vista (itself perhaps the most unpleasant operating system Iâve ever seen) standard on its products. They also bundle their systems with Trend Micro security software. But Vista + Trend Micro evidently = a whole host of problems that theyâre still just hearing about.

This makes perfect sense, of course, if looked at from the point of view of strategic business alliances rather than that of technology. And since I know exactly jack shit about technology, then the former is in fact the only way that I can look at it. In fact, Iâm kind of impressed by the companyâs ability to tune out irrelevant bullshit about whether certain products work together, or whether they, as is in fact the case, mutually interfere and prevent each other from working.
Q: Why are you bundling these two things together?
A: We have made a deal to bundle these things.
Q: Do they work together?
A: We have made a deal to bundle these things.
Q: They donât break each other, do they?
A: We have made a deal to bundle these things.

I finally got the solution to this puzzle last night when I was on the phone, spluttering mad, with my new friend at tech support.
âWhat do you mean?â I huffed. âYou recommend these things to go together!â
The kid on the other end of the phone produced a prizeworthy Derisive Snort. âI donât recommend this,â he said flatly. âThe company bundles it.â
âAh,â I said, as light dawned.

Because I am technologically retarded I donât trust myself with dangerously anarchist operating systems and open-source software; I assume that anything that I can locate for free on the internet is filled with child-porn viruses; and I prefer not to do much else with the computer other than turn it on or off. (Although at this point Iâve gotten so I can restore the infernal machine to factory condition with no help, with one hand tied behind my back and while eating a sandwich.) This is why I wanted someone else to make all the decisions about software and OS combinations for me. Poor naÃve Katie. All I wanted was to take the damned contraption out of the box and turn it on. I donât want to learn about freeware. I donât want to know what any of this stuff does. I just want it to do it.

Last night I finally just talked to the kid on the phone about what kind of system he has at home and what kind of security programs heâs running. Not at all the stuff his company sold me, but he told me heâs got basically the same system as me and has never had a real problem. I made him stay on the phone with me and spell out URLs letter by letter while I downloaded exactly the same programs that he has. I guess itâs a little like if I called from the Grand Tetons about my flaming feet and had a guy walk me through the process of taking off the combustible socks, filling my boots with free pine needles, and then sticking my feet back in. âGosh,â I imagine myself saying, âthat was easy and free. Are you sure thatâs it?â

âYeah,â I imagine the guy replying. âIâve had pine needles in my shoes for like two years and my feet are fine. Feels better than burning socks, right?â

I wasnât able to have this conversation on either of my previous two calls, because, of course, on all previous occasions I have been talking to extremely polite and well-mannered employees working at an overseas call center someplace. Both of the employees I spoke to had heavy South Asian accents and insisted that they had improbably white-bread names like Bob and Justin. Both evinced, in the manner of those not born on American soil, a work ethic, a willingness to stick to the script, and a degree of employee loyalty that made them ultimately completely unhelpful. âI am going to scream,â I would say somewhere during Hour Two of the phone call. âSend me a new computer or I will kidnap one of the children I seem to hear playing in the background and I will sell them on the organ market.â
âYes, Missus Katie,â âBobâ would say. âDo you mind if we start again with turning off the unit and once again pressing F8 many, many times?â

My new friend, by contrast, sounded like a stoned, bored American college student or a stoned, bored out-of-work programmer â in other words, like exactly the kind of person Iâm accustomed to speaking to. In the manner of the lazy, rude American worker, he cut right to the chase. âOh Jesus,â he said. âThis guy last night had somebody with exactly your problem and they spent like a million fucking hours on the phone trying to rule everything else out. Do you mind if we just start from scratch and I help you set up your system the way I have mine?â
âWhat, you mean the rational and easy way?â I asked, startled.

Both of the employees I spoke to at the Bengali call center spoke lovely and articulate English and were much better at differentiating between similar frustrated utterances than I am in any of the languages Iâve âstudied.â They were unfailingly polite. But last night it was a profound relief to talk to someone who spoke my language.
âThank fucking God,â I said.
âNo shit, dude,â he said.

Posted by katie at 06:10 PM

August 22, 2007

Retardcapades; or, our heroine meets with her advisor

This afternoon I met with my dissertation advisor about my alleged project. I was overtired from trying, at the age of 29, to re-learn to ride a bike, which project has rather eclipsed the reading I should have been doing in recent days to prepare for this meeting. So I had pounded down a lot of coffee in the minutes preceding the meeting, and tried to gather my smartest-sounding thoughts.

Cut to the meeting: I was attempting, simultaneously, to drink my third glass of iced coffee and to nod knowingly at something my advisor was saying, and the fucking straw got wedged up my nose. I raised my head from the glass and looked at my advisor in shock, with the straw dangling from my nostril, and said, "Can you fucking believe this just happened?"

I totally interrupted whatever pertinent thing he had been saying. My advisor looked at me coolly and gave me an inscrutable smile and an incredibly eloquent shrug. "So," he said, "how is your project going?"

I reprint the foregoing almost verbatim from the phone account I gave to Christian immediately after it happenened, along with the following two thoughts:

1. Thank god no one has ever thought I was cool or smart, because the truth would be all too shocking.

2. Thank god my exams are all passed and my prospectus is all filed, and none of my committee members can rescind their signatures in light of new information re: my ability to conduct myself like a mental competent when it counts.

Posted by katie at 02:12 AM

March 19, 2007

Retardcapades, or, A Groom of One's Own

A few weeks ago, my Darling Baby Sister came to my town with several friends for a weekend surf-hangout visit. As soon as my sister and I were in the same place for five seconds,* it was noted that we once again had ended up with the same haircut. It was also noted, at least by me, that she had the haircut I was supposed to have, whereas I had a very outgrown version of same. Hence, she looked, as always, cute and well-groomed, and I looked like I was sidling toward mullet territory.

As I explained to my sister, when haircut needs arise, I like to go throw myself on the mercy of the 17-year-old high-school dropouts at the cosmetology school here in town. No one of them can cut hair worth a hill of beans, but:
(a) there are usually two or more of them fretting over a single head, which increases the combined competence factor,
(b) theyâre all adorable little punk-rawk fashion plates, incapable of conversation but very easy on the eyes, and
(c) it only costs 8 bucks, and Iâm broke.
(d) But mostly (b).

However, Iâve been having to space out my visits to that place more than I would have liked, with the result that I walk around with an idiotic ball of hair for weeks or months at a time. Why? Because Iâve discovered that someone who couldnât hang with their teach-to-the-test high school classes after hearing the sweet fluting of the Goodwill cosmetology school pipers is often reduced to a state of near-hysteria when presented with the following logical conundrum:
(1) I am trying to grow my hair, AND
(2) I would like you to cut my hair.
Iâve tried explaining, Iâve tried helping them make truth tables and Greimas squares to figure this out, but the best solution has been for me to stay away until the hair is so dire that even they agree it needs to be cut before it can be allowed to grow. Of course, then thereâs the matter of me finding time to actually get over there.

So, when my sister was here last, I hinted at the horribleness of my hair and the urgent need for a trim. I complimented her ability to cut even her own hair to acceptable, often downright adorable, specifications. But it was ultimately a pretty short hangout, and there wasnât time to actually shove a pair of scissors into her hand and get her to chop off some of the crap growing over the back of my neck.

There was, however, time for my sister to deliver a Treatise on the Principles of Self-Grooming, and this is why I blame her for everything that followed. She pointed out, index finger in the air,** that if you give yourself a haircut, and it turns out to be a bad haircut, then at least itâs free and is the bad haircut you wanted, and is therefore superior to the bad haircut someone else gives you, which is not free and not what you wanted. QED. There was more to it than that, but this central point seemed so elegantly demonstrated that I never thought to question her premises or check her logic.

Instead, I sent her back home with my hair clippers, because she was thinking of clippering her adorable hair back off, and I wanted to remove my own temptation to neutralize my awkwardly-growing-out hair by buzzing it again. No haircut for me, but at least the threat of undoing months of work in a single series of strokes was safely leaving town with my sister.

Flash forward some days to a point when, still not having found time to go confuse the poor girls at the cosmetology school, I was hanging out with my Delightful Former Housemate, who was in town for one of our weekly caloric extravaganzas known as Thursday night dinner. Within five minutes of my getting into his car, the conversation turned to the female mullet, by way of his mother's recent gentle observations about the social unpleasantness of a couple of big angry mulleted women of her acquaintance. This was about two other women, mind you, not about me, but I was acutely aware of the follicles on the back of my head working overtime to send little curls of hair pouring down the back of my neck, and just thinking about it made me frowny and irritable. As my DFH chattered on, I was ticking things off on my fingers.
One: Weâre on our way to go eat about 6,000 calories worth of dinner.
Two: No matter what anyone says, Iâm starting to have a mullet.
Three: Iâm getting angry and unpleasant just thinking about it.
Four: Oh dear.

By the time we dined and hung out and my DFH decided to go ahead and hit the road in the middle of a thunderstorm, I was still thinking about it. I marched into the bathroom, or rather the hallway that serves as a bathroom in my odd little apartment, pointed at myself in the mirror, and snarled, âLook, you, this stops right here, see? Iâm cutting my own hair, and if I give myself a bad haircut, at least itâs the haircut I wanted.â

I was so caught up in the excitement that I overlooked one crucial difference between my sister and me: She is good with a pair of scissors. I am not.

Since I was basically entering a berserk state, I didnât let a little thing like that stop me. I put newspaper down on the floor. I got naked. I stood in front of the mirror with a pair of scissors and snipped some hair off the back of my neck. So far, so good. Then I tried snipping some more hair off the other side of the back of my neck. I could tell hair was being cut by the fact that curls were falling on the newspaper, but other than that, it was a little hard to see what was going on. The angle of the walls in my hallway/bathroom and my jury-rigged system of mirrors make it possible to see the back of my head only obliquely, from one side or the other, but never straight-on. Hence, while the hair was looking better from each side in turn, it was impossible to tell if I was cutting it straight across. Add to that the fact that my hairline itself is uneven, and even I could figure out that I was in some trouble.

I snipped some more, then tried to assess. I held up a hand mirror and managed to get a look at the hairline Iâd created: not a mullet, but not very straight. I tried to hold the hand mirror in one hand and snip with the other, but Iâve always been very bad at this two-mirrors-which-way-is-my-hand-going routine, and was either snipping wildly at the air or nicking myself in the shoulder. Panic mounting, I thought: Wait. I need some structure here. What is the one surefire way to create a haircut which is absolutely notorious for being perfectly even all around? Bowl cut!

I want to make it perfectly clear that I had not been drinking. No, this was sober reason at its best.

I brushed some of the hair off my shoulders, ran into the kitchen, grabbed my 3-quart mixing bowl, and, back in the bathroom, upturned it on my head. By adjusting the way it was sitting on my head, I could indeed create a straighter line across the back of my neck. But when I moved my head, the bowl shifted position. My thought processes honed and sharpened by adrenaline, I grabbed the fuzzy, hot-pink chenille sash from my bathrobe and tied the bowl onto my head. I am a genius, I thought. I started to carefully snip around the bowl at the back of my head. Then, thunder cracked overhead, it started to rain harder, and I stopped snipping, a terrible thought creeping through the pink fluff of unreason. Before my DFH had left to drive home, we had agreed that if the rain got too bad on the mountain highway he would turn around and stay at my house. And I hadnât locked the door.

This is how I got a cold, rational look at myself: Naked, covered with hair, holding a pair of scissors in one hand, with a white plastic mixing bowl tied onto my head with a big, fluffy pink bow on top. Like a feral animal, I crouched on my pile of newspapers and stared at myself wide-eyed in the mirror before terror dislodged me and I leapt through the apartment to lock the front door. If he comes back, I thought frantically, Iâll just make him wait in the rain until Iâve put on a big hat.

With a rising sense of regret and much less abandon, I returned to the bathroom and finished snipping, then pulled the bowl off my head. As one might expect, the hairline created by the bowl did not actually match up with the hairline created by my earlier free-form snippings, and I had just created a thoroughly uneven, unspeakable bi-level shelf of hair. I sighed and opened the cabinet for my clippers, when the second unpleasant realization hit: I had sent the clippers home with my sister, precisely so I wouldnât use them in a moment like this. There was no shaving my way out of this one. And I had a full day of being out in public the next day.

I was outside Supercuts in a beanie when they opened at 9:00 the next morning. The very amused woman who showed up to work pulled off my beanie and gave me a look.

âWhat did you do?â she asked, clicking her scissors and her tongue in unison.
âI let a friend cut my hair,â I said in a little voice.
âReally?â she asked, measuring various lengths of hair with her fingers.
âNo,â I said in a littler voice.
âDid you cut your hair?â she asked, spraying and surveying.
âYes, maâam,â I said.
âDid you go to cosmetology school?â she asked, snipping quickly and competently.
âNo, maâam,â I said.
âIs this what you were trying to do? A graduated A-line?â she asked, turning me around and fluffing my newly adorable curls.
âThank you, maâam,â I said.

*Kids, this violates the laws of physics or something, and you shouldnât try it by yourself. Parents, supervise carefully, as experimenters run the risk of becoming highly unstable, ceasing to exist anywhere at any time, putting a big rip in the upholstery of space-time, or growing up to use words like âquantumâ in the presence of their humanities-oriented inferiors.

**Perpendicular to the sky.

Posted by katie at 11:16 AM

September 23, 2006

Retardcapades, or, Stench! The Musical, Part II

I write to you, dear reader, from a motel room not 100 yards from my apartment, in which I will be spending the night and trying to work, having rendered my apartment temporarily uninhabitable. That tale of woe I shall unfold for you, in hopes that you, being wiser than I, will profit from my cautionary example.

Some will recall Stench! The Musical Part I from my old blog, now long defunct, in which I recounted the events of a certain memorable night at my old part-time job folding t-shirts for a well-known national chain of crap popular-culture peddlers. On that fateful night, a plumbing problem which developed in the movie theatre upstairs caused hundreds of gallons of shit to geyser out from a sewer access hole in the middle of the floor of our store, resulting in all of us employees being made to stand until the wee hours of the morning, folding garishly colored highly ironic t-shirts in an eye-stinging, brain-melting miasma of stink while plumbers grunted and spattered from the hole in the floor and the highly ironic CD on repeat at deafening volume played âWhen I See You Smileâ by Bad English, âWe Built This Cityâ by Jefferson Starship, âHigh Enoughâ by Damn Yankees, and the like, over and over. And over.

Unlike that situation, this is primarily of my own making.

An ant problem has recently developed in my apartment. Due to my extreme and slightly hysterical sensitivity to chemical fumes, I have been for several weeks attempting to get rid of them by every non-toxic method recommended to me. I sterilized the kitchen in boiling water and Lysol from top to bottom. I now own no food which is not hermetically sealed in tupperware or its original packaging. I sprayed expensive hippie ant spray made from clove oil, the fumes of which still made me crazy but which apparently pleased and enticed the ants. I distributed two jars of bay leaves around the apartment, which they used as toboggans to slide along the slick of peppermint oil with which I had wiped out their tracks, while drinking cocktails made from the vinegar I had later applied. I also put ant poison stakes everywhere, taping them to the ceiling in the path of their trails, and everywhere I could stick them around the outside of the apartment, but they shifted their trails by a few inches to avoid them. There werenât a ton of them inside at any time, but enough. This morning, however, I awoke to find that they had taken over the kitchen and had also found an entry point in my bedroom. Being a calm and rational person, I decided to go get a cup of coffee from the gas station down the street, and to calmly assess the situation while I caffeinated. But when I went to put on my sneakers, they were full of ants.

In short, I went apeshit. I marched into the kitchen, retrieved the can of Raid Earth Options which I had resolved never to use again, because it smells exactly like someone is smoking a clove cigarette while spraying Raid up your nose. I had put it under the sink because the trash didnât seem like a safe way to dispose of it, and this turned out to be my undoing. With full berserk abandon, through the red film of rage, I sprayed away. I sprayed the ants, their trails, and that place above the lintel in the kitchen which I canât see but know they are coming from. I sprayed the hole in the bedroom baseboard through which they were pouring, and I sprayed the columns marching across the carpet. Unfortunately, this means that I also saturated the highly absorbent carpet. All told, itâs not a ton of Raid, but in an apartment with one working window and therefore no possible means of ventilation, I quickly realized that I had no hope of breathing, particularly if I want to hold onto some brain cells for the next few weeks so I can get through my qualifying examinations and stay in grad school. Because clearly I am a genius, as today amply illustrates.

Unfortunately, I had gone berserk before showering or dressing. I ran outside in the track shorts and t-shirt I slept in, grabbed a big lungful of air, and ran back in to get the first clothes that came to hand. After a couple of tries, I managed to make sure that this included a full set of underwear, shirt, socks, and pants. But I couldnât exactly change outside, so I made several more trips into the apartment, holding my breath while I traded shorts for jeans, t-shirt for some other t-shirt. I swiped at my hair, grabbed my keys and wallet, turfed the ants out of my shoes, and headed out for breakfast. By the time I drove downtown, I was totally lightheaded from fumes, panic, and holding my breath. I ate in a fog, tried to read some part of a book, and went to the cafe to sit outside and breathe fresh air while I tried to think. âA fan,â I thought. âA fan would help air out the apartment.â I havenât owned such an item in several years, and apparently the beginning of fall isnât the time to buy one. I ended up down at the mall, where a nice man from some other country induced me, in my weakened state, to buy cheap knockoff sunglasses. I actually have a consistent need for cheap sunglasses, because I have an amazing talent for breaking any pair of sunglasses, regardless of price, within two weeks of purchase.

I found the last fan, cheap, on a shelf in the clearance section of the Sears housewares department. On a whim, I also bought a heavily discounted air purifier that claimed to filter out any particle down to 2 microns. A micron is pretty small, although I donât know whether Raid particles are smaller. I figured I could always take it back. It turned out, I think, to be the better purchase. Back home, I opened my one working window and the front door, set up the fan, and went outside to read. An hour later the apartment was no clearer, so I set to work prying open the 2 other windows which I know it is theoretically possible to open with great effort and at some personal risk. This task is made particularly difficult when attempted in 20-second segments while holding oneâs breath, but I got them partway open, and the matter of whether they will ever close again I will leave for another time. It was not possible to sit on the gated patio directly outside my apartment without breathing the fumes emanating from it, and although I found this to be an encouraging sign that the fumes might be trying to leave, I went to sit with my book, in my cheap sunglasses, with my bottle of water, outside by the driveway and my neighborâs front door. This proved infuriating.

My neighbor L--- is a very nice young man, and I genuinely like him. He is also always alarmingly stoned, talkative, has just finished his first year in grad school in a different discipline, and thinks he knows everything. He is constitutionally incapable of being home when Iâm outside and not talking to me for at least an hour. Unfortunately, the only mode of discourse which he has mastered happens to be unsolicited advice about everything, which I find to be the most rude, presumptuous, and generally noxious form of conversation. Generally, I respond to unsolicited advice in the spirit of least resistance: nod, thank, disregard. Today, however, while I was desperately trying to marshal my surviving brain cells to stick together long enough to get me through some fairly dense material which I absolutely must read, L--- chose to wax his car in the driveway, a process which took several hours. This was less because his car is enormous than because he interrupted me every fifteen seconds to proffer his advice on subjects ranging from how one should go about purchasing a motorcycle on eBay, why I should hate my current internet service provider, why I should go to the flea market tomorrow, how I should use the blackboard in conducting my discussion sections, and why I should only attempt to prepare for my exams while blind drunk. Partway through this, strictly to get away from him, I went back to assess the situation in the apartment (bad), and to set up the air purifier in the bedroom.

Another hour passed in the manner just described. At the end of it, the situation in the bedroom was actually noticeably better. However, the rest of the apartment was still on Code Awful, and it was equally clear that I was not going to be able to sleep there and that I wasnât going to be able to work outside. I quickly rejected the idea of crashing at a friendâs house, because what I clearly needed was a close duplicate of my apartment: confined, private work space, lacking only the fumes. I waited until L--- was away for a moment, so as not to risk being subjected to his advice on the merits and manner of executing this project, and went to canvas the many hotels and motels in my neighborhood. With relatively little event, I procured a room in a place that I walk past several times a day on my way to and from my apartment. I went home, packed a bag while holding my breath, grabbed the first eight books that my fingers touched in the absolute certainty that I must with equal urgency read them all, moved the air purifier into the kitchen, and came here. I have now managed a shower, a little bit of reading, and am in the enviable position of being forced to go procure Thai takeout before I come back and work like a demon. After my trip this summer I was thoroughly sick of hotels, but thatâs all changed. Thank god for my tourist town and its abundance of cheap, close lodging which reeks of ancient cigarette smoke and vacation sex rather than clove-scented nerve gas.

Posted by katie at 08:37 PM

April 11, 2006

Retardcapades; or, it wonât get better if you poke at it.

This afternoon marked the second time, since I moved into this house in September, that Iâve had to call my landlady and get her to send out a very nice plumber named Ruben.

The first time was about a month after we moved in. Iâm not saying itâs my Delightful Housemateâs fault, but he is the one who talked me into getting those plunk-into-the-tank toilet tablets so we could have matching blue water in our bathrooms. Shortly after I applied mine per package instructions, the toilet in my bathroom started to act really wonky, and when the very nice plumber finally came out, he fished around for a little bit, and said, âYeah, well, someone put one of those blue things in the tank, and now a piece broke off and wrecked the seal. Weâre going to have to put in a new toilet â that suckerâs finished.â I recall contriving to look both shocked and innocent as I said, âI didnât â I mean, how would someone know that a product designed to go in the toilet would break the toilet? That doesnât make any sense.â The plumber looked at me steadily and said, âLook here. Iâm telling you, this suckerâs finished.â My new toilet, however, works really nicely with plain old regular water-colored water in it.

My favorite pair of earrings is an absolutely unique, large, heavy, beautiful, expensive pair of 6-gauge free-form swirly-spiky things that, William told me when I purchased them, represented one of Gottsiâs suppliersâ very first attempt at casting steel. Or something like that. Despite the almost total non-elasticity of my ears, I did a very painful and ill-advised stretch just so that I could wear them, and nary a day has since gone by that I havenât been highly complimented on them by a stranger â kind of an accomplishment, in a tiny little town like mine, where Iâd thought Iâd run out of strangers about a year ago.

I decided to get my lazy ass up and take a shower around noon today. My pre-ablutionary checklist goes something like this: Get up, turn off alarm, stagger into bathroom, turn on water, wait five minutes for it to heat up, make sure no one else is trying to use water because thereâs no water pressure in this house, take out earrings if I fell asleep with them in after stumbling home from pub the night before, take off sweats and hoodie, get in shower. This is not at all the correct order in which to do these things, because this morning, I leaned over the tub, turned on the water, and watched as one of my earrings dropped perfectly down the drain. If the drain had been a basketball hoop, the earring would have caught nothing but net: swish, tinkle, and gone.

There is only one thing to do in these circumstances: turn off the water, scream âMOTHERFUCKER!â and punch the wall. This accomplished, I tried poking my fingers into the tub drain. Ew. I tried poking around with the aid of a flashlight and a straightened coat hanger. I got a lot of hair, but no earring. I tried prying up the metal thing around the drain to give me more room to work. I was about to give up and call the plumber when I had the genius idea of putting a different kind of bend in the coat hanger so it would reach farther. It did: I was rewarded with a metallic tinkle, and then a very decisive âclonkâ that sounded, oh, several inches lower down the drain.

On my landladyâs suggestion, I went outside and stuck my arm into the big black pipe that comes out of the ground on the other side of the bathroom wall. It connects to the sewer line. There was stuff in there, but not my earring.

As it turns out, the plumberâs usurious hourly rate is the same as what I paid for the pair of earrings in the first place, which I calculated to mean I would break even on the transaction. âUm.â said my Delightful Housemate. âHow is that breaking even, again?â

The very nice plumber walked into the house and stopped when he saw my finger pointing at the bathtub. âOh Christ. Youâll never get anything back out of a bathtub drain,â he said. âNever. Not going to happen.â I think it was only my wobbly lower lip and big tear-filled Precious Moments eyes that made him start backpedaling. âWell, maybe,â he said. âDid you turn off the water right away?â I nodded. âOkay,â he said, âcross your fingers. It might not have gone all the way down. Do you have a coat hanger?â

I handed him the already-unbent coat hanger I had been using earlier. He took it, looked at me, shook his head, sighed, looked at the drain, looked at the coat hanger, looked at me, and appeared to decide not to say anything. I fled upstairs while he made clonking and swearing noises in the bathroom, until he made me come back down.

âWell, if you didnât have a slab foundation in this house, Iâd be able to get it real easily,â he said. âBut you do. And somethingâ â I looked guiltily at the coat hanger in the trash, and then tried to look innocent â âseems to have pushed it all the way down. That suckerâs gone.â He got back in the plumbing truck, then rolled his window down. âGone,â he called, as he backed out of the driveway.

So, to recap, I screwed it up by fucking around in the drain, whereas if I hadn't done that the total lack of water pressure in this house would not, on its own, have been enough to push the earring out of reach. And on second thought, I donât think I broke even on the transaction at all. I appear to have one unwearable $180 earring. The other one, of course, was only removed from its mate by about six inches of pipe and a stupid slab foundation, and was audibly calling out, Tell-Tale Heart style, all afternoon. I couldnât get any work done with that clanking noise coming from downstairs, so I finally had to go into the bathroom, lean way over the tub while not wearing any jewelry at all, and run the water full blast with my fingers in my ears so I couldnât hear its tinkly little voice, crying out as it washed all the way into the bay.

Posted by katie at 03:45 PM

January 19, 2006

Retardcapades, or, meddling with technology

Pourquoi le fuck has my blog all of a sudden changed to not show any entries on the main page? I tried to fix it and ended up having to restore all the default templates (I think), and it's still doing it. Something is strange.

This is what happens whenever I start trying to meddle with technology I don't fundamentally understand. There seems to be some basic problem, but since I don't understand what the problem is, I don't know how to target that specific problem in my meddling when I try to "fix" it. The end result is that I end up doing stuff that's the computerary equivalent of unplugging the DVD player, changing which cords are plugged into which holes, then replugging it and turning it back on and beating it with a wrench while alternately pressing "play" and "stop," all because it made a funny noise at some point. It's evidently not the way to fix the original problem, and it makes for a big fat host of other problems along the way.

For better or worse, though I have no concept of how various technologies work, I do have pretty elephantlike memory, so I can usually figure out exactly what I've already fucked with. This means that when "fix" A doesn't work, I know not to repeat that, so I keep trying to tinker with other variables and combinations of variables until I've made a big mess, at which point the only way to fix the whole thing seems to be the old beating-with-a-wrench-and-pressing-buttons approach, or, god forbid, asking for help.

Though it looks like there's shit-all going on on the main page, my approach might actually make my blog interesting to watch, if you agree with my context-specific meaning of "watch." I don't mean checking in periodically to see if I've actually chronicled some new moronic escapade or other. I mean hitting it at the right time to watch me try to "improve" something. If you catch it right, and refresh about every three minutes over an hour-and-a-half period, you can watch a lot of things change color and size, everything become invisible, half of the page temporarily return, the whole thing break, everything come back in a different form, break again, and then finally resolve into a half-working configuration that will limp along until the next time I decide something needs my intervention. It's fun.

Posted by katie at 04:09 PM

January 11, 2006

Retardcapades, or, the DMV tries to interpret its own law

I'm bemused and grateful to Schwarzenegger for exposing an interesting loophole in California licensing laws, after his recent "Getting In An Accident While Driving A Motorcycle He Was Not In Fact Licensed To Operate And Which Was Transporting His 12 Year Old Son And Then Not Getting Cited For It At All" adventure.

I'm sure that late-night television has probably taken care of saying pretty much everything that needs to be said about this. However, since I do not have television, I feel the need to point out that a particular element of this sets a precedent for unlicensed vehicle operation which spells fun, fun FUN!

From The Chronicle's article today explaining why Schwarzenegger wasn't cited, when he had a standard car license but no motorcycle license:

A standard license for driving a car cannot be used to operate a motorcycle, but according to DMV spokesman Mike Miller the relevant sections of state law makes no mention of a motorcycle with a sidecar. Miller said that means Schwarzenegger was operating within the law when he crashed.

You see what's great about this? Schwarzenegger had no motorcycle license. He was riding a motorcycle. Ah, but he was riding a motorcycle plus a sidecar, which is evidently not still fundamentally a motorcycle. No violation.

The Thing You Are Prohibited From Operating
+ Some Other Element
No Problem.

I've been just giddy trying to think of combinations of things this might work with.

I do have a driver's license, but let's say I didn't. If I were driving a car which was pulling a boxcar carring a dirigible, would that be okay?

For that matter, I've been assuming that the Mitigating Element (ME) would need to be another vehicular component, or at least something related by type to the original unlicensed object. But what if I, who do not have a pilot's license, flew a plane whose ME was not, for example, a helicopter towed at the end of a rope, but a pyramid of circus elephants glued to the wing? I highly doubt that there is a statute on the books that expressly prohibits unlicensed persons from flying commercial airliners carrying circus elephants in formation.

Or, or, I don't have a license to own, carry, or use a gun, nor do I want one. But what if I get a gun and affix a bicycle horn to the trigger? This is fun.

Posted by katie at 09:46 PM

October 10, 2005

Retardcapades, or, Luddites on Ice!

My housemates and I are possibly the three most technologically benighted people I've ever met. (This is part of why I haven't changed my template or made my *@%&?! font bigger, in case you're wondering.) Consequently, we did a lot of hand-wringing about how to set up our internet connection after we moved into the new place. "Is DSL always wireless? Do you have to have a phone?" the leader of the blind would say. One of the others, following right along, would come back with a panicked look and ask, "Does a cable modem mean there has to be a cable stuck to your modem? Or a modem stuck to your cable?"

So by the time we drew straws and made the loser call SBC to get the DSL set up, we'd already been in the house for a couple of weeks with basically no internet. Turns out, too, that you're supposed to get on this sort of thing ahead of time, because after talking my Delightful Housemate into some strange Friends & Family Call Pascagoula Between 9:05 And 9:10 PM And Get A 25 Cent Rebate On Your First Three Days Of DSL plan, the nice woman at SBC stopped laughing at him long enough to mention that all this would take two weeks to set up, at which point they would send us a hardware kit in the mail and when we'd screwed everything up we could call and they'd send out a nice professional to fix things for us.

Point is, the two weeks aren't up and nothing works. We got a cardboard box from SBC with some very strange-looking equipment in it, but I only opened it long enough to say "eep" and hide it behind the couch.

So we're pirating off the DSL from the old house, since we did only move next door and our old landlord hasn't really gotten on changing the encryption code yet. We're just close enough to be able to get online occasionally, with a signal weak enough to reliably kick me offline in the middle of composing a frantic email to my advisor.

Of course, that happened again this morning, and I'd kind of had it. So instead of doing my usual dance around the living room or out onto the balcony holding my computer up in the air trying to get a signal, I decided to go outside and get closer to the old house and see if I could get in range that way. My old landlord's home office looks out onto the garden, so I was trying to be subtle, crouching in the driveway typing and swearing. But the driveway wasn't good enough, so I snuck inside the garden gate: better.

Of course, as I was crouching in the middle of their garden trying to check my email, I realized that there was a enormous - fucking enormous! - spider hanging from the tree immediately above my head. What follows is utterly predictable: Katie screams, loses her balance, and sits backward right into the fountain.

On the plus side, (a) I didn't get spidered, (b) I didn't get the computer wet, and (c) my landlord was not actually in his office at the moment, so I didn't get caught. And I've got enough mastery over old forms of technology, like my car, that I am now at the cafe in dry pants, sipping a cup of coffee and preparing to go to school like a normal, dignified person.

Posted by katie at 11:28 AM

October 03, 2005

Things that go &*#$@! in the night

My two housemates and I moved next door a few weeks ago. One of my housemates, the official Delightful Housemate, is a fellow graduate student. The other, who is also delightful, is a funny, sweet 63-year-old woman who drives the short bus for a living. The three of us had been renting rooms in a lovely house when we were all displaced at the same time when the landlord, who happens to be my more elderly housemateâs son-in-law, decided that he wanted his house back so he could fuck his wife without his mother-in-law overhearing. The townhouse next door came up for rent at the same time, so hey presto, the three of us moved together about 50 feet.

Well, almost. The two grad students who kept to themselves moved. The underfoot mother-in-law has not actually moved into the new place yet, since, as she keeps pointing out, her daughter doesnât really want her to go. This worked out well last weekend when my darling baby sister and her positively wonderful boyfriend came to stay, because the third bedroom was wide open for them to sleep in.

The house is really big. That is to say, itâs very tall. Itâs the classic townhouse approach to things, where they cunningly took a pretty small foundation and built up and up to make a big house. During the day, I really like it.

At night, it gets about five times bigger, and my one extant housemate gets a lot further away. His room is on the third floor, which, given the way that he sleeps and that sound fails to travel in this house, might as well be another building altogether. My room is on the first floor, right across from what looks like actual wood but is, in my late-night opinion, a deceptively flimsy front door. Also featured on the first floor is the garage, the interior door to which must be kept unlocked at all times because some genius made it unlockable only from the garage side and no one has the key to the laundry room side of the knob. The exterior door of the garage appears to be latched shut by a single rusty nail. The living room and kitchen, unpopulated at night except by me, intervene on the second floor.

In the old house, we were about thirty feet further away from the street along the same long driveway, but there was also a garden with a gate and a screen door that locked and a heavy wood door with two locks and a door and another door before you could get into my room. Here, weâre closer to the street, in a highly desirable area of Santa Cruz, which means that itâs immediately foot-accessible to the beach/boardwalk and to downtown, and that itâs in a neighborhood where people routinely pay a million and a half dollars for a modest home where they can find syringes, or more rarely the whole junkie, on their front lawn in the morning, and where, from my house, I not infrequently hear crackheads screaming at each other, or at the air, from the âbad streetâ down the hill. I absolutely love this area; itâs close to everything except campus, so I donât actually feel like Iâm at work all the time. Except â ulp â at night when Iâm feeling like the only law-abiding night owl around.

Last night, my Delightful Housemate had gone to bed ridiculously early, as is his wont, and I was up somewhat late trying to get both paper-grading and laundry done. The net result was that, at 12:30 AM, I was both deranged with mental fatigue and wired on coffee, and bouncing around the laundry room looking like a little girl foolishly doing laundry all by herself at night, when I distinctly heard someone rattle the front doorknob. Quite calmly, I turned around: the doorknob was absolutely being rattled, and quite thoroughly at that. âIt must be our third housemate,â I told myself. âOh yes. Absolutely. Of course sheâs up at this hour and coming in for something.â Through the laundry room window, I couldnât see anything, because the light inside was lit and I was the only thing clearly illuminated. Through the peephole in the front door, nothing, because of course Iâd turned the porch light off. Whoever was outside entirely failed to call out in a sweet and elderly voice for me to unlock the door.

In one of those flashes of utter clarity that so frequently happen when youâre scared out of your pants, I realized that, stupidly, while I was bouncing around on the blazingly illuminated first floor of the house, up on the dark and creaky second floor I had left the door to the balcony, which is accessible through the dark backyard via an unlatched door around the dark side of the driveway, wide open. Stupid, stupid, stupid, I thought, pausing long enough to turn off every light on the first floor and latch my bathroom window before racing upstairs to shut the balcony door. I was halfway across the dark living room when I heard someone pounding up the front stairs after me.

I am sorry to say that I screamed, with great precision, the words âJESUS CHRIST SON OF A MOTHERFUCKING BITCH!!â right into the face of a 63-year-old woman who was coming in to retrieve the coffee grinder weâd borrowed, so that she could have coffee waiting for her daughter and son-in-law when they returned from a trip this morning. I am very sorry that I nearly sent her reeling backward down a flight of stairs, which, though covered with comfy carpet, are nonetheless narrow and vertiginous. I am also sorry that she had to spend the next few minutes patting me on the back while I hyperventilated. She really did scare the crap out of me.

I am unsure which I am the most sorry about: that my Delightful Housemate failed to hear any of this, or that Iâll feel a lot safer when a woman who is eligible for the Tuesday senior discount at Gottschalks moves into the room next door, where she can protect me.

Posted by katie at 05:56 PM