Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Saying Goodbye to Harry

On 21 July, I marched into the bookshop in Macroom and purchased one of the last copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I wasn't one of those intrepid and slightly insane souls who queued up for hours to grab a copy at the stroke of midnight. I was someone who had the foresight to reserve a copy and I collected it at my leisure.

I delayed reading the book until I could give it my full attention. So, as much as I wanted to plop down on the sidewalk and get stuck in, I waited until the evening, until after I'd made dinner for Peter and his student, smiled and chatted through dinner, tidied the kitchen, and waved the workshoppers off to their sunset photoshoot. Then I stretched out in one of my favourite reading spots and tried to savour the book as much as possible.

I didn't read through the night, but it didn't matter. Within 18 hours of starting the book, I had read it all. I immediately plunged into what I called post-Potter depression. The thrill and exhilaration of knowing how it ended were fleeting. All that was left was the empty feeling that I no longer could look forward to another adventure in Potterland.

The moping and angst lasted for a few days, but then I was swept up into Birthday Madness. When I came down from that, I knew what I had to do. I had to re-read all of the books, in order, starting with the first. So I reserved the month of August for the task and that's what I was doing with a lot of my spare time.

Starting at the beginning, re-reading books I hadn't opened in six years, was an interesting proposition. Knowing now how it all ended, I could look for clues and foreshadowing. I could also slow down and appreciate the journey, instead of being obsessed with getting to the destination. The leisurely approach gave me a deeper perspective of the series.

What I always loved about the books (and was able to appreciate even more on the re-read) was the perfect creation of this other world. Yeah, yeah, the epic struggle between good and evil, the importance of our choices, and the bravery required for the hero's journey - that's all great. But I really reveled in the mundane details of the world - Spellotape, puking pastilles, detonator decoys, flue powder, portkeys, golden snitches, moving pictures and paintings, the Room of Requirement, transfiguration, Rita Skeeter's Quick Quotes Quills, dragon eggs, polyjuice potion, the Knight Bus, Skele-gro potion, a book about monsters that bites... All of those details breathed life into the world and invited me to step inside. I had days this month when I wanted to live in Potterland.

I know the criticism of JK Rowling - she's not always the best writer. Some of the books were loaded with filler. Some of the books were in desperate need of editing. For someone great at details description, there was sometimes a lazy reliance on"-ly" words. But none of that mattered - the world drew me in, the likeable and interesting characters engaged me, and the epic story arc kept me on the edge of my seat.

In addition to reading the books, I've also been listening to some of the podcasts that are devoted to the books. As you can imagine, there's a lot of chaff. There's also an amazing number of regular people who are obsessed with Harry Potter in a way that makes me look like a mere amateur. People who talk about "cannon". People who write fan fiction and draw fan art. People who refer to the author as "Jo" as though she frequently pops round for a cup of tea. People who have formed bands whose music is based on the books and who have names like Ministry of Magic, The Unforgivable Curses, The Whomping Willows, and the Hufflepunks. People who sort of scare me a little.

My visit to the fandom has been enlightening, but I have no desire to attend Wrockstock Spooktacular or to spend hours trolling the HP Lexicon or to put songs from The Parselmouths on my iPod Shuffle.

I finished my Harry Potter read-a-thon this weekend. Whereas finishing "The Deathly Hallows" plunged me into post-Potter depression, finishing the entire series in three and a half weeks has given me a sense of perspective, a deeper appreciation for the skill and wit of JK Rowling, and an overwhelming feeling of closure. Now, finally, I can say goodbye to Harry Potter. I might visit him and his world from time to time (particularly before the releases of the last two films), but my feet and heart both remain firmly rooted in my own world.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Iománaíocht Agus An Madra

A few action photographs, courtesty of Peter. (Who, incidentally, has implemented a new pricing model to make his photographs more affordable. Hey, it's my blog, I will shamelessly promote if I want to.)

Striking the Sliotar

Taking Possession

Wrestling for Control

I told Toby to drop it and he wouldn't, so we had to play the big control game, which I'm told I cannot lose. It took about ten minutes and involved a lot of huffing, puffing, and growling (all on my part - Toby didn't bat an eyelash) but eventually I was victorious.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Lovely Girls Contest

The Rose of Tralee contest started last night and was all the talk on the radio and around the kettle at work today. I'm not sure I understand how it manages to draw in a million viewers when no one will ever admit to watching it. But, being as this is the silly season, the talk radio especially gets a lot of mileage out of it. Is the Rose of Tralee outdated? Does anyone care? Is it really just a Lovely Girls contest?

The Rose of Tralee is sort of like the weather - it's subject matter for idle chit-chat with people you don't know very well. While I was waiting for the kettle to boil this morning, one of the students who is working over the summer asked me if I was watching the Rose of Tralee. I shook my head and then she asked me a question I've never been asked before. "Did you ever have any ambition to be a Rose?" (There are, after all, International Roses, including a Chicago Rose.)

I decided it was time to come clean about my past beauty pagent involvement. No, I'd never had any ambition to be a Rose, but I was once Little Miss South Park and I competed for the title of Little Miss Parma. The suburb I grew up in, Parma, had an extensive park district and they would have summer activities at all the parks. It was a great way to pass the summer afternoons - by going to your local park and participating in arts and crafts or organized games or whatever was on the schedule for that day.

The suburb also had two "beauty" pagents each year - Miss Parma and Little Miss Parma. Miss Parma was your standard Miss America type pagent, minus the talent portion. Little Miss Parma was the junior contest and it was for girls between the ages of 5 and 10 or 12 (I can't remember now which). To compete, you had to be registered for activities with your local park and had to win at the local park level. Then, on a Friday night in June, the contest was held near the big fountains in Parmatown mall.

This wasn't any scary little-girls-parading-around-like-miniature-women-creepy contest, like the ones you were subjected to endlessly during the whole Jon-Benet Ramsey thing. No, this was a wholesome sort of popularity contest. Girls weren't allowed to wear make-up or nylons for the contest. The big prize for the winner was getting to ride alone in the back of a convertible in the Fourth of July parade. Any girl who won at the park level also got to ride in a convertible in the parade, but the losers had to ride three to a convertible.

I was never the girliest of girls, but I really wanted to ride in a convertible in the parade. I don't know why - I just liked the idea of waving regally while perched on the back seat of baby blue '57 Cadillac convertible.

I can't remember how old I was, but it was the last year I was eligible to compete, so I was something like 9 or 10. I'd been going to South Park for activities for weeks, so I knew the counselors very well - three college kids - two boys and a girl and they seemed impossibly mature and grown-up to me. The day of the competition, Suzanne, our babysitter, curled my hair and encouraged me to practise answers by talking into the curling iron, while she held it like a microphone. I was a little nervous so she tried to loosen me up by encouraging me to swear, which just caused me to collapse into a fit of giggles because I never had the nerve to utter a single swear word until I was 13.

The competition at the South Park contest was not very tough. I think three other girls showed up and I won fairly easily. I was confident and smiled and answered in complete sentences such tough questions as "What is your favourite television show and why?" (The Dukes of Hazzard because Bo and Luke are cute.) and "What do you want to be when you grow up?" (A doctor, probably a pathologist.)

I won the title of Little Miss South Park because I knew the judges and was comfortable with them. At the big night in Parmatown Mall, I was a disaster. I didn't know anyone. The crowd seemed impossibly large. I forgot to smile. I don't even remember much of the contest at all. I do remember seeing a picture in the local newspaper the next week - the subject of the picture was the little cutie who was sitting in front of me. Cutie is grinning up a storm and in the background, you can see a scared little girl with long hair who looks like she might burst into tears at any minute.

I don't remember if I was disappointed about not winning, since I was going to get to ride in a convertible in the parade anyway. The girl who won bore more than a passing resemblence to Miss Piggy and she smiled maniacally throughout the whole competition. I don't even think she showed up for the parade. She missed out. Riding in a convertible during a parade was everything I'd hoped it would be.

That's the story of my foray into the world of Lovely Girls Contests. Somewhere, in a box in my parents' attic, there's a purple ribbon sash with the words Little Miss Parma and a picture of a little crown, all made out of glitter.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Walking and Talking with Toby

The third time Toby pestered me with his Kong early this morning, pressing the disgusting chewed-up hunk of rubber into my lap, I knew I was going to have to take drastic action or he would probably shadow me all day. It was a misty Sunday morning, still reasonably early, and I figured if I gave him some exercise, I would have a day in which I wouldn't have to shout "Stop touching me with that thing."

I waited until he had withdrawn with the offending item, and then asked him in an overly cheerful voice "Who wants to go for a walk? Do YOU want to go for a walk?" He hopped around merrily shouting "Yes! Yes! I do want to go for a walk! Hurry up! Hurry up! Why do you need shoes? I don't need shoes." I ignored him as I tied my shoes and put on Peter's nicest rainproof jacket. (Ooops, yep, I borrowed it - you're right - it's a fantastic jacket.)

I instructed Toby to sit so I could leash and muzzle him. As soon as he saw the wire-basket and leather contraption in my hand, he shook his head hard enough to shake his ears. "No way! I hate that thing." I waited for a moment and then, when his guard was down, slid the muzzle over his snout and buckled it behind his ears. "I don't see why I have to wear this yucky monstrosity." He tried to make like he was going to sulk, but the opening of the treat drawer put paid to that activity. He sat up straight and tall, waiting for the treat that he knew I would slide through the side of the muzzle.

We set off and only had one false start because I forgot to grab a plastic bag. We walked up the great big hill, headed for our usual loop, which takes about 45 minutes to complete and passes two herds of cattle and one herd of sheep. The hill is steep and the climb goes on for what seems like forever. I overheated, as usual, about halfway through the trip and made Toby sit while I took off my jacket. "You're so lucky," he said. "There are days when I wish I could take off this coat."

"Yeah, I'm sure there are, but you'd look awfully funny." We set off again and soon were greeting the first herd of cattle, a large group of young bullocks who are a new addition to the neighbourhood. One of the Angus was particularly bold and came rather near the fence, but the uneven terrain kept him from getting right up in Toby's face. Toby sighed in disappointment and politely asked if we could continue our journey.

When we came to the T-junction at the top of the hill, I made a rash decision. We'd turned right so many times, but where did the road to the left go? I had an idea that eventually it would meet up with a road that would go into the village. I turned left to have an adventure and, after looking back over his shoulder once, Toby trotted along next to me.

"We're just going to see where this goes," I told him. "Good," he replied, "No one I know will see me with this stupid muzzle on."

"You know, if you hadn't started kicking up at the vet, you wouldn't have to wear a muzzle at all."

"OK, first of all, that vet was a total imposter. I've never given the Real Vet any trouble. But that was just some young girl. I think she was only 12, in fact, I can't see how she even has a license to practise medicine. She should be playing with dolls or something."

I gave him a sharp tug on the leash to remind himself to watch his manners, but he continued. "Besides, we're not at the vet's now and I highly doubt anyone's going to jump out of the bushes and start moving my legs around and hurting my spine."

"Toby, my parents used to always scold us about table manners when we were at the kitchen table. And we always said 'But what does it matter? We're not in a restaurant now. We'll be good in the restaurant.' And do you know what they said to us? They said that if we didn't mind our manners at home, we wouldn't know how to mind them out in public."

He looked at me and rolled his eyes. "Look, I was fine last time when the REAL vet was there. I don't see why I need to wear this stupid thing."

"You don't have to wear it all the time. Just occassionally, so when we have to put it on you the next time the REAL vet is on holiday, you won't freak out. Besides, you're much better behaved and heel more nicely when you're muzzled."

Toby kicked a stone and pouted. "That's only because I can't smell anything with this stupid thing on my face. All I can smell is metal and the treat you fed me."

"You can pick out the smell of lettuce in a wrapped hamburger, or a kilo of cocaine in a cannister of coffee inside a suitcase. I don't believe for a second that you couldn't smell past the muzzle if you tried."

Toby huffed disgustedly and turned his head to watch the scenery pass as we walked. And we walked. And we walked. We reached a cross-road and I steered us left. Seeing a farm full of fat, contented sheep, Toby picked up his pace and didn't bother to second-guess my sense of direction. We passed the field of sheep and continued walking. And walking. And walking.

"Are we lost?" asked Toby, managing to keep the annoyance out of his voice, if just barely.

"Of course we're not lost," I replied, managing to keep the uncertaintly out of my voice, if just barely.

"Then where are we?"

"Well, see. I don't know where we are exactly."

"Then we're lost," he said, turning to me with accusing eyes.

"No, we're not lost. I know exactly where we're going."

"You just don't know how to get there." Toby doubled his pace and swished his tail behind him, admonishing me like a headmaster wagging his finger in the face of a disobedient child.

I stopped, causing Toby to come up short. He turned around and sat in front of me.

"Look, we're not lost. This road is going to take us to the road the mechanic lives on. You know the mechanic, right?"

"Yeah, nice guy. Pity his puppy is so wild."

Satisfied with my answer, Toby turned to march on and then thought of something. He sat back down. "Do you know how much further it is before we get to that road?"

I pretended to look for landmarks and calculate distances in my head. I couldn't see much, as we were in a bit of a valley, but Toby's vision isn't that great. "Not too much further. Maybe ten minutes or so."

"Wouldn't it be quicker to turn around and go back?"

"No, I think we should keep going. Besides, I think I see a chicken coop up there. You ever seen a chicken?"

Toby shook his head and jumped up, ready to investigate. "I've tasted chicken, it's delicious!"

"Don't get any ideas, buddy. You're not going to taste these chickens. You're going to sit and look. With your eyes, not with your mouth, Toby"

Toby nodded and I suspected he might just be hearing "Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Toby." But when we stopped in front of the chicken coop, he sat and looked.

"They sure walk funny. Why is that one stretching it's neck out like that? Is it asking to have its head chopped off?" Toby gestured towards a rooster who was strutting out of the coop.

"You wish. He's trying to make himself as big as possible so that you won't made any trouble."

"Pu-lease. If you weren't here, he would totally be my lunch. Or maybe that big brown one over there with the orange nose."

"That one? That's a goose. Trust me, you don't want to mess with a goose. Or a swan. They'll hiss and peck your eyes out before you know what hit you."

Toby scoffed, but shifted his gaze back to the rooster. We watched the chickens for a few more minutes and then continued on our walk. We walked for about ten or fifteen minutes before hitting the road I was looking for.

"Whoohoo!" shouted Toby. "We're saved!" He pranced down the road, looking for the mechanic's house.

After walking for two more minutes, we approached a big bend. "The mechanic and the crazy puppy should be right around this bend, right?"

I looked around and swallowed hard. We were on the right road. But we were nearly two miles from the mechanic's house. I weighed my options and decided it would be best to come clean.

"Not exactly."

"Not exactly?!?" Toby wheeled around to look at me, mutiny shining in his dark eyes. "What do you mean not exactly?"

"Look, we're on the right road, it's just that we're further up that road than I expected."

Toby took the news better than I expected. He squared his shoulders and walked on, resolutely ignoring my feeble attempts to draw him into conversation. About half-way to the mechanics, he started to flag, his nails occasionally scraping the road as his march turned into a trudge.

"Are we there yet? No, don't tell me. I don't think I can bear the answer."

I started to answer, but he dropped to the ground and put his paws over his ears, singing "I'm not listening. I can't hear you. La la la la la."

"Stop making a show of yourself." I tugged on his leash a few times to snap him out of his ridiculous behaviour. We started back up with our walk. As were were passing the sign welcoming us into the village, Toby started to whine, "Carry me, I'm tired."

"You weigh 30 kilos. I can't carry you. But we're nearly to the mechanic's, which means we're just a bit over a mile from home."

"That sounds far," said Toby, a dubious tone superceding the whinge in his voice.

"It's not that far. We run a mile every day. It's nothing."

As we got closer to the village, a steady stream of cars started to fly past, slowing down our progress and making Toby complain again about the muzzle.

"Great, Mom. Now everyone who's passing thinks I'm a dangerous dog."

"Well, technically you are."

"What just because I growled once...okay, on three separate occassions at an inexperienced and, frankly, inept vet?"

"She wasn't inept. She knew exactly what was wrong with you and gave you medicine to make you feel better."

"OK, she did make me feel better. But still. She's going to have to deal with way worse than me. I was just trying to sharpen up her game. But really, I'm not dangerous."

"No, technically, legally, you are. Your breed is one of the listed breeds on the Dangerous Dogs Act. By law, we're supposed to muzzle you every time we take you to a public place."

"You're kidding?! That's totally breedist. They're judging me by my breed, not by my personality."

"Well, if you'd been inspected for temperment in the vet's-"

"Stop! I made a mistake, okay. I chanced my arm but I shouldn't be made to suffer now. What if Harry or Sam see me? They are totally going to laugh at me."

"But wait, I thought you said that everyone was going to think you were dangerous and vicious. Why would Harry or Sam laugh at you if they think your dangerous or vicious? Do you think they're stupid?"

"Well, Harry IS a lab."

"Now who's being breedist?"

Toby rolled his eyes and harrumphed, then did a little leap of joy when we turned onto the main road.

"It's just a mile now to our house, right?"


We passed the Irish college and the football field. Near the Garda station, Toby started to get edgy and peer across the street at the row of houses.

"Toby, he's not there anymore."

"He attacked me once. He could attack me again. Just because you can't see him - he could come out of anywhere."

"No, Toby, he's really not there anymore. He's gone to the great farm in the sky."

"But, but, he was so young. What happened? Car accident?"

"Nope. He got caught with a lamb."

"A lamb killed him? But lambs are harmless."

"Lambs are also protected. He had to be put down because he caught one."

"But...I'm sure he was just playing with it."

"With his mouth?" I raised an eyebrow and Toby shrugged.

"OK, maybe not."

Toby became somber and quiet for the rest of the walk. When we got to our house, I unclipped his leash and he trotted half-heartedly around the yard. His cattle friends weren't there to greet him and he had to be tired from our two-hour journey. At the back door, I unbuckled the muzzle and slid it off his face.

"Whooohooo! I'm free! I'm free! I'm free!" Toby took off sprinting, doing crazy figure-8s around the yard, his tongue lolling out of the side of his muzzle-free face. I shook my head. I don't know that I will ever be able to figure out where that dog's energy comes from.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Today's Special: Random

I have a few posts I'm working on in my head, but I'm coming up on a deadline at work so when I get home, I'm a bit brain-dead. In the meantime, here's some random thoughts and observations from the last few weeks:

  • I felt like the Human Barometer today. My (formerly) broken arm began howling in pain, right along the fault line of the healed fracture. Five minutes later, it was bucketing rain outside. It's not the first time that's happened since we moved to the Middle of Nowhere.

  • Listening to the news yesterday, I heard something that was nearly unthinkable:
    "The fire at the pygmy processing facility broke out in the early hours of the morning."
    What are they doing with those poor little pygmies and why? Surely that sort of behaviour went out of fashion at least 70 years ago?
    Turns out, it was a PIG MEAT processing facility.

  • Watching a holiday cyclist battle his way up a hill in the pouring rain with fully loaded pannier bags, I told Peter "No part of that looks remotely like fun to me. How could you spend your holiday doing that? That's not a holiday- that's hard work." Peter's reply: "That's why most of the cyclists are German."

  • Cattle make the most alarming horror-movie-heavy-breathing sounds I've ever heard. We listened to this while we were meteor-watching Sunday night. Dark Night + Herd of Angus = Disembodied Horror Noises. I told Peter that if I didn't the field was full of cattle, I'd be somewhat alarmed. "Somewhat alarmed?" he said, "I wouldn't be waiting around to find out what was making the noises. I'd be a lot more than somewhat alarmed."

  • Toby is a great fan of the cattle. He likes to sniff them through the fence and prance along the fence line with his Kong in his mouth. If you want to know where Toby is, you just have to see where the cattle are looking. They are puzzled by and curious about Toby. They're also much more comfortable with him than with people.

  • I'm re-reading all of the Harry Potter books (half-way through Book 5) and I've been harrassing Peter with questions he finds very annoying.
    "What would be your favourite class? I think I'd like Potions, but not if Snape taught it. Maybe Transfiguration or Charms. I don't know."
    "Which house would you be in? It's OK, you can say Griffyndor - it doesn't make you a cliche if it's true to your personality. I'm a total Hufflepuff."
    "What would your patronus be? I think mine would be a hedgehog. Well, you always say I'm a hedgehog. Or maybe a terrier. You also say I'm a terrier, even though they're not my favourite dogs."

  • I'm responsible for making dinner for Peter's workshop students. It's a job I actually enjoy and I try to find recipes that I can make the night before, or the morning of the workshop, and then just warm (or finish cooking) when it's dinner time. We're getting a bit burnt out on lasagne and shepherd's pie. Anyone have a good stew or casserole recipe?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Adventures in Bureaucracy

Around this time last year, I signed up for the driving test in a Dublin testing centre. At the time, the posted waiting time to get a test at Churchtown was something like 54 weeks. My provisional was set to expire in the middle of September 2007, so it seemed like I would get the test in with a few weeks to spare. (Even if you fail the test, your second provisional license entitles you to drive alone. I think this may be the only country in the world where you can fail a driving test, get in your car, and drive away unaccompanied.)

When we moved to the Middle of Nowhere in January, I rang up the government office that handles tests and requested that they change my test centre to Skibbereen and also change my address. The woman took my information and told me I was going to the back of the waiting list at the new test centre. Fair enough, the wait for Skibbereen was a more reasonable 20 weeks and I also got my employer to send a letter to speed up my test. You really can't live in the Middle of Nowhere without driving nearly everywhere.

For the first two or three weeks after the letter was sent, I was like a kid who has sent off her four proofs-of-purchase for the toy advertised on the cereal box and is waiting to be the first kid on her block to collect 'em, trade 'em, race 'em. But no word from the test place. As the months wore on, I remarked on this to Peter and also to some co-workers and the response was always the same "This is Ireland, what do you expect?"

After waiting for Skibbereen for at least 28 weeks, I started to suspect that something must have gone wrong. So I rang the government office and was told that my test was one of thousands that was outsourced to a private company. The government office could no longer help me, I'd have to ring the outsourcers. So I rang the outsourcers and was first told that I had been sent notification on 6 February for a test, but that the file had been returned to the Department of Transport because my address was wrong.

I was mystified by this. Even if the notice went to my last address, Peter was still spending most of his time there. I should have gotten anything that they posted. The outsourcer was very apologetic and said that I should call their Help Line number, which turned out to be the number for the government office, who had already told me to ring the outsourcer. My blood pressure numbers were starting to rise, but then the woman told me that within two weeks, I could expect to receive notification of a new test date. Grand.

The next day, I rang back the government office because they're meant to be sending me instructions on what to do if my first provisional expires before my test and I realised they might also have the wrong address. When I spoke to someone there, I found that they did have the wrong address, so she took down my new address and said that she would pass that along to the person who is responsible for handling such things. I didn't bother asking why she could pull up my file but couldn't change my address. Apparently, not only is her ability to do things to my file greatly reduced because I'm now outsourced, they also have some fairly inefficient work practises. Ah well, what do I expect, right, it is the government.

Starting to have doubts about this whole process, I rang back the outsourcing people. This time, a different person told me an entirely different story. It seems that I had a confirmed appointment back in January and that I was a no show, so my file was returned to the Department of Transport and I would have to reschedule the test with them. I explained that I was now trapped in a sort of vicious bureacratic limbo - the government refers me to the outsourcer and the outsourcer refers me to the government and no one will change anything in my file unless I reapply for the test, which would cost me another 38 euro, which I shouldn't have to pay because I already paid it once and it's not my fault that the government can't manage to change my address and the outsourcer can't manage to send out an actual notification.

The outsourcer promised to call government driving test headquarters to determine what had happened and then ring my mobile. She did so within 20 minutes, which is the only shock in this story. What she told me, unsurprisingly, was yet a third version of events - something about me being assigned to them for testing at Deansgrange, but then my centre changed to Skibbereen so they had to send me back to the Department of Transport. So far, the only consistency in these stories has been the outsourcers washing their hands of me.

I had a brief glimmer of hope when she told me she had two numbers I could ring, one of which might help me. She rattled off the first one, which I already had committed to memory since I'd rung it at least twice already and it's a fairly simple, repetitive-type number. I asked about the second number and she said "Oh, it's really the same number, it's just that I can never remember what order the numbers come in."

Fine. I rang the government office back and explained, for the third time, my tale of woe. The woman on the other end of the phone said "Oh, yes, we have a branch that deals with the outsourcers. Let me take your contact information and I'll pass it on to them and they'll ring you back." I asked when I could expect a call back. She replied, "Well, let's see. I'm on the phone bank until lunch and then there's lunch, so they'll get your information maybe in the early afternoon. How long it takes from then, I couldn't tell you."

So, not only can the person who answers the phone not change files, she also cannot email or text or carrier pigeon messages to the unknown persons whose job it is to deal with the particular issue. She has to wait until after her shift on the phones is done, after lunch, and then, maybe the people will get the information. Or maybe, just maybe, the little slip of paper will slide out of a stack of other pieces of paper and end up on the bottom of someone's shoe.

I am beyond angry at this point. I spent nearly a year waiting patiently like a good little Soviet for absolutely nothing. No one can give me a straight answer. No one can reschedule my test. It seems that no one can change even one tiny byte of data in my file. (Or at least if they can, they aren't the ones who answer the phone and take the information.) A system staffed by rabid monkeys would have a better chance of getting the job done than these muppets.

Monday, August 06, 2007

July Reads

"Bait and Switch" - Barbara Ehrenreich
Summary: In this book, Ehrenreich does for white collar, middle-management job seekers what she did for minimum wage slaves in "Nickled and Dimed." She set herself a task - to find and then work in a middle-class white collar job in a PR-related field.

Grade: A

Reason: Ehrenreich has a fantastic writing style, a wry sense of humour and spot-on observations. As someone who has been made redundant four times in a ten-year career, I related with to this book.

"Self-Made Man" - Norah Roberts
Summary: After going out for a night "in drag" as a man, Roberts discovers that people interact with her differently. Intrigued, she became "Ned" for a year and a half as an anthropological experiment. Ned ventures into such situations as a bowling league, an extended retreat in a monastary, strip clubs, and one of those back-to-nature men's support groups to discover what it's really like to be a man.

Grade: A

Reason: Roberts has a great voice and interesting observations on the differences between men and women.

"The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" - Bill Bryson
Summary: Bryson's memoir is a sweet look at growing up in the 50s. He recounts a time in which he was called "Billy", people thought the mail might one day be delivered as rockets, there were always 500 kids on the block to play with, and the chance discovery of a mysterious sweater in the basement convinced him he was an alien foundling with super powers.

Grade: A+

Reason: Bryon's account of growing up in staid Des Moines, Iowa with an unconventional family is hilarious and such fun to read.

"Guilty as Sin" - Tami Hoag
Summary: The follow-up to the dreadful "Night Sins," this book covers the investigation and trial of the suspect apprehended in the Kirkwood kidnapping. When a second young boy goes missing, the town thinks the suspect is innocent while the prosector thinks there is an accomplice.

Grade: B

Reason: Much better than its predecesor, but the book's impact is still somewhat weakened by unreasonable romantic attachments, ridiculous sex scenes, and a few gaping plot holes.

"The Big Picture" - Douglas Kennedy
Summary: A young lawyer on the fast track to a Wall Street partnership has it all - 5-figure bonuses, a palatial house in a posh suburb, a beautiful wife, and two cute kids. But this was never the life he or his wife wanted, so when the opportunity to upend his existence comes along, he seizes it.

Grade: C

Reason: Yawn. Not a who-dunnit, but a how-dunnit that fails to maintain suspense and pace. Not a bad book, just not a good one.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" - J.K. Rowling
Summary: You're kidding, right? Either you've already read the book, you're in the middle of reading the book and don't want even a sniff of spoilers, or you live under a rock and/or don't care about the famous Harry Potter. In any case, I'm not breathing a word about the plot.

Grade: A+ (++++)

Reason: Brilliant. A perfect ending to a beloved series. The writing was much improved and the book tied up the series magically with a sparkling bow.