Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Six Things in Six Years Meme

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee recently tagged me to do a meme of six random interesting things about me. The problem here is that A.) I'm not that interesting and B.) I've been blogging for three years, so I've been tagged with this meme or a similar one several times. I've already posted Seven Random Things About Me and embarrassed myself by listing Eight Dumb Things I've Said, Done, or Thought.

I decided after those two that any X Things About Me memes would require a twist. I'd need to find a unique angle. (Hey, blame the magazine article writer in me.) This is how I came up with Seven Things About the Dearly Departed Kodiak.

So, I was trying to find my angle when I realised that my age is divisible by six, giving me the magic number six. (What's that called again - a square root or something. Like the square root of my age is six, maybe I'm a math moron.) I realised that my angle could be to pin the revelations to certain years, each six years apart.

1. 1978 was the year Youngest Brother (YB) was born. I was convinced he was a girl because I wanted a sister more than anything in the world. (OK, maybe I wanted a pony more, but not much more.) I already had a little brother, why would I want another one? So stubborn was I in my insistence that I get a sister, I refused to believe that YB was a boy. My mother had to prove it me.

2. 1984 was the year I made a terrible decision that dictated the course of my social life for the next several years, pretty much guaranteeing I would grow up to be the poster child for 'Sweet 16 and Never Been Kissed.' I got the world's worst haircut. Words really can't describe it, but if I had to put a title on it, I'd say it was a French Poodle's Afro Mullet.

3. 1990 was the year I got drunk for the first time (at a keg party in a little house off-campus from Ohio University). Not coincidentally, it is also the year that I learned that light beer does not mean less alcohol.

4. 1996 was the year I was secretly married, but you already know about that. What few people know is that it was the year of my first grown-up job. I worked at a law firm as a general purpose IT person. It paid well, was on the 82nd floor of the Sear's Tower, and I had my very own office with a window. I started after Thanksgiving and within two weeks, I was beginning to field all sorts of calls from creditors. They were for my boss and sounded Very Serious. (I was an employee of the boss's consulting firm, not of the law firm.)

Shortly after Christmas, I learned the boss was under investigation for fraud. He called me into his office and told me I had to commit 100% to the job regardless of the investigation or avoid having the door hit my ass on the way out. I had a long weekend to decide and chose the door, which resulted in a awkward 'you can't quit, you're fired' sort of conversation.

A month went by with no paycheck, so I researched the law and used my law school education to draft a scary-sounding legal letter. After getting the letter, he called and left a message on my voicemail, saying 'About your paycheck, you'll get paid after I've had a chance to double-check all of your time records because everyone knows you're a fat-assed loser.' Any sting that he hoped to achieve by that comment was allieviated by the payched that arrived the next day via FedEx.

5. 2002 was the year we bought our first house, the little house in deep in the heart of Republican DuPage County. Since we were living in an apartment, we were able to arrange with the landlord to break our lease and move out a few weeks after the closing. On closing day, I was very excited, but I was concerned. It did not look like the people were going to be out of our house before the close. We were told that they couldn't move into their new place until they closed on our place. After the closing, we gave them a few hours to move out. Our plan was to order pizza and have a picnic on the floor of our new house.

The people were not moved out of our house when we were returned, so we went out to dinner. When we went back again, they still weren't moved out. They had a pool table and hadn't realised that you needed specialised tools to take it apart. Although our real estate agent told us that we could charge them rent, we told them just to get it out as soon as possible. Two days later it was still in the house, along with assorted other boxes and furniture.

Our real estate agent said we were having our good nature taken advantage of. She issued an ultimatum on our behalf - the locks are getting changed on Friday at noon, move it or lose it. When I arrived on Friday, I expected to find the pool table still in the living room. It was gone. The house was at last fully, truly ours and we had our pizza party finally, just five days late.

6. 2008 was the most difficult year to think of something to write about, but I'd say it was the year I first exercised my right as an Irish citizen to vote. I cast a ballot in the Lisbon Treaty Referendum this past May. This is also the year that I'm voting in a US Presidential Election as an ex-pat.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

TV Debut

Tomorrow marks Peter's television debut. Well, sort of. He spent a lot of this summer working as the photographer and technical adviser for an Irish-language programme about photography. While the programme will feature Peter's car, photography equipment, and technical expertise, it will not feature the man himself.

Be that as it may, he still enjoyed the work and we're both very excited to see the final product. The premise is that the presenter meets up with an Irish-language celebrity, who names several places in Ireland of personal interest or import. They then visit these places, learn a little about photography, and take pictures. At the end, there's a presentation where the celebrity gets to pick from five photographs taken during the show.

If you're in Ireland, the show is called I bhFócas and is on TG4 at 8pm on Thursdays, starting tomorrow (25 September).

If you're outside of Ireland, you still may be able to watch online, although the timing might be tricky since 8pm Irish time is 3pm Eastern US Time. Visit the TG4 website and click the TG4 Live button at the top of the page or the WebTV TG4 Live button in the TV listings column on the front page.

And if you just can't wait, you can have a peak at the title sequence.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Wire

I recently became hooked on The Wire. I know I'm about five years behind the rest of the world, but then, if you know me, this isn't a surprise. The writing is fantastic - the characters are richly drawn, believable, full of the contradictions and foibles that make life interesting. No one is good or bad - every personality is textured and authentic.

The other draw of the show is that it creates a world so different from the ones I've lived in. The closest I've come to 'the urban crime environment' is Camden, New Jersey and I don't really think it counts since I was living in the cocoon of the Rutgers campus.

I did visit such a world once, briefly, when I spent a day with Youngest Brother (YB) at a construction site in a neighbourhood near Howard University in Washington, DC. YB spent two years in the Americorps program, building houses with Habitat for Humanity. The build near Howard was a bit of different for the program because they were renovating two row houses. Ordinarily, Habitat buys sites and builds from scratch.

One of the row houses was on the end of the row, with an alley running along its side. The local drug dealers often used this alley to stash their drugs, while they worked the corner about 50 yards up the street. I can't remember how long I was on the renovation site before I asked YB if that was really drug dealing going on. He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. It's apparently best if you don't notice too much.

I was fascinated by all of this. It was a regular neighbourhood, with kids playing on the street and neighbours sitting on their porches. But no one seemed to notice the there were drug deals happening right out in the open.

A few months later, YB told this story:

Two rich high school kids from one of the ritzier areas of Washington, somewhere like Georgetown, were sentenced with community service for a youthful indiscretion-type of misdemeanor. I think it was underage drinking or possession of a minute quantity of pot. So the Frat Boys show up at the Habitat site to put in their community service.

They were awful workers, skiving off and not taking anything seriously. They had an attitude of entitlement and acted like showing up was enough to meet the conditions of their community service. They were such bad workers, no one was really surprised when they called it a day and left the site early.

One of the drug dealers approached YB the next day and informed him that the Frat Boys had stolen their stash from the alley. YB apologised profusely, explaining that the Frat Boys were just some random volunteers who showed up to do some community service. YB didn't know them or anything about them.

The drug dealer was all calmness and reason. "Listen, I could take out what happened on y'all, mess up your houses or your people, but I'm not going to. I respect what you're doing, trying to help our community. But next time, man, you gotta be more careful about who you bring into our neighbourhood."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

There's No Right Field in the GAA

I was about ten when my parents signed me up for a summer softball league. I went to the first practise very excited to find out what position I would get to play. All of the other girls had been playing for several years and it didn't take me long to realise that I was miserable at it. No co-ordination at all. It was determined that I would be the catcher because no one else wanted to crouch behind the plate for half the game, wearing the sticky and smelly facemask.

It was a long summer and our team lost every game. I got a few walks because I was short enough to barely have a strike zone. My big victory came in the last game, when I actually managed to put the bat on the ball, resulting in a little dribbler in front of the plate. I could run fast and I did, managing to eke out my first and only base hit of the season. I played for several more summers, improving with each year until I ended up a versatile infielder and a dependable extra-base hitter.

Middle Brother, being a boy, got to play baseball. I was especially jealous when he moved into the league where they started throwing overhand. It was so not fair that girls were stuck playing softball while the boys got to play baseball, where they got to pitch like major leaguers and steal bases. If youth is wasted on the young, baseball was wasted on MB. It just wasn't his thing.

MB and another kid, who I will call Joshua Perkins (because I don't want to use his real name, but I cannot think of this kid without using his full name), took turns playing in right field, which is the leper colony of youth sports. It's the place to which you are exiled when you've no interest or ability in baseball. The right fielder is the kid most likely to sit down and play in the dirt. He's also the kid most likely to wear his baseball glove as a hat or just wander right off the field. (I'm not saying MB did any of these things personally, I'm just saying that these are the sorts of shenanigans that go on in right field.)

Joshua Perkins had something wrong with his muscles. His mother explained it to me once, but I don't remember the name for it. His muscles were like really tight rubber bands and that made it extremely difficult for him to co-ordinate and move his arms and legs. It gave him the shuffling gait of an old man, which, combined with his coke-bottle glasses that he wore strapped to his head, made him a target for all sorts of bullying and abuse.

But my memory is that Joshua Perkins really seemed to enjoy baseball. (MB can correct me on this if I've strapped on my own rose-tinted coke bottle glasses for this look into the past.) I remember him being quite smiley as he shambled out to right field or shuffled back to the bench after striking out.

I hadn't thought about Joshua Perkins for years. But then in the middle of the summer, during a particularly grueling football practise, I realised that I was Joshua Perkins, albeit without the muscle condition. In my case, it's my age and lack of speed that have me trailing along after everyone else. But I still go to practises. I still try my best but I'm not nearly as cheerful as Joshua Perkins.

There's only one problem with this analogy. There's no right field in GAA sports. I tend to get stuck in the forward line, since that minimises the damage I can do to my own team. But there's no place with quite the same lack of action as right field.

Last Sunday, I had the honour and joy of sitting on the bench and watching my team win the Intermediate County Football championship. I enjoyed the game immensely because the girls played great and the victory was an special achievement, since it was their third county win in a row. (And they've had to move up to the next level with each win, so it's an extra challenge to win consecutive championships.) After the final whistle went, I joined my team on the field, feeling every inch the Joshua Perkins - cheerful and smiley, part of the team but slightly apart, but somehow comfortable and content with that.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Too Smart By Half

In the evenings, we feed Toby after we have our dinner. Toby is well aware of this routine and spends his evenings watching us, waiting for us to make a move toward the laundry room, where his food is stored.

Toby has excellent mealtime manners. He knows that he needs to sit and wait until he's told 'Go eat'. He's learned the difference between 'go eat' and 'gopher'. He's even able to sit and wait while we leave the room. (And sometimes, on rare occasions, Peter has forgotten Toby was waiting and the dog has sat there for minutes, which has to feel like lifetimes to a hungry dog.) In fact, Toby has so associated being well-behaved with eating, his go-to begging move is to sit down.

Yesterday, we went into the kitchen after dinner and Toby was alternating between prancing frantically and sitting, as if to say 'I'm hungry and I'm ready'. When that didn't work, he ran up to Peter and sat down, looking up with an urgent expression. Then Toby ran into the laundry room, ran out toward his food dish, then ran back to Peter, sat down and looked up at him with that same urgent expression. The message was as clear as if the dog had suddenly learned to speak English.

Peter looked at him with amazement and amusement. "Did you see that? Toby, that was great." Then Peter's voice took on a tinge of regret. "But you know, this means I'm going to have to wait a little bit longer, because I can't let you think you can tell me what to do."


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dividends of Labour

I don't agree with much the Catholic Church does, but I do think they're onto a winner with their mandatory pre-marriage education and counseling course. We'd already been married eight years by the time we took the class, so the horse had well and truly bolted at that point, but I think it would have been quite helpful. The course makes you think about things like your family of origin (their phrase, not mine) and how your experiences have set up your expectations about marriage and family life.

Before my parents were married, my dad's mother took my mother aside to impart some very important information. "He knows how to use a washing machine and how to clean a bathroom. Don't let him tell you any different." As a result, my dad has always cleaned the bathroom and done the laundry. My mother cooked and ran the household, but my family of origin model included the man helping out (and in two of the least favourite areas.)

While my life experiences set me up to believe that the husband did an equal amount (or at least close to an equal amount) of housework, Peter's life experience was pretty much completely the opposite. His parents are quite a bit older than mine and they grew up in a completely different world. Peter's mom once told me that Tom had never changed a nappie, not with any of their four children. Housework was the woman's domain and having a job was the man's contribution. A woman might work outside the home as Noirin did, as a teacher, but that was a fairly new development.

When Peter and I were first married, we struggled with issues like the division of household labour. The pattern we fell into is that the place would get clean and then, like the House of Usher, it would inexorably deteriorate into chaos. We'd get it clean and then repeat the pattern. Peter's grand plan was to outsource the cleaning duties, but I was never comfortable with that. I was, however, completely comfortable with outsourcing the laundry, as I hated folding it and found the apartment's laundry room a little creepy.

So we've muddled along throughout our marriage, making things up as we went along. It works out pretty well. The big rule is dinner - whoever doesn't cook, cleans up. I've grown into a pretty good cook and Peter is a champion kitchen tidier. We both take responsibilities for tidying up and keeping the place ticking over in a decent state. Every few months, I go crazy and end up scrubbing the baseboards with a toothbrush.

However, we had two trouble zones - the laundry and the kitchen floor. We both hate folding laundry and for just having two of us in this household, we seem to produce an obscene amount of laundry. Maybe that's just my perception of it, because our washer is so small. When I was visiting Cleveland, I put what would have been a bursting load of laundry for us into my parents' washing machine and it didn't even amount to half a load.

The kitchen floor....well....it never looks clean. It doesn't matter how hard you work on it, it consists of some kind of off-white stone tile with a surface that's full of grooves and ridges, which act as dirt collectors. Add a big shaggy dog and a yearly rainfall that's measured in feet and, well, you have a constantly filthy kitchen floor. I once spent hours cleaning the floor with a toothbrush and a squeegee and it didn't even look clean after that.

I grew to hate the kitchen floor with a viciousness that seemed a little ridiculous, given that it's an inanimate object with no ill intentions toward me. The laundry occasionally piling up was an annoyance. The kitchen floor was a nemesis. Especially given the fact that Peter has students coming to the house regularly, so it needs to look presentable.

One evening this summer, all the frustration came to a boil. Peter had done laundry, but had forgotten to move it from the washer to the dryer. I had noted that he'd forgotten about it, but was curious to see how long it would take him to remember. The next day, he went to put more laundry in and found the washed load, damp and not exactly smelling fresh.

We had a discussion about the laundry, about how we both hated doing it, about what we could do to solve the problem. I offered Peter a deal - if he took full and complete responsibility for the kitchen floor (both sweeping and mopping), I would take full and complete responsibility for all of the laundry, including folding. He pondered the option, considered it, and raised an issue. What if he was really busy and wouldn't have a chance to do it before a workshop?

Easy, I told him, in that case, I'd do it for him, for the bargain price of just 20 euro. I figured it was a fair price - high enough that he'd think carefully about asking me to do it, yet low enough to be affordable.

This deal has been in place for a few months now and it's worked out quite well. Peter's been excellent about keeping up with the floor (it cracks me up when he says 'Look at my floor? What happened to my nice, clean floor') I don't mind doing the laundry, since it means that I no longer have the floor nemesis. I've been able to completely shut off how I feel about the floor. It's Not My Problem anymore. I'm only 20 euro richer so far, but I am so much more relaxed and happier. It was our perfect solution to our problem.