Furniture Porn

 

I have probably mentioned at some point previously that I am in a writing group. If not – well, I’m in a writing group.

The group has been together much longer than most writing groups last. Most such creative collectives implode due to “creative differences” after between 12 and 18 months. We’ve been together for nearly a decade. Technically, some of us have been together longer, but the group under its current name will celebrate its ten-year anniversary in September.

There were six of us who were members of another group first. That group was populated by us, plus Dr. Phil (no relation), Martha, and Becky – the leader. We were content with the other group until,  well, Becky went full goose gone-zo crazy one meeting and kicked out one of the six. For asking a question. So the six of us said “uhm…wut?”  And we got told that if we asked questions, we were out, too.  So we said “okeydoke” and left. We invited Dr. Phil and Martha, but they thought that Becky was the better option (no clue), and stuck with her. That group imploded about a year later.

A guy named Jeff ran our splinter group. We almost immediately added about six more people. Jeff continued to helm the group for about two years until his kids reached that age where they did ALL the things – soccer and robot camp and whatever, so then he decided to step down and hand the reins to someone else. The someone else he chose was me. He bequeathed the group to me.

I did not want it.

See, running a writing group is like being a cat herder, ringmaster, and glorified playground monitor. But not as glamorous.

People worry about weird shit.

And they tell you about it.

In emails. And texts. And occasionally in passive-agressive post-its left on your notebook or purse for you to find a week later when you go to pay the water bill.

But Jeff insisted that I was the perfect candidate for the job. Also he threatened to give it to this other guy – Joe – if I did not take it. That would have been BAD.  He did that on purpose. Because Jeff is a nice guy, but also a manipulative weasel.  And for the record, Joe is also awesome.  But terrifying. Not really warm fuzzy. And he plays the accordion. You see my dilemma.

So I took it.

And the group has been under my…..uhm….direction? Ever since. I don’t do anything except keep the whole thing from going up in flames, though.  Truly.  All I do is smooth over disputes and make sure we have somewhere to meet and make sure we have people’s work to be read and get us tables at conventions and answer PR questions from newspapers who hear about us and pay any dues to websites and write copy for our pages and….yeah.  Okay.  So maybe I do stuff.

But I do it because I love these guys.  Most of them are family at this point.  Even the newest ones who have become regulars.  Some are literal family – my cousin (who is more like a brother) is a member. The rest are family because we’ve become so close that I can’t imagine not seeing them as often as I do.

But I think it’s easy to forget how much people mean to you or how much they care by virtue of just seeing them all the time.

But these idiots reminded me the other night.

I had to miss a meeting.

I don’t do that.

I have not missed ONE meeting since 2012 when I stopped teaching adjunct courses. Not one. But I am working on a conference presentation for an event in August, and I needed to do some prep work with a colleague, so I did.

Now, I am a BIT persnickety about where I sit at meetings. I have a chair. I like that chair. It’s MY chair. Well, it’s less the chair than it is the SPOT where the chair sits. Once, more than four years ago, the last time I was gone, Byron sat in my chair. He SHOULD NOT have done that. It’s been forgiven. Mostly. No, truly. I think.

But anyway, that’s in the past. The POINT is, that this time, Maddie asked “Who gets to sit in your chair. I responded, and I quote, “NO ONE SITS IN MY CHAIR.”

I fully anticipated this would generate some silliness.

What I did NOT expect was to be greeted the next morning by a parade of photos depicting a Murder on the Orient Express-esque crime of defilement against that innocent piece of furniture. They even got our regular waitress to pose with the chair. I had no idea some of our members were that limber.

As I laughed (and cringed) my way through the pictures, though, I realized how very much these weirdos meant to me. How lost I would be without them. And how much I needed them to care about me enough to screw with me this diabolically. Thank god for sick, twisted, horrible people who love you enough to fuck with you like my writing peeps do me. But seriously – someone needs to clean that chair….

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A Fanciful Yarn

Some of the posts in here are just, you know, stuff that happens to me. My friend Michelle posited all the way back in high school that she and I and another friend – Tracy – were what she called “chaos magnets. I am not sure this is exactly the case. Sure, I can own that a LOT of bizarre things have happened to me. To us. How many people have ended up stranded in an elevator with an FBI’s most wanted fugitive?

Mostly, though, I think that I tend to NOTICE things and appreciate the ridiculous. In gaming it would be called perception, or a spot check. I see stuff. I remember I was sitting in a Sonic once and caught something out of the corner of my eye that my brain registered initially as a “really weird dog” in the car next to me. I think that a lot of people would have just gone with that, because there’s not a strong enough alarm that sounds that makes you go “wait……….”

Me? I had to verify. It was NOT a weird dog. It was a goat. The family in the station wagon next to me had a (presumably) pet got riding in their car. In a little dog seat carrier thing. It turned it’s head and looked at me and did the little goat “mblaaaaaaaa” thing. The little girl fed it a tater tot.

It was not obtrusive. It was not loud. It was not an in-your-face goat. But, I mean, goat. In a car. Car-goat. Weird, right?

So that is what I think generally happens. I just notice things. And I have a well-enough developed sense of the ridiculous that I ENJOY them and watch long enough for something interesting to happen.

Such was how things went down at the yarn store a few months ago.

I have a full width, partial thickness tear in my rotator cuff tendon. It’s probably a residual injury from when I played tennis. I thought I was going to have to have surgery on it, which would have meant seriously limited mobility during recovery.  That would have made me crazy – having nothing I could do.  So I taught myself to knit.

In the course of my knitting, I started frequenting a local yarn store. It’s a really nice little place with a super helpful staff and a wide selection of yarn and needles and other supplies. I’ve been in there a few times when a customer asked for something a bit outside the ordinary – like the people who wanted bison mane yarn. Because that’s apparently a thing. The clerks are always very friendly and seem to usually send them off to a yarn store in a nearby college town when that happens. I kind of want to go see this crazy college town yarn store at some point just to find out if they really carry this nonsense or if that’s just the standard ZOMGWTFBBQgettheseweirdosoutofhere response.

On this day I was back looking at the sock yarn display, which is a large-ish shelf. A woman came in with several obviously well-used, good-sized shopping bags from other stores, and if you’ve ever worked retail (I have), you know this is a Very Bad Thing.

She approached the clerk at the counter.

Customer: “I was wondering how much it would cost to get some yarn made from custom fibers.”

Clerk: “Sorry, what?”

I want to point out here that the clerk in question is among THE NICEST PEOPLE in the world. Truly. She is sweet, and kind, and soft-spoken, and really just loves needlecraft.

Customer: “I have some materials – fibers – and I want to have them spun into yarn. What do you charge?” *pulls 1 gallon ziplock baggy labeled WINKIE in black sharpie out of sack and waves it at clerk – bag is filled with greyish-white fluff*

Clerk: “Oh…..well….we don’t do that. I’m sorry. We don’t even sell the equipment to spin–”

Customer: “You’re a yarn store.”

Clerk: “Yes. But we SELL yarn, we don’t MAKE yarn…”

Customer: “You should have the materials.”

Clerk: “Well, I know that might seem confusing…”

Customer: “It’s my cat’s fur. She’s getting old and I want to spin it into yarn so I can make a sweater.”

Clerk: “…..Okay. Well, I don’t know if cat fur is – ”

Customer: “She’s a LONG HAIRED CAT. I’m SURE it will be fine.”

Clerk: “Uhm…well, yes, but we SELL yarn, we don’t MAKE yarn.”

Customer: “Well what I am supposed to DO with this then?”

Now, while the store is a retail establishment, it’s also a little social club of sorts, and there are always a few women in there sitting around a large table knitting.  The Grande Dame of the circle is this elderly lady who always wears a big fuck off hat with flowers on it – she has one that matches every outfit she owns – and large glasses on a beaded cord and she SEEMS like just the sweetest little thing you set eyes on.  She does SEEM like that.

Sassy Broad in Hat: “I’ll tell you what you can do with that crap…”

Clerk: *chokes* “Uhm…Maybe  you can try the Redacted Store in College Town. I think they might do spinning.”

The Interview

I’ve spent most of my life working in the tech industry.  That didn’t happen on purpose. I mean, I set out to major in Global Studies and pursue a career in international law. Then there was my theater / communications phase. And music. And then I ended up with so many credit hours in so many things that I could have finished my degree in either history or English.  I literally flipped a coin.  It came up history.  I said “screw that” and finished in English. Because fate can suck it.

The college I attended didn’t have minors, but they DID have “emphases,” so my degree in English literature and composition is augmented by emphases in history, poli-sci, linguistics, theater, and communications. Truly, that simply demonstrates indecisiveness, not studiousness.

I took my newly minted English degree, moved to the SF Bay Area (I followed a boy – but that’s another story) and marched my hard-working Midwestern ass into several magazine offices in San Francisco and proudly showed them my credentials expecting to be hired forthwith. I mean, I knew the word “forthwith.”

When they’d stopped laughing they pointed at the exit.

So, I talked to temp agencies. It turns out that my dysfunctional parenting was of FAR greater value than any amount of book learning. See, dad was a super logical management consultant and technophile. We’d had gadgetry and computers as soon as they were available. Mom was a total art flake. They had NEVER understood how to talk to one-another. It remains a complete mystery to me that  there are just two of us – my sister and me. I mean, either they should have constantly been having sex as their only means of communication, or should have NEVER had sex or gotten together at all.  The fact that there are two of us?  Weird.

But I had forever been the bridge between them.  “Nonononono – Mom. MOM. What dad is SAYING is….”  And “Okay. Okayokayokay. But dad. DAD. DAAAAD. What Mom MEANS is…”  That was my life. And it turned out that in Silicon Valley, that ability to speak both Geek and normal human was INVALUABLE.  I became what they called a Technical Liaison. I went in and solved communication problems and helped train people to talk to one-another. It was amazing. Every stupid trick I learned just to survive in my home was worth MONEY in the real world. And all I had to do was exactly what I had done every day for my entire life.

It felt like cheating.

I worked for companies like Apple and Oracle and HP and Raychem and got really good at what I do. And I worked almost exclusively with supergeeks of various kinds.  I already knew and loved them – my cousin and uncle and dad were those people. My friends were those people.  All I did was expand my geeky horizons.  All of my time was spent with gamers and geeks and engineers and scientists and programmers. That became my whole world.

So here I was in an interview at a science company, and the people interviewing me? Two women. Two fabulous, geeky, nerdy WOMEN. It was as if the heavens had opened and light shone down on me.

Near the end of the interview, the manager who headed a group of programmers said “Oh. One more question.  Are you okay talking to developers?”

For a moment I honestly did not understand the question.  “You  mean….socially? In a game setting? Professionally?”

She laughed.  “Oh good. We’ll be fine then.  It’s just sometimes we have to shield the programmers from the…you know. Regular people. And vice versa.”

I was horrified. “Please. Please  DON’T. Those are my PEOPLE.”

And I meant that.

My first day there, I was getting tea at the tea and coffee kiosk. A guy saw my phone. “Is that….is that Agent Carter on y0ur phone background?!”

I looked at him. Smiled. “Yes. Yes it is.”

“Ohmygoshhowmuchdoyouloveher?”

“I love her ALL the much.”

He smiled, hopefully. “And…Jessica Jones?”

“JJ is my favorite. Daredevil?”

“YES!”

I made a new friend. Because of my Agent Carter phone background. My first day on the job. It was SO GOOD to be working with proper nerds again.

Day two? I met a gamergirl. Tabletop, PC, AND console.

Life was looking up. And again, I felt like I was cheating.

 

 

Deck the Halls with Droids and Jawas

I saw Star Wars in the theater when I was five years old. Say what you will about very little kids understanding movies, it blew my mind. I loved it. I wanted to BE some amazing combo of Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Also I wanted to marry Han Solo. It was confusing and complicated. But it was beautiful.

I had loooooong hair perfect for cinnamon buns and a mom inclined to spend the time patiently winding and pinning my auburn tresses into the iconic Leia hairdo, so I got to be the perfect little space princess All. The. Time.

Depending on whether you know me, or on what impressions you’ve formed of me from reading my scribblings, it may surprise you to learn that I was pretty much a perfect kid (behavior-wise) in school. Yes, okay, I was also a model student. By which I mean total nerd. I can own that. I just never got in trouble.

Except this once.

I have ONE black mark on my permanent scholastic record.

I was in a playground fight in fourth grade.

And it was over Star Wars. Well, Empire, technically.

How freaking nerdtastic is THAT?!

I mostly look back at my young self and feel a tish sorry for that quiet little mousy girl who thought she might die if she said a curse word or made a teacher frown. But that one glorious moment in fourth grade? I LOVE HER FOR THAT.

We were living overseas at the time – in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Movies didn’t reach overseas markets as quickly then as they do now, and there was always a lag between a big release and when we got to see them – UNLESS you were lucky enough to be traveling to the US when one came out. I was not so lucky. Jennifer Zwick, however, was. She’d just come back from a visit stateside and had seen *angelic chorus* The Empire Strikes Back. The phrase “spoiler alert” had not yet been invented, and also we were nine – so it never occurred to us to worry about such things. She was telling me about the movie and she said – she actually SAID – that Darth Vader was the wonderful and pure Luke Skywalker’s father.
The world stopped spinning on its axis.

Now, as I said – I was (and am) a Han girl. Because broken rogues are irresistible.
BUT STILL. One does not say such things about the hero. One does not. Scandalous. SLANDEROUS.

So I called her a dirty liar.

And she pulled my hair.

And it was ON like Donkey Kong (or it would be in another year – Donkey Kong was not a thing yet either).

The reason I tell you this is ONE because – it’s kind of awesome, right?

But two, because Star Wars is important to me. It really is.

So when the new movie was coming out in December, I naturally wanted to go, and ideally I wanted to go with friends. Some good friends of had rented out a small theater at The Alamo downtown and had offered tickets. Because of reasons, I had not gotten one. It’s not worth going into why, but I had not. And I was angry about it. Super angry. White hot fury of a thousand suns angry. But also bitter and sad.

This angry bitter combo led me to do the only thing I reasonably could do: I reacted like a child and decided I would just wait for it to come out on Blu-Ray because screw everyone and everything – no one could make me go see it alone.

Of course that turned out to be completely not true.

Someone could.

My friend Micah.

Micah and I had known each other for almost nine years when we worked together at the seminar company. We had only worked semi-closely together for last five or so years, but we communicated a lot, and due to various circumstances, we’d become friends.

Micah texted to ask me if I’d seen the movie yet. Mostly it was self-serving. He wanted to talk about the film. I said no, and told him my grand plan endorsed by five year olds everywhere (sorry, five year olds). I don’t t have the text transcript any more, but this is pretty close to what happened.

Me: “No. I’m not going. It’ll be out in, what, six months?”

Him: “What? No. Go see it.”

Me: “Nah. I’ll just wait. I don’t like seeing movies alone. Besides. I want to wallow in my bitterness.”

Him. “What the….Fuck bitterness. Go see it.”

Me: “Sigh. Look. I’ve actually been looking at theaters and they appear to be all sold out anyway. At least online.”

Him: “Don’t you work downtown? Right across from The Alamo?”

Me: “So what. It says they’re sold out.”

Him: (you can almost hear the deep breath and pursed lips) “Walk across the street and buy a ticket. I’ll wait.”

This went on for just a bit – because I am difficult. Or can be. But he persisted. Because he is awesome. And has the patience of a saint.

Ultimately I walked across the street and bought a ticket. Turns out the online services for most of the theaters were completely overwhelmed, but you could just walk in and get a seat without much trouble. To be fair I marched in and demanded that the ticket seller guy tell me they were sold out so that I could tell me jerk friend *waved phone at him* they were sold out and get him off my fucking back. The dude said “Well, I can TELL you that, but…..” And I had to apologize and buy a ticket.  It was even a decent seat.

I can admit that I got teary-eyed when the fanfare started behind the giant STAR WARS logo. I wanted to text him “thank you” right then and there – but if you know anything about The Alamo, you know they frown on that sort of thing.

 

 

Bad Medicine

The local vet is a only a few minutes from the house. I got the dog into the lobby, where he bled profusely. So much that the girls behind the counter whispered about how much blood it was. I looked down and suddenly realized that, yeah, it was.  Especially given how much was already on the floor and furniture at home.

I went catatonic.  Which apparently upset other customers. So they put me in an exam room.

My ex husband texted me to ask how Starbuck was. I thought about ignoring him, but was a grownup and told him. I hate being a grownup.

Eventually the vet came in. I’ve seen two vets there.  One is Dr. Hippy – he’s young and has hair down to his waist, but he’s a really good vet. The other one – the one I saw that day – is Doc Oct. For Octegenarian.  He’s clearly going for the record of Oldest Practicing Vet in the World.  He has GOT to be the frontrunner. I have no idea if he’s a good vet.  I don’t understand a word he says. I am pretty sure he uses poultices and treats ague. He’d decided to use pressure bandages to stop the bleeding – because the dog had somehow torn out TWO toenails.  No, I don’t mean broken them off, as dogs are wont to do – I mean TORN THEM OUT COMPLETELY.  How?  No clue. Also, why did he not use silver nitrate? The vet, not the dog, obviously.  No idea.  I texted my cousin, who happens to be a veterinarian (but he’s a long drive from my house for emergencies, which is why I didn’t go see him for this) to ask about it, and while it was OKAY, pressure bandages are not perfect when there’s a risk of infection, which there is here, on, you know, feet.

So I went out to the lobby, dog in tow – who had, by the way, completely forgotten he was injured and was prancing around just fine.  They’d given him pain meds and he was in that sweet spot where the foot had stopped hurting but the grogginess hadn’t set in yet.

I pulled the card out  of my shirt pocket and handed it to the cashier.  I wrapped up the transaction and put the card back in my pocket and got back to the middle of the lobby and, for the first time in his entire life, my dog grabbed my skirt – a simple, long knit skirt – in his teeth and pulled it down around my ankles.

I just stood there and said, “Yep.  That’s about right.”

I pulled up my skirt and trudged out  to my car wondering where my life and dignity had gone.

And realized they were not going to be found today.

Do you know what the only thing worse than having your skirt pulled down in a veterinary lobby and then making it safely out to your car is?

Having to go back INTO that veterinary office to get your purse, which you left in the exam room.

I asked my cousin, and those girls behind the counter are NOT trained to deal with that situation.  They are not.

 

Walk with the Animals, Talk with the Animals

When Jeff, aka Raccoon Ranger, arrived, he was everything you would expect from someone who specializes in vermin removal and who has a farm for citified animal rehab out in the country. He was also delightful.

He explored the attic and seemed truly disappointed not to find anything.

Next, he went outside and scoured the outside of the house.  I stayed inside with the dog, who was a bit agitated at having someone wandering around the yard.

After about ten minutes, Raccoon Ranger knocked excitedly at the door and beckoned me out back to check out “positive Raccoon Sign.”

He took me to the back landing and walked me through the clues like Poirot at a murder scene. But with a Southern twang.

“Well, you gotcher claw scratches on the lattice where he crawled up here, then he ambled on over and you gotcher paw prints on the siding, and the downspout is all bowed out where he shimmied on up, and raccoon belly tuft fur where he scooched out to the eaves, and then pop goes the – well, the raccoon – he was up and over onto your roof, and up into your attic.”

“That’s a very strange skill set you have there, Jeff.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll set up them traps.”

I’d been outside for all of four minutes. I went back inside – and found an abattoir. There was blood everywhere.  There were literal pools of it standing on the ottoman. And there was no sign of either the dog or the cat.

I panicked.

The dog came limping in from the garage, whining, his right front paw a pulpy ruin.

I had no idea what had happened, but I did a quick search and found the cat asleep.

I tried to clean up the paw, but he wouldn’t let me. He snapped at me. I couldn’t even rinse it to see how bad the actual injury was, much less find the source of the bleeding.

I made a mistake here.  I called my ex husband to ask for help.  He got angry and yelled because he had patients and could not just leave them to come  deal with my problems. I just hadn’t thought about what time it was.  Sigh.

RR came to the front door and saw the mess and asked if I needed anything.  Whatever look was on my face told him I did not require him as I reached for my wallet and tossed him my credit card.

While he processed payment for the initial traps, I wrapped Starbuck’s leg in a towel as best I could and ran out and tossed all 65 pounds of him in the car. I grabbed my stuff, checked the back, locked the door, pulled out of the driveway, rolled down the passenger window, caught the clipboard, signed the sheet, tossed back the clipboard, stowed the card in my shirt pocket, rolled up the window, and called my friend Carol – like a goddamned domestic ninja – to ask her to tell me I was a rock star. She didn’t skip a beat, then asked why. I told her.  She told me I was an EGOT winner. She cautioned me not to wreck the car. Good advice.

 

Strangers in the Night

Starbuck (my dog) had never in his life been one for sleeping in the bed, but suddenly the other night he was determined to do so. He snuggled up next to me, his nose pressed onto my knee. That was fine. Nice, even. Until it wasn’t – which was at about 2:00 AM when he began emitting a low, rumbling growl.

As I clawed my way up from the depths of sleep, I realized that he was attempting to alert me to the fact that a band of homicidal hobos had broken into the garage, used the ladder there to climb into the attic, crossed through the roof to the bedroom, and now were going to drill through the ceiling to drop down and murderface me with bloody abandon. Like they do.

Starbuck’s growls rose to an urgent whine as the tumbling and thumping above me increased in volume and intensity.

What. The. Hell.

When I possessed enough of my faculties to all but dismiss the murderous ceiling vagrant theory, I realized that there was likely vermin of some kind in the attic, which wasn’t much better. Also, whatever they were, they were RUDE – and Starbuck strongly, and loudly, objected to their presence for the next four hours. I didn’t sleep any more that night.

At about 4:00AM I resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to get any more sleep, so I started researching what might be in the attic.  I mean, I already had it narrowed down to a certain extent – it was not going to be wombats or meerkats or something. But it turns out that critters in one’s attic is a fairly common problem in the Midwest, so there are a number of websites dedicated to fairly elaborate and nuanced descriptions of the noises made by the most frequent offenders.

From what I could tell, a traveling raccoon theater troupe had moved into the attic and was rehearsing an all-vermin production of A Chorus Line.  Raccoon Cassie had SPUNK.

Now that I thought I knew what was scrabbling around, I had to find someone to deal with them, so I looked for reviews and found a company that seemed to be a good fit and called them. Do I need to point out that I waited until civilized business hours?  I did.

I talked to a guy named “Jeff” (that’s his real name – but hang on, I’ll be giving him a nickname in a minute anyway) and got info and pricing.

I started to share my raccoon thespian theory with Jeff, but he was a pro and didn’t want me to taint his investigation with my premature conclusions, so he asked me to just describe the situation.  By which he meant noises. In detail. And onomatopoeia.  He confirmed my suspicions. From that point forward, he was Raccoon Ranger.

I arranged for him to come out on Thursday to…do whatever it is he does.

Oh – and on the off chance you should ever need raccoon removal services, here’s how the pricing works.  So, there is a flat fee to put out traps.  Any  number of traps. Raccoon bait can be a lot of stuff because, well, they eat pretty much anything. Here in the fancypants suburb where I live (I don’t live in the fancypants part of town, but I do live close enough to be a thorn in the side of those who take their lawns and homeowners’ associations seriously) they probably dine on quinoa and kale and free range salmon most nights. But if he put fish in the traps, we’d catch every neighborhood cat, so, no. Instead, he used candy apples and marshmallows.

Anyway, so he put out three traps, one flat fee.

Now if you CATCH a raccoon, that’s an additional per-varmint cost for removal and disposal. I DID ask what disposal meant.  Because I kinda thought I should.  Apparently there is a lovely farm out in the woods about 75 miles from my house where all the city raccoons are rehabbed to country life. No, seriously – that’s a thing. He takes them out to the country by where he lives and turns them loose, but far enough from civilization that they won’t wander back to the suburbs. I’d like to think they all sit in little lawn chairs and hammocks talking about their days rummaging in garbage cans and dodging Labradoodles.

And yes, there is a group discount.  I asked.  Because remember  – I thought I had a whole freaking raccoon family band.

I was not prepared, though, for what happened when he came to visit.