Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Playing with my Google

posted by my gay husband today
 "We're huge in Belgium."

-- Matt Dillon, playing Cliff, front man for Citizen Dick, in Singles

Today I decided to go down the rabbit hole of who's reading this blog, and when, and from where after my gay husband posted this picture  from Greece, where he's vacationing with my gay husband-in-law.

I like the picture, because I think it makes me look like I took up languages this summer.

Then I started poking around. It turns out, he's not the first or the only reader in Greece. And apparently, I'm big in Australia. (I always suspected as much.) Ukraine, I knew about, because my niece was over there visiting, and I assume her Mom still checked the blog religiously to see if they were missing anything important. Like maybe I had eaten something interesting. (I still call it The Ukraine and am disproportionately irritated that they changed it.)

Chef Baby Brother is just back from Budapest, but there doesn't seem to be a single check-in from there, although there's been a lot of traffic from Denmark and the Netherlands (possibly related to all the posts about Voss Water and IKEA). Don't ask me, I can't be expected to understand the Internets. Or to actually know where Denmark and the Netherlands are. I assume the visits from Russia are that guy who crashed twitter and facebook.

I can tell from looking at the graphs and pie charts that the most popular thing I've ever written is a post about 30 Rock. I'm not going to link to it here -- even though I could. Oh yeah, I don't like to brag, but I know how to -- I taught myself that maybe a year or so ago (sometime shortly after I figured out how to post pictures) -- but I don't really want to encourage anybody who thinks they might be getting a Tina Fey fanzine.

After that, people mostly seem to be reading for: Sam Shepard, bacon, Martha Stewart, and sofas, in order of popularity. That sounds about right to me. 

I see that far more people read me on iPhones than BlackBerry --which means that they now know that I think iPhones are the hot girls from high school,  and that we BlackBerry types are the smart girls with glasses who did the iPhone's homework. That's ok. I'll say it to their face.

As I've said before, I tend to think I know each and every reader -- a population that is comprised in my mind of:  my college roommate's father, Aunt Ronni, and SandraL. And by and large, people do land here from twitter or facebook. I am not sure, however, how people are getting from the Wall Street Journal to here... but they are. Perhaps I have been linked somewhere as a cautionary tale.

Google is, of course, what dumps most of the traffic, and it is perfectly obvious that tons of people land here expecting good advice about how to buy a t-r-u-c-k or what they should watch on r-e-a-l-i-t-y television. (I am spelling it out, because I have realized that if you write blogs about how you are NOT a t-r-u-c-k-i-n-g company or r-e-a-l-i-t-y television site, you will only encourage Google to send more visitors to you who are looking for that kind of thing.

(The title was my friend Matt's idea for the column, over 15 years ago, long before any of us had figured out the implications of s-e-a-r-c-h   e-n-g-i-n-e-s. I am sure blogs existed, but I am equally sure I thought they were something that could be cleared up with Levaquin.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Sofa and the Kindle

"I'm not a literary genius...I was not an orphan. I have never blown anyone for coke or let other people do coke off any part of my body. I have never struggled with addiction and I was never molested. Tragically, my life has only been moderately fucked up. I'm not writing this book to share wisdom or to inspire people." 
 -- Sarah Silverman, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee

I am seventeen percent of the way through Sarah Silverman's new book on my new (to me) Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Free 3G, 6" Display, White - 2nd Generation. I think that's right.

Today was a big, big day in that I was lovingly handed down two of my favorite friends' two most cherished possessions. One handed down his kindle, and one handed down her Arhaus sofa (the kind with the down cushions that you squish into). They both seemed a little wistful to see these things go, but I reassured them that this is an Open Adoption. I'll send pictures. They can visit any time they want, confident in the knowledge that these treasures have a home just as loving and appreciative as their own. They won't drive by and see the kindle tied up in the yard, or the sofa sitting on the front porch. 

My quest for the perfect sofa has been in overdrive since I moved last Spring, because I refused to move the old one into the new place. There wasn't anything wrong with it, but I stopped liking it, and I refused to move it.

This has meant a long summer of guests literally sitting on the floor (utterly without complaint...at least not to my face), but I have stuck to my guns. The Big Ass Chair seats two at the most -- and even that requires a certain romantic commitment... not to mention an embrace of certain principles of yoga.

The rule is if I don't love it, it can't live here. I'm not all snooty about it -- I'm happy to go without until the right thing presents itself. I have made one exception for a lamp I like that has an ugly shade, because it seemed a little extreme to light the living room with a bare ass bulb. I can picture the shade I want, but I haven't found it yet.

My bud Ian says my problem is champagne tastes on a beer budget -- and that's part of it -- but that isn't precisely true. I just have very, very specific taste, which I have a very difficult time articulating. I wasn't born speaking Dwell Magazine, I'm learning the vocabulary one painstaking mistake at a time. For a long time when I tried to describe "contemporary," I was saying "modern," and ended up with some terrible Jetsonian errors.

Harriette in her Kitchen
I do know my friend Harriette's house in the country (our bleugrass Hamptons) is perfect, so at least she gives me a jumping-off point, but it's a point of inspiration-only. I know her sofa is a magnificent B & B Italia and that if I had it, the general response would not be "wow!" (as it is when you see Harriette's), but rather "who does she think she's kidding?" It's Art, and I'm not sure I can pull off a room where you sit on the Art.

Luckily, I can read all about it in all the Design Magazines I plan to subscribe to on the new Kindle.

Today is the first time I ever touched one, and yes, I do realize I am several years late to the party. I wasn't boycotting them -- as some writers do -- it was just on the list of things I hadn't gotten around to. I've never had a "sky is falling" philosophical opposition to them "replacing" books. I won't be hauling the kindle to book club. There are books I want to keep and physically annotate and look at on my shelves so I can go back to them over and over again, but honestly, not all that many. I've never been much of a book hoarder.

I am, however, both a compulsive reader, and an insanely fast one. On any given weekend, I can power through a half dozen new releases that have piled up on my desk during the week. If they're good, I try to force myself to slow down because I want to make them last, but I never can. Factor in the insomnia and I constantly run out of things to read in the middle of the night, long after the bookstores are closed and amazon isn't shipping.

The kindle strikes me as a perfect remedy for that. The new Sarah Silverman is a good example. She is way, way too scatological for my taste in humor. Sometimes I think she's funny, and sometimes a little repulsive. I wouldn't take down a tree for this book, but I am happy to read it. Midway through, I did have to text Michael and ask him if the Kindle lit up, or if I was expected to turn on the lamp like a goddamn animal. I can see myself reading it by kerosene during the next Ice Storm.

I am not an early adopter (remember, I insisted writers bring me their stories on disk for years because their stupid attachments wouldn't open and I really didn't see "that whole email thing catching on"), but I'm not a Luddite either. My cousin and I had a long talk yesterday where I explained to him the fax machines of yore with the curly paper, and he made fun of the days when I tied my columns to the ankles of carrier pigeons and dispatched them throughout the city.

Disdain for technology is a luxury for folks way higher up the literary food chain than I am. It's fine to adore Wendell Berry and all, but it's equally fine to remember that his lovely wife types all his manuscripts. I don't have a wife. I have facebook. And if somebody shows me something that makes my life easier and better, I am happy to take them up on it. I love information and I love knowledge (two different things, I realize) and I'm glad to improve my access to both.

As I was typing this, however, I got a voicemail from my BFF that says, "I am calling you on the Gmail."  She said I could call her back on it too. I have no idea what that means, but apparently, somebody has now replaced telephones. Perhaps she will read this blog crudely fashioned from twigs and berries and call me back. Last Thanksgiving, I talked to her on The Skype while she was in Siberia, so if she says phones are over, we'd best believe her.

Between you and me, I suspect It's Like Havin' a Dove Field.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Not Sam Shepard at the Door

"I looked at the dog. Even at eight weeks, he was handsome. He had the blue eyes of a seducer. Half Samoyed, half Australian shepherd. Suddenly his name was clear to me.
"Sam Shepard," I said.
...And that was how I came to live out my original fantasy. That's how I came to live on a farm with Sam Shepard."

from Sam Taylor-Wood: Crying Men 
It would not be an exaggeration to say that my new blackberry torch almost melted yesterday from the incoming calls, texts, and direct messages informing me that Sam Shepard was in town.  He's here often enough that I actually have to go out of my way NOT to run into him. Everyone was nice and respectful to send me the messages rather than posting them, but I did find it funny that his privacy for the evening depended on my discretion --- but, if I'd wanted to stalk him, there have been plenty opportunities over the years.

Actually, I was otherwise occupied. Too busy for Sam, really. My cousin was over here installing the new door shades from IKEA.

IKEA, for their part, had neglected to provide screws. There are apparently more than five things I don't know about IKEA, and one of them must be the fact that they all live in a world where everyone's presumed to have their own toolbox, because there is always something left out of their assembly packages. In addition to socialized medicine and a civilized view toward the non-married, apparently they must subsidize every house with a cordless drill and a few basic tools -- a sort of Swedish-chicken-in-every-pot.

So we really didn't get that far into the process, but my cousin is always happy to spend a little R and R in my man-cave (which is really just a TV room). It's the one room in my house where everything is designed for comfort, from the Big Ass Chair ("I feel like angels are lifting me!" he says every time he sits in it) to the deep soft rug ("it's like I'm walking on sheep!") to the wide screen HDtv ("it's like I was blind, but now I see!") while he sipped a cold frosty Voss directly from its chilly Norwegian bottle, determined to cement a Scandinavian afternoon.

He's always volunteering to housesit, proclaiming, "I could be in a relationship just based on this room," and asking why I don't whip out blackberry pictures of it in bars, "take a look at this, fella," to lure innocent boys home to my lair.

It actually isn't the man-cave at all though. It's my domain. Boys are banished to the upstairs or the outdoors. The cave is my turf and they're only allowed in for community-movie-watching.  Sometimes I'll find one curled up in the sun on the widow's walk upstairs with one of my house slippers inexplicably tucked nearby for company. Or as my cousin puts it. "Lady smell nice. Where Lady go?"

He comes up with great scenarios for the den.... "Imagine a fire in the fireplace...it's 20 degrees outside...you've got a bottomless cup of hot chocolate on a Saturday morning and there's a Closer marathon on." (That Brenda! She's feisty!!)

After we'd run through a prospective housesitting schedule for him and the missus that would ensure them ample use of the clawfoot tub, he headed back to work.

Shortly after that, I heard a knock at the door. Followed by a few persistent rings of the doorbell. Thinking he had probably left a tool behind, I ducked out of the cave and into the parlor, where I almost opened the door on reflex. Until I saw a perfect stranger standing on the other side of it.

But my hand was already on the knob, while I paused to think: Well, THIS is awkward. I hate making snap stereotypical judgments as much as the next person, but I'm sorry, he was clearly an Unsavory Fellow. Still. It did seem rude not to open the door. Then my common sense kicked in, and I realized it would be stupid to open the door to a prospective serial killer, just because I didn't want to seem ungracious, or politically incorrect.

So I left the deadbolt where it was and asked politely, "May I help you?" (I'm not an ANIMAL for God's sake. I'm not a goddam fishwife.)

"Uh, yeah...I need a plastic bag...you got any plastic bags?" I assured him I did not...while thinking to myself, "why, so you can use it to dispose of my decomposing corpse after you kill me?"

After that, we were at a bit of an impasse, and I had no finesse for ending this kind of conversation. I mean, I couldn't just say "shooo! shooo!" which is what my grandmother frequently did when uninvited hobos appeared at her door. And I didn't feel like I could pull off, "Go on now. Go on. Git." which is what the men in my family would say, if similarly greeted. Instead, I think I mumbled something like, "Bye now!" and just ducked back into the cave and closed the door behind me.

He rang the bell a few more times while I promptly posted his description on Twitter and Facebook: "5'5. Bad teeth. Broken/chipped in the front . Ballcap. Striped t-shirt. Dirty. Dark complexion. Wiry build." (My cousin speculated later his teeth were like that from gnawing the bones of his prior victims, and I don't doubt it one bit.) I vacillated between envisioning the prospective headlines "Murder solved via social media!" and picturing scenes straight out of The Strangers, where the only reason he would provide for torturing me would be "because you were home."

To make myself feel better, I turned on all the security lights and fished a ten-year-old bottle of Mace out of my tool box. I'd heard that they expire, so I thought I should test it first. I took it out to the backyard in a particularly spider-prone area; released the safety; and spritzed it a few times --- all over my pink pajamas. By the time I had stripped them off and thrown them in the washer, I was aware of an increasingly urgent stinging starting at my feet, and crawling up my calves. The pain reminded me of the time I was cutting hot peppers in the sink and turned on the disposal, mace-misting everything in sight.

Hopping into the shower only made it worse, but when I got out, I slathered myself in such a slippery head-to-toe concoction of aloe vera, solarcaine, and Noxzema, that I think if the Hobo had turned back up, I would've at least slid right through his fingers like a prized, greased pig. 

By the time I'd gotten all cleaned up and slightly cooled down, a new array of comments had arrived on the phone, forcing me to go back and post, "NO. That was NOT Sam Shepard at the door. He is NOT 5'5. Stop SAYING that."

Related Links

The Right Stuff.


Surveying the Wreckage. 

In the Pank.

Sam Shepard on the TV.

Related Books:


The Best BLT

BLT subbing in gorgonzola crumbles for mayo, and lettuce-leaf basil for lettuce. Plus heirloom tomatoes.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Few Words About Tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes are best with the slightest blush.Varmint!
After about an hour spent picking tomatoes this evening, I realize that I have transcended mere gardener status and promoted myself to farmer.

I have so many that I could probably afford to spare this one for the birds, but the sight of it makes me want to sit out back with a shotgun. (You can take the girl off the farm, but....)

My friend Walter recommended netting, but then my friend Harriette reminded me that the snakes get stuck in the netting. I don't know.... if the snakes eat the damn birds, I'm tempted to let them stay, but after one slithered over my foot last weekend, I'm not so sure.) I also found the voles' hole, but have not yet discovered any means of humanely dispatching them. Wiki insists that the "woodland vole" -- which I can only assume is the variety found here --  is also "usually monogamous," but there is such a tremendous crop of them this year, I doubt it. All I know is that they, along with the birds, take ONE bite out of everything and then move on. Bastards.

The tomatoes seem plentiful now, but I am determined not to take them for granted. I remember how many times over the long cold winter that I looked back  at my Last Harvest pictures, and how they sustained me through a long bitter winter. (Some of this stuff I write mostly for me. Obviously.)

But I would like to share three of my favorite tomato blogs from this Summer.

Here is my friend (the aforementioned) Walter (a Professional Writer...a Michener Fellow no less) on A Glory of Tomatoes.  

I am going to sneak in two from Chef Tom. Here is how he makes panzanella salad. And here's something he did with roasted tomatoes. Many of my plants this year came from him and Michael, and all of my basil last year came from them after mine was destroyed by a careless yardman. I always get a very Alexander-Godunov-in-Witness-Amish-barnraising feeling of infinite goodwill whenever I think of those plants turning up on my front porch. Were it not for the Food Gays, there would have been no pesto... no caprese. Remember when they rang that bell in the movie, and everybody came, but the first thing you see is just the top of Alexander Godunov's hat cresting the hill? It was just. Like. That. 

And my third recommendation is  Elizabeth Bard's recent post, Tomatoland. She writes one of the first blogs I ever followed -- even before her book came out. It's never too late for a beach-read, but just get a gander at her tomatoes. She's planning a Tomato Tatin, so stay tuned for more food porn.

Walt's right. It's a glory.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From the Archives: Aug 5 2004, Martha Stewart's paint

This is "Howard" from Ralph Lauren's "urban loft" series.
I have a long relationship with paint.  I usually select palettes that range from what some have called "ambitious" to what others have called "brave," in a tone that's clear they don't mean it as a compliment. I tend to use Ralph Lauren and MarthaStewart for color inspiration, maybe a little Farrow & Ball, but I am a diehard old-fashioned Porter girl when it comes to what goes on the walls. I am not afraid to paint, and I'm not afraid to repaint if it doesn't turn out. (See also: my current dining room. Right finish, wrong color.)

In the ongoing quest to re-populate the lost archives, I ran across this today.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: August 5, 2004

A Good Thing

 "Her kitchen is dense with Stewart touches: 48 gleaming copper pots hang above the stove, hundreds of antique dishes fill the glass-fronted cabinets, and the dishwashing liquid is decanted into a glass cruet beside the sink. Still, I said, it’s a pretty small room to produce much food. Not to worry, she replied, smiling. ‘I have 18 burners in an annex out back.’

—Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker interview with Martha Stewart February 3, 2003

Just because she's headed to the big house, doesn't mean Martha Stewart’s influence is really going anywhere—a rude awakening that I’ve come to in the weeks post-sentencing—a realization that I’ll never really be free of the standards she's set. She'll be back. Mark my words. And she will crush everyone who crossed her.

This first came up when I started getting my house ready for my Mom to move in as my roommate for a few months here, a few months there while she undergoes medical treatment nearby—treatment we all frequently refer to as “rehab”—which has had the unforeseen effect of lots of people thinking my mother has substance abuse issues (which she obviously doesn’t, because God knows if she did, I’d have written about them long before now).

So when the facelift at the house started, it was pretty easy to attribute all this renewed zeal for home and hearth to the impending arrival of my mother—whose standards for keeping an impeccable house far exceed my own.

But while there’s no denying she is the very epitome of the charming, southern, Episcopalian hostess (at least that’s the Mom everybody knows NOW, refusing to sympathize even remotely with the incredibly CRUEL version of her that I remember from childhood—the one who repeatedly sent me to bed without Chico and the Man for the most MINOR infractions)—I must finally acknowledge that it was the spectre of something far more insidious that has long since permeated my house.

I came to this conclusion when I recently painted my kitchen (after having my new upstairs bedroom painted…three times, along with the dining room).

After the bedroom and dining room, I discovered that the kitchen (formerly a charming periwinkle) now clashed with the ENTIRE house.

I had screwed up the first two color selections so badly that I realized it was time to just admit the obvious and go to theMartha Stewartcolor palette. C’mon. It’s a kitchen.

It isn’t as easy as it sounds because there were roughly 8172 colors to choose from (color number 8172 is, by the way, “buttercup” if you’re interested.

I narrowed the field to Lawn Frost, Fen, and Rubbed Sage.

I toyed with Gull, Sourdough, and Otter Point—but honestly, they were just out of my league.
I am not the kinda woman who can pull off “Gull…” It’s the sort of subtle (yet slightly breathtaking) shade that—upon one look—would have visitors muttering under their breath, “Who the hell does she think she’s kidding?”

Overcome with an uncharacteristic insecurity, I solicited reams of advice—making it very clear that I wanted “discernibly green, but subtle.” I was adamant after the first version of the bedroom turned out to be “Vietnam,” despite its pleasant sounding label of “hearth.”

A committee of close friends and advisors agreed on Lawn Frost.

Next up, I had to find a painter—because frankly, I was too embarrassed to call the first crew back.

After asking around, there was a consensus that “Jimmy” worked fast and cheap (I think that’s his real name, but if he has a last one, I don’t know it). He’s not in the phone book or anything. You just have to leave a message with his brother-in-law. Hey, I was desperate (what with the clashing periwinkle and all).

So Jimmy arrived at the appointed time and I headed out to Farmers’ Market to give him some time and space.

I interrupted him briefly, later on, to put away some produce—whereupon he asked, appropos of nothing in particular (or so I thought), “you don’t care if I’m a beer drinker do you?”

I responded with a generous "No, of course not," thinking it a largely rhetorical/theoretical question.
To be honest, I detest it, and while I don’t personally drink it, if I developed any real moral objection to beer, my social circle would dwindle to even smaller ranks.

And then I went about the rest of my Saturday chores—without a single debate on the merits of say, foreign vs. domestic (or even cans vs. bottles), because this is just one area of taste where I really couldn’t care less.

It was only when I went to empty the trash and noticed an inordinate amount of clanking aluminum that I realized his question had been logistical, rather than theoretical, as I sorted an astonishing surfeit of empty Keystone cans into the recycler.

And so here’s the thing—something I really should’ve learned after multiple, painful, expensive, heart-wrenching lessons—contractors don’t really deal in the “hypothetical.” They tend to require excruciating degrees of specificity.

Instead of saying I had no objection to beer, it would’ve been prudent to follow that up with a disclaimer about how I think it’s an ill-advised beverage to consume when trying to complete most ANY task. (And here I’m trying not to be rigid. I’m trying to give folks the benefit of the doubt… but …. No, I can’t think of any job performance that would be improved by the consumption of beer. Particularly none that are scheduled for TEN O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING.)

In the end, it didn’t matter.

Aside from paint all over the flooring (which needs to be replaced anyway—at least that’s the philosophical, zen-like response I’m going for), the quality of the work turned out to be irrelevant.

Because “lawn frost” is actually “off-white” once you get it on the walls.

True, it’s not as bad as periwinkle, but it’s sure as hell no “Gull” either.

I’m now debating Fen versus Rubbed Sage, and in the meantime, just trying to stay out of the kitchen.

It’s just as well, after I completely WRECKED the last meal I made.

After spending an ungodly amount of time picking a selection of the 13 varieties of basil I grow in my kitchen garden to make the perfect pesto (a passé 80s trend that’s happily making a culinary comeback—it’s the new black), the entire dish was RUINED when I couldn’t find handmade fresh pasta and settled for some equally over-priced, annoyingly precocious brand that was supposed to be just as good.

Well. It wasn’t. It had all the taste and consistency of library paste (not that I was a kid who ate that stuff, but I heard the reviews).

Not content to suffer alone, I complained endlessly, ensuring that my Insignificant Other couldn’t enjoy his meal either —despite the fact that he generally has the palate of a 13-year-old and would likely eat anything I put in front of him, in peace, up to and including the aforementioned paste. (Since he lives out of town—where NO one cooks—and travels constantly for work, anything above truckstop fare gets a rave review from him.)

And the thing is, neither of us even really LIKES pasta, but based on the handful of occasions a year that I serve it, I still impetuously concluded that a pasta-maker would have to be purchased and lessons taken.

Then I spent the rest of the evening banging around in the kitchen, taking out my rage on cleanup and the dishes (which are most definitely HIS jobs).

Nobody’s gettin’ leftovers either.
Reviewing the debacle, it’s clear that there’s only one person to blame and that’s Martha Stewart—because while I was raised by two great cooks with perfectionistic tendencies, NEITHER of them taught me that there’s any dish that would necessitate 13 varieties of basil. We certainly didn’t have a “kitchen garden,” we had a FIELD. It definitely wasn’t “staffed”—it was a weed-infested, chigger-ridden corner of hell that served as the bane of mine and my brother’s existence.

And if you asked any of the actual farmers in my lineage to distinguish between lawn frost and rubbed sage, their response would most certainly include some unenlightened aspersions about homosexuality.

--August 5, 2004. Archive.

"Torch" Wielding Villagers

"Next WEEK?! That's the worst thing you can SAY to an early adopter!" 
--Phil not getting his iphone the first day on Modern Family

 Early adopters get on my nerves. I think they're smug. So it was with a great deal of trepidation and irritation that I entered the store last Thursday to pick up the new Torch, on the day it was released.

I had no choice. The BlackBerry Bold trackball had frozen. Again.  I have lost count of how MANY times this has happened. Six? Seven? I know if you search blackberry on this blog, it will come up at least as often as "food" and "Ambien," which is saying something.

I didn't even WANT the first BlackBerry -- it was a gift after the number 8 finally died for good on my trusty little Nokia.  But I have stuck with them, long past the point of reason, and am now flirting with what might just be a co-dependent/abusive relationship.

I don't know what I get out of it....except....it's not an iphone. I am a word girl. I want my keyboard. I always said if BlackBerry added a touchscreen that retained the keyboard, I would get one. And that's when I heard about the Torch. But it wasn't out yet. And I still had a bold with a dead trackball, again.

I called up the provider and explained, but he said since it was past warranty, I would have to file an insurance claim.

"Oh, no. I will not," I explained, "because that isn't FAIR."

I believe he thought he was reasoning with a two-year-old,  but I had had it. As I told him, I am happy to pay the Insurance Premium as "insurance" against something stupid I might do -- drop the phone in a puddle, lose it... anything could happen. But I am NOT paying that $100+ deductible to "insure" against their design flaws.

I barely ever even had a "new" Pearl, or Bold, despite having bought several of them, because the trackballs always died within a month or two. Then they were warrantied out with "refurbished" phones. And a month or two later, the trackballs on the "refurbished" phones died too. There's nothing wrong with recycles. But I got frustrated paying full price for new devices with such obvious design flaws, and then getting stuck carrying around their beat-up "refurbished" models the rest of the time. Even if they'd just fixed my new phones, that would've been better.

I explained all this to the young man on the line in Bangelor as politely as I could, over and over, until he eventually kicked me over to a "supervisor." I repeated the whole scenario as calmly as I could to the nice lady. I used my inside voice, and I told her I was doing my best to refrain from profanity, because I did realize that none of this was her fault, personally. In turn, she "apologized" for my "frustration," and said she would make it right with a new Bold.

So I took the new Bold to the store, with an eye toward trying out the Torch.
Which was a problem, because AT&T service promptly went out all over the southeast. We lost signal, and apparently so did pockets of Georgia. The outages were broadcast all over the news -- which I was forced to read about on the big screen, like an Animal.

At the end of the process, I have to say, I have never worked so hard to hand over my hard-earned money to someone who so clearly couldn't be bothered to take it in my life.

Since Lucas was off the day I went in (the one guy in the city -- as far as I know -- who understands blackberries), everyone else in the store was an iphone guy. There were massive signs on the door saying they didn't know when the outage would be restored. And the store was filled with angry would-be torch-wielding Villagers. One guy was mad because he couldn't bring his dog in the store, another middle-class guy in a golf shirt seemed on the verge of beating his child in public, but contented himself with hissing through clenched teeth, "you touch one more thing in this store, and I am going to ... go bananas." I got the sense that "bananas" was the only euphemism he could think of that was child-protective-services friendly. But under my breath, I promptly responded "bananas. B-a-n-a-n-a-s. Bananas," because it's impossible not to.

The outage meant I came home with a phone on which I had no training, and no understanding of how the features worked -- or, as it turned out, even something as basic as how to pull the battery. (Try googling it -- all you'll get is a lot of answers about appropriate and inappropriate disposal and battery-life.)

This left me at the mercy of @blackberryhelp on twitter which I've been busy messaging like it's my fulltime job (and to their credit, I have to say, they respond everytime -- and they even knew how to pull the battery).

That is... until my twitter app started popping up a screen that said, "You have been rate limited," which is, apparently, a message no other smartphone user has ever seen, in the history of time. Believe me, I asked around.

I started with AT and ;T. They double-checked. All my plans include unlimited data, so there was no chance they'd "limited" my "rate" on anything. After researching every permutation they could think of, they routed me to blackberry -- explaining that if I were to call them on my own, I would be paying for tech support.

I was already mad, but I was downright indignant at the prospect of that. 

"Are you....kidding me?" I asked, slowly... pausing because it took profound mental exertion to refrain from inserting my usual profanity of choice before the word "kidding." By this time my teeth were clenched so hard I was coming down with TMJ. I could not believe this.

"Do you mean to say that after I have suffered through all these years of blackberries... defective blackberries, with design-flawed trackballs...and a parade of used phones.... that two days after I buy the brand new model that they have spent a jillion dollars advertising and promoting but their staff can't use because they're all too busy with their iPhones ....or they would be, if they could get service... Do you mean to tell me, that after all that, they would also like me to pay them for the privilege of troubleshooting this device... this device that I just paid hundreds of dollars for...that even they can't operate?"

His answer was something along the lines of "uh, yeah," but he assured me I wouldn't have to pay for this particular call, because he was routing it through. Which he did, so that I ended up with a young man on the other end of the line, presumably in Canada, who divulged that they didn't even have their Torch simulator screens working yet, and that there was only one or two of the actual phones floating around the building.

What I was thinking was... A. he probably should not be telling me this (regardless of whether or not I happen to work in media), and B. if they aren't prepared to support the device, they probably shouldn't be selling it -- regardless of the gazillion dollar ad campaign. 

Although he gamely tried to start an online support session, linking into my laptop, and attempting to download a bunch of (probably completely irrelevant) software that I'm quite sure my IT guys would kill me for. (For one thing, he wanted me to sign in using Internet Explorer and they forbid that a long time ago.)

Sometime in the middle of the session, "the rate limited" menu disappeared from my twitter screen. No one knows why. It isn't anything he did. The phone was in the other room. It wasn't anything I did. It's probably the same thing that happens when you take your car to the mechanic and it refuses to make that noise in front of them.

At that point, he admitted defeat, and so did I. But I couldn't hang up without getting one thing off my chest. I said I didn't know what RIM's relationship is to AT&T, but if I was allowing AT&T to be the exclusive carrier of my product, I would make sure that AT&T put somebody on that sales floor who actually carried a blackberry. If they want to be an iphonestore, they should put a sign on the door that says they're an iphone store, and then stop selling BlackBerrys

And then we poor, unwashed blackberry masses who can't seem to shake our clearly unhealthy, one-sided, co-dependent loyalty no matter how hard they try to drive us away would know up front that we have to take our business elsewhere -- probably to some back alley blackmarket operation, which soon may be the only option left. 

Because that's what it's coming to. I might head down there later and try to sell some busted trackballs.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Family Estate

"Do you have any use for an anvil?" my dad asked when he called this afternoon.
"Why?" was my response.
"Well, you could crack walnuts on it. If you had a hammer. Things like that."
No, I know what I could use an anvil for, I just wasn't sure why he was asking.
A few more questions turned up the roots of what he was getting at: he's back to "estate planning," and in addition to his Timex, maybe I would like this anvil.
It does, in fact, have some sentimental value -- someone in the family was once a blacksmith, and this came out of the "smithshop" on our farm --  but anvils are not exactly portable; I'm not especially sentimental; I don't have any immediate plans to become a farrier; I don't expect to pick up any gigs at Colonial Williamsburg; and I don't mind sticking with a nutcracker.
I was more interested in what had sparked his latest obsession with the dispensation of his worldly goods, because usually it means he's diagnosed himself with something terminal -- which is not to say that I'm dismissive of his health concerns -- it's just that he was expected to die when he had his first heart attack at 40...then again at intermittent intervals since... and then again when he had a triple bypass a few years ago.
He's been at death's door often enough that we now give him a jovial hard time about all the false alarms.

But it turns out it wasn't a new array of medical symptoms that prompted today's line of forge-related inquiries. It was, instead, the occasion of a funeral for one of his friends -- a funeral he didn't actually attend, mind you -- one he'd just heard about from his other friends. He didn't go because, if I made this out correctly, he was mad that his old buddy hadn't died a while back.
 "He tried to die six years ago, and they should have let him. But no, his wife quit her job and moved into that living room to take care of him until she just shrunk down to nothing. Melted. Really. But I'll tell you one thing, quick as he died, she brightened right up. Yeah, she's living it up down here drinking the high-fructose corn syrup now."
Worried that this is part of the second wave of mortality where his compatriots begin dropping like flies again, I asked about one of his other friends, the one who'd told him all about the funeral. "Oh, him?" he snorted in an apparent mix of disgust and concern. "He eats like a hog, and every time he sits down, he goes to sleep."
We chatted a little longer, and what emerged as his biggest concern seems to be that he'll die from some quack misdiagnosis in my hometown -- which is, I have to admit, a thoroughly legitimate fear, as it is a fairly third-world environment, medically speaking.
But I need not worry, he reassured me. "I told your Uncle to just put me on a hay-hook and carry me on out to the road where Janet can pick me up and take me to a real hospital," (Janet being the E.M.T. sister-in-law).
"Well," I said, "THAT is a relief."
Thank heavens he has a plan.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sometimes...they come back

The word phobic has its place when properly used, but lately it's been declawed by the pompous insistence that most animosity is based on fear rather than loathing. No credit is given for distinguishing between these two very different emotions. I fear snakes. I hate computers.

--David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day

Uncharacteristically, I was on one of the most wholesome sites ever when my netbook came down with this latest virus. I was just checking out Petfinder to see what the competition was for my latest foster project. I was thinking none of them could compare to her when a menu popped up in my lower right screen saying, "Your computer is under attack, etc etc etc"

For once, I was not on jerk-your-tube or any of its similarly-themed cousins (the plot lines are shockingly similar: Manuel is very sweaty after his morning run; he decides to take a shower; his roommate Roberto thinks Manuel has already left for work, so he walks into the bathroom and... what do you know? Shenanigans ensue). Yes, that is exactly the sort of site I find delightfully entertaining in my spare time, but I hadn't had any spare time in at least a week. Oh no, I was selflessly devoting myself to trying to find good homes for outrageously-sweet-but-homeless dogs -- God's work, really, I think we can all agree -- when bam, I got nailed.

I promptly texted all the geeks I knew, and when they didn't answer, I picked the laptop up and ran it down to the Shop. Sure enough, the report said "infected," so they hooked it up to some life support; removed the virus; and brought the machine back to me. I was so happy. 

Then the Under Attack warning came back. I slept with nothing but the dull blue glow of the blackberry for company, then drove to the office the next morning; opened my email; and damned if the same attack warning didn't pop up there on the desktop. Clearly, it was following me. The usual geeks were busy, so I called up my emergency backup geeks -- both of whom were working in neighboring towns for the day -- one of whom raced right over anyway.

Most of what happened next was just a blur, but in a matter of minutes he had both machines stripped of all disease; restored to health; and new heavy-duty virus protection/spyware was installed (which basically, as I understand it, functions much like an oil light on your car: it just tells you when you're screwed). But before he left, he cautioned..."Sometimes... they come back."

I could hear the horror movie soundtrack in the background when he said that.

Don't worry, he said, "just text me if it happens again and I'll take its hooks out."

Sure enough, this morning: another red screen. This time I wasn't stupid enough to click on Yes, No, or otherwise. I just snapped it shut and backed out of the room, texting him as I went. He called up 30 seconds later. "What'd it say?" I didn't know; I'd shut it down too fast.

With some persuasion on his part, I opened it back up; turned it on; and typed in the web address he told me to. And then he said, "ok, I'm going to take control of your mouse now. I'll call you right back."

And as I watched in stunned amazement, the cursor began to scurry across the screen -- opening and closing programs; scanning; repairing; scrubbing --- all the same things he did yesterday, but...he wasn't here.

I couldn't have been more surprised if the dog had started talking to me.

It reminded me of this scary movie (that wasn't scary at all) -- possibly the Haunting -- where someone (possibly Lili Taylor, or maybe Catherine Zeta Jones) -- is asleep in a white nightgown -- and you see the sheets get peeled back, and the white nightgown being re-arranged... but.... there's no one there. Just handprints on the nightgown.

This was exactly like that -- but in a good way.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ease Up, Florence Nightingale

My mom's on her own right now while my stepdad visits one of his sons, so I called all weekend to try to check up on her. Mostly, she wasn't home. I finally got hold of my Uncle who said she was "out runnin' the roads last time I saw her."

It turns out, our cousins from Tacoma are visiting (I didn't even know we had cousins in Tacoma), and she had been entertaining them. Grudgingly. They were staying with our cousin Ruth whom, I have said before is going to be the death of my mother. She isn't "confined" to a wheelchair, so much as she's "opted" to sit in one til she dies, but there isn't anything really terribly wrong with her, beyond being 150 and having outlived everyone she likes. I would feel tremendous empathy in the soft part of my heart if it were not for the way she endlessly imposes on the rest of the family. She starts calling my parents everyday around 8 in the morning, dispatching them on assorted and sundry errands til whatever time she goes to sleep. Last winter, for example, she kept ripping out and buying new thermostats and dragging my stepdad over to change them out when she couldn't operate the new ones.

[To be honest, these episodes do frighten me a little.  Is this my future?  My office thermostat has all these programmable "zones" and it's a never-ending source of mystery to me. I haven't ripped it out of the wall yet though. I just keep a space heater under my desk in the winter. It has two settings: on and off. I don't even trust those. I plug it in when I get there. I unplug it when I leave.]

This weekend, she had called my Mom up to insist she come over and pick up three gallons of chili. My mom assured her she didn't want any chili, but Ruth said she had to come get it anyway. "So I had to put on my clothes at this time of night last night" (I looked at my watch: 7 pm, but she did make it sound like midnight) "and I had to drive over to her house, because nothing would do but I go get this chili and put it in our freezer, and do you know what I found when I got there?" (I couldn't imagine. The Tacoma cousins in the woodchipper?) "Her freezer was EMPTY. That's what. I looked. There was nothing in it but some broccoli. I brought it home, but I've got half a mind to throw it out. I'd feed it to the dogs if it wouldn't make them sick."

"You know what your brother says?" she asked. (I didn't.) "He says, 'Mom. You know there's a word for just this kinda thing...And you sure never hesitated to use it when we were kids.'"

"Yeahhhhhh," I stepped in to back him up. "You told us No for EVERYthing! Why can't you tell HER No?"

And why on earth had she made three gallons of chili anyway? I eventually wondered out loud. "Some stupid family reunion," my mom said. I thought about that for a second... "Heyyyyyy.... what family reunion?" I asked. "Oh shut up," she said. "You don't even know them and you wouldn't have come anyway, and I wasn't even going to go myself but now I have to take this damn chili."

Wait a minute. Who are all these people, and why are they all in town? "For. The. Reunion," she explained slowly.

"It'd be good for you to see them though," she continued, without waiting for me to catch up, adding that they might all come visit this week. "It'd be good for you to see Jenny again."

OK. Who's Jenny? "You know. The longshoreman. She works down on the docks unloading those ships. She's not in the union yet, but she's working on it." (I am sure I would remember if I had ever met a cousin who is a longshoreman. It would be the kinda thing that stands out, because no one else in the family works on the docks. As far as I know.)

Then she said she had to hang up because she had to finish watching some Matthew McConaughey movie.

"But you hate Matthew McConaughey," I pointed out.

"I know," she said. "But now that I've started it, I have to see how it ends."