Saturday, July 25, 2009

The depressed economy hits Valerie in unexpected ways

I feel pretty fortunate that I like to live simply, because it makes life in an economic recession pretty much the same as life any other time. I have a place to live, a way to get around, and enough money coming in to ensure that I eat regularly. That's enough for me, and I can't say I'm feeling the strain.

There is one thing, however, that I've noticed and I resent: sending mail has become entirely too much of a hassle. You know why? No, it has nothing to do with the cost of postage, though that is depressing emotionally as well as economically. It's that I actually have to write out my return address on everything I send.

It's a scandal! It's a outrage! What happened to the days when I got so many pre-printed return address labels from nonprofits that I didn't know what to do with them all? All I can conclude is that the charities are cutting back on their spending by cutting back on their free gifts as well. In a way, I'm relieved, because I don't have to feel quite as guilty when I throw away all their requests for money. But in a way, darn it, I just want to send mail the lazy way!

Oh, yeah. Here's an inspiring message that I doodled a few days ago instead of doing page layout like I was supposed to be doing. I think it's strangely pretty, and appropriate for today's post.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


The world is buzzing with talk of Comic Con. I'm not going. But for reasons which I cannot even fathom myself, I sort of wish I were.

I can't get it out of my head. For years now, I've been stewing with the desire to go to a "Con." No, it can't be a "convention." The Green Festival doesn't count. It has to be one of those big events where otherwise normal people dress up in crazy costumes and... do what? I'm not sure; I just want to go!

I can't figure out why. I'm not a "big fan" of anything. Last fall, I purchased a copy of Faerie magazine to help me with a class assignment (gotta love classes in which faerie-anything is a legitimate subject. I wish the real world was like that), and in it was a plethora of information about Faerie Con. Sounded fun--even though I never really think about faeries, except to think that the spelling of faerie is pretentious. Last spring, I received a newsletter addressed to a former tenant of my house, which was all about last year's Comic Con. That sounded fun, too--even though I've never read more than one issue of any given comic, and have no desire to.

So there you have it. Without any concrete motive, I simply want to go to a Con. Without having to travel. When are they gonna stop using Washington, DC as a gathering place for crowds of angry people with political agendas, and start using it to host fun-filled extravaganzas of pure frivolity?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I'd put a lyric here, but I think I've used it before.

So, sometimes, I have this overwhelming urge to quote song lyrics, even if they have only the most superficial resemblance to the issue at hand. Today I have all these lyrics crashing in and out of my head, and I'd like to quote them all.

I'll start with, "She says she's tired of life; She must be tired of something!" even though I'm not really tired of life, and I can certainly be more specific about what I'm tired of than "something." And then I'd like to increase the hostility level a bit and quote two songs that both have to do, strangely, with divorce (one of them's about a guy who would hate his ex-wife if it weren't for his two kids, and one of them's about a kid whose parents are getting divorced) and both, coincidentally, have the same lyric--"I hate everything." And I quote them even though I don't hate everything--just most things.

End rambling intro.

Remember that post so long ago when I said I'm too picky? That's what all those song lyrics are about. I hate most things. I'm tired of everything.

I'm tired of my job. Working at a grocery store is pretty unrewarding. Much more so when you don't get free food. I'm tired of freelance design. I think I should go into software engineering. That's where all the money is, and it doesn't require you to be creative on demand. Yes, with one class left in my academic program, I am suddenly wondering, "Why did I choose this direction for my life?" This seems to be a common theme among me.

I'm tired of my housemates. I'm looking for a new place right now, but it's going to be pretty darn hard since I'm so picky. It must be within a mile of a Metro station. Unless I get a new job and can leave my job in College Park, it must be on the green line. It must be under 500 dollars including utilities, the other tenants must be friendly. It must have windows and not be in a basement and must have room for all my stuff, which is still too much even though I keep trying to get rid of it.

I'm tired of green shirts. Why am I always wearing a green shirt in all my pictures? Why, even though I'm tired of green shirts, do I keep buying every green shirt I can find because I just like green more than all the other colors?

I also hate having a tan. It makes me feel like I've failed in my efforts to be an anti-trendy warrior for nerd-dom. I have a tan right now. I weep.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Discount Dermatologist

So I went to this doctor today. Apparently I have an epidermal cyst with secondary infection on my jaw just below my ear. Which sounds scarier than it is.

What really is scary is that all the equipment in the doctor's office looks like he bought it at a medical liquidation sale in the 1970s. Then he's got plastic utility shelves like you can buy at Target. And he keeps his assorted band-aids in plastic storage cabinets like you keep in a workshop.

I'm really trying hard not to fault him for his bohemian office. I'm sure I'd do the same thing. Clearly he is the kind of guy who knows how to save money. He gave me a prescription for antibiotics, telling me he was writing the prescription for 3 a day, but I should only take 2 a day. He said that was because many pharmacies would give me a 2-week supply for free, and I could squeeze a few extra days out of the prescription that way. Nice.

Now I just have to let him perform minor surgery on me. Hopefully not with a dissection kit he bummed off an ex-biology student.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A blog to match my attention span

Can't focus! Can't be brilliant and longwinded (true; I can always be longwinded, but right now, not brilliant at the same time). So here are some thoughts that have been amusing/puzzling/plaguing me all day. From a time when I was much more brilliant.
  1. Today I was sitting at a restaurant at lunch, and a lady wandered in, said she was learning photography, and asked if she could take some pictures of me. I said sure! She said she was working for NPR. I guess this means I have a face meant for radio.
  2. I was also at work today, and some rowdies came in. OK, maybe they weren't rowdies, but they definitely had made it their goal to flirt with every female who passed in front of them. They were at the coffee table, trying to figure out what the milk was. "Is this milk?" "It says, 'MOMs Organic Whole Milk.'" To me: "Are you Mom?" Me to them: "The store is MOM." Them to me: Some other rowdy nonsense plus, "You look wholesome." I guess I'll take it as a compliment. Even though how it fits into a discussion about milk is not something I prefer to think on too deeply.
  3. Speaking of Mom...I think shopping for someone else's baby has to be almost as bad as actually having a baby. That's what I did this afternoon. Shopping. Not having. After I was done, I wanted to run around in circles and scream.
  4. A constant source of mystery to me, addressed bluntly at last. Yes, today was full of compliments, disturbing and otherwise. The person I was having lunch with said, "I'm actually kind of surprised you're unattached." I told him I guessed that was a compliment? But what I really thought was, "Yeah, why am I unattached? It's not fair!" and then, to him, I answered our question. "I guess I'm too picky." Oh, sudden enlightenment comes crashing down! The truth spoken before I even knew it was the truth. There's more to the truth than that, and it has to do with how you define "attached," but since I can't be brilliant, I'm certainly not going to elaborate on this touchy subject.
  5. I've developed a new one to add to my versatile list of mottos: "The party always gets better when you retreat to the kitchen and start playing word games." I think this one has potential. Yes. One day my little saying will supersede "E Pluribus Unum."
  6. Oh, here's another one: "Understatement is the better part of valor." I don't know what it means. But it sounds wise.
  7. If you like to hear little nonsensical bits like this on a regular basis, you should visit my Twitter page. Didn't know I had a Twitter page? I haven't marketed it all that well, mostly because it's unmarketable. But I know that if you're reading this, you love me, and you'll love to hear my valueless thoughts at

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Oh, the terrible burden

In case you were wondering, I did give in to my newfound sense of guilt and rename all my dance music from "techno" to just plain "dance." Now the task is to come up with subgenres that are accurate.
The store where I work has a great reputation (at least to me) for being overly zealous and trying to comply with laws that don't exist.

I remember the hassle that I went through last spring when all members of management were convinced that it was state law for all employees to take a break. Being a workaholic (OK, just someone who believes in getting paid for my time, not dallying around on an unpaid break that's too short to allow me to accomplish anything non-work-related), I was naturally distressed by the sudden implementation of a mandatory break policy. I argued with the managers every time they asked me to take a break. I begged to start my 1/2-hour break 1/2 hour before I was scheduled to leave. I tried to make myself invisible whenever business was slow. Finally I spent several hours on all the Department of Labor websites for the United States, Maryland, Virginia, and DC, gathering information to prove that none of these governments required workers to take breaks. In fact, they did not even require employers to offer breaks. I wrote a long, pleading, never-sent letter to the owner to present my evidence and beg my case. Fortunately, all the managers were getting fired around that time, and before I was forced to share my findings, the break policy became no longer the topic of such rigorous enforcement.

However, all that is, as usual, a long digression from the actual topic, which is our store's compliance with what is, to my understanding, an actual law, found in part 172.102 of Section 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, under Special Provision 130 (Go on, you know you wanna read it. With all those numbers in it, it must be good!).

We recently received a memo stating that, because of a new regulation by the US Department of Transportation, all batteries brought in for recycling would have to be taped on one end to prevent fires during shipping. This didn't seem like a big deal to me, but after several months of trying to enforce the policy, I see that it is. People come in with huge Ziplocks full of used batteries. "Have you taped them?" I ask. If they have not, I explain our battery policy. I show them the tape we have at the customer service desk and tell them they're welcome to use it right here.

Many of these customers stalk off in disgust. They don't have the time for that nonsense. Some of them give me the bag of batteries and tell me to throw it away. Others tell me they'll throw it away at home, with an obvious tone of accusation, as if it's our fault the batteries are going into the landfill. I don't quite comprehend how their laziness is our fault. I also don't quite see how five minutes of their time is worth more than saving countless ecosystems, plus their own water supply, from impending doom, but I let them have their feeling of superiority. I wonder how hard it is to just slap a strip of Scotch on a battery when one is finished with it. I wonder how the customers amass such a huge collection of batteries in the first place. I might recycle 15 batteries per year, and some of those are the ones I find in the street or take from other people who would otherwise throw them away. Surely if you use batteries at a reasonable rate, it would never be an undue hardship to put tape on all of them before recycling them. Really, people. Spare us the martyr act.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Where the streets get their name

Hardly a post goes by that I don't tally up the time I've been living in the DC area (surely a sign that I need to stop living here)! But in all this time of being a quasi-Washingtonian, in all this time I've spent strolling up and down the streets of our capital city, I never once noticed that the convention of naming streets alphabetically continues past W street!

Why the city does not see fit to have an X street is beyond me--surely it would be no more confusing than having a street whose name looks both like a lowercase L and a number 1, causing people to actually write its name out as "Eye" street, which thoroughly offends some as-yet-unidentified sensibility in me for some as-yet-unidentified reason--and certainly it would be no worse than putting a 51st Avenue right next to a 51st Place, and then dividing both of them in zigzaggy halves like they do in College Park -- but I guess that's beside the point.

Why the city thinks it's a good idea to have the streets be named with the same letters both north and south of Capitol St. is also beyond me. Do you know how disorienting it is to be trying to find your way out of the Cherry Bowl (I mean the Tidal Basin) and back to L'Enfant Plaza which you know is at the corner of D St. and 7th, and to see that you're at C street, and go north where you know (because you used to work at P street and were quite comfortable with going north to get there from L Street) you should find D street, but instead find B street, and be utterly bewildered and turn around and head south again, but then follow D street until it dead ends without finding L'Enfant Plaza, and turn back north and decide to take the Smithsonian Metro, but then see a tantalizing sign pointing you toward L'Enfant Plaza, and follow it, not realizing that -- Oh, I guess that's beside the point too.

But for that matter, why do they name the streets with the same numbers both east and west of - get this - Capitol Street! How can one street be both a north-south divider and an east-west divider!? It is because the city planners in Washington liked to play elaborate practical jokes on future generations! But that's beside the point too, because the point is really that the streets are named alphabetically beyond W street, and that only happens in the north direction. I'm sure it would happen in the south direction, too, if there weren't a river and the state of Virginia in the way after you hit V Street.

A few weeks ago (yes, it has taken me that long to get my thoughts on this subject into coherent form), while trolling the blogs of friends' friends in a desperate bid to not be bored, I read that after W, the east-west streets begin to be named with 2-syllable words in alphabetical order. When the supply of 2-syllable words has run out, the names continue with 3-syllable words. Shocked, I checked it on my map of DC which is really too big to be used in DC, but is apparently a very effective at-home reference. Amazing: Adams St., Bryant St., Channing St., and on and on it goes. I'm so appalled that I didn't notice this, because I myself long ago came up with the notion that it would be a lot cooler if streets were not named merely by letter, but by words fitting a theme, such as: Apple Road, Banana Road, Cherry Road, and on. Washington DC follows a theme, but a decidedly unexciting one of "surnames."

At least, that's what I thought, until I put away the cumbersome paper map and resorted to Google Maps, which showed me that north of Whittier Street, you will find find Aspen Street, then Butternut Street, then Cedar St., then Dahlia St., then you get the picture. The theme is trees! They've done what I always wanted a city to do but never actually thought I would see! Of course, beyond that, the nice gridlike layout pretty much falls apart, and you get messes like Walnut street curving northeast and becoming Elm Ave., which branches off into Pine Ave., and then it's to blazes with the alphabet, let's just name some streets after random Civil War era generals and political figures!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Comment, All of You

Well, my level of personal happiness is pretty much determined by how many people are paying attention to me at any given time. So imagine my disappointment when I look at page after page of my blog and see NO comments! I just discovered that my blog was set to only accept comments from people with a Google account. I changed it to accept comments from anyone, including anonymous visitors. That should make the commenting significantly easier. No excuses now!

By the way, did you get my outrageous French pun? Didja didja? Huh huh huh?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

How losers spend their 4th of July

I returned from my quick & dirty trip to Ohio this evening at 8:00. It was pretty quick and quite dirty (my suitcase smells horribly like campfire smoke) but pretty fun. I had contemplating staying with Tiffany and her friends tonight for fireworks and starting off for Maryland early tomorrow, in time to get to work at 3:30. However, I got in more friend-time in the past two days than I normally get in two weeks, so I decided I would skip the stress of trying to drive 400 miles and potentially being late for work on Sunday, and just go back this afternoon. Because of my temporarily elevated social quotient (maybe if I stopped making up terms like that, I'd have more friends...?) I didn't expect I would feel too bad about spending my fourth straight fourth of July doing asocial, loserly things.

But as soon as I arrived at the house, I could feel the familiar oppression take hold. The Reeking Otter was the only other person at home, and I absolutely could not stand the thought of staying in the house with him while the rest of the country partied. I did some quick research and discovered that the City of College Park has fireworks on the UMD campus at around 9:00.

But not wanting to go out and be a lonely-heart among the crowds, and also being sick to death of driving, I decided to do something rash and take a bike ride. Now my bike is not in great shape since being in an accident in the fall, and also it may not be wise to go out alone after dark on the 4th of July, but considering the alternative of sitting in the stifling house and stewing in depression, I did it anyway. It was pretty cool. There's a bike path that runs through most of College Park, which I've never actually ridden a bike on since I haven't done any riding for pleasure since I discovered that Maryland, unlike Toledo, has hills. I had this idea that I would take the bike path up to the campus and see if I could catch some of the fireworks before the show was over.

At first I was disappointed, because the trail kind of ended at the Baltimore Avenue side of campus, and I needed to be somewhere west of there. But whatever. I figured the point was more to just get out of the house for an hour or so, and not necessarily watch the fireworks. But just a little bit after I had turned around and was heading for home, I saw the fireworks begin.

I was right in front of the big field in front of campus, and I had a pretty good view over the trees. So I parked my bike and stuck around for a while. I even took pictures to prove it! See that blob near the bottom left? That's me! And that yellowish blob at the top center? That's fireworks!

There was absolutely no crowd where I was. Perhaps three people passed me in all the time I was sitting on the brick wall trying to photograph myself with my phone. Midway through the show, I packed up and went home. Now I am going to bed, because my previous lumpy night in the cold tent combined with allergies that pretty much cut my air supply in half (they're still going strong--I'm getting ready to see an allergist) was a poor excuse for sleep. Hope you all had a relatively happy holiday!