Monday, February 27, 2006

Plastic Fantastic Lover

OK, here's Part Two, as promised.

When I began chatting on the net, Anthony and I had been separated for awhile, but we weren't yet divorced. I wasn't ready to date, so chatting on the net, in the evenings, after the boys were asleep, seemed a safe and harmless way to have some contact with other adults. I always went to the same adult chat room. I'd made quite a few friends there, and there was always someone new trying to figure out what was going on, so I was usually completely engaged by just staying in the main room. Sometimes I had private conversations, but the group in the main room was lively and fun, and that's where the action seemed to be. I noticed that sometimes, although friends' names would show up in the room, those friends would be strangely silent, not participating in the dialogue. I just thought they were away from their computers and had forgotten to click, "I'm away from my computer". (Yes, I still am that gullible.)

It's hard to explain what a talented, funny group of people had found their way to that chat room for a couple of months that fall. Everyone had a role, and you'd come in and be greeted enthusiastically, and jump right in. It's what I imagine it must be like being part of a team writing a sit com. I've never encountered anything remotely similar again.

However, even after being a regular for several weeks, I remained blissfully unaware of the meaning of "Adult Chat Room", until one night, when I was chatting with G, and he typed, "You know, there are pictures on this site of some of the people in this room."

"Really?" I typed back. "Wow, I'd love to see pics of some of the people we chat with!"

He told me how to access the pics.

Oh, my.

I’d never in my life seen pics like that, and to think they were on the internet, for anyone to see...I couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t tear myself away...

After about half an hour, G private messaged me. "What do you think?" he typed, and I knew he was laughing, because I knew he’d gotten a kick out of shocking me. "You are SO bad!" I typed. "Well, you already knew that, though," he typed, and I knew he was still laughing.

Because it was an adult chat room, there were many times when I'd been in the room that I'd been pm’d (private messaged) by guys asking me if I wanted to have cybersex. I'd always said no, but the truth was, I had no idea what I was turning down because I didn't have any idea what cybersex was. It seemed like one of those things that I should have already known, and accordingly, I was too embarrassed to ask anyone to explain it. I couldn't even bring myself to ask G about it; I knew he'd tease me. Friday night when I was home alone, chatting and listening to Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow, and a very articulate guy who was a stranger to the room pm'd me and asked me if I wanted to have cybersex with him, I asked him outright: What is that, exactly?

He explained.

Oh, my.


What a concept. Gives a whole new meaning to the idea of safe sex, for sure, but it seemed like it would be more a guy thing than my thing. Call me old fashioned, but I was pretty sure I still preferred to know and like anyone before I’d even consider having sex with him, and what’s more, I was pretty sure I still preferred to be physically in the room to literally reach out and touch each other...and yet...perhaps I was hopelessly behind the times...and even if I weren’t...frankly, it had been a while, and there was no one even on the horizon for me with, so to speak...soooooo...

Mr. Articulate went on to explain that he was in his 20's, and that he was a student working on an MFA in writing at one of New York’s finer institutions of higher learning. Of course, it being the internet, that could have been (and probably was) a lie. He could have been a woman; he could have been a plumber and/or serial killer, for all I knew, but he seemed bright and was definitely articulate...the perfect Plastic Fantastic Lover, I thought. The boys were out for the evening, so I was home alone, with no danger of being interrupted...suddenly feeling adventuresome, I said OK.

Sitting up straight in front of the keyboard, my imagination kicked into high gear as I tried to imagine his opening fantasy time! I couldn’t help but think of one way I might approach this little exercise: I’m standing backstage at a packed theatre. On stage, a performance has just begun. Although there are actors in front of the curtain and technicians behind it, no one notices me, because I’m standing in the shadows, off to the side of stage right, alone and, for all practical purposes, invisible. I’m so close to the heavy stage curtain that if I lean forward ever so slightly, the soft silk lining brushes against my face, a not unpleasant sensation. I brush my face against it, and as I do, I move my right hand slightly, grasping the edge of the curtain, and crushing the combination of silk and soft, thick velvet into the palm of my hand. Suddenly, I feel you standing behind me, so close that I can feel your breath, warm on the nape of my neck, and my heart begins to pound as you roughly slip your hand beneath my...

Ah, but that was my cybersex fantasy, not his. I sat up a little straighter, and stared at the monitor screen, eager to see what words Mr. Articulate would choose for his first move.

"What are you wearing?" he typed.

Oh! Hmmmmmmmm. After my own imaginative flight of fancy, I was expecting something a little more articulate and creative than that. But I was new to this, what did I know? I'd just come from the gym, so I answered honestly. I typed, "I'm wearing a grey leotard and grey leggings...", then I hit "send", and waited eagerly for his response.

He typed, "Mmmmmmmmm, you look great, OK, I'm kissing you, ohhhhhhh, you feel soooo good...mmmmmmmmmmm, I’m kissing your neck...mmmmm...I'm removing your leotard..."

He stopped typing abruptly, which was fine with me, because his words were having absolutely no effect on me, no doubt at least in part because my brain was saying, "He’s kidding, right? What does he mean, I look great? He has no idea what I look like..." etc., etc. Not exactly the proper frame of mind for cyber sex, but my frame of mind, nevertheless.

I waited. In a few moments, he began typing again, and I read the following: ", I’m sorta stuck here. A grey leotard and leggings, I can visualize that, ‘cause I see women in those things at the gym all the time, and I have to admit, I think they’re very hot, but...I also have to admit, I've never actually removed one of those things...they fit so tight and they don’t appear to have any seams or zippers or anything...I don't have a clue how you women get into 'em, and I can't even begin to imagine how you get out of ''re gonna have to help me out here a bit."

Suddenly I felt like Mrs. Robinson seducing Benjamin...and I couldn't help it...I began to laugh.
I typed, "Hey there, I’m sorry, but I just can’t do this..." Then I signed out of the room for the evening and turned off my computer.

I poured myself a glass of wine, and curled up, alone but content, with a book, as Gracie Slick continued to belt it out in the background: Don't you want somebody to love, don't you need somebody to love, wouldn't you love somebody to love, you'd better find somebody to love...

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Friday Frivolity, Part 1

At the risk of being accused of being guilty of hubris, I couldn't resist. Scalzi suggested this; you can write your own goofy message on Einstein's chalkboard here.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Scalzi's Friday Frivolity Part IV: Train Cake

John's question: Have you ever gotten ambitious with a cake? Do you have photographic evidence? If so, you should post it and leave a link.

This is the Train Cake that I baked for Mike & Chris for their 3rd birthday and, because they liked it so much they requested it again, also their 4th birthday. I baked the cake in small loaf pans to make each of the cars, and I made the train with two engines, because each boy wanted an engine (of course). I used non-pareils for the wheels and licorice for the tracks, and although I've made a lot of interesting birthday cakes over the years, this was hands down the boys' favorite cake, ever.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hello Internet, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Computer

I'm a technophobe. After my entry about my AR turntable and Shure cartridge, it might not seem like that, but I am. I resist new technology for as long as possible, because it's always the same: at first, I have no confidence that I'll ever be able to master it. However, if I manage to overcome that, I embrace it completely. There ought to be a word for that, for those of us who start out as technophobes only to become technophiles, and maybe there is, but if so, I don't know it...

I was like that with computers. Anthony, my ex, is all about computers and technology, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. A lawyer, he had an elaborate word-processor in his office long before most people had a clue about word processing, and as soon as they became available, we had a Commodore (remember those?) at home...but just because Anthony was computer literate didn't mean I was.

I had an ancient IBM Selectric typewriter that I loved, and I could type about 90 wpm, so I saw no need to suffer the discomfort of becoming acquainted with a whole new form of technology like computers. That all changed when I was accepted into graduate school. It was late afternoon, and I was sitting in the office of the Professor who would eventually become my thesis advisor. He bore an eerie resemblance to Star Trek's Patrick Stewart, and I was in his office to be officially accepted into the psychology program to which I'd applied. I was happy, but we were at the end of the interview and I was also tired and just wanted to go home. As I stood up to leave, he said, "You ARE computer literate?" "Um, not exactly, errrrrr, is that a requirement...???" He smiled cheerfully, VERY Patrick Stewart, and said, "Yes, it is! Well. You have 3 weeks!"

Aaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh! Why had I even applied to grad school? I went home and made a couple of phone calls and voila...for better or worse (and it felt like worse) I was signed up at a local community college for an intense 3-week course that ran from 4 AM to 9 AM (those hours are SO not me) 4 days a week for the next 3 weeks. It was grim, but by the time my grad school classes began, I was able to use a computer, in a rudimentary sort of way. I couldn't imagine that I was ever going to enjoy it, though.

Time passed, and I became more comfortable using a computer. One night my oldest daughter, Alex, discovered a search engine that gave not only addresses and phone numbers for names entered, but detailed street maps showing where people lived. This was pre-Google, and before internet stalking had become a problem. We were amazed, and put in the names of everyone we could think of, including ourselves, thrilled when we saw addresses, phone numbers and maps appear on the screen. The novelty wore off quickly though; we knew all those phone numbers, addresses, and cross streets already. "Can't you think of anyone with whom you've lost contact?" Alex asked in exasperation. I thought for a bit, and then typed in the name of G, my first love. He has an unusual last name, and I'd lost track of him in the '70's, but suddenly, there was his name, address, phone number, and map of the area around his house, in northern Illinois, on my computer screen. Wow. Luckily for him, I'm not a stalker. I copied the info into my address book, and cleared the screen and forgot about it, and Alex and I signed off and played scrabble.

That was that, until I realized G's 50th birthday was coming up. I bought a blank card. Inside I wrote something to the effect of, "I've always been glad that I met you, and that you were a part of my life. I hope this finds you well and happy. Happy 50th birthday." I sent it to the address we'd found using the search engine. About a week later, I received a reply from G, via snail mail, asking if I had e-mail and suggesting we use e-mail to catch up on each other's lives.

There's nothing like having an incentive to get comfortable with new technology! Katharine showed me how to set up an e-mail account, and then I learned how to send, receive and check my e-mail; learning about attachments took another entire evening. One afternoon, I received an e-mail from G asking if I'd like to chat with him on the net. He explained that he frequented a chatroom where we could effectively talk in real time, via our keyboards. He added, as an afterthought, "It's adult chat, but we're old enough, right?" I had no idea what adult chat was. I thought maybe people engaged in a little scatological humor from time to time. It was fine with me!

That evening, I went onto my computer. I cut and pasted the address he'd sent me into the address bar of my browser, and in a moment, a yellow page appeared on my monitor. I chose a nickname, typed it into a box, and suddenly I was transported into a room with a dozen other people. This was early net. I didn't have MIRC or PIRCH installed on my computer, nor was I even aware of their existence. I was in the room via a java applet. The people in that room were a lively and bawdy bunch, and I liked it immediately. It's hard to describe the magic that was there, but everyone had a persona, and the exchanges were fast and hilarious; sometimes I'd sit at my computer laughing so hard that tears streamed down my cheeks.

To be continued...

Monday, February 20, 2006

Callow Youth

I finally built some shelves for my records this weekend. Yep, records. Previously, they occupied the bottom shelves of the living room bookcases, which were always too shallow for them. In January, I replaced the old bookcases in my living room but the new bookcases were also too shallow to hold albums, so I moved them to my gameroom, where I temporarily stacked them, unceremoniously, on the floor. Yesterday, I decided it was time to remedy the situation. This involved a trip to Home Depot and the use of various power tools including the drill and belt sander, all things that I enjoy doing. Tonight, the gameroom smells faintly but pleasantly (to me, anyway) of minwax, which I used to stain the red oak boards that I used for the shelves. As I alphabetized my albums and put them on the shelves this afternoon, I thought of a post I wrote last summer on AOL about when I was young, in love, and an audiophile. In honor of my LP's and the long overdue new shelves, I'm reposting that recollection here:

In the summer of 1969 I was 19, living on my own in Chicago, in a single furnished room in an apartment hotel on Clark Street, across the street from the Lincoln Park Zoo. I'd left Minnesota and my parents' home 2 years earlier, at 17, the day after high school graduation, with not much more than $100 in my wallet when I arrived in Chicago. I worked as an au pair that first summer, living in the suburbs with the family whose children I cared for. By the summer of '69 I had a full-time job in downtown Chicago in the Clerk's Office of the Federal Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and I spent my days quipping with lawyers (one of whom I eventually married) and occasionally with federal judges. Four nights a week I attended classes at City College, on Lake Street, after which I'd catch either a 22 (Clark Street) or a 36 (Broadway) bus back home, where I'd run a hot bath in which I'd soak, while working on trig problems or conjugating Russian verbs by candlelight. It was great to be young in the '60's, and to be 19 and on my own in Chicago, in 1969 - although money was always tight, it was a heady time for me.

That summer I discovered Leonard Cohen. I mean, I first discovered a Leonard Cohen album: Songs from a Room. I'd first become aware of him the previous summer, when I heard his song, Suzanne, sung by Judy Collins on her album, In My Life, and I was curious about the Canadian poet who'd written the haunting lyrics.

I was quite the audiophile in those days. I didn't have kitchen facilities in my furnished room, but, much more important to me, I had an AR turntable with a Shure cartridge that I kept balanced within the recommended weight range using a small set of plastic disc weights and counterbalance supplied by Shure when I purchased the cartridge. While my best friend was reading Cosmopolitan and Glamour, I was reading StereoReview (to which I'd subscribed) and Scientific American. I was interested in having the best possible sound quality of the recordings that I listened to (she says in self-defense).

That summer, in addition to working full-time, going to school part-time, and being an audio nerd, I was still seeing My First Love: G, a 22-year-old about whom I was totally nuts. We'd met back in Minnesota at a street dance, when I was 16 and just finishing up my junior year in high school and he was 19, and just finishing up his sophomore year at the Catholic Men's College in my town. He was from Chicago, and seemed incredibly sophisticated to me...but then, anyone who wasn't Minnesotan seemed incredibly sophisticated to me in those days. I was immediately smitten.

When I moved to Chicago in the summer of 1967, G was about to begin his senior year of college in Minnesota, so although we stayed in touch (I still have his letters), we stopped seeing each other. A year later, after graduating from college, G returned to Chicago, where he attended law school for exactly one day ("I knew it wasn't for me," he said). One day in early fall, 1968, we literally bumped into each other, on Randolph Street, and we began seeing each other again. I was totally nuts about him, and there weren't many things I wouldn't have done for him, and he knew it, although there was this one thing...

I remember the night I first listened to the Cohen album, Songs From a Room. The Cohen song that had first captured my attention, Suzanne, was not on the album, but it was an absolutely amazing album nevertheless. As I sat crosslegged on my bed, listening to Cohen's raspy voice singing Bird on the Wire, Story of Isaac, A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes, The Partisan...I was blown away. G called, and I told him about it. A couple of nights later, G came over. One thing led to another, and afterward, as we lay curled in each other's arms, spent and happy, we listened to the album as it played on my AR turntable with the weighted Shure cartridge. G especially liked the last song on the album, Tonight Will Be Fine. I was touched and slightly embarrassed when he said that the lyrics reminded him of me: Oh sometimes I see her undressing for me, she's the soft naked lady love meant her to be...she's moving her body so brave and so free, If I've got to remember that's a fine memory...and I know...from her eyes...and I know...from her smile...that tonight will be fine will be fine will be fine will be fine....for awhile.

When the album ended, he asked me to play it again. I was totally nuts about him, and there weren't many things I wouldn't have done for him, and he knew it...but not that. I refused to play the album a second time for him that night. Audiophile that I was, I explained, earnestly: "Playing it twice in a night will flatten the grooves, I've read about this..."

Sheesh. I was SUCH a nerd. Amazingly, he continued to see me for almost 2 years after that, and we remain friends to this day. I can only say...and this isn't Cohen, but a fellow Minnesotan (Dylan): Ahhhhhhh, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

Thank goodness.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Red Sky at Night

I was driving home from Central Market tonight when I realized there was going to be an extraordinary sunset due to the smoke from wildfires somewhere nearby. I drove home fast, left my groceries in my car, and ran inside to get my camera. I was able to get these two shots before the sun sank below the western horizon.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thoughts on Valentine’s Day

"Love’s capacity to make us happy is rivaled only by its capacity to make us miserable"

That quote is from a NY Times magazine article written by Alain de Botton a few years ago on German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s thoughts on love. Schopenhauer was very interested in love and attraction and spent a lot of time trying to figure out what force was behind the irrational attraction that men and women feel toward each other (he didn't deal with homosexuality). Ultimately, he decided that biology is the force behind all attraction; he called it Wille zum Leben (the will to life), but he also believed that because it was a biological drive, most of the time, the persons to whom we are attracted are unsuitable in other respects. Although he fell in love a couple of times himself, Schopenhauer never married, which is probably just as well, because he once wrote: "To marry means to do everything possible to become an object of disgust to each other." That’s a grim view of marriage, hardly surprising coming from such a profound pessimist as Schopenhauer, and yet there may be more than a kernel of truth in it. Mark Twain said, "Familiarity breeds contempt", i.e., the better we know someone, the more likely we are to find fault with them, and yet Twain adored his wife.

I've been thinking about Valentine's Day and relationships. I’m not in a relationship right now. I haven’t been involved with anyone since my last relationship, coincidentally with someone toward whom I was irrationally attracted. As Schopenhauer would have predicted, it ended badly, a little over a year ago, when I caught my sweetheart in flagrante delicto a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day. Needless to say, I was not happy on Valentine’s Day last year.

I’ve never had that experience before, (catching someone in flagrante delicto) and I never want to have it again. One time I cut my leg, very badly...40-some odd stitches badly...and I remember that I felt a sort of searing pain for just a fraction of a second, after which I felt absolutely nothing. I looked down at my leg because my foot was wet and I wondered what I’d stepped in, only to discover it was my own red blood, gushing freely from the wound...and this was like that. For an instant, I felt a sort of searing pain in my chest, and then I felt as if I couldn't breathe, and I went totally numb, and walked around his yard in a circle, over and over, like some dumb bird, ranting to myself and sobbing as he stood there saying nothing. I was numb for days, and that was a good thing, because each time the feeling came through, it hurt so much, and I alternated between wallowing in self-pity and feeling furious. But most of the time, for weeks, I just felt numb. The thing about going numb is, it isn’t voluntary. It comes over you, like a wave...actually, that’s not accurate, it spreads outward, from the starts at the heart, and goes almost instantly to the extremities, so that in an instant your nose, fingertips, toes have no feeling, all of which is coincidental to the important thing, that the HEART has no feeling. It’s like a drug, like a huge dose of Xanax, except...Xanax makes me sleepy and the kind of emotional pain that causes numbness also tends to cause insomnia, at least it certainly did for me.

It was a miserable experience, one that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but I’m not writing this for sympathy. Schopenhauer said the pain of rejection is perfectly normal and understandable and to be expected, and "the only way out is to turn our tears into knowledge, our pain into art." Gloomy old Schopenhauer was right. As painful as it was, I learned a lot from that experience. It caused me to do some serious soul searching, about myself and that relationship and my own role in everything that happened, and I can honestly say that I’m in a much better place in my head these days because of it.

It's taken a while, but I've moved on, and it feels good. Although I’m not in a relationship, there’s someone I’m definitely interested in, and happily for me, the interest seems to be reciprocated. We’re just beginning to get to know each other (which is actually pretty delicious in itself).

I decided last week that I was going to have a great Valentine’s Day this year. To that end, I started my day by walking to Starbucks this morning for a cappuccino. To my surprise, the woman who prepared my drink also gave me a beautiful red carnation. She was giving them out to all the women who came in, and it made me feel good, thinking how we women take care of each other. This afternoon, I went to Barnes & Noble, and treated myself to a Keith Jarrett CD suggested by the guy whom I'm just getting to know, which I’m currently listening to (and yes, I like it very much).

Tonight, I met two of my friends who also aren't in relationships right now (unless you count stalkers) for drinks at Toulouse, after which we went to the Meyerson and heard the Dallas Wind Symphony Swing Orchestra play a medley of Valentine’s Songs by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Glen Miller, Eubie Blake, Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey, and others. The Meyerson was packed. It was a great concert, and when they played My Funny Valentine...well, that's a terrific number, and sitting there listening to it, with two good friends...I enjoyed that very much. Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Good day sunshine

I’ve had a great weekend. On Saturday, Katharine, Brenden, Anthony and I took Xander to see the Curious George movie. Some critics have panned it, but I thought it was great, although admittedly it’s a richer experience, to see a children’s movie with a much loved child on your lap or sitting beside you.

As we walked through the mall on the way to the parking lot afterward, I spotted a carousel. I love carousels, so I immediately volunteered to take Xander for a ride (which was actually a sneaky way for me to get to ride). Brenden said, "Aaarrrgggh, Katharine and I both get sick on carousels, but take Xander if you like." Needless to say, Xander was completely enthusiastic.I bought a token (adults ride free) and after circling the carousel twice on foot to find just the right horse, I lifted Xander onto his chosen horse and stood beside him, holding onto his horse’s pole, waiting for the carousel to start. He looked at me and frowned. "No, no!" he said emphatically, prying my fingers from the bar. Then he pointed to the empty horse in front of him. "Get your own horse!" he commanded, and so I did. Luckily, they had safety belts on the carousel horses, so after making sure that Xander’s safety belt was securely fastened (he’s not quite 3½, after all), I got on the horse in front of him and we had a happy ride together, after which he came back to my house and we finally assembled the gingerbread house that I never got around to doing with him before Christmas. It didn’t matter in the least to Xander that we were assembling it close to Valentine’s Day, and he was very proud of the end result.

Today, I went to the symphony at the
Bass in Ft. Worth. The Bass is a beautiful performance hall designed by David M. Schwarz. Although I’m a woman who for the most part prefers to rough it when on vacation...e.g., I’ve gone on (and successfully completed) a desert skills survival course, two cattle drives (no small feat for someone who doesn’t really ride), a 7 day river rafting trip on the River of No Return (but here I am!), and a camel trek in the past few years, I splurge on the symphony. I love live music, and after years of sitting in seats that would give a goat a nosebleed, I finally decided to treat myself and move on up (or down, in this case) to great seats, with the result that I’ve happily (and without guilt) purchased a season subscription with box seats to the symphony for the past few years.

I love sitting in a box. The sound is great, of course, although I don’t think there’s a bad seat in the Bass (the sound was great in the nosebleed seats, too). But in addition to the sound, you can really see the stage from the boxes, and if you arrive late (which I hate to do, but it’s an hours’ drive from my house to Ft. Worth, and depending on traffic and the weather, it can happen) you can slip into your seat in a box without really disturbing anyone. Today I discovered another great perk of having box seats; I can order a drink or coffee before the concert and have it delivered to my box so it’s waiting for me at intermission. This means that I don’t have to stand in line to buy a cup of coffee only to find that it hasn’t cooled sufficiently to drink it by the time intermission is over. Ah, luxury!

And then there’s the music itself. The program today was terrific; the Suite from Copland's Appalachian Spring followed by Copland’s Clarinet Concerto (played beautifully by David Shifrin), and then, after intermission, Beethoven's Second. Today I brought my digital camera. After drinking a cup of just the right temperature coffee, I walked around and snapped some pics, including the angel at the top of this page (of which there are two on the outside of the hall, each 48 feet tall, sculpted from Texas limestone), and two shots of the beautiful ceiling.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

February sunset by the creek

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
John Muir

It's cold in Dallas right now, with temperatures in the 20's expected for tonight and the next couple of nights. That means the pool motor is running and I've covered various pots of plants, too big to move, with old towels. A small pot of chives and over half a dozen various sized pots of pansies in full bloom that are normally on my patio and outside my front door are currently sitting in my front hall and kitchen to keep them from freezing.

We haven't had much cold weather in Dallas this year, so tonight I decided to go out in it and enjoy it a bit. I pulled on a cap and gloves and oversized sweater, and at the last minute I grabbed my digital camera, and I'm glad I did. There's a creek near my house, and tonight I left the sidewalks of my neighborhood and walked down along it for a bit. Like John Muir, I decided to wait for sundown, and I was rewarded with some great shots, including this one.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

2006, A Phone Odyssey

Remember Hal, the computer who went bad, in 2001, A Space Odyssey? Here’s a little bit of dialogue to refresh your memory:

Dave: Hello, HAL do you read me, HAL?

HAL: Affirmative, Dave, I read you.
Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.
What’s the problem?
I think you know what the problem is, just as well as I do.
What are you talking about, HAL?
HAL: The mission is far too important for me to allow you to jeapardize it.

Those words were the first clue, for many of us, that new technology could fail to deliver.

A few years ago, the phone company offered a lot of packages of new technology that promised to make our lives simpler, but insofar as I'm concerned, like HAL, they have failed to deliver, and so I’m in the process of switching my phone service to something more basic. Currently, I have a package that includes Call Waiting, Caller ID, Call Blocking, Three-Way Calling, Call Forwarding, and Voice Mail. I don’t need or use all those services, but when I ordered them, a couple of light years ago, I didn’t know that. The conversation went something like this:

"Hello, I’d like to have Caller ID and Voicemail added to my phone service."
"Certainly, Ma’am. Caller ID comes in a package with Three-Way Calling and Call Blocking, and Voice Mail comes in a package with Call Return and Call Forwarding."
"Can’t I just get Caller ID and Voice Mail?"
"I’m afraid that’s not possible, ma’am."

I was then treated to a description of how wonderful each of these additional services were, and how I wouldn’t be able to imagine life without them once I had them...

Call Waiting
Don't miss an important call because your phone is tied up! When you are on the phone, Call Waiting lets you know another call is coming through! Your caller doesn't reach an annoying busy signal, and you have the option of answering the incoming call or not!

I was having a phone conversation this evening when my phone line sort of hiccupped twice, which is Call Waiting’s way of letting me know that I have another call. I ignored it. I ALWAYS ignore it, because if I don’t, I’d have to say something to the effect of, "Ohhhhh, I’m SO sorry to hear that you caught them in flagrante delicto, and of course I want to hear what happened when you got your gun, but...wait...can you hold for a minute while I answer the other line?" Then, when I pick up the other line, inevitably I have to tell the Association for Retarded Citizens solicitor that I don’t have any household items to be picked up next Thursday when their truck is on my street.

Caller ID
See who's calling before you pick up the phone! With Caller ID, your telephone shows the number of the caller when your phone rings!
With Caller ID, you can:
Choose whether to speak with the person calling!
Have an appropriate greeting or answer ready!
Know who called while you were out or unable to get to the phone!

As tempting as that was in some ways, I resisted getting Caller ID, because as I’ve mentioned previously, I’m highly intuitive, and in pre-caller ID days, I always enjoyed the little frisson that I felt those times when the phone rang and I’d think, "It’s --------(fill in the blank)" and I’d pick up the phone and I’d be right. The downside was that most of the time, I’d answer the phone and inevitably find myself feeling trapped by some soccer mom who wanted to know if I could provide 12 dozen cookies for a bake sale that evening, etc., etc. So the appeal of Caller ID was that it would enable me to screen my calls by showing me both the number and the name of the caller at the other end of the phone.
However, I’m farsighted...and I tend to take out my contacts early in the evening, and to leave my reading glasses beside my bed, with the result that although I can see well enough to walk through my house without tripping on the cats and killing myself, a lot of the time I can’t begin to read Caller ID, and when I can...well, I can’t help but notice that more and more calls are coming up showing the number and then beneath the number, "Unknown Name". Huh.

Call Blocking
Do you want to enhance your ability to control incoming calls? Are you annoyed by unwanted or harassing calls? Call Blocking allows you to block incoming calls from unwanted sources, on a temporary or permanent basis!

"Hallelujah," I thought when this service became available, "Finally, a way to block phone solicitors!" Except the phone company neglected to reveal that those calls are some of many that "can’t be blocked". Uh-huh. In Texas, you can pay the state a nominal fee to keep your number off the phone solicitor lists, and I’ve happily done that. I never use Call Blocking.

3-Way Calling
When you can't all be in the same place at the same time, 3-Way Calling brings you together! 3-Way Calling allows you to speak with two other people in different locations at the same time!

"Hello, Fred? Are you still in Omaha? This is Judi, in Dallas, and, by the way..."
"Hi Judi! Hi Monica! Well, the shipment has arrived...wait a minute...can you hold? I have an incoming call and I have to take it!"
"No problem Fred..."
"Sure, Fred, we’ll hold..."

3-way-calling allows you to speak with two other people in different locations who may be receiving additional calls from numerous other people in different locations...all at the same time...the possibilities are endless, but I can only handle one phone conversation at a time, so this service is worthless to me.

Call Forwarding
When you're on the go, your phone can follow you! With Call Forwarding, you can automatically forward calls to the number where you can be reached!

Um, that’s why I have a cellphone, so that my friends and family can reach me when I’m not at home, but, happily, the Association for Retarded Citizens solicitors cannot. I don’t use call forwarding.

Voice Mail is your 24-hour-a-day personalized answering service! With Voice Mail, you'll never miss another message, and your callers will never reach an annoying busy signal! Voice Mail allows callers to leave messages when you are away from your phone, having a telephone conversation, connected to the Internet, or sending/receiving a fax! Once you have Voice Mail, you'll wonder how you ever managed without it!

I have to admit that I love Voice Mail, but I don’t like some of the inane greetings that people come up with. I like anything that’s straightforward, but I still think the best Voice Mail greeting is the one I used for years:

No name, no number, just: "Don’t be afraid! It’s JUST a machine!"

That always seemed to stop solicitors cold.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Samba Master Beckons, or Why I Love Spontaneity & Road Trips

I took this pic, and the pics on flickr in my right hand column, on Saturday night at Austin's Carnaval Brasileiro 2006, which is ONE TERRIFIC PARTY. (Note: to view the pics, click on any photo and when you get to the Flickr site, click on "slideshow".)

I went to Austin on Saturday evening for
Carnaval Brasileiro, billed as "Austin's 28-year-old version of Mardi Gras". It was a completely spontaneous trip. If you’d asked me Saturday morning what I intended to do Saturday night, I’d have said I’d be staying home, drinking tea and trying to get over a persistent case of bronchitis...but then I checked my e-mail, and there was another note from the Samba Master...

I’ll start at the beginning. Last Wednesday morning, I got a very nice e-mail from the Samba Master, asking me if I’m spontaneous and inviting me to the Carnaval. My immediate reaction was, "Well, of course I’m spontaneous!" But then I realized that’s not entirely accurate. Although I'll admit there are times that I throw caution to the wind and am dangerously spontaneous...there are also times that I'm cautious. The problem is, I’m highly intuitive, and when I have a gut feeling about something being right or wrong for me, I tend to go with it, without any second thoughts. This has worked surprisingly well for me in a variety of ways, not least of which is finding decent inexpensive wines (e.g., Equis). I applied the method (going with my gut feeling about things) more freely when I was younger, for example, I chose one apartment solely because it had a sun porch off the living room that I knew would be perfect for a live Christmas tree, and I chose another apartment because it had window boxes. It turned out that both of those were great places to live, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized there are factors that must be considered in choosing a place to live other than the gut feeling that it’s going to be a great place. Plus, there are plenty of things about which I don’t have gut feelings (and for most decisions like that, I consult Consumer Reports). Truth be told, much of the time, rather than being dangerously spontaneous, I’m probably more like that tv character, spices are alphabetized, my shoes are all in identical plastic bins with labels, etc., etc...not that this prevents my desk from being a total mess most of the time...but I digress.

Back to Carnaval. Although I wanted very much to go, for a variety of reasons, I had trouble deciding whether or not to go. First I planned to go, then I decided not to, and at my request, Xander spent the night with me on Friday night, so I got off to a slow start on Saturday. When I finally checked my e-mail, at a little after noon, there was another nice note from the Samba Master, saying, "You’re still invited! So if you get the inspiration..."

Magical words...immediately, I got the inspiration. To check out whether the fates were with me ("looking for a sign"), I called the Austin Motel to see if they had any rooms available for Saturday night. Luck was with me; they’d just had a cancellation, so I made a reservation, e-mailed my acceptance to the Samba Master, and started packing.

By the time I was ready to go, it was a little after 4:00. I tossed my bag in the back of my car, loaded up appropriate CD’s, filled the tank with gas, and made my way out of Dallas. Austin’s an easy trip, just get on I-35 South and drive approximately 200 miles, but it took me awhile to get to I-35. Once I got beyond the city, though, the ribbon of the road unfurled before me, and I sailed down the highway at 70 mph. As the sun sank low on the horizon, the sky became amazingly beautiful. It blazed as if it were on fire in the west, while overhead the thin and wispy cirrus clouds turned as pink as cotton candy. God, I love road trips. I felt incredibly happy and free.

When I reached Austin, I exited I-35 and drove toward the motel. As I passed the Palmer Events Center, where the Carnaval was to be held, I saw a huge number of people already queued up outside the center, waiting for the gates to open.

To my surprise, I found my way to the Austin Motel with very little trouble. (Note: I have a BAD sense of direction, and the cheap compass that I bought on sale at Target and mounted on my dashboard with double-sided tape only seems to make things worse). Furthermore, the clerk who’d made the reservation had assured me that there was always parking available in front of the motel, but that wasn’t the case when I arrived, so after circling the block twice, I parked illegally in a fire zone in front of the Motel, and went in to register.

The registration clerk was a guy about my age who apparently needed glasses. "I have a reservation..." I began, as I handed him my driver’s license and American Express card. Before I could continue, he looked at my license, did a double take, looked at me, and blurted out: "Oh my God! You look just like her! That actress..." Damn. I didn’t want a conversation. All I wanted to do was sign the necessary paperwork, get my room key, dump my bag in my room and get on with my evening. "What actress?" I said, trying to be nice. "You know! That blonde one..." Oh, the BLONDE one. Sure. "Um, WHICH blonde one?" I said, thinking if he said Shelley Winters I was going to have to kill him. He beamed at me. "You know! The one who was in Upside of Anger! You look JUST like her!" "Joan Allen?!?!?!" I said incredulously, both relieved (because he hadn’t said Shelley Winters) and amazed (because I look nothing like Joan Allen - for the record - I look nothing like Shelley Winters, either, at least I hope I don’t).

"Yeah, look!" He pulled out a small TV beneath the sign-in counter and turned it toward me a bit. Lo and behold, he was watching The Upside of Anger when I interrupted him to check in. "You look JUST like her!" he said, beaming. Then he grinned shyly and added, "I bet you hear that all the time." The shy grin got to me. I softened. "No," I admitted, "I’ve never heard it before now, but thank you." He checked me in without further ado, and I got my room key, moved my car to a legal space, and put my bag in my room.

I was hungry, and decided to see if I could get dinner at my favorite Cuban restaurant in Austin,
Habana. I called the restaurant to get the address. The phone was answered by a pleasant sounding young man. "What’s your address?" I asked. "Well," the voice drawled, "That’s a rather personal question, wouldn’t you say? I mean, I don’t even know you, and you wanna know my address...I dunno if I should tell you..." If I’d been drinking ice tea, I would have spewed it. I love a smart ass, and this was apparently an English- major smart ass, so I rephrased my question: "Will you please tell me the address of the restaurant, Habana, and by the way, do I need a reservation for dinner for just one person?" He gave me the address and told me where I could park and that they had plenty of seating available.

I drove there with no problem, and even found the place to park, which was pretty amazing for me, considering that it was across the street and down an alley. I had a delicious dinner of lechon asado (roast pork) and yuca grilled in olive oil followed by a cup of Cuban coffee. Then I drove over to the capitol and took some night shots before making my way to the Carnaval.

I read somewhere that 6,000 people were expected to attend the Carnaval this year. I don’t know how many showed up, but I do know that there were people standing around hoping to buy tickets when I arrived. I felt bad for them, that they didn’t have tickets to get in, and I also felt very happy and grateful to have been invited.

I felt the music before I heard it. What I felt was the drumming, and there is a beautiful Brazilian word for this: batucada. There was this incredible beat, and an amazing sound that produced an amazing feeling. I felt it in my chest, yes, but also in my gut; in my lips and in my nose; in the soles of my feet and the tips of my fingers, and I’m sure it was reverberating in the sulci and gyri of my brain. I’m not a dancer (too self conscious, and with good reason) but it was impossible not to move to that sound. And in addition to batucada, there was other music: Samba, March, Frevo, and Trio Eletrico (I got those terms from the Carnaval website) .

I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, so I don’t have a basis for comparison, but I can’t imagine that Mardi Gras is better than this. Above all else, Carnaval was FUN. There were thousands of people, many (but not all, by any means) in terrific, creative costumes, but costumed or not, everyone was enjoying the music and many were happily dancing the night away.

Normally, I don’t like being in crowds, but this was different. Although I was there by myself, not wearing a costume, not dancing, and carrying a digital camera, I had a great time. Without exception, people were nice. There was a cash bar, and people were drinking, but I didn’t see anyone who was drunk, and I didn’t hear about or see any fights. Everyone I asked was gracious about posing to have their pictures taken, as you can see by the pics I’ve posted on Flickr. (I shot a couple hundred pics and have posted the best on Flickr). A regular attendee described Carnaval as, "an opportunity to dance and laugh with some of the nicest total strangers I could ever hope to meet". I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Carnaval will be in Boston in two weeks, on February 18th at The Castle at Park Plaza. You can read all about it

I checked out of the Austin Motel this morning. For breakfast, I drove to the Austin Java Company, where I sat outside on the patio in the morning sunshine and enjoyed a cheese omelet and double cappuccino. Then I went back to the capitol. I spent some time exploring it inside, this time, as well as walking around on the beautiful grounds outside. Then I got back in my car and drove back to Dallas, revitalized after one of the best short road trips I’ve ever taken.