Thursday, November 17, 2005

Who's afraid of the big bad -- pool drain?

I was wandering through some of the other blogs on this site (I still can't get used to the word "blog" -- I swear that's the exact sound my cat makes before she coughs up a hairball...) and I was reading something about irrational fears. Which made me think about some of my own irrational fears. So here, in no particular order, are a few of the things I'm afraid of but probably shouldn't be:

Willy Wonka's oompa loompas and their creepy oompa loompa song -- I haven't seen the newer, Johnny Depp version of the movie, but I avoid the Gene Wilder version for the simple fact that LITTLE ORANGE PEOPLE WITH GREEN HAIR ARE NOT NORMAL. It's also not normal when they form a self-righteous singing and dancing troupe at the local candy factory, instead of just minding their own business and stirring the chocolate. And I'm pretty sure that after they dragged away the moronic, selfish children who found themselves in all sorts of hilarious (read: CREEPY) predicaments, they pushed them into a ravine, or left them out in a desert, or called some guy named Uncle Vito to "take care" of the "chocolate factory problem." I mean, do we ever see those kids again? For all we know, they're all lined up in glass cases in the oompa loompa break room like naughty children trophies. And just hearing that song they continually sing -- something about "we've got another question for you" -- makes my skin scrawl. Please shut up, creepy little men. If you have a question, try google...

Drains at the bottom of pools -- I have no idea where this fear came from. I've been swimming since I was a kid, and I can even remember diving to the bottom of our backyard pool to collect pennies or toys or whatever we'd toss in the water. I have long hair, but it's never been caught in a pool drain, and I don't KNOW anyone whose hair has been caught in a pool drain. So why do I find pool drains so irrationally frightening? I actually have to swim around them instead of over them, even if the drain is six feet below me. For some reason, if I swim over a pool drain, I'm overcome with this feeling of dread. Kind of like the feeling you might get if you thought someone was hiding under your bed, and you had to get out to use the bathroom. Why would I feel like someone was hiding in the drain in my pool? Maybe it's oompa loompas...

Fire in all shapes and forms -- Actually, this one isn't so irrational. What might be irrational though is the fact that I never even struck a match until I was fifteen, because I was so afraid of those little fire-breathing sticks. I remember a time when I was a kid, probably about six or seven years old, and my older brother -- who would've been about 14 or 15 at the time -- discovered one of his vinyl records had been melted by some kind of heat source. When he showed my parents, they sat me down at the dining room table and interrogated me, convinced I'd been playing with matches. They even put a book of matches in front of me, and tried to get me to strike one, I guess to see if I had the dexterity to pull it off. But I adamantly refused to touch the matches, all the while thinking, "are my parents NUTS? Those things make fire!" I was definitely not your usual "playing with matches" kind of kid...

The wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz... and the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz... and the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz... oh, who am I kidding? The Wizard of Oz in its entirety -- I have never been able to understand how the Wizard of Oz is such a time-honored, beloved movie cherished by both children and adults. That movie is downright scary on so many levels. First you've got a tornado... then the terrifying realization that your house has landed in a bizarre technicolor freakworld... you've got a green witch, who not only threatens a person but a completely innocent "little dog, too"... then you have three things that talk and dance and sing, but absolutely, under no circumstances, ever SHOULD talk or dance or sing. By this point in the movie, a logical person must be wondering, "why won't that stupid Dorothy run away screaming?" This is what a SANE person would do if a scarecrow in a field started talking to them. Perhaps Dorothy had gotten far too involved in the inner workings of Bizarre Technicolor Freakworld to give it much notice. And then, of course, you've got those seriously creepy flying monkeys... and an entire scene where Dorothy and her entourage fall asleep in a field full of poppies and are waken up by falling snow -- obviously some sort of veiled opium reference included to get kids hooked on drugs. And after all of this, it turns out Dorothy was simply having the most horrifying dream EVER, and if she'd just asked one of those stupid Munchkins to pinch her or something, maybe she would've waken up and avoided the whole deal...

Raw meat -- I don't know if this would really be considered a "fear" or simply some sort of obsessive-compulsive thing. But I can't stand the thought of touching raw meat. I don't know how anyone can do it. I do like cooking with chicken, but before it's cooked, I have to hold it away from me with forks and cut it up with poultry shears, and then immediately throw all those utensils into the dishwasher, scrub down the counter, and wash my hands with hot water. I suppose it's just good kitchen hygiene, but I'm always amazed by the people who can just pick up a raw chicken, or stick their hands into a bowl of raw ground beef to make hamburgers. Eeww.

Umbrellas -- This is my newest irrational fear. I'm really not sure I'll ever be able to open an umbrella again. Unless it has some sort of push-button system. Umbrellas are evil.

I'm almost certain my list of irrational fears could keep going, but I wouldn't want to sound completely nuts. Perhaps someday I'll make a list of my irrational food aversions. (Because there's nothing nutty at all about irrational food aversions.) :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Oh, to languish in the languid language of lawyers...

I went to Starbucks last night with my good friend Cindy (Cindy, look -- your name has once more been immortalized in the cyber-pages of the internet... :)). And we were talking about my adorable little pseudo-nephew Jordan -- a math-whiz who used to be in love with Eeyore and called me "Sasa" when he was a toddler (that was way too cute -- he never should've learned to pronounce those L's...). He's in second grade now, and one of his assignments was to write about his favorite and least favorite subjects. He wrote that his favorite was math, and his least favorite was "language." And when Cindy tried to clarify that a little bit (language arts, perhaps?) he pointed out the fact that his textbook was simply called "Language."

And when we thought about it, Cindy and I could both remember having a subject called "language" when we were in elementary school. Not any particular language, mind you. Just plain old "language." Not English, not reading comprehension, not spelling -- just good ol' no-nonsense language. But what IS that, exactly? If it's not English, or reading, or spelling, what exactly IS language?? Apparently, as children, we thought nothing of it. After all, when you're seven years old and your teacher says it's time for language, you pretty much shrug, pull out your book with "Language" emblazoned across the cover, and assume all these adults know what they're talking about. And then once you ARE one of those adults, you wonder what kind of brilliant minds got together and decided to name an elementary school subject "language." I think they should at least make it slightly more descriptive -- perhaps "Non-Specific Ambiguous Linguistic-Type Language Subject."

I also had a chance to speak with my lawyer friend Faisal yesterday, mainly because I happen to have the same name as his paralegal and he accidentally called me to ask where he could find the Penskie file. (Okay, I made that part up... but why is it that any time there's a "file" of any sort in a television show, it's always called "the Penskie file"? As in, "I've been working on the Penskie file." Or, "Gladys! Bring me the Penskie file!" I mean, really -- has anyone else noticed this? Who, exactly, ARE these Penskies, and why are there so many files about them??) Anyway, I'm starting to think my name is a bit too common -- there seem to be Lisas walking around everywhere. I think perhaps Faisal should take a cue from the people at Starbucks and just change me to "No Name" in his phone... it would save me a lot of work (I mean, I couldn't find that Penskie file ANYWHERE...).

Faisal is one of those lawyers who completely defies the "lawyer" stereotype -- he's an amazingly nice, respectful, intelligent, thoughtful person, and I hope he always stays that way. (I think he probably will... :)) I had the unfortunate experience of working at a law firm several years ago, because I needed the money (and yes, I say that with a certain amount of shame -- "I swear I only did it because I needed the money!"). The day I started that job, lawyer jokes were only slightly amusing to me -- 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean, a good start? Okay, I guess that's sorta funny. A couple weeks later, I was rolling on the floor in laughter -- oh, a GOOD START!! Yes, I get it now!!

My main duties consisted of managing the closed file room, daily courthouse runs with an extremely scary 70-something-year-old courier named Red, and, when things got busy, helping the other office peons with copying, faxing, mail runs, etc. I'm not sure anyone would believe me if I said that making 20 copies of a complicated legal file is part art and part science -- but honestly, it's something that's so easy to completely ruin, and if you're not extremely organized and focused, the entire thing ends up being a big pile of random paper. So imagine, if you will, an industrial-sized copy machine whirring busily... on top of this machine are precise, logical, sequential piles of finished copies. Pristine, perfectly ordered -- if you set them next to the originals, you'd never know the difference. Now imagine a man walking into the room with a single sheet of paper. I'll call him B. Douglas. No, that's too much information. Brad D. No, no, I'll just call him Doug Bradlas. He walks up to my neat, orderly, copy-machine landscape, and like some sort of horrible natural disaster, sweeps an arm across the perfect piles of paper to move them out of his way. He then proceeds to make ONE COPY and leaves without so much as an "I'm sorry for screwing up an hour's worth of work."

Occurrences like that were common... so common that they eventually had me seeking refuge in the quiet corner of the closed file room, which, fortunately, was a place no one else ever wanted to go. Sometimes I'd be lucky and Red wouldn't find me for the 4 o'clock courthouse run, so he'd go without me. They were always afraid Red would file something in the wrong office at the courthouse, so he was supposed to be driving and I was supposed to be filing. Somehow, the thought of Red taking a wrong turn into oncoming traffic never seemed to bother anyone. File something in the wrong place, and that's the end of the universe. But make a left turn from the right lane directly in front of an angry pick-up driver, and that's FINE. I'm really not sure why they wouldn't simply "allow" Red to retire...

And I believe, without a doubt, the most over-used acronym at the law firm was "ASAP." Actually, I don't even think it's supposed to be an acronym -- it's an abbreviation, as in, A-S-A-P. But at the law firm, it was A-SAP. And everything, by the way, was A-SAP. Someone would walk into the copy center, throw a file on the counter, growl, "I need this ASAP!" and then run out before we could so much as catch a glimpse of their face. And of course we'd make sure it was done ASAP -- we'd place it on the bottom of the pile with all the other ASAPs.

Not that the law firm was completely without its amusing moments -- I can't tell you how many times I'd be hanging out in the copy center when an attorney would come in, walk up to a copy machine, stare at it for a good 60 seconds, and finally say, "um, how do you start this thing?" At which time I'd point to the giant, bright green, three-inch square button labeled "START." (These are people who went to law school... they passed bar exams, for goodness' sake... in all that time, no one ever explained to them the concept of a start button???) Ah well... needless to say, the day I quit that job was one of the happiest days of my life. Any time I think of the time I spent there, I'm STILL glad I don't work there anymore.

And just to reiterate -- my friend Faisal: awesome. Lots of other lawyers I've never met: probably perfectly nice, okay kinda people. Attorneys I happened to work with: losers. I'm about 99.99% certain that Faisal knows how to operate a copy machine. And what's more, if he noticed someone else making piles and piles of copies, he'd probably ASK politely if he could make a copy (as opposed to assuming the universe revolves around him). He'd probably also ask politely if he needed some sort of task accomplished in a timely manner. He might even manage to say the words "as soon as possible, please" and maybe dole out a "thank you" when the task was completed.

Perhaps those attorneys I worked with would have benefited from a few more hours of "language" lessons. Please and thank you are certainly elementary subjects...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Read the book (not the Cliffs Notes)

Yesterday I was talking about my fascination with flags and languages. And since Rick told me he couldn't wait to hear me talk about my love of maps (I'm not sure if he was being sarcastic or not...), I thought I'd write about that today. I can actually remember exactly where I discovered this interest I seem to have in all things global -- it was sixth grade, third period, in a class called (what else?) "world culture." Up until that point, I can't remember learning all that much about other cultures in my school classes. But perhaps once you get to sixth grade -- to the mature ranks of middle school -- you're old enough to start learning more about the world.

Every Friday in world culture class would be a sort of cultural show-and-tell -- anyone who wanted to could bring in clothing, food, books, or any other sort of object that was unique to their culture, or their parents' culture, or their grandparents' culture, etc. Kids whose families came from all over the world were in that class -- Japan, India, Mexico, Germany, Brazil, Sweden (I may have written some sort of presentation about the Swedish side of my family for that class, I can't remember...). Kids would even show up to class dressed entirely in traditional clothing, knowing they'd have to explain their outfit to everyone they passed in the hallway. I was captivated by these tiny, 45-minute, Friday-morning immersions into other cultures.

And then there were the maps -- maps of South America, maps of Africa, maps of Asia. We'd have our boxes of colored pencils, and go to work labeling each country. I'd make sure the green border of Brazil didn't run over into the blue border of Boliva or the red border of Peru, and as I was doing so, I'd wonder what it might be like to be IN Brazil or Boliva or Peru. We had to memorize all the countries in Africa and plot them on a map, which, over the years, I've mostly forgotten. And we had to memorize the countries of the Middle East and plot them on a map, which, over the years, I've somehow remembered. We even learned a song to make it easier -- I can only remember one line -- "Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Em-ir-ates."

Qatar was my favorite country when I was working on my Middle East memorization. How many times had I been taught in my English classes that "Q" is always followed by "U"? Yet here was the rebel non-English Qatar, boldly displaying a U-less Q. I was very impressed. And while my teacher told us this country rhymed with "guitar," the consensus now seems to say the pronounciation is "cutter." Was I taught wrong? Have I been pronouncing Qatar incorrectly since sixth grade? I have yet to find a definitive answer, and I suppose I won't be hopping a plane to Doha any time soon. So I guess I'll trust my March 2003 issue of National Geographic, which had an interesting article on "KUT-ter."

Nowadays, I'm not only still fascinated by the maps I studied back in sixth grade, but I also love to study some of the places I never knew of when I was a kid. Like tiny islands in the middle of vast quantities of ocean. Places like Samoa, and Tahiti, and the Maldives, and Easter Island. I've been to Hawaii, but the Hawaiian islands are downright large compared with some of the other islands on this planet. Depending on how big a map is, the Maldives barely even register. Just tiny blue pinpricks stretching in a line south of India. Yet people are there right now -- living, working, swimming in the ocean, hanging out on what I imagine are perfect beaches.

And I suppose that's the general fascination maps hold for me -- just about anywhere you look, you see a place where right now, at this moment, lives are being lived. Things are happening. Planes full of travellers are landing. People are opening up shops for business. The daily news is being written. People are taking pictures. Different languages are being spoken, different flags are flying, different foods are being eaten. And it's all happening right now. For some reason, that realization was compelling and interesting to me years ago, when I colored the countries on my maps with pencils and memorized their places on the globe. And it's still interesting to me today.

I once read a quote from St. Augustine that said, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page." The idea of reading "only a page" of all those different countries seems like such a waste to me. So it's my intention to read as much of the book as possible, because I'm sure it has to be one of the greatest stories ever written. And the best part is, if I want to skip ahead and read the end, it won't spoil any of the suspense... :)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Do what we say or the palm tree gets it...

One of the interesting things about staying at the hotel in Rome was the television programming. It only took one flip through the channels to discover my limited viewing choices. There were two channels in English -- CNN and BBC News. So as long as all I wanted was to stay up-to-date on current events, I was all set. If, however, I simply wanted some sort of mind-numbing entertainment, I was pretty much out of luck. Most of the channels were either Italian or German, with a very large number of American programs dubbed into either language. And I did, in fact, watch an entire episode of "The Simpsons" in Italian, because I'd seen it several times before and understood what was going on. And I understand enough German to catch bits and pieces of conversation, so I also watched some sort of German home improvement show (I think it might have been the German version of "Trading Spaces") and a news program about the lack of affordable housing for the elderly in Germany. Of course, with my less-than-fluent understanding of German, what I heard sounded something like, "the floor... great... I'd like... very happy... my blue jacket... yes, yes, maybe, no!"

There were also three Arabic channels on my television set. One of them seemed to show nothing but a strange sort of Arabic soap opera -- although at first I thought it might be a sitcom. The acting was that over-the-top kind of thing you only see when actors are either trying to be funny, or just happen to be inadvertently funny without realizing how funny they really are. After several minutes of watching the actors and the super-dramatic zoom-in camera work, I realized it was the latter. I watched the soap opera until the credits were rolling, at which time Rick said, "would you PLEASE change the channel..."

Another Arabic channel on my TV was Al Jazeera, which I was strangely hooked on. If I wasn't interested in the English-language news, I'd be watching Al Jazeera. This prompted Rick to dub me "insane girl," seeing as I couldn't understand a word anyone was saying. But I would stare at the television in serious concentration, as if simply watching could unravel the unintelligible language into perfectly clear threads. I was also mesmerized by the news ticker at the bottom of the screen -- is it just me, or is Arabic writing lithe and artistic and graceful in a way most other languages aren't? Do non-English speakers think English looks artistic? Or do they think it looks blocky and cumbersome? I feel like I could write "don't forget to take out the garbage" in Arabic, hang it on my wall, and it would make a lovely conversation piece.

And the third Arabic channel on my Roman television seemed to be a very conservative news/prayer channel. Any time I turned to this channel, they were either in the middle of an all-male-in-traditional-dress newscast, or they were simply panning a camera over thousands of worshippers in Mecca. But there never seemed to be any indication of what this channel WAS, exactly. I knew Al Jazeera was Al Jazeera because every now and then the website would scroll past on the ticker. The only identifying characteristic about the conservative channel was a palm tree up in the corner of the screen. A palm tree with two crossed swords underneath it. Which looked rather threatening to the palm tree, actually...

And until yesterday, I assumed that was just some kind of station call sign -- kind of like the NBC peacock or whatever. But last night I happened to be wandering around one of my favorite websites, -- Flags of the World (yes, I have a strange obsession with flags... maps, too -- perhaps I'll expound on that another day). And I was looking at the flag of Saudi Arabia, and reading about it, and I learned that the Saudi Arabian flag is only flown for official purposes -- private citizens aren't supposed to fly the flag. However, private citizens can fly a plain green flag with, guess what? Yep, a palm tree and two crossed swords in the corner. Understanding that helped me understand the third Arabic channel -- it was Saudi Arabian TV. That would explain the very conservative slant, as Saudi Arabia is one of the most conservative countries -- maybe the most? -- in the Middle East.

And by the way, I did understand a little bit of the newscast one night. To my surprise, Saudi Arabian TV was reporting on the World Series -- and I very distinctly heard the words "Chicago White Sox." And then something that sounded like hakuna matata, but I'm pretty sure that was just my imagination...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Mediterranean Pictures

Sailboats in Toulon, France

An "American" bar in Toulon

Cathedral in Mallorca

Everyone thought it would be fun to get a picture of me in this stone hut in Mallorca. I'm not sure why... (and by the way, we'd just walked through a five-minute downpour, so yes, my skirt is soaking wet and my hair is plastered to my head... this is a GREAT picture... :))

Red roofs (and one lonely green terrace) in Monaco

The cast of The Full Monty... oops, no wait -- this is the changing of the guard at the palace in Monaco

A statue in Sardinia... and friends

Ah... the beauty of Sardinia (this picture's for you, Eric :))

Yep, that tower is leaning... (I love the little kid in the red shirt -- he's pushing it over instead of trying to hold it up :))

Me with Eric and Eric (what's Eric doing? No, not THAT Eric, the other Eric...)

The best part of Naples

Another American bar? I'm estatic!

A street in Pompeii

Plaster cast of Pompeii victim

Hanging out in a house in Pompeii

Colosseum in Rome

Trevi fountain

St. Peter's Square

Swiss guard in their aesthetically-pleasing uniforms (I bet these guys never get hit by cars when they're walking down dark roads at night...)

The crowd on the Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps (see that flimsy pink umbrella? That's just an accident waiting to happen...)

Random pic of Eric in the nightclub, contemplating life... or perhaps trying to remember where he stashed his return plane ticket...