Thursday, June 30, 2005

Still Life, with Pans

Mr. McGee is a talented amateur artist. He comes from an arty family. I draw like a particularly spastic two-year-old, so anything that comes out of his pen is amazing to me. He's doing pencil sketching right now, with pencils that all seem to have complex code-names - 2H and 4B and so forth. I get sent to buy things at the craft store, where I spend a good 20 minutes a trip comparing all available pencils and ensuring I didn't pick out the wrong code-named pencil. Did you know there are like 40 kinds of art paper? I didn't. Things go terribly wrong unless I have very specific instructions - the kind I give my husband when I send him upstairs to grab me a pair of shoes. ("Black strappy sandals - in the blue box - the lighter blue box, not the dark one, with the black lid on the box, probably on the second shelf on the left ... ")

Whenever Mr. McGee draws something, he turns to me for an opinion. This is the moment that makes my gut clench in terror, because my opinion is pretty much, "Wow - that really looks like a hawk." Or a horse. Or a flower. Or whatever it's supposed to be. Because, frankly, making a drawing look like anything is so far beyond my powers that I find it amazing. But he wants comments on technique. Light and shadow. Pencil control. I hate to disappoint him, but the extent of my art knowledge is "That's pretty" and "Um ... what's that?" and, of course, "Wow, that looks like a hawk!"

But I am an art lover, so long as no one wants more from me than, "I like it because it's pretty" or "I like blue." This is actually an opinion I gave in polite (and worse, professional) company: My mother-in-law is a professional artist and when we visit her, we go to galleries and look at other artists' work, and sometimes I get asked for opinions by artists or gallery owners who are all talking shop. This invariably makes me freeze and once, when asked my thoughts on a particular piece, I offered the stunningly brilliant observation that "I like blue."

It was, in my defense, a piece with an awful lot of blue in it.

So as long as my opinions don't have to venture beyond pithy observations on the predominant color in the composition, I am happy to support the arts.

Lately, however, my husband has ventured into still-lifes, and he noticed the other day that the good skillet and the cookie sheet and a mixing bowl, standing in the drying rack on the counter, had fairly dynamic lines and dramatic shapes, so he began a still-life sketch of the objects on the drying rack.

The thing is, it's now six days later, and I'm still not allowed to take the skillet off the drying rack. The still-life study is not yet complete.

I love art as much as the next guy - but do I really have to sacrifice my good skillet to the cause?

Monday, June 27, 2005

"All-Terrain" Includes the Highway

Dear ALL TRN 7,

Although you are driving an "all-terrain" Jeep that even has a license plate proclaiming it to be "ALL TRN 7," you are most manifestly a dork-ass suburban middle-aged wannabe with some kind of identity crisis. There's a clear excitement gap between your car and your actual lifestyle.

I know this because driving 50 miles an hour on an interstate highway posted 65 mph (45 minimum) and slowing down to 40 any time there's a "join" in the highway pavement so as not to jar your precious allegedly all-terrain Jeep is a DEAD GIVEAWAY that you bought it to shore up a sagging self-image, not to fit your lifestyle. Just because you can afford the trappings of an exciting, trendy, rugged, outdoorsy lifestyle doesn't make your lifestyle exciting, trendy, rugged, and/or outdoorsy. But congratulations on being so thoroughly brainwashed by Madison Avenue that you honestly believe you CAN buy a lifestyle by buying a car and a vanity plate.

Just so you know we're on to you.


P.S.: If you really were outdoorsy and rugged, you'd be driving a Prius or - even better - pedaling under your own power on a mountain bike of some sort. Only pathetic indoor A/C-dependent posers drive gas-guzzlers and SUVs while claiming to be outdoorsy. Again, just so you know.

Want to read more of Eyebrows's open letters to the irritating? Check out Why You Are Not Employed.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Gopesh IS an American Name

So the past two weeks have been one giant experiment with customer service for me, as my DSL and phone service got unreliable after a storm a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, and doubtless due to the large numbers of ABSOLUTE MORONS who call tech support and customer service, with problems like "My cupholder keeps retracting" and "I'm too stupid to understand what an on button is," I kept getting stuck with such helpful troubleshooting advice as "reboot your computer" and "reboot your modem" and "make sure your phone is plugged securely into the wall" and "remove your router."

I patiently explained over and over and over again that it was BOTH the phone, with static on the line and periodically just cutting out, AND the DSL, with repeated and random service outages. That I may not be a tech god, but I'm pretty damned sure I know how to be sure that my computer and modem are both on and plugged in, and that I know what "intermittent service" means when I say it, and that I checked all the wires BEFORE calling. Also that I wouldn't be calling the phone company if the problem wasn't with the PHONE LINES.

So anyway, my phone company customer support can't provide me with DSL support, so they kick me over to DSL support. DSL support kicks me back to phone support because it's not a DSL problem. We go on and on like this for days. One DSL tech was completely unable to understand the concept of "intermittent outages" - he said, "Your DSL is working now? So what's the problem?" The problem, moron, is that in five minutes it's going to cut out again and I won't at that point in time be able to use my phone to call you. I kept insisting it had to be the line coming into the house as it affected BOTH phone AND DSL service, created horrible static, and appeared to be wind-related. But duh, clearly I don't know NEARLY as much about what's wrong with my phone as people sitting in Bell County, Kentucky (call center capital of the USA), India, or other god-forsaken cubicle farms.

Which brings me to Gopesh. Or Rajiv. Or Dharanidhar. I really couldn't tell you what his name was, because when I finally got to a real person after talking to that really friggin' annoying female computer voice that makes you input your choices orally, half the time doesn't get them right, and always sounds really excited about it - and, aside, sounded very disapproving when she informed me that she detected no problem on my line but I still insisted on talking to a real person - when I finally got to him, he said, "Hello, my name is Mike. How can I help you today?"

I was so frustrated with cheery computer voice lady and her disapproval that I only very narrowly avoided insisting, "Your name is NOT MIKE."

I've been dealing mostly with Indian tech support this week, including tech support people allegedly named "Annie," "John," and "Mary," and I'd spent plenty of time on hold, so I'd had a lot of time to contemplate the oddities of outsourcing that put my local phone line problem in the lap of someone in India. It's not enough that they have the world's worst job, listening to Americans bitch and moan (everyone abuses customer support phone folks), and that they have to work weird hours conforming to AMERICAN hours halfway across the globe, but somebody's making them give up their names so they sound more American. I really don't think this is the best way to improve relations with our international friends and neighbors. I did a brief stint at customer support on the phones while working as a temp, and I have to say that after six hours I was ready to go and kill all my countrymen. I can only imagine what the thousands of Indians working the phones for American companies are ready to do to us. Customer support really exposes you to the darkest underbelly of America.

But anyway, my good friend "Mike" was the first tech who actually BELIEVED me and "escalated" my problem to the line-fixing people, who are now fixing my line so I can actually get the phone service I'm paying for. The first one who didn't try to tell me to turn my computer on before connecting to the internet. The first one who didn't make me reboot six things that didn't need rebooting. I love "Mike." I would send him cookies if they wouldn't get stale on the trip over.

(Now, Mike spoke darned good English, and as a monolingual American I have nothing but respect for that, but he had a pretty heavy accent and the cadences of Apu. It was all I could do not to crack up when he said something Apu-like. I really don't think we should be allowing our businesses to go to other countries and teach them that "escalated" is a verb unless someone is riding an actual escalator. Doesn't the English language get enough abuse? Must we introduce non-native speakers to the evils of business-speak? Couldn't we have them quote Shakespeare for tech support?)

Anyway, I was thinking how unfair it was for "Mike" - my savior whose brilliant act of "believing what I told him" is allowing me to post this blog entry now - to have to change his name for it to sound "American." I've read in the papers about all these companies running call centers who make their employees pick "American" names to make Americans more comfortable with their employees - and probably less suspicious and irate about the outsourcing.

The thing is, they don't really mean "American" names. They want their employees to pick WASP names, not American ones. Because Gopesh IS an American name. So's Rajiv. And Dharanidhar. And Seung-Cheol. And Antonio. And Muhammed, Chen, Omar, Pedro, Khairi, Knute, Yahto, Stanislaw, Liam, Ibeamaka, Vladimir, Ryuji, and - yes - Mike.

Monday, June 20, 2005

1 Tae Kwon Do vest + 40 feet of rope + 2 full-grown adults = sheer genius

My husband and I returned to our adventures in gardening this weekend. The weather was not too hot, not too humid, and just right for physical exertion and playing in the dirt.

One of our biggest garden obstacles is this set of old fence posts that were left in when the fence itself was removed. My husband has been removing one or two of these at a time, with big, honkin' hunks of concrete on the bottom of the metal posts, often two feet deep. They're HEAVY. I rather enjoy the process of their removal because a) I like watching other people work while I sit on my ass and b) my husband usually takes his shirt off and gets all sweaty and his muscles stand out all sexy-like while he digs way down to get the concrete free and then hauls the hunk-o-concrete out. It's just about perfect when I add a gin-'n'-tonic to the equation.

Sometimes when he sees me sipping a G&T while he works his ass off, he tries to press me into service. So the even better way for me to enjoy the process of de-posting the yard is inside, in the air conditioning, sipping a G&T, watching him from the window and ducking out of sight if he looks toward the window. Watching him be sweaty and sexy is much less enjoyable if I have to go get sweaty myself.

Anyway, he took out two posts this weekend, and one was a corner post, which, for some reason, had TWO hunks of concrete attached to it. As if a post had been sunk, sliced off at ground level, and then resunk four inches over. This was a HUGE piece of concrete. He couldn't pull it out. He pressed me into service, and the two of us couldn't even budge it.

So Mr. McGee decides he really needs chains and a truck to haul it out. Sadly, we possess neither. So he settles for 40 feet of sturdy rope and starts trying to haul it out that way. This had two problems: First, Mr. McGee is too tall, so he was pulling UP, not out. Second, pulling that hard on something that heavy makes the rope cut into one's hands and/or shoulders. Mr. McGee solved the second problem first, by hauling out an old Tae Kwon Do vest with padding, so you could get kicked in the stomach with minimal pain. But of course, it still wasn't working. Eyebrows, who has far more experience hauling around things that outweigh her (because Eyebrows is not a very big girl and used to have to walk a dog twice her weight), had to take over.

So I put on the vest backwards, looped the ropes around my back, tied them in front, and leaned all my weight backwards onto the ropes, with the padding of the Tae Kwon Do vest to protect my tender skin. (Backwards is better than forwards because people tend not to mind falling on their asses but won't fully commit their weight if they might fall on their faces.) Mr. McGee applied his not-inconsiderable strength to pulling on the post.

And then, with what I wish I could describe as a "pop" but was really more of a loud groan from my husband, the double hunk-o-concrete came free, I fell on my ass, and my husband lost his balance. Some more grunting and straining, pulling with the ropes and the post, and we got the post and its double hunk safely on the grass a few feet away from the hole.

Now, of course, we have a good 300 lbs. of concrete with a four-foot post sticking out of it lying on our back lawn, with no clear idea of how to move it or what to do to get rid of it. But the important thing here is that it's out of the hole. And that marriage is all about teamwork, particularly when there's an old fence post with a double helping of concrete holding it in the ground.

Yep. Teamwork. Teamwork, and the fact that this entire ridiculous gambit seemed perfectly logical to both of us.

It's not so much being sane, after all, that holds a marriage together, as being well-matched in your insanity. And the ability to sip an ever-so-summery alcoholic beverage while enjoying your spouse's sexy sweatiness. That's crucial to a happy marriage. Trust me!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Gardens Resurrected

So I began blogging back when I was wrestling with my roses and had put down a make-shift ghetto tarp of black plastic trash bags and duct tape, only to discover that nature can defeat duct tape. Stupid nature.

Well, it's spring and I'm back in the garden, with somewhat more success this year. For starters, I've discovered a WONDERFUL product called "weed-blocking fabric," which is basically my ghetto tarp of black plastic trash bags, only sold at garden centers and with ground stakes, so I don't have to use the duct tape and I can pay twice as much for the whole shebang. Over the course of a painful afternoon, I installed it all around those stupid hurty thorny roses, so now I don't have to go near them to weed them pretty much ever.

We've also put in a bird garden, which will eventually grow up to feature plants that have seeds and berries that birds like to eat, and nectar for the hummingbirds. The only problem is that they currently feature leaves the bunnies like to eat. Which wouldn't be a problem when they were grown-up plants, but is a little annoying as currently they're babies. Get away, bunnies! Go eat dandelions and clover!

We mail-ordered the bird garden, and the tree and bush involved came bare-root, which means you're supposed to soak them for several hours before you plant them. I didn't have anything on hand that was really handy for soaking a tree, so I soaked them in my bathtub. People kept asking, "What's up?" and I'd reply, "Well, there's a tree in my bathtub." Just because it's funny. My cats were hugely entertained with the tree in the bathtub. They could not figure out what the heck was wrong with me, but at least they enjoyed sniffing at the outdoors living in the bathroom tub.

It wasn't so much a tree, though, as a stick with roots. A dead-looking stick. I planted it a week ago, in the evening, and two days later, there were these little red swellings. Which then started to look like buds. Which now look like the world's teeniest leaves. It's pretty amazing. We planted some delphiniums from root too, and a few days later, I noticed that one had poked up its head, one was still underground, and one had a fairly sturdy-looking inch-high growth. Well, I settled down near the delphiniums for an hour to plant some mums. At the end of the hour, the poker was inch-high, the underground one had poked up, and the inch-high one was three inches high and unfurling new leaves at a terrifying rate! I swear, you didn't even need a time-lapse camera to watch these things grow.

I had no idea that I would like gardening. Or parts of it, anyway. I like the parts where things sorta miraculously grow. I don't mind the weeding. I hate the stupid pokey roses. Also not such a fan of 80-lb sacks of dirt. And the charmer at Home Depot who always seems to be working in the garden section the day I go to buy mulch or dirt - HEAVY stuff and I'm a little girl! - who watches me heave it into my cart, and then and ONLY then, after the sacks are securely in the cart, says to me, "Would you like some help putting them in the cart?"

Still, moron clerks aside, I'm starting to enjoy gardening, which comes as a shock to me. I'm not outdoorsy and I don't like dirt, yet suddenly every evening ends with dirt under my nails, and I have an amazing stamina when I'm digging to put in edging or weeding methodically for hours on end. I may be the only person in the world who actually weeds lawn dandelions by hand with the weed pokey tool. I'm sure it has a real name, but weed pokey tool describes what it is and does so much better than whatever its real name is. And the people at Do It Best know what I mean when I ask for the weed pokey tool. I broke my last one.

But still - and I've lost my train of thought here, so watch me race down the track trying to catch it - I'm starting to love gardening. I feel like I gave birth to this darn tree myself, barely three feet high and with its teeny little leaves starting to unfurl. I'm so proud of my little bush for putting out its own leaves and trying hard to be a bush. And I can't help thinking that farming is the biggest racket in the world, because you put stuff in the ground and it grows for FREE! With rain and sunshine! It just grows! I mean, the plant does all the work itself! It's amazing! Of course, that method of farming would mean we'd all be eating dandelion greens for dinner every night and drinking nothing but dandelion wine, but I just can't get over my amazement at how the darn things GROW ON THEIR OWN. Everything else I've ever done that turns out an end product requires me to do something. These just grow! Like inexpensive children who don't beg for Nintendo products!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Eyebrows Is a Sitcom Waiting to Happen

So I finally got this letter off for one of my clients, to the most irritating opponent in the world. I had to keep rewriting it to take out my obvious annoyance. Took forever. When I finally finished, I was filled with unholy glee. With my unholy glee in hand, I turned to my to-do list to cross "Client X Letter" off my list with a viciousness of pen I usually reserve for stabbing inappropriate users of the possessive to death. ("Apostrophe Clearance Sale! All Apostrophe's Must Go!") I start scanning down the list ...

Ground Beef
Red Wine Vinegar

... and it takes me a moment of extreme puzzlement to figure out that that's my grocery list, not my to-do list.

I can so see it as an episode of Home Improvement, can't you? Jill leaves Tim a to-do list when she goes out of town for the weekend, and Tim ends up taking the grocery list instead. Tool-related chaos ensues! Fun for the whole family!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Was It Really Only a Dream?

Mr. McGee doesn't like it when I blog about him. He says I make stuff up and leave stuff out. But he says and does so many funny things that I just can't help it! When you spend 15 hours a day with someone, they're bound to do something amusing at some point, even if 8 of those hours are spent asleep.

Case in point:

Last night I had this bizarre dream that I was hanging out with three of my girlfriends, and our husbands were all there. We women were talking about cats, while the men were nearby building the world's first hot air balloon that ran on farts. (Yes, I know, it's yet another post about farting. I don't usually spend this much time talking about human gas emissions, I promise.)

So when I woke up this morning and we were groggifying in bed before facing the day, I related this dream to my husband.

He replies, and I still don't know if he was awake or asleep when he said this: "Did the balloon INFLATE with farts or was it PROPELLED with farts?"

Which points out the basic, essential difference between the sexes: My dream did not specify whether farting was a method of inflation or propulsion. It was the first thing he thought of, even half-asleep.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Everything You Need to Know about Marriage

Mr. McGee (calling from the other room, of course, while Eyebrows is trying to be a productive member of the working world): "I lost the reminder card for my dentist's appointment."
Eyebrows: "Well, look on the calendar. I wrote it on the calendar."
"It's not on the calendar."
"Yes it is."
"No it isn't."
"Yes, it is."
"No it ... oh, wait, there it is. Why did you write it on the calendar?"
"Because I knew you'd lose the reminder card."