Monday, December 31, 2007


Well, it's been a long time since my last video game addiction. I was into the Sims for a couple of months about three years ago, and I'd spend so much time feeding my little guy and sending him to the bathroom and getting him a job that I ran a risk in real life of starving to death and/or wetting my pants. Playing the Sims had all of the appeal of playing with my doll house when I was 7. I got to build a house and add onto it and buy furniture. I named all of my Sims after NPR personalities, so I got to be the hand of God that caused Nina Totenberg and Corey Flintoff to fall in love and start a family (until Nina started her little fling with Carl Kasell). Anyway, eventually, I realized that I was hungry and I had to pee, so I let the Sims gather virtual dust inside of my computer, and Nina and Corey and Carl returned to their original roles in my life as voices on the radio.

The Sims was one of those games that was designed to appeal to women, because the male video game market was already tapped, but women weren't playing. It worked (at least for me), because the Sims was all about relationships, and the slow building of a life. You begin with a little bit of money and a simple house, and you have to work from the ground up, gradually adding rooms, upgrading your stove and getting promoted at your job. You flirt slowly with the Sim next door, talking about sports and birds until eventually your thoughts turn to love, and then you get to work on living happily ever after by expanding the house and having babies. In the Sims world, though, I was always more into the house addition than the new family members, because the babies just meant more mouths to feed and trips to the bathroom.

So, it's no coincidence that my new video game addiction is also made for women and families. The Nintendo Wii, is actually about the relationships of the real people holding the controllers, though. You get to jump around and be silly with your friends and family, flailing wildly and ducking and weaving as your virtual selves box it out on the screen. You can team up and play tennis together, feeling like a well-oiled machine with your friend (or like a machine that has a couple of missing cogs as the case may be). You also get to slowly build up your skill points, which feels a little like being a Sim and finding your way in the world. And, of course, I can spend twenty minutes creating a "Mii" who looks just like me (sort of, almost, a little bit), which appeals to the doll house lover in me.

I'm just glad that I don't have to feed the Mii or take her to the bathroom, and, just to be safe, I'm not going to let her flirt with any other Miis. I don't know how effective Mii birth control is, but I do know a thing or two about abstinence, damn it.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Jinxing It

So you get all dressed up, and you spend more time than you'd like to admit wondering if it's OK that there's a gap between the bottom edge of your skirt and the top of your very first pair of sexy-ish black boots (with sensible heels) and, if it is OK, should your tights be black or gray? You wear a little bit of make-up because you hear that that's what the real girls are doing these days, but then you get nervous in the car and probably chew it all off your lips, and you have dinner with a guy who looks a little bit like your older brother (who's a good-looking guy, but it's still distracting, because, ick, incest), and then you wind up having a Geek Off right there at the dinner table, and you talk about sci fi and perfect numbers, and you kind of wish you'd shut up, but even more, you kind of wish he'd like this about you, more than the chewed-off lipstick and the skirt, because who knows when you'll be wearing those things again, but the geek? That's forever, baby.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How to Make an American Pick up Litter

So this morning, as I was walking Buddy through the winter wonderland that Minnesota has become since yesterday, I saw a plastic Ziploc bag lying in the road at 38th street. I probably would have let it stay there, except when I glanced at it I realized that there was cash inside. Turns out that it was only $42, but it was rolled up in such a way that it looked like much more, and, so, OK, I wouldn't have picked up this baggie if it didn't look like it was loaded with cash. Sorry. Call me greedy. It's not like I was going to take the money for my own.

And so I detoured slightly at the sight of the greenbacks, and I picked it up, and I discovered that it not only contained cash, but bank account numbers written in an old person's handwriting, keys, a cell phone, a wallet, credit cards, a social security card, a drivers license, and a phone bill. I looked around for hidden cameras. This was obviously a test. It was probably some sort of "Which City is more Honest?" thing for some weekly news magazine. I didn't see any cameras, but I was starting to worry about the owner of this property, so I walked Buddy back home (which he thought was a Very Bad Idea since we hadn't even gone a block yet, and he really had to crap out that entire loaf of freshly baked French bread he allegedly stole off of the counter at Christmas yesterday) and I started my investigations. Now, you don't have to be Veronica Mars (or even Nancy Drew) to figure out someone's phone number from a Qwest phone bill account number, so I dialed the number, but a fax machine answered.

As I listened to the high-pitched language of data transfers, I glanced through the rest of the bag. There was a number and the mystery guy's name written on the outside of the bag, so I figured he was probably a newly-released prisoner, and these were all of his possessions when he entered the joint. I even imagined his buddy picking him up in a cab from prison, them arguing in the back seat (about his refusal to reveal the location of the bounty from their most recent crime spree), and then the inevitable pummeling, followed by his no-longer buddy tossing all of his worldly possessions out the window, before dumping his body somewhere far away. Of course, this explanation falls apart with the existence of the $42. No way some hardened criminal is just going to throw $42 out the window. Still, this scenario kind of made me glad I was trying to communicate with a fax machine rather than a real person.

It didn't really fit with the guy's handwriting though. His account numbers, written on the back of an address book which had turned yellow on the edges with age, were written in the handwriting of a frail and shaky old man. The first names in the address book, too, were not the first names of the friends of criminals. They were names like "Bev" and "Arlene" and "Roger". Old names.

Then I pulled out a yellow slip of paper. It was an inventory of the contents of my mystery baggie right down to a list of the bills that made up the $42, and it was from the Hennepin County Medical examiner. This was a dead guy. I was looking at everything this man was carrying right until he died three days before Christmas. Poor George. Somehow him being dead made me want to protect him even more than him being a living person ripe for identity theft. And so I walked and fed Buddy, because he wasn't going to wait for any mystery. And now I'm off to the police station (another long and snowy walk for some lucky dog) where I will put poor George's belongings in the hands of professionals, so they can contact Bev or Arlene or Roger and take care of his things properly.

PS For those of you still wondering about the resolution to that other mystery "The Case of the Missing French Bread", Buddy's intestines added to the circumstantial evidence that he was the culprit. I'm his biggest fan and his most ardent supporter, but I knew he was the guilty party all along.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Secret Optimism

Despite being a rather depressive and pessimistic person (especially at this time of year), I do have a secret deep-seated belief that there are many men with whom I could happily spend the rest of my life. I also believe that if I keep looking, I'm bound to find one of them. Sometimes, I think that I've already let some of them go in my youth and my ignorance. But since I'm not a believer in the One True Love theory, it doesn't always make me despair knowing that those good men are long gone.

On the other hand I'm starting to think that none of my true loves dates online. Oh, well. I'll go back to joining stuff. Maybe I'll volunteer for some Democrat. I'm pretty sure all of my true loves are Democrats. I'll also continue to beg my friends for blind dates. Somehow I think this will work better than joining the lonely hearts online. Although, I must say, married people don't seem to take their responsibility of setting up their single friends very seriously at all. Come on, people. Be a pal. It's no skin off your noses.

And now I've become distracted by the word "deep-seated". I initially wrote it as deep-seeded, but, since Google is so easy I looked it up. It's "seated". Wouldn't it be better if it were the other way? It's firmly planted, right? So seeds. Plants. Get it? Oh, well. Stupid English never makes sense, anyway. That's why we should all do math all the time.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

My Musical Ear

I spent last night at the St Paul Chamber Orchestra listening to the Brandenburg Concertos. If you are one of the people who actually knows me, I know what you're thinking. It goes something like this: "What? You? Music?" I have a little problem with music. I can't hear it. For a long time, I thought I was tone deaf, but my 8th grade band teacher informed me that I was good at tuning my trombone (and finding the notes along the slide), so my problem is deeper than mere tone-deafness. No, I actually think I'm tune deaf. I can't piece together the individual notes in my brain and form a melody. I should say that I have a really, really hard time piecing together the notes, because I hate it when people say they "can't" do math, and, besides, I do know three or four tunes. I know the way "Take me Out to the Ballgame" sounds (and even Jimmy says that I mostly sing it on key). I can also sing "The Wheels on the Bus", which is an old preschool trick. I believe in singing to kids, but with my disability I didn't master every song, so I just made up new lyrics to one song. I'm not so good at "Happy Birthday" even though I've heard it at least 34 times, so I lip-sync that one. I do have the melody to a couple of Beatles songs stuck in my brain.

Mostly what I do when music is playing is I tune it out. My brain gets tired of trying to make sense of the tune, so I think about something else. Sometimes the something-else is the lyrics. I sometimes turn on country music, for example, when MPR is running a pledge drive, because I enjoy the stories in the lyrics, but I couldn't sing you the tune of a single country music song.

Once when I was relatively old, I was stuck in a record store with my dad (who loves music), and I was bored so I wandered around looking at things. I discovered a section of the store called "Movie Soundtracks", which is when I found out that all movies - not just musicals - have music in them. I flipped through the records marveling at this whole new world I'd never noticed before. "Bull Durham" had music? What? I never knew.

Anyway, when my old and dear friend T invited me to listen to chamber music with her, I was flattered and interested enough that I thought I would try it out. Maybe in person, with the instruments right there in front of me, I could pay attention to the music. Classical music, however, is the very hardest for me, because there are no lyrics to focus my attention.

The first song (concerto? musical piece?) caught my attention for a little while because it sounded like men and women arguing. The men were the baseline with slow, steady, repetitive, and well-reasoned arguments. The women were the violins arguing with passion and volume and eloquence. By the end of the song (movement?), both voices spoke with triumphant joy at winning the argument. The men knew that they couldn't have lost with such reasonable and steady arguments, and the women were just as certain that their verbal acumen had once again carried the day. I was proud of myself. I had found a way to focus on the music. I couldn't possibly hum one strain of what I had just heard, but even without lyrics I had a whole story figured out in my head.

Then T turned to me and said, "It's so festive, you can just imagine a room full of people in ball-gowns dancing, can't you?" So I smiled and agreed, because my argument theory was obviously the wrong way to hear the music. Still, it sort of worked, so I tried it with the next piece. I can't say I was always successful at making up stories to keep my mind from wandering back to school or the taste of my dinner still lingering in my mouth or my cracked and bleeding hands, but I can say that I stayed awake for the entire concert. Which is saying something since it went way past my bedtime.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What I Want

What I really want right now is a connection. I want to stay up late into the night talking, because we can't think of anything not to say. I want to wake up the next day too tired to function, but blissful and somehow energized, because I can't wait to say the 24 more things I've thought of to say the next night. I want to feel excited for the phone to ring. I want to be sure about someone. I want to feel beautiful and smart and exciting, and I want to be able to make him feel that way, too. I'd love to come home to a meal cooked for me on some ordinary Tuesday. I want someone I can call when some lame very-special Christmas episode of "Bones" makes me tear up, so the tears can turn to laughter and snot, instead of moroseness and despair. I want a travel companion who knows how to take off on his own sometimes. Someone who could read books on the couch next to me while I grade papers. A warm place to put my feet at night. I want him to kick my butt into graduate school already. I want someone to plan with me. I want him to crack inappropriately surprising jokes that keep me from ever really anticipating his sense of humor. And if it's not too much to ask, on top of all of this, can he be tall and lanky, too, please, so that I feel like touching him? Often.

Have I squandered another perfectly good lifetime listening to Car Talk, or can I feel this way one more time again before I start knitting tea cozies and adopting stray cats, while I peek around my curtain and call the city about neighbors who don't shovel their walks properly?

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Two side-by-side houses in my neighborhood each shoveled themselves out of the snowstorm this week. Inexplicably, neither one of them shoveled a foot-and-a-half wide swatch of sidewalk somewhere between the two houses, leaving a patch of untouched snow between two well-cleared areas. I can only come to one conclusion: They are in the midst of a terrible feud, possibly involving sex, drugs, or a disagreement about a fence. This is very exciting. I will have to keep an eye on the no-man's-land between these two houses. Will the disputed territory extend to mowing as well? Will one of them crack and take the extra half a minute it would take to clear that last scoop of snow or will it continue to pile up threatening death and destruction to old ladies, until the city is forced to consult its maps to determine the exact property line between the two houses? What could have been so terrible that the second shoveler stopped before he reached that stripe of snow? I may have to set up surveillance. Or maybe, just maybe, I've seen too many episodes of Veronica Mars this winter.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Fern and I coined a new term. I, of course, forgot all about it, until she reminded me last night. It was in response to a certain situation at a wedding last month. The wedding had square dancing instead of the traditional awkward couple-swaying so common at most weddings these days. Square dancing increased participation because the caller would tell you exactly what to do, and, even if you didn't have your own partner at the wedding, asking someone to square dance is a non-sexual advance, so it was relatively easy to participate as a single person.

At any rate, we each separately noticed a very particular unpleasant smell emanating from the crowd of people dancing. Because so many people kept swapping partners, it turned out to be nearly impossible to identify the exact source of this odor, but as the night progressed both Fern and I put forth several private theories, most of which didn't hold up to the long night of dancing. We also each worried that we were the objects of other people's hypotheses since we realized that we were just two more faces in the crowd of possible suspects. Eventually, since the smell continued no matter who was on the dance floor, I was left with just three surviving suspects.

First, I had to suspect the caller. He was the only common denominator whenever I was dancing (other than myself, and I ruled myself out because I'd know if it were me). He was also a logical suspect, the sort of crunchy granola, older dude who wouldn't hold in his farts if he had to cut one.

Second, since the dance floor wasn't far from the bathrooms, it could have been a plumbing, rather than a gastric problem. The women's bathroom seemed fine from my two visits there, but who knew about the men's? It could have been the source of a lot of unpleasantness.

And finally, I suspected the dinner. It had squash and pheasant in it, both of which could have been an unfamiliar irritant to several different stomachs on the dance floor. Maybe there wasn't a single perpetrator of the stank, but several emitters of silent but deadly gases. This "grassy knoll" hypothesis seemed at least as likely as the caller, and slightly more likely than the men's bathroom (because, really, wouldn't one of the men have mentioned it?).

At any rate, it was a rather unsatisfying mystery, because it remains unsolved to this day. I didn't even realize anyone else had noticed it, until during the car ride home, Fern abruptly announced that we needed a word to describe the lingering, but unidentified, fart smell on the dance floor. "Ambigasity" won the short debate. We don't have an answer, but at least we have a word.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

There Might As Well Be Snow

If it's going to be cold anyway...if the ground will be hard with frost and the grass will be gray and dormant...if the sun won't shine after 4:00 in the afternoon...if I'm paying for all this heat to leak out my 97-year-old windows...well, then there might as well be six inches of clean, white snow on the ground. I don't know if I'll ever learn to be the type of person who loves the winter, but I am the type of Minnesotan who gets all edgy and nervous when we live through all of the symptoms of winter with no snow.

Last year, for example, there was hardly any snow far too late in the season, and we'd also have strange warm days mixed in with our cold ones. I used to watch the grounds crew at the local park try to make ice. It was the saddest ritual. It'd be 5:45 in the morning while I walked past with Buddy, and they'd be bundled up so many layers thick with Carharts that you couldn't identify them by gender. Morning after morning they'd stand there in the cold darkness, watering the ice. At 5:45 in the morning the water would turn slushy as it hit the ground. Then, by 10:00, the sun would come out, the thermometer would hit 40 degrees and the slush would turn back to water, so they'd have to try again the next day. All through December they tried. It was into January, and the ice still wouldn't stick. I began to see it as a portent of evil, a sign of the apocalypse. No ice in Minnesota in January. We really fucked up the planet this time.

This year, though, their first layer of ice is already laid down on the ground, and it's surrounded by mounds of fresh snow and it's only the first days of December. We are back to where we belong. All is right with the world. The kids can sled and skate, and I can tromp through snow with Buddy on my morning walk. I don't love the winter, but I do appreciate it when it behaves as it should.

PS If it happens to be your birthday today, then give yourself a big hug from me, and give me a shout so I can buy you dinner.