Wednesday, November 30, 2005

It's all in the wrist

My neighbor asked me how work was going.
I said it was okay and that I was taking a copyediting course.

He looked thoughtful for a moment and then asked,
"What kind of software do you use for copyediting?"

So I explained that people really don't use software to copyedit;
it is something done with brainpower.

"So, you do it by hand?" was his response.

His tone made it into an archaic activity, like churning butter.

Actually, I could see that on a t-shirt: Copyeditors Do It By Hand.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Experts say that solitary confinement can lead to hallucinations, severe anxiety, memory loss and ultimately that clinical state known as "crazy". It is a punishment; something forced upon a prisoner. In contrast, choosing to be by yourself is usually temporary and easily remedied. Many people in the U.S., even those who have families, spend more time alone than people in other parts of the world.

This past weekend I visited with a friend whose family is from the Caribbean. The house was spacious, yet every day relatives either came out of their rooms or drove from across town to cram into the kitchen and shoot the breeze.

So today I took a moment to look up from the book I was reading to see something interesting in the lunchroom at the course I am attending this week.

There was only one person sitting at each table.

It stayed like this for a while. Each of us in our own universe. I am not criticizing since I was a willing participant in this system. One person came in and spoke to another, but it was a brief conversation. Two women who obviously wanted a table to themselves so they could create their own universe entered, but when they could find nowhere to sit,they left.

There is nothing wrong with sitting by yourself. It was just interesting to look up and see that each person in the room had chosen to do so. Seemingly, every table was full, although there was only one person there. One person with food, or a book, or some knitting.

Finally, four courageous people came in and sat at a table in the center with one of the lone planets. These people spent the rest of the lunchtime engaging in a lively conversation. They were the center of our universe; the rest of us orbited around them silently.

Monday, November 28, 2005

"Keep me posted on that score!"

That was what I heard the driver of the Greyhound bus I rode home after Thanksgiving saying repeatedly on his cell phone.

Throughout the ride (nearly 5 hours), I heard the melodious tone of his cell phone. And time and time again, he answered. At one point he held it up at a driver who had almost collided with us. That person was also on a cell phone. It looked like an angry gesture, but can I really be certain of that? Perhaps he was expressing solidarity with a fellow daredevil.

Since I was sitting in the very first seat, I heard a lot in between naps. (The bus was about to take off as I arrived, but that is another story.) One of his coworkers complained of an ache somewhere. He asked about it, but then concluded that her significant other would have to take care of it.

Because really, when he wasn't asking about "the game", he was providing a public service. There were many conversations with people that I understood to be fellow busdrivers. He warned them of where traffic was heavy (between exits 10 and 6; it clears up past the toll) and suggested alternative routes.

At many gatherings people go around the table to say what they are thankful for, but today, post-Thanksgiving, I am thankful that my fellow passengers and I made it home alive.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Let's see you make an outfit outta this

I went to a screening of "RENT" last night. Not only did I see the movie for free, but I walked out with a couple of freebies as well. However, I will report that I did not get the long-sleeved t-shirt or the knit hat that had a brim, which where the most coveted items.

What is it about freebies that sends people into a frenzy?

I, for instance, did not make any effort to get the movie poster because if it survived the ride home, it was destined to become yet another dust-collector. More often that not, you end up with something that just sits around, but you are reluctant to get rid of it because you got at no cost. Somehow it has more value because you did not actually pay for it. I am sure some economist has some theory to explain this. Most of us are also proud of the bargains we get, whether they are actual bargains or not. There is a psychological boost that accompanies a great bargain. Or what we perceive to be a great bargain. Nobody loves free stuff more than I do, but even I have become more discriminating (well, sometimes).

So having said that I can tell you what I did get. The promotional people were tossing packets in the air and I reached out for one, not even knowing what all this exertion was for. I got fingerless gloves with the word "RENT" on the knuckles. I have limited use for fingerless gloves, so you'd think I would be finished trying to get free stuff. But, oh no. Moments after pondering what exactly I'd do with fingerless gloves ("They're for playing piano," my friend said.), I reached for the next gift being tossed into the air. Legwarmers. (I love the 80s.) Or perhaps armwarmers. They came attached as a set, but only one of them is embossed with the word "RENT".

Fingerless gloves and legwarmers...hey, winter is approaching.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Flip Side

I reported on a banquet for a local newspaper last week, and the article is a "Just the facts, ma'am" sort of thing. I couldn't include any of the fun stuff, but like the old lady who comes to the dinner with foil in her purse, I saved it all for you.

*The banquet was a fundraiser for a civil rights org. I once worked for that org and when someone asked me why I do not anymore, my response was, "Why indeed."

*It has been a while since I have been to such an event. I left those middle-class trappings behind to freelance, but it was all very familiar.

*There was a man holding his fist in the air during the Negro National Anthem. I have never seen anyone take this particular stance during that song, but it works.

*I saw several people munching on trays of nachos before the banquet started. I was not sure where they got them since I saw no concession stands.

*The table where I sat was only half full, but all the ranch dressing was gone before I could get any. We had globe-shaped butter pats on the table yet received no rolls. But who am I to criticize a free meal?
Desserts were already left at each place setting, so I had something to eat while I waited for dinner.

*The MC had to introduce and read a bio for the man who was to introduce the speaker. (Did you get that?) He said, " I will keep this intro short; it won't be as long as the introduction I had."

*A politician walk past me, smiled and said hello when he saw me in the hallway. The people at the registration table complained that he did not speak to them. Too bad since they are his constituents, while I do not live in his district.

*These friendly relations were short-lived, however. Later when I told him I was with a paper and asked him a question, he frowned and (jokingly?) refused to comment. (The pen is mightier than the sword, see how they tremble.) He gave me a comment and then wagged his finger at me threateningly saying he was going to read the article.

*I'm a little frightened now.

*As they took away the uneaten salads and desserts, I wondered if they would be re-used...and how soon.

*The real story of the night was that an incumbent politician (and rival of He Who Wagged His Finger) was on the program and did not show up at all. He Who Wagged will be running against the No Show in an upcoming election. But HWW was there to pose for photos and pass put pictures. HWW sat in NS's empty seat on the dais and presented the award that NS was supposed to present.

*The woman next to me saw me scribbling and asked if I was doing a report for school. I told her it was for a local paper and she said, "Oh! I thought you were a teenager!" Woe is me with these youthful good looks ;-) No wonder no one takes me seriously.

My first free $75 a plate dinner. May there be many more.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Court is in session, Judge O presiding

We have all heard of "the court of public opinion" and we may know some folks who have been tried there. But how many of us will be tried in the court of O? Not many, and unless we suddenly wake up to find ourselves enodowed with fame and fortune, we won't be.

The Oprah Show is where celebs go to have their cases tried. I said as much to a friend and she was able to break down that parallels between the show's set up and the judicial system, with psychiatrists functioning as expert witnesses.

Most of these cases involve the dissolution of a marriage, and most of the people who show up in court are female. Halle went. Uma had a court date. Jennifer Anniston went there to proclaim her newfound joy. I think Halle got off easier than Uma, but then again Halle is Oprah's friend after all. And I am constantly amazed at the questions O can ask. Like a judge she has the power to interrupt witness testimony or simply pose very pointed questions.

This was never more apparent than on a show earlier this week when author Terry McMillan and her ex-husband Jonathan Plummer came to dissect their marriage. Now this was a first-the "celeb" ex-husband not only got to have his say, he got to sit right next to his former spouse on the couch while he said it. O asked if he did have sex with men outside the marriage, and when he hedged a little, like a real judge, she insisted that he answer the question. To her credit, Oprah admitted her own bias at one point telling Plummer that she herself turned on him when he sued his wife for money. Oprah never claimed to be completely objective.

Considering the size of her audience, The Oprah Show is a good place to go when you want to get people on your side. But you're more likely to find success there if you are a woman. The Terry/Jonathan episode did not hide Terry McMillan's angry outbursts, we saw clips of an angry Terry on the Tavis Smiles show, and heard recordings of the nasty phone messages she left for her former love. Jonathan got a fair trial. And that is just it--it was he who was on trial, there to defend himself. His ex-wife wasn't on trial and while you can make a case to say they were co-defendants, there to defend their marriage, we all know it ain't so.

So I'd caution men who are thinking of making a date to have their case heard in the Court of O. You might want to reconsider. Just ask Tom Cruise.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


I went to vote this morning in local elections and it was a lot easier to find a parking space than when I voted in the last national election. The wait was rather short, too. But that is to be expected.

As I waited for the two people ahead of me to sign in, I read the sign asking people to present ID. I looked in my wallet and pulled out a card. Had I really looked, I would have seen what it was, but I didn't. It has become habit: if I am reaching into my wallet, this is the card I must need. As I got closer to the registration table, I saw that what I had in my hand was not my driver's license, but a debit card. Now that is a sad commentary indeed because clearly my name is not Visa.

The good thing about where I live is that the city has money. You as a citizen may not have any, but the city does, which means you can benefit from good libraries, community programs, etc. We have electronic voting machines, and each voter is given a code to enter, so your vote is identified by code. There are no chads, pregnant or otherwise. (You already forgot about that, didn't you?)

For once I can say that I have actually seen one of the candidates, up close and personal. One of these hopefuls actually came to my church. Not only did he come, but he stayed for the entire service, and went downstairs to talk to people afterwards. Now as a child, I saw candidates come to my church, to do a "drop in and wave". They came, the pastor recognized them, maybe they said a few words, maybe not, and then they left. Of course the fact there there were 5 churches on that particular stretch of road made it a good area to visit because you could hit several congregations at once and still be home for dinner.

After I had electronically selected my choice for the next governor, etc. I received a smile and an "I voted" sticker with a wavy American flag on it. Not bad at all, considering that my own father narrowly missed being shot when he traveled to Mississippi to try to register voters in the 60s. Not bad at all.

Monday, November 07, 2005

No Rest for the Weary

Recently the Washington Post Magazine did a "teen" issue that focused on issues affecting local teenagers. One factoid I gleaned from this came from a telephone survey of DC area teens: 56% said that school was the biggest stress in their daily lives.

I can believe it. If school is your job (and we all know how stressful jobs can be), then it stands to reason that it would be the cause of major headaches. They did not specify which aspects of school (academic, social,etc.) was stressing more than half of these kids out, but whatever the case, for some school outweighed family, societal pressures, and friends as a main source of worry for some.

Yesterday's Post Magazine had a group of articles that looked at the teacher-student relationship, including a series of vignettes in which teachers reminisced about students who changed their lives. There was also a piece from a father who felt that grades don't count before high school. (The article was about handling conflict with your child's teacher.)

If only someone had told me that. Grades always mattered in my house. And since grammar school grades affected the high school you'd enter and the high school you entered and the grades you got there would determine the college you got into, there was never a time when grades didn't matter.

So I was concerned the other night when I baby-sat my niece, a first grader, and she was herself stressing out about homework. As I was tucking her into bed she suddenly remembered that she had not done her homework. I tried to reassure her that it was Friday night and she had two whole days to get it done, but she would not be comforted. She really felt that the homework had to be done on the day it was assigned and that she had too much to do on Saturday and Sunday to finish it by the time Monday rolled around. Nothing I said seemed to help, but the need to sleep won out over the need to contemplate the impending doom of arriving to school on a Monday with unfinished homework...

at least until about 2 a.m. After already playing musical beds earlier in the night (my niece deciding that it was much better to sleep in the guest bed with me, than in her own), I awoke to find her standing over me.

"Auntie, will you help me with my spelling words?"

In my sleepy haze, I told her to go back to bed, but found I was unable to move. Yet, I was still awake after the grogginess passed. I tried to remember why I was awake in the first place. Oh yeah, something about spelling words. I went into my niece's room (she had returned there) to find her under the covers, with one eye half open and the spelling list in her hand. I took the list away and told her to go to sleep.

When I told her parents about this, they were not to alarmed. They seemed to be glad that she takes school so seriously. As a reforming overacheiver, I can see the value in that, but I also see the danger. I did not get so serious about school until much later. In the first grade I came home and did my homework, but it did not have a big place in my life. I slept soundly; I doubt thoughts of spelling would have roused me from sleep.

She woke me up again later and when I asked her what time it was, she said, "The big hand is on the five and the little hand is on the five." She cannot tell time, but she already knows that the weekends slip past you quickly and that Monday morning is lurking around the next corner waiting to club you over the head, reminding you of all the things you didn't get done.