Friday, December 15, 2006

Eat a Cheeseburger Yourself, Jackass

Lately, I've been thinking about bodies.

Let me explain. The other night, I was working late, with the oldies station playing in the background. The DJ came on and announced that Nicole Richie had been arrested for DUI, and that she had a height of 5'1" and weighed 85 pounds. The DJ then proceeded with one of those "eat a sandwich/cheeseburger/other food" jokes that are never half as funny as the teller seems to think they are.

And that's what got me thinking. Why does this guy feel it's ok to have a negative opinion about a complete stranger's body? Particularly if it's a thin person's body? Why are women's bodies considered public property in America? Men simply don't undergo that level of scrutiny.

My experience in Colombia was different, but no less bizarre. Women there are in love with plastic surgery, and seem to take it as casually as American women treat hair dye. Looks were paramount, and there was no shame in getting a bit of work done. Several of my girlfriends were sliced, diced, and repackaged during their time in Bogota. Several shopgirls out-and-out told me to undergo a breast enhancement (which would make me resemble two bowling balls strapped to a two-by-four.)

Bosnia, by comparison, was a tremendous relief. I don't recall anyone mentioning plastic surgery, or even discussing their bodies at all. Which might be why I find America's relationship with women's bodies so weird. It was a big shock to come back to.

First off, women can't win in this country. One week in the supermarket checkstand, there was a tabloid featuring famous-yet-pudgy women in swimsuits, with all sorts of mocking headlines. Down with Fatties! The very next week, there was a photo essay titled "Way Too Skinny!" Look at the Freaks! What an odd message: if you do what Hollywood tells you, you're instantly grotesque. If you don't, you're merely ugly.

Second, and even weirder, women's bodies are regarded as public property. This is especially true for slim women. Why do I know that Ellen Pompeo is 5'9" and wears a size 0? I can barely remember what show she's on. Why do women I barely know ask me what my dress size is, or what I weigh? Sometimes, they even make guesses! Why is that anyone's business but mine? I am always tempted to guess their dress size in return. "So, you're about a 14?" But, of course, if someone is plus-size, their weight is this huge taboo.

All of this brings me back to Nicole Richie. Why are a two-bit socialite reality star's eating habits so important? Leave the poor girl alone. Let's make "eat a cheeseburger" jokes as taboo as "fat jokes".

Confidential to Trish - hey girl, I'm updating more often for ya. Happy Hanukkah!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

So Long, and Thanks for All the 2006

I’ve been thinking about gratitude a lot lately. Maybe it’s because of Thanksgiving. But I doubt that, since I never celebrated Thanksgiving growing up (when you were raised by an Australian and a Cherokee, the Pilgrims just aren’t that big a deal). I think it’s because we’re coming up to the end of 2006, which on paper is the worst year I’ve ever had: I got divorced, moved back to D.C., had to start my life over from scratch, find a job, and keep my kidneys from killing me. Plus, I went to see Marie Antoinette, and there’s two and a half hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

But, in a strange way, 2006 has also been the best year of my life. I’ve always said that change doesn’t come cheap. I have a fresh slate and a new life, and I even entered a new decade (I turned 30 in November). I gave up a lot of things, and got a lot more in return. So, to close out 2006, I’d like to talk about all of the things I’m grateful for:

I’ll start with my friends, who I also consider my family. You never know who your real friends are until you go through hell. My gang loves and supports me, even when they don’t necessarily agree with me. I always know if I’m living right or screwing up, or even if my outfit is a bit on the frumpy side. I have a wide assortment of people I can nurture and annoy, which I love to do. And let’s not forget my sister, who always comes up with something kind to say (even if it’s, “Take care of your kidneys. You can’t have mine!”)

Then there’s the basic stuff. I have a job with health insurance, a roof over my head, and food to eat.

But then there’s the petty stuff: Flexcar. Good posture. Gerbera daisies. Newspaper home delivery, high-dose antibiotics, beer nuts, Lean Pockets, bargain shopping, hair dye, chivalry (bonus points for knowing which side of the sidewalk to walk on), matinees, mousse with leave-in conditioner, Yeungling, cheeseburgers, and the ability to run in heels.

And there’s everything I shouldn’t be grateful for. I’m glad that I don’t have a lot of money, because I enjoy living simply. I like beer, cheeseburgers and a decent jukebox much more than I’ve ever liked fancy dinners with multiple forks. I’m glad I got so sick, because I’ve learned to take better care of myself. And, oddly, being divorced is awesome. Once you break out the D-word, you’ll know right away if the person you’re speaking to is cool…or a judgmental freak. It’s a handy B.S. detector. Also, it means that no one ever pesters me about when I’m getting married.

Last of all, I’m grateful that I’ve survived the last year with my karma intact. Sometimes it takes a bad year to bring out the best in you, and I think I passed the test.

So, have a merry Christmas, Festivus, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah, and I’ll write again soon.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Brother, Can You Spare a Kidney?

Ever had a kidney infection? I did, which meant that August was a full-on festival of fun.

It all started on a quiet Tuesday morning, when I rolled into work with a bit of a fever. (Later, I discovered that it was actually quite a lot of a fever.) I told a few coworkers that I seemed to have a touch of the flu, and therefore might leave early. One of the women in my office told me I looked much sicker than that, and might want to consider going to a hospital. Pshaw! Hospitals are for wusses.

So I went home. I felt fine. Well, except for the raging fever, the shooting pains in my side, the pervasive mental fog, and the sickening feeling that maybe I was pretty bad off after all.

I spent the next hour at home, cuddled up in bed, cradling my cell phone. A friend called me with the address of an urgent care clinic in my neighborhood, so I walked over. On the way, a cop driving past rolled down his window and asked if I was OK. My response? “Oh, sure, fine. How are you?”

I got to the clinic and settled into a chair. When I was called in to see a nurse, she immediately shoved a thermometer into my mouth, drew it out, and almost dropped the thing with surprise.

Nurse: So, what brings you here today?
Me: I might have a touch of the flu.
Nurse: It might be more than a touch. Your temperature is 104.
Me: Cool!

After some paperwork, I was shuttled in to see a doctor. He punched me in the back a couple of times, then informed me that I had a kidney infection. I was a little delirious at this point, but I do recall asking if I could simply borrow his kidney. Then he told me I should really be in a hospital, at which point I refused because “people die in hospitals.” Yes, that was my logic. Like I said, I was a bit delirious.

Eventually, my fever went down to a downright comfy 101, and I was sent home. The doctor had me “monitor my condition” for the rest of the evening. “Monitoring” meant I was supposed to sit around and see if I got any sicker, in which case I’d have to go to the ER. The doctor was concerned that I wouldn’t know if my temperature went back up to 104 or not, but once you’ve experienced a temperature that high you don’t tend to forget it.

The next morning, I received a two-week prescription to Cipro. Seriously, two weeks. Did people with anthrax even take Cipro for that long? The next 14 days were a parade of Cipro’s greatest side effect hits, including: loss of appetite, wooziness, ooziness, and, grossest of all, a yellow metallic-tasting goo that coated the inside of my mouth for two days. I resorted to scraping it all off with a metal nail file, which did interesting things for my gag reflex. Sexy!

I was pretty sick over the next few days. Fever, chills, goofy delirium, 16 hours a day of sleep, and occasional moments where I shook all over and prayed for death. (I marked my recovery in terms of how long it had been since I’d prayed for death…12 hours! I must be getting better! 24 hours! The PTD “Pray for Death” Scale became the central theme of my life.) There were also balcony repairs going on outside my building, meaning that occasionally I felt as if I were trying to nap inside a cement mixer.

I thought about how much easier it would have been this sick in my old life. The Embassy Health Unit would have been my one-stop-shop. My spouse could have taken care of me. Missing a week of work wouldn’t have been such a financial setback for me, because I had sick leave, and a spouse to pick up the financial slack. I spent entire hours feeling sorry for myself, which is more self-pity than I’ve allowed myself all year.

But it’s OK. My friends nurtured the heck out of me, with everything from movie nights to grocery runs to reassuring text messages. “Thinking of you…” “How can I help…” “A kidney infection is life’s little way of telling you to stop and smell the roses…” “If your temperature hits 105, sell!”

The recovery felt like it took forever. By the end of the week, I’d lost about 8 pounds (a lot, when you consider I barely weigh triple digits as it is). My pants hung off me, making me look a bit like Marky Mark. I had to drink almost a gallon of cranberry juice a day. I had to cut back on sodium and caffeine, my two favorite food groups. I slept for much of the next three weeks, and had to cut back on my usual Paris Hilton-style social life.

Maybe this really was life’s little way of telling me to stop and smell the roses. I looked at my appointment calendar, and realized I’d gone out 13 of 14 days before I got sick. I’d been having symptoms of a kidney infection for almost a week before I’d noticed that anything was wrong. I didn’t have any clean clothes because I hadn’t been home to do laundry for almost three weeks. Hey! Maybe I overdo things a little. Maybe I should slow down.

But, most likely, I won’t. Who am I kidding? I need for life to have momentum, to have something new always around the corner. But maybe I’ve gotten smarter. Hopefully next time one of my organs goes rogue agent and tries to assassinate me, I’ll see a doctor right away. Like I’ve always said, I need to learn my lessons the hard way.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Typical Monday Morning

I often say that I am not a morning person, and that I simply do not function at any intelligent level during single digit hours. Many of my friends believe this is just an effort on my part to be cute. I'm cute enough. I really couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

Therefore, for your approval, I submit the true story of my most recent Monday morning:
7:05 Alarm goes off.
7:15 Alarm goes off.
7:25 Alarm goes off.
7:35 Alarm goes off.
7:45 Alarm goes off. Get out of bed.
7:46 Forget that bed has been moved to new position. Exit bed, crash forehead into wall. Emit copious string of swear words in multiple languages.
7:48 Turn on coffeemaker.
7:50 Turn on shower.
7:51 Brush teeth.
7:55 Remember that shower is running. Get into shower.
8:10 Exit shower. Retrieve clothing for day, which had been lovingly compiled the previous evening.
8:12 Notice that I have shaved my left leg twice and my right leg not at all, meaning that one leg is a gory mess and the other is a maze of stubble.
8:16 Compile new outfit, not involving leg exposure. Dress.
8:20-8:22 Drink first cup of coffee.
8:23-8:26 Apply makeup. Stab self in eye with mascara.
8:27 Comb hair. Attempt to subdue hair, which has achieved a ski jump formation on left side.
8:30 Give up on hair.
8:31 Chug second cup of coffee.
8:32 Remove lunch from fridge. Pack bag. Leave apartment.
8:33 Return to apartment to retrieve forgotten cell phone.
8:35 Return to apartment to retrieve forgotten Metro card.
8:36 Return to apartment to retrieve forgotten item which had not, in fact, been forgotten.
8:38 Board elevator. Get stuck in elevator.
8:40 Band together with fellow passengers to pry open elevator doors. Smush fingers.
8:41 Escape elevator. Leave building. Go to work.

PS - Happy birthday to Jason Hamrick and Matt Lauer, both of whom got older and wiser yesterday.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hundred Dollar Baby

My life philosophy can be summed up as, “Always do anything that would make a good story later.” I haven’t decided whether this means I’m a free spirit, or that maybe I have an impulse control problem.

A month or two back, I was drinking these margaritas called “El Cheapo” and somehow volunteered to be in a bachelor and bachelorette auction. (Note to self: this is why you don’t usually drink tequila.) Once the hangover wore off and the reality set in, I decided to go ahead and do it. Hey, I gotta get back in the dating pool sometime, and this was like doing a cannonball off the high dive. In this case, the beneficiaries were the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Sunday night was the big night, and it was surprisingly a lot of fun. I had my strategy down pat. Realizing that most guys don’t comprehend 90% of trendy clothes, I wore a simple black dress and some heels. Then I handed my checkbook to my friend Sean with the instruction, “If I tug on my earlobe twice, BUY ME.” Hey, it never hurts to have a backup plan.

Most of the auctionees and auctionettes got there early, and we all managed to bond before being ushered into what I’d been calling the “babe pit” or “cattle pen.” I had noticed a really ooky guy doing orbits of me, so I was pretty freaked out. I’m not a snob or anything, ugly is OK, and stupid is survivable for one date, but this guy gave every appearance of living in his mother’s basement, with various female body parts stuffed into his freezer and a thrilling job as night manager at the Taco Bell. (Hilariously, a couple of the bachelors had noticed the creepy guy and quietly told me, “If that guy bids, we’re buying you.” Solidarity! Aw. I must say, the best part of the auction was meeting the other bachelors and bachelorettes. They were wonderful, encouraging, fantastic, enthusiastic and fun.)

Once we’d all been ushered into the pit, we were called up one by one and sold off. The guys sold for anything from $65 to $200. Weirdly, all of the blonde women sold for $150 and up, while the brunettes were fetching around $100. So, on the open dating market, blonde hair equals an instant 50% markup. Who knew?

When it was my turn, I went up to my preassigned theme song, “My Sharona.” I’d requested “Short People Ain’t Got No Reason to Live,” but I think the DJ conveniently forgot my request. I had to do a bit of banter with the auctioneer, buy beer in three languages, describe my perfect date, then hope for the best. Really, the whole thing was a complete blur, but I do recall the ooky guy bidding $75. Then one of the bachelors stepped in with $100, and I was sold. I was told afterwards that I seemed very “natural” onstage, probably due to the three glasses of liquid courage I’d downed before going up. (I did keep my drinking pretty tame, as I’d had a nightmare the previous evening about tumbling off the stage and into the orchestra pit, with my lucky ninja panties on display. Though, let’s face it, I fall off of stuff cold sober as well.)

Supposedly, this bachelor guy and I are going out for brunch sometime. At a sports bar. Really.

I’ve learned a few things. The first thing I’ve learned is that I have awesome friends – which I already knew. Thanks to Mike T, Sean, Rowena and Amy for coming out, cheering me on, providing fashion advice and indulging my insecurities. In fact, a big thank you to everyone I’ve come in contact with over the last two months, as you’ve all in some way indulged my insecurity.

The second thing I’ve learned is that being divorced is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s a handy-dandy BS detector. Every time a guy chatted me up on Sunday, somehow the issue of my being divorced would come up. (Mainly, I have no other way of explaining why I’ve lived in such random places.) What I do is casually mention my divorce and check the guy’s reaction. If he runs for the hills, then I’m better off without him. After all, if a guy can’t handle the fact that I’m divorced, then he probably couldn’t handle my wacky family, my morning crankiness, or my neurotic shoe-alphabetizing habits. If a guy sticks around to chat some more, then he’s probably a winner.

So, the auction was really fun. I’m really glad I did it, but more than that, I am really, REALLY glad it’s over.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Love for Sale?

I’ve always been really bad at dating. I mean, awful. Catastrophically, ridiculously bad. I went out with a guy who spent the entire evening droning on about how his family disowned him, then stuck me with the check. I’ve been pinched on the butt by a guy who got roaring drunk on our first date, too. Then there was Trashed Me on His Website Guy, You’d Be Cuter if You Were Jewish Guy, and Let’s Get Matching Tattoos Guy. I’m wary of the whole enterprise.

But I’ve decided to launch myself back into it anyway, and in a rather spectacular fashion. I signed up for a bachelorette auction for the end of July. OK, it’s for charity. The event is sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, so what’s a little bit of embarrassment compared to helping cure cancer? Plus, I’m rounding up a cheering section. A few of my friends will be given blank checks with which they can rescue me if a Mullet Man decides I’m his dream date. I’m looking forward to it.

Plus, this auction has allowed me to have some awesome conversations. “Would you mind taking a digital photo of me?”
“What for?”
“It’s embarrassing.”
“What’s more embarrassing than”

In preparation, I decided to read an issue of Cosmopolitan. Yes, I am aware that studying for a bachelorette auction is hopelessly geeky, but I tend to overthink things a little. At one point I even contemplated gathering letters of reference from former boyfriends. (Is there such thing as Attention Surplus Disorder?)

Cosmo, for the record, is just a dreadful as I remembered. Every article is “62 Things to Do to Your Man Tonight!” which just sounds exhausting to me. Do men really expect 62 different things in one night? I must be getting old. When do Cosmo girls sleep? When I was 23, the typical article was “48 Things to Do to Your Man Tonight”, so I guess inflation is everywhere.

Plus there’s all the articles about “How to Twist Yourself Inside Out to Get a Man”, or “How to Dress Trampy”, or, best of all, “The Secret About Men.” (Typically, “They Like Sex.”) All of this makes me feel woefully unprepared.

So my new strategy is to just not think about it at all. Maybe someone nice will buy me. Or maybe someone awful will buy me, but at least it will make for a good story.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Ikea: 2, Dignity: 0

I’ve moved into my new apartment, and it’s just as cute as I could ever want. It's bright and sunny and really small, meaning that by comparison I feel like Godzilla.

However, I’ve discovered something troubling: I don’t own anything. When I got married, I more or less assumed it was a permanent arrangement. So I gave away most of my household stuff. Therefore, it’s been my patriotic duty as an American to spend a bunch of money that I don’t necessarily have on things I’m not sure if I really need.

I managed to purchase a few items off of Mike and Erin, meaning that I have a secondhand Ikea TV stand. (Nothing symbolizes post-divorce socioeconomic decline like secondhand Ikea). Then Worth took me to Target, where I spent $274 on stuff that every 19-year-old in America already has. Who knew you could spend so much money on forks and trash cans? The worst part was maneuvering the cart out to the car. The full-length mirror fell off the cart, dragging along the ground and shooting sparks for about 10 minutes before we figured out what that godawful noise was. Sccccrrrrrrrraaaape!

Then there was Ikea. If you ever want to be feel inferior to Sweden, then Ikea is the place for you. Kevin and I made an epic trek out there last weekend. I again spent almost $300, but this time it was on balcony furniture, a nightstand, and a bunch of kitchen stuff. All of it came neatly packed in microscopic boxes, meaning I had no conception of how much I had actually purchased until I got it all home.

For those of you who live in the non-Ikea hinterlands, the central idea of the place is that you buy cheap, Scandinavian semi-disposable particleboard crap that you assemble yourself. It's a money/time exchange: what you save in cash you lose in time and frustration. I decided that as a strong, independent woman, I could easily assemble the furniture myself. Never mind that I have no mechanical ability, am totally incapable of following directions, and don’t own a toolkit. (A toolkit is on my neverending list of Things to Buy.) I’ll borrow some tools and kick some butt.

First, there were the folding chairs for my balcony. Oh, the chairs. The first chair came out OK, except that I put the seat on backwards. The second chair refused to budge from its folded position (note to self: next time, don’t kick the wrench to make sure the bolts are tight enough).

The third chair broke me. The thing wouldn't go into the other thing, meaning I couldn't screw on the doohickey, no matter how hard I whacked the doohickey with a hammer. This started a chain-reaction freakout. I can't assemble furniture. I am totally incapable of taking care of myself. I'm weak and incompetent and stupid. I'm doomed to die alone. No, I'm doomed to die alone here in my little apartment, and no one will discover my body for weeks. I'll be eaten by my 50 cats, all of whom will be wearing little cat sweaters that I painstakingly knitted for them. No, I'm going to die alone under a bridge, in an old refrigerator, and no one will find my body until spring thaw.

After 15 minutes of free-association doom and gloom, I snapped out of it. I decided that the third chair could wait its turn, and I would move on to the fourth. The fourth chair practically assembled itself, which did wonders for my confidence. I even managed to put together a table and a nightstand without too much drama. (Well, except for when I put the nightstand drawer in upside-down, thereby diminishing its storage potential. But that was easily rectified. And I didn't cry.)

So, I assembled furniture myself. It wasn't even on my to-do list, so I feel like I achieved some self-sufficiency extra credit. I rock, I rule, I govern the known universe with an iron fist of coolness.

And as for Evil Chair #3? I got a guy to fix it. All it took was a beer and a few manly elbow jabs.(Thanks, Damien!) Hey, no woman is an island, and sometimes it's OK to ask for help.

Monday, May 15, 2006

How to Snag the Insecure Man of Your Dreams

Click on the article above and prepare to be very, very depressed. I came across this while on Hotmail today and got annoyed enough for another one of my ranting blog posts.

I just can't believe in the year 2006 successful women are still being told to dumb down their accomplishments so as to not scare off the menfolk. Granted, this doesn't really apply to me, as it's a rare man who is intimidated by office temps. (If you can locate one, I'll go out with him purely on humanitarian grounds.) However, I find it absolutely galling that women out there might actually follow this advice.

Some choice quotes:

Apparently just because you have a lot of degrees on your wall doesn’t mean you have a lot of suitors at your door.

Girls, if you're going to go to college at all, maybe you should just major in Home Ec and find a nice young man to marry you. After all, isn't that why women wanted to go to college in the first place? To shop for husbands?

And a woman having an impressive job always yields the same reaction from a man: Confusion, awkwardness, that moment when he’s wondering, “Is my job as an assistant manager of a copy shop going to sound pitiful?”

Seriously, is this true? Do all men always feel insecure when talking to successful women? I know some guys read this and post comments, so I really want to know if that's what men really think. For the sake of humanity, I hope not.

So are successful women doomed to a life of tense cheese-tray introductions? Of course not. These women can either be patient till an equally high-powered man or a naturally confident fella turns up. Or they can know how best to present their career so as not to scare off less-assured guys.

See, I would pick option #1, of being patient until I meet someone self-assured, interesting, and supportive. However, I suppose the wiser option is to learn how to play dumb, because Lord knows nothing is worse than not having a "fella". The use of the word "fella" strongly implies that this article was imported directly from 1956.

Bring your career down to reality, suggests John Gray, Ph.D., author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Open up and show a vulnerable side right from the beginning, “When a woman immediately senses that a man is intimidated, she should find a way of communicating that she has a need for some advice,” Dr. Gray explains: “For example, if she’s a doctor, she could talk to him about something frustrating that happened at the hospital that day.” Dr. Gray points out that men want to feel needed, so this tactic is a good way to bring him inside your circle.

Oh, my God. I didn't think I could despise Mars/Venus Guy any more than I already do, but now he comes out with this pile of steaming stupidity. Girls, you gotta display your needy, whiny side, so the Big Man can make you feel all better.

Seriously, did MSN borrow this article from 1956? It's 2006, and I can't believe I'm still having to explain that, yes, women can have careers, and no, they shouldn't play dumb to score their very own copy shop clerk.

I fear for humanity.

PS - Did anyone else notice the other Hotmail articles today? Women: Slim Down for Summer, and then something about billionaire bachelors. I'm very depressed.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Summer of Self-Sufficiency

I found an apartment! It's an urban shoebox, weighing in at an Oompa-Loompaish 481 square feet. I have a balcony overlooking the freeway, meaning I can unleash my inner redneck by drinking beer and watching cars go by. I may even pretend it's NASCAR and yell "Woo HOOOO!" at them. I move in next weekend and I am WAY more excited than I should be. Hooray! An urban holding cell next to the freeway! But it's cheap, it has a balcony, and it's all mine.

As I wrote out a check for the deposit on Friday, I realized that was the first time I'd written a check since 2003. Then I realized I'd completely forgotten where my signature was supposed to go. And, why again was I writing the dollar amount in longhand?

My general lack of adult competency has been troubling me. Between being married and the viselike grip of Mama State, I've been spoon-fed the last three years of my life. I'm finding basic tasks terribly complicated. How did I get so weak so fast? I'd always been so independent. Not to mention strong-willed, stubborn, and completely unable to accept help. It's like I received a complete personality transplant.

So, I hereby declare this the Summer of Self-Sufficiency, where I will accomplish everything I haven't done since 2003. Better yet, I'm adding things to the list I've never tried before, so I'll be even more awesome than ever. So, here are my 20 Steps to Adulthood:

1. Purchase and install lightbulbs.
2. Select, purchase, and hook up one electronic item.
3. Obtain full-time, professional job.
4. Have my own credit card.
5. Go on a date.
6. Operate power tools.
7. Learn how to drive a stick shift.
8. Book a flight.
9. Balance a checkbook. (Note: First, I need to get a checkbook.)
10. Save for retirement. In fact, learn how to save money in general.
11. Put in a maintenance request.
12. Choose the wine at a restaurant, rather than looking around blankly hoping someone else at the table does it for me.
13. Squash a spider, bug, or other creepy crawly, as opposed to subcontracting said squashing to the nearest available male.
14. Win an argument.
15. Obtain health insurance.
16. Set up online banking, and pay student loan bill online.
17. Give decent driving directions, rather than directing friends and associates to
18. Legally change name back to original name, meaning that I will no longer sign receipts in an immature, passive aggressive fashion (squashing my married name down to a squiggly blip).
19. Obtain DC driver's license in original name.
20. When the papers come through, throw a rockin' divorce party. Hey, if you get a party when you get married, you should get one when you get divorced.

In other news, Victoria is famous. I remember when she was in second grade, and now she's stripping down to her underwear at the CUA quad. How time flies!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Back and Better Than Ever

So, I’ve been offline for the last few months. But I have excuses. For one thing, Matt and I have separated and are hurtling toward a low-budget, low-hassle drive-by divorce. For another, I have moved from Sarajevo back to good old D.C., where I am staying with friends for a few weeks while I sort things out. For another, I’m unemployed, homeless, and therefore paradoxically very busy.

And, most of all, I was off discovering Foamhenge. I had long since felt that I had the biggest problems in the world, and I should therefore gain some perspective. So I did what any sane person would do: I rented a car and drove off to see as many “World’s Largest” items as I possibly could with five days and $500.

I started on Wednesday with the World’s Largest Apple in Winchester, Virginia. It was about the size of a minivan, whereas I’d been dreaming of an apple the size of a city block. I was unimpressed. Then I moved on to Natural Bridge, Virginia, home of Foamhenge, the Stonehenge of Foam. I don’t really know if it was to scale, as I couldn’t get close enough to find out (it was temporarily closed for “improvements”). Instead I stood on the trunk of my rental car and took photos. I rounded out the day with the World’s Largest Manmade Illuminated Star in Roanoke, Virginia, which supports the troops by shining red, white and blue. Then I drove a bit south and stayed the night in Rocky Mount, Virginia.

Thursday, I drove to High Point, North Carolina, for the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers. I found it by visiting the High Point Museum and asking the receptionist for directions. My favorite sport in the South is to ask a group of people for directions: they will each give you wildly varying instructions, along with the history of the town, their personal histories, and an offer to ride with you to your destination. (No, Mom, I did not give any rides to strangers.) You won’t get any closer to your target, but you will learn some great stuff.

From High Point, I drove south down 73. I missed the turn for Southern Pines (home of the Creationist Taxidermy Museum), so I had to console myself with a visit to Cheraw, South Carolina, which I visited for no other reason than my friend Jason is from there. Cheraw doesn’t see a lot of strangers, and my Virginia plates were viewed with suspicion. I also think I may have stumbled into an off-track betting parlor while buying Dr. Pepper. It was fun. Jason had told me about a Dizzy Gillespie statue in the town square, so I went off in search of it. After driving around for about an hour (an impressive feat, considering Cheraw isn’t that big of a town), I finally pulled into a Wal-Mart to ask the locals for directions. The Wal-Mart was swarmed, however, the pretty little town square (which I eventually did find) was completely empty. I took a picture of the Dizzy statue, and looked around in vain for someone to snap a photo of me with Dizzy. There wasn’t a soul around. For a while I entertained the idea of taking a trip where I stalk the hometowns of all of my friends, but then I remembered that most of my friends grew up in the same town that I did (making for a very short trip).

From Cheraw, it’s an easy hop east to South of the Border, home of the World’s Largest Sombrero-Shaped Observation Tower (admittedly, there’s not a whole lot of competition in that category). I bought all the hand-removing, housepet-killing fireworks you simply can’t get anywhere else, plus some Pedro keychains. Then I hopped another back road to North Myrtle Beach, where I pulled over, dunked my feet in the ocean, then got back in the car and left. I spent the night in Wilmington.

On Friday, I drove to Chapel Hill (I went to school there) and spent some time walking around campus. Everyone looked so young! I also had a barbecue sandwich, then went and had a glass of wine with my former boss, Margaret. On the rule that it’s still one glass of wine if you just keep topping off your glass, we had a lovely afternoon. After I’d completely sobered up, I drove to my hotel and crashed out.

Saturday I had lunch at Pepper’s Pizza with my friend Mike, who I hadn’t seen in almost six years. Then I decided to come back to DC a day early, as hotels in Chapel Hill were insanely expensive. I made it back to DC within four hours, only getting lost twice (both times in my own neighborhood – sigh.) I dumped my bags in my room and went out for a drink with friends.

I think I picked up a few lessons on my trip. Most importantly, I’m much smarter and more self-sufficient than I thought I was – I managed to drive, navigate, take photos, and ask for directions (sometimes simultaneously). I rarely got lost for more than a few minutes. And, overall, I took very good care of myself. I think that also folds into my next lesson: it’s far better to be on your own than it is to be in a relationship that’s unhappy. Hey, if I never get remarried, but still have great friends and an appreciation for stuff like Foamhenge, then bring on the 50 cats and the knitting fetish. In the end, single isn’t so bad.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Is Secretary Rice Out to Get Me?

My View on “Transformational Diplomacy”

It’s an understatement to say that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s speech on transformational diplomacy has shaken up the Foreign Service bubble. Her Georgetown University speech declared war on bloated European posts, old-school diplomacy, and those slackers who spend their entire careers in Paris and London. However, has she declared war against me?

For those who haven’t been following this story, Rice seeks to shift jobs from Europe and D.C. to areas of increasing importance to the US, namely Asia and the Middle East. She also seeks to create one-person mini-posts in cities of more than one million people. These mini-posts will expand America’s contact with the world. On the surface, it all makes sense. Why do we have more staff monitoring Oslo’s political situation than we do Addis Ababa’s? Ethiopia has an ongoing border war and human rights issues, Norway has…reindeer. It’s not that Oslo doesn’t matter, but that Addis matters more.

Some of Rice’s new initiatives are in fact old news – for as long as I’ve been around, serving at a dangerous post and proficiency in two languages were requirements for attaining the Senior Foreign Service. Advertising that as part of her transformational diplomacy initiative is like an ad saying, "Pencils! Now with ERASERS!"

However, I think Rice has made these changes as painful as possible. Foreign Service Officers and their families have had their European tours yanked out from beneath them, often with no notice. Many had already slogged through months of language training, lined up schools for their children, and prepared to move this summer. Months of training at government expense have gone down the tubes - your tax dollars at work! Also, with all these job shifts, no one bothered to add any logistics staff to any of these new “high priority” posts. So places like Beijing will get an influx of new diplomats…but no one to help find them housing or get their belongings shipped to them.

The security implications are also considerable. How do you protect one lonely diplomat in Upper Sweathog? The Post describes State employees as “now often barricaded in fortified embassies.” I’m at my second “danger post” in a row, so I’m certainly not a coward. But, pardon me for wanting a bit of concrete between me and mine, and those in the world who want us dead. As diplomats shift to scarier and scarier places, we should be increasing security, not guilt-tripping civilians into throwing themselves in the line of fire.

Overall, though, transformational diplomacy is probably a good thing for the Foreign Service. The Cold War is over, and frankly Western Europe doesn’t matter nearly as much as it used to. With the Russia’s rapid collapse from Communist evil empire into large-scale slapstick comedy, we don’t need a Continental buffer. And, truthfully, the Foreign Service is full of dedicated professionals who would go to Upper Sweathog in a heartbeat. The dinosaurs who view diplomacy as a Paris tea party have had their day, and it's time for a new generation.

But many of these dedicated professionals have spouses and children. Despite the noise the State Department makes about being “family-friendly”, I just don’t see how this can be good for the Foreign Service family.

Say Matt is assigned to one of these new one-person posts in Carjackistan. If this is considered a highly dangerous post, he will have to go by himself while I cool my heels in Washington for a year. (The number of unaccompanied tours has skyrocketed since 9/11, and there are now more than 700 officers serving one-year tours without their families. Take a field with an already inflated divorce rate, and the implications are obvious.)

Receiving permission to go to Carjackistan is possibly even worse. I wouldn’t be able to work at the Embassy, as Matt would be the highest-ranking person there (you can’t report to your spouse). And the Carjackistans of the world don't have plentiful jobs. Like many diplomatic spouses, I need at least part-time work to keep me sane. Even a slice of independence is better than nothing in a “trailing spouse” sort of world.

And who would our friends be? An Embassy comes with a built-in group of Americans to spend time with. The Carjackistans of the world have difficult languages, making it almost impossible to befriend the locals. I suppose we would scrounge for missionaries or aid workers to barbecue with.

Say we have a child with health problems or special educational needs. Today, families are able to take these children to Western European posts, and so the family is able to stick together. As these jobs dry up, the number of early retirements, unaccompanied tours, and strained families can only increase. This is a lifestyle that requires a great deal of sacrifice and ingenuity, but asking officers to choose between their careers and their families is going too far.

I don’t have a neat conclusion, so I’ll throw this out for comments. Does Secretary Rice envision an overall shift where diplomats are now soldiers? Like the military, diplomats are committed to “worldwide availability.” However, unlike soldiers, diplomats have the option of saying, “Carjackistan? Whatever, I quit.” How many diplomats will express that option?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hey Baby, Wanna Park?

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a magical fairyland where the laws of physics do not apply.

Right now, all of my expat readers are groaning and muttering to themselves. "Dammit, she's going to do that stupid 'Foreigners Drive Like Maniacs' article that everyone writes when they're completely out of ideas." Perhaps they're already switching over to Wil Wheaton's blog (yes, he has one).

So let me clarify. Bosnian driving is fairly straightforward. So far, the only quirk I have found is that Bosnian drivers don't signal until after they've already begun to turn, at which point, well, the secret's out. Bosnians are courteous and sane drivers. However, once Bosnians exit their cars, they go completely and absolutely random.

Bosnian parking, for example, is pretty weird. Very few parking lots have painted lines, so people just sort of squeeze in where they can. Right now, my Subaru is at a 45-degree angle, straddling a Dumpster on one side and the curb on the other. This is normal. Vehicle size is not a consideration: sometimes you will find a VW Golf taking up the equivalent of four parking spaces, while an SUV will angle itself tail-first, rear up on its hind legs, and squeeze into a three-foot-square patch of grass. Forty-five degree angles are preferred. The average Sarajevo parking lot looks like the aftermath of an apocalyptic battle between Godzilla and Mothra.

(History disclaimer: car ownership rose after the war, but many parking facilities were destroyed and building new ones has proved expensive. However, it's more fun to think of Bosnia as a place that ignores the laws of physics.)

Bosnians also save a little bit of random for their walking. Crosswalks are ignored, and they still zigzag as they go down the sidewalk. As you drive, you must wait for the pedestrian light to change to "Don't Walk", as that is the exact moment when pedestrians will flood the street. (History disclaimer: during the war, Sarajevans learned to walk in zigzags and avoid crosswalks to dodge snipers.)

But far and away the weirdest thing about Bosnia is its dumpsters. A Bosnian dumpster is lightweight, has wheels, and is in no way anchored to the ground. When the wind is high, they will occasionally make a jailbreak and skitter across the roadway. I've seen this happen, and it's really funny when it's from a distance. However, when the Dumpster of Death headed my way one time, I just about died of shock. (Coming soon on Fox: When Dumpsters Attack!)

I must say that Bosnia's randomness is sort of endearing. The potential of Death by Dumpster makes me feel like I'm roaming the African plains every time I get in my car, rather than going to the store for a liter of milk. And it's liberating to park anywhere and any way you want, even without diplomatic license plates. Bosnia is egalitarian in that way - illegal parking has been brought to the masses!

My Fame Spreads: This here blog was mentioned in the January 2006 issue of Foreign Service Journal. Now all I need is a fan club, a box of Girl Scout Cookies, and a table saw, and my plans for world domination are complete!