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Category Archives: Tall Tales

Failure To Communicate

So there is a big DDOS affecting half the country today.  All the news coverage is talking about how it’s bringing down things like Twitter and Spotify, and a lot of people are cracking jokes about “ha ha, I guess I have to finally do some work.”

Where I am, though, it is affecting the cloud-based system we use to do work.  And even worse – it’s only affecting some of us in little clusters in turn.  So time to time, like right now, if you walked in you’d see my co-workers busily typing away, and then me, sitting in a corner staring at my computer like a doof because I can’t do anything.


*scuffs feet*

Uh, so what are you all up to?


Almost Back

So. I realized I left things kind of eliptical when I said that I’d had things stolen.  I’m not going to tell the whole story – I’ve got plans to write about it for an essay – but y’all deserve a little bit more.

So, the plan was to land in San Francisco, pick up the rental car and drive from there to Yosemite Park.  I’d rented a car for a week, I had two places to stay in (one towards the north end of the park, one towards the south) and I had use of the car for the week.  Everything all planned out, i’s dotted, t’s crossed.  I made my flight with time to spare, I made the connecting flight, and I even upgraded myself to first class on a whim and it was great.

And then halfway across the state to Yosemite, I stopped for a food break in a McDonald’s, spent 15 minutes eating a cheeseburger and got out to the car to discover that someone had broken the window and stolen both of my bags.  At that moment, the only things I had to my name were my wallet, my iPad, my hiking boots, my credit cards (although initially I didn’t know that, and it was a relief when I found that), a bunch of random electronics chargers, a rented car with a broken window and the clothes on my back.

Fortunately I got a bunch of help from very kind strangers – to a nigh-miraculous level – and even got some of my stuff back when a Good Samaritan saw one of my bags abandoned at the side of the road and turned it over to the police.  As luck would have it, that bag contained my house keys, passport, a couple clothing items and all of my books and travel journals. But ultimately I’ve had some things I need to replace – some specialized hiking clothes and gear, my laptop, and my camera.  I’m typing this on the replacement laptop – purchased at a discount thanks to a Groupon that A discovered for me when I got home – and I stumbled upon a used version of my original camera (which got discontinued by Canon) which seems to be working well.

While I’m saving most of the “rescue stories” for another time, I can tell you about three sets of couples that helped me out – my parents were the third people I called (after calling the police and rental car company), and gave me a whole hell of a lot of moral support after things went pear-shaped.  “It’s just things,” Dad kept reassuring me.  “We can help you with replacing it if you need it, but – it’s just things. You are okay.  You’re about to go to Yosemite, and it will be fine.”

My friends Colin and Niki were the second couple. I actually texted them while I was stuck on the phone with the rental car company, asking them to call my parents and give them a heads-up that I’d be calling with more details – Colin spoke with my father about five minutes before I did, telling them what I’d briefly texted him. But while Colin was on the phone with Dad, Niki was on line – researching camera rental shops for me near Yosemite. It turns out the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite has a small collection of cameras they rent to inconvenienced travelers like me, and so by the time I got off the phone with my parents, Colin and Niki were back in touch with me, sending me a link to the gallery desk with more details.  Niki had the same outlook as my father, as well – “people have been enjoying Yosemite for hundreds of years without cameras, anyway.”

But the third couple started as strangers. I met them two days later – after I’d had a full day to round up a replacement rental car and embark on the mother of all shopping sprees – and had driven into Yosemite Park to pick up the camera before stopping in Tuolomne Grove, a smaller grove of sequoias at the edge of the park.  It had a short, easy hike, partly on a disused auto path, circling past some especially stately trees; it also took you through a long-dead tree that had had a tunnel cut out of it for people to drive through.  I parked my car, and stepped out onto the path, brand-new daypack stiff with newness on my back.  I was ten minutes down the path, when a couple behind me – whom I’d heard speaking in French for a few minutes – stopped me.  “We were wondering,” they asked. “Some of the trees look burned…do you know if that was an accident, or did people start the fires?”

I actually knew about this. “A bit of both, actually,” I said, and explained how the park service used to stop forest fires in the park until they learned that occasional forest fires actually help the plants in the park.  They nodded, thoughtfully.  And then the guy – a big rugby-player build guy with a shaved head and a rock band t-shirt – grinned. “So we humans messed things up again.”

And that is how I met Julian and Jade. We fell into step together and kept talking, and within a couple minutes it was just generally understood that we were now a party of three.  They were from San Francisco, and had lived there 20 years; Julian worked as an EMT, and was an avid outdoors-extreme-sports kind of guy. As we walked, he regaled me with stories of snowboarding along peaks in the Sierra Nevada that were on the California/Nevada border – “It’s like, I turn one way and I’m in California! Turn another and I’m in Nevada! I can go back and forth!….”

Julian was basically an overgrown kid, stopping for pictures of every major sequoia we found – even going so far as to lie on the ground to get the best perspective. The path brought us to a couple of downed trees, and Julian bounded right up to them and stuck his head in any hollow spots he saw; that’s how he discovered that one tree had an entirely hollowed-out trunk, turning the whole thing into a sort of cave.  “Come on in!” he called to me and Jade, disappearing inside.  The pair of them crawled all the way through, but the pack on my back and 46-year-old knees made me turn back halfway.  I ran into another party of people just discovering the tunnel at the entrance, and Julian met them because he’d stopped to take another picture from inside.  We all met back up at the far end of the tree, chatting a bit with some folks from the other group, then we wished them all well.  When we were out of earshot, Julian turned to us with a grin and said “I just want to come back and spend all day hiding in there dressed in a bear costume.”

I didn’t tell them anything about my burglary – we were having too much fun, and it simply didn’t occur to me.  We said our goodbyes when we got back to the trailhead, and the pair sat for a break as I head to my car, eager to get out onto the road before nightfall.  When I got a closer look at my daypack that night, I saw that it had been well and truly broken in.  I was also pretty much done with fretting about the burglary for a while, too, and I was prepared to enjoy myself again.



So, uh. I was going to keep up with this blog last week (and it would have been great because I was in Yosemite National Park), but life intervened.

And by “life” I mean “some jackass smashing in the window of my rental car while I was parked outside a McDonald’s and stealing all my luggage”.

The story is still sort of unfolding. I am back safe in New York and the scheduled trip has ended, but there are some things that were found that I’m trying to recover and some things that are officially gone that I’m still replacing and in conclusion may the people who stole my stuff eat a bag of poo.

More later.

August Break (Catchup) 30 – Evening Light


Okay, this is cheating because I’m interpreting “evening light” as “the bar up the street from me lit up for the evening.” But it lets me tell a story about why I swear allegiance to this place.

Not that I’m that much of a barfly, honestly.  I think the most “regular” I ever got was once a week, when I was recovering from a broken foot and I marked off the weeks until I was healed by hobbling there for a glass of wine during Happy Hour.  (I also broke my foot in here, but that was my fault – all I will say is, if you’re ever at a party and someone starts a kick line to the song  Come On Eileendon’t join in.)

But it’s only one block up the street from me, and has good food and a lively staff, and the owners known me and it is thus good for spontaneous jaunts out of the house and brunches.

And also for nasty shocks.

…So, like most people, I have an ex-boyfriend who is kind of “the one who got away”. We actually met in this neighborhood – at another bar nearby, which has since closed – and we were well and truly head over heels for each other. Most of the time.  But after nearly a year – for reasons only he will ever know for sure – he cut things off with me. Soon afterward he met someone else and moved out of state with her.

I tried to stay friends on Facebook with him, and it took me a few years to catch on to the fact that this probably wasn’t great for me. But after a couple years I was pretty much over him, so I thought it was okay and I could handle it.  It still came as a shock, though, when I got home from work after an utterly lousy day, got online to lose myself in mindless websurfing, and saw my ex’s Facebook status that he was in New York City – so he could get married, that day, in a courthouse in Queens.

I read that status a couple times, turned my computer off and grabbed my wallet and proceeded immediately to Putnam’s.

The bar was about half-full at that point, and I got a seat on one of the empty stools.  When the smiling bartender asked what I wanted, I told her everything, and then asked “what would you recommend for someone in my condition?”  She clucked in sympathy and made me a Manhattan, in a big glass.

I’m not much of a whiskey drinker, so I was sipping it slowly – slowly enough that the bar filled up more, and I was still there when a man came in after getting off work himself and taking the seat next to me.  We got to chatting – I threw myself into the chat more so than usual, trying to get my mind off things – and he was witty enough that I started having a good time. Good enough, in fact, that when I finished my drink and he’d finished his cider, we each ordered another round – another cider for him, and a cranberry juice and vodka for me.  We didn’t trade numbers after, though, and two drinks were enough for each of us.  But I was still happy that I’d cheered myself up, and that I wasn’t home pouting over my ex. Quietly proud of myself, I turned to the bartender and asked for my bill.

The bartender hesitated. “Okay, here’s the thing,” she said. “Your Manhattan was on the house, and I’m gonna make this guy pay for your second drink (you cool with that, dude? Good) because in my opinion, no one who got the news you got today should have to pay for their drinks.  So…you’re set.”

And that is one of the reasons I have nicknamed this place “the best bar in the world”.

La Musique de La Langue

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I have been largely monolingual for most of my life, aside from the obligatory few years studying French in high school and learning a few words of other languages here and there, mostly through singing something in one foreign language or another in the school choir.  I’d actually pick up on the sound of a language pretty quickly; one of my music teachers once tested me and found I had perfect pitch, and I can only assume it helps me copy the phonetics and sounds of whatever foreign phrase I hear.  I have no idea what I’m saying, but the way I’m saying it is perfect.

Lately, I’ve been practicing French a lot more, though.  One of my co-workers is from Paris herself, and my roommate knows French as well.  And after making one trip to Paris – and preparing for another – I’m getting a bit more serious about polishing my French up.  And the best way to do that, I read once, is to talk to yourself in French a lot. And thus a lot of my inner monologue these days has been in French – or what little of it I can remember, as I check out the colors of people’s hats on the subway (“Quelle bizarre chapeau, quelle coleur est-il?”) or shop for food after work (“eh bien, pour dinner….hmm, du fromage, du saussicon, et….des pommes de terre, peut-etre?  Oui.”).  I’ll imagine I’m trying to explain things to an imaginary friend visiting me (“Les Etas-Unis a seulment deux partis politiques”) or comment to them about things I’m watching on Netflix (“Mais non, Scully n’est pas vuer des petits hommes verts – c’est Mulder seulement!…Et non, je ne connais pas comme ils sont retourner a l’Antarctique.”)

The problem is that eventually, my vocabulary just plain runs out, and I have to switch to an English word here and there because I simply don’t know the French one.  I had to do that a lot in Paris, and I’m doing it still now, even talking to myself.  But I’m finding myself doing it less and less – not because I’m gradually remembering more words, but because I’m actually trying to avoid the way English sounds mixed in with the French.  My brain will be skating along on a stream of lovely romance-language lilt, all soft je and la, and then suddenly throwing in a clunky, germanic English word sounds like falling down after an attempt at a triple lutz, all knees and elbows and bang on the ice.

The heck of it is, I like the way English sounds too.  And I also love the sound of Gaelic languages, which are even starker compared to the way Romance languages sound; I spent a good year and a half trying to find a translation for this song by the Scottish singer Karen Matheson, simply because I loved the way the words sounded.  The fact that it’s essentially Scottish Gaelic scat singing doesn’t bother me at all, either; I still will wander about singing the sounds as best as I can copy them. I also did the same for Great Big Sea’s cover of the Quebecois folk song Le Bon Vin.  But gradually I’ve noticed that my accent is getting better than theirs, and that I also know what I’m saying – which is making the singing all the more fun.

Puppies and Baby Sandwiches

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Today has been…a day.  I’ve been spending most of the day unsuccessfully negotiating two completely different travel bookings for two completely different trips – just when I get the hotels sorted out for one, the flights I was about to book for the other go pear-shaped – and sorting out an ongoing work problem which has called upon input from five completely different time zones.

Towards the end of the day, I remembered a similar moment from another job I had 20 years ago.  For a couple years, I was part of the support staff for a very small television production company; or, to be accurate, I was half the support staff.  The other support guy, David, bonded with me early over how outrageously busy we were; we took to calling each other “Mulder” and “Scully”, partly because his name actually was “Mulder” and partly because we often felt as put-upon as they did.

On one especially busy day, I grumbled to David that “I must have had a past life where I did nothing but kick puppies or something.”

He burst out laughing, then sighed.  “If that’s the case, then I probably had a past life where I did nothing but eat baby sandwiches.”  We both sighed and got back to work.

A couple days later, I got to the office and found David missing, and a message on our answering machine.  I listened – it was a very harried-sounding David, telling me a long story about mayhem at his apartment. “First the plumbing went bust, so  called the super, but then he said I had to go make sure that the front door was unlocked so he could get in, except it wasn’t, and I forgot my key, so I had to get my roommate to try to let me back in, but he couldn’t find his own key, and I just heard that the subways are down, and…and….it’s just gone all puppies and baby sandwiches.  I’ll be in soon.”  I was still laughing when David finally showed up, and we used “puppies and baby sandwiches” as an in-joke for the remaining two years we worked there.

Conversation From Work, May 10th, about 4:35 pm

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(An explanation first: my job involves a lot of data-entry for the human resources office of a non-profit.  The data is fed over to payroll, and often I will need to, er, “translate” between what’s on the form and how I know payroll would need to see it.  But my work has to be approved by a manager, and sometimes they don’t quite get what I’ve done; especially if it’s someone new.  One such new manager is there now, and came to check something with me.)

C:  So…something about the way you entered the salary for this person seemed odd; it doesn’t match what’s on the form.

Me: Yeah, payroll would pro-rate what they requested based on a full-time annual salary, so I had to annualize it based on her schedule and based on her only working half a year.

C: I’m still not seeing how you did the math, though.

Me: Okay, I’ll show you – wait, remind me what they wanted to pay her for the total job?

C: …I’d….rather not just blurt it out –

Me: Eh, it doesn’t matter – let’s call it “florg”.

C: ….”florg”?

Me: It’s a nonsense word I pulled out of my butt.

C:  ….Okay.

Me: Okay.  So.  If we put down “florg”, they would assume that that’s the annual salary.  But she’s only working for six months, and she’s also working only part time.  So the figure we have to put down in the system – uh, let’s call that figure…

(My coworker, who’s been listening)…”Gelb”?

Me: Yes, thank you.  Gelb has to be whatever her full-time salary would be if she were getting one, and if she were working for a full year. So if we want her to ultimately be paid florg, we need to figure out what gelb would be, and put that down instead.  So first what we need to know is, what is florg times two.

C: …Okay, but what you put down in the system isn’t…florg times two.

Me: Right, because she also is only working part time.  Since she’s only working 40% of a full-time schedule, they will also cut whatever we put down as her annual salary by 40%.

C: So…40% of gelb is florg?

Me: No – 40% of gelb is two florgs.

(C hesitates, then his eyes grow wide with understanding, and he runs back to his office so as not to lose his concentration and confirm I did the math right.  N and I watch him go.)

N: That was possibly the most memorable way you could have explained one of the stupider problems you’ve had to solve.