26 May 2013

Something to Leave Out of Your Carry-On Luggage

I had the most bizarre experience in the airport security line today.

The security guard scanning the carry-on luggage asked to run my laptop bag through the machine a second time, which I thought was a little odd – there was almost nothing in the bag after I took my laptop out.  The second time through, she stopped the bag and hailed another security guard to search it.  She pointed at the screen to show him what to look for, and he nodded and brought the bag over to me.

By this time I was thoroughly confused.  The guard asked if I had anything sharp in the bag that he could cut himself on and I told him no, not to my knowledge – and what a weird question, right?  I’ve never been asked that when my bag’s been searched, before.  He searched through all the main pockets and came up totally empty, as expected, and then went through them again for good measure.  I was getting a little annoyed at his persistent searching. 

But then he turned the bag over, opened the back pocket, and pulled out a 10-inch butcher knife!

Let me tell you, a giant unfamiliar-looking knife is not something you want to see come out of your laptop bag at the airport.  I think my heart stopped.  The guard looked at me like I was crazy and then showed the knife to the first guard and then to another guard and asked if I needed to be brought in for further questioning, and all the while I was blathering that I didn’t know where it came from or how it got in there, and absolutely yes, please go ahead and confiscate it.  The third guard assured me I didn’t need to be interrogated but of course they’d be taking the knife away from me, and to my infinite relief they let me go on my way.

It took me about a half hour of racking my brain after that to piece together a story about the knife.  It looked kind of like a knife from work in Arizona, and it’s possible I put that knife in my laptop bag to keep from stabbing someone on the way to cutting a birthday cake in the lab.  And then I totally forgot about it for many, many months up to and including the moment it got pulled out of my bag by the very worst possible discoverer.  I still don’t particularly recall having done this, but it sounds plausible and almost familiar.

I just want to point out that this means I’ve taken that knife with me on at least one other flight before this one, if not a few more.  I find it a little concerning that it hasn’t been found before now.  But if I could I’d give those guards today a raise.

20 May 2013

The End of Hibernation

I think I’m finally ready for a return to blogging.  A lot has been happening since I last posted – mostly, this stupid degree has been dragging on far longer than it needed to and I couldn’t in good conscience keep up with a blog while I was supposed to be writing a dissertation.  But by the end of May this nightmare will be over, and I will have time again to devote myself completely to my writing passion!

Well, for two months, anyway.  In August I’ll be distracted again by another major project in the form of a mini-person.  I don’t intend to let this devolve into a mommy-blog, a topic already done to death by much better writers than myself, but you can rest assured you’ll have to wade through a couple of anecdotes that I will find far funnier and cuter than you will.  Bear with this first-time mom and her oxytocin rush.  Nevertheless I intend to stick around this time, for good – and I imagine that blogging and writing will take center stage as a welcome diversion from the insanity of infant preoccupations.

I have ten days to go on this degree, and then it’s game on with the blogging!

06 October 2012

Things Short-haired People Don’t Understand

This should really be titled, “Husband – JUST READ THIS AND QUIT NAGGING ME.”  (I love you, bug :)!)  But I figured I’d write for a more general audience, so here you go – things you people who’ve never had long hair need to know about my lifestyle, because sometimes it just doesn’t seem to get through.

1.  I need more shampoo than you.

Your hair is like ONE INCH long.  At most.  In some places it’s shorter than your eyebrow hair.  You don’t shampoo your eyebrows, do you?  Why should you need to shampoo that part of your scalp at all?  But even so, for the sake of this discussion let’s assume your hair is one inch long, and mine is ten inches long.  I will need to use – you guessed it – TEN TIMES AS MUCH shampoo as you to get the same amount of coverage on my hair.  So don’t be telling me I’m using too much shampoo.  I’m using twice as much shampoo as you.  Three times at most.  So really, YOU are the one using too much shampoo. 

2.  I should not shampoo every day.

The thing about short hair is that it has not been on your head long.  ALL of your hair on your entire head has been there for less time than the bit of hair that’s two inches away from my head.  I did extensive, thorough research on this subject (thank you, Answers.com) and have determined that hair grows at a rate of about half an inch per month.  That means ALL YOUR HAIR has been around a maximum of, say, three or four months.  Mine?  These ends have been with me for two YEARS.  So while you can happily destroy your hair by shampooing away replenishing scalp oils every single day because you’re not even going to see that hair half a year from now, I NEED that oil to maintain this mane I hope will still be treating me right two years down the road.  I don’t want some kind of split-end mutiny on my hands.  Do you even know what split ends are?  Can you get a split end in three months?

This applies to hair dye too, by the way.  When I go to dye my hair, I’ve got to worry about how it’s going to affect my look two years down the road.  How old am I going to be?  What will I be doing with my life?  Will this affect any future job I could try to get?  Because some colors are easier to dye over than others.  I’m just lucky I can go back to brown whenever I have to – I salute all you brave blondes out there.

3. Your bad haircut is as nothing compared to my bad haircut.

Again, if you get a bad haircut, the absolute longest you have to worry about it is three months.  And I’m pretty sure in two weeks it’s going to settle in just fine and you can get it fixed, no problem.  You can move on with your life.  Two weeks isn’t even long enough to really notice the roots under my dye job.  When my hairstylist messes up, she chops off three extra INCHES, not millimeters – and we’ve already discussed that it can take months to recover from that kind of error. 

Now, you may be saying, “But you still have a lot of hair to keep cutting and get the shape right.”  NO.  If I wanted to take another three inches off my hair, I would have done it the FIRST time.  Now I have to wait another SIX MONTHS to get it even to the point where it SHOULD HAVE BEEN WHEN I WENT IN.  That’s HALF A FREAKING YEAR.  If I want to cut more off and reshape it, I basically have to resign myself to an entirely different hairstyle and look.  Maybe I don’t even have the right clothes or earrings to pull off that mop.  I could have to invest in a whole new wardrobe.  So don’t tell me your awful haircut is worse than mine.

4.  My hair takes a lot longer than yours to get pretty every day.

If I want to do my hair and make it look actually pretty, it takes me an hour.  I have to do it in layers, one row at a time, getting each section right before I move on to the next part.  This is a complicated work of art I’m sculpting, here.  I’ve watched you short-haired people “doing your hair.”  It takes like ten minutes.  It doesn’t even involve any kind of iron.  So if I say I need to get ready to go out somewhere, you can assume that I need to get my hair done, and that’s going to add an hour to whatever time you were estimating for yourself.  And that’s assuming you’re also doing your makeup like I am.  No?  No makeup?  Add another half hour.  Being beautiful takes WORK, bitch.

5.  A ponytail is a legitimate hairstyle.

I don’t want to take an hour out of every single day to get my hair looking gorgeous.  You’ll be lucky if you get that once a week.  Once a week for me is about equivalent to all the time you’ve racked up over the week doing your hair daily, anyway.  If I don’t do my hair up nice, though, it’s utterly hideous because I also have curly hair (and that is just a whole other rant for later).  It’s not only ugly, it gets in my way.  I can put up with it getting in my way if it’s pretty, but if it’s going to be hideous too then that is just unacceptable.  So if I shove my hair up in a ponytail all day long, DO NOT make fun of me and my childish-looking hairstyle.  It’s convenient and comfortable.  End of discussion.

I hope you’ve learned something.

24 July 2012

Is it a healthy sense of caution if you’re constantly envisioning your own death?

I’m on a plane over New Mexico right now (well, not right now right now, when I’m posting this or you’re reading this.  I mean maybe I am.  It’s just a highly unlikely coincidence.)

I’ve been saying to a lot of people lately that I’m not afraid of flying, and I see now that I was so, so very wrong about that.  I thought I was telling the truth.  But sitting on this plane right now, I don’t actually think I’ve gone a whole minute without being fully aware of a pervasive sense that I’m stuck in a poorly ventilated tin can death trap.

Let me give you (future me who’s reading this and trying to convince herself she’s really not afraid of flying) a few examples that I’ve come to realize do not connote a healthy level of fear:

1. As I sent that last-minute text to my husband before I had to turn the phone off on the tarmac, I wondered whether he would think to post my message to my friends on FB when I died so they could know the last sweet sentiment I said to anyone I loved.

2. I’ve repeatedly cycled through all my dozens of plane crash stories, trying to figure out which one best applies to my current flying environment and whether I’d die if any one of a wide variety of malfunction or human-error scenarios occurs.

3. When we lifted off I was looking out the window watching the city get smaller and smaller, and with every miniscule lag in acceleration (typical of even a successful takeoff), I was Zen-preparing myself to watch that ground start to tilt and get bigger again.

4. I was pretty convinced that the drawn-out grinding sound I heard on the ascent was an engine failing.

5. I practically ran back from the bathroom because there was a small jolt of turbulence and I needed to get back to the safety of my seatbelt before a panel ripped off the plane and I got sucked out the hole like that one lady did in that one Cracked article I read that one time.

6. When we landed on my first flight we turned into the airport at an angle, and all I could imagine was the plane barrel-rolling out of control and plummeting into the earth.

7. Whenever we went into a cloud I was ready for the moment another unseen plane collided headlong with ours, and I couldn’t decide just how likely I was to even know what hit me in the fractions of a second it’d take for me to get crushed or exploded to death. (I mean in a head-on collision, our plane and the other plane would each probably be going ~500 mph for an effective speed of ~1000 mph, or 450 m/s, and if our plane was in the neighborhood of 100m long, then at row 25 I’d be dead in about a tenth of a second and it’s arguable whether all of that sensory information could manifest a conscious acknowledgement in that time, although I have a sinking feeling I might get to enjoy a few milliseconds of perfect imminent-death awareness. P.S. that is why you learn algebra, my friends.)

I know that air travel is safe.   I know this.  I know that even if problems occur I’m likely to make it out just peachy.  But none of that matters when you’re dealing with a phobia.  Talking yourself out of a death phobia is pretty useless.

And I still fly.  Regularly, even.  At the beach I still swim out into water that’s probably deep enough to hold great white sharks and I inadvertently do my best injured seal impression trying to stay afloat.  I’m totally willing to drive on the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway even though I’m pretty sure the bridge is going to collapse and I’m going to survive both the impact and the threat of drowning only to be shredded alive by a pack of ravenous alligators.  I sometimes even lean against railings on high balconies, although that just seems foolhardy when I can get the same view just standing near the edge rather than risking death-by-shoddy-railing-craftsmanship.

It’s just I feel nauseous every single time I get on a plane.


02 July 2012

The difference between Necessary and Sufficient, or, Why your emoticons should not have noses

In this crazy new cyber-world we’re living in, the entire rich array of human emotional facial expressions is being reduced to nothing more than a select few humble punctuation marks grouped together to look like caveman scratchings turned on their side.  In social media conversations, these so-called “emoticons” (also called “smilies”, for those of you not hip enough to be up on your “cyber-lingo”) have assumed the vital role normally played by our naturally expressive faces, becoming the sole representation of our emotions toward the people with whom we interact.  This is distressing in and of itself, but it’s not the point of my discussion today.

Correctly typed, the most common standard emoticons consist of virtual “eyes” and a virtual “mouth”, made using punctuation marks.  The simplest of these is the basic colon-plus-end-parenthesis – :) – though many other variations exist:  ;)  :D  :(  :’(

But a deeply bothersome trend has managed to grow and fester deep in the bowels of the emoticon world: the dash-nose.  This hideous abomination has wormed its way into all the great emoticons, a defilement I’ve never abided graciously:  :-)  ;-)  :-D  :-(  :’-(

And today, I finally figured out why that nose bothers me so much.

Humans have a very limited range of physical features they like to monitor during social interactions.  When we see another human face, we attend most to the eyes and mouth because these are the expressive features that move and tell us how we’re supposed to respond to their owner.  But a nose?  No one cares what a nose does.  A nose stays pretty much the same no matter what we’re doing, and outside of augmenting a very select few emotional expressions (e.g. the scrunch of disgust, the flaring nostrils of fuming rage), our noses are practically pointless.

Which brings me to Necessary and Sufficient.  These terms are regularly used in the sciences to describe two unique aspects of how important a certain factor is in creating a given outcome.  A factor that is necessary must be present to produce an outcome, while a factor that’s sufficient is all that’s required to produce that outcome.  So if it’s necessary, you absolutely have to have it, and if it’s sufficient then it’s all you actually need.  (And it is possible for a thing to be both necessary and sufficient – or neither.)

These are both readily testable properties.  To determine if something is necessary for a certain outcome, you just remove it and see if you obliterate the outcome.  To determine if something is sufficient to produce an outcome, you remove everything else and leave only it, and see if the outcome remains the same. 

For example, removing a necessary facial feature will prevent you from recognizing an emotional expression (like a smile), while leaving only a sufficient facial feature present will still allow you to recognize that expression.

Let me demonstrate on myself.  Say hello to me:

Howdy!

I hope you were gracious enough to at least offer a greeting.  I mean look at that big ol’ toothy grin.  That is a smile.  How could you ignore that kind of smile?  And how can you tell it’s a smile?  Well, the corners of the mouth are turned way up, the eyes are happily scrunched, and the nose… yeah, it’s not doing much. 

Now, let’s look at what happens when I take the liberty of altering each of these three facial features (mouth, eyes, and nose) independently. 

Let’s start with Necessary.  Is any of these three features necessary for you to be able to tell that I’m grinning at you?


The truth is, no.  As long as you have any combination of the other two features (eyes and nose, mouth and nose, eyes and mouth), you can tell I’m meant to be smiling at you.  That said, the third smile with both eyes and a mouth present is definitely the most informative of the three faces, in that it looks the most like it’s smiling.  This suggests that the nose is the least necessary component of the smile.

So how about Sufficient?  Would any of these features alone be enough for you to tell I’m still smiling?


Well, how about that?  My mouth and eyes are each sufficient, but my nose does absolutely nothing toward helping you figure out if I’m smiling.  In fact, if that nose picture still looks like I might be smiling at you, it’s only because I didn’t go and doctor the dimple out of that freakishly sculpted right cheek so you’re still getting the impression of a mouth-smile.

So what does this tell you about your use of :-) and :-( and ;-) ? 

It says that the only thing the nose-dash is doing is making you take longer to generate your virtual expression, and making others take longer to observe and evaluate it.  The extra dash adds nothing at all of value.  In fact, if you were to do my same necessary/sufficient experiment with an emoticon, you’d find that BOTH the eyes and mouth are necessary to convey information, but the nose is neither necessary nor sufficient for anything – see how it’s the exact same dash for every emoticon you type? 

The emoticon nose is, in short, a waste of a character.  This could have a profound impact on the quality of your tweets, people.  Think about that the next time you write another, “LOL :-D !!!!1!1!”

28 June 2012

To the Victims of my Verbal Terrorism

As most of you know, I have no ability to filter.  This is especially tragic because I’m trying to find material appropriate for a public blog, where I can’t just go and spew all my self-righteous political and moral opinions or tell you about illegal things I’ve done or antagonize all my friends and family by sharing all my embarrassing moments that happened to involve them.

(A long-winded aside: Contrary to popular belief, this is not an ingrown trait of mine – it’s a learned behavior I’m having trouble unlearning.  I’ve always been a gossiper and I’ve never been good at keeping secrets, but being an out-and-out blatherer and oversharer is kind of new for me.  In fact I was downright shy all the way through high school, so much so that kids I knew then don’t even recognize my face a scant few years later (but this could just as easily be put down to my newfound ability to put on makeup).  I first got into yammering at strangers when I worked at Curves (the fitness center, not the strip club) in my first semester of college, where I was forced to stand in the center of a circle of bouncing women and engage them in spirited conversation, mostly to keep their minds occupied and partly, I think, to get them a little winded because otherwise the workout wouldn’t have been that strenuous.  I greatly appreciate my new willingness to share all these poignant life lessons and witty observations of mine that most other people would generally withhold (apologies to my lab mates who have to endure the incessant noise), because I really feel it fosters an open dialogue and other lofty reasons I’m too impatient to enumerate in what would turn into a ridiculous run-on list for which I might be forced to use semicolons (which are the bane of English grammar and should never, EVER be used for ANY reason), and I’m going to try and train my kids into talking openly from the get-go.  If I ever catch them trying to filter I’m going to have to bust out my story about that one time I [edited for content because this is public, that’s why].)

Now I’ve forgotten why I wanted to write about filters.

Oh!  There is one downside to not filtering anything, and that’s Post-Verbal-Diarrhea Shame Syndrome.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up the next day and felt intense self-loathing regret at something stupid I said that I devoutly wished I could take back.  The feeling is akin to a bad hangover, which is a particularly apt analogy because the occurrence of an Oversharing Hangover is highly correlated with actual Drunk Hangovers.  The analogy does break down on the time scale, though, because while an alcohol hangover is usually gone two days later, the oversharing hangover can last a whole lifetime.  Think about that.  I’m going to be carrying this nausea around with me forever, every time I think about what a patented idiot I was being in this or that instance I can’t expunge from my memory.

So here are a few of the things I wish I could say to certain people who were, in one way or another, victims of my verbal terrorism (because more words are always better for situations where I’ve already said too much):

·       I did not in any way mean to imply that I regularly participate in orgies.  In fact, I’ve never before had sex with more than one other person at a time.  I’m not saying I have anything against orgies in principle, or that I will never in my life end up in one, I’m just saying it’s not part of my regular sexual milieu.

·       I did not mean to step on your foot, grab the extra karaoke mic, and duet-ify your adorably abominable rendition of The Killers’ “All These Things I’ve Done.”  Yes, you were totally butchering one of my favorite songs of all time, and yes, there was another girl who also got up and helped out by singing into your mic, and yes, you were thankful to both of us and dismissive of my immediate apology after the song was over – but I really should have sat that song out, given that I already had the most mic time of anyone in the place because I am also a sad attention hog.

·       I do not mean to talk incessantly about my profound love of women and their bodies every single time I get the smallest bit drunk, and often when I’m sober.  This includes that one time I told you, stranger, just how ridiculously hot I found that one chick mingling with her friends across the bar, and then you grinned and called your wife over and told her how I just said I wanted to have sex with her.  This also includes all the times that I’ve inadvertently made you, friends, protect my virtue in bars.

·       I wish I hadn’t said, “You know what? Go for it.”  God, was that ever a mistake.

·       I wish I hadn’t said, “Oh, you mean so-and-so?” and thus given away the fact that I’ve Facebook stalked your family.

·       I ought not to have hugged you that one time.  That was an inappropriate overreaction to your tale of woe.  I was drunk, but obviously you know that, and that’s still my only excuse.

·       I’m sorry I told your dad what you were getting him for his birthday.

·       I’m sorry for being so outlandishly condescending in castigating you for supporting George Bush rather than Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election.

·       I’m sorry I went off on Bank of America in a vitriolic tirade full of incredibly colorful language while you were still on the phone.  I would still have had the tirade, but by hanging up properly I could have avoided that added moment of horror when I heard you ask, “Mrs. Bergfield?  Do you need anything else from us today?”

·       I probably shouldn’t have told any of you about that one dream I had, even if I find it really funny looking back on it.  I probably also shouldn’t have mentioned that other dream, the one that made you laugh at me for an entire evening and that you rightfully still tease me for, because now it’s never going away.

·       I’m not too proud of calling you all misogynists in a recent blog post, though I still stand by my claim with the inclusion of a couple caveats that didn’t really fit neatly into that earlier narrative and which I will also not expound upon here.

·       I apologize for every time I’ve been dismissive of a religion in front of people who are offended by that kind of thing.  (But please note that I am not apologizing for and will never apologize for defending the fact of evolution; the fact of climate change; the rights of LGBTQQI people, women, or any oppressed group; my views on the state of my consciousness, my soul, the afterlife, or a higher power; or my disdain for the bigoted hypocrisy of supposed moral individuals.  I just feel bad when I make well-intentioned jokes about Jesus and stuff.  For the record I have a lot of sincere respect for Jesus.)

·       I deeply apologize for every single time I’ve ever used the R-word.  That actually does make me sick and it is unacceptable.  I’m working on it.

·       I’m also sickened by a couple of things I’ve said that I can’t even reference here because this is a public blog, that’s why.

·       Finally, I regret making you uncomfortable.  All of you.  I should not treat your awkward silence as an invitation to fill it with even more egregious violations of good taste.

I will undoubtedly come up with many, many more apologies the minute I post this.  If you feel I’ve left you out, go ahead and shoot me a comment so I can learn to be a better, more withdrawn person.

24 June 2012

I went up the mountain to kill a skunk

Tucson, Arizona is a small city nestled in a gorgeous desert ringed by mountains, remnants of an old volcano, and the city lights are stunning on stormy nights like this one.  So tonight, on my way home from visiting with friends, I decided to embrace my childhood and geological heritage and head up Catalina Highway into the mountains to marvel at the nighttime view from the Babad Do’ag lookout point up at mile marker three.

Everything was going so well at first.  I had all the windows down and the music on but (for once in my life) turned low, and there was a storm brewing to the south and I could just catch flashes of lightning off in the distance beyond the city as I navigated the winding mountain road up toward the lookout point.

I was going to stop at Babad Do’ag, like I said, except that for some reason red and blue lights were flashing as I approached and I saw a couple of cop cars stopped at the lookout, and I decided that for the sake of my own tranquility and enjoyment I would just move on and find a better spot higher up on the mountain to stop and revel in the beauty of the night.

It was dark out, obviously, and there were enough cars on the road that I didn’t have my high beams on.  So when something small and dark entered my field of vision, I barely had enough time to slam on my brakes.  Seriously, this was the hardest I’d ever put my foot down on a pedal in my life.  The smell of burning rubber wafted up into my car and my purse flew onto the floor at my side and the distant car behind me got far closer in the rearview than I would have liked, but I narrowly – narrowly – avoided hitting the skunk that then meandered out from under my bumper and happily went on its merry way into the night. 

I was a little shaken, but after I was sure the critter was well off to the side of the road I continued up the mountain.  I made it a couple more turns before I decided enough was enough and I didn’t want to risk any more heart-attack situations in the pursuit of a nice view I’d seen plenty enough already.  So at the next pull-out I turned around and headed back down the mountain.

At this point I was going five under.  I took extra precautions as I neared the area where I’d just seen the skunk, hoping to see it earlier than I did last time even though I was pretty sure it would avoid the road completely after it almost died.

But here’s the thing about skunks – from the side they’re pitch black.  And while I was driving away that bastard had turned right around just like I did, and it put itself square in the middle of my lane again on my way back down the mountain.

If I thought I slammed on my brakes hard the first time, I was mistaken.  That second time I hammered that pedal to the floor so hard I was pretty sure the car was going to snap. 

But this time I was heading downhill.  The skunk went under my bumper and I felt a little jitter even before the car stopped, and by then I just had to keep moving because it was already past the wheels.

I wasn’t totally sure if I really hit it.  The skunk was in the exact center of the lane so maybe the car just went over it, maybe the jitter I felt wasn’t real, I didn’t know.  I turned the car around again and headed back up the mountain to check because if the skunk was injured I was damn well going to take it to a vet.

But alas, when I got there the poor skunk was lying slumped in the road, and as I slowed to examine it there was no movement, nothing.  Two other cars had come down the mountain while I turned to head back for my skunk, so it might have been one of them that did it, but I’m pretty damn sure I was the one that really killed it.

I didn’t end up stopping at any lookout points.  The cops were still at my favorite spot as I passed them for a fourth time on the way back down the mountain, and I thought to stop and tell them about my poor little skunk, but they looked quite busy with whatever delinquent they’d cornered up there in the parking lot so I let it go.

So really, in the end, I went up the mountain tonight to kill a skunk.  That was pretty much the sole existential purpose of my well-intentioned detour this evening.  I think I’m going to probably go cry a little and sleep it off and try to convince myself it wasn’t my fault.