Tuesday, July 28, 2009

(Wo)Man vs. Machine

There have been stories, this past week, that Scientists are worried. That's pretty much what Scientists do. They worry that something collided with Jupiter. And that people in New York City are exposed to too many trans-fats. And that Jon Gosselin has too many girlfriends. No, wait, that's "US Magazine." And now The Scientists are worried that we are making machines too smart, and that they are going to become smarter than we are; and very bad things will happen.

Well, duh. I guess The Scientists finally went to the movies. We've all been worried about this exact thing since Karel Capek coined the word, "robot", in 1921. Terminators, Transformers and The Evil Hymie, built by K.A.O.S. to kill Maxwell Smart, have been having their way with us Mere Mortals for decades.

And I am here to tell you - not only are machines smarter than we are. They have twisted, wicked, sadistic and totally not nice ideas about what is funny. We are often the butt of their cold, blinking, binary senses of humor. And we don't even know it.

For instance, everyone in the state of Georgia, except yours truly, has an imprint of their fingerprint on the back of their driver's license. I have an imprint of my thumb. Because machines make fun of people like me, who have Reynaud's Syndrome.

That is a not-funny affliction, involving a lack of circulation in the fingers and toes and nose and other exposed parts of the body. People with Reynaud's Syndrome are, essentially, allergic to cold. Suppose I had a pierced navel, which I don't. And a really cute midsection, without stretch marks. Which I also don't. And a super-awesome belly-button ring, which I could make in my jewelry studio if I wanted to. And suppose I was going to a concert in Minneapolis in February, at the First Avenue Nightclub. I love the First Avenue Club, but I digress. And I wanted to show off my belly button and the super-awesome belly-button ring, so I wore a crop-top in minus 10 degree weather; and stood outside until the doors opened because there is no advanced seating. My brain would say to itself, "My goodness, it is cold!" (Well, my own personal brain would use much more colorful language.) "So I think I will shut down circulation to the fingers and toes and nose and teeth of this body. They can all fall off, as far as I am concerned; we have to sacrifice something for that midsection with the awesome belly-button ring!" And those cold circulation-impaired fingers would no longer trigger the heat reaction necessary to fire the photo app of the cell phone inside the First Avenue Nightclub. Where cameras are not allowed, but everyone sneaks them in.

This means that, if I am chilly anywhere, touch pads don't work. And, unless it is August, something is chilly...so the fingerprint sensor at the Department of Motor Vehicles thought it would be fun to confound the operator, and humiliate this writer. It refused to register Pointer Finger, Tall Man, Ring Man and Pinky. It finally caved at Thumbkin.

So, haha, all the machines got their jollies this evening. I needed a bag of lettuce.

Put the casserole in the oven, had 1/2 an hour to get lettuce and toss a salad.

First, I had to get some cash. Stood behind one person at the grocery store bank, which boasts two ATMs. The one on the right vacated. I stepped up to the plate, inserted my card, punched in magic numbers, and...it was out of money.

Stepped back into line for the machine on the left. Where a sweet Asian woman was, no kidding, sorting through a veritable deck of ATM cards. Removing $200, inserting another card, depositing $200...we went through 6 sets of removing/depositing.

I was not the only one marveling at the volume of ATM cards in the possession of one person. The line snaked to the front of the store.

Two tellers asked me if I needed help. That has never happened, in the 35 years I've deposited my money with that particular bank.

Finally, finallyfinally, the Asian lady stopped taking money out and re-depositing it. IT WAS MY TURN!!!!!! I pushed the "start" button and the instructions popped up...in Korean. Hit return, got a card left by the previous "resident." Saw her exiting the store, chased her into the parking lot, realized I had the bag of chopped lettuce just as it alerted the shoplifting alarm, flung it into a rogue shopping basket, raced to the parking lot, found the Korean lady, gave her the card, raced back in, grabbed the lettuce out of the rogue cart, got back in line for cash...and...it worked.

I had money. And lettuce. But the machines weren't done with me just yet.


Punched in my phone number for my "Customer Loyalty Discount." Got charged nearly $10 for a bag of lettuce. Because someone had "borrowed" my phone # to find out the price of something called "Wild Grass". But they didn't purchase it. Still, it turned up on my bill.

I pointed the problem out the the Customer Service Specialist on call at the You Scan. She informed me that she could not void the "wild grass" purchase; I would have to go to Customer Service, where manymanymanymanymany people were buying lottery tickets. I begged for an alternative. Sorry, Charlie.

Finally got to the Customer Service Specialist, AKA Lotto dispenser. After CSS looked carefully in my empty-except-for-lettuce shopping bag, got reimbursed for Wild Grass.

And, as I left, I HEARD the U-Scan machines chuckle.

They will be sorry.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Carbon Nation

I was born to be a part of the Pepsi Generation. That was the ad campaign that was most closely aligned with my coming of Soda Pop Age; and I was happy to climb on board.

Not that we were allowed to actually CONSUME sodas in 1962...unless, of course we were at Grandmother's house; where soda AND dessert were OK in the same meal.

Although we lived in Atlanta, the Land of Coca Cola, I proudly displayed my red, white and blue, insuring my outcast status among my young peers. And I was an early adopter in 1964, when Diet Pepsi came on the scene. Followed in short order by...oh, I shiver to think...Tab. I don't think I consumed more than two cans of the stuff in my life, but I can still conjure the taste. It reminds me of the smell of ether, just before I went under to have my tonsils removed.

The Pepsi Generation, boys and girls, aged gracefully; holding hands and singing. We grew our hair long and embroidered flowery patches on our favorite jeans. Some of us were too cool for school, and opted to "hang out" on 14th Street; wearing flowers in our hair. We read "The Great Speckled Bird" News (simply referred to as "The Bird") and sometimes The Pepsi Generation - um - enhanced the Pepsi with interesting substances. The Coca Cola crowd was enjoying their debutante balls. It was clearly cooler to drink Pepsi.

And then, a new campaign. Circa 1972, we became The Pepsi People! Feelin' free, feelin' free! All across the nation, (we were) the Pepsi Generation! Feelin' free!

I was OSoCool!!! Free! The Pepsi People! And I had an invitation to a concert at The Great Southeast Music Hall, supercool ATL venue, where Country Joe and the Fish were holding court. Opening act was some guy named Barry Manilow.

Who just happened to leave the world of jingles for the world of pop music. Penned The Pepsi People, and then...Mandy.?

Can't remember anything else about that evening except:

1. My shock that I was in the presence of The Pepsi People Genius, and
2. Country Joe got booed off the stage; Barry played a second set.

I was in the front row. I loved my Pepsi (even though I think I had white wine that night), I loved Barry Manilow, and I pretty much loved everyone in the world.

Important footnote: Other than a tawdry dalliance with Diet Dr. Pepper in the late '70s, due to David Naughton, star of "An American Werewolf in London" and the "I'm a Pepper" campaign, I have been FOB with Pepsi. Even when MJ lost his entire head of hair.

Until tonight.

I was out of Diet Pepsi, Vanilla; my favorite carbonated evening beverage. Stopped by the local grocery to grab a fridge pack and some dog food; and noticed...I am not making this up. "Pepsi Throwback." Sweetened with Natural Sugar.

So I'm wondering. Before Pepsi ThrewBack, what WERE they using to sweeten their beverages?

Unnatural sugar?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Two Things You Should Know About My Feet

First, I ALWAYS have silver toenails, even in the dead of winter when I am wearing two pairs of socks. Even when I'm on vacation. And even when I'm in the hospital for a colonoscopy. The only exception is when I wipe the old polish off to apply the new. I have 10 bottles of silver polish. One is the correct color (which has, of course, been discontinued) and the others are Emergency Backup Polishes, purchased when I had gone astray without the correct bottle. I have not yet had to use any of the Emergency Backup Polishes on a regular basis, but my last bottle of correct polish is getting kinda lumpy. It's been a while since it was discontinued. It is my fond hope that it will be New and Exciting again soon; and like leg warmers or platform shoes it will come back around before my last bottle solidifies.

Also, I am NEVER without my toe rings. You know how some people go on vacays and get tattoos to commemorate them? Usually because of too many margaritas? Well, for a period of time, I commemorated with toe rings. Not those cheap, adjustable ones with dolphins and rhinestones. Oh, no. I was drawn to heavy, hammered and twisted sterling silver numbers. Fitted, and requiring some Vaseline (Registered Trademark) to slide over the fleshy toe tops. My mother has been known to wear bangles in a stack up to her elbows. I guess that's why I developed the notion that toe rings should be piled on. And I ended up - eventually - with 3 on each, um, pointer toe?

Yes, I sleep in them. No, they don't hurt. No, my toes don't turn green. I don't notice them when I wear shoes, they don't rip through pantyhose. And they have been there for years and years and years.

(If I'm ever in a disaster, the fam doesn't have to look at the whole body for a positive ID. Just toes.)

So, last weekend hubby and I were sitting on the swimming pool steps after dinner. And he asked, "What is that silver thing on the bottom of the pool?" And the jewelry designer in me, who just loves to find random silver things to recycle into other things, looked down and remarked, "It looks like sterling silver! The same kind of pattern as my top right toe ring!" I was feeling pretty lucky, to score some silver. For a moment there...

Uh oh. No top toe ring on the right foot.

And the middle ring on the right foot is just a bit wiggly. Which is why I decided on the top ring to hold it in place. And now the top ring is...broken.

And we had no plans to go anywhere awesome that has sized and fitted toe rings; and the right side middle ring was surely going to fall off. I was suddenly very sad.

A cursory investigation of the broken toe ring confirmed what I suspected. It was fit for the meltdown pile, but not much else.

The next day, I searched the Web for a size 3 1/4 toe ring; plain hammered silver. No luck...lots of size 3s, which hurt; and size 4s, which I might as well just give away without wearing them. Because they are gonna fall off immediately upon toe placement.

That toe ring had been with me through a whole bunch of thick and thin. As had the toe ring beneath it; which was now unprotected and vulnerable. I was sad just thinking about it. I thought about booking a trip to Key West, where I got my first ring, but it is hotter than the grate over hell in the summer. And who would take care of the dogs while I was gone?

I considered clipping them all off. Brave New World without toe rings! But I quickly realized that I need them for ID in case of disaster; along with my silver toenails.

Ultimately, I decided to let nature take its course. If Toe Ring Number Two on the right foot was going to fall off, so be it. I slept soundly for the first night since the gruesome discovery of the bent and broken ring on the floor of the pool.

I was adjusting to the idea of 5 toe rings instead of 6; and facing the possibility of losing one more of the five. I was strong, and I was OK. I would survive.

Then, a whisper..."Nancy...?"

I took a deep breath, and listened:

"Uh, Nancy?" That darned voice in my head again...

"Don't you MAKE silver jewelry? You could make a toe ring. Size 3 1/4."


Why didn't I think of that?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Day Without Kitties is Like a Day Without...Hairballs

Aah, here's a photo of Nancy and The Kitties in happier times, last weekend. You can't see me, but I'm just to the right of the picture. With my trusty torch, melting metals. You can't see Foster, the Kitty, either. He was messing with the torch, and trying to catch his fur on fire. But you CAN see Bes. After conducting her morning bird census, she decided on a well-deserved rest in the salad bowl; as she coached Foster on the finer points of bothering Mom from the sidelines.

But now, NancyLand is a very sad place, indeed. There are no Kitties. We have reached the point in the renovations that involves toxic fumes, open windows and workmen who have no idea how to close a door. Consequently, the Kitties are "summering at the farm." And I can't believe how much I miss them.

Just today I let the dogs out - they are with me because they are immune to toxic fumes and would never exit an open door because they might miss a meal and they can't stay alone at the farm because they eat furniture - and in walks, bold as you please, a giant palmetto bug. For those unfortunates without southern roots, that is a cockroach on steroids. About the size of a lobster, but a lot uglier.

And all I could think was, if The Kitties were here, and I showed them the palmetto bug, and I pretended that I wanted to play with it, and perhaps sprinkled it with a little catnip; well, they might just poke it out the door. Then again, there was that recent incident with the mouse at the farm...six cats in the house, and my mother-in-law's little dog. Guess who caught the mouse? The Kitties didn't even feign embarrassment. In fact, I think they TOLD the little dog to get it, because they didn't want to ruin their nails.

Then, there's RatRat; poor filthy, fuzzy RatRat, favorite fetch fetish for Foster the Feline, forlorn in the foyer. I threw the damn thing upstairs just to hear it "thunk." But "thunk" was not followed by the sound of Foster skidding across the hall to tackle it. Oh, my heavy heart. I drew the line at fetching RatRat myself, so he is languishing upstairs in hardwood floor refinishing dust.

I have typed this entire entry without "help". No one has walked on the keyboard, erasing the entire piece; or spilled my Diet Pepsi, causing me to grab a throw pillow to absorb the liquid before it reached the grooves on the underside of the laptop. I have not stopped writing once to respond to that "haronking" sound, harbinger of the hairball. And I didn't have to open a can of smelly, oily fish eyes at dinner.

Sometimes it sucks to be me.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Good Night's Sleep Is Hard to Find.

I'm worried. And I know I'm not alone...tossing, turning and fretting as the clock ticks through the early AM hours have recently surpassed baseball as the national pastime. The Top Ten Things I Am Worried About:

10. We are running out of celebrities. What a time for Jon and Kate to ditch the media. As two of very few People-Mag-Coverworthy individuals remaining on the planet, it is no time for them to gather their Crooked Houses and motorcycles and skis and spa treatments and other toys and go home(s). Especially with Kate being a prominent member of the Elite Haircut Icons. Losing Farrah was a blow to the EHI; Kate has a responsibility to carry the torch.

9. It is possible there is more to this Sanford/Palin story than meets the eye. Perhaps there was never an Argentinian lover. Could it be that Sarah just decided, after hooking up with Sanford at An Important Meeting for Governors, to fish in warmer waters?

8. The report that, in the Giant Cosmic Game of Pool, Mars could ricochet off of Venus and hit the earth is really true.

7. Michael Jackson is being buried without his brain. What will they do with it after all the testing is finished? I'd hate to see MJ's brain on eBay.

6. The only vegetable I eat all summer is tomatoes. Oh, and corn. Dump a small can of corn into a plastic bowl. Heat in the microwave. Top with cottage cheese, and salsa. (Tomatoes again.) I worry that one day I will leave red fingerprints; like the orange ones babies sometimes develop when they eat nothing but sweet potatoes and carrots. And I forget what causes scurvy and rickets. I hope it isn't excess tomato consumption.

5. Swine flu. I feel kinda sweaty, and cold. And I could really go for a good truffle hunt.

4. I don't drink enough coffee to prevent Alzheimer's. I promise to work really, really hard on that, going forward.

3. Bedbugs. A national epidemic.

2. The dogs had rabies vaccinations today. Municipalities say they need them every year. Vets say no more than once every 3 years. And maybe, only once in adulthood. Rabies shots, like speeding tickets, seem to be designed to raise revenue, not to protect public health. Slimy.

1. What if I wake up in the middle of the night and need to pee? With all our reno projects, I sometimes forget which bathroom is the "working" bathroom of the moment. Tonight it is not the "Master Bath", which is undergoing a "color refresh". (Get us OUT of the 1980s!!! No more white tile, and mirrors!) The "hall bath" is OK...slate's been laid, new pedestal sink. "Comfort height" commode.

Welcome to my Nightmare, apologies to Alice Cooper.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Suicide's Not Painless. Thank God for Fireworks.

Nearly twenty years ago - oh, my, that couldn't possibly be correct; but it is - I received an extraordinary "cold call" from an extraordinarily warm woman. I was working, at the time, as a counselor; doing my damnedest to help families overcome infertility. And, unfortunately, to live with it when necessary. Occasionally, the stress proved insurmountable; and families disintegrated into heaps of guilt, blame and misery.

Tina, a family mediator, had personal experience with infertility. She knew firsthand that terminal stage of marriage; and thought, perhaps, mediation might offer relief. And, as she was building a private client base, she thought someone in my position could be a source of referral. I heard her out, and agreed to meet with her for half an hour the following week.

Our initial meeting lasted 5 hours. Yeah, we talked business. We also talked about growing up in Pennsylvania (which we both did), cats (I had a herd, she had One-Eyed Calvin The Wonder Cat, adopted because he was FIV positive, and no one else would take him), politics (she was as far to the left as you can go without coming around the other way; I have issues with big government), snow (she loved it, I despise it), and Dunkin' Donuts. Because, by the time we wound down the conversation, we were both starving. Let the record show that I did not bring up the donut issue.

We swapped business cards, agreed to host workshops together, and hugged. As all good Pennsylvanians transplanted to Atlanta, Georgia learn to do. And, as I closed the door behind her, I was just a little in love; like women are when they know they've met someone who will become a very good friend.

I had mentioned my adult dance classes to Tina, and I mentioned Tina - because she was so much fun - to the folks in the classes...harboring a fantasy that one day they all could meet. And, I'm not exactly sure how that, in fact, happened. Suffice it to say, in very short order, Tina was on board with Dancin' Dynamics. And we we so happy she was there!

She quickly usurped my position as the leader of the class. When I talked, they talked. When Tina talked, however, it was like Charles Schwab and God were holding court at the same time. People listened. Tina always had a story, a barb, a self-deprecating anecdote. And we laughed so hard we worked our abs just fine, thank you, without curl ups.

Fortunately, Tina had her loyalties straight. When she, in one of her Pied Piper performances, led the crowd too far astray, I merely had to look pitiful and she would bellow, "Quiet! Back to your places!" Problem solved. They called her "The Henchperson". I grew to rely on that bellowing, since it has never been one of my skills.

Unfortunately, Tina was also very opinionated. One particular song, a crowd fave, always got her proverbial goat. She hated "Barbecue" by Mumbo Jumbo. Not because she didn't like the music. Because it was too long, and it - how dare it - made her sweat in exercise class. She tried mightily to lead a revolution against "Barbecue". It didn't work, so she resorted to bringing bags of freeze-dried apple chips to class, and opting out; crunching as we danced.

You are probably wondering about the point of this essay. Well, what we didn't know at first blush was that Tina - brilliant, funny, life-of-the-party Tina - was battling bi-polar disorder. As was her soul-mate husband. Probably not such a great combination.

Once Tina realized she was a part of a very special group of women, who have shared everything from birth to death and traveled the world together in the process, she let us into her world. We talked a lot about being bi-polar. We stood by her and prayed through several of her hospitalizations. We watched her try every treatment available. Some that worked, some that did not. And we knew...

It was a matter of time.

Almost 3 years ago, on the eve of my 50th birthday, Tina lost her battle. Our love, the love of her children, her precious grand children...none of us had the ammunition to overcome her disease.

But her humor lives on. She sent a letter, posthumously, to the minister who conducted her memorial service. Warning her that if she played any music, the Dancin' Dynamic contingent would burst out in spontaneous Macarenas. She willed her favorite art to me. As an artist, I adore it. As a friend, I mourn her passing every time I see it.

And, I should mention, Tina's birthday is the 4th of July. I always thought that was a strange day for Miss-Super-Left-Wing-Liberal to be born. Especially one who hated heat. But she loved snow. And, really, those silvery-white fireworks look an awful lot like snowflakes.

If you see a white "snowflake" on the 4th of July; please, think of Tina.

(Snowflake photo is courtesy of SnowCrystals.com - a gorgeously fascinating site.)