Lions and Tigers and Tornados, Oh My

Florida should not have tornadoes. They're just not equipped for it here. I mean, in addition to the whole "at sea level" thing, which makes it impossible to have an actual basement, they don't have any kind of, you know, actual warning system. Where are the sirens? Why is there a tornado touching down mere miles from my house but no sirens are going off? The answer is simple: they don't exist. I guess hurricanes don't need an emcee to announce their entrance. You know they're coming for days. Florida is the traditional home of hurricanes, after all. Tornadoes are a Midwestern party.

I actually don't understand peoples' attitudes here though. "Ha ha I totally slept through it" basically means the same thing as "LOL I was courting death." Seriously, there were a total of six people in the clubhouse. Out of like hundreds of people who live in my community in the same manufactured aluminum cubes designed to amplify and enrage any wind that passes by. In fact, my homeowners insurance specifically exempts wind damage for this reason. A warm summer breeze will rip the roof off like a hungry sailor after some delicious canned sardines. Also, canned sardines are gross.

It seems to me we have only ourselves to blame for all of the unusual weather that happens, whether that's a years-long drought in California, a December flood in  Iowa, or a Florida tornado. I mean, Northerners may like 50 degree temps in January, but we all know that's a portent of something very, very wrong. Perhaps Mother Nature is angry with us. Maybe we should write her an apology note.

Dear Mom,

I'm super sorry about the polar bears drowning and the deforestation of the Amazon and, well, the whole Ozone thing, but, would you please consent to limiting your tornadic activities to the traditional corn belt? (Perhaps just the empty parts of Nebraska, where no one lives?) I would consider it a personal favor. In return I will continue to move turtles out of the road and try to limit my consumption of fossil fuels. If you're feeling grumpy, maybe you could zap Donald Trump with lightning. We'd all get a kick out of that. (Maybe you already did. That might explain the hair.) Also, sorry about the passenger pigeons and Javan tigers. I guess we deserved that antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Payback's a bitch, they say. If you're feeling super-grumpy, you could maybe direct the flesh-eating nematodes towards the 62 people who own 50% of the world's money. That would really help the remaining 6,999,999,938 of us out. Oh, hey, while I'm issuing apologies, I want to say sorry for that sparrow I hit with my car back in 1996. It was a total accident and I still feel bad. (Though in my defense, I think the little dude was playing chicken with his bird buddies.) Anyway, great job with the platypus and thank you for rainbows.

One of Your Stupid-Smart Apes

In summation, you can blame El Nino if you want, but all this crazy weather is pretty much humanity's fault. We should probably stop overfishing sardines too.

Fallout 4 is Highly Addictive (SPOILER ALERT)

School starts again a week from today. I'm not ready. I mean, I guess I'm technically ready as far as prep goes. There's really nothing much to do—change the dates from my Fall syllabus. That's about it. But I'm not emotionally ready. I need more time to play Fallout 4. I haven't figured out what the Institute did with my son, Shaun, and things are just starting to get interesting with Piper Wright—just yesterday she told me she admired me. Also, a settler stole my power armor and I need to deal with that a-hole. If I can't get him to take it off and return it I'm going to assign him to caravan duty and send him somewhere highly irradiated. Jerk.

If you get these references, then you've obviously played Fallout 4 (or you are the unfortunate significant other of a gamer and have not seen your partner since before Thanksgiving.) If you don't get these references, then you have been spared the compulsion that is this game. Seriously. It is virtual crack. There is one fellow who's even suing the game company, Bethesda Softworks, because he claims the game destroyed his life and he thinks they should have warned him that could happen and compensate him for his suffering. I don't know what he expected. It's rated M for mature. Apparently, he wasn't. I suspect his wife was going to leave him regardless.

People can get addicted to all sorts of things but the solution is not "file a lawsuit." I mean, can you imagine if every alcoholic out there sued Anheuser-Busch for destroying their lives? I think there's already been a precedent for that and the courts have ruled that booze companies aren't responsible for what you do when you drink. Although, they did add all the "drink responsibly" taglines to their commercials.

It's interesting that the possibility exists for a character to become addicted to substances in-game (alcohol and other "chems") and there is actually a "treatment" for this addiction. You can cure yourself (and some NPCs in-game) of chemical addiction by means of mysterious technology. It is the year 2287, after all. Or, you could just pay 40 caps to a random dude in a dirty white lab coat you met on the side of the road to give you a shot and that'll cure you too. At least of your physical symptoms. Nothing stops you from huffing more Jet and getting re-addicted, you stoner.

When you (and by "you" I mean your character, duh) first encounter the location of this miracle cure technology, you will stumble upon a crumbling room with a circle of folding chairs with skeletons sitting in them still clutching mugs, coffee pot and extra cups on a table nearby, and a computer with some notes about how the treatment is going. Everyone ends up dead, so I'm going to say it didn't go so well. That's what happens when you allow Vault-Tec Industries to take care of you. Don't trust your healthcare to corporations. (Those folks at Bethesda—a little left of center. Wink.) Technology can't actually cure addiction. Also, contrary to what video games may have taught you, wearing a fedora will not boost your charisma. (Double wink.)

But seriously, I'm not begrudging the poor devil his video game addiction. I believe it's a real thing. I believe his wife left him. I believe he lost his job. I believe he's a miserable sack of crap. What I don't believe is that Bethesda is responsible or owes him any compensation. Addiction comes in many forms, but ultimately, the chump is responsible to get himself help if he needed it. There may not be a 12-step program for video game compulsion but surely he could have put the controller down and called a crisis counselor or something. I mean if it was so bad his wife left him, surely he was aware there was a problem for a while. I'm guessing it started before Fallout 4 was released. That game just came out in November. I guess my point is, don't blame the game. It didn't force you to play it. Some of us manage to put our controllers down and bathe occasionally. I'm not sure what my point is. Fallout is really fun--that he was miserable playing it speaks to other issues.

In summation, I only need 300 more XP to get the Gun Nut level 4 perk and build that sweet night-vision scope on my sniper rifle. Yes, I'm still in my pajamas. Shut up. I'm on vacation.

Cave Dwellers had it Good Because Fire

Captain's Log: Stardate Today: It's been six months since I crash landed in this jungle. The heat has lessened since my arrival but the humidity has not. The cats' space kibble is consistently soft and displeasing to them (they've taken to eating the lizards), and my temporary shelter has the marks of condensation streaking down the sides each morning. The natives have proven friendly, though my initial contact with them has revealed that they, too, are aliens on this this strange and lush planet; there may not be any native intelligent life here. 

There are some things I love about living here. One is the weather. Duh. It's the end of December and I am running around (okay, sitting around) barefoot. Santa was wearing flip flops while he delivered the presents to all the good girls and boys. Just kidding. There are no good girls and boys here. Also, Santa isn't real. Spoiler Alert.

One thing I still haven’t gotten used to: cooking on an electric stove. I just can't seem to figure it out. There's no FIRE. One needs fire to cook food properly. You cannot roast a weenie over a candle. Well, actually you can, but it takes forever and ends up tasting like loganberry spice. (2/10 would not recommend.) So I am using my prefab shelter stove-top instead, which is a glass surface electric contraption. There is no fire involved at all, unless I start one on accident while cooking, which has only happened a couple of times. (You say hockey puck, I say hamburger. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.)

The problem is, there's no way to control the heat on those things. The temperature settings are OFF, TEPID, and SURFACE OF THE SUN. My current cooking method is "bring to a boil on 'surface of the sun' for ten seconds then reduce heat to 'tepid' and simmer for three days. Also, I can't figure out how to clean the glass top once the food is done. Seriously, how do you clean a glass heating surface? Fire is self cleaning. Glass is not. What's even under the glass anyway? A tiny nuclear reactor? A Tesla coil? A newborn red dragon? I wish it was a dragon. Then there'd actually be fire involved. But I digress.

Initially, I thought this would be the easy part—I mean it's a flat piece of glass, right? Spray on the glass cleaner and wipe off the goop. Nope.  That doesn't work. It does disinfect the charred remains of my fried egg but doesn't actually remove the remains. I know what you're thinking, and NO, I didn't cook the egg directly on the glass surface. I considered it, but in the end opted to use a pan. I mean I may live like a 30-year-old bachelor most of the time, but I have a few standards.

So, once I get my food cooked, which, as I mentioned is a challenge, I have a mess to clean up. I try to stay on top of domestic tasks. For example, yesterday, I cleaned the cats' litter boxes. I mean, I know we've only been here six months, but they seemed a little dirty. But the stove-top just doesn't want to come clean. I would really like to find a product that would take the grime off. I have tried a few different options and nothing has worked. I do not have the time or money to buy every single product on the market and do a test. Someone just tell me what to buy. And, no, I am not interested in your great aunt Hilda's special recipe for household solvent that involves vinegar, Epsom salts, and the tears of a sad Borneo spider monkey. I don't know where to buy Epsom salts.

In summation, the living here is easy. If only I had fire there'd be nothing to complain about.

Impromptu Birthday Blog

Today is my REDACTED birthday. In addition to a sprinkle-topped chocolate brownie (with a single candle) from my wonderful new office mate, who also took me out for a burrito after class, I also received four text message and social media  wishes from family members, and an envelope containing stickers and a pen from BuzzFeed. I'm not ever kidding. Check out the photo. Also, a student sang part of the Happy Birthday song to me when I walked into class. Not the whole thing though because that would have been too much. I still made her do the in-class assignment. 

So, this is how I know I am old: the birthday celebration isn't what it used to be. At first, you get a candle in your cake for each year you've been alive...until it becomes a fire hazard. You get one for your first birthday and another each year after that until you circle back around to one again. That marks the time when you stop  getting presents. I remember back when I couldn't wait to see what presents I got. I'd hop out of bed first thing in the morning all concerned about whether I'd get regular chocolate cake or the fated red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. Now, I'm lucky to even remember it myself. Also, I don't post my birthday on Facebook because if you can't remember it without technological reminders, it must not be that important. I don't want to read 200 insincere birthday wishes from people who don't talk to me any other day of the year. Seriously, I really don't.

Today I remembered my own birthday before I had finished my second cup of coffee. I think that's pretty good. The fact that my office mate remembered is very impressive. The fact that BuzzFeed remembered...well, that may have been a fluke. I'm sure it was a fluke. The package had been forwarded from my old address. It was supposed to have arrived weeks ago. Honestly, I can't even figure out how BuzzFeed knows my mailing address. I can't find it in my web profile anywhere. BuzzFeed may be stalking me. In any case, it was nice to have a package to open on my actual birthday even if it was an accident.

In summation, one candle, no gifts: Every birthday after the 29th one is just another anniversary of the day you got old. 

It’s a Cat-Eat-Bug World Out There

My cats have been keeping a vigil on the mail slot. Their watchfulness has proven fruitful as they successfully alerted me to the intrusion of a large cockroach (fortunately not a giant flying one) through that ingress earlier. They were less successful at hunting and killing the fast-moving monster, but their efforts at pouncing on it were valiant. It was quite the chase across the living room, moving furniture and swinging wildly with my weapon in one hand and my flashlight in the other, cats bounding and chirping with each failed attempt. Eventually, we collaborated to slay the beast with a mighty squash from a large piece of wood. I may have wielded the instrument of destruction but it was the cats who provided the keen eyesight for tracking the creature. I am now wearing insect poison like it is perfume and the cats are taking victory nap. The seemed a little disappointed that I did not leave the corpse for them to consume.  (It had been doused in my toxic perfume.)

This is not the first time that I have collaborated with cats to hunt home invaders. In fact, I have worked with feline compatriots on many an occasion, including in the safe and humane removal of bats (released unharmed, though angry, into the wild) and birds (there may have been some emotional trauma as birds are quite sensitive) as well as the total annihilation of extra-large horse flies. Cats seem to find the crunch of a good horse fly especially delicious. Protein is protein, as they say. Also, there’s some hippie dude in California making flour for protein bars out of crickets, so eating bugs is not just a cat thing anymore.

I’ve had the special privilege of working with cats on the capture and removal of a number of snakes. Snake hunting was a specialty of my last boy cat (may he rest in peace) who would corner the reptiles in the basement, forcing them to coil up, while meowing to me upstairs for assistance. If I responded to his request for backup I could, with gloves on of course, pick up the coiled creature and release it unharmed to the yard. If, however, I did not respond (either because I was asleep or not home) he would eventually take matters into his own paws and dispatch the poor creature with extreme prejudice. I would later awaken or come home to eviscerated gore on the kitchen floor.

In summation, cats are good at pest control. It’s what we pay them for. That and light dusting. Those little whiskers really pick up the cobwebs. Anyone else hungry? I’ve got some “raisins” around here somewhere.

News, Weather, and Sports for Cave-Dwellers

I’m watching a local news channel at the car dealer while I wait for my car to be done. It’s not good. The news, not the dealer. I think the car people know what they’re doing. At least, I haven’t heard any loud, unexplained crashes while I’ve been sitting here. The local news, however, is reporting a lot of useless information. Right now, they’re giving me local rainfall totals using multiple decimal places. Is that point zero zero two inches of rain actually relevant information for viewers? I mean, I know there’s been some flooding, but does the thousandths of an inch make a difference for “River Watch ‘15”?

They just reported some soft news about Japanese airline ANA’s new Star Wars-themed airplanes, which are painted like R2-D2. This is cool, except for the fact that the news outlet’s screen graphic for the report was of Hayden Christensen. With his angry red Sith eyes. Does no one at this station have access to the internet? Have they all been living in caves their whole lives? Come on, Channel 9. The only way your representational graphics choice could have been more inappropriate would have been if it was of Captain Kirk.

They have now just informed me that student loan debt is on the rise. I’m so glad that legitimate new media outlets are keeping me in the loop on these new and previously unheard of developments. I was under the impression that student loan debt was a non-issue, what with college being free and all. It seems that the local news is pulling their top stories from old issues of Time magazine that they got from a garage sale. Seriously, who doesn’t know that higher education costs are a problem? I mean, besides Donald Trump.

Now for the weather report: Tropical Storm Danny, which is currently swirling out in the ocean east of the Caribbean somewhere, may or may not become a hurricane at some point and may or may not hit Florida. This is actually the only news I care about and they have told me nothing I didn’t know from a ten second Google search. Also, it may rain today and it will be hot and sunny, probably. Nailed it.

The text “Florida Decides” swirling around a red, white, and blue 3-D graphic of the state outlined in gold is a thing this channel has spent money on. For the 2016 presidential election. Which they are now reporting on. I think they are using this animation in every newscast because they blew the design budget for the year on it and they are going to get their money’s worth out of it.  

I have been sitting here long enough to note that the news they are reporting is on a continuous loop circling back around to the same information every twenty minutes or so. It’s not a recording of the same news report though—they are actually presenting new reports of the same news each time. I think the news caster has changed her blouse too. She was wearing pink, and now she’s got on yellow. How long have I been at this car dealer?

The only thing more out of touch than this local news station is the U.S. Government. They just announced that Navy Seals are going to allow women. Apparently, a high ranking admiral finally got around to watching G.I. Jane, which had been sitting in his Netflix queue since 1997. Also, for those of you watching at home, the army is now desegregated.

In summation, my car is done. I’m outta here.

“Back-To-School Shoe Sale” Is My Idea of a Horror Movie

I hate shopping. I just want to get what I need and get the hell outta there. When it comes to big ticket items, this can be especially troublesome. If you want to get a car, for example, a quick in and out isn’t always an option. Test driving, haggling, negotiating with the bank: all that takes time. Of course, that’s not nearly as complicated as shoe shopping. I mean a car’s a car, but shoes—that’s a serious investment.

Shopping for new shoes is a lot of work. I never buy the first thing I see. Trying on shoes is a long and complicated process. Do they fit? Are they comfortable? Can I see myself spending the day in them? Do they trigger bad memories from junior high? These are important questions. Also, who in their right mind would buy shoes off of eBay?

When I was at basic training for the army, the initial issue of uniforms was an assembly line affair that took all day. Soldiers were hustled from room to room, handed all manner of camouflaged items and sent to the next issue station. The only time we were allowed to sit down was when we got our boots. Even the army recognized the necessity of properly fitted footwear. While other soldiers took the first pair of boots the clerk gave them, I tried on pair after pair of (seemingly) identical tan desert combat boots. I didn’t get up again until I had found the perfect boot. All these years later, I still love them and wear them. My time spent at the boot station might have raised the eyebrows of my fellow soldiers at the time but in the weeks that followed, when I was walking comfortably while they were hobbling around with painful blisters on their feet, it became clear that I had spent my time wisely. Also, I don’t know why they were all in such a hurry—the simple act of sitting down at basic training was a luxury.

I have once again arrived at a significant moment in time where I am in need of new shoes. I have been putting off the back-to-school shopping, partly because I would honestly rather run around barefoot, donning flip flops only to meet the “shoes required” policy of most businesses, and partly because I dread the task of finding shoes with which I will be satisfied. I may visit six different stores and go home empty-handed.

Combine my pickiness with a somewhat socially conscious rejection of certain brands and you have a perfect storm of shoe shopping failure. (Nike sweat-shops in Indonesia, I’m looking at you.) Unfortunately, I must buy some shoes very soon. Since I am not employed by UC Berkeley, I cannot teach my classes barefoot. That was a hippie joke. Fortunately, I do now live in a warm climate, so I do not need to be concerned with the warmth or snow resistance of my footwear. (I am reminded of Joni Ernst’s political ramblings and feel grateful that I am now an adult with my own money and need not save bread bags for inexpensive winter outer wear.)

I may be a cheap b-tard when it comes to store-brand spaghetti and particle board furniture, but I will shell out the cash for the good shoes. Also, it occurs to me that generic store-brand cars should be a thing. (Or was that what the Reliant Robin was supposed to be? Eliminating that fourth wheel really cut the cost.) What is Wal-Mart’s store brand? I want a Great Value Sport Utility Vehicle. They come in three sizes. Make mine an XL. You don’t want to buy shoes like that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing Wal-Mart as an entity, I’m just pointing out that there are some things you just shouldn’t buy off-the-rack. Also, Wal-Mart sells shoes on plastic hangers so you can buy shoes off of an actual rack.

In summation, you only get one pair of feet (if you’re lucky.) Don’t make them hurt. 

Next Week on Dr. Who: “The Daleks Versus”

The State of Florida benefits system was created by a time lord. Not only does their online enrollment system require the use of an outdated browser, but the password expires before you use it, and they want you to enter future dates to view current information. So when I say, time lord, I mean one of the bad ones, not Dr. Who. Maybe The Master. He was always trouble.

It took me a while to even get into their system. Since I’m a new state employee, I am registering for my benefits the first time. Of course, it’s all online. The paperwork I received in the mail includes only the instructions “use the website” and an ID number. I had to actually pull up an FAQ on the site to learn what my temporary password was. Which didn’t even work. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before I talk about the password failing, let me tell you about the browser requirements. I attempted to enter the ID and the temporary password using Chrome like a normal person, only to receive a message that my browser was not supported. Sorry, Chrome. You’re too good for Florida. So, I tried again using Internet Explorer, which the FAQ states is supported. I again received a message that my browser is not supported. The hell? I read the FAQ again. There is an asterisk by IE version 11. Holy crap on a cracker. Apparently, only IE version 9 or older is supported. I had to go into my IE tools and set it to backwards compatibility. Also, apparently, I still have IE on my computer.

Finally, I found a browser old enough for Florida. I’m sure there’s an “average age” joke in here somewhere. I figured out what my temporary password was and entered all the info. The system spat back a line of text that said “your account has been locked” and gave a phone number for me to call. Good god, I had to call them on the phone after all of that. Perhaps my sophisticated browser made them think I was a hacker. The password had expired before it ever existed. It’s like I was never born. Or I was my own grandfather. Or something like that—temporal paradoxes are so confusing. The telephone operator unlocked my account and I was able to proceed.

Until I was randomly logged off by the system when I clicked next. Twice. Click “next” to proceed is a trick, apparently. Eventually I got back in, filled in a few blanks (I was hesitant to click buttons by then) and hit another wall. The aforementioned time lord had a good laugh, I’m sure. Jesus have mercy, I just want to see my current benefits. As of today. August 13. In the year 2015. The actual error message I received while trying to view my current plan said “Please enter a date after 12/31/9999”. Not only is that ridiculous (for so many reasons I can’t even count), it’s also impossible. The entry blank only has space for eight characters. January the first of Y10K is not a date I can physically type in. Also, I will not require health insurance in the year 10,000 because (as I learned from HG Wells) humans will have de-evolved and (assuming I’ve been reincarnated) I will be living in a cave. Or the planet will be gone. Probably the planet thing. Either way, I won’t be a Florida state employee anymore.

In summation, there are some perks of working for a large state university. Interactions with evil time lords making state-run websites dysfunctional are not among them.

Sleeping in the Car Only Works if You’re a Passenger

I’ve determined I have to start getting a lot more work done while I’m sleeping. It’s really the only viable option I’ve come up with so far. Don’t tell me that that’s impractical. The only other option is to sleep while I’m driving, and clearly that won’t work. My car is so uncomfortable that I’d never get any good rest.

I don’t even know what else to say about that. I haven’t had much sleep. I am trying to work when I want to be asleep and I want to be working when I am too tired. That doesn’t even make sense. I’ve heard it said that you can’t die from a lack of sleep and I like to remind those people that, yes, that is true. A lack of sleep doesn’t kill you; it makes you go crazy. Like Jack Nicholson in The Shining crazy. No TV and no beer make Homer something something.

Maybe I could hire a driver. I wonder if Morgan Freeman is available. Driving Doctor Dawn could be a movie. Sequels are usually terrible so no one would be disappointed. No, that probably won’t work. I would want to stay awake listening to him tell stories in his silky voice-over baritone. Or read grocery lists. Really, anything sounds good when Morgan Freeman says it. So much for plan B.

I’m hardly the first person in the history of employees in urban areas to have a long commute. I know this. It’s new to me though. My sleep cycle doesn't like it. My pocketbook doesn’t like it. My car doesn’t like it. My sense of environmental responsibility to planet earth doesn’t like it. My butt doesn’t like it. Seriously, I think I need more ergonomic seats. Maybe a nice built-in back massager too. It’s clear I’m going to have to get a new car. Don’t tell my old car. She’s sensitive.

I bought my old car at a time when my primary concern was getting around town in the snow. My previous car could not—or would not—get up a slight incline if there was any snow. By that I mean that it could not ascend an ice-covered speed bump. Clearly my needs have evolved. For example, yesterday, I drove through a downpour at 75 miles per hour where I simultaneously had to have my windshield wipers on high and have my visor lowered because of the blindingly bright sun. I still don’t know where the rain was even coming from. The sky was blue. What the hell, Florida? Also, I was getting passed by a lot of other cars because I was going so slow.

Snow is not an issue here (though mystery rain may present some interesting navigational challenges) but lengthy drives with lots of large pick-ups piloted by rednecks driving two inches off my bumper at 80 miles an hour are. I actually saw a pick-up yesterday with a large confederate flag mounted in the truck bed flying in the wind as it went down the road. Hashtag South Florida. My Jeep is no longer appropriate. (Have I mentioned the unwanted attention from my Obama sticker? This may be why so many rednecks are tailgating me.) I need a shiny new thing. I was going to buy a motorcycle, but the dealership would not let me test drive it because…reasons. Seriously, something to do with insurance or related BS that I suspect was the dealership not wanting to pay for the insurance they could actually get. Who would buy a used vehicle without test driving it first? Not I. They promised I could bring it back for a full refund after ten miles if I wanted to. Ten miles wouldn’t even get me home.

In summation, this is all Henry Ford’s fault. I miss horses. You could sleep on them and still get where you were going. Zzzzz…

Time-Saving Invention: Car Seat-Toilet Hybrid

I’m starting a new job today. Actually, I’m starting the orientation for the new job today. I think it still counts though because I get paid for the orientation. I have a lot of fear about this new job, mostly surrounding the lengthy commute involved in getting to the location. It’s an hour and a quarter one way. When should I leave? What if there’s a thunderstorm or an accident? What if gas prices skyrocket? When am I going to have time to write a daily blog? If I recall my driver’s education classes correctly, they suggested against using laptops while driving.

Maybe I can get a voice-to-text thingamajig and record my blogs via audio in the car. I’m not sure this is the best plan either but it is an option. I mean, I like writing my blogs in the morning but I’m not getting up at 4:30 a.m. just to record my ridiculous ideas for you people before I have to leave. What is this, the army? Screw you, drill sergeant.

I need to go to the grocery store. I won’t have time to come home for lunch. Even if I did, that would be stupid. I don’t yet have an office or access to a refrigerator though so I’m not sure where I’m going to put my food. I may have to stock up on granola bars and canned pudding. Does pudding even come in cans anymore? What other food can I carry in my backpack? I don’t like bananas. Also, I may have to cut back on my morning coffee intake because there’s only one rest stop between my house and my job. I can only hold it for so long. I wonder how well adult diapers work. Just kidding. Sort of.

The good news is that I’m getting paid. I think. That whole HR thing still isn’t fully completed. The state of Florida asks a lot of nosy questions of their new employees. I’ve never had to check off so many “no” answers to questions I barley understood about conflict of interest issues before.  I’ve never been employed by the Florida department of corrections and I don’t even know why the university cares about that. Also, their question about veteran status didn’t have enough options. “Depends who you ask” wasn’t a viable choice. But that’s a blog for another day. Maybe tomorrow. If there’s time. Stop pressuring me.

In summation, getting ready for this new job is proving to be more complicated than I first imagined.

Taking the F Train to Rejection City

Telling people they suck at writing is part of my job. As a university writing professor and a magazine editor, I’m no stranger to reading badly written essays. The difference between functioning as an editor and a professor, of course, is that when I interact with students as a professor, I have to 1) be nice and 2) explain what they need to fix. As an editor it’s quite liberating to simply respond to gobbledygook writing with a “no thanks, it’s train wreck” and then wash my hands of the whole disaster. I don’t have to be concerned about the writer’s feelings. I don’t owe them an explanation of what’s wrong (or right) and I don’t have to tell them how to fix the problems. And, most importantly, I don’t have to justify the grade I gave. F+, random sir. Good day.

I’ve read a lot of essays fitting the derailed steam engine description. The model I’ve been given for providing feedback to students on writing is the “sandwich” style. That is, positive comment bread and constructive criticism meat. Perhaps I’ve said this before, but after a while, my sandwiches start to feel a bit too heavy on the carbs and I need to go on an Adkins feedback diet. This results in my comments turning into open-faced sandwiches. Or the opposite of that, since the bread is on top, creating a very weird and messy looking one-slice of bread, meat, and gravy pile of commentary. I don’t know what the gravy is a metaphor for. The analogy starts to fall apart at this point. But I am now craving diner food.

The point is, the requirement of a writing instructor to provide students with both positive comments and constructive criticism is sometimes a challenge, especially when the student’s writing is just god-awful. This is difficult because you can’t tell students their writing is god-awful and you’re struggling to find something the student “did well with” to comment on. “You did a nice job with your font choice” is a pretty vapid bit of feedback. I think the students can tell I’m struggling to find something positive to say, but frankly, I’ve got another 60 papers to grade and I really just want to write “do better” on every one of them. Also, they probably didn't choose the correct font.

Sometimes, giving any feedback—positive or negative—seems like a waste of time because you know the student invested a minimum of effort on the assignment and could not be bothered to read or follow the instructions. It’s incredibly annoying to have to provide feedback to students who aren’t going to read or care about what I say. They’re the ones that immediately flip to the grade page to see if they passed, then shrug at the C I gave them and toss their essays in the trash on the way out the door. (Sadly, I’m not even kidding about this.) Students who receive B’s are the most likely to bitch and moan about grades, because in their home galaxy, they’ve been taught that exerting any effort at all, regardless of the results, merits an A. I think I’ll add a "welcome to the Milky Way" section to my syllabus this semester.

The irony, of course, is that writers who’ve submitted articles for publication have in fact invested a good deal of time on their essays and will read and care about the feedback I might give them. Except I don’t have to figure out what needs improved with their writing and don’t need to bother giving them feedback.  If it’s good, I can tell them welcome aboard. If it’s bad, I can just tell them to move along to the next whistle stop. Choo choo, Charlie.

The challenge of course is in making certain I give the appropriate level of feedback at the appropriate time. I recently read an email (published online for critique) from a professor whose go-to response to lazy and/or careless students is “get your sh!t together.” In fairness, we’ve all wanted to tell students to better organize their fecal matter at some point in time, but tenure issues notwithstanding, it’s hardly useful direction. Most people need a bit more detail on what they did wrong. I mean, is it total diarrhea all over the stall or does it simply need a second flush? These are the things that go through my mind when I get a rejection letter.

In summation, giving meaningful feedback is hard. If it’s not A work, I’m not going to bother. It’s probably not A work.

Q: Can Candy Join the Screen Actors’ Guild? A: Only if it Pays its Dues

I miss the old days when movies had people in them. Apparently, there’s a feature film in the works starring Pez Candy.  Yes, that’s right. The little plastic toys with novelty heads that open up to dispense terrible tasting sugared rectangles are getting their own feature. We thought films starring toys took product placement as far as it could go (LEGO, I’m looking at you), but no. Now we’re going full-on shameless cash-grab by asking candy to star in movies. The Three Musketeers is no longer just a tale of swashbucklers, it’s now about the chocolate and nougat too.

Of course this is problematic for so many reasons, not the least of which being that Pez is really more of a supporting character, and not a lead. At best, Pez could play a couple of minor characters in the retelling of a beloved toy-themed classic: Toy Story: Andy and the Pawnbroker.  (Because of licensing issues with Disney and Star Wars, the filmmakers would be restricted to using the Santa Clause and Frankenstein dispensers.) TSAatP, as this gritty Pixar reboot is known in fan circles, is a story about a grown-up Andy attempting to liquidate his childhood collectables for cash to pay Sid, his drug dealer. This adaptation of the children’s animated classic is directed by Oliver Stone and stars Edward Furlong as Andy.  Tom Hanks turned down a role in the project but Tim Allen is on-board. Unfortunately for Andy, his Buzz Lightyear action figure did not hold its value well because he threw away the original package. He gets a few bucks for the Pez dispensers though and Sid ends up in jail at the end.

I have so many questions about this dubious project starring candy. For starters, what if this abomination actually achieves The LEGO Movie level of success? How will Jimmy Fallon interview a Pez dispenser? How will the studio market the ancillary products associated with the film? Won’t they just be more Pez dispensers? Or will there be special movie-specific Pez dispensers? Will there be popcorn and Junior Mints flavored Pez candy. (I want to brush my teeth just thinking about how god-awful that would taste.) How will I know when the candy is sad? Can Pez dispensers emote? Where is James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio when I need him?

Once the Pez project is completed, I am really hoping the producers will decide to make a movie starring my vintage 1975 Space: 1999 collectible steel lunchbox. Barbara Bain may be gone, but Martin Landau could do the voice of “Boxie.” Also, I am pretty sure someone could convince LeVar Burton to sign on as the director of this project if he was assured that the Roots miniseries lunchbox also featured prominently. By the way, there was never a Roots miniseries lunchbox. (I Googled it to make sure.) Who would make a product tie-in for a story set in the confederate south? That’s just nonsense. Unrelated: I am hoping the confederate flag on the roof of the General Lee, as featured prominently on my Dukes of Hazzard lunchbox, will get its own television show. YEE HAW!

In summation, my fingers are crossed that we get a Pez version of Dennis Hopper’s “Bowser” from the live action train wreck Super Mario Bros because there can never be too many tie-ins for Nintendo’s crown jewel. I'm only sort of kidding.

How to Deal with Bureaucracy: Be Pathetic

Can someone at the University of Not My Job please stop playing the game 1-2-3-Not-It! and tell me what the actual fark I’m supposed to do? I supposedly have a job at the U of NMJ that starts on Monday but I am not yet set up in their Human Resources system. (And I would love to be set up in their HR system.) If only someone there could tell me how to do that. The only answer I get is to “follow the instructions in your contract.” Well, that’s helpful. My contract states that my “department will set up my visit to HR.” No one in my department has contacted me. No one in my department will answer my emails. No one in my department seems to know anything about anything. I’m starting to think the HR process is the last test of my intelligence before I’m actually hired. I’m going to cry.

Why don’t you just march down to HR and demand answers? Some idiot just asked me. Well, first of all, the campus is literally the size of a town, with traffic lights and busy intersections and everything. I mean, I’m pretty bright, but I need a little direction, like where I can park my car and what building I’m actually supposed to go to. Stuff like that. Maybe whether or not my department has even given my hiring information to anyone in HR would be good to know too. Also, I live an hour away from campus so it’s not like I could just “swing by” even if I knew where the “swing by” location actually was.

What to do, what to do? Send a pathetic sounding email? That usually gets attention. Maybe cry on the phone? That’s guaranteed to make someone uncomfortable. If I lived closer, I would go cry in someone’s office. There’s nothing like angry tears to get some results. It’s even more effective when the outside temperature is over 90 degrees and crier is all sweaty and red-faced from having run all over campus. (It’s even better when the elevator isn’t working!) Now I kind of wish I lived closer just so I could go leak fluids on some bureaucrat’s desk. Also, it is actually over 90 today. Maybe I can sound sweaty and red-faced on the phone. Where is Hermes Conrad when you need him? He could limbo right under all this red tape and we could be home in time for a Manwich.

Of course the issue is that the institution is just excessively large and propped up with bureaucracy in order to function under its own bloat. I’m sure all the various people in all the various departments are each quite necessary and the entire university system would collapse without thousands of people who only do one very specific thing. I haven’t yet cycled through all of them as to find the person who can actually tell me what to do. Also, I seem very cynical about the institution and I haven’t even started working there yet. I’m going to get fired.

In summation, I am convinced there is exactly one person in the entire university that has the answer to my questions and she’s on vacation this week. I am now craving sloppy joes.

Mommy, Where Do Baby Lizards Come From?

“Iguanidae interruptus” sounds like a euphemism. It’s not. I interrupted a couple of brown anoles engaged in…adult activities…yesterday afternoon. They were entangled around each other pretty intricately, but when I walked up she dashed off very quickly and he looked quite pissed off. He immediately puffed out his dewlap a few times—the bright orange throat pouch that male anoles have—and did some very rapid, vigorous push-ups, while giving me the lizard side-eye. Sorry about that, little dude. That’s what happens when you don’t put a tie on the door knob to let your roommate know you’re busy.

I’ve started to recognize individual brown anoles that live at my house. The little dude I interrupted (twice!) hangs out at the front corner of the house. He’s my outdoor roommate and I’ve named him Big Daddy. I’m pretty sure he’s the daddy to a lot of the really tiny lizards that live in the front yard. I see him nearly every day. If he’s not engaged in dining or sunning activities, he’s sitting on the brick planter displaying his dewlap and looking for love. He’s pretty reliable. I think that’s why the ladies like him. Also, measuring in at about six-inches, he’s the biggest lizard on the block.

There’s another little dude who lives in the back of the house. He likes the reflection off the air conditioning unit and I always see him sunning himself back there. This little guy, who I’ve christened Stubs, clearly survived some kind of trauma in recent weeks (months?) because his tail is in a state of regeneration. Perhaps he had an encounter with a hungry bird or a curious cat. Either way, he got lucky and escaped with his life (but not his tail.) Stubs is much darker in color—a chocolate brown—than Big Daddy who’s a light sandy tan color. Stubs doesn’t puff out his dewlap quite as vigorously as Big Daddy. Perhaps he’s worried about attracting unwanted attention from his unnamed assailant.

Brown anole eggs look like Mentos mints. I found some in the shed and thought they were candies at first. I tossed them in the grass by the palm tree next to the driveway. I don’t know if they ever hatched but there are plenty of tiny lizards everywhere so I didn’t feel too guilty when I figured out they were eggs and not rotten candy. Big Daddy didn’t seem too worried about his progeny. I suspect he’s in it for the act of mating and not the diapers that result. Also, lizards don’t wear diapers. They tend to sh!t where they eat.

It’s good to have these little dudes and their lady-friends and rug rats around. They eat bugs. I’ve watched Big Daddy run under the porch with a cockroach the size of his head in his mouth. Go, little dude, go! I’ve also seen the tiniest little babies nab gnats out of the air. They’re born hungry it seems. As far as I can tell, they don’t seem to mind the bug spray. Also, they’re kind of dumb. One ran right into my foot the other day when I disturbed it. If I tried, I could easily grab one right off the ground.

What is the point of today’s blog? Well, first off, to introduce you to my new roommates. And second, it’s summertime and I’ve got nothing else going on but lizard-watching. I’m too pale to sunbathe. Plus, I find lizards a fascinating subject and the only reptiles I ever saw in Iowa were garter snakes. I never interrupted snake sexy times. Thank god.

In summation, lizards are cool and I am now sharing my house with them. So far the cats have not had any encounters. It’s only a matter of time.

I’m Sorry Dawn, I Can’t Do That *BEEP BOOP*

Computers are trying to destroy me. After a loss of internet for two full days, it was restored last Friday, and I discovered that the wireless card in my laptop, much like the psychotic control software created by Cyberdyne Systems, had become “unstable.” I must now switch back and forth between the card and an Ethernet cable if I want to have uninterrupted internet access. Then, on Saturday, I bought a brand new printer with the express goal of printing a specific file. I got the whole thing home, set up, and configured only to discover I had no printer paper. I stuck old lined notebook paper in the doggone thing and hit print. It kicked out eight blank pages because of course it did. Yesterday, I kept getting firewall warnings about phishing attempts and thought I might have gotten a virus. Today, I could not access the internet. For some reason Chrome had become unstable and I had to uninstall and reinstall it. None of this was even Comcast’s fault or anything. I am now completely paranoid that my entire computer system is about to take a big dump. Maybe I should back up my files.

Trying to get something done but being unable to because the technology doesn’t work is pretty infuriating. I haven’t had this much consistent trouble with a complicated system since George W. Bush was in charge of FEMA. Even though I have found some half-way functional work-arounds to the problems (mostly) I am still worried that something catastrophic is about to happen. Perhaps these are the early warning signs that Skynet is about to become self-aware and launch a nuclear attack on humanity. Where is Linda Hamilton when you need her? Seriously, where is she? She hasn’t made a decent movie since the 90’s. And I am not counting her uncredited voice work in 2009’s Terminator Salvation. Because that movie was a giant WTF entry into an already effed up temporal paradox storyline. Does anyone actually understand what was supposed to have happened in that version of the timeline? Also, Christian Bale is a d!ck to directors of photography.

So my laptop is now Skynet. Or is it HAL from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey? It does have a camera and may be reading my lips. Either way, it’s become annoyingly difficult to use at times because of… I don’t know…Florida’s weather patterns or something. I spend as much time farting around with the technology as I do with getting the actual work done. Since my future self has not seen fit to send a T-800 (or even a naked dude) back in time to protect me from this technological chaos, I am forced to improvise. The jury-rigging stretched out all over my house is turning my life into that episode of The X-Files where the computer nerd in the trailer gets swallowed up by his own computer. It wasn’t even that good of an episode.

In summation, “unstable” is never a good diagnosis for humans or computers, my future self is really dropping the ball in this timeline of events, and I may need to invest in some new tech.

It’s a Real Circus Around Here

I met a member of the Wallenda family at the barber shop this week. For those who didn’t watch the 1978 made-for-TV movie The Great Wallendas, The Flying Wallendas  are the famous trapeze artists from the Ringling Brothers circus. He was a music lover but said he hated Jay-Z and was “meh” about Beyonce. For whatever that’s worth. He got his haircut at the barber shop just like the rest of us normal folks. My haircut was probably weirder than his. He seemed pretty boring as circus folk go. I guess I expected green hair or eyeball piercings or something.

For your information, dear readers, I now live in a circus town. There are weird little circus tents and brightly painted circus buildings scattered around the city. There’s also an art and design college named for the Ringling Brothers. That’s where all the weirdos hang out. I wish I could get a job there. I'd fit right in.

I haven’t been to a circus yet. I’m sort of against the animal exploitation. In fairness, I haven’t seen any elephants or lions here. Just a lot of lizards and utility service workers. The lizards are more colorful. I also haven’t been to the Ringling Museum but everyone keeps telling me how great it is. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s an actual art gallery with paintings and sculptures rather than a circus museum with antique circus contraptions and paraphernalia. Not that there’s anything wrong with art; it would just be epic to go see old weird circus artifacts. Fortunately, there are places like that here too. Art-shmart, show me the magician’s bloody saw.

I live in a circus town now. I guess that's appropriate given how three-ring my life is. I do have separate circles in my life that, while chaos reigns in each circle, the insanity of one ring seems not to touch the others. I guess it's probably more desireable to have only one calamity happening at a time, but whatever. I like the crazy. Also, I fancy myself an amateur lion tamer . . . of very small, domesticated lions. Who sleep a lot and enjoy Fancy Feast. That's the key to lion taming: gushy canned food.

In summation, trapeze arts are fine, but honestly, those folks are kind of dull—if they’re not in their spandex, you can’t even tell them apart from the average grocery store clerk. I’ll let you know if I see any real freaks.

Juggalo Home Builder Meets Desiccated Amphibian

I’m imagining a TV sit-com mash-up between the Tim Allen vehicle Home Improvement and the sketch comedy gem “Homey the Clown” from the early 90s classic In Living Color. It would be called Homey Don’t Improve That and would be about a down-on-his-luck clown who is forced into performing home improvements for pay because of a shortage of clowning gigs. Either that or it would be about a terrible housing contractor who is also a juggalo. Either way, the main character wears clown make-up and destroys people’s homes. Each episode would center on Homey’s failure to perform the client-of-the-week’s home improvement project for which he was hired, with hilarious results. There would obviously be a lot of physical comedy and pratfalls. Every episode’s resolution would be Homey eventually successfully getting the job done through some unconventional solution. Homey’s catch phrase, of course, would be “Homey can’t build that.” Someone call Fox—this stuff is gold.

I’ve been doing a lot of home improvement projects myself lately. Much like Homey, I tend to come up with unconventional solutions to problems I have created myself. Or problems that I did not create but whose conventional solutions would cost thousands of dollars more than what I’m prepared to pay. Or that seem too hard. Whatever the reason for the problem, I like to come up with my own solution and do the work myself. (I really have to do the work myself because my ideas are usually so convoluted as to be incomprehensible to others.)

Today’s project involves installing lattice into the frames over the screens on the lanai. The currently empty frames are supposed to have some kind of clear or tinted plastic in them but whoever owned the house before me tore the old plastic out (mostly—there are some tattered remnants) and didn’t replace it with anything. White lattice seems like the easiest and cheapest solution to the existing problem of empty frames that even the laziest of cats could push out and escape through. My cats are not the laziest of cats and have already demonstrated an eagerness to try their paws at escaping. (They’re pretty lazy, just not the laziest.) Also, there are a number of dead frogs trapped between the screens and the frames that need to be…uh...dislodged. I’m now accepting suggestions for how to extract dead frogs from window frames that don’t involve dissection. Seriously, I want them to remain whole. The cats seem disturbingly eager to help with this task but I doubt their feline inclination to abide by the “intact” clause. (Claws? Haha. I’m lame.) I already unsuccessfully removed a dead lizard from the air conditioning unit. It didn’t go well. The poor thing apparently poked its head through the grate, got stuck, and cooked to death in the sun. “Pull to remove” was not a good plan. I want to get the lattice installed so the frogs have got to go.

Clearly, the lanai framing project needs to be completed and before I get too busy with school to actually “git ‘r dun.” (Florida building codes require me to use that phrase at least once per home improvement project.) I measured the frames today in anticipation of going to Home Depot to purchase lattice. Then I measured again and discovered my first measurements were wrong. This is how mistakes are avoided. Dad always said measure once cut twice. Or was is measure twice cut once? Or was it Mom who said that? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Tim the Tool Man or Homey the Clown. At any rate, I’ve confirmed my numbers and I even wrote them down on a piece of paper. Time to do the work. I need a sidekick like Al Borland who can keep me from electrocuting myself. Homey the Clown’s sidekick was less reliable.

In summation, my home improvement projects get weird. Frog removal suggestions are welcome.

The North Korea of ISPs Want to Wish Me a Great Day

If my previous ISP was Commander Data, my current ISP is Lore. No, that’s not true—Lore was actually intelligent. More like B-4. Why do I say this? Because I called Comcast to report a service problem and they hung up on me. Of course I got an automated voice rather than a real person. They attempted to reset my modem remotely, said it was “taking longer than usual” then said “Thank you for calling Comcast. Goodbye.” and disconnected the call. I still don’t have internet. Jerks. God, they are the worst. How can they even be a company? They still haven’t credited my account the $10 they overcharged, which was supposed to have been taken care of by now.

My brother might refer to them as Con-cast. There are people in this housing community that actually bought into their scam and spent I-don’t-know-how-much money on a Comcast home security system. The sales rep tried to pedal that garbage to me too. It was a serious high-pressure sales tactic. I imagine it scared some people into shelling out for a useless service. I don’t trust Comcast to provide me with reliable internet access; I’m certainly not going to trust them with my home’s security. Also, why does a cheap-@$$ mobile home inside of a low-rent housing community need a high tech security system?

I told the sales rep (during her pressurized speech) that I didn’t have anything worth stealing. She kept trying to convince me I did. Wouldn’t it be terrible if my family heirlooms were stolen? What? This was a phone conversation with a person I’d never met and who had never been to my house. What is wrong with this company? They are truly without ethics. Or human emotions. They might be one of Asimov’s androids gone wrong. Also, my “family heirlooms” consist of hand-me-down clothes and Tupperware.

I began to wonder if the sales rep was actually a burglar and works for Comcast as a front for casing homes and getting the layout of potential targets. Well, she did eventually come to my house to “hook up my service” and got to see for herself how little of value I actually have. I am so suspicious of her and her entire company since the one service I actually want from them seems to be the thing they suck at the hardest.

So, I am waiting the designated half-hour for the modem to reset (which I suspect will be a waste of 30 minutes) before I call back and get some additional runaround from their automated system. It’s been 29 minutes and so far nothing has happened except the lights on the modem are flickering to let me know my power is on. I’m sure the automaton will ask me to verify that the modem is plugged in to a power source. So helpful. Maybe they will even suggest I plug my computer directly into the modem with an Ethernet cable. That will eat up some time. Is this how they limit bandwidth use? Perhaps this is actually their SOP for limiting access.

*Musical interlude*

After being on hold for a ridiculous amount of time with an obsequious service representative, his conclusion is “there’s a problem that is Comcast’s fault” (duh!) which he is unable to resolve. A technician will need to come to my house. The earliest they can come is Friday. I am without internet access (again) for two days, until the tech comes and pretends to fix it. They’ve promised to credit me for the two days I was without service. According to the rep, I’m the “best part of Comcast.” That’s because I’m the only part that works.

In summation, today’s vitriol brought to you by free coffee house wi-fi. Good to the last drop.

Book Excerpt: Gender is Confusing, I Confuse People

Being gender non-conforming means I don’t look like what a lot of people think I should based on my biological sex. Therefore, when I am in a space that’s designated for women, other women sometimes get confused. I was in the bathroom at the public park the other day changing into my karate uniform in preparation for class. I was in the far corner of the room, half-dressed, minding my own business when a woman came in to use the facilities. Instead of going into the stall, she stared at me and then asked “Is this the ladies’ room or the men’s room?” She didn’t say it very nicely either; it was more an accusation that I was not where I was supposed to be rather than a genuine question about her location.

Not only did she breach cultural protocol by making eye contact and conversing in a public bathroom, with someone who was not fully clothed and clearly trying to be as out of the way as possible, but she was rude. Even if I was in the “wrong” bathroom, my activities were clearly those of a person trying to change clothes, not a person peeping into the stalls. Her perception that I was in the wrong place was based on my hair cut alone, because at that point I had my karate pants and top on, which as outfits go, is as shapeless and as close to a genderless flour sack as outfits come (except actual flour sacks).

Further, her question about “ladies’ or men’s” made the English teacher in me want to correct her mismatched binary language choices, and I thought of a number of responses that matched her tone and level of ignorance. I chose not to say them, but there was a long pause as I searched through the Rolodex in my head to give her an answer that fit all the criteria of the moment. Let me share them with you.

The first thing that popped in my brain was “Don’t you know what bathroom you just walked into?” Then the slightly less snarky, “It’s whatever it says on the door.” Then I considered looking away from her without saying anything (probably making a sour “you’re an idiot” face when I did), letting her sort out her confusion on her own. I may have made that face anyway; I’ve been told I do that sometimes without knowing it. I considered rephrasing her question for her since it was clear she made no distinction between “lady” and “woman” despite the fact that she looked plenty old enough to have lived through the women’s lib movement of the 70’s when such words were called out as awkward and inappropriate. However, I didn’t say: “Are you asking if this is the women’s bathroom?” and I realized that my go-to when people call me a “lady” would not work in that situation.

There have been times in the past when I’ve been called a lady, often with the diminutive “young” tacked on. This is usually uttered by males of a certain age, frequently as a friendly greeting from someone I know with no ill-will behind the phrase. Despite the ingenuousness motive on the part of the speakers, the label makes me bristle. My usual response to being greeted as a “young lady” is to say that “I am neither of those things.” The greeter will often laugh and take this for what it is: a subtle correction that acknowledges their friendly greeting with one of my own without ignoring the ill-fitting gendered term.

But bathroom lady wasn’t using that term to be friendly. And since I was neither a “lady” nor a “man” (the only two choices in her world) I felt compelled to note that in my answer. All these thoughts spinning through my mind while this unpleasant little lump of a woman stared at me accusingly for simply being in a gendered space led to the obvious answer I finally gave her: “This is the women’s bathroom.” I tried to say it in a way that indicated she was the confused one. She seemed less than satisfied and stared at me a moment longer but finally went into a stall.

In summation, I was forced into an unpleasant conversation just so some lady could pee.

Swimming in the Rain: Wet is Wet

Apparently, I now live in the lightning capital of the world. The Tampa Bay area (arguably) boasts the most lightning strikes of anywhere on earth. I can confirm that there has been a lot of the sky lighting up lately. Yesterday there was a lightning strike very near my house and the sound of it was so loud it scared the bejesus out of the cats. They ran first left, then right, scrambling for footing and scratching up the hardwood floor trying to find safety in the new house that no longer has a cool, dark basement to retreat to. (It scared me too but I didn’t run through the house like a stampeding rhino.) One cat has taken to burrowing under the living room rug. Another has decided hiding under the covers on the bed is the securest location. I have a lot of nebulous, wriggling lumps in my house right now. Cat logic is like toddler logic: if I can’t see you, you can’t see me. Maybe they should just cover their eyes with their paws.

But back to the lightning. I did not know that there was so much of it here until recently. There have been a lot of thunderstorms the last week or so. Like daily. It’s weird: It rains every day but it’s sunny every day. I tried to go to the beach last Friday. It was closed. Yes, the Gulf of Mexico was not open for business. Because lightning. I guess I don’t want to get struck by lightning on the beach but it was a bit disappointing to drive all the way there and then get snapped at by a surly lifeguard who looked more like an aging Crocodile Dundee than a primetime David Hasslehoff. Red flag-shmed flag. I want sea shells.

So naturally, my compromise was to come home and go to the pool. It was very relaxing to get in the salt water hot tub for a while and then hop in the swimming pool while it was raining. (Yes, outdoors.) There was no one else there so I had it all to myself. I guess I’m still a redneck slash hick slash bumpkin because the natives here don’t seem to enjoy swimming while it’s raining, even when it’s hot. Or else there is a greater danger from getting struck by lightning in the water than I realize and I am a big idiot. Either way, it was nice. I’ve done it a couple of times now. So far, no lightning strikes in the pool area. Also, no pesky lifeguards telling me what to do.

I didn’t realize that salt water hot tubs and swimming pools were a thing, but they totally are. I have one a hundred yards from my house now, available whenever I want to use them, at least during the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Midnight swims are not allowed, sadly. I’m looking forward to using the hot tub this winter when it’s cooler outside (you know, like in the 60s) and the tub is set at 105 degrees. I am curious to find out if the locals use the pool in the winter when they claim it’s “cold” here. How long will it take me to become acclimated and start saying nonsense like “It’s 60 degrees outside—I need a parka.” Admittedly, I am always cold, but I’m also from the Midwest and 60 degrees in the winter is when you get your motorcycle out of the garage and go for a ride, not when you put on long johns.

I plan to go to the beach in the winter. And the fall. And the spring. I plan to visit the beach in pretty much every season and in any weather. In lightning, in rain, in…okay…maybe not in a hurricane, but most any other time. If that makes me a bumpkin, then I accept that judgment and label. I hope I get to see some sand that’s been hit by lightning. It has a name: fulgurite. Google images of that; it’s pretty cool looking.

In summation, I am swimming at my own risk. The cats do not support my life choices.