Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tomorrow...

I meet with a professor at PSU to learn more about their teaching program, and what I need to do to get into it. And if I even want to.
This professor is originally from New Jersey.
We are everywhere.
So, tomorrow may be an important day toward determining my future. We'll see.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Good books

I just finished two good books, one on Thursday and one today:
Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn, who wrote another of my favorite books, The Big Love. I kind of want to write to Sarah Dunn now and tell her I think we should be BFFs.
Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris. I didn't think I liked vampire books. I thought I only liked The Historian because of all the nerdy library stuff. I had put this book on hold at the library when I first moved to Portland, almost three months ago, because several people had told me I needed to start reading some light, entertaining books. I started reading this book on Thursday, expecting it to be dumb, thinking I'd bring it right back to the library. Wrong. It was great! I can't wait to read the next book!

South German Adventure Part Two: More Aggression

After Jens's warning, Wiebke and I did not knit until we were on the train leaving Konstanz. I remember that I actually left off in the middle of a row.
Following dinner, we moved inside from the terrace, and Wiebke cheerfully presented Jens with a gift we had brought him, a thank-you for his hospitality.
Wiebke is from the same city as Thomas Mann. It is south of Luebeck, a city in Germany that I really like. One of Luebeck's claims to fame is that it is the headquarters of Niederegger marzipan, which I've been told (and so far, believe) is the producer of the best marzipan in the world. If you think you hate marzipan, but have only been exposed to things like those godawful super sweet fruits, you may discover that you actually like Niederegger marzipan. It's not too sweet and it has delightfully faint almond taste. Niederegger makes marzipan in all kinds of great shapes, potatoes being the most common, and if you go to Luebeck, you can eat in a marzipan cafe, where there are wonderful cakes with marzipan in them and marzipan beverages, like marzipan cappucino. Both times I went to Germany, I returned with marzipan rooibos tea.
Wow, this is totally off topic.
Anyway, we thought a perfect gift to bring to a South German would be something representative of Northern Germany--Niederegger marzipan! And, so that it would be characteristic of Wiebke's city, it was Thomas-Mann-related. It was a box of marzipan candies in a false book. The book was Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, but when you opened the cover, of course, it was filled with delicious marzipan!
Upon opened the present, Jens snarled something which Wiebke later translated for me as, "So, you think I'm pretentious?" That was all he said, not a single word of "danke schoen."

Jens announced that we were going for a walk. I believe the purpose of this was to retrieve some bicycles that we were borrowing for the bicycle trip into Switzerland. It was nice to be outdoors in perfect weather, in a beautiful South German city. We were walking towards the university. I remember this walk consisting of a path through rolling, grassy hills, with the sky turning pink and orange as evening approached. At the foot of a large hill, we were greeted by a brown and white cat. Wiebke and I immediately knelt down to pet it, letting out simultaneous "Awwwwww"'s. Unexplainably, Jens growled loudly, "RAAAHHHHH!!!!!!" and lunged toward the cat. It took off.
I am not making this up.
Wiebke, who generally isn't shy, said nothing in protest, though she was visibly disappointed.
We climbed a large hill to get the first bike. It was kind of old and I guess something was wrong with it, because Wiebke whispered to me suddenly, when Jens's back was turned, "I do not want to ride this Fahrrad!" Or some combination of English and German distress.
We walked on a path that bordered a wooded area. At some point in the evening, perhaps now, perhaps earlier, at Jens's apartment, Wiebke had said cheerily, "So, Jens, es ist Samstag Abend!" She elaborated that though we were tired from traveling, how about showing us some South German nightlife? After all, it was Saturday! Jens didn't seem overly excited, but suggested we go to a Biergarten. He explained to me that this was a South German invention and that he was sure we'd like it.
Anyway, as we walked alongside the wooded area, Jens and Wiebke spoke in some German that I did not understand. I remember lagging behind, feeling miserable that we had to spend a week with this unpleasant guy. Jens turned to me and spoke.
"So, Sarah. It is Saturday evening. I would like to drink. Wiebke would like to drink. You will drive us home from the Biergarten."
"I'm not allowed to drive in Germany," I replied quickly.
His response was a look of disbelief.
"I don't have an International Driver's License."
"When I went to New Zealand, I could drive."
"Well, this isn't New Zealand, and I'm American. I can't legally drive in Germany."
"Who will know?"
"I'm not insured here, either."
Jens did not think this was a problem.
"What if we get into an accident?"
The argument went on for awhile, until I finally convinced him that if we were to get into an accident, like, say, not our fault--maybe someone would rearend us--that it was not only me who would get into trouble for illegally driving Jens's father's Mercedes. He, too, would get into trouble.
"Ok! Wiebke will drive!"
"What? I don't know how to drive that type of car!"
It was an automatic, which may not seem difficult to drive, but if you've never driven one before, it's still scary! Also, the Mercedes was like a giant boat. It was difficult to navigate through the narrow streets of the city. Not to mention, it was someone else's expensive car!
Wiebke insisted that she would not drive the car; Jens insisted that she would. I'm not sure how this argument resolved, except that Jens did drive us to the Biergarten. Wiebke told him that she would not drive home.
For readers unfamiliar with German cities, I should point out something--cities in Germany (perhaps all of Europe) have public transportation. There was no reason we could not take a bus to the Biergarten, except that Wiebke and I did not know the public transportation system of Konstanz (nor did we have keys to Jens's apartment) and Jens did not want to take public transportation. That settled it. Someone had to be designated driver.

The Biergarten was delightful. After my brief experience with bars in New Brunswick, NJ, this outdoor bar with picnic tables, lit by Christmas lights and colorful lanterns, seemed magical. Of course, the beer was great. We met a friend of Jens's, who was Swiss but now lived in Germany. He was a sweet guy. I'll call him Pierre, even though he did not really have a French name. The four of us talked and drank beer for quite awhile. Well, everyone but Wiebke drank beer. I believe I stopped at two for solidarity.
In the presence of Pierre, Jens acted like a completely different person. He was friendly, intelligent, interesting, and funny. We had a great time. My unease lifted and I wondered if I had imagined everything--the aggression, the growling, all of it.
But then it was time to leave. Despite Wiebke's words of protest as he went up to the bar, Jens had kept ordering beers. Wiebke had had the sense to switch to soda. Jens had gotten good and drunk, so that no one would ask him to drive home. Wiebke had to drive.
She was visibly and audibly terrified, but she drove, and we arrived back at the apartment without incident. Shortly, we were asleep on Jens's floor.

Something else awesome

My friend Jessica has a new blog! Check it out!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Something awesome

My parents told me, on the phone today, that if I don't find a job right away I should use my unemployed time to work on my novel.
I know, you're jealous of my awesome family.

Successful Weekend

Why Friday was a Success:
1. I went to Fred Meyer.
2. I applied, in person, for a job at the school district near me. I am thinking about teaching for awhile, so this was an accomplishment.
3. I suggested on my Meetup group message board that some people get together for drinks, and a few of us did. It was so much fun, I got to see a new part of town, and I met some really nice, interesting people.

Why Today was a Success:
1. I got an awesome, inexpensive haircut.
2. I talked to one of my friends on Skype.
3. I got some stuff at Powell's that was on my shopping list.
4. I had a dessert date that was fun and got to try a new place in Portland. It was an actual patisserie, just like in France!

My Sunday plans involve sewing and shopping and then going to see Vaux's Swifts. These are birds, not an indie rock group.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Friday Evening, Downtown Portland, Bus Stop

"So what's your nationality?"
"Why do you want to know? Why do people always ask me that?"
"Because you're hot."
"Oh...uh...thanks."
"So what is it?"
"New Jersey."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

More French fries!

My roommate and I were discussing eateries at our alma mater, which brought up the new Frites place in the Rutgers Student Center. Which brought up Pommes Frites in NYC. These are places that specialize in Belgian fries with seemingly hundreds of choices of toppings/dipping sauces. Lots of types of ketchup and mustard and mayonnaise.
What I wouldn't give for a plate of Pommes Frites with wasabi mayonnaise right now. Or curry ketchup. Or smoked eggplant mayonnaise.
I think I'm going to make another pan of fries.

Wisdom

From the friend that visited me this weekend, advice on life:

You shouldn't ever rule anything out.

Well, maybe sometimes rule things out.


Brilliant in its simplicity. Right!?
Things seem to be falling into place in a weird way all of a sudden. I had something more profound to say when I thought to myself, "Let me open a Blogger.com window," and now I can't remember.
I just came back from a trip downtown. I went to an information session with the Graduate School of Education at PSU. I think I walked away with some sense of clarity.
Also, yesterday, through a strange string of events, I learned about a potential job opportunity. I have no real reason to believe that I will be hired OR have a great experience there, except that the way things happened made it feel like fate. It's almost like, if I didn't choose to go to dinner with a random guy that night, and then go to the yarn store that night, and happen to be wearing the dress I made which sparked a conversation with that particular person about her particular place of work that is hiring...

Oh, a rambling side note. I recently made a dress. It is the first real sewing project that I've done in a long, long time. I got so many compliments on this dress, from people with whom I was actually interacting and from random strangers--a waitress and random people on the street.
This says two things to me. One, that people in Portland are really, really nice. Two, that this dress looks really good. It's really nice to get compliments like that! I'm totally going to make more dresses now!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I don't feel like crap anymore

After a beer, two quesadillas, some reading, two episodes of Rhoda on Hulu, and several cups of tea, I feel better.
My bag is packed for Mount Hood tomorrow. I have an outfit laid out for my dinner plans (I hesitate to say "date") tomorrow evening. I have an outfit laid out for the information session I'm going to at PSU on Thursday. I have several plans for my life for the next twelve months.
Once I felt less crappy and more focused, I applied to a job. And then another. And then drafted a cover letter and completed a specialized resume for two more. (I am going to proofread those in the morning.) It's becoming addictive!

Despite the despair of my last post, I have not one but many plans.
I'm applying to jobs in the Portland area, of course. Should this not work out right away, I'm going to seriously look at PhD programs, because is there any reason to postpone this dream any longer?
I learned last week that there are going to be field positions available as early as January. This would mean potentially having to move to ANOTHER part of America. However, these are great positions so I am seriously considering this. And finally, I'm requesting information about Masters programs from schools in Portland and in New Jersey.
So, it goes like this: Look for a job in Portland; if that doesn't work, look for a field position in January. In the meantime check out/apply to PhD programs. If none of these work out, go get a Masters degree.
The January thing is only five months long, so I could even do that AND get a Masters from PSU...this program starts in July.

See how organized I am? If only I could convince myself of this!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I feel like crap

It's allergy season...I think. (It's different from allergy season that I'm used to.) Today was my last day in the lab. There was traffic. A schoolbus ran a red light and cut me off. Instead of being productive, I just want to complain.
Tomorrow will be a better day.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

F

First of all, my favorite line of the day just uttered by my roommate, Ruthann:
"A zombie wearing an inner tube made it into my house!"
My roommate is playing a game called "Plants vs. Zombies."

- - - - - - - -

Sunday was a day spent indoors navel-gazing and getting things done from my to-do list. I baked bread, made date chutney (for which I'll post the recipe soon), and waxed my eyebrows--to name a few things. Around 8, I set out for my monthly trip to Trader Joe's, my eyebrows looking awesome as long as no one noticed the giant green gob of wax stuck in the left one.

I shopped for groceries without incident and headed homeward--in the direction from which I came. There were no signs indicating an entrance ramp for I-84 East, and if not for the homeless woman holding a cardboard sign, I would not have even recognized the exit ramp that had led me from 84 to Trader Joe's. There were simply no signs indicating that this major highway had ever existed.

This is one thing, I've learned, that New Jersey and Oregon have in common. Terrible road signage. The difference, as far as I can tell, is that New Jersey will have signs pointing vaguely, unhelpfully, in what may be the wrong direction; in Oregon there will just be no sign at all.

I continued down Halsey Street, which I knew would also take me home. However, around 82nd Ave, there's an inexplicable lapse in Halsey Street and if you go the wrong way, you end up--if you're lucky--on 82nd Ave and not Halsey. I wished to avoid this.

I had somehow also forgotten that, since it was the weekend, this bizarre rule (which does not exist in New Jersey!) was in effect and it meant that people could park their cars in the right-hand lane typically meant for driving. The road was busy, and after swerving and slamming on my brakes a few times (because the left lane was occupied) I decided to backtrack. Maybe from the other side of the road, there would be a sign for 84.

There was not. At this point, I realized that my gas gauge was hovering just about the big red "E." Frazzled, between not being able to find the interstate and nearly plowing into two parked cars, I stopped for gas.

Another trait that New Jersey and Oregon share is gas station attendants. In both states, it is illegal to pump one's own gas.

It was awhile before the attendant appeared by the pumps. The gas station was empty. Save the glow of the pumps and the small window of the station office, it was dark. It was as though the attendant and I were the only two people left in the world.

He was young, although exactly how young was difficult to determine. He could have been anything from 15 to 35. I probably smiled when I handed him my card and asked him to fill my tank in a friendly manner, but otherwise the exchange began unremarkably. However, after setting things up (I don't know gas station terminology), the attendant didn't leave. He stayed next to the car, staring at its insides. I did not notice this right away; I am dense.

A few moments passed. He spoke up, his accent something I couldn't place and could hardly understand. He asked me did I drive here from Jersey? Actually, he asked me if I drove to Portland from "Juh." I inferred his meaning from context clues. I still have Jersey plates; so far the conversation was nothing to take note of.

I replied that yes I had.
He said something like, "Really?"
"Yes."

He continued to stare into my car, and that's when I noticed its intensity. The stare felt predatory and was fixed on the interior of my car. Its owner stood close to my passenger side door. If it were not for that stare, this dialogue could easily be adapted to a commonplace interaction between a young gas station attendant with an accent and a customer he thought was pretty. It could even be cute. That stare is what made me nervous.

"Are you going home now?" he asked.
Perpetually obtuse, I thought he asked if I was driving back to Juh right now. I told him that I was not.

I have to admit, I'm only guessing at his side of the dialogue. At the time I understood the questions, but could not parse each individual word and thus cannot recreate the sentences now. His accent was just so heavy. Being spoken to by him reminded me of voicemails left by Wal-mart Guy.

"Where are you going?" he asked.
"I'm staying with a friend," I said, thinking longingly of my roommate sitting in our kitchen with her laptop.
"A boyfriend?" he asked.
Finally, my brain kicked in and I said, "Yeah. My boyfriend."
"Oh."
....
(pause. stare. STARE.)
"But you don't know where he is now?"
Or maybe he said, "He don't know where you are now?" or "You don't know what he do now?" or "He don't know what you do now?"

Perhaps you'd expect something more creative from me. Or something colder. But I was caught off guard moreso than usual. I was tired. I couldn't find the freeway. I couldn't get up and leave; my car was attached to his pump by the fuel-filled umbilical cord.

Also, my Creep Repellent Instincts told me not to push it with this guy. I firmly believe that with people who may be volatile or violent, it's important to stay calm. There is probably a Physics equation that can be adapted to this. While sometimes, aggression will protect you, in most cases, if you stay calm, the wacko will stay calm. If you freak out--if you are loudly, passionately afraid or if you are loudly, passionately defending yourself--there's a good chance the wacko will also freak out. In precisely the way you don't want him to--anger. A creep's reaction is directly proportional to the victim's.

So, I didn't shoot him down like I was some pretty girl and he was not worth my time. Nor did I get nasty and tell him to leave me alone. I opted for a calm, sweetly oblivious reaction to his advances.

Smiling, I responded that I knew where my boyfriend was--he was at home, waiting for me! "He's at his--our home. I went grocery shopping." I indicated my Trader Joe's bag, the contents of which had spilled all over the floor the second time I had slammed my brakes on Halsey. "I'm going there now and we're going to cook dinner! Together!"
"Oh." Prince Charming said nothing more...yet he didn't leave. He continued to stand by my window and stare into my car. I listened uncomfortably to the sound of the gas pump. I tried to look sweet and dumb, like I didn't notice or find this unsettling. I knew that asking him for directions to the interstate was right out.
Fortunately, in the distance was a sign. From where I sat, I could see a giant letter "F."
My thoughts exactly.
There were three letters after the "F." Could it be?
The sign said, "F-way" and pointed vaguely to the left. Once I had my gas, I drove toward its green glow. I followed the arrow, was directed a second time to turn left for "F-way," and finally saw a tiny red and blue sign with the numbers, "84." It was the eastbound entrance.
How one would get to 84 West and I-5 from that intersection, I do not know. Nor do I care.
Minutes later, I was rocking out to Karen O in my car, the harrowing incident at the gas station behind me.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I'm not sure I want to know what THIS says about me either...
after my last post published, I was staring blankly at the screen and then realized that the border on my blog is the same pattern as Rhoda Gerard's couch. (Too much Hulu.)

In other news...

I spent last night and most of today with an old friend from NJ who was visiting...who now lives not in Portland, but much closer than NJ. I had such a nice time. I'd like to write about it later, and write Part Two of the Jens/Wiebke/Sarah Saga, and also write about my road trip out here and what's been happening in Portland, but I am so. so. tired. It was too rainy to even hike at Mount Hood today, and yet I am exhausted. So I'll write more later.

No more updates on my decision to stay here or move back (temporarily!) to Jersey. I really don't know.

Well, the good/frustrating part is that while talking it out with my friend today, I came to the realization (and he confirmed/agreed) that whichever I choose, there will be a positive outcome! Oh boy. That should be reassuring but doesn't make my decision any easier.
I just read a quote on The Literacy Site--a woman writing that her favorite book as a child was Cinderella. She writes something like, "A beautiful woman gets a prince at the end--what could be better?" My immediate response was, "How about if the beautiful woman got a job!?"

I'm not sure what that says about my current state of mind!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

South German Adventure Part One: I like to watch them eat their breakfasts

In July of 2005, I visited a dear friend in Germany. For the purposes of this story, I am going to call her Wiebke (pronounced VEEB-kuh). That is totally not her name, but that was the reoccurring female character in Neue Freunde, the same German textbook in which Jens ist mit dem tollen Moped gekommen!

I stayed for three weeks, and in that short time, Wiebke and I traveled all over Germany. We spent time with her family in Hamburg and at her apartment in Bremen. We went to Berlin and Cologne (Koeln). We based much of our travel around where she had friends we could visit. That is how we ended up in this particular section of Southern Germany--Constance.

Wiebke had not seen her friend Jens in a year, possibly more, but she liked him a lot and spoke highly of him. He seemed very nice in the e-mails he sent, in which he wrote of borrowing his dad's Mercedes in time for our visit. He told us that Constance was a border town, and maybe we could go bike-riding in Switzerland. Remember how I mentioned a few posts back that I never learned how to ride a bike when I was a kid? Wiebke told him this, and he said, "That's ok. We'll give it a try!" I remember at this point that either Wiebke or her mother said, "Es gibt viele Bergen in der Schweiz!!!!" in a very urgent tone of voice. ("There are many mountains in Switzerland!!!!") I said, "Well, I'll give it a try." We all agreed it was fine, that there were plenty of things to do in Switzerland besides ride a bike.

Traveling is exhausting. How sitting still and occasionally dozing can be so tiring, I don't know, but it is. After eight and a half hours on the ICE--the fast German inter-city German train--we arrived in Constance. When we exited the train, Jens was waiting for us on the opposite platform. I still remember my first glimpse of him, waving to us with his whole arm and sort of hopping a little so we could see him. He had a big, friendly smile, and he reminded me a little of one of my friends from home. A gawkier version--which isn't meant as an insult to either party. He had dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail and was wearing a white poet shirt tucked loosely into black pants.

We met halfway in the tunnel under the platforms and he led us to the parking deck where he'd left his father's Mercedes. I think he even offered to carry the lighter of our suitcases. Smiling, he opened the car for us. Wiebke sat in the passenger seat and I sat in the back. The two spoke rapid German--at this point, my third week in Germany, I had a pretty good command of the language, but Jens spoke very quickly and with an accent I wasn't used to. I frequently couldn't understand him. He drove slowly toward the exit, and Wiebke, with Jens's parking deck ticket in hand, jumped out of the car to pay at the machine.

At this point, Jens turned around to face me in the backseat. "So, Sarah..." His demeanor suddenly changed. His face contorted, his voice--and I am not making this up--dropped an octave, almost to a growl, as he said to me, "Du lernst Fahrrad."
This translates to, "You will learn to ride a bicycle."
"Ich werde versuchen," I replied. ("I'm going to try.")
"Du lernst Fahrrad."
He did not have time to elaborate, because at this point, Wiebke arrived back at the car. They smiled at one another. I smiled. We exited the parking deck, back into the bright summer sun. Constance is a beautiful city. Jens drove quickly, a bit erratically. Red lights flashed above our head and car horns serenaded us as we rode up the hills to his apartment building. Everyone chattered pleasantly and I wondered if I had imagined our exchange in the parking deck.

Moments later, Jens was giving us a tour of his apartment. It was a large studio, on the second floor of the building. One entered through a hallway with a great big storage closet on the right. Straight ahead was a bathroom. Next to that was a kitchen--small, but separate from the living room. The rest of the apartment was the living room/bedroom, and it was huge. There was a huge set of sliding glass doors leading onto a spacious terrace. Sunlight poured in from the windows.

As soon as we arrived, I went to use the bathroom. While I was there, Jens and Wiebke had a brief conversation, the contents of which I would not learn until later. So, I won't share it with you until later.

Wiebke went into the bathroom, and Jens led me into his living room and out onto the terrace. It was magnificent--the terrace, the apartment, all of it!
I made some remark about the brilliant view he had of the city of Constance.
"On a clear day," Jens said, "you can see the Alps."
I squinted. It was sunny and I had no idea what he meant. Was this a clear day? There were no clouds in the sky. Where were the Alps!?
(Now that I live in Portland, I know exactly what he meant. On some days, I can see Mount Hood from my bus stop. When I drive home from work, I always look cheerily toward Mount Hood as I cross the Ross Island Bridge, and then I look for Mount Saint Helens, a little lump to my left. Only once was it clear enough that I could see Mount Saint Helens in detail. However, many days--some of them sunny, like during our horrible heat wave--there's this weird haze and it's as though Mount Hood never existed.)
Jens informed me that today was not one of those clear days. While I was squinting, trying to turn some distant clouds into the Alps, he talked.
"I like living here and having this view, all these nice houses," he said.
"Uh huh," I replied. This sentence was completely normal.
"I like to sit out here in the mornings and look at all the people. I like to watch them eat their breakfasts, read the paper..."
"Uh huh," I said, wondering where this was going.
He continued, and I saw a flash of that same troll-like malice from the parking deck return. "I have this nice view and they have to look at this UGLY TOWER where I live!" He laughed.
Wiebke arrived on the terrace at the moment, much to my relief.

"So! How about dinner?" Jens went back into the house and produced a plate of broetchen, meats, and other things. Wiebke and I had eaten on the train and were less hungry than he was. The three of us sat at a table on the terrace and chatted. At some point, Jens asked if he preferred we speak English or German. Jens had studied abroad in both New Zealand and the United States and was very proud of his fluency in English. I was put off by the parking deck experience and had trouble understanding his speedy German, so I said that I preferred English and didn't speak German very well. (I actually spoke very well at the time.) Wiebke looked surprised, but withheld comment. From this point, English was the language spoken while I was in Constance.
Wiebke and I finished eating before Jens, but remained on the terrace, the three of us talking. At some point, Wiebke suggested we get out our knitting projects, so we had something to do with our hands. (I had just taught Wiebke how to knit on the train.) We took our projects out of our purses and started working, still talking to Jens.
Suddenly, the two commenced speaking rapid German that I could not understand. Jens barked something at Wiebke and she, looking wounded, slowly lowered her knitting needles. I continued to work, not really sure what was going on.
Jens turned to me and said, slowly, in English, "I don't like it when you girls knit." He paused. "It makes me...aggressive."

To Be Continued.

News

I've been sick the past couple of days. I keep thinking I'm over it, because I'm always in denial when I'm sick, and then suddenly finding myself with a headache or sleeping for hours.

Some people--we haven't figured out who or why--have set up a little home for stray cats under the vent under my bedroom window. They keep replacing giant plates of cat food every morning. It's...bizarre.

I might go back to NJ, temporarily, after Hawaii. I haven't decided yet. Right now, there are a lot of places I can go. So I might go to NJ in the interim and hang out with my friends and family, take care of some things, and then move on to the next place. Back to Oregon, or to Arizona, or who knows?!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No one expected you to be polite anyway (some vintage hatemail)

Many of the funny stories with which I entertain people on a regular basis are unfit for publication in this blog. I don't like to risk insulting people, or at least, I don't want to create unnecessary drama even with those I don't mind insulting. The compromise I've made with my own paranoia is that, after a lot of time has passed, it's okay to write about things involving less-than-pleasant people.

One of the strangest and most interesting stories took place four years ago in a South German city where a friend and I once stayed. It will take some time to rebuild this story from my memories, journal entries, and e-mails...mostly because it takes me a long time to sit down and write anything! So, I'll begin with just part of the story. I'm beginning at the end. I won't tell you about this guy and why we grew to dislike him. I won't even tell you my side of the story yet. I'll just let the main character, whom we'll call Jens (which is totally not his name, I just picked a Northern European name at random) (actually it's the name of a reoccurring character from my high school German textbook. In the book, he hat ein Moped!) speak for himself.

So, without further ado, let's go back in time....to 2005.

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Math lessons
From: jens@arschgesicht.de *
Date: Thu, October 13, 2005 5:00 am
To: yourfavoriteuglyamerican@eden.rutgers.edu
--------------------------------------------------------------------------

A little math problem for you:

Person A (living in USA) owes €12 to Person B (living in germany). A wants to send B a cheque to pay her debts. The bank in germany charges €8 for cashing in foreign country cheques, €1,5 exchange fee and €1,5 courtage (from the US bank). The exchange rate (05.10.13 10:36 MEST) is 1€ = 1,2003$. For how many $ does A have to write out the cheque?

I'll tell you, because you obviously could not solve this one:

(12€ + 8€ + (2*1,5€))*1,2003 = 27,6069$

Ah, btw if I cashed in your cheque, i would get 2,33€!!!

It is pretty impolite to let someone wait for 2 months. You complained after ONE week! But no one expected you to be polite anyway. It is simply unbelievable impudent to send the cheque without a note saying something like "Thanks for the week I stayed with you and for the package. Take care". And I am not sure if you are really that stupid or if you sent me 2,33€ on purpose. I could have told you without asking my bank that the fee is more than 1,33€ for an oversea cheque! In your place I would be ashamed for that!

If you have at least a spark of decency, you better hurry sending me the right amount of money!

Jens *

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What had I done to incite such wrath? Or, how did I meet such a person, who'd get this angry over $14? What the hell does "courtage" mean?

I know you're intrigued, so I'll endeavor to get the rest of the story up over the next month.

* Name and e-mail address changed to protect the writer's identity. I don't know if arschgesicht.de is a real domain--I certainly hope not!

A Lonesome Long Drive with the Moon and Antarctica and the West

At some point this morning I snapped out of a funk that I'd been in for about ten days. I was spending more time than usual lolling around, watching TV, thinking that activities such as leaving the house and getting my oil changed sounded exhausting. I was also listening to a lot of Modest Mouse and that can never be good. (It is only OK in moderation.)
What brought this on is the impending End of Employment and the fact that I have no immediate plans following that. I have more money in the bank right now than the Emergency Recession Laying Off Fun suggested by Bust magazine, I have an upcoming trip to Hawaii, and in the meantime, I have about a month of free time. In the beautiful Pacific Northwest. What am I going to do with that time!? What a question!
I could start by taking the GREs.
I have plenty of sightseeing to do.
I could research and visit potential graduate schools.
I will probably take a short road trip to Olympic National Park and Victoria, BC. (Maybe Seattle and Vancouver at some point, too.)
But none of this would console me over the weekend. No logic or reassurance would dispel my pessimism because...for the first time since I was sixteen...
I wouldn't be working!
What would be my purpose in life? What would I be contributing to society?
I came to two realizations this weekend. #1 - Sadly, but truly, I am one of those people who is defined by her work. I need a purpose. Maybe I'll outgrow it, but in the meantime, I'm Dorothea Brooke and science is my Casaubon. #2 - The way I felt this weekend--lost, unhappy, pessimistic about my immediate future--this was just a couple of days in Oregon. However, it was how I felt for the entire duration of my Life in Morristown. There were moments when I was distracted from it, like when I saw the Great Swamp for the first time. I left work at 4:30 and rushed over there before sunset. I had to change into hiking clothes in my car...in Somerset County! (I didn't know there was a porta-potty a few feet away.)

Anyway, at some point that feeling just went away. The logic, which had been in my mind all weekend, was starting to make sense on an emotional level. I guess sometimes you need to wallow; you need to NOT think positively but to work through the negativity until it just goes away. Even if it means eating endless quesadillas while watching reruns of 30 Rock and occasionally reverting to a 1990's teenager, wearing Hot Topic makeup and listening to songs like "Lives" and thinking, "Life is so haaaaaaaaaaard."

The funny part is that at some point this weekend, my father was giving me a pep talk. The words of it were nearly identical to things I was saying before I moved out here. This is a good opportunity, I needed the field experience and this is a very respected botanic garden, this was a fun adventure, I got to drive across the country and see a whole lot of Oregon while getting paid to do it, if it was a mistake then I made a mistake at the right age...etc etc etc. It was my father who pointed out that I should really take the month off between End of Employment and Hawaii to look into graduate school and also to do fun things like drive to Canada!

Well, I added in the Canada part. I think what he actually meant by "sightsee" was "sightsee in Portland, during daylight hours only with an adult chaperon looking both ways before crossing the street! And call when you get there!"

In fact, life is pretty good! September in Portland really does mean perfect weather. Tomorrow, I'm going to Mount Hood. In less than two months, I'm going to Oahu. I got my oil changed. Organic eggs are on sale at Fred Meyer, and I found out that French braiding my hair takes only three minutes and keeps all the odd-sized layers from popping out throughout the day, leaving a trail of bobby pins to mark where I've been. And I have four more Modest Mouse albums today than I did last September!

Monday, September 14, 2009

The monster...

This is what happens when you try to read a bread recipe at 10 at night.
bread monster
Alternate title: This is what happens when you're Sarah.

From a sticky note

I just wrote a ramble that needs to get edited down, and I want to at least post Part One of Clayton and Sarah's Washington Adventure (which I started writing at least a week ago), so to get started, here's a list I've been keeping on my desktop of Things to Write About in Blog:

1. How Mt. Hood is like the steeple of the church on Suydam Street

2. Various field activities!!!! (at least list them all out.)

3. Collecting thistles on the coast - what the coast was like

4. Going to stupid Old Navy and stupid Bed Bath and Beyond in Gresham

5. Cool oregano pictures

6. Bouguereau--how I told Jamie his name sounded like Booger-o

7. Things keeping me from being a vegetarian

8. Cleavage ban/rack rights

9. Telling Ruthann that we can put a pillowcase over a cutting board instead of buying an ironing board - I think this one speaks for itself

10. How polite people are at bars

11. "Dem Vines"

12. Things that happened at Stevie's Wedding (under this I have notes like, "straw up nose." Aren't you INTRIGUED!?)

13. Crazy flight stuff on the way here (I'm not sure to which "here"--NJ or Portland--I was referring)

14. The Felony Flats Wal-mart (I could several posts on several things in Felony Flats...)

15. Two Bus Weirdos from Clayton and Sarah's Adventure in the Alberta Arts District

16. Bye Bye Bye Vegan Food and Cocktails

Hmm...it ends there. Even though I have MORE bus weirdos I could tell you about. Brought to you by Felony Flats and the #72 Bus Line!

I hope to write all of these out before I lose the memory and these things become just vague scribblings on scraps of paper, leaving me scratching my head wondering just WHY, "Dress isn't vintage just stained," or "He had no feet and that's why he never let me turn the lights on" once seemed SO funny.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Uh oh...

I've started Google Mapping Canadian road trips already. I just learned that Vancouver is only 5 hours away and Victoria is only 5 and a half, with a nice stop at Olympic National Park.
Hmm...

Monday, September 07, 2009

Even more importantly...

This weekend, I finished sewing a sundress. If I go to Hawaii, I'll have someplace to wear my new dress!

It was on sale!

I just booked a really cheap flight from Portland to Honolulu. I had to book it NOW to get the special price, but I can cancel within 24 hours if I realize, hey! this is crazy! Because I have no one to go with and would be going ALONE.
See, part of me feels like I've done ENOUGH crazy traveling in 2009--the spontaneous solo road trip to Quebec, the cross-country drive when I moved from NJ to Portland, and ... well, that's it. I mean, I might go to Seattle, but that's more like a day trip.
But the flight...WAS ON SALE!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Worse than sleep-walking

Sleep-cleaning.
I have reason to believe that last night I got up, sleep-walked into the kitchen, and ran the dishwasher. With no soap and only five dishes in it.

Making the most of unemployment

(Actually, I am currently employed.)
Last night, I got an e-mail about flight specials from PDX to various places in the US. One of them is Hawaii. As usual, I went to delete the e-mail, thinking, "Oh, I could never do this, even if I can afford it, how can I set aside the time?" And then I realized...I do have the time. At a certain point in the fall, I will have NO commitments. (Even if I get another job, I can tell them, "I already have this long weekend booked" and I doubt they'll say, "You're fired!") I no longer have to think, "I should save my vacation days for something better." I don't have any vacation days! And I'm no longer restricted by the bounds of the school year!
So I might go to Hawaii this fall. Conveniently during Portland's rainy season!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Geeky Friday

A post is overdue, especially a good post. A happy post, perhaps. I've noticed I write longer posts on here when I'm not in a good mood, and when things are going well I just scrawl notes onto napkins, receipts, and other pieces of trash. These in turn get entered into a Sticky Note on my desktop.
Anyway, I'm home tonight; I went to Mount Hood during the day and even though I mostly sat in a car, it was tiring. I was tired to start with. And I had a tummy ache. Boo hoo. So I'm in this Friday night, relaxing and hopefully writing. In the meantime, I've spent a huge fraction of the evening on a vexing computer issue. Sometimes this computer gets me so mad I wonder if Linux is worth it...and then I remember that I had these same problems times ten with Windows.
Since my last geeky post, I backed up my hard drive (which I had to do IN NEW JERSEY) and upgraded from Hardy Heron (Ubuntu 8.04) to Intrepid Ibex (8.10) to Jaunty Jackalope (9.04.) Everything was fine, but then! Hulu stopped working. I think I used it once since the upgrade. So, my guess is some kind of system update was buggy, or I downloaded Flash 10 by mistake and that messed it up...I have no idea. All I know is that I have spent all week annoyed about this. The justification for all of this was that I can do all the productive things on my to do list (like clean) if I have Jon Stewart or Mary Tyler Moore in the background!!!!!
The result of all of this tooling around was that I discovered that there IS a version of Google Chrome out for Linux; it's just very ... well, very POTENTIALLY unreliable. It's the "dev" version which I am inferring is a step below "beta." Like Gamma or Epsilon. Somewhere in all of this, in between wondering how the heck people with Ubuntu have Firefox 3.5, I realized that I DO have it...somehow it got on this computer (probably with the Jaunty Jackalope upgrade) but it's called Shiretoko and there's no icon on my desktop...just hiding in my Internet menu. Huh.
It's still slow and clunky. I don't know what's happened to Firefox. But it's making me sad.
I didn't want to like Google Chrome, but so far I can type in forms (Facebook, Blogger) without the browser mysteriously freezing, and I can scroll through large webpages and emails with...actual scrolling. Not mysterious freezing followed by spastic movement much further down the page than I actually wanted.
I am typing all this for the sake of other sad Ubuntu users Googling away, their progress hampered by a slow Firefox. Because I totally had no idea how to fix my problem and there was little documentation online. It took a lot of trial and error.
I finally got Hulu to work with Shiretoko by getting rid of "gnash." I don't really know what that is or why this worked, but I went into Synaptic and typed "flash" to see what the hell I could find. I marked "gnash" for complete removal and somehow this worked. I might have at some point gotten rid of other "flash" or "swf" type things. Apparently, extra "flash"-y things do something that clutters up something and makes Real Flash not work with Jaunty Jackalope and Firefox/Shiretoko.
OMG this is the nerdiest thing I've ever written. I hope no one who isn't a Linux user is reading this, wondering when Updates From Our Friend Sarah are going to commence. They're not, not in this post.
I can't take any more of this geekiness on a Friday. I'm going to go watch Jon Stewart and wash dishes.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Pink Lemon

Some long blog posts are way overdue. The past three weeks or so have been very busy and I haven't had time to write. I'm also behind on reading blogs and on reading and writing e-mails.
I've been keeping a list of stories and things to write about. I'll begin, someday soon, or at least posting that list so you know what's coming.
I have to go to the lab soon, so just a quick note. I bought a pink lemon yesterday. Circumstances worked out so that I found myself in front of a New Seasons with time to kill, and even though I didn't have my shopping list I miraculously remembered most of the things I needed (this never happens.) Somehow I managed not to spend a lot of money--$11! (New Seasons is a very expensive store. By NJ standards, it's just like, "Oh, this is kind of like Whole Foods." But then I went to Safeway and realized that compared to other Oregonian grocery prices, the ones at New Seasons are REALLY high. Like Whole Foods, however, they have some good deals or stuff you don't mind paying a lot for. Like their delicious sourdough bread.) ANYWAY.
So, I needed limes and lemons and as I was trying to wade through "Organic Meyer Lemons" to "Cheapskate's Conventionally Grown Regular Lemons" I saw a sign for PINK lemons. They are actually green- and yellow-striped on the outside, but one was cut open for display. It was totally pink on the inside. I grabbed the tiniest one I could find (since I was paying by the pound) and am kind of excited about trying it. These are the things that brighten up my life--breaking routine to check out something new and small. And it probably cost me less than a dollar, especially since the cashier rung up the lemon as a tomatillo.
I'll update you (with photos, if I can get this dang camera phone to work) on the results of the Pink Lemon Taste Test.