Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Grocery Shopping, PMS, and You

This is what I went to the grocery store for.

This is what I came home with. Not pictured: Two kinds of sugar (cubes and demerara). We also have cheese in a jar, cheese in a bag, cheese in wedges, a jar of chocolate, the aforementioned apple butter, and Rachel Ray.

Seamus DARES you to judge me.

I drank a glass of wine and made a balsamic reduction. Why? BECAUSE I CAN. And also, because nothing says, "My dearest darling, soulmate whose deepest secrets I keep, it would be in your best interest to stay out of the kitchen for awhile" quite like a pot of boiling vinegar.

Anyhow, dinner was grilled chicken with roasted red peppers and balsamic reduction over rigatoni with a touch of alfredo sauce. (Except for Little Lord Fauntleroy, who had to have angel hair pasta because he says he doesn't like rigatoni.) It was delicious. I tried to take a picture but failed to use the 'Food' setting on my camera, which it really has, and ended up with a distressingly glistening yet still out of focus plate of food that had all the charm of a co-ed night out uploaded to Facebook directly from the club-- a little sweaty and unsavory-looking. So you'll have to take it from me that it was pretty and tasted good.

Himself just yelled through the office door to ask what 'Emo' is. How the hell should I know? I'm having a second glass of wine.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Vacation Part the Third: Getting Home, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Fly Steerage

So. We drove back to my friend's house in pouring rain at the end of the weekend, unloaded the car, put away all the extra beer, and napped. After a night spent doing laundry and petting a couple of touchy but lovable weiner dogs it was time for me to head back home. My friend lives minutes from the airport, so I breezed in and waited in line, chatting with the other passengers.

I may have mentioned before that my sister works for the airline. This is convenient, but not quite as effective as saying "I'm with the band", or "I'm IN the band," or "Despite my uncultured appearance I am actually a member of MI-5 and in addition to wearing a bitchin' sidearm, I can tell you that you are under arrest." No, flying 'non-revenue' works like this. You pick your flights, and you call to find out 'how they look'. Are they full? No? Okay, then you 'get listed' on the flight. Then you call the 800 number five times or so between the time you 'get listed' and the time you 'show up' to make sure there are still empty seats on that flight. If there aren't , you can roll the dice, or pick another flight.

When I called the night before my flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia had 'Sixteen open seats, with five non-revenues listed' including myself. Sounded good. Then I had them check my flight from Philadelphia to Williamsport, which had been fine as frog's hair for five days. The news was not encouraging. "Oh, I'm afraid that flight is full," my helpful agent said. I paused to reflect on how it could be, with the Little League World Series being over and no impending apocalypse that anyone could point to, that so many people had the inclination to fly to Williamsport, Pennsylvania at dinner time on a Tuesday. I changed my final leg to Elmira. I live smack in between so it didn't much matter. "Okay, so you are listed on Flight XX, operated by Air Wisconsin (huh?), departing XX and arriving XX at Elmira Regional Airport." I am still too confounded by the Air Wisconsin thing to hear anything else she tells me.

So I check in. And I breeze off into the terminal with all the sunshiny confidence of a person who has not noticed that their ticket has no zone or seat assignment printed on it. Security is a quick matter thanks to my paranoid and slavish attention to the rules, my slip on shoes, and the fact that my 3-1-1 bag is clutched in my hand when I get to the X-ray machine. I wait a few minutes, unperturbed by the rather large number of people at the gate. When they start calling zones I look at my ticket and realize I don't have one. I show it to the gate agent.

" You have no zone, dalin, because te flight is full." she says, and I detect a lilt of an island I fervently wish I was sitting on with my toes dug into the sand. I find a seat at the gate with a dejected-looking gentleman who informs me he's been at the airport for five hours already. He explains that the first flight of the day to Philadelphia was cancelled.


This means that all of the people with tickets they actually PAID FOR have to be bumped into later flights. Take away a handful who had to make connections and were booked on other airlines. That leaves, oh, a hundred or so people who just got tucked in line ahead of me in terms of actual human plane-boarding viability. I settle in for the long haul. After being informed I can try again for the next flight in less than an hour I trudge with my wheely-bag which must not ever be out of my sight the quarter mile to Starbucks and order the only tall Vanilla Latte that my budget allows. The barista has the cheerfulness of someone who is already home. I tamp down despair and trudge/wheel back to C25 to await my fate. I have already been told that flight two is full as well; my island friend added helpfully that 'Te flow of flights changes all the time, darlin', you can neveh tell what will happen." I flop in a chair and make my first of many calls home to inform that the plans they are a changin'.

Flight two begins boarding, and I stand hopefully just to the left of the little check-in stand, concentrating on looking interested and ready but not desperate and pathetic. It mostly works, although I have to give a hard look to the last four people to board. Just as I was told it looked like there were open seats they came, suit jackets flapping, computer bag bouncing against an expensive trouser-clad hip, clutching a folded and spindled boarding pass. A tense moment passes while the gate agents discuss another non-revenue passenger they thought was coming who was apparently of higher priority than me. "Maybe she's stuck at security," they muse aloud. I try not to hate them. Finally the woman turns to me as if seeing me for the first time and says, "Well, there is one seat left in First Class if you are willing to pay for the upgrade and I suggest you take it because" and I don't hear anything she says after that, having hypnotized myself with the dove hologram on my Visa card I am waving at her. The only hitch is that I have to check my bag. I explain that my final destination is still a big question so I'll have to check it to Philadelphia only and then see. She tells me that the ONLY REASON I can actually do that is because I'm flying First Class. Well, whoo hoo. I sprint down the jetway and savor those seconds of boarding the plane, glancing back to coach with its tiny seats and squirmy babies and little plastic cups and one tiny bathroom all the way in the back, and take my seat in row four. I resist the urge to throw double hand signs like I'm at a Motley Crue show. My seatmate, mercifully separated from casual hip contact by a seemingly useless leather console, never even acknowledges my existence. I decide its better to simply put on my headphones and peruse the Sky Mall. They come around with a basket (an actual basket!) of cookies and granola bars. The flight is peaceful, civilized, and brief.

In Philadelphia I wait at the bottom of the jetway while a young man specifically comes up the stairs on the outside and hands me MY BAG. I exhibit a degree of gratitude I'm assuming most regular First Class passengers don't bother with and steel myself for The Hike.

Philadelphia Airport is a really nice, recently remodeled, and insanely organized airport. Take a look in the front of the magazine next time you fly. Unlike Atlanta, which is all linear and ninety degree angles and trains and alphabetical order, PHL was clearly laid out by someone with anger issues and strong prescriptions. If you are headed for some sort of, I believe the polite term is 'Jerkwater outpost', you have to leave from 'F' Terminal. I'll let you ruminate on the propriety of that alphabetical designation. This involves hiking halfway through the main terminal, following haphazardly placed signs, to an escalator that leads to an area of the airport where you suddenly worry you aren't supposed to be. From there, you board a bus that threads among the planes and luggage tugs and various un-identifiable pieces of whatever and then deposits you in 'F'. I make the final ascent to my gate and present my boarding pass for Elmira. There is frowning and typing.

"This flight is full," the gate agent tells me. I start reeling off cities within three hours of home.
"Ithaca?" I ask, hopefully. "Maybe," he says. Then, "There are open seats on the flight to Williamsport," indicating my original flight. I go for it. "Here, he says, I'll keep you listed on this flight and give you a boarding pass for Williamsport and if it doesn't work out over there come back here and we'll try," I thank him and head to the other end of 'F'. My sister meets me. We chat. She gives me another book to read, something I hope isn't an omen. She talks to the gate agent for the Williamsport flight and his news is good. There are seats. And again, who the hell is going to Williamsport on a Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile, our plane, my plane, is unloading passengers from wherever. I figure in a few minutes we will board and be on our way and please please please, I will be on this plane. I don't notice a gray panel van approaching from my right. I watch with the other passengers as two men get out, take out big orange ladders, and set them up on either side of the left propeller.

Which they begin to take apart.

I watch for a while and decide I'm better off facing the other way. The gate agent continues to give updates, explaining that there will be a 'short' delay. Her mimed conversation through the window to the guys outside suggest short may be 'tomorrow'. I concentrate on breathing normally. A guy who 'knows about this stuff' stands at the window, arms folded, declaring that our flight will be cancelled. The natives begin to get restless. A nicely dressed and heavily pregnant woman appears at our gate, and something about her eyes suggests she is a heartbeat away from a meltdown. She is clutching a Continental Airlines boarding pass and explains that she 'Just needs to get home' and blah blah blah I am struggling to be compassionate while worrying that she is going to take my seat. She is banished to the ticketing counter. She leaves. We wait. I turn around briefly to see one of the mechanics handing down pieces of the 'fender' or whatever it is that goes behind the propeller. Pregnant lady comes back with a shiny new boarding pass. Idly, I watch a security dog and handler go by, noticing that the dog has a photo ID clipped to his orange harness. Just as I am overcome with the temptation to turn back around and try to interpret what is happening there is a hasty folding of ladders, a quickly flashed 'OK' from outside, and boarding begins. I still have to stand to the side while everyone else boards. She waves me through, and ten steps out the door she calls, "Miss?" I briefly consider just running. "This says you need to show (something something)" my ears are ringing at this, now hour 10 of travel, and I don't catch it.
She frowns and types. I look out the door and the flight attendant is shifting from foot to foot at the bottom of the stairs. "Oh, never mind, they just didn't change (something something), go ahead." I run before she changes her mind. A young man in a yellow vest takes my bag. It is the last one to be chucked in the trunk or whatever. I board, sinking gratefully into my seat at the back. The things you do to save a hundred bucks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Interlude: My Favorite Intense Dollar Store Employee

"Wow. So. You, like, really like macaroni and cheese."

"Just stocking up my office lunch drawer. Also: I'm kind of poor."

"Whoa. Yeah. I guess," she says, solemnly nodding.

Pay your student loans for seventeen years, angel britches. You'll get there.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Vacation Part the Second, In Which I am There, and there is Much Rejoicing (yaay...)

Several of my lunch hours in this short week after my arrival home have been spent sitting in my car, scribbling furtively on the two pages in the back of my planner designated for 'notes'. This part of the vacation account has proven hardest to write, and I suspect it is because my vacation was exactly what it was meant to be; a complete disconnect from my everyday life, a deep plunge into no date, no schedule, and no demands. I was scolded more than once during the weekend for asking what time it was. It was as it should be.

My friend had rented a house in the woody bit of Georgia to the north of Atlanta. Having never traveled in that direction I was amazed how quickly we drove from EVERYTHING to NOTHING. But I am getting ahead of myself. Before we could embark on our journey, we had to obtain provisions.

I can tell you that from the time I was a wee snip of a girl until we were too old for family vacations, the shopping list was pretty much the same: hot dogs, hamburgers, rolls, cheese, condiments, chips, eggs, bacon or scrapple, Tang, macaroni salad, fruit salad, popsicles. Camping, family reunions, beach weekends; this list might vary based on length of stay or cooking facilities, lunchmeat replacing the hot dogs and hamburgers when there was no grill, but this was about as fancy as we got. This time we were being cooked for by my friend's father and his best friend, two people who probably should have been chefs. There would be no plastic containers of potato salad.

This was a MISSION. Seventeen or so people in a house for a weekend required a military operation in which we filled two carts at BJ's, visited a world market so vast in scope the employees wear tags listing all the languages they speak, sought out cheeses and fish in jars and stopped just short of caviar because apparently no 'suitable' caviar was to be found in the greater Atlanta area.

And then there was the wine. Various wines had been carefully packed and brought along by one of our weekend chefs, but more was needed. We pulled up in front of a supermaket-sized store called 'Total Wine".
Now. In Pennsylvania we have 'Wine and Spirits', and one of the more curious STATE jobs you can get is working there. So we have no such animal as 'Total Wine', which is staffed by over-caffeinated headset-wearing young people who appear ready to burst into a choreographed 'Up With People' number at any moment. All I wanted was a bottle of Red Cat. I approached a man in an embroidered golf shirt bearing a fistful of signs.
"Excuse me, where are your, um, New York Finger Lakes wines?" I asked.
"I'm just a distributor, I don't work here, but he can help you," he said, pointing to a young man who came bounding around the corner in a shirt and tie, headset at the ready.
"Do you have Red Cat?" I asked, feeling foolish in this literal warehouse of wine, aisles and aisles of things I'd never seen, arrayed under bewildering categories.
"YES we DO!" he enthused. "GOOD CHOICE!"
Good choice? I wonder if he would have said that no matter what I asked for. Wine is a mystery to me. I don't get notes, I don't get 'nose' or 'bouquet'. I can't praise or complain of oakiness, or a hint of moss and strawberry, or a faint flavor of an H & R Block office on April 14th. Its just wine. I like it, I don't. I should have said "Show me your finer screwcaps, nothing so piquant as a Two-buck Chuck but let's not go all the way to Boone's Farm-- something with the insouciance of a horny cheerleader but with enough smoky mystery that suggests second base is a distinct possibility but far from a sure thing."
Anyway, I got my wine.

Cars packed, we headed out. And I am going to say up front, I am completely lame. I did not take nearly enough pictures to document the weekend, mostly because I was having too good a time. First, the house.
Apparently its for sale, so if you have a million or so lying around you may want to snap this up. The views are spectacular. The company was even better. It was like all the kids in high school that were generally classified as dorks but were actually cooler than the cool kids grew up, got jobs, and came back together for a weekend with all gaming skills and Monty Python references intact. No reference was too arcane to be enjoyed. Several times, we burst into song. (I inadvertently typed 'snog' there first. No, it wasn't THAT kind of weekend.) We laughed, we celebrated, we proved that Smart People Are Fun. Most of the humor during those days is of the 'you had to be there' variety so it won't do any good to explain how I derailed someone's Rock Band efforts with a well-timed Jar Jar Binks impression. It was a fantastic weekend.

More adventure lay ahead, of course, especially since I essentially fly 'steerage'. But we'll talk about THAT next time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vacation Part the First: Getting Down

What does this picture have to do with anything? Nothing at all. Its just awesome. Gentle readers, you know I live in the middle of nowhere. So air travel is not one of those hop on 95, park the car, and have at it sorts of things. When I booked my ticket I had two choices of beginning my journey within 55 miles of home: Williamsport, PA or Elmira, NY. Churchgoers, take a good look around next Sunday, and you'll have the general idea of the size of either airport. There were two flights available to me in my chosen city of origin; the very reasonable and civilized 12:05pm, or the actually-better-in-terms-of-sucking-the-marrow-out-of-my-vacation 5:45am.

We availed upon family friends to stay with them Wednesday night so we could shorten our airport commute to about 15 minutes. After a brief chat centered mainly on cats we retired to the room they prepared for us and discovered quickly that its really just better not to monkey with someone else's sleep number settings, because it deflates almost soundlessly but firming it back up sounds like you pulled the starter on some piece of small and angry lawn equipment before shoving it under the bed. After about four hours of tossing and turning on an underinflated mattress we gave up and crept out of the house at 3:30 for a ridiculously early breakfast at Dunkin Donuts.

After a carefully organized and perhaps too brightly polite for the hour encounter with the TSA I was released to wait for the plane at the gate. I dozed most of the way and was surprised to be told we were making our final descent into Philadelphia. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked down at the twinkling strands of traffic framing neighborhoods that gleamed dimly like more distant stars. The dawn was just pinking up the horizon as we flew over Penn's Landing and I found myself awash in the peculiar homesickness that always visits unannounced and unexpected when I go down toward home. My sister, an airline employee, was waiting when I stumbled up the jetway and got my sleep-deprived self on the right bus to the right connecting terminal. I checked in and boarded my flight to Atlanta without much ado.

The doors closed and we were in the capable hands of, well, we were in the capable hands of the pilot and the co-pilot, who I decided I never want to think about now that I've reached an age where I eyeball co-pilots and think to myself, he is younger than me. Oh God, he's younger than me. Or when they are in line at Starbucks: What is he getting? Is he MY pilot? Is it okay, the vanilla latte, for flying? Is there someplace to put that muffin that's safe? So, no youngish co-pilot with a dangerously large muffin, just close that little door next to the bathroom and we'll forget all about them for the next hour and thirty-five minutes. Anyway, we had other things to worry about.
We had Sister Aeronautica and Sister Mary Catherine.

Look, I know its very important to please give my three minutes of attention to the flight attendant showing me how to remove my seatbelt by lifting up on the faceplate. I know I need to put on my mask before assisting someone else needing assistance. I know my seat cushion is a flotation device and that the nearest exit may be behind me, and that if I am sitting in an exit row I need to be willing to help other passengers go down the yellow slide with their seat cushion and masks that I put on them after I put on my own. Most people just thumb the Sky Mall and hit the mute button on all the 'what to do in the unlikely event of a depressurized and potentially fiery or watery death' business. Not today, friends. Because Sister Aeronautica was TALKING and you needed to be EYES FRONT. We were also advised that our seat backs needed to be straight up and our window shades OPEN. Though I don't know if 'advised' is a strong enough verb, since she walked through the plane reaching rather suddenly toward people's thighs, mashing the seat button with one hand while UPRIGHTING the back with the other.

Sister Mary Catherine, so named because she was younger, lacked the persistent shellacking of hairspray and determined eyeliner of her counterpart, and looked like she might be nicer but was taking her cues from the top, was in charge of window shades. I leaned toward the passenger in front of me who had lowered her shade an inch to prevent early onset cataracts and warned her by saying "Sister Mary Catherine is coming, you may want to put that back up." This illicited a snort and a giggle that was taken up by three other passengers, who she looked hard at one by one as she passed us. I feared being labeled instigator and made to stand in the galley with my nose in a circle of chalk. I needn't have worried, all the scolding was reserved for a woman speaking in rapid-fire Russian on her cellphone even though she was TOLD to TURN IT OFF. As I waited for her smackdown I listened to her conversation and learned there is apparently no Russian word for 'Altoona', 'granola bar', or 'home game'. 15 minutes before we landed she sequestered herself in the tiny bathroom and emerged five minutes later to ensure the last four rows landed wide awake. She'd apparently blown her whole 3-1-1 acceptable liquids wad on a perfume I can only describe as olfactory assault and battery. I wondered idly if anyone else had decided to hate her a little.

Next: Vacation Part The Second- Being There

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go.....

Well, its down to the nitty gritty....tomorrow night we drive down to a family friends' home to be closer to the airport, so we don't have to leave the house at 3:30am and dodge deer and bears to get to Montoursville for my 5:45 am flight to Philadelphia, which if it didn't end in a deer collision would probably end in someone getting crankily punk-slapped somewhere in the Route 15 construction zone.

For those of you not in the know, my best friend all the way back from Freshman year Espanol Uno has rented a house in the Georgia hinterlands and we are converging on it to celebrate a certain birthday milestone that I won't be cheeky enough to reveal here but it wouldn't be too hard to figure it out. She has the pleasure of being one of the first of our gang to get there.

My last vacation was in November of 2006. Since then I've only taken days off for bronchial infections (my own) and death (someone else's). You can just imagine how excited I am.

I have travelled quite a bit, both for former jobs and, for a brief single and wild period, internationally. Given my adventures it might surprise you to know that I'm an anxious traveller. At T-minus 72 hours I'm usually in 'legal pad' mode. As in, wake up in the middle of the night and sit hunched over a notepad, writing down virtually everything I can think of that I need to pack, change, consolidate, pre-pay, or wax. This feeling of anxiety will likely remain until I get on the first plane and the doors close and I'm 100% certain that nothing I've ever done or failed to do will prevent the plane from taking off.

I also feel compelled to make a list of 'to dos' for Himself while I'm gone, as if my lack of proximity will result in his failure to attend to either his hygiene or the cat. (Fortunately the cat attends to his own hygiene whether we're home or not.) The man did manage to get through four months without me when we first moved without falling in a well or dying of rickets. Of course, we didn't have a cat then. So honey, scoop the litter every day. Drive carefully. Don't forget to put out the trash on Sunday. Don't eat too many hot wings. Slipcovers are not giant napkins. Don't give Seamus too many treats. Jagermeister is not a food group. Don't make me come home to a sinkful of dishes.

There, its out of my system now.

Oh, one more thing: I'll miss you.