Sans le Nom: Cookery, Rhetoric, and Other Forms of Pandering

"Now I call this sort of thing pandering, and I declare that it is dishonorable."Plato

"When a name comes, it immediately says more than the name." —Derrida

June 29, 2009: Where I'm From*

I've been asked a million times why on earth I would leave the richest suburb of Indianapolis (where, seriously, you can buy Prada at the local Goodwill) to come to the city of Conwag, Arkansas (as I like to call it) to attend some little known university instead of IU or Purdue.  I keep my answer to this question way shorter than my blog posts:  "I just always felt that Arkansas was my real home."

When human beings act in unexpected ways, you can bet there's a good story behind the action.  Here's the real reason I moved to Arkansas at the age of 18. 

My mother's family made the long and, when I was very, very young, arduous journey to Arkansas every year (when I was four, the road that went through Campbell's Station in Northeastern Arkansas was a single red-hued asphalt lane and one vehicle had to pull over for another vehicle going the opposite direction—my family didn't have air conditioning in their cars because we didn't need it so much in the Hoosier state—yet July was one of our favorite times to visit sultry Arkansas, so we drove overnight to avoid as much of the heat and humidity as we could). Sometimes we came back two or three times in one year for weddings, funerals, and even just to see the hilly countryside in autumn.  This was all because my grandmother had been born and raised in Arkansas, married and buried her first husband in Arkansas, and still had 11 siblings and one parent in Arkansas. 

And on every trip, I would be shipped off to the home of my first cousin once-removed so that I could stay and play with his daughter, my second cousin.  Now, it is usually my policy on my blog to call friends and family only by their first initials to protect their privacy (and mine).  But I'm going to go one better on this and give my cousin an alias.  Let's call her Tracy.   Tracy and I were as thick as thieves from the moment we first met at my grandmother's home in Indianapolis—when I was four and she was six.  Though Tracy and I lived four states and 600 miles apart, she was my very first BFF, and from the time I was about nine until I moved to Arkansas at 18, we called each other at least once a month and wrote frequently.  And we’re still BFF’s to this day.  If she ever needs anything, she can count on me.  If I ever need anything I can, and have, counted on her. 

Tracy had horses, and I'm sure that was the main reason the adults in my immediate family left me at her house.  Not that I minded one bit.  They could visit all my aging great-grand aunts and uncles in the old folks' homes, watch my great-grandfather spit tobacco into an empty coffee can with the wood stove in the camper he lived in going full blast even in 100-degree weather, and listen to great-grand Alice's latest exposition on the vagaries of the quilting bee without ever once having to put up with me, an only child, pulling on their sleeves and whispering in their ears to complain about being bored.  Win-win.  So Tracy and I spent most of our time riding around places hither and yon in the blazing sun of the Arkansas summer, sometimes joined by Tracy's younger brother, we'll call him "Andy," on his motorcycle. 

My urban home in Indianapolis—complete with police sirens, traffic, and music drifting down from someone’s apartment or car stereo—was quiet compared to the woods of Arkansas (which is more like tropical rainforest when July hits) with the cicadas winding up and winding down their continuous cacophony and the other innumerable, unnamable insects drowning even them out.  It was buggy, muggy, and scorching.  The hot wind would kick up dust devils and deposit the fine red sand that passes for dirt in this part of the country all over my sticky, sweaty skin.  With the terrible roads, strange people, and the abusive summers, why would anyone want to live in this place? 

Here's why. 

One hot day, Tracy, Andy, and I decided to stick to the shade and go down to the ancient cemetery on their father's property.  You see, we wanted to know what skeletons looked like after 100 years of sitting in a coffin in the ground in a place the forest had finally overtaken.  None of us realized at the time that what we were attempting was completely illegal. But, frankly, the families of the long-deceased had nothing to fear from us: we lacked the equipment, patience, and actual bravery to see a real "live" skeleton. We tired out after only about an hour or two of not really digging, just sort of raking at the leaves.

At this point, we decided to take the horses to a cow pond across the field from the cemetery so they could get cooled off before we put them to pasture.  Andy sat on his motorcycle underneath the yellow pines, while Tracy and I took the horses into the water.  If you have never raised cattle, you should know that cows are indiscriminate shitters.  In case my meaning isn't clear, let me explain: unlike most animals, which generally refuse to shit where they eat and drink, cows just don't care.  (Think about that next time you're having a juicy steak.)  And when the summer in the South really gets cooking, the cows will go into those ponds neck deep and just stand there in the water for hours.  I'm going to assume from here that you catch my drift. 

When horses get hot, they'll go in the water about to what's called their front elbows (which would be equivalent to our thighs or shoulders) and, switching from front hoof to front hoof, they'll splash their bellies, often giving their riders a good soaking in the process—so it was a lot like running through the sprinkler for me, your Sans, a city kid, and I didn't really care about, you know, the poo, because we were required to take a shower every night, regardless—to get all the ticks and chiggers off lest we let the little buggers run loose around the house for everyone else to enjoy. 

We had been standing in the murky waters of the cow pond for about 10 minutes, hot sun beating down on us (did we ever wear sunscreen? I don’t remember putting any on), when Tracy asked, “Did you know horses can swim?” 

This is where you need a little back story.   As with any BFF, there’s always a little bit of a rivalry percolating underneath.  There’s always that thing your BFF has that you don't and vice versa, and you have an unstated agreement that neither of you will admit to being envious of that one thing.   The thing I had was a life in the city with Tiffany’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. I had an inkling Tracy envied it because she always referred to me as her "city-slicker cousin," which I knew was meant as a barb.  I was supposed to be the spoiled, little rich girl who needed air-conditioning, painted her toenails, and fainted at the site of a worm.  Except that I didn't need nor did any of those things, and Tracy frequently commented on this flaw in my citified character: "You're about as much of a tomboy as I am, you know that?" 

Her thing was the fact she had horses.  And while I had gone to English riding school from the fourth grade on, I would never have the same amount of "horse time" as Tracy would have.  I didn't have a farm, and my parents worried that if they had paid to stable a horse for me at the one, very prestigious riding club in our suburb, I would lose interest, thus never ride it, and, this, rightly so, would be unfair to the animal. There was also the fact that whenever we rode at her house, I always got the slow, methodical mother horse—roan-colored Peaches, and Tracy always got Peaches' fast, young, coltish offspring—the all-white Cream.   

So now that you have the back story, let me repeat what Tracy had asked, “Did you know horses can swim?”  I replied that I had seen it in the movies but never in real life.  Well, I guess Tracy decided she would show out a little bit by taking Cream for a swim.  The thought briefly occurred to me that every time I had seen horses swim in the movies, always in Westerns, their riders were usually swimming out in front of them holding onto the reins with one hand as they paddled with the other across a river; either that, or the body of water they were crossing was so shallow, there was no need to dismount.  Now, I don't know if that thought just passed through my brain as a bit of trivia not worth mentioning or if there was some other, deeper, more subconscious reason I didn't bring it up.  But I will NEVER, so long as I EVER live, forget what happened next.  And I don't know if I can describe it with due justice, but I'm about to try.   

Tracy urged Cream toward the middle of the pond, and I suppose some actual swimming went on for about 30 seconds.  But then, in slow motion, Cream started to sink.  I remember her struggling to keep her nostrils above the water, but she finally gave up and let out a snort as if she were sneezing and then huge bubbles of air floated to the top of the water as I watched the tips of her ears go under.  Tracy turned around, up to her waist by that time, and looked at me with her mouth wide open in horror. That was about the point when I started to giggle. What flashed through my mind was 1) I didn't realize the pond was that deep (and possibly Tracy didn't either) and 2) Tracy must have been in such total shock that she couldn't move and literally just sat there as horse and rider kept sinking and sinking. The last thing I remember seeing in this sequence of events was her long brown hair floating on the surface of the pond in a semi-circle—almost like a lily pad. And that image nearly sent me over the edge: I was about to split my spleen. 

Now this whole thing could have ended quite tragically, and Andy and I probably should have given some thought to taking emergency measures.  Unfortunately, when I looked back at him, he was glued to his bike seat, bent over in such uncontrollable laughter that no sound was coming out of his mouth and his face was beet red.  Tears were streaming out of my eyes, and all I could do is yell back at him, "Andy, I think I'm going to pee my pants," which just made us both laugh harder because that didn't seem like much of a rescue plan. 

Luckily, when horse and rider became separated underneath all that shit-filled water, their heads both popped back up at exactly the same time—like synchronized swimmers.  Cream headed over for the other bank (rather nonchalantly, I must say) shook herself off and proceeded to graze with her bit in her mouth (something you're not supposed to allow your horse to do) as if it had been a day just like any other day. Tracy, on the other hand was dog-paddling toward me and Peaches, yelling, "Snake, snake!"  And every time she did that, she took another huge gulp of that filthy water.  I had been rendered completely incapacitated by then: as she tried to wrap her legs around Peaches' neck—and I wasn't completely sure what that action was meant to accomplish because, after all, if she could get her legs up that high, she could have, at that point, just stood up and walked out of the pond without continuing to drink deep swigs of it—I couldn't even ask her if she was okay.   I don't remember now how I managed to help her out.  But, as she told me later, she didn't want to put her feet down on the pond floor for fear of stepping on a water moccasin, so I must have gotten her to the bank somehow. 

At any rate, there were the three of us, Tracy sitting on the ground next to the pond, me still sitting on Peaches, and Andy still sitting on his bike, our laughter echoing, for God knows how long, throughout the entire valley, as we watched Cream chomping at the lush grass that grew on the other side of the pond.  All three of us were too pooped, so to speak, to walk over and stop her.  Whatever envy I had of Tracy faded with those echoes; plus, I now had something to hold over her head every time she tried to call me a "city-slicker."  She visited me a year or so later in Indy, and I think she discovered why I wasn't the stereotypical city kid, spoiled brat, only-child.  Amends were made.  Our friendship was stronger, even mine with Andy, because we had shared something irreplaceable, unrepeatable—in spite of my attempt to repeat it here with, hopefully, some little bit of "being there."  

But that laughter became an ember of pure joy (and, Tracy, if you read this, you'll understand exactly why I chose that word) that I would hold in my heart, patiently, for a few more years, stoking it every time I came back to Tracy's farm.  And when I was finally released from the prison that was my high school, where giving oneself up completely to anything the way the three of us had done that day or where caring about something, like a best friend—enough to make amends—or a state full of rednecks or an animal as a sentient being or anything other than wearing the right brand of clothes, listening to the right bands, and being absolutely blasé about everything, was strictly forbidden because it wasn't cool, I would pack up all my belongings and leave Indianapolis for Conway. To come back to the place where I'm really from, the place where I can be who I am rather than who other people think I should be.  The place where I can drive to that valley on any day I want, even in the dead quiet of winter, and still hear the laughter raising itself to the skies. 

Twenty-four years ago today, I came home.   

*Credit goes to the Digable Planets for the title of this post; check them out:  

June 26: 2009: Art and Deconstruction

So I had coffee this morning in the Student Center with two friends: G. and S.  And for a while the chit-chat was about my and G.'s connection to Indiana, the dry cleaning business, funny Indiana towns and how they're no different from funny Arkansas towns.  When S. arrived, the conversation turned to France because S. had just come back from a vacation there.  It was at this point I got kind of quiet because, while I knew all the places they were talking about, where to find them on the map of France, which artists, writers, and musicians were associated with those places, I have never been to France, except to a town called Dieppe, which, and let me I apologize to the people who call it home, is quite a miserable dark place, especially when it's cold and rainy.  So I just kind of went into my imagination, thinking about all the beautiful countryside, the chateaux, the art, fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, and wine I've been missing all my life.

At any rate, the subject of Conway's very own Le Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower for those who don't speak French, and, yes, I know I'm being pretentious every time I trot out le langue de France, but that's part of why you love me).  Conway's Eiffel Tower is 22 feet and was constructed by one of our local artists, Fenton Shaw, whose outdoor gallery is located on the Old Morrilton Highway across from the water treatment facility—stop by any time, or better yet, attend one of his parties.  Gene Hatfield also contributed the light at the top (one of his found pieces re-crafted for the project).  His outdoor gallery is located on Donaghey, near the corner of College.  You can't miss it, and, again, you can visit any time.  The Tower was originally built for a French-themed tea party sponsored by the University, but it got G. to thinking about how it could be incorporated into a French-themed Arts Fest next year.  She mentioned that Arts Fest needs more involvement from our writers:  S. and I agreed and started brainstorming ways to make that happen.  At which point, and I was really just trying to be funny, I piped up, "Hey, I could talk about Derrida and deconstruction."  I thought that was amusing because I live, breathe, eat, and pee deconstruction:  Everyone is "pig sick" of hearing me talk about it.  I thought I saw a glimmer of skepticism in G.'s eyes, but then, I may have been projecting my own skepticism because these were my exact thoughts even as the words came out of my mouth:  "Deconstruction is supposed to be a critical theory, and no one in the community is going to want to hear someone talk about some now dead French guy's interpretation of Plato at Arts Fest." 

But as I was walking back toward Thompson Hall, I started thinking that the argument could be made that Derrida was actually an artist, not a philosopher, and that what he produced was art, not philosophy or criticism. Okay, it might not sell at the Conway Arts Fest.  But it's an interesting idea, nevertheless.  One worth exploring.  And I think I'll do just that.   Keep you posted!

June 25, 2009:  A Poem

Foul Language Alert™:  This post contains foul language.  Don't read it if you disapprove of the F-Bomb.

Yea, finally!  A short post! 

I was cruelly reminded a couple weeks ago when my friend A. read a poem at our twice-monthly writer's group meeting that I suck at writing poetry.  After we had discussed her poem and a few possible changes, I was suddenly awestruck by the line about the D between the C and E—yes, I know, that's a bit esoteric, but I don't want to reveal too much of A.'s poem because it's publishable—like, for pay—not just on my stupid blog.  Suffice it to say, I was just simply floored. 

However, even though I'm not the best poet in the world, I still dabble.  I wrote a poem for The Hubs.  Here it is: 


True Love

When you ask,
“You didn’t wash the dishes again today?”

Your voice says,
“Of course, neither did I.”

I say,
“Shut the fuck up."

When you blink a few times and
Start laughing hysterically.

Start laughing, too.

Fuck the goddamn dishes.


And now this post is done, so let's hear a round of applause for my sudden talent for brevity.

June 18, 2009:  Yet More Financial Problems

This goes long, sorry. 

The most recent topics of this blog probably give everyone the impression that I'm some irresponsible, toothless, trailer-trasher who frequently writes hot checks, has credit card debt out the wazoo, has committed at least some kind of fraud, and is living from meth sale to meth sale. 

At least, that's how I felt on a recent trip to Wal-Mart.

The truth is I'm just a hapless, absent-minded professor with a genetic disorder called "dyspraxia" (yep, y'all, there's a medical term for "pathological clumsiness") who also has a tendency to lose things.   

But no one knows that when I'm just out and about, trying to do some shopping.  All they see is that the check I've written for my plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables has been declined four times and I have no other means by which to pay for said items.  Exactly who declined my check, you ask?  Oh, don't worry, I'll get to that in a minute.  But first... 

-->Begin Digression:  I'm making a hasty generalization here, but I'm assuming that when criminals shop for food, they most likely buy potato chips and canned chili, which I imagine them warming on the stove top and eating directly out of the can—probably with a dirty spoon.  So, in my mind at least, my food preferences alone put me above any kind of suspicion.  <--End Digression.

After my check was declined on the fourth try, the cashier suggested I pay by credit, debit, or cash.  Very nice.  Except that I had already explained to her that I lost my wallet a week and a half ago (oy vey, see below) and cancelled all my credit cards (and I know myself well enough not ever to carry cash or own a debit card—I don't care about the PIN number; there are ways to get hold of these things, as I've recently learned—again, see below).  She then proceeded to issue me what I now know is a "courtesy card" (which looks much like a receipt, since it's printed out directly from the cash register), and to call over her supervisor.  The "supe" explained that this "card" comes "courtesy" of a company called TeleCheck and that I should follow the instructions given on it.  Included on this little slip of paper is a toll-free number you can call to find out why your check (and let me make this clear—it was, in fact, a check, not a credit card, and I was standing there with valid identification, having just replaced my lost driver's license) has been declined, and a whole bunch of other numbers that are meant to confuse both you and the nice Puerto Rican or Pakistani representative who's trying to help you in the middle of the old freakin' Conway Wal-Mart (i.e., Wal-Mart #5) on a Sunday after church, which is akin to trying to have a bit of light repartee with someone at a Rolling Stones concert when Keith decides to use 1682 more amplifiers than the 141 he normally uses for his guitar.

The little automated voice that would eventually direct me to a representative, kept asking me for the 7-digit transaction number, although I couldn't find a single seven-digit number (Dick Cavett would have immediately gotten that little word play; I'll bet others miss it).  The transaction number is supposed to facilitate the investigative process; of course, if you can't find it, you might as well have a seat because you're going to be on the phone for a looooooong time.  And ain't that a "courtesy?" 

What I could make out from the conversation I had when I reached the rep was pretty much this:  no bank on earth would give TeleCheck any information about any of their customers' accounts, including how much was in them, but there was no "negative history" on ours, and while the representative couldn't tell me why the check was declined; it could be related to the following reasons:  "blah, blah, blah"...well, he read the whole spiel, verbatim, from his computer screen, but to make sure I got the gist I asked him this:  "So what you're telling me is you don't know why my check was declined, and there's nothing you can do to help me?" Yes and yes.  I asked the Wal-Mart supervisor to please put back everything we had tried to purchase.  She was apologetic.  I felt sorry that poor K., one of my tutors who was working there that day would probably be the one to have to put it all back.

So here's the deal:  TeleCheck declined my check...just because.  This is the logical fallacy known as the tautology:  "We declined your check because we declined your check. "  I'm a rhetorician.  I can think of only one thing more irritating than tautologies, and that other thing is wanting to pound someone's face in but not knowing whose face needs pounding.  TeleCheck tried to obfuscate where they blame lay: 1) "You didn't update your contact information"—funny, the bank and the credit reporting agencies are all up-to-date, 2) "You wrote an unusually large number of checks"—um, actually a quick glance at my statements tells me that I haven't, or 3), and this is the best one, "Our statistical analysis shows this check is a reasonable risk."  When in doubt, blame it on the math.    

The Hubs called TeleCheck from home (I was seething and on the verge of getting very nasty—a state only three people in my life have ever seen, and you don't want to join their ranks—ever.  It's the small, quiet ones you need to look out for, after all).  Once The Hubs got to a manager, TeleCheck started whistling a different tune.  The Hubs went through each criterion and deftly explained how our account didn't meet the guidelines.  She said, "I think if you try the next check in your book, it will probably go through."  Hmmm.  That's a bit of a puzzler.  Now, all of a sudden the check-verifying company thinks we won't have any future problems?

For some reason, that just made me even madder.  So I went up to Thompson Hall and took out my rage on the first-floor kitchen.  It's sparkling, by the way.

And I have a plan for how I'm going to take out revenge on TeleCheck.  Every time I write a check, I'm going to call them before I walk into the store to verify that my check will not be declined.  And I'm going to start writing a whole lot more checks.  I'm going to bug them so often, they're going to put an alert on my account that says, "You don't want to deal with this woman; just accept the check."  I'll keep you updated. 

June 15, 2009: Dirty Deeds

I am not only a bit (Ha! "A bit." That's rich!) clumsy, I also have a tendency to lose things.  I had attempted a sort of self-help regimen by writing down all the things I had lost each week, thinking that if I started keeping this would somehow organize the missing if, like a detective working a theft-ring case, I could post all the suspects, missing crap, and victim (me) on a white board and then mark all the connections among them with arrows as questioning moved forward, and eventually I would find the crap.   

It seemed rational at the time.

However, I am dismayed to say, the theory was flawed from the outset.  To begin with, none of the things I lose ever has a connection to another one of the things I lose.  My tweezers and my mail, for instance, have, heretofore, never had a relationship or have even met (at least, that's the testimony I've gotten from their associates—the nail clippers and the mailbox—with their lawyers present, of course).  Yet, they went missing on the same day. 

Second, if the loss has occurred in my home, I have only four roaming, sentient witnesses to work with: The Hubs, two cats, and me (the other four, two hermit crabs and two bettas, are confined to their quarters and are, therefore, unable to see anything that does not occur within their purview).  None of them are cooperative. 

When we're out, for example, and The Hubs needs a pen, I hand him my purse (a.k.a. The Big Damn Bag, The BDB, for short).  Invariably, he hands it back saying, "There's no way I'm going in there," which leaves me wondering what he thinks he's going to find. I'm well acquainted with the contents of his pockets—I have to clean them out every night before I put them in the dry cleaning or laundry bins: bits of paper with meaningless drivel on them, his wallet, keys, butt loads of change, and lint.  That's pretty much the contents of my BDB.  What's to fear?  (Okay, having wrestled it WWE-style for the past year, I can, honestly see the intimidation factor.)  Needless to say, in handing the purse back to me, The Hubs proves he is not what you'd call an enthusiastic witness.  So, as far as detective work goes, he's useless.   

Then there are the cats.  It's well known that cats are part of a huge underground network with possible mafia affiliations, and they are, therefore, pretty tight-lipped.  Two of these operatives live under our roof.  Ask the moll known as The Fat One if she might have information about the whereabouts of your keys (and, believe me, she does—on the streets she's a.k.a. "Alley Cat, the Hider" and has made off with all sorts of shiny things: safety pins, earrings, and a needle and thread that cost me $750 to get out of her)—and you get a slow blink that says, "I ain't talkin'."  You might as well forget it at that point, order her a water refill from the bar, and move on.  The other one, who goes by the name of "Buddy," based on his affability, would make the perfect informant if he weren't afraid of his own shadow (and the food dish, your slippers, the other cat, the sink, flies, dust bunnies—basically, everything BUT thunderstorms—he's an enigma, that's for sure) and so skips town once the questions start flying. 

And then, there's the last witness.  That would be me.  Armed with a huge and partially-photographic (actually silent-film "movieish") memory, I seem to be the perfect witness.  I remember when I discovered my ability to take "brain-photographs" of my class notes and just read over them as I was taking a test:  I felt like I was cheating.  I can, for example, remember, since last Sunday, the following things to minute detail:  the sets of clothes I've worn, including changes I had to make for working out, relaxing, or going to bed, what I ate, what I did, who I've been with, what they were carrying in the interior of their cars, what they were wearing, what they ate, etc.  I could list all the items as proof, but you'd just smack your head and quit reading.  Oh, I can't help myself—let me just throw in one.  On Sunday, June 11, I went to lunch with a few friends. L. had the chicken and dressing with green beans and mashed potatoes, B. had chicken fried steak covered in gravy, The Hubs had a fried pork chop with mashed potatoes, I had a hamburger and fries (The Hubs had to eat half the burger), J. had the chicken and dressing also, but she added cornbread and there was a mix-up with her side dishes because she ordered corn and beans, not mashed potatoes, and the other B. had a cheeseburger and fries.  And I'm not bragging (okay, sorta):  I'm a little worried that this string of meaningless memories fills up space in my brain that could be put to better use.

For example, where the hell is my freaking wallet?  It has been missing since Monday night. Or, at least, that's what the evidence—my silent-movie memory and charges I made on the credit cards—points to.  I have "torn up" my house, as far as I'm willing to: done all the laundry, emptied small trash cans into empty larger ones as I sift through the contents, called every place and every friend I've visited in the last week, and checked under and behind every piece of furniture.  While I can remember what all my friends had for lunch a week and a half ago, I cannot remember for the life of me what I have done with what is probably the single most important thing I own. I'm not sure if that's irony or just plain "screwed-up-ed-ness."  Either way, it's sucking pretty hard. 

And I am now down to my last two options. 

Here's a little rhyme for Option #1:

"The first
Is the worst."

How Harry Potter, huh?  What it basically means is that, since Wednesday is trash day, Tuesday is "Get Funky" day.  Unless you're a deconstructionist with a twisted sense of humor and have no fear of maggots, you probably don't want to come over to my house between the hours of 8 and 11 a.m. on the 16th because we'll be detecting and it ain't gonna be no craft project. 

Here's a verse for the second option:

"When times are tough,
Just plan to be on the phone all day."

It doesn't rhyme, does it?  In fact, it has no rhythm either.  That's on purpose.  None of the conversations you have with people in charge of your money come any where near to poetry.  Or even communication.  Or even hope.  So abandon it, all you who enter the number for the call center.

And now, I bid adieu to everyone as I wistfully head off to bed in a vain attempt to empty my thoughts and prepare for the dirty deeds of tomorrow (Option #1) and the dirty deeds of the next day (Option #2).  In the end, it will turn out the victim was also the perpetrator, so I guess I will have done my time. 

By the way, my thanks to AC/DC.   

June 12, 2009: Here We Go Again


I thought I was being cute yesterday when I updated Facebook with this status:  "Today is the day when I will discover if the world will fall apart if I don't take a shower and spend all my time, instead, on the porch reading."  I should have knocked on wood.  I didn't take my shower all right, but I didn't get to read all day because the world actually fell apart—or seemed to, anyway.

It started around 2:00 when I heard a roll of thunder.  I went to the computer and checked the Weather Channel and there on the screen in front of me was a squall line with a backwards "C" headed straight for Conwag (as I like to call it).  "Hmmm.  Bow echo.  Not good," I thought.  I turned off the computer and everything else, unplugged it all, and sat back down on the porch to wait.  There are three huge willow oaks in front of my house, and when the wind starts to whip them into a frenzy, I move to the back.  So I stood in the kitchen and watched as a pea- green pall took over the sky.  I knew there might be a tornado somewhere, just probably not here. 

-->Begin Digression:  Meteorologists have their own theories about the green color appearing during severe thunderstorms, which have to do with the setting sun.  I have my own, and it goes like this:  In the early formation of some tornadoes, there is still a lot of sun showing in the sky.  The heat from the sun warms the upper parts of the storm while the ground level coolness behind the storm pushes the already heated parts higher.  With the sun still partially showing and this particular cloud formation, the driving rain highlights the green aspect of the color spectrum.  I maintain this because a) I'm pretty sure I'm a genius, and b) I've just seen it too many times in the morning, at high noon, and in the mid-afternoon.  The other part of this theory, again born out of my own anecdotal experiences, is that if the pea green is over your head, things are just cooking up to land somewhere else. <--End Digression.

So for 10 minutes I waited in the kitchen, ready to fly out of the house and jump into my brand-spanking new storm cellar (The Year of the Tornadoes sparked that purchase).  But then the storm quieted, so I grabbed the police scanner (I'm a radio buff from way back: I've got the CB, "gummers", a commercial radio operator's license and a GMRS radio operator's license to prove it—another of those things that adds to my wildly feminine and enigmatic charms) instead and headed back out to the porch.  After a storm like that, the scanner goes wild, and it's an interesting way to spend an afternoon. 

-->Begin Digression.  If you're liberal, you may want to sit down for this because I'm about to utter blasphemy.  George W. actually did one good thing during his presidency:  In 2005, he supported FEMA in insisting that police, fire, and emergency departments start using plain language in all radio communications, with the caveat that if departments were found to be non-compliant, their federal funding could be pulled.  The reason was simple:  every department across the U.S. was using different 10-codes and phonetic alphabets, which greatly increased the possibility for misunderstanding.  The result is that you don't need to have a list next to you to find out what "10-24" means.  But don't worry, all you Smokey and the Bandit fans, they'll never do away with "10-4."  One addition to this digression:  some of the "signals" are still in use to protect the privacy of patients/victims.  For example, a "Signal 63" for Faulkner County MEMS means the patient has been found dead on arrival. I've only heard that one time—when a driver was killed by flying debris on I-40 during that tornado that took out the liquor store on the northern side of the freeway in Blackwell (I know my emergency signals AND my liquor stores). <--End Digression. 

So here's what I learned when the world fell apart yesterday and I went to the radio:  the main damage was between South Donaghey and South Salem and over by Skunk Hollow. Highway 286 was impassable for a couple of hours.  The Deerfield subdivision got it pretty bad.  My friend S. lost a really big tree in her yard.  A couple of houses caught on fire because trees wrapped in power lines fell on their roofs.  The fire department was called out twice to UCA—one report of smoke in Torreyson Library and a fire alarm going off in Irby.  There were three accidents on I-40: one was a rollover, and the first-responders couldn't find the occupant (not wearing a seat-belt, thrown out the window?)  Another was a "car versus two semis."  It all sounds pretty ominous, doesn't it, kind of like watching a re-run of Emergency!: "Pulse is 160, the victim is in extreme pain, Rampart. V-fib!"

Not to worry, there were no reported injuries or fatalities.  The rollover "patient" must have extricated her- or himself, which is fairly common because a lot of people think the smoke from the airbag exploding means the car is on fire (I learned that from my own head-on collision, not the scanner).

At any rate, I've learned my lesson and promise I will shower everyday and limit my reading to a couple of hours.  

June 9, 2009:  A Friendly Game of Eighty-Six

WARNING:  This post may be offensive to some of my very good friends.  I apologize in advance.

There's a little game that's played on the Facebook which Urban Dictionary refers to as Facebookemon.  If you are above a certain age or have no children, you may not realize this is a reference to Pokémon, a Nintendo game, based on collecting "pocket monsters" and training them to become an army.  The game turned into a huge franchise that includes cartoons, plush toys, and, finally, trading cards.  I'm not exactly sure how the cards work, but I'm pretty sure, the more you collect, the better: today's marketing machine would find no use for a game that required only 52 of the same cards. Once every child had the deck, how could the company continue making billions of dollars?  Besides which, The Hubs played Vampire: The Eternal Struggle back when Bella Swan was seven years from being conceived (although, if she weren't fictional, she would have actually been nine—at least as far as the premise of Twilight goes).  So I know it's not enough just to have the appropriate amount of cards.  One must also have the appropriate amount of the right cards, and this requires buying boxes and boxes of the things.  So the idea behind Facebookemon is to collect as many friends on the social networking site as possible—boxes and boxes of them.  This makes you seem popular, beautiful, and rich.  I guess. 

Anyhoo, I have my own little Facebook game.  I call it Eighty-Six, after the verb "to be eighty-sixed," rejected, ejected, let go, fired, etc. 

Here's the deal (pun—just wanted you to know I intended that): 

I can hardly keep up with my actual, non-virtual friends, family, students, clients, colleagues, hairdresser, etc. in our day-to-day, face-to-face interactions, let alone a newsfeed that includes the status updates, quiz results, and links of 1514 more people online.  Seriously, one of my friends has over 1600 "friends."  I can't imagine how dizzying that newsfeed must be: I tried to "read" a special Twitter event on voting day, and I literally got nauseated.  Trying to keep up with who was responding to whom actually gave me vertigo after about three minutes: I had to make it go away by lying down in a darkened room.  Rather than actually reading the newsfeed, I suspect, these friend collectors go directly to their profiles to gaze at the glory that is themselves, bask in the number of friends they have collected, and smile at how witty they've made their info, interests, and status updates seem.  My theory may be deeply flawed; I have no idea, and I'm certainly not going to go asking these people if they really consider all 1600 to be actual friends.  I'm sure they probably have good reasons for "friending" that many—maybe it's a contact list for future reference, in case they lose their jobs or find themselves lost in a foreign country where they have a Facebook friend.  I still maintain they're not really using the site to truly stay connected to anybody because it would simply be impossible, given that number.    

So, in thinking about how many friends I have real, honest-to-God relationships with, I spread all my cards out on the table and found I actually needed a little more than one traditional deck, and a little less than two: 86 to be exact (not exactly a coincidence).  Kind of like double-deck auction pinochle with widow, except with an additional six cards. 

Here are the simple rules for Eighty-Six (which are much simpler, by the way than double-deck auction pinochle with widow, despite the addition of the six cards):

  • NEVER go above or below 86.  That's the principal and most inviolable rule.
  • When you get to 87, you must forfeit a "card." 
  • If you go below 86, you must take a "card." 
  • As with most card games (probably with the exception of poker—I don't know every card game that exists), you always want to keep a little chaff to get rid of when some wheat comes your way.
  • Unlike Mao, where talking isn't permitted during game play (I'd kill to have someone teach me this game; unfortunately, since it's a game of deduction, there's only one rule:  "I can tell you only one rule"—get it? Yes, yes, I know, the rules are right there on Wikipedia, but reading them would obviate the whole point of learning the game), the real purpose of Eighty-Six, similarly to cribbage, is to inspire discussion (and, man, if you call muggins in cribbage, you're going to get some discussion—probably more along the lines of argument—I don't recommend it).  So don't invite anyone to play at your table unless you actually speak to them more often than once every 10 years or really, truly, honestly want to know what's going on in their lives.
  • Everyone at the table has to take a turn being the dealer.  In other words, don't just sit there letting everybody else do all the work: post something. 
  • If you get eighty-sixed, don't take it personally.  If it's reached that point, then you probably don't want to know anymore about the person who eighty-sixed you than he or she wants to know about you.  Fold and walk away. 

In the words of the great John Scarne (who probably owned the largest collection of traditional card games, which ironically enough were mainly stored in virtual space—inside his head):    "[Eighty-Six] has the bluff as in Poker, scores big like Canasta..., the flavor of Pinochle, the partnership understanding of Contract Bridge, and the suspense of Gin Rummy." 

I hope it will soon become all the rage. 

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About Me
I teach; cook; write; hike; read; dally; canoe; eat; write; rock 'n roll; target practice (bow and gun); tumble and fall; dawdle; complain; bento; write; organize; watch movies; ignore e-mail;  renovate; write; curse computers; brew my tea dark and bitter; herd cats; live in Arkansas; Plato, Derrida, and rhetoric (yes, those are verbs); remain overly cautious; persuade; imbibe; GTD; and oh, yeah, I write a little. 

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E-mail me at sanslenom at msn dot com.

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