A Memory: Inner Strength, Outer Wimp

When I graduated college, I had to be difficult and graduate about a week before Christmas. (I actually managed to make that happen twice. My apologies to my family for the inconvenience. For the purposes of this story, however, I’ll be referring to my first holiday season graduation. It’s the one where I thought I knew everything, for future reference.)

My last experience with playing in the college pep band was a very memorable one. I remember lots of stuff, so I have to distinguish from different levels or memorability. This one qualifies as “Very Memorable” on a scale from “Memorable” to “I-Desperately-Wish-I-Could-Forget.”

As I took my place in the stands one final time and looked out across the basketball arena, I decided to live for that moment and enjoy the rest of the crazy ride. I didn’t know that by the end of the night I would have conducted the band in which I was playing…and made an utter fool of myself on the basketball court in the presence of a few thousand witnesses.

Let’s start with the high point of the afternoon, shall we?

The student conductor knew it was my last game–indeed, I believe I was the only December graduate in the group that semester–and she called me down to the front to conduct a simple tune. I grinned from ear to ear the entire time.

But…you didn’t come here to read a story about the stuff that went well. No, no. Everyone wants to read about the stuff that went wrong.

I’m not, nor have I ever been, anything other than petite. In college, I was extra petite. The so-called “Freshman Fifteen” had been more like five for me, and my arms have never exactly looked like anything other than sticks.

Self-Portrait, The College Years.
Self-Portrait, The College Years. Note the lack of muscle tone. It’s important to the story.

But, being as stubborn as I am to prove that I can do anything anyone else can do, I jumped at the chance when someone from the event staff at the ballgame found out it was my last game and asked me to volunteer to throw out free t-shirts to the crowd from the basketball court.

So, I followed the bubbly young lady down to the sidelines as she handed me a gray t-shirt tied into a knot.

“Okay, your job is to pump up the crowd and when they start waving their arms like crazy, throw this t-shirt. Oh, and throw it as far as you can.”

“No problem!” I said, looking at the shirt in my hands and thinking that I was going to send the thing sailing. After all, it had a big knot in it, so I was going to have no trouble launching it to the cheap seats.

When the buzzer sounded, I followed the other volunteers down to the court, grinning like crazy and yelling like a fool while waving the knotted t-shirt over my head. I spotted a gentleman about ten rows up who seemed really interested in winning a t-shirt for the child who was with him. I looked around. All of the other volunteers had thrown theirs already while I was still trying to make a decision.

“Hey! Over here!” yelled the man in the crowd.

With all the strength I could muster, I pulled my arm back into my best major-league windup.

And I threw the shirt.

As hard as I could.

And then the knot broke free.

The t-shirt unfurled, waving through the climate-controlled breeze in a manner that would have made an American flag jealous.

(I could swear I watched this part in slow-motion.)

I saw it sailing majestically through the air, doing its awe-inspiring dance as it fluttered towards the stands…

…falling gracefully to the floor a whole three feet in front of me.

The man in the crowd started laughing hysterically.

I shook my head, pouting as I reached for the shirt and half-heartedly tossed it towards the first row.

I received my degree for Christmas that year, but, evidently, there were still a few things I needed to work on. Inner strength counts for a lot, but upper body strength had suddenly moved much higher on the list.

A Pair of Boogie Shoes: Two Left Feet and a Receipt

I love to dance. Whether I’m any good at it or not–and I’m probably not–I’m going to get down with my bad self on the dance floor when the opportunity arises. (Honestly, the whole world is a dance floor as far as I’m concerned. The music might even exist only in my head. If that’s wrong, I don’t wanna be right.)

You go, Carlton.

Shoes are part of the equation. If the shoes aren’t comfortable, I usually end up kicking them off and dealing with the hazards of being barefoot rather than enduring ill-fitting footwear.

I learned a lesson once about taking the time to make careful decisions about footwear. I’ll preface the story by saying I was in college, I was in a hurry, and I made a snap decision in the process.

(Much quicker than that snap decision.)

To make a long story shorter, I wanted a pair of shoes to go with a new skirt. I was out of town for the weekend and trying to get back home by a certain time. I started running out of time, but, by golly, I really wanted a new pair of shoes. So, I went into a shoe store and noticed a really cute pair of open-toe-something-or-others (I don’t know fashion too well…I just know what I like).

I picked up one of the shoes in the box–a left shoe. No problem, I thought, and I slipped off my left shoe to try on the new left shoe. Instead of taking out the other shoe to try it on, I figured that if the left foot fit, the other one would be fine. I made a quick hobble up and down the aisle wearing the new shoe on my left foot and my old shoe on the right one.

Fits just fine, I thought. I put my other shoe back on, threw the new one back in its box, and rushed to check out. Two shoes in the box, an exchange of money, and I was back in my car headed home.

A few hours later, I wanted to try on the entire ensemble I had purchased. I reached in the box to put on my new shoes. The left shoe was the one I picked up first.

Then, I picked up another left shoe.

That’s when I finally started thinking.

Hold on a second. I’m holding two left shoes and I don’t have any more shoes in the box. I’m not a math major, but something doesn’t add up here…

My next thought was pure vanity.

How stupid am I going to look going back to the store to exchange two left shoes? What are they gonna do? Give me two rights to make up for the wrongs while they’re laughing?

I’d bought the shoes in a chain store, so I took my two left feet and my receipt to the customer service desk at my hometown location.

Yes, they looked at me like I was crazy.

The bigger problem was that those shoes were out of stock locally, which left me with the option of getting my money back…or being stubborn and trying to make both left shoes fit.

I opted for the money.

After all, who wants to dance with two left feet?

An Observation: Bacon and Hair Care

I’m an American. So, according to popular culture, I also consume mass quantities of bacon.

Do I like bacon? Yes, I do like bacon. I have my preference on how it’s cooked, though.

I like my bacon crispy. Crunchy, even. Something I can eat from the palm of my hand without worrying about cleanup.

I don’t, however, like my hair cooked in the same manner.

I found out this morning that a few little quirks my hair dryer had been showing off lately weren’t just little cutesy personality issues.

And it almost came at the expense of my safety.

First, it stopped midway through my daily drying. It had done the same thing a few times in the past, but it always revved back up to do its job. And since I’m a cheapskate, I wasn’t about to go buying a new hair dryer just because this one decided to stop working approximately 33.3333333% of the time.

As it started back up again, I turned my head upside down to add a little volume. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw what I thought was a bug.

Gee, I thought. This is the wrong time of year for lightning bugs.

I kept going, but then I saw a few more “lightning bugs” and realized that the stinkin’ hair dryer was throwing sparks. A couple of flashes of light and one teeny, tiny, toasty little spot on the back of my scalp later, it whimpered and gave off its last breath.

The smell was really interesting. (By the way, my scalp is fine. I just had one little spot that felt like, well, I had been popped with hot bacon grease.)

Classic case of burnout. Poor thing.
Classic case of burnout. Poor thing.

So, it was time to add an unplanned item to my “List O’ Things To Buy Today.”

You’re probably thinking, “It’s just a hair dryer. No big deal.”

Well, I have a few considerations to…consider.

First of all, I have really, really thick hair. Every hair dresser I’ve even been to has said the same thing.

“You have really thick hair.”

(That’s a lie. One of them said, “Your hair holds water really well.” I didn’t quite know if it was a statement, a compliment, or a sly plan by a doomsday prepper eyeing a plot on my scalp for water storage in the event of a disaster.)

So, whatever hair drying device I purchase has to have some serious power.

After a little bit of searching this morning after my regular grocery run, I think I found it.

Before...(It's a little breezy in here, isn't it?)
Before. (It’s a little reminiscent of that Maxell Cassette commercial from the 80s. Just add “Ride of the Valkyries.”)
After.
After.

My hair (and scalp) are in good shape now, thank you. Maybe I’ll see if I can revive the old hair dryer for the sole purpose cooking crispy, flame-kissed bacon.

A Frightful Decision: Halloween Costumes

Fall is (slightly) in the air, and with it comes shorter days, cooler nights, pumpkin spice oxygen, and Halloween.

I was thinking about some of my old Halloween costumes a few days ago, and I realized that out of all the areas in my life in which I strive for perfection, I’ve been sadly lacking in creativity in this department.

Last year, all I did. Breathe, I could not.
Last Halloween, all I did. Breathe, I could not.

Nearly every Halloween costume I wore between the ages of 8 and 12 looked remarkably like witch costumes. They were common, repetitive, and definitely within the format of “frightening” in the spirit of the holiday. (If you factor in this year’s creepy clown craze, my peppy little clown costume at the age of 7 might fit the “frightening” category; alas, it was still a rather common choice at the time, thus reinforcing my lack of creativity.)

I dressed up a couple of times in high school and college, but I can’t think of anything I did that I would classify as overtly “creative.”

In fact, I have only two costumes that I believe would qualify as being creative enough worth mentioning.

The first was on my return trip through college. I had been invited to a party, so I did what any self-respecting, late-twenty-something on a major budget would do…dug through the closet and got resourceful. When I discovered that I own as much plaid as a kilt factory, a 1970s anchorwoman was born.

One dowel, a milk carton, a Nerf ball, and some seriously mismatched plaid later, I was dressed to provide nightly updates on the Watergate scandal.
One dowel, a milk carton, a Nerf ball, and some seriously mismatched plaid later, I was dressed to provide nightly updates on the Watergate scandal.

The other was just a few years ago. I had decided to put together a costume based around my love of puns. Since everyone loves a superhero, The Pun-isher was the result.

Iowa big apology for the Arkan-saw.
Iowa big apology for the Arkan-saw.

I really would like to try harder this year. I have a few ideas, but the only spare “time” I have around the house is…this.

hammer-timePerhaps I should carve out some time…just not from the wood furniture.

Best of luck to all of you out there who are putting together your Halloween costumes.

*By the way, in case you’re still trying to find all of the puns in the Pun-isher costume–a shoe fly, the bee’s knees, an Arkan-saw (from a set of toy tools), green with envy (green tape labeled with the letters NV), a belly button, cold shoulder, chip on the shoulder, an ear of corn, and, although you can’t see it, the cape says “Cape Canaveral.” The tool belt also contained a toy hammer labeled “TIME.”

An Observation: Inspiration

My friends will often stop me mid-conversation and ask, “Gee, Meticulously Observant Observer. Where do you get your inspiration?”

Then I wake up and realize that I’m dreaming. (Possibly daydreaming…although I don’t know when I would have the time for that. The fact that most people call me by my real name is a dead giveaway that I’m making up this entire conversation.)

If anyone did ask me that question, though, I’d have to say that most of my inspiration can be gathered from my favorite set of right-handed ink pens.

I love this brand. It works particularly well in my right hand.
I love this brand. It works particularly well in my right hand.

Although they aren’t marketed as such, they still serve a right-handed function when I pick them up. Hence, they are my favorite right-handed ink pens.

“But, how can a pen possibly provide you with inspiration?”

Well, since you (most likely didn’t) ask, I’ll just say that it’s a whole lot easier for me to pick up my favorite right-handed ink pen and write something when I have an idea than it is to wait for my computer to get going.

“But…the pen really didn’t provide any inspiration then, did it? It was just…there.”

True. I suppose I’m much more likely to turn an idea into an inspired idea when I have my favorite set of right-handed ink pens with me, though. Otherwise, the idea might just float away, gone forever.

“You’re confusing me. Can we talk about something else?

O…kay. Did I mention that I won more ribbons at the fair this year for photography?

If you don't like the beach, we might not be able to be friends.
This one won first place! It’s for sale in my Etsy shop. www.etsy.com/shop/MeticulousObserver
Second place in black and white still life.
Second place in black and white still life. The sandals were just waiting there.

“Oh, that’s nice. So…where do you get your inspiration for the photos?”

I have this great right-handed camera…

An Observation: Non-Labor Day

We’ve arrived at the unofficial end of summer. Let us observe a moment of silence.

(Umm…I said a moment. But, okay. Whatever floats your boat.)

Sure, it’ll still be hotter than a flamethrower on the equator until mid-October here in good old Arkansas, but all the carefree summer fun is magically exchanged for hoodies and pumpkin-spice oxygen once Labor Day concludes.

Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894. I don’t suppose I know anyone who was around for the first one to interview them for a first-hand perspective, but I’m sure the first one wasn’t like our modern celebration. (And judging by the Labor Day sales offered by most retailers, it doesn’t seem to be universally observed in this here country. But I digress…)

In my family, we used to celebrate the three-day weekend with a trip to the river or by watching television in the air conditioning as a family. When I was in college, a very close relative threw a great Labor Day party he didn’t even know about until he came home to find my brother, myself, and about a dozen of our closest friends enjoying his swimming pool.

I applaud the efforts of those who created a holiday to celebrate the hard working men and women of this country, but I have a problem with it.

More specifically, the wording of it.

As the self-proclaimed Meticulously Observant Observer, I live for details. I feel like calling this holiday “Labor Day” means that one is expected to do just that–labor–on their “holiday.”

Why didn’t they call it “Non-Labor Day” instead?

I understand the intent–honor those who labor–but, let’s say you are the type to take things very literally. You see a day on the calendar marked “Labor Day.” You might think that you have to put in some serious overtime on the first Monday in September. Meanwhile, everyone around you has filled up their cars with camping gear and tells you they’ll “see you Tuesday.” (Maybe you do have to work overtime. I don’t know. I’m not your boss. Again, I digress…)

Oh, well. I’m overthinking things again. It happens.

Have a Happy (Non) Labor Day. And remember…Tuesday is the new Monday this week. Order that extra shot of espresso.

You deserve it.
You deserve it.

A Recollection: What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Summer always seems to be the shortest season in terms of perceived available days for relaxation versus actual days for relaxation…but the longest season in terms of “it’s-going-to-be-hot-for-six-months-so-you’d-better-get-used-to-it.”

So, here I am, sitting at my computer on the eve of another academic year, and I thought I’d complete that “old-as-the-hills” assignment that we used to do in school entitled “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.” (Or, in my case, “What I Did With Approximately Two Weeks.” Three months off is a myth, folks.)

My first major vacation-y event was something I probably could have done in any season, but one of my all-time favorite bands happened to be touring close by during the summer…hence, it became part of my summer vacation. I say I could have gone to this concert during any season, but since I’d been trying to get to one of their concerts for, say, eleven years, I suppose I was just kidding myself. So, in June, I finally went to a Steely Dan concert. My apologies to anyone who had to listen to me sing along with them at the top of my lungs, but, by golly, I’d waited a while for it.

And it was good.

I’ve become pretty good at squeezing little side trips into a packed schedule, but this year I wanted to go on a real trip. I addressed it in my previous blog post, but never included some of the stunning scenes I woke up to every day on beautiful St. George Island, Florida. It was my first trip to that particular beach and my first trip to ANY beach in four years. My apologies to anyone who had to stop dead in their tracks while I took photographs, but, by golly, I’d waited a while for it.

And it was good.

If you don't like the beach, we might not be able to be friends.
If you don’t like the beach, we might not be able to be friends.
Cape St. George Light. I also have a t-shirt to prove that I was there.
Cape St. George Lighthouse. I also have a t-shirt to prove that I was there.

On the way back, I did the nerdiest thing I have ever done in my life–stopped in Seaside, Florida to seek out the “Truman House.” One of my favorite movies ever is “The Truman Show,” and it was filmed in Seaside. I found it, had a nerd moment, and grinned for a week. Twelve hours later, I was back in Arkansas.

Then, it was back to work.

Tomorrow is the first day of school (although, technically, it’s the fourth week of the new academic year for me).

And the weird dreams have already started. I’m trying to forget last night’s brain cornucopia. I was trying to run a rehearsal with a potluck going on next door, all while people felt the need to keep pulling me aside to tell me I was crazy. (Something about my sense of humor…) I tried to argue with them, but it was hard to hold my ground as I went through the potluck line and put beef stew, fried rice, Lucky Charms, and milk on the same plate. I finally got fed up (haha) and took off in my car, driving in reverse over swinging bridges constructed of thin rowboat paddles and shouting something about trying to break the Olympic record.

(Figure that one out, Freud.)

And that’s what I did on my summer vacation.

And it was good.

With that, here’s to a great academic year for all!

*I also started an Etsy shop this summer. I’m updating listings as I create more work, but right now it’s primarily for my landscape photography. I am selling 8×10 prints. Please take a look! You can buy photographs here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/MeticulousObserver

An All-American Adventure: Road Trips And Convenience

The modern American road trip may take on an individual flavor for each who experiences it, but the general template remains similar to what it always has been. Over-pack, over-pay, underestimate the travel time, and under-dress to look the part of a pure tourist.

Although the template is fairly uniform, you don’t have to go back too far to find that one aspect associated with road trips has begun to vanish. And I’m not just talking about the “which-way-do-you-fold-the-map” argument.

Guess that road hasn't been invented yet.
Map? What map? Oh, you mean GPS. It’s very reliable. (Guess we were on a road hasn’t been invented yet.)

When I was nine years old, my family took a road trip to Florida. Fun trip, good memories, good times.

Fast forward to today–I just returned from a road trip to Florida and while the route seems much the same, one major deviation from the decades-old template is evident.

Convenience stores.

Nowadays, they’re just so…convenient!

Need a snack? Come on in! You can pump your gas at the same time.

Oh, and there’s a restroom.

In the building.

You don’t have to buy anything to use it, either!

You also most likely don’t have to do what we once had to do when we stopped for gasoline AND a restroom in a small town in the middle of nowhere…ASK FOR THE RESTROOM KEY. A KEY ATTACHED TO A HUBCAP OR OTHER EQUALLY CUMBERSOME AND HEAVY OBJECT.

You see, I remember visiting a lot of rest stops in Mississippi on that long trip to Florida when I was a kid. They were nice. I even remember getting a free soda at one. You’d take a few minutes to stretch and browse through local travel brochures, look around the parking lot at all of the assorted license plates while eating a snack from the family food stash, and get back in the car, buckling up for safety (I always made a big deal about that because they had signs every few miles about their seat belt laws…signs I never saw or noticed in Arkansas…and I was afraid we’d all be pulled over if I, as the sole nine-year-old, forgot to wear a seat belt…but I digress…). AND…the facilities always seemed to be in pretty good shape.

Contrast that with the country gas station–in ANY state–of yesteryear. It was expected that you stopped at a gas station for one thing: gasoline. Restrooms were secondary. Besides having to carry a key attached to a spare tire (the traveler’s hall pass), the restroom was usually on the far side of the building…the sunny side with no air conditioning…sweltering in the summer humidity. If you could manage to get the key to turn, you were usually greeted by a whole family of flies making their escape. Once the smell hit you, it wasn’t difficult to understand why even the flies couldn’t stand it.

If you really needed to go, though, your only choice was to hold your breath and deal with it.

Nowadays, most of the convenience stores have signs imploring you to let an attendant know if the restroom needs attention. (How convenient!)

Some of these old-school gas stations still exist, but they have largely been replaced along the interstates by giant travel centers with their one-stop shopping. Don’t get me wrong–I do miss full-service and the personal interactions. They were what they were…gas stations, and they served their purpose well.

This change to the template, though, is just one of the few changes in the subtle evolution of the modern American road trip.

An Observation: Car Daydreaming

You ever notice that when you’re even remotely considering the possibility of shopping for a new car, every car you see is the one you want?

I was thinking about that today as I drove around running errands. Every car I see on the road lately is the exact make and model I’m considering. (That one. No, that one. That one, too. Yes, that one.) Why, just last weekend I quizzed someone I hadn’t seen in two years about their vehicle before I even bothered to ask about their family.

Someone I Haven’t Seen In Two Years: Good to see you! It’s been a while! How are you d–

Me: Is that your SUV in the driveway? What kind of mileage does it get? Do you like it? Is it a smooth ride? I’ve been looking at those. Are they as nice as they look? Reasonably priced?

Someone I Haven’t Seen In Two Years: Umm…I’m doing fine, thanks…

Every little squeak and imperfection with my current ride is amplified tenfold right now. Everything about my car makes me feel like I own a golf cart while the rest of the world drives their grownup cars.

It's as if my own car is trying to tell me something...in the snow...two years ago...
It’s as if my own car was trying to tell me something…in the snow…two years ago…no, that remark had nothing to do with the crippling cold and ice that winter…or Shakespeare…

I guess I could always just give it a good cleaning to see if that makes me stop staring at other ca–nah, that’s too much work. What was I thinking?

An Observation: Midnight Meals

Do you ever wake up around 2:00 a.m. feeling hungry? Sure, we all have.

I’ll bet no one overthinks it quite like I do.

When you wake up around 2:00 a.m. feeling hungry, do you have trouble deciding what kind of food that hour requires? I’m not talking about “ooh, I think I’ll have an apple,” because you never want healthy stuff at 2:00 a.m. and that’s not even the point. The kind of food I’m talking about is relative to mealtimes falling within certain hours of the day.

2:00 a.m. is morning. Very early morning, but morning, nonetheless. Morning is for breakfast. On the other hand, you’ve been asleep, so 2:00 a.m. could fall into that “Dead of Night” category…an extension of evening…which is technically dinner time.

We can absolutely eliminate lunch as a possibility…unless you work a night shift and you’re naturally going to be hungry at 2:00 a.m. because you didn’t eat your lunch at midnight (the nighttime equivalent of high noon). BUT…then you have those restaurants who confuse the issue by serving breakfast ALL DAY…although conceivably they could also serve lunch/dinner during all of their operating hours as well if they grill hamburgers 24/7…or the famous “chicken and waffle” combo here in the South…

Then there’s the whole issue of what your stomach can handle upon waking. When does that magical digestive hour that says “you can’t eat a burrito now” actually roll over? 3:59 a.m.? I, for one, would be more likely to eat onion dip at 2:00 a.m. as opposed to 4:00 a.m.

Again…that’s missing the point. Onion dip is a snack. We’re talking meals here.

I’m going with dinner because…well, now…we can’t forget about brinner.

Mmmm…brinner. Can I have that for lunch?

The whole thing frustrated me. I took care of it.
The whole thing frustrated me. I took care of it.