Friday, February 21, 2003


I am a Yankee, and proud of it. I didn't even realize that it was an insult until college. I'm still not positive that it is, although I do know people who use the word (or fear to use it) as if it were one. I don't see it that way. I used to make fun of my friends from Texas who lit up anytime their state ever came up in conversation. I stopped teasing them when I realized I do the same thing whenever someone mentions New England. I pretend to be all knowledgeable about the North ("The Presidential Range? Yeah, I know the area... Boston? Great city....") and act offended when people express ignorance of the region. Although, to be honest, I have received some dubious questions that maybe deserved the disdain (for instance, I should point out that New England is not one of the fifty states since I have gotten that question a few times).

Beyond the lip-service I pay to the region where I grew up, there are a few areas of my life where my Yankeeness makes itself known through my actions more than my words. For instance, country music. I have spent the last five years of my life south of the Mason-Dixon line. I have dated or had serious crushes on several girls who really dug country music. I've lived with people who owned it. I still cannot bring myself to listen to it for any great period of time (great period of time being defined as more than two songs). I have learned to tolerate it when others choose it (and that is the fault of various females in my life more than anything else) but when I have a choice, I'll change the channel. Even when I'm trying not to (for her sake), I tend to forget and change it anyway. It's just not for me (and even if, craziest of crazy thoughts, I did happen to enjoy an occasional song from the genre I would never admit it...)

Another area where it becomes apparent that I am a Yank is winter. I like winter. I love being out in the snow. I know which kind is best for snowballs and snowmen, and which kind is best for whitewashes (if you don't know what that is, ask me sometime and I'll show you). I know which sleds to use on which days. I love cross country skiing (common response: who would ever want to ski sideways!?!?). I know how best to shovel a driveway (oh do I ever know how to shovel a flippin' driveway), and I will probably never fail to point this out to you if we ever start talking about snow (like here for instance). I know how to drive in snow. More importantly, I know when NOT to drive in snow.

This is something a lot of people in the DC area do not appear to know. This weekend dumped over a foot and a half of snow on the areas hit the lightest. Up to two feet or more in the harder hit areas. There have been a surprising number of accidents in the past few days. The natives are surprised that snow can cause that many accidents. I am surprised that so many people were dumb enough to try driving in it. A man nearby dug out his driveway so his car, a Honda Civic, could get purchase. A good idea. The bad idea came when he tried to drive into the street where there was still about sixteen inches of snow. My roommate helped push him back into his driveway.

The newspeople don't seem to know what to do with the weather either. I watched one reporter stationed at an airport. She managed to get the relevant information across pretty quickly: this one is shut down, that one has one runway open but call first before trying to catch a flight. Then the snow shock got to her. She started explaining what it was like to be waiting at the airport in the snowstorm. "There are a lot of people here, sitting, resting. Some people are reading books to pass the time. They're trying to go all sorts of places - Florida, California, Kansas, I even spoke to one person who wanted to go to Europe!" Wow. So that's what an airport is like in a snowstorm, huh? She, at least, was smart enough not to try to go anywhere else for a while.

I'll tell you this, in New England, we know what to do with snowstorms like this one. I'll give you a hint, it involves hot chocolate and a snowfort or two. It does not involve driving.

Thursday, February 13, 2003


I am a huge fan of those little candy hearts you always see around Valentine's Day. Actually, due to a fun little quirk of market-forces, I see a lot of them right after Valentine's Day, too. I don't care if the holiday is past or not, the post-holiday sales are just an added bonus to an already excellent package. I pop these suckers like they're CANDY. I mean these things are made of pure sugar AND they massage your ego? How can you go wrong?

Actually, you'd be surprised. Here's one way - using the hearts to predict your romantic future. I used to do this in highschool (notice that I did not say that I have stopped doing this - I'm just going to let you infer that I have and then not bother to correct you). I'd start by asking a question about whatever girl had caught my attention. Then I would pick a heart at random and use the message as my answer, kind of like a Magic 8 Ball, but with no bad answers (or so one would think). It never worked out quite as well as I hoped. It turns out that it's a lot easier to get depressing answers than I had expected. I thought I had this whole thing locked up. I was using candy made for Valentine's Day for relationship advice, candy designed for romance (hey, my friends hadn't been doing me much good there and I certainly wasn't getting anywhere by trying to apply logic . . .). I thought it was a foolproof plan. I was wrong. Those little hearts look so innocent, but the suckers can be MEAN.

I asked once, "Should I kiss Lauren?" I was thinking here primarily of the hearts that said "Yes." I had seen several in the bag earlier, so I knew they were there. The answer that came back, however, was, "Stay good." (I hate that message) Okay, so maybe the question was poorly worded. I tried again. "What would Lauren say if I asked her to go out with me?" to which I received the oh-so-helpful response "UR Nice." Ha! "You're a nice guy" in my experience, is almost always followed by a "but." Once again, the messengers of love had instead delivered a message of luke-warm tolerance. I tried a third time because (and you have your pick of reasons here): a)I'm a sucker for punishment; b) tragedies must always come in threes; c) I'm the king of wishful thinking; or d) all of the above. Regardless of the reason(s), I thought up a third question. I knew, of course, that I already had two less-than-ideal responses but I wasn't too worried. I also knew that any positive responses I might receive would automatically negate any and all unpleasant answers I had already heard. One positive answer would mean all the negative answers were flukes or misinterpretations of the omens (That's how good fortune-telling works). So I had a lot riding on this third question. I thought for a while and finally came up with a winner. "What does Lauren think about me?" I was pretty proud of myself for that one. Any of the answers I already had would be good answers to get for that question. I couldn't think of a heart that wouldn't, really. I closed my eyes and picked one out of the bag. Slowly, I opened my eyes again, "Wise up." (I am not kidding, there really are candy hearts that say "wise up.") I told you those suckers could be mean.

That was it, I'd had enough. Telling me what I didn't want to hear was one thing, mocking me outright was quite another. I ate the rest without asking any questions and trying (and failing) not to notice how good THOSE answers would have been ("marry me", "my teddy bear", "email me"). I decided that instead of asking the candy hearts, maybe I should just ask Lauren herself.

She told me I was a nice guy...

Thursday, February 06, 2003


Some people exist as moments in time. They're temporary, showing up in our lives long enough for us to notice then exiting stage left (or stage right, depending on which side of the stage they came in on, I guess). I'm thinking, in particular, of a pair of girls my brother and I met when we were on a cruise last summer. Now they may have a different take on the whole thing, they may, if they recall us at all, consider US the temporary ones. But since I knew them for maybe forty minutes of my life and have no proof that they still exist while I'm reasonably certain both my brother and I still exist, I am going to exercise my authorly powers and declare them to have been the temporary part of this particular relationship.

It was late-night buffet night on the ship. Actually, every night was late-night buffet night, but on this particular night they made a bigger deal of the buffet than usual (even giving it a fancy title which I cannot recall). It was, in fact, beautiful. Several ice carvings sat along a VERY long set of tables. The food itself was no less attractive than the ice carvings. The chefs had taken pains to cut and arrange the food into some absolutely delightful designs, plus a few bizarre ones (if you've never seen a mermaid carved out of a watermelon, you're missing out). There was an aquarium of fish in the middle of the table and it took me several minutes to realize that the fish were made out of cantaloup, carrots, and other fruits and vegetables. Certainly prettier and much more creative than any of the sculptures I've made out of my mashed potatoes.

This whole set-up - the size of the buffet, its general location, and the mass of people gawking at it - interrupted the typical table arrangement in the dining room so the staff came up with a new arrangement. As we came off the line they funneled us, with speed and efficiency, to the nearest available table of their choosing. My brother and I found ourselves sitting across the table from a pair of high school girls. I can hear some of you rolling your eyes already. (Yes, hear. I can't very well see you from where I'm sitting, but enough people have rolled their eyes at me that I KNOW what it sounds like...)

Now for those of you who are not rolling your eyes, I should probably explain why the others are. See, it has become something of a running joke amongst my friends that my girlfriends tend to be younger than I am. Now this might be because I dated a freshman each of my four years at college (college freshman, you sickos!). I did, also date girls my age or older during this time, but for the purposes of mockery, my friends (even those who I actually dated, or tried to date as the case may be) conveniently manage to forget such things. Hence the collective eye-rolling when I mention that my brother and I met a pair of highschool girls on a cruise. It's unjustified, in this case (and really in any case involving highschoolers). I'd like to remind everyone that I had nothing to do with the choice of seats.

I don't remember most of what we talked about except for their theory about jello and dreams (alright knock it off, this was an entirely platonic discussion). They claimed that if you eat jello right before going to bed, you have some really freaky dreams. They try to do it as often as possible (and were, in fact, eating a fair amount of it as we talked). Thinking about it, I have to agree with their theory, although I'd say ice cream instead of jello. That might be because I buy ice cream fairly often, but really haven't made jello in a while. So my experience with the jello dream phenomenon is rather limited, but I can tell you ice cream right before bed does make for some weird dreams. Try it sometime.

Really I don't remember the rest of the conversation. I just remember it was a lot of fun. The four of us sat there talking and laughing (about some really dumb things) for a long time. And that was it. We left and went one way. They left and went another. Never saw them again (and on a cruise ship that's quite a feat - part of the reason I'm convinced they only existed for those moments we talked with them). To be honest, I had no real desire to spend any more time with them. I'm pretty sure that with more exposure they would have gotten pretty annoying pretty quickly (kind of like me). But for that brief moment in time, the four of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Monday, February 03, 2003


You know what the problem with today's society is? No quality control when it comes to naming holidays. None. Used to be you had to get martyred, rule an empire, or declare national independence in order to create a new holiday. Then Hallmark got into the fray and started naming their own holidays. Even that wasn't so bad. See, Hallmark recognized the need to keep the holidays distinct in time as well as theme. Who would buy new cards if they could still use the old ones, or if they had just bought cards for a different holiday the week before? So Hallmark didn't push too hard. They created a few well-spread holidays and concentrated on making celebration of each one important, crucial even, to the fabric of our relationships. Insidious bastards, but at least these new holidays were well decorated.

The trouble really started when the lobbyists caught on to what Hallmark was doing. That was the beginning of the end. Soon everyone (activists, special interests, organizations, fan clubs, neighborhood watch groups) was clambering for a holiday to recognize their favorite hero/founder/animal/meal/hobby/TV show/personal-grooming-device. I've been doing some research on this and am constantly amazed at the sheer number of subjects people feel compelled to celebrate. A few examples: Bagel Day, Ballet Day, Inventor's Day, Girl Scout Thinking Day (okay, I understand "Girl Scout Day" but why "Girl Scout THINKING Day"?), American Pie Day and Eat Right Day (these two are, interestingly enough, on the same day), Laugh and Grow Rich Day (one of my favorites, though I have yet to figure out how to celebrate it properly), Give Away Pennies Day, Ferris Wheel Day, Dump-a-Jerk Day, Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day (your guess is as good as mine), and (another personal favorite) Public Sleeping Day. And that's just February. Now how are the legitimate holidays supposed to compete with this inundation? How is a national treasure like Groundhog's Day to rise above the morass of home-grown holidays and still retain its former dignity and shine? It will be difficult, I tell you, and Groundhog's Day will not be the only holiday to suffer.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You're thinking we don't HAVE to celebrate these holidays and, if I hadn't told you, you wouldn't have known most of them existed. For purposes of moral clarity I am going to ignore the second part of your argument. I will however address the first part by asking this question: What about the holidays that inflict themselves upon others? Like Hoodie-Hoo Day. Those who celebrate this holiday are supposed to walk out of their houses at noon and shout "Hoodie-hoo!" as loud as they can in a concerted national effort to scare away winter. I don't know about winter, but it might scare me if my neighbors tried this. "Well, that's just one holiday," you say. Yes, but there are more! That's my point. For every Hoodie-hoo Day (February 20th) there's a Pop Goes the Weasel Day (June 14th), a "Yell Fudge at Cobras Day" (June 2nd - whoever dedicated this holiday was under the impression that cobras are mortally afraid of fudge and will flee at its mere mention), and a Kick Butts Day (April 4th). Okay so that last one might be fun, but you get my point. This insanity has already gone too far and it will only get worse unless we do something about it. So I propose this: anyone that Hoodie-hoos, you smack. Doesn't have to be hard, just a warning smack will do. Then they won't do it again, and hopefully (if you explain your reasons well enough) they'll think twice about some of those other days, too. The more people we can get involved in this plan, the better it will work. In fact, to increase national awareness of the event, I think I'll make it a holiday.

Sunday, February 02, 2003


Valentine's Day is coming. For those of you with significant others, that usually means some sort of night on the town and a gift or two - the more significant the other, the more impressive the dinner and the gift. Admittedly many people are largely indifferent to this holiday, but there are some for whom it is a Big Deal, people who plan their year around this one day. These people fall into two categories. The first group (and here I am referring to girls) is the delirious group. These are the people who begin planning months in advance to make sure they have the Perfect Day. They do this by watching romantic movies and reading novels you can buy in a grocery store until they believe that this is the way the world actually works. These are the same people who are singularly responsible for driving the wedding industry. The other group (and here, again, I am referring to girls) hates the first group. These people also have very elaborate Valentine's Day plans. These often include a gathering of like-minded individuals who spend the evening mocking the poor sods who actually buy into the holiday, making brownies, and occasionally burning effigies of the opposite sex. Some historians think the Salem Witch Hunts began as a result of one of these gatherings that got out of control (though other historians have argued against this by pointing out that the Puritans didn't celebrate Valentine's Day because Hallmark didn't exist at the time). Despite the mutual antagonism of these two groups, their members switch places often. The intensity of their allegiance to the new group is usually inversely proportional to the amount of time it has been since they were members of the old group.

I, too, await the holiday this year with great expectations. Though, being male, I fall into neither of the aforementioned categories. My interest in the day is an indirect result of the relationship of two of my good friends, Erik and Molly. The priest who married them probably thought Valentine's Day was covered under the bit about "for better or for worse." I think he should have mentioned it separately. The two of them seem to have difficulties with Valentine's Day, or indeed any romantic day in which gifts are exchanged. This happens for a number of reasons. First, Molly fits into the first category of Valentine's celebrators, although, in her defense, she is one of their less fanatic members (but I do believe it is possible she only got engaged to Erik so she would have an excuse to look through wedding books). In other words, she has high expectations for Valentine's Day. Unfortunately, Erik is male and while this is useful enough in other aspects of their relationship, it does not help his judgement regarding gifts. This is further compounded by the fact that along with being male, he is also a computer scientist. Now I know that there are lots of male computer scientists out there who do just fine when it comes to buying gifts for their significant others. Erik is not one of them. This is due in large part to the fact that he does not have a clear grasp of the concept of "romantic."

Exhibit A: The gift he gave Molly for Valentine's Day the first year I knew them. He gave her, and I am not making this up (not even exaggerating a little), a statue of a hooded death figuring looming over a grave and raising a skeleton-soldier from the dead. The whole thing is about half a foot tall. Needless to say (for everyone but Erik), this isn't exactly what Molly was hoping for. As far as Halloween statuettes go, it's pretty cool. As far as Valentine's Day gifts go, well...not so much. She kept it at his apartment...

Exhibit B, three years later. He hasn't gotten a whole lot better. For their anniversary that year, their sixth since they started dating (I think), he bought her a triple segmented silver ring that covers her entire finger, accented with blue gems and ending in a claw. Very expensive and very cool, but again lacking in the romantic department (though she did actually keep this one at her place). By this time, however, Molly knew what to expect and had her own gift picked out with that in mind. She bought him a color changing angel for the top of the Christmas tree. For most couples, this would have been a lovely gift. Except that in this case, Erik is atheist and believes in neither angels nor Christmas trees.

And it is exchanges like this that make Valentine's Day such an exciting time for me.