Thursday, June 29, 2006

It's For My Own Good

In the interest of self-preservation (i.e. sleep), I am officially imposing the following rule upon myself:

There shall be no turning on of the computer (and subsequent use of the internet) after 11:00 p.m.

This because there is no such thing as a "quick email check."

(The most recent late night "quick email check" turned into: a quick email check; a quick email reply; a quick scan of my favorite websites; a look at all the houses for sale; a determination that maybe I ought to take a look at my credit report; a search for that site where you can get your credit report for free (the real one, not the ones put out by credit monitoring services); logging onto the (legitimate) site where you can get your credit report for free; trying to look at my TransUnion credit report; realizing that I'd need my mortgage account number to look at my TransUnion credit report; running to the desk to find my latest mortgage statement; typing in the account number; opening a password-protected account at TransUnion; (finding someone else had used my two usual login names, so realizing I'd never remember what I used); reviewing my credit report; deciding that it was worth the extra $6 to look at my credit SCORE; finding my credit card; paying the $6; looking at my credit score; noticing that the range TransUnion said "credit scores" fell in did not match my understanding of the range of "credit scores"; going to Wikipedia to get a definition of "credit score"; reading a lengthy and fascinating article about credit scores; learning that the credit score that TransUnion gave me was not my REAL credit score but a "largely useless" number and that finding out my real score would cost me MORE money; being too pissed off to go to sleep now so deciding to calm down by playing Jeopardy online; Jeopardy freezing up and me having to restart IE for it to work properly; not doing nearly well enough at Jeopardy to be content, so deciding to dumb things down to Wheel of Fortune online; missing the final puzzle on Wheel of Fortune; playing Wheel of Fortune again and nailing the final puzzle; and finally logging off and going to sleep.  Total time elapsed for aforementioned "quick email check" -- two hours.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

It's All About The Cat Barf

And here I was, all set to tell you how proud I was that I'd been brushing my cat every night.  And she's been tolerating it really well and almost even letting herself enjoy it (until she remembers, "Hey!  Someone's brushing me!  I'm not supposed to like that!" and then tries to bite the brush).  And how, every time I brush her, I clean off the brush and find I've taken off enough hair for a really good sized hairball or two.  So, I mean, yay us!

And this morning?

Hairball in the food dish.

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's a Puzzlement

When visiting the folks, the four of us sat down to do a jigsaw puzzle.

Afterward, I was explaining to a friend that we all had different puzzle-solving styles, and we realized it probably said something about each of us.

My mother gathered up all the edge pieces and put together the "frame" of the puzzle first.  This is how she taught me to do puzzles when I was a little kid.  It's her tried and true method for doing puzzles, so it makes sense that it would be her first line of attack.

When helping to sort out edge pieces for her, I also started roughly sorting the remaining pieces into groups -- those with windows, grey roof pieces; brown roof pieces; brown wagon pieces, white canoe pieces, etc.  (I left the greenery, the sky and the flowers all mixed together to one side for future sorting.)  Then, once the sorting was all done, I grabbed one set of pieces (the windows) and starting putting together a bunch of the windows that were in the puzzle, then slowly added pieces around them to complete part of a building. -- This makes sense, too.  Normally, I'd approach a puzzle like my mom and do the edge first.  But mom already had the edges covered, so I left that to her and found another place where I could be useful.  This is often my M.O.  I try not to step in on someone else's project (even if it is where I would normally start) but to find something else that I can make my own.

My sister went back and forth between different tasks.  She'd sort pieces for awhile, then work on the edge with the available pieces, then (when she wasn't getting anywhere with that) she'd go back to sorting, maybe to stop to work on a small object that she saw some pieces for, then back to the edge, back to sorting, another object....  Classic multi-tasking.  She also probably got a lot more of the puzzle put together than I did.  When I wasn't getting anywhere with a window, I'd just look at every other piece on the table until I found the one window piece I needed.  If she wasn't getting anywhere with something, she'd leave it and go on to something else that she could make progress on.

And then there's my father.  He's generally the one who likes to be in charge of aproject.  I have no doubt that if he had any confidence in his own puzzle-solving abilities that he would've put together an overall plan and then delegated tasks to each of us.  But what was so interesting about this was that he felt he had no Jigsaw Puzzle Cred, so he waited for one of us to give him a particular task to do.  (Which, of course, he then accomplished.  And waited for us to give him something else to work on.)  It isn't often that I see my dad dealing with something that he feels unqualified to do, and it was kind of interesting to see that his response to that is not to just jump in and give it a go (and risk screwing up something that one of the rest of us was working on) but to instead wait for someone to delegate a task to him.

Interesting to see the four different approaches to the puzzle come together (and make significant progress on the stupid puzzle).

So, how do you approach jigsaw puzzles?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The One About The Toothpaste

OK, when I travel, I have a pre-packed "bathroom bag."

This originally started because I kept forgetting to pack necessary things (frequently anti-perspirant, for some reason).  So I keep a bag pre-packed with everything I will or may need when travelling.  When I get home, I refill the shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, (... Q-Tips, band-aids, cold remedies... whatever I've used), replace the razor, and I'm good to go the next time I have a trip.  Besides, you never know when you might have to leave the country in a hurry.

Shortly after returning from my Boston/Canada/New York jaunt, I had a quick trip to Arizona to see my parents.  Knowing that this trip was on my horizon, I didn't bother refilling the bathroom bag, because I figured there were enough leftover supplies to get me through 3 days in Scottsdale.

Thus, it wasn't till I was in the guest bathroom at my parents' place that I realized I'd left my travel toothbrush and toothpaste in New York.  I had the toothbrush container, but there was no toothbrush actually in it.

My parents were already asleep.  I started randomly opening drawers, trying to find some emergency toothbrush and toothpaste.  And there it was:  Emergency toothbrush and toothpaste.  A cheapie toothbrush and a small sample tube of Rembrandt.  Took me forever to open the little seals on the plastic box.  That adhesive wasn't giving up easily.  But I finally got in.  Unscrewed the cap on the toothpaste.  Aimed it at the toothbrush.  Squeezed.


I look into the tube to make sure there isn't some sort of protective seal I have to pierce.  Nope.  I can see toothpaste in there.  I squeeze again.

Still nothing.  It's like the toothpaste is a brick.  It isn't going anywhere.

I look at the expiration date on the end of the tube:  2000.

Continue poking in the drawer.  Finally find some Colgate that will actually come out of the tube.  Vintage 2003.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Crime Against Nature and Humanity

I bought my lunch at Subway the other day.  I frequently do -- there's a Subway near my office and I like the idea of eating a nice, fresh sandwich rather than something vaguely burger-like sizzled on the cafeteria grill. 

Besides, I actually walk to the Subway, so I can convince myself that the block-and-a-half is, y'know, exercise.

So, I had them make up my sandwich with all appropriate fixins.  They then asked if I wanted the Value Meal (or whatever they call their combo).  "Chips and a drink?" they asked.  "Apples and a water," I replied.  They're now including them little baggies of apple slices and an ice cold bottled water among the combo meal options.  So I can feel all "Healthier Than Thou."

The lady at the register said that they were out of regular water -- and only had flavored water left.  No problem -- I just took the Strawberry flavored water.

Strawberry flavored water is an abomination.  First, I read the ingredients -- there's nothing "Strawberry" about it.  Actually, most of the (non-water) ingredients had something to do with potassium.  And/or sulfate.  As a friend at work put it, "They might have waved a strawberry over it."

The real problem though, is that it actually delivers on its promise.  Which is to say, it tastes like strawberry-flavored water. 

Think this through.  Remember strawberry flavoring?  It's on things like Jolly Rancher hard candies and big pink pieces of Bubble Yum.  It's so sickly sweet, you can just feel your teeth getting dirty just thinking about it.

They put that in what is otherwise crisp, clean bottled water. 

There is nothing crisp, clean, or water-like) about the experience.  It's like drinking an extremely runny bottle of strawberry flavoring.  I tried it for several sips and then gave up.  I dumped the contents of the bottle in the sink at work, and then refilled the bottle from the Arrowhead water cooler.

.... And then I realized that I probably didn't need to buy water at Subway in the first place.

Monday, June 19, 2006

"vómito del gato"

As previously mentioned, there was cat barf when I was away.  And that my neighbor sorta left it on my comforter the first time she discovered cat barf there, so that she'd only have to clean the comforter once (after the inevitable repeat performance).

What she forgot about was the housekeeper.

My housekeeper came today, and told me that she'd seen a whole bunch of cat barf around my place when I was away.

Except she didn't say "I saw a whole bunch of cat barf around your place when you were away."  Because English is not her first language (Spanish is), and apparently "cat barf" is not something they teach you in the basic English classes she's taking.

Well, that and she mistook a hairball for cat poop.  (Honest mistake.  Both are dark-colored and somewhat cigar-like in shape, if not size.)  Which led to the following conversation this morning....

Elda:  There was cat poo-poo on the bed and on the floor.  She no like her food.

Me:  Cat poo-poo?  Are you sure it wasn't cat throw up?

Elda:  I no understand.

Me:  Cat throw up.  From the cat's mouth.  [Small illustrative gesture of something leaving one's mouth.]  Not cat poo-poo.  [Small illustrative gesture of where poo-poo comes from.]

Elda:  I'm sorry.  I still no understand.

Me:  Cat throw up.  [As if a third repetition will somehow magically translate the phrase into Spanish.]  It's what cats do.  They clean themselves and get fur in their bellies and throw up.  [More dramatic gesture.  Just inches away from adding sound effects.]

She still doesn't get it.  Before I get on my hands and knees and cough up a hairball for her edification, it finally dawns on me that it doesn't entirely matter if she can properly identify the various substances that have come out of my cat.  What matters is that I should thank her for cleaning them up.  This I do.  And leave for work.

I come home tonight and find a fresh pile of cat barf in the middle of my bed. 

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Day at the Races

My brother-in-law has a race car.  A California Lightning Sprint Car.  With wings.

(Ooo, lookit me, talkin' the lingo.)

See -- you know how I used to ice skate, and when I skated, I did these adult competitions where you compete against other adults who skate for a hobby and nobody really cares that you can't do a triple jump?  Well, they've got car races for people who want to race cars as a hobby, but aren't, y'know, on the NASCAR circuit or anything.

So, Derek has himself this lightning sprint car, which he races.  And yesterday, they were racing at a track in Perris, which is only about an hour from my place.  So I went to the race.

Go back and read that "only about an hour from my place" sentence and insert a massive amount of laughter.  His heat was due to start at 6:00; and they suggested I show up at 5:00 and hang out in the pit and all; so I left around 3:40 so I'd be sure to make it on time.

As soon as I got on the freeway, traffic ate up my 20 minute cushion.  By 4:00, I was still about 50 miles out.  And it only got worse from there.  At ten-to-five, when I still had over 30 miles to go, the freeway interchange I was at ... was closed.  Total detour and the cars were just stopped.  I got off the freeway at the next exit and told my handy-dandy GPS to calculate a new route omitting the freeway I was then on.  It directed me to a few surface roads.  I was about 200 yards away from a right turn when I noticed traffic on this road was stopped, too.  I finally saw what the problem was ... the street was totally blocked off with police cars and a fire truck.  And everyone was forced to turn left.  My sister called me again -- must have been 5:30 by then -- and I was the same 30 miles away.  And now I was lost.  I told the GPS to give me another detour avoiding this stupid surface road and it tried to direct me back onto the closed freeway.  I finally convinced it to avoid both roads and somehow got myself back on route to the speedway.  I got there right around 6:30 -- good thing they were running late.  I was just in time to see Derek practice before his heat.

From my limited knowledge of racing, I assumed the "pits" are located, y'know, on the sides of the track -- between the track and the stands.  Not so.  At the Perris track -- a clay or dirt track of a half-mile -- the cars pit in the center of the oval.  Excepting the lightning sprint cars, which were pitting outside the track.  So my evening was spent walking between the stands and the area to the side of the track where the pits were.  And for "pits," read:  line of trailers with a racecar outside each one, and a whole crew of people making adjustments to each car.

Here's Derek's car.  Sorry about the crappy picture -- I took it with my cell phone.

That's lucky number 13, there.

Here's something I learned on my first journey from the pit to the stands:  When cars are speeding around turns on a dirt track, mud flies up.  And when those cars are speeding around with great velocity, the mud flies with great velocity.  And when you're standing within, say, 20 feet of the track (where you will be if you're on the path to or from the pit area), mud will strike you with the aforementioned velocity.  (I'm sure this was mentioned in that waiver I signed when I came in -- but I didn't pay it much attention.)  The first time I walked by, a big clump of mud hit me on the neck -- felt like a big slimy worm.  I made one of those split-second decisions not to be all girly and ooked out by this, so I just threw it off.  When we walked by later, when some larger cars were racing, the flying bits were more aggressive and came at you more like shotgun pellets.

(I lie.  Having not been shot at with shotgun pellets, I'm sure I'm overstating the case.  But it certainly felt more like being pelted with little rock-like objects, rather than being hit with flying mud.  And the mud was aggressive.  My sister's friend Stephanie (shout-out!) said that she found some mud in her pocket.  How the heck did it get there?)

Enough about me and the flying mud.  What was important was Derek's race.  Things didn't go so hot in his qualifying heat, and he ended up starting something like 22nd out of 23 cars in the main race.  Between the two, there was much action going on in the pit.  (Led by Derek's dad, who, up until a few years ago, raced a California Lightning Sprint car himself.)  Every once in awhile, I'd ask a question, and they were nice enough to explain it to me in small words.  (Me:  "Hey, what are you doing with that ... part?"  Derek:  "Replacing it with a bigger part.")  Whatever adjustments they made to the car seemed to work -- well, that and the totally bitchin' driving of my brother-in-law -- because he was passing cars like crazy in the main race.  It was really exciting -- we were out there cheering for him every time he passed someone.  And his mom (who I'd thought would be all concerned about watching her boy risking physical harm in this sport) was right up there with us, muttering under her breath, "Come on, Derek!  You can pass that car!  Step on it!"

By the time it was over, he finished 11th.  (We think.  The results won't be final for a day or so.)  Actually, he probably would've finished higher 'cepting they had to run under a yellow flag right after he'd passed some guy, and (I had not known this) he had to go back to behind him for the restart since he hadn't been ahead of him for a whole lap -- so he had to waste a lap passing the same dude again.  (Stupid yellow flag.  Grumble, grumble.)  If he'd had a few more laps, he probably would've caught a couple more cars.  Way fun.

(And then I drove home, avoiding the closed freeway interchange.  And got home, and looked at my clothes, and wondered, "Gee, how'd all that mud get there?")

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Yeah, how was "Tarzan"

A few posts ago, I mentioned seeing Tarzan on Broadway.  Wil asked how it was.

I sort of avoided the question because it's hard for me to just say how a play was without getting into a full-blown review.  And since I was on vacation, one of the benefits was seeing plays without having to do the whole reviewing thing, which I tend to do a lot of when I'm at home.  What with being a part-time theatre critic and all.

That said, I saw about a half-dozen shows on this trip, and I'll now share with you some brief thoughts on them.

The Lord of the Rings.  Yes, some genius decided to make a musical based on Lord of the Rings.  (Take a moment if you need to laugh.  I'll wait.)  It's playing in Toronto.  I had to see it.  Not so much because I like Lord of the Rings and I like musicals.  But rather, because sometimes a show sounds like such an amazingly bad idea, I sort of want to be there to see the train wreck.  Surprisingly, it wasn't that bad.  This isn't to say it was actually good -- only that it had its moments and with a great deal of work, it could be turned into something affirmatively entertaining.  But I think their biggest mistake was in choosing where to put the songs.  Having the hobbits sing at the Prancing Pony -- fine.  Having the Elves sing something ethereal and new agey whenever they're around -- fine, too.  Having Aragorn sing about accepting his destiny -- laughable.

Tarzan.  OK, here's the thing.  When Disney put The Lion King on Broadway, they had all those gorgeous masks and costumes that suggested or represented the lions (while in themselves giving the impression of being culturally African in style).  In Tarzan, you've got actors in monkey suits.  They've hired some really excellent talent to play Tarzan's adoptive ape parents -- and then they've dressed 'em in fur and made 'em drag their knuckles when they walk.  I kept thinking back to the dignity that Mufasa had in Lion King -- the actor didn't run around the stage on all fours pretending to be a lion; he stood up brave and tall like the king that he was.  Tarzan doesn't seem to pay any more attention to the essence of its ape characters beyond the fact that they're apes -- and that's why this show will only work for family audiences impressed by all the swinging on bungee cords.  It doesn't transcend its story and enter the realm of art.

The Wedding Singer.  The show that won the Tony for Best Musical this year is Jersey Boys, a show I did not see.  Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons through their music.  The suggestion has been made that I had no interest in Jersey Boys because the music of the Four Seasons holds little nostalgia value for me.  Similarly, if you don't have warm, fuzzy feelings about the pop culture of 1985, don't see The Wedding Singer.  I do remember 1985 -- I graduated High School that year -- and as someone who grew up with all of those songs and fashions defining what was hip, I found Wedding Singer to be a damn funny trip down memory lane.  But, I mean, if you're not going to burst into spontaneous applause when the cast of wedding guests goes into the zombie choreography from "Thriller," this one isn't for you.

The History Boys.  This is the play that won the Tony for Best Play this year.  It probably deserved it.  (I didn't see all of the other nominees, so can't be positive.)  It's one of those stories about a teacher and his class of really bright students, and how he challenges them and teaches them the things they need to know that are outside of books.  But there are, shall we say, complexities to the story -- and the relationship between the teacher and his students isn't as straightforward as it first appears.  Neither is the play.  There's a lot going on in it -- it's the sort of play you want to buy the script for and read at your leisure, because (from the audience) you've gotten a glimpse of some concepts you think the playwright is getting at, and you need a little more time with it to really get hold of them.

Faith Healer.  This is a quirky little play.  It's a piece about a travelling faith healer (who works extremely small crowds -- think 3 guys in a church basement, not a great big revival tent) and it is told strictly through monologues.  The faith healer himself has a half-hour monologue, then the woman who travelled with him, then his manager, then one last one from the healer.  And between the three of them, a story is revealed, although since they all viewed the events differently, you sometimes have a hard time figuring out which one of them is telling you the truth at any given time.  On Broadway, Ralph Fiennes is playing the faith healer so I thought, "Hey, let's check this out."  Ian McDiarmid, who is also no slouch in the acting department, is playing the manager -- and he manages to steal the play right away from Fiennes, which isn't easy. 

The Lieutenant of Inishmore.  It's really funny.  And it's really bloody.  I mean, really bloody.  I mean, stage-soaked-with-bloody-corpses bloody.  But funny.  Outrageously funny.  I've seen lots of people try to describe this play and I don't think any of them quite prepared me for what I was getting into.  Imagine an "I Love Lucy" episode where Lucy does something stupid and she and Ethel try to get their way out of it before Ricky comes home -- and end up just making it 12 times worse with one of Lucy's ridiculous schemes.  Now imagine what she's done is accidentally kill Ricky's cat.  Now replace Lucy and Ethel with a couple of Irish guys, and replace Ricky with an insane terrorist who loves his cat very much and will certainly kill Lucy when he finds out something has happened to his cat.  And he's on his way home right now.  That's The Lieutenant of Inishmore.  It's a silly farce -- excepting that it incorporates elements of torture and murder.

Bet you can't wait to see that last one, huh?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Someone Cute and Furry Missed Me

When I got home, my comforter was not on my bed.  This was because it was in my neighbor's washing machine.  My neighbor, who was keeping an eye on my cat, has a large-capacity washer.  Which she lets me borrow whenever Jasmine barfs on the comforter.  Which she does sometimes.  Especially when she misses me.  I was gone for a couple weeks.  You do the math.  (My neighbor said that she'd just spot-cleaned the comforter the first time, figuring she'd save up the actual washing for the day I got back.  Y'know, so she wouldn't have to wash it twice.  She's a smart neighbor.)

I've been back for two nights, and, on both nights, Jasmine slept on my bed.  She normally doesn't do this -- I'm not positive about it, but I think she usually sleeps curled up in a ball on a chair in the computer room.  (The rather fur-covered chair I happen to be sitting on right now.)  But since I've been back, I've rarely been in a room without her being in it with me -- and that includes curling up on my bed at night.  She isn't often a cuddling cat -- it's still a treat whenever she sits on my lap -- but she does like sitting in the same room.  It's like she's confirming I'm still there.  Kitten love -- from a distance.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The New York Postcard Scene

Peg asked me to pick up a postcard from New York.  This seemed to be a task I could actually accomplish --

-- unlike getting actual gifts for people.  Souvenir stores suck.  I mean, unless I wanted to get a t-shirt with "Moose Crossing" on it, all Canadian souvenir stores were pretty much limited to All Things Maple.  Which was, when you get right down to it, a massive improvement over the souvenirs offered in New York.  I mean, at least Canada has a "traditional" foodstuff associated with it that is easily packable.  What am I gonna do?  Bring my boss a deli sandwich?

I digress.  So, here I am, attempting to pick up a postcard that's all New Yorky.  The first few postcards I pick up have pictures of the World Trade Center towers on them.  A little out of date, you think?  Five years after the towers came down and they're still selling postcards with the towers on them. 

But then I see a bunch of other postcards -- postcards that were actually made within the last five years.  These postcards show the towers as part of the skyline, but in a ghostlike haze.  As though the postcard makers of New York have gotten together and decided that they'll never forget that the towers came down, and will keep them in memory by including their ghosts in every picture of the skyline.  Which is fine if you want to remember the September 11 attacks, but not so fine if you're just looking to drop someone a "Hey!  I'm in New York" note.

Sometimes a postcard is just a freakin' postcard.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Size Doesn't Matter

Wil comments:

Maybe it's time to put away the whizbang incredible collapsing umbrella and get yourself a genuine, non-folding, full size, keeps it's shape in a tornado, simple, elegant, black umbrella with a hooked handle that allows said appliance to be draped on your off arm. Too big to take into the restaurant or theater, one starts behaving as a grown-up and checks her coat and umbrella, thus never losing them.

Heh.  Will clearly does not understand my history with umbrellas.  Some people lose keys; some people lose eyeglasses; some people lose pens -- I lose umbrellas.  The size or shape of the umbrella in question is not a factor.  I've lost at least two of the full-size jobbies Wil is speaking of above.  (One in the Computer Room at college; the other I've still no idea where.)  The fact is, unless it is affirmatively raining when I leave the building (a good reminder to take one's umbrella upon departure) there's a pretty good chance I'm just going to leave that sucker behind.  (I used to say I've never actually worn out an umbrella as I always lost them before they wore out -- but that was before I lived in the Bay Area.  One good storm could take out a cheap umbrella.)  I have a better chance of hanging on to the itty-bitty folding ones -- if I can put it in its "umbrella condom" without getting water everywhere, I can keep the damn thing in my purse and guarantee it will leave the building with me.

As for coat-checks, I'm afraid they're going the way of the dodo.  I haven't seen one open in a theatre all trip.  Either they're hiding the damn things, or they don't bother staffing them during the spring and summer.  I guess they don't expect many coats when its 70 degrees outside -- even if it happens to be 70 and pouring.  (They're much more concerned about making you check your camera at the door.)

Friday, June 9, 2006

The Incredible Escaping Umbrella

Went to the theatre last night.  (I do that.)  Saw Tarzan.  I was sitting up in the mezzanine.  Second row.  When the show was over, I managed to get to the top of the mezz (where the exit was) ahead of most of the people behind me.  Then got through the crowd down to the door and out on the street.  Saw a guy there holding him umbrella and thought, "Oh crap.  I left my umbrella under my seat."

Went back into the theatre while everyone else was going out.  Repeatedly mumbling, "Excuse me.  Pardon me.  Excuse me.  Pardon me." like Bugs Bunny used to say.  Except I was adding, "Pardon me.  Left something.  Going against traffic.  Idiot coming through.  Pardon me.  I'm a moron."  Pushed past everyone all the way up the stairs.  Back into the theatre and down to my row.  Peeked under my seat.  No umbrella.  Damn.

Usher at the other end of the mezzanine yells, "Miss?  Are you looking for your umbrella?"  He waved it at me.  I ran over and thanked him.  "A little boy found it and saved your life."  Well, "saved my life" is a little dramatic, but, yeah, my thanks to honest little boys.

Tonight, I went to a pre-show dinner at a revolving restaurant at the top of a hotel here.  (Given my recent excursion to the CN Tower, this is the first time I've been to two revolving restaurants in the same fortnight.  Hell, probably the first time I've been to two revolving restaurants in the same decade.)  They have a single elevator that runs up to the restaurant.  Leaving the restaurant, there was a long line of people waiting for the elevator (we all wanted to get to the theatre in time).  I had to wait quite a bit.  Finally crammed myself in an elevator car.  Got down to the bottom floor.  Got just past the door and ... Damn, I left my umbrella under my chair.  The play starts in, like, fifteen minutes and I still have to walk there.  No way I'm getting back up to the restaurant and back down for the theatre in time.  I tell the lady at the elevator reception desk that I left my umbrella.  She takes my name and gives me the phone number of the restaurant.

I go to the theatre.  I call the restaurant at intermission.  Nobody is answering their phone.  After the show (drizzling slightly), I go back to the restaurant.  Woman at the reception desk calls up to hunt down my umbrella again.  She asks for a description.  I give it to her.  She's on hold for a long time, as though the person at the other end is going through hundreds of black umbrellas to find the one that meets my description.  Ultimately, she finds it (yay!) and has the elevator operator bring it down to me.

Two escape attempts in two days.  I need to have a serious talk with this umbrella.

Quick Memo to The Colbert Report

Some quick comments for my pals at The Colbert Report:

1.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me a ticket.  You guys are totally organized and actually giving me a ticket for, like, the one day I could go was really terrific.

2.  I totally *heart* Stephen Colbert. 

3.  Now that I've seen the show taped, I totally *heart* him more.

4.  But not in a stalking sort of way or anything.

5.  And it was really nice of you to provide that awning over the alley where we have to wait.

6.  Although it might be even nicer if the awning were actually, y'know, waterproof.  I'm just sayin.

7.  ('cause, y'know, record rains and all)

8.  And your audience warm-up guy is really, really funny.  After 15 minutes, we were ready to laugh at anything.

9.  Except the lame jokes he tried to tell when he ran out of material. 

10.  I mean, the whole "Dating Game" thing was funny in concept, but asking the guys "What's your shoe size?" stops being funny after, oh, the first guy.

11.  So, like, get the warm-up guy some more material, or just let us sit there in silence for ten minutes before he comes out. 

12.  'Cause we were kinda dead by the time Stephen came out.

13.  Good thing Stephen was so damn funny.

14.  Did I mention the 'I *heart* Stephen Colbert' thing?

Thursday, June 8, 2006

And that about wraps up Montreal

So, after Mary left on Monday, I was on my own in Montreal.  It was such a lovely day, I decided to take the Metro over to Ile St. Helene -- a little island in the middle of the river to the South of---

When we drove to Montreal, I had two maps.  A map of the City of Montreal, and a map of the surrounding area.  Now, according to the City map, our hotel was on a street that ran East/West straight across Montreal.  And it was labelled as route 138.  I saw route 138 on the map of the area, and it ran North/South.  This messed me up something wicked.  I mean, I can get us on 138, but I can't for the life of me figure out where it changes to East/West.  I got us on it and we got to the hotel, but this was still messing me up.  I ultimately read, in the Fodor's "Canada" book, that everyone in Montreal lives in a state of denial.  Montreal is on the St. Lawrence river, where the river runs North/South.  However, there's this convention in Montreal to consider the river to be South of Monteal. They just all got together and decided that the river flowed South of the City.  Apparently it is said that Montreal is the only city in the world where the sun rises in the South.  But, hey, everyone goes with it, so I did too.  The island is just to the South of the city.  Riiiight.

Anyway, the island (and the one right next to it) are this great big City park.  Where the 1967 International Exposition was held---

If you go to Montreal, you might get the feeling that they're milking this Expo 67 thing a bit too much.  I mean, this Expo was, like, before I was born, and they're still celebrating it like it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Sometimes you want to shake the City by its shoulders and say, "Yeah, but what have you done lately?"

So, the city park on the islands has a bunch of the old Expo 67 sites on it, like the Biosphere -- this big old metal sphere thing (that the big sphere thing at Epcot was probably based on).  I went out to the islands and took a stroll through the park, and went on up to the Biosphere (which was pretty impressive, in that relic-of-the-1960s sort of way).  There's also an old fort on the island -- dating back to the early 1800s (oldest in Montreal) -- and I poked around there and saw the cannons and tried to envision what it would have looked like when they were manning it preparing to fight off the Americans.  (There was a museum there, but, as it was Monday, it was closed.)

(There was also a theme restaurant there -- sort of a Medieval Times type of place only with respect to Montreal -- but that was closed too.  As was the Haunted House theme restaurant.  I was running out of theme restaurants and ended up just going to Subway.  And I bought some clothes at the Gap.  Yes, I know.  American abroad.  But they were really cute skirts and they were on sale.)

Next day, it was another beautiful hot day, and I really wanted to go out on the water, but those silly little pedal boats you could rent at the Old Port weren't doing it for me.  After about an hour of internet research, I found that you could rent kayaks and go for a paddle down the Lachine canal.  (Ah, a canal.  Totally flat water.  Perfect for an inexperienced paddler like myself.)  So I headed on out to the canal, rented me one of them nice, stable, yes-I've-only-kayaked-four-times-in-my-life-and-that-was-in-a-two-person-kayak kayaks, and paddled up and down the canal for about an hour.  Very peaceful.  There's a bike path along the sides of the canal, and people were biking all along it, enjoying the day.  I even paddled past some guy fishing in the canal.  (Are there even fish there?)  Really nice start to my last day in Montreal.  (Until about 7 hours later, when this woman bumped my arm at the Metro station, and I thought, "Ow!  That really hurt!  You should apologize, you wench!" and then I realized that she'd only tapped me but my arm was bright red from the sunburn.  Oops.)

I went back to Old Montreal and did a little souvenir shopping, then went out to dinner at a steakhouse which had been recommended to me as the best steakhouse in Montreal and way better than steakhouses in the States.  (I noted they served only "USDA Prime" meat -- apparently there's SOME things the States is still the best at.)  But they, like, age it 30 days and it is some seriously tender, yummy steak.  I was quite impressed. 

Had a nice chat with the waiter and we agreed that Montreal is sort of like New York, but with a dash of Europe mixed in.  Of all three cities I went to in Canada, Montreal was definitely the most foreign.  I had to keep reminding myself I was still in North America, as it often felt like this city didn't belong on this continent.

And then ... caught a plane to New York.  Now this is a city I understand.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Old Montreal Part Deux

So, after a brief break to ice my knee and ankle (when I fall off I curb, I fall off a curb), we wandered a bit more around the Old Port.  Mostly shops selling handmade crap.  Indeed, there were many more opportunities to get a henna tattoo.  (Henna tattoo update:  five days and all that remains are a few persistent black dots.  On the other hand, mosquito bites I'd gotten more than a week ago still haven't completely disappeared.)

We then rented a quadricycle.  It's like ... take two bicycles and put 'em next to each other.  Connect em with some metal bars.  Replace both seats with a bench that runs across both bikes.  Put a steering wheel in front of one of the bikes.  Put a nice little fabric hood on the whole thing.  Result looks something like an old-fashioned car, excepting it is pedalled by two people.  And, no, you don't go around in a circle if one person pedals faster than the other -- both of you propel the vehicle forward.  Anyway, we rented one ("Good physical therapy for your knee," said Mary.  And she's a nurse, so I trusted her on that.) and we pedalled it all up and down the port for a half hour.

That night was Mary's last night in Montreal, so we went out to dinner at a really nice, trendy place.  We took the Metro out to it because the restaurant was only two blocks from the Metro station.  Two very creepy blocks.  (All the tour books we'd read talked about how safe the Metro is -- they left out the bit about the streets when you come OUT of the Metro station.)  We continued on to the restaurant and -- for the first time all trip -- I questioned the wisdom of carrying my passport in my purse (which I'd done on the theory that I didn't want it stolen out of the hotel).  Right as we're walking, some woman got thrown out of a restaurant (right next to our destination, it turned out) and yelling something in French (I couldn't figure what she was yelling, but it had that "I'm way too unstable to be out on the streets" feel to it) -- anyway, she gets thrown out of this restaurant right in front of our path, and Mary stops short because she doesn't want to walk past this woman and, y'know, make us register on her radar.  I muttered to Mary to just walk on by when -- quite conveniently -- a police officer pulled over, got out of his car, and started talking to the insane yelling lady.  (Also spoke with the guy who had, apparently, thrown her out of the restaurant.)  We let this little drama continue and went right into the restaurant next door.

The hostess asked if we wanted to sit near the window.  Not this time, no -- we'd rather disappear into the darkness of the trendy restaurant and let the excitement of life on the streets of Montreal carry on without us. 

(We took a taxi back.)

The Awesome Power of the Cardboard Necklace

On the way to Montreal, I'd been reading travel books out loud to Mary.  (Generally in a fake snooty French accent that sounded way too Inspector Clouseau.)  I read that there was a labyrinth in Old Montreal, and we decided to check it out.  I'd read some interesting stuff about labyrinths -- there are plenty around the world that are pretty effin' amazing -- so I thought, hey, Old Montreal Labyrinth, how bad can it be?

See, the thing was, the labyrinths I'd read about were works of art as well as mazes -- places where you're immersed in a completely different world while trying to find your way out.  The labyrinth in Old Montreal is set up on the second floor of an old port hangar, and it's geared toward kids.  (Probably a lot of fun for a kid's birthday party.)  I mean, the labyrinth walls aren't mirrored or painted or anything -- they're just sheets of colored vinyl hung on metal frames.  ("It is against the rules," we were told, "to climb under the maze walls.")  But we had fun with it anyway -- especially the damn obstacles that we occasionally hit -- like the mock punching bags we had to run through and the fabric strips (kinda like seatbelt material) that we had to run under (imagine yourself in a human carwash).  At the very end, we had to give a secret password (which we'd found in the maze) to the people at the Information Desk.  And, in exchange for the password, they gave us magic necklaces -- which were pretty much a colored semi-circle of cardboard on a string.  "Wear it all the time," said the lady behind the desk as she put it around my neck, "and it will protect you in all your adventures."

I put it in my jacket pocket.  Ten minutes later, I fell off a curb.

Two Terms of College French on Parade

The next day, Mary and I drove up to Montreal.  Actually, Mary drove; I sat in the passenger seat snacking on cherries.  And baby carrots.  (We'd stopped at the market for some healthy snacks for the road.)

Our first full day in Montreal, we decided to head out to Vieux Montreal (the old City).  We planned to take the Metro.  Mary was leaving the next day, but I was staying a few days, so she planned to get a one-day Metro pass and I'd get a three-day pass.  So Mary asks the lady in the little booth for a one-day pass, and the lady acts like she speaks English but really does not.  She gives Mary a one-week pass.  We only notice this after I have my three-day pass and we're heading for the train.  We go back to the lady in the little booth and Mary tries to explain that she'd wanted a one-day pass.  The lady doesn't quite get it and I poke my head in her general direction and (having practiced it a few times in my head, first) say, "Un jour; pas un semaine."  And it works!  She understands; refunds Mary's money, and sells her a one-day pass. 

I've since been in Montreal for several days, and this was my greatest success with the French language to date.  I've since learned that when someone says "Bonjour" to you, they don't really mean, "Hi."  They mean, "Hey, wanna speak French?"  The proper answer (for me) is not, in fact, "Bonjour" with a deep hope that whatever follows involves small words that I can understand.  The proper answer is "Hi," at which point the person you're talking to will conveniently switch to English (if they can, which they generally can).  Ah, the joys of travelling in a bilingual City.

Monday, June 5, 2006

I actually saw a sight!

Remarkable, isn't it?  All this time in Canada and I hadn't really done much sightseeing.  We finally took care of that in Ottawa.  Well, Carp, actually.  A small farm town somewhere to the West of Ottawa.  (Yes, we wondered why a town named Carp didn't seem to have any fishing.)

But, back in the early 60s, at the height of the Cold War, the Canadian government bought itself some farm land in the middle of nowhere (but kinda near Ottawa) and built an underground bunker where the key government officials could go and hide out -- and still run the country -- in the event of nuclear war. 

Now, the place was never used for that (although we were told it was damn close during the Cuban Missile Crisis), but it did have a big old communications tower on it and it was used for communications up until 1994.  So, I mean, people actually lived and worked there.  They shut the thing down in '94 as obsolete, and reopened it a number of years later as a Cold War Museum.  They've got it all spruced up with the stuff that was actually in there in the 1960s -- the uniforms, the government issued blankets, the 1960s medical equipment in the hospital room, the computers that took up a whole room, all of it.  We walked in through the long tunnel (hidden inside an innocent-looking building) and toured through the two different showers people would use before entering (to wash off "nuclear dust" in the event of an attack), and then they took us through all four levels of the bunker (including the Bank of Canada vault on the bottom, where they intended to keep Canada's stores of gold).

It was a pretty weird experience.  I mean, on the one hand, the Canadian government had gone out of its way to foresee every possible contingency and plan for it -- but at the same time, it reflected such a phenomenal innocence in that we'd actually believed that nuclear radiation could be washed away by a shower and burning your clothes.  Glad we never had to find out how unprepared we really were. 

Friday, June 2, 2006

A Rose is a Rose ...

Yesterday, seeing as I wasn't rafting, I had a day at leisure in Ottawa, before meeting my friend at about 6:30 at the hotel lobby.

So, I checked out, left my bags with the desk, and headed out for walk.  Rideau Canal is a canal that runs right through the City (in winter, it becomes the world's largest skating rink, and commuters just skate down the thing to get to work).  There are paths nearby, so I just took a stroll down the side of the canal.  Pretty.  Peaceful.  The stray jogger came by, and one of those damn school groups (on bikes).  But it was largely deserted. 

The woman at the hotel desk had recommended I visit Byward Market -- an open air market.  She said I could spend a whole day there.  So I was walking down the canal in that general direction.  I ended up overshooting it because the canal got interesting.  There was a serious of locks (eight of them) which lowered the level of the canal until it opened up on the Ottawa River.  The locks themselves are still hand operated, and you can just walk across the tops of them to cross the canal.  (There was also an old stone building -- now a museum -- which used to be the commissary where they sold supplies for the guys building the canal.)  So I walked down past the locks to sit by the river.  Again, very peaceful.  I had some nice solitary contemplative time on a bench by the river. 

Then I trudged back uphill (there seemed to be a lot more steps going UP the hill where the locks were) and made for the Byward Market.

Total waste of time.  Lots of open air stalls selling crap.  Beaded necklaces, "your name on a grain of rice," that sort of thing.  The school groups were loving it.  There were fruit stands cheerfully selling small dishes of strawberries for $3 each.  And signs saying "Product of the USA."  Hey, I can get 8 American strawberries for less than $3 back in, y'know, America.

There was dude doing those temporary henna tattoos for $5.  Having nothing else to show for my day in the market, I bought one.  Dude drew a little rose on my ankle in black henna paste.  Then he gave me "After Care Instructions."  It dries in a half hour (no problem).  Two hours later, I need to wash off the paste in running water.  (Problem.  I've checked out of the hotel and won't be in another until after 7.  Where am I going to find running water?)  And then I can "preserve" the tattoo (for 7 to 10 days) by putting Vaseline on it when I shower.  (Also problem.  First, I have no Vaseline.  Second, I think I'll want to actually SHAVE MY LEGS sometime during the next week.)  But, hey, he's already drawn the damn thing.  Take my advice -- ask about follow-up care before you get the temporary tattoo.

So I stop for lunch (while it dries) and then wander the market some more 'cause it's about 3 so I still have three hours to kill.  I'm waiting to cross the street and I feel something wet on my arm.  "Don't be bird poop.  Please don't be bird poop."  It's not bird poop.  It's water.  I assume it came from some air conditioning unit above.  It happens again, when I'm further down the block.  Then a third time.  "Oh!  I get it!  Rain!"  I have visions of the black henna rose running down my leg and giving me a black henna coated sock.  I remember seeing an indoor mall the next street over and I head for it.

I have now found all the people in Ottawa.  I'd just THOUGHT they were all nice, healthy active people who quietly jogged near the canal listening to their ipods.  Instead, they're just as noisy, fat and lazy as Americans, and they're all in the mall at 3:30 in the afternoon.  Seriously.  Do these people have jobs?  This mall is more crowded than the Galleria on a Saturday afternoon.

I poke around a little bit but realize the henna rose on my leg will also prevent me from trying on any clothes, as I haven't rinsed this paste off yet.  I start to think that what I really need is a movie theatre in this mall.  Something showing, say, X-Men 3.  At around 3:45?  I find a mall directory and there's "Empire Theaters" right there on the fourth floor.  I go up to the theater and see they've got X-Men 3.  At 4:00.  Close enough! 

I buy my ticket and see X-Men with about a half dozen Canadians.  (Tip:  Stay through the closing credits.)  By the time I get out, it's time to head over to the hotel and meet Mary.

She arrives, we drive to our new hotel, and the first thing I do is stick my ankle in the bathtub to wash off the henna paste.  As the paste has been baking there for five hours, it's on there pretty good and "just letting it sit under running water" isn't sufficient.  I have to keep my leg under the bathtub faucet for ten or fifteen minutes before the water stops being black, and finally the paste is gone and I've got a temporary black tattoo of a rose on my ankle.

This morning I woke up and it has already started to blur and fade.