Monday, August 10, 2009

Statute of Stupid

Everyone makes stupid mistakes. I feel like I'm particularly accomplished at them sometimes.

Recently, I made a real lame-brain mistake at work. It was a total rookie moment that I cannot (cannot!) believe I did. I fixed the problem, apologized profusely, and said a number of Hail Avids.

When do I get to be forgiven? What is the statute of limitations on Stupid Error? I throw myself on the mercy of the court. (I'm really freakin' tired of hearing the little side comments!) Any workplace lawyers that want to take my case?

(Note: edited to correct spelin' mistake.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009


I grew up in a Kentucky coal mining community. Most people picture mountainous hollers of Appalachia, but my hometown was a world away, way out west in the Ohio River valley. There the land is largely rolling and transitioning to the plains. The people are not Hollywood's Hillbillies. They are crossroads people, crossbred people. I am part quiet southerner, part strong mid-westnerner, part rural northerner, and (probably) part Native American. Trace far enough back, and my people were the literal "brother against brother" in the Civil War mythos.

My family and my friends' families crawled into a cave at the break of dawn. They crawled back out again (hopefully) at dusk, their clothes as covered in black coal dust as their lungs. My classmates probably remember one particular morning in high school. The announcement said that a number of men had been killed in a mining accident. That explained some of the absent kids.

When I was young, though not a child, probably a pre-teen or teenager, my uncle and I went by his mines to pick up something he left at work. It was closed for the day. Before leaving he took me to the mouth of the cave to see inside. I'm a curious sort. I've always liked seeing new things. I've never been remotely claustrophobic, but I do hate heights. Standing on a bridge or roof, my palms drip and my knees quiver. I muster willpower and logic to prevent panic. I really hate heights. Confined, tight places have only one time caused any anxiety. Though the mouth of the tunnel was huge and I was barely ten feet inside, dread and terror seized me. My eyes and breathing must have alerted my uncle.

We turned back. Ten feet, that was the furthest I've ever been into a coal mine.

I won't pretend to understand any of what miners experience. Thankfully, I have no frame of reference. At work the closest thing I come to a coal mine is an air-conditioned edit bay. It's dimly lit; the shades remain drawn. But there's no fear of cave-in. The keyboard won't yank off a finger. The hard drives, spinning 5000 times per second, have no chance of chopping me in two. The air is fresh. Water in the refrigerator is filtered. The cleaner wipes away the traces of dust every Wednesday evening.

Like most of my friends, following footsteps into that dark career was never to be an option. Our families sacrificed themselves, sometimes quite literally, so that we would never have to. I do not recall it being a lesson explicitly taught, but I know that it was one well learned. Songwriter Pat Haney said it with more poetry than I could: "When I draw my dying breath, it won't be over no coal."

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Ramekin or the Tightrope Wire?

Amazon's "Super Saver Shipping" is brilliant marketing. And, I admit, I'm falling for it at this moment. The total price on my Amazon order is $25.02 after shipping. If I had a item at $5.27 to add to my cart, then I would qualify for the free shipping and effectively get something for free. Brilliant, right? (Brilliant, because we all know I'm probably going to find something for slightly more than $5.27.)

Enter my deal-seeking, cheapskate (I say that with much admiration) co-worker, VeggiePirate. She says, "Check out" Holy cow, genius. Put in a pricing amount, check some categories, and (Voila!) the site offers up a bunch of items to help get you to that magic number. The list it generates is huge, because as we know Amazon sells damn near everything.

So, now I'm torn: an eight ounce ramekin or a six-foot tightrope wire. Hmm decisions, decisions…

Sunday, May 31, 2009

All Hail Wasp Slayer

It was a beautiful creature. I admitted that to myself as I flushed the corpse down the toilet. Wasps have this armored aesthetic that probably plays to the sci-fi nerd in me. Sad, I realize.

Typically, I try to shoo pests out a door or window. My apartment layout and this poor wasp's timing sentenced it to death.

A piece of junk mail was my weapon. I slew the wasp with a thick, brown envelope from the National Arbor Day Foundation.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

When Pigs Fly

It had rained all day. Actually, it had rained all week. The rain was a steady, penetrating rain. But, as often happens during the Spring in the river valley, the changing temperatures of the late afternoon provided a window of sunlight. To the west dark clouds were looming again, but there would be a few dry hours.

I was enjoying the breeze and staring into nothing while refueling my car. I hadn't paid much notice to the man on the opposite side of the pump. He spoke loudly on the phone, but my mind was far away. Suddenly his words smashed through my peaceful East Tennessee moment.

"I always said we'd have a black man as president only when pigs fly, and now we got this swine flu." He chuckled to the person on the other end of the phone call. He seemed very proud of his wit.

Well, I thought, that's progress, I suppose. At least he said "black man."

Saturday, April 25, 2009


In real life I move slowly.

In my career, I work hard and quickly. I am a fast editor. My mind solves problems and implements solutions with reasonably fast speed. I remain more ahead of schedule than behind it.

But in real life, I move slowly.

I am slow to make friends. I dawdle about that weird pain in my side. The recycling piles up for a few too many days. Great plans never get any further than the planning stage.

When I was in grade school—I was probably only eight or nine years old—the classroom had these binders of illustrated stories. They were comic book style, only a few pages long. I fixated on one of these stories reading it over and over. I remember it being monochromatic, brown-and-white.

Astronauts explored a distant world. They discovered two giant, humanoid statues. (Or, were they archaeologists in some distant corner of our world? The details are a bit fuzzy.) They chiseled a chunk of stone from the foot of one statue for testing. They left the planet and returned home with their specimen.

Many years later, they returned to find the statues had moved!
One reached toward its foot. Its face showed pain. The other comforted its friend.

I read that story countless times. How different must the lives of the statue-people be from lives of the astronauts? Probably not very different, until forced to interact.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lesson in Humility

I awoke late after snoozing the alarm too many times. I rushed to eat breakfast while listening to Radio Paradise. Steely Dan. I hate Steely Dan.

It was one of those mornings: late to work, fumble fingers, bad attitude.

I quickly ate my lunch and rushed to complete an errand within my allotted time. I noticed the middle-aged, unkempt woman when I entered the store. She was mumbling too loudly to herself. She was deciding between greeting cards. Crazy lady. I sped down the aisles of the store and found what I was looking for, naturally after looking in three different places.

I was late again. My time was up. I still had to check-out and drive ten minutes back to work. The employers do not pressure about this, but I dislike taking advantage.

Two lines were open. Both had a number of customers. I sized up the other line, mentally jockeying for position. That's when I realized that mumbling lady was in front of me. Great.

There were still two people in front of her, but she began preemptively haggling. "Those aren't marked, but they are supposed to be half off," she told the manager as he walked by apologizing to everyone for the wait. A few minutes later she would repeated that to the cashier. My jaw clenched. One of those…

Ten minutes had passed before she was at the cashier. She had a slight unbathed odor. Her hair was uncombed, her clothes unwashed.

The haggling continued. "How much is that? I don't want it then. Did that ring up half-off?" The cashier finally presented the total: twenty-some-odd bucks. Hand in pocket, her demeanor changed. "Where's my money? I can't find my money!"

What con job is this? Is she going to claim someone stole it? For the third time, I thought about leaving and returning after work. But, I was so close now. What was a minute more? Man, I hate people. What a crappy day.

"I can't find my money!" She frantically searched her purse. She felt through the pockets of her coat that was flung over the shopping cart. The cashier was looking annoyed. "I just went to the bank, and I can't find my money!" She was shaking. She was scarred.

A voice came from just behind me in line. "Now, honey, calm down. There ain't no use getting excited. Take a breath and look for it. If you get all worked up, you'll never find it."

"I'm sorry for holdin' up the line. I just know I put it in my purse." Her quakes had intensified. Her entire body showed real fear.

"It's fine, honey. Just calm down. Ain't none of use got nowhere to be. Just take your time." While their words ping-ponged past me I stared straightforward. The woman's kindness was slacking my jaw a bit, but I was still aware of how late I was.

"You got the patience of Job." She was triple checking her coat, her purse, her pockets. She was nearing tears, probably hysteria.

"Did they put it in one of those envelopes? Usually, they put it in one of those little white envelopes."

"You got the patience of Job." She searched the purse again and pulled out a fresh bank envelope. "Here it is. Thank the Lord! I just knew I'd put it in my purse. I'd just gone to the bank and took out two-hundred dollars, and I just knew I'd put it in my purse."

Two-hundred dollars. There have been nights in my life that I've pissed away that much. I've throw that much away in a frivolous click on a website. Two-hundred bucks.

Ashamed at my impatience, my cynical thoughts, I drove slowly back to work. "It's okay, honey, take your time." Those could have been my words. I could have shown kindness to that less-fortunate stranger. I was embarrassed and I felt penitence.

I mashed a preset. The same Steely Dan song was on the radio. Accepting my punishment, I turned up the volume.