porcelainandporcupines

Archive for October 2012

One of the stories I plan to include in the memoirs I will realistically probably not get around to writing is the tale of the time I saw a rooster on the way to yoga. I don’t want to give to say too much now for fear of spoiling the story for you when it eventually doesn’t come out, but I think there are a couple of salient points we can safely discuss now without affecting your experience for when you never get to read the whole thing.

Without giving everything away, I’ll just tell you that one time, I saw a rooster on the way to yoga. Which is to say that it was me who was on the way to yoga, and that I happened upon a rooster while en route, and not that I saw a rooster that was itself headed to yoga. However, even without any avian theatrics or mysticism, the unexpected appearance of a rooster in one’s path can lead a person to certain realizations that that person may not be prepared to face. To wit:

  • There is no previous experience in your life that you can call upon for guidance on how to behave in this particular situation – not even having seen a seal several months prior;
  • That number for the Marine Animal Rescue League you’ve been carrying around in your wallet for the past several months will not help you now;
  • Your life has gone astray if calling on the assistance of a someone who still lives at home with his parents reveals you to be the weaker party;
  • Although you have no association with the rooster outside of this one interaction, people will think you’re weird because of it.

Obviously, not everyone will think you’re weird for having seen a rooster on the way to yoga; not at first, anyway. Your friends will probably have some questions, the most harrowing of which, you suddenly understand, will be “What did you do?” Because the true measure of a human being is not the number of unusual situations they face, but how they behave in the face of those situations. Having seen the rooster is not a defining characteristic of who you are any more than the color of your clothing is a defining characteristic of who you are, unless you’re wearing textiles that borrow from mood ring technologies and/or you’re the sort of sullen high-school student who can only fully express the futility of algebra by composing poetry on your arm.  In the long run, though, while your friends will probably remember that you saw a rooster, that’s not a way that they would describe you to a third party – as “saw a rooster one time,” – although they might describe you as having a weird obsession with poultry.

But the people you will immediately encounter after the rooster encounter, the ones at yoga with whom you will likely be most eager to share the story in response to their perfunctory how-are-you’s :  these are the ones who will think you’re weird, because they have little to no other frame of reference for you in which to store that information. “Saw a rooster one time” is all they’ll be able to say about you, until their memory of the actual event starts to degrade and the information changes in their brain, metamorphosing from “There’s that girl who saw the rooster; weird,” through “There’s that weird girl who saw the rooster,” and then pausing briefly at “Every time I see that girl, I get this weird craving for chicken,” before finally arriving at “That girl is just weird.” And that seems unfair to me : just because you sometimes find yourself in a place where weirdness is happening, that shouldn’t necessarily mean that you’re weird.

One of the major drawbacks, though, of constantly planning a story that you’ll never get around to writing, is that you still do a whole lot of revising, which can lead to drastic changes in the resolution. In the early drafts, I was just the poor, unlucky girl who happened upon a rooster, a victim of people’s poor memories and misunderstanding, doomed forever onward to be uncomfortable in the presence of the sharply kitten-faced gentleman who was staffing the check-in desk at yoga that day, thwarted from ever responding to his usual “Can I get your name?” with the grandpa-esque “Will I get it back?”

Now, however, older & wiser (although I should like to point out that I was at least wise enough at the time not actually to tell anyone at yoga about the rooster, nor ever to zing Kitten Face with my quippy comeback), I understand that being repeatedly exposed to weird things does in fact make you weird. Not in the same way that exposure to radiation will alter you at a cellular level, but in the way that, if the only common factor in every situation is you, there must be something particular about you that is contributing to these situations. Which is very easy to understand in terms of other people : people who are constantly complaining about work, their neighbors, drivers, people in the library or in the grocery store; whatever they are bringing to these interactions is somehow contributing to whatever it is they’re complaining about, even if (or especially if) what they’re bringing is a simply a lack of understanding how to resolve the situation amicably.

When it’s you, though, it can be difficult to see what makes up your negative contribution. But, with maturity, I have come to understand that, if you don’t want people to think you’re weird, a simple thing you can do is simply stop telling them how fucking weird you are all the time. And this, finally, is one of the major reasons that the memoirs will probably never get written : it’s difficult to write a story about yourself in which you’re not the hero, you’re not the victim, you don’t transition from one to the other even once, never mind back again. You’re just a person who saw a rooster one time, and watched it walk away.

An apparently annual fall tradition that precedes the beginning of a new school year is the publication of the Mindset List by Beloit College. It may seem at first that the purpose of said list is to provide people with the opportunity to have heard of Beloit College, but the actual purpose of the list, according to the introductory paragraph you probably skipped, is to help keep professors from making dated references to the kids today. Because, despite having the internet constantly at their fingertips, they can’t be bothered to look up something they’ve not heard of before. Because that is totally not the point of higher education.

While I found the most shocking entry on the list to be that, while I was not paying attention, the light brown M&M was phased out in favor of blue (which: listen, M&Ms – no one chooses you because they want to taste the rainbow; have a little dignity and stop tarting yourself up in ridiculous colors), an item of probably greater cultural concern is that 25% of students entering college this year have already suffered significant hearing loss. The list does not go so far as to associate a cause with this loss, which I think might be contrary to the spirit of the list, as it could cause some poor addled professor to chastise their hard-of-hearing students for listening to the rock-n-roll music too loud on their HiFi’s, rather than rightly pinning the blame on the pernicious prevalence of headphone use.

My college graduation predates the creation of the Mindset List,  so it should come as no surprise that I don’t really make that much use of headphones. In fact, it makes me extremely uncomfortable not to be able to hear what’s going on around me. Not just for safety’s sake (although, imagine how many more cars would have hit me by now if I hadn’t been able to hear them coming? I’d be dead. That would be terrible. Especially for you, because you’d be starting at nothing right now, which would be weird and maybe not the best use of your time), but also for entertainment value. Being able to overhear other people’s conversation can be one of the greatest enjoyments in life. For example, on a recent trip to the grocery store I happened to pass two women waiting for the bus. Or, at least, they were standing at a bus stop. As I walked past them, I happened to catch this tantalizing bit of conversation:

“Now, if you’re gonna eat a chicken wing. . .”

Unfortunately, I am not sufficiently brassy to stop abruptly on the sidewalk so that I can listen in on a conversation that may not be, in part or in all, considered my business. And I say “unfortunately” because, as a person who has never eaten a chicken wing, I have no idea how that sentence ends. Is it like what happens if you give a moose a muffin? Because that rapidly becomes chaotic – that moose can not handle baked goods at all and completely flips its lid. Which I hope is a problem plaguing only that one particular moose and not representative of moosedom at large.

Additionally, I had no idea that there were alternate methods of eating chicken wings. Does the company in which you’re eating make a difference? If you’re gonna eat a chicken wing, should you always make sure to keep your pinky extended so that, if you’re invited to dine with Wills & Kate, you won’t embarrass America?

Mostly, though, I’m amazed at the presentation of eating a chicken wing as a hypothetical possibility; I’ve always looked at the world as a place where a person does or does not eat chicken wings, not as a place were the eating of chicken wings is a matter of some contemplation. Certainly not as a place where there is no fixed sequence of events that follows the eating, no possibility that it won’t end, as it began, in fiery discomfort.

Of all my recent birthday-related escapades, the greatest was someone trying to sell me a $425.00 watch. This was not, I should clarify, some back-alley deal, conducted under the cover of night out of the trunk of a car, with shady characters trying to unload some ill-gotten gains; rather, it was simply the result of a salesman, shooting for the stars, maybe new to the job and unable to recognize some key signs of financial well-being, or possibly confused enough by recent trends in women’s wear that, to him, holes along the seam of every garment a person is wearing is a deliberate fashion choice, rather than a hint that, say, the coat was actually picked up out of a pile of things that didn’t sell at a yard sale.

The watch I was looking to replace was in much the same shape as my wardrobe that day. Purchased an unknown number of years ago at a mall cart from a bored-looking young woman, that initially inexpensive watch had reached the point where it could no longer be repaired : despite several upgrades to the band; a constant infusion of fresh batteries; and replacing the cracked not-crystal crystal, the hands of time were winding down for that watch (yup : I said that). In fact, that watch stopped for good at 12:40 Saturday afternoon, which I noticed at 3:13 when I looked at the clock on my computer and suddenly realized that I did not have quite as good a handle on the day as I’d thought. Or on the passage of time in general, as I had earlier that afternoon greeted the student employee who I knew was scheduled to arrive at 2 o’clock.

Now, however, is not the time to discuss how I seem to keep getting dumber (although that is on the agenda), but how I need a new watch. A less urgent need on my actual birthday than today, to be sure, but what better occasion to treat oneself? And what better place to buy a watch than a watch store? A store would be a nice upgrade from that mall cart. And what better watch store than the only watch store in the world whose location I actually know, is within walking distance of my house, and is conveniently located just a few blocks from the tea store I planned to go to anyway?

So it was that someone tried to sell me a $425.00 watch. Which would have been a nice upgrade indeed from my cobbled together mall watch, but, as I informed the salesperson, wildly outside of my price range. Although the salesperson expressed a willingness to negotiate, he was not, alas, in a position to lower the price by $400 dollars, and so I exited the store, with no watch and, thus, no birthday present for myself.

*     *     *

Although I typically enjoy buying myself a birthday present just as much as I enjoy taking the day off work, the lack of a present this year was not a terribly big loss – 39, as an age, doesn’t have a lot to recommend it. Sure, it’s a multiple of 3, so it’s got that going for it, but it’s also a multiple of 13, and that I don’t particularly care for. Not because of superstition, but because I find it offensive when a prime number is a factor of another number. Why do you get to have it both ways, 13? Jerk.

Obviously, that does not apply to prime numbers less than 10, or that have 4 or more digits.

The selfishness of 13 aside, what 39 is most remarkable for is what it’s not, and what it’s not is 40. A multiple of 5 and loaded with cultural significance, 40 dwarfs 39 – as well as 38, which, thanks to the natural supremacy of even numbers, has no factoring issues – to such an extent that 39 as an age doesn’t actually exist, but instead is just a lie that you tell when you don’t want to admit that you’re 40. Which presents a problem if, like me, you have no problem admitting to 40. Unlike 29, which is clung to desperately and filled with the dread of 30, 39 is just a place holder, one last scenic overlook from which to gaze at the view of 40 and wonder why you’re not there yet, because you’re ready to round that turn and start the slow, easy coast downhill. But, before you can do that, you have to get through the next year, which will feel like a lie even though it’s true.

*     *     *

I did, however, get several lovely birthday presents from other people this year, most of which were tea related. Which I appreciate, because I do love the tea. In fact, before I realized that my watch was on the way out, I had toyed with the idea of getting myself a gift of tea, such as an unnecessarily fancy tea set for which I have no use whatsoever. Which, before ending up broken, would probably not get much use, since most of my tea drinking happens at work.

The thing about drinking tea at work is that it requires a cup out of which the tea is drunk. That’s actually probably a thing about drinking tea anywhere. But, the specifics of dishware at work means that the dishes need to be washed, and the thing about, washing dishes at work is that it just doesn’t seem like they really get clean. It could be because the choice of soap is not up to me, because the dish scrubber is used by multiple people, or because the scrubber is used to the point where just touching it is enough to make your hands smell or infect any small cuts you may have.

The solution to this dilemma is to bring the cup home to wash at the end of every day, then bring it back to work in the morning. And, since there are cups designed specifically to be carried around, it’s actually pretty easy to make tea at work. Yet, somehow, the process falls apart for me, specifically, in getting the cup home, not because of forgetting the cup, but because, no matter how empty the cup is or I believe it to be, it will inevitably end up spilling beverage all over the inside of my bag. And, if I’m having an especially good day, I will discover this not when I reach into the bag and find a puddle of tea, but when the tea seeps onto my pants where the bag bounce against my legs.

*     *     *

And so, despite the dishonesty of 39, I have, this year, decided to accept a hard truth : I will never be a person careful enough to check if the cup is really empty, and, despite years of evidence to the contrary, I will apparently always believe I can prevent it from spilling simply because I want it not to spill. This is a problem that I can not fix alone, and so I have accepted the help of design experts and engineers, as I should have years before when the technology first became available, and bought myself the gift of a  spill-proof travel mug, although I, obviously, bought mine at Tealuxe rather than Amazon, because I support independent business, and because my pants had tea on them and I needed to fix the problem right then and there. Because I can not be 40 with tea on my pants.

And if I do, it’s the mug’s fault.


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