A couple of weeks ago, a bottle of vinegar leaked in Stitch. It was a giant Costco-sized one, so it was
big approximately the size of an elephant.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with Costco, but it’s this really great non-profit that allows affluent Americans to assuage their guilt through consumption and allows Joe Biden to buy big screen televisions. Sometimes they sell the exact same things as Wal-Mart, but they’re not Wal-Mart, so it’s better.
They also sell big things.
And when I went to there the other day, I had hoped to stock up on food for Jason to eat while I was gone. Then I thought about conversations like this one:
Jason (sniffing clothes as he pulls them out of drawers): Ew. All of my clothes smell like vinegar. I don’t know what the deal is.
Me: Do you think it has anything to do with the vinegar you mix with our laundry detergent?
I didn’t know exactly how to fix the situation, but added vinegar to the list so that Jason could continue to mix it into our laundry detergent. And dish detergent. And milk.
But on the way home, a tragic thing happened. The vinegar fell partway over while I went ’round a turn and started glugging out onto the carpet, though the lid remained on. I thought fish and chips days had come early.
Carpet scrubbing efforts didn’t do much to make the smell dissipate, but Jason told me that at least vinegar is a cleaning agent and that once the smell was gone, Stitch would be clean. True.
The smell has not left yet, and at this point I can only assume that it will get worse as the summer heats up and it congeals inside our floorboards. Stinks to be you driving that thing around, Jason! No, seriously.
And then there’s the matter of the cat food bag onto which it spilled. I wondered whether we should even feed it to Jackie, so Jason checked online to see if cats can eat vinegar. The first article that popped up said, “I sometimes mix vinegar into my cat’s food in order to make his hair grow faster so that I can shave him.”
But since I don’t want her to slit my throat, I don’t plan to shave Jackie. Heather’s going to be a vet, so I phoned her for advice:
“Can cats eat vinegar?”
“They can. I don’t know if they should.”
So much for that.
So we went back to the Interwebs, where Jason found several people who claimed to be veterinarians telling us that a little vinegar never hurt any cat. Except for the ones it did hurt. I was skeptical, but Jason put my mind right at ease.
“I don’t think people go online to lie about being vets and trying to get us to poison our cats. They go online and lie about having a big penis or a CraigsList Free chair that will actually fit in your car, but not about that.”
Whew! What a relief!
So we fed Jackie the vinegary food. She promptly rejected it. We decided that she’d eat when she became hungry and that, at any rate, a little diet–or a big one–might be good for her.
In the meantime, I called the Costco Corporation (which, it turns out, is still a corporation, even though it’s not Wal-Mart. Confusing, isn’t it? I wonder where that puts Target). Like any good American, I needed someone to blame for the smell in my car, and I told the company the story of how the bottle had fallen partially over and a faulty lid had leaked. They were sympathetic but told me to call my store and the manufacturer, who was probably at fault anyway. That sounded like a lot of work (and please note here: Costco is great and has peachy customer service and stuff, so I know they totally would have been nice to me if I had had the time to ask them).
Since I was leaving the next week and had things to do in the meantime, I didn’t bother to call the Heinz Corporation (I think it’s a corporation. They sell that stuff at Wal-Mart, right? But they also sell it at Costco!). But, I reasoned, if they owed anyone a refund, it was me. After all, I am probably their number one customer, and if they had customer loyalty cards, I’d prove it. Or they could just cut me open and find my veins flowing with copious amounts of ketchup. Either way.
But I was busy and thought the situation would never resolve itself. I was wrong, because as I departed these United States (those United States?), an answer came to me.
I was sitting on my plane, minding my own business, when I realized that a Famous was in my midst. I hadn’t known it before, despite even the extra Famous entourages and vehicles circling the airport. I think that’s because I was sad to be saying goodbye to Jason, and he was sad to be living for Coco for six weeks by himself, so his usually excellent Famous-dar was off, and he didn’t warn me. But as the plane began to depart, someone pointed out that this guy was in our (Coach-class!) plane:
Suddenly, I knew how to get my money back! And I didn’t even have to call anyone or be not lazy. My mind raced with questions, important ones, such as:
Did you really give CPR to a hamster? Does Vlad even bother to put on a shirt when he meets with you? Does he even bother to meet with you at all (I think we all know the answer to that)? Am I the only person who occasionally confuses you with Mitt Romney? And, most importantly, Can I please just have my $6 back, or did you already spend it on haircuts for John Edwards? Because that might have been a waste.
Also, what is your theology of First-Class flying? Have you been taking lessons from Pastor Edgar?
But I never had a chance to ask any questions, because I was at the back of the plane, and by the time I stood up, some DC dudes were having deep and meaningful convos with him. They were all, like, “Hey Mr. Secretary, it’s great to meet you! My name is Really Important Person, and here’s my card. Please remember that you met me on a plane in DC and that I am therefore super qualified to work for you and do things that are important.”
The nerve! I bet their cars don’t even smell like vinegar. I certainly didn’t detect it on their suits.
So before I could leave, the one person standing between me and my precious $6 had vanished into thin air! Or an armored car. So all I have now is a distant memory. And a hungry cat.
Gender stereotypes tell us that there are big differences between men and women, but they are wrong. Obviously.
Take, for instance, anything wedding-related, where all humans have the exact same outlook and sense of how things should be done.
Or more for instance-ly, take wedding showers.
I shared last year on a new tea party sometimes-tradition amongst our pals. Last year’s event was met with great enthusiasm and spawned several new eventss centered around hat-wearing, as well as a fierce resolve to do it again and this time–maybe–invite the menfolk.
Well, the Tea Party Brigade struck last weekend. So for weeks e-mails flew around about who was going to bring the clotted cream and how we would mix up the hats. Not to be outdone, the boys began their own intense planning process, commencing at 6 pm, a whopping twenty hours before the shower:
Bro One: So what are we doing tomorrow? Were we supposed to plan something?
Girl: Well, I can make you guys some extra food if you want to hang out.
Bro Two: What should we do? How do we know who’s coming?
Girl: Here’s a list of the significant others from folks who have RSVPd. You could start by finding the groom and those guys and seeing what they’re up to and if anyone has plans.
Bro Three: That’s a long list. I don’t know if I want to have to call everyone. That’s going to be a lot of work.
Bro Two: Yeah, let’s think about it and see what we want to do.
By 9 pm, planning was in full swing for the next day.
Bro Three: So what are we supposed to do?
Girl: I don’t know. Y’all could grab a beer or something. I mean, really you can hang out with us.
Bro Three: No, that doesn’t sound fun.
Bro Two: We could go to the Mall and throw a Frisbee. Do we know what the groom’s up to?
Bro Three: I don’t know. Are we supposed to call him? Let’s just come tomorrow and see if he shows up, and if he does we can do something, and if he doesn’t we won’t.
Bro Two: Excellent. That sounds like a plan.
Shower day dawned bright and early, but since festivities didn’t begin until early afternoon, the guys had the morning off from their stressful planning. Bro Three accompanied his wife to set up for the shower, where he ran into the wife of Bro One.
Bro Three: So is Bro One coming?
Girl: Oh, I think he thought you guys decided not to do anything. He’s just at home. Do you want me to call him and have him come down here?
Bro Three: No, it’s okay. That sounds like a lot of work.
The set-up continued, and as the clotted cream made its appearance, and tiny sandwiches were filled with the refuse of pudding cups, flowers also began to line the teacup centerpieces. Soon it was nearly time for the party to start. Bro Three had retreated to his office, but upon hearing of food was lured back to the scene of the party.
Girl: So what are you guys doing today?
Bro Three: I don’t know. I think I’m the only one here. We didn’t tell anyone to come, and so they didn’t . . . Hey, look, there’s Bro Two!
Bro Two: Dude, I’m here. What are we going to do?
Bro Three: Who knows? Where’s the groom?
Bro Two: Oh! Actually I called him. He’s going to come, but I don’t know if anybody else is, because I think they might not know we’re doing something. What are we going to do?
Bro Three: Let’s wait until he gets here, and then we can get a beer and go jam.
Bro Two: Awesome.
The groom eventually showed up, and the well-crafted plan went off without a hitch. All of that careful and meticulous work resulted in a great, manly celebration, the fierce resolve to celebrate again–and the discovery that maybe the weaker sex isn’t as different from us as we had initially thought:
I spent the weekend at a conference in New England, which means that I spent the days beforehand visiting a dear friend who teaches at a residential prep school in the area. The school is the type of place that I thought existed only in movies or hyperbole, but I was so wrong.
They have handmade macaroons in the cafeteria.
Note: that is not a macaroon. It’s a dining hall. But they do exist, promise. The macaroons, I mean. And the dining halls.
Life in the 0.0001% isn’t all fun and games, though. Sometimes you have to go to class. Or chapel. Or mandatory gym time. But at least when you get done there’s a full frozen yogurt/ice cream bar in the
cafetorium dining solarium, dahling.
Speaking of the dining area, it was pretty cool, because the walls are engraved with former students’ names. This is just like the alumni walk at Ouachita, but instead of everyone chipping in their housing deposit, everyone has to chip in a quarter-million dollars for education, and then you get your name done for free. So actually I guess it’s basically the same.
When we weren’t in the dining hall, which actually was most of the time, we hung out at Friend’s on-campus apartment. I’d show you the photos I took, but then she’d have to be associated with me, which I can’t imagine is anything that the good people at Hogwarts will take kindly to.
Anyway, this post is completely pointless and not about anything at all, but really I just wanted to show you my travel photos. Here’s one more for the road. I call it, “building that’s basically the size of my entire university.”
I’ve long admired Margaret Thatcher.
It started when I was in grade six, and our family had come to the States for a few months of seeing family and testing whether a move to this place would actually take (it didn’t, at least not that time). My temporary school held a “Great Britain Day,” where the cafeteria served fish and chips, and the students dressed up as historical figures. Most of my classmates chose to be Hobbitses, and I decided that wasn’t the path for me—both because I refused to accept that they were historical figures and because I refused to accept that Tolkien was British (he was born in Bloemfontein, after all).
So Mom told me about this woman who’d served as prime minister of Hobbit-creator-stealing land and suggested that I go as her. I loved the idea of becoming a successful, powerful woman, and so loved the idea of learning more about one. She gave me an old suit jacket and some big earrings, and we tried to coif my hair. I looked up facts on this old thing called Encarta and in some old things called random books and set out to memorize my speech. Mom taught me the proper British pronunciation of the word “controversy,” as in “I caused a controversy when . . .” For my efforts I received the accolade of “Outstanding Margaret Thatcher Impersonator” and, of all things, a princess tiara.
I continued to admire MT—as I called her upon figuring out that her initials were the same as my nickname—in university. By then I had realized that the cutely-said “controversies” were big ones and that I wasn’t in, um, in full agreement with all of her actions. I had just finished my freshman year, coming in as a biology major and leaving as a history student, when we cleaned out my grandparents’ house. Among the books that I claimed was MT’s autobiography. Reading it in the midst of new-college angst, I remembered that the story was one of a woman who had trained as a scientist before deciding that wasn’t the career path she wanted, taken some time to raise children, and then become the head of a Western democracy. In the oldest of old-boys’ clubs. In the 1970s.
Depending on the day, I consider it either a blessing or curse to have begun my graduate career at a school where MT had served as chancellor and to have passed her portrait on occasion as I walked to class. Her term had ended then, giving way to Sandra Day O’Connor’s tenure, and having the opportunity to meet the not-yet-retired Justice at a student function was pretty much the highlight of my year. Why couldn’t Maggie have been more like her—you know, nice?
I’m older now than all of those former self-iterations and married to a man who regularly asks why I don’t just join the Communist Party already (because, Jason, do you even know the state of the Communist Party in America right now? To the degree that it exists, it’s downright conservative!). That man texted me yesterday morning with a simple message: “The Iron Lady is gone.”
So I flipped on the news and clicked on my Twitter app, ready to read analysis. What I saw instead were snappy tweets of “ding dong, the bitch is dead,” and “now that old cuntychops is in hell,” and a few others that don’t bear more repeating here.
Weren’t we just seeing petitions to take Rush Limbaugh off the air because of his awful language? Have we now decided that sexism and misogyny are okay and even funny?
As the day progressed, the bitch-shaming continued (and in a few well-placed cases, some young women co-opted the term to use admiratively). The memes continued to circulate. In my Africanist circles, it was pften a photo of Thatcher standing next to PW Botha, its top filled in with the word “terrorist,” in reference to her infamous statement that Nelson Mandela was a one and that “anyone who thinks the ANC will one day rule South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.” This well-written Guardian article reminded us that public figures have important legacies and that it is imperative to interrogate those, rather than merely fawning over them, at death. It came across several of my feeds as an apparent justification not just for reasoned dialogue and debate over someone who in her day did cause many a “controversy,” but often for continued name-calling and vitriol. Barack Obama, among others, found himself on the receiving end of some scorn for suggesting that a pioneering woman had possessed any qualities that his daughters might find admirable.
It’s perhaps a symptom of having been on Madiba Death Watch for the last few days that we’re ready to invoke the legacy of a man who wore Springboks jerseys and placed flowers on Hendrik Verwoerd’s grave before hugging the latter’s wife in order to justify hating someone who hated him three decades ago, back when many folks we know well—yes, even the progressive-leaning ones—remained, shall we say, unsure about him. But I really hope that we can do better.
I hope we can do better because, for one, there are funny things happening in the world. Yesterday one of our news anchors here in Washington mixed up their gender pronouns, inverting the results of the eventual Mandela-Thatcher meeting. And then there’s this Swedish newspaper. Come on, people, now that’s funny! Let’s laugh, already!
I hope we can do better, because our youth group middle school girls this weekend had a long and fruitful discussion about the enrichment that loving someone through disagreement can provide, and I’d love for them to see that work in real life.
I hope we can do better, because those of us who disagree with Thatcher’s . . . everything. . . can find examples of “the evil that (wo)men do living after them, (and) the good is oft interred with their bones,” and those who lionize her can have an honest discussion of the pain caused by a woman who found that “governing is making tough choices.” Those tough choices did often result in pain, and it’s important to remember that as well. But we negate all that discussion when we muck up the waters with insults.
Mostly, though, I hope we can do better, because I’m fairly certain that somewhere a little girl—or little boy—in a tiara may be hoping to follow in the footsteps of someone with whom they either agree or disagree in either massive or minute ways, and I’d love for them to think it’s possible for them to do so on their own terms, as Thatcher often did, in a world where we’ve moved past cheap/gendered insults. Because maybe one day it will be.
During the past few weeks I’ve been on a personal/research/conference trip of great cities on the weird and wonderful West Coast: (the greater) Seattle (area), Los Angeles, San Diego, and, of course, Austin. I’ve seen a lot of cool things, like my sister, the wedding of a dear college friend, beautiful landscapes, seals and pelicans fishing by the Santa Monica pier (I’m serious, people, a research trip to southern California is exactly what you are thinking it is, so obviously I need to find some more parking problems to learn about there), cousins, people who inspiringly don’t use social media more than once per half-second.
I’ve also continued on a year-long project to do some important research. And to research things relevant to my dissertation. As part of that quest I’ve been studying the DC parking problems of one Dr. Ralph Johnson Bunche. And other things that are actually relevant to the dissertation. As the literate amongst you know, Bunche was many things, among them a professor of political science at Howard, where he helped develop the department; the first person of African descent to win a Nobel Peace Prize; instrumental in the foundation of the United Nations and, eventually, UN undersecretary–the highest rank any American has attained in that organization; a marcher in the March on Washington; a native of Los Angeles via Detroit and Waco, but a resident and fan of the District of Columbia.
He was also a spy (bomp, bomp, bommmm), er well, whatever “Area Specialist” means with the Office of Strategic Services–that precursor to the CIA that famously got Julia Child all Frenchified and cookerized. As he relates to “actual academic research,” Bunche is someone who spent time in southern Africa with OSS and the State Department and interacted with some of the folks I’m working on, which makes me want to know whether he also wrote down gossip about them.
But honestly, for a diplomatic, spying, Peace Prize winning, undersecretary, he apparently had a great deal of trouble learning to park properly in Washington, DC.
Come on, man!
DDOT waits for no man (or woman). We’ve jested about that here (and here), but seriously, people. Seriously, like, seriously. It’s a ticket if you do obey the signs and a ticket if you don’t obey the signs, and if you breathe, and then you’re wondering if you’re really just a whiny moron or if the world really is that confusing.
But then you begin studying the DC parking saga of Dr. Bunche, and you realize that (a) this is a perfect example of why wild goose chases are hands-down the funnest part of historianish dabbling, as Cleo has so well explained here and here, that (b) either you’re a whiny moron in good company, or the world really is that confusing, and that (c) you need to figure out how to construct a dissertation based on the parking citations of prominent public officials.
The journey began in January at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black History and Culture, where I investigated some of the outlying papers the Bunche family had added to that collection following his death and transfer of most papers to Special Collections at the University of California at Los Angeles, his undergraduate alma mater. It was at Schomburg that I first came across some receipts indicating that Bunche had paid several $30 parking tickets to the District of Columbia in the 1930s. Also, it was there that I came across some things that are actually relevant to the dissertation, but that’s not what we’re discussing here, people, come on.
You guys, those are eighty-year-old parking tickets.
Since I don’t like to think too much about anything that happened prior to World War II, I wondered whether cars had even been a thing eighty years ago or whether Henry Ford was just spending the early part of the twentieth century assembly lining random stuff. As I pondered the question with Mom, she pointed out that my great-grandmother (from whom I inherited my correctly-spelled middle name, ahem, CHARM) died after being thrown from a Ford while picking berries in rural Iowa in 1925 and that the automobile was by then a well-consumed modern marvel, even if seat belts were not.
Okay, fine, we’ve had cars–and thus DC parking tickets–since basically the dawn of time.
So by the 1930s Bunche was a professor at Howard and the owner of a car of some sort, but not yet a high-level diplomat. He was a mere commoner, but a very bright one, which still points to the fact that if tickets were not inevitable, he would have been able to somehow understand the art and science of DC parking enforcement and avoid them.
Anyway, they’re just parking tickets. Right?
Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Then I traveled all the way to College Park, Maryland, to examine Bunche’s OSS file at the National Archives and Records Administration (II). I had high hopes of finding more information about those tickets (and things actually relating to my dissertation), even though they were in no way pertinent to anything I was looking at.
I opened Bunche’s personnel file and started reading away. As I looked through his recruitment paperwork, I noted two things:
1. At the peak of his career, Bunche made about $5,600 per year, making each parking ticket worth at least a half-percent of his income each year (and my guess is that his salary as a Howard prof may not have been commensurate to his salary at the peak of his career). I’m no financial planner, but if I were a financial planner, I’d tell you that you should probably not be spending a total of about two percent of your income each year on parking tickets, even though it’s not really that much money. Come on, man!
2. In the space for explaining previous criminal offenses, misdemeanors, or fines, those parking tickets were the only thing listed and explained. Which means . . . nothing really, other than that those freakin’ tickets were the only thing standing between this man and his nearly perfect record. Come on, people, learn how to park!
From there, I traveled to UCLA, where I discovered . . .
Sorry, folks. Due to the fact that I’m rusty at this whole writing thing and that this entry is already long, the saga will have TO BE CONTINUED, but just sit on the edge of your seats for a while longer, and hopefully something readable will fill this space at some point.
This week l learned more than I ever thought interesting or possible about the United States Navy (sorry, FB Navy fans. Please grant me mercy, for I am a weak woman-flesh and not built to understand such things; you should know that on this of all days). For that I blame Amanda Beth Blackstock. And snowquester. Somehow. We have to derive pain from that great, forceful storm. Somehow.
Our story begins not during snowquester, but during an actual snow storm (see: white flakes falling from sky, sticking to ground, clogging up roads). About five years ago, Manderz made a pilgrimage to the ‘Burg, which was actually a pilgrimage to visit her brother nearby, but whatever. I’ll take what I can get. It was during that visit that dear, young Manderz revealed herself to be a fan–nay, a derangedly obsessed devotee–of NCIS. We spent the weekend snowed in, and she was all like, “Myra, you have to watch this, and Agent Gibbs is just so funny, but he has a stern exterior, and you can solve mysteries.”
And I was all like, “Manderz, seriously, I don’t have the stomach for all of these murder shows. I can’t watch another one.”
But we watched anyway, and now five years later I actually find myself occasionally viewing and enjoying the exploits of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, partly due to Manderz’ enthusiasm and partly due to the fact that my family has also become a fanclub–nay, derangedly obsessed devotees–and I have no other choice.
So when Alyse and Andrew visited this week, we knew we had to hit all the Navy highlights. And churches. We are good Americans.
We began our journey at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, a place most famous for being the space where Jason’s grandpa attended school with John McCain and from which one Wilbur H. Smethers transferred to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Actually, to be honest, the Navy was not our primary reason for a pilgrimage to Annapolis. That would be Lysee’s commitment to seeing the Atlantic Ocean and insistence that the Chesapeake Bay was a more authentic part of it than her previously-seen Gulf of Mexico. It remains a fairly large point of contention, and I don’t even have the energy to devote to my correct argument here, but I’m just telling you, because it’s part of the story, so stop asking so many questions.
We told Alyse that if she ate crabcakes and saw ships, she could count herself as an Atlantic Ocean viewer. After our most recent attempt at a beach day (during actual beach day-ish weather), we decided Annapolis was as close as we’d get.
So when we arrived in the fair city by the bay, we decided to at least take some photos of the Academy for Manderz. We didn’t see any evidence of Navy criminals, probably because it was a cool 17 degrees. Naturally, the only thing we saw were Navyguys running around in shorts and T-shirts and Navygirls running around in shorts and T-shirts and boots.
But we did have a chance to visit the museum, where we learned some handy things, like how to amputate a leg:
And saw some meat from the seventeenth century:
And hobnobbed with John Paul Jones, who, as Alyse gathered from the exhibits, “saved the entire country with his pinkie toe:”
But we saw no evidence of the hidden navy criminals, so the next day we set out to photograph the home of Gibbs, et, al: Washington Navy Yard.
As it turns out, Navygals don’t like having their home photographed (surprise!), and nobody knows where NCIS headquarters are (surprise!), which flumoxed us to no end.
“I mean, it’s the number one show on television. Shouldn’t they be proud to show television tourists their home?”
Maybe they shouldn’t, but they’re certainly proud of the museum and adorable ship named Barry who sits in its harbor. Since we were anticipating a heavy snowfall and homebound-ness the next day, we felt happy to walk the approximately 1,700 miles to Navy Yard main gate and catch a few museum exhibits before closing.
Here are some dried out dead penguins from a Navy exhibition to Antarctica. Adorbs:
And I do love this poster. Don’t just read history, people:
But we still failed to find anything remotely resembling an NCIS photo souvenir for Manderz, so it was very sad.
The snow fell, and then melted, and when we went for donuts on the last day of our time together, we did make a very special discovery. While walking around the ol’ stompin’ grounds in DuPont Circle, we actually stopped to read the inscription on the fountain. Guess who Mr., or should I say Admiral, DuPont worked for?
So remember a couple of weeks ago when those giant rocks fell in Russia, and everyone freaked out, and it turned out that Dave Chapelle had predicted a future that turned out to be faked?
At some point during the discussions on Russian dashboard cams and opportunities to sell space debris for tens of thousands of dollars, I requested this photo (below) from my mother. Mainly I just wanted to say, “calm down, Vlad, and put your shirt back on. And leave those poor forest creatures alone. You’re not the only one who can have giant space rocks fall on you.”
But time passed, and I thought the photo wasn’t coming all the way from Canyon, Texas. But then a giant ice storm and blizzard came through, and now my family is trapped in their houses for the next few days with nothing to do but send photos of giant space rocks. So, yeah, the time for this post has passed, but it’s happening anyway. Mostly because Mom has learned how to take photos of photos with her iPhone and send them to me, and I want to reward that type of accomplishment (congrats, Mom!). Plus, saving this photo for the next time that a giant asteroid falls might not work, because annihilation of the planet.
All that to say, “calm down, Vlad, and put your shirt back on. And leave those poor forest creatures alone. You’re not the only one who can have giant space rocks fall on you.” Here’s the Hoba (or, as autocorrect says, “hobo”) Meteorite in Northern Namibia. I don’t want to brag too much, but it is the largest single-piece meteorite ever to fall on Earth. Take that, Russian dashboard cams!
Happy Tuesday, folks.