Tuesday, September 30, 2008

As Bush would say ... strategery

It would have been really handy as a kid having a staff of strategists.
I mean, when John McCain came out and said he wanted to delay the debate to deal with the economic crisis, Barack Obama's strategists came up with the "a president should be able to deal with more than one thing at a time" argument. Brilliant. (By the way, I was trying to be "post-partisan" by coming up with a brilliant McCain strategy as well. I put at least five minutes into trying to think of one -- and I came up empty.)
Anyway ...
If I would have had political strategists on my side as a kid, life would have been so much easier.
Take, for example, the time my sister and I decided we wanted to get the chaise lounges (or if we must be proper here, chaise longues) down from the attic. Our parents weren't home and our desire to lay out in the sun couldn't wait, so we went for it. We set up the ladder in the garage and up she went. She pulled herself up into the attic and took one step. And then her leg came through the garage ceiling. All apologies to my sister, but I wasn't worried about her. She would be fine. I was more worried about what kind of wrath we would face when my parents got home, so I immediately started trying to come up with some reasonable explanation for why there was a big hole in the ceiling. (My sister, being the good and perfect daughter, was suggesting we go with the truth. Fool.) I can't remember now how we resolved that struggle between good and evil. But certainly, if I would have had a team of strategists on my side, I could have turned that hole into something good -- maybe an escape hatch for mice in the attic or something.
Or let's take the time my sister and I decided to start a nice, cozy fire in the fireplace but forgot to open the flue. (Oddly enough, the 'rents weren't home for this, either). Sitting right in front of the fireplace we didn't realize how smoky the house was becoming. It was only when we left the room then looked back toward the living room that we realized ... we couldn't really see the living room anymore. Once again, I immediately started thinking of the cover-up. (Yeah, I know, it's the cover-up, not the crime, that gets you into trouble.) In my mind, the best way to cover this up was to get rid of the smoke, and that involved opening doors and windows and turning on our big exhaust fan. BIG mistake. Now, not only was it smoky, but now there was soot all over the living room. Think of how you smell after sitting all night next to a campfire. That was our house. I never said it was a good idea -- but it was an idea. If I would have had a team of strategists, they could have given me the proper talking points. I could have told my mom that it's good to have your curtains and furniture and carpet professionally cleaned every once in awhile. I could have told her that, at least until we opened all the doors and windows in the middle of winter, we had saved them money on their utility bill because all the heat from the fireplace was staying in the house. I could have told her that it was a nice sister bonding experience.
Alas, I had no strategists and was left to my own defenses. And trust me, for a kid who regularly explained being late for dinner by saying she had been picked up by a dinosaur on her way home and dropped miles away, that is not such a good thing.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

R.I.P. Paul Newman

Jan. 26, 1925-Sept. 26, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008


I miss coming home from work and seeing, from my living room window, the light still lit on the Capitol dome.
I miss the Capitol Hill police stationed at every corner in my neighborhood.
I miss walking and driving by the White House.
I miss getting stuck behind motorcades.
I miss running into senators in my corner store and seeing James Carville wandering down Pennyslvania Avenue.
I miss my reading spot in front of the Library of Congress and sitting on my steps at the John Jay.
I miss the protesters in front of the Supreme Court and the homeless guy begging on New York and Bladensburg.
I miss the solemnity of Arlington National Cemetery and the bustle of Georgetown.
I miss Eastern Market on the weekend, with a stop at Tunnicliff's for pizza.
I miss Lincoln and Jefferson.
I miss screwing up when driving around Dupont Circle.
I miss biking in East Potomac Park and stopping to watch the planes take off and land at Reagan National.
I miss marveling at the sheer size of the Pentagon.
I miss the bridges on Rock Creek Parkway.
I miss Thursday nights at Trusty's -- and leaving smelling like the bar fryer.
I miss my trips to Shenandoah and the 105 miles of peace I felt on Skyline Drive.
I miss the Smithsonian.
I miss the neverending construction on the underground Capitol Visitors Center.
I miss getting lost on my way ... anywhere.
I miss watching people play softball, soccer, lacrosse, football in the shadow of the Washington Monument.

I think, maybe, you get the point. And I haven't even mentioned the people I miss ...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A wish list

Sometimes I think my dreams are too big, my hopes too high.
I am not a wealthy person (at least not financially). And I think I'm more adventurous in my mind than I am in real life.
But having said that, there are a lot of places I'd love to see, cultures I'd like to embrace. If I had time to kill and money to spare, here are the 10 places that would be included in my first trip around the world.

Specifically, Petra. This is the absolute top of my list. I hate to think I'll never see it. Oh, and Jordan is home to my absolute favorite king, Abdullah II. (Yes, I DO have a favorite king.)

Does anyone *not* want to go to Australia? I don't think so.

I think it should be required that we all see the pyramids before we die.

OK. Maybe not the safest place in the world, but it does have mountain gorillas.

Worth the trip just to see the seals sunbathing on the southernmost tip of South America.

Many people would head straight for the Acropolis. Me, I want to see Santorini.

The buildings in Moscow just don't look *real.* When I think of Russia, I think cold and gray. I would like to be convinced otherwise.

Also not high on the "world's safest places" list, but I would love to wander through a market in Kabul.

I've seen Scotland from the coast of Northern Ireland. Now I want to see Northern Ireland from the coast of Scotland. And I never, ever tire of seeing castles.

I wonder how many people even want to *go* to Mongolia. This is on my list because I think it would be so utterly different than anywhere else.

Do you ever wonder?

I do. I wonder all the time.
I wonder about this girl with bright eyes and a bright smile.
I wonder some days if she's still a part of me. Other days, I'm absolutely sure she is.
I wonder if she'd recognize herself all these years later.
I wonder if she knew that life could be wonderful at times and painful at others.
I wonder if she'd be happy with who she has become.
I wonder what it would be like to be that age again, to live life again knowing everything I know now.
I wonder what happened to my blanket, my doi-doi.
I wonder.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

An addendum -- and a much nicer way to remember a friend

When I was writing about my friend Bill the other day (scroll down), I searched and searched for the card we received at his memorial on the lakeshore. I finally found it today and here's what it said:

When I leave you, don't weep for me.
Pass the wine around and remember how my laughing pleased you.
Look at one another, smiling.
And don't forget about touching.
Sing the songs that I loved best and dance one time all together.
As for me, I'll be off running somewhere on the beach, and I'll fly to the top of the tree.
I always meant to climb.
When you're ready, I'll be there waiting for you.
Take your time.

The birth of a phobia

Age 7. I think that's when it began.
That year, I was officially old enough to go on the annual dad/kid canoe trip. There's nothing cooler than a rite of passage when you're 7. Because it was my first year, I couldn't be in a canoe with my best friend, Crissy. Or with my brother and sister (as if they'd even WANT me in their canoe). Nope, I was in a canoe with my dad. (Thinking back on it now, that must have sucked for him. Fifteen miles of paddling pretty much by himself. I mean, what good is a 7-year-old in a canoe?)
So, it must have been about three miles into the trip when I realized: I have got to pee. NOW. My dad told me to go for a "swim" and pee in the water. I was horrified by this suggestion and refused. Being 7, I had no concept of 15 miles. Being 37, my dad knew very well how long 15 miles was going to be with a kid who needed to pee. About a mile later, he presented me with my only remaining alternative: Peeing in the woods. Later I would perfect the art of peeing in the great outdoors (and seriously, when you're a girl it IS an art). But, at 7, I had never heard of people doing such things. After much convincing (and probably a few threats) I agreed that it was the only option. My dad steered the canoe to the bank and led me up a hill, looking for the perfect place to do my business.
And then it happened.
I looked down at the forest floor and there were spiders scurrying everywhere. And I was barefoot. I tried to convince my dad this was not a good idea, that I could hold it for the rest of the trip. No dice. He found me a tree, then walked about halfway down the hill so I could have some privacy.
Now please let me tell you what is involved in pulling off a pee squat when you're a 7-year-old girl with no peeing-in-the-woods experience: It means you're completely exposed by the time you've gotten your bathing suit down to the necessary level. It was when I was in this exposed state that I realized that the tree in front of me was also covered in spiders.
That's when the shouts for my dad and the tears began. My dad lumbered back up the hill to see me half-naked and doing a kind of weird spider avoidance dance. The poor man did the only thing he could think of (the only thing that would get him to the end of that 15 miles): He held me up above the ground, facing away from the spider-infested tree and DEMANDED that I pee. And lucky for me, about three canoes from our group passed by at this precise moment and they all somehow managed to spot us up on the hill. (Yeah, thanks for picking such a *secluded* spot, dad.) There were shouts of, "Hey, whatcha guys doing up there?" and a lot of laughter.
When you have an experience like this, you've got no choice but to learn how to perfect the pee squat. I've done that. But the spiders ... I still can't get over the spiders.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Something I don't want to do while naked

Grabbed your attention, eh?
Well, there are multiple things I probably wouldn't want to do while naked (such as mowing the lawn or going to the grocery store) but this thing is pertinent to today.
I stepped into the shower this morning and was confronted by a spider the size of Wyoming (OK, maybe Connecticut).
This was not your run-of-the-mill spider. It stood on two of its legs and waved the other six at me menacingly. I think I heard a small spider laugh. I'm convinced that spiders can smell fear. So there I was, naked and with no defenses (such as a vacuum cleaner or a big can of Raid).
Now, some of you might think it's easy to dispose of a spider while in the shower. I am here to tell you, it is tricky. Once you get over the shock of being confronted by a spider when you are at your most vulnerable, you've got to figure out a way to make it quickly swirl down the drain without coming close to touching the tips of your naked toes. I filled my hands with water and dumped it on the thing and ... it didn't even move. I tried again, and the spider made a break for it. Now it's waving all eight of its legs at me -- and it's PISSED. Not only that, the thing is doing a spidey-paddle to the area farthest away from the drain and I'm doing a not-so-pretty naked dance trying to avoid touching the thing. Finally, it floats toward the drain and I think I'm about to claim victory. But, no. Mr. Spidey is not through with me yet. He swirls a few times and appears to go down the drain, but then magically reappears to taunt me again. My next attack involves making the water as hot as possible to show this spider I mean business. Problem is, I seem to forget that I'm in the shower WITH the spider. Do you remember back in the day when someone flushed the toilet or turned on the dishwasher while you were in the shower? Yeah, my plan was not really well thought out, but it turned out to be successful. The sucker finally surrendered.
But then I moved on to my next fear: Do you remember that movie "Alligator," when a baby alligator is flushed down the toilet, grows to some monstrous size and then starts picking off humans? Somewhere, down in the sewers, is a group of spiders that has it out for me.
I think I might be doomed.

Coming soon to a blog near you: The birth of a phobia.

I've taken the plunge

As if I needed *more* motivation to be lazy ...
I ordered TiVo.
I had been contemplating it for a while. Everytime Jenny asked if I'd seen "House" the previous night because she HAD to discuss it with someone. And everytime Patti sent me an instant message while I was at work asking, "Why don't they EVER listen to Tim Gunn?"
But the absolute final straw was when my mom got TiVo. Don't get me wrong. I love my mother to pieces, but she's not the most technologically inclined person on earth. The woman calls me from 200 miles away asking me to figure out what button she's pushed on her remote to cause a blank screen. (And I can say this all here because I'm just about 100 percent certain she hasn't the slightest clue what a blog is. *Megan and Col: Please don't bust me.*)
So I broke down. Now I'm waiting anxiously for my new toy to arrive. I'm excited to set the thing up so it will record old "Remington Steele" episodes for me, excited that I will never miss a single moment of Anthony Bourdain traveling around the world being snarky.
Ah, yes. My life will be complete.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Two simple thoughts

When you call yourself a hero, you are not a hero.
When you tout your own honor, you have no honor.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Revisiting a dark place

I was watching a show tonight about a mother meeting in prison with the man who had murdered her daughter. I've not had a child murdered, so I can't know her pain. I do know the pain of having a friend murdered, and watching this show brought it all back to me.
Silas W. "Bill" May was my neighbor when I lived a block from Lake Michigan in Miller. We became unlikely friends, he a recently retired university vice chancellor and me a 20-something journalist. He taught me that it was invigorating to swim in Lake Michigan in April. I taught him that it was fun to turn up the volume on Irish music and dance in the living room. He told me about his travels and I kept him up-to-date on politics. I bought the beer, he grilled the steaks. And somehow, we always managed to come up with solutions to all the world's problems during each conversation we had in our adjoining driveways.
My phone rang early on July 18, 2002. It was another neighbor, telling me that Bill had been killed. The day became a blur of dried blood in the driveway, police tape, TV cameras and tears. By the time the coroner's van pulled away, there was a suspect in custody.
Lamar Pierre Ricketts. He was 23 at the time. He had four felony convictions and was on parole from prison in Michigan at the time. He had seen Bill's Chrysler 300M in the driveway and decided he had to have it. He got the car, but he had to kill Bill to get it.
Before Bill's sisters arrived in town from New Mexico, I went with another neighbor to discuss the case with the prosecutor. In that office, I saw crime scene photos that I will never be able to erase from my memory. The weapons of choice were a piece of firewood, a wine bottle, scissors and a hammer. I had to excuse myself part of the way through the meeting because I thought I was going to be sick.
Ricketts pleaded guilty in September, then decided, against the advice of his attorney, to withdraw that plea. We all prepared ourselves for a trial and the prosecutor put the death penalty on the table. That seemed enough to persuade Ricketts to reverse course again. He pleaded guilty was sentenced in February 2003 to 92 years.
This brings me back to the TV show I saw tonight. I've often wondered what it would be like to sit down across from Lamar Pierre Ricketts, still a young man at 29. What would he have to say for himself? If he expressed remorse, could I even begin to believe him? Could I sit across from him and forgive him for taking away a brother, an uncle, a friend?
I wish I was brave enough to find out the answers -- his and mine.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Glad to be back

The last year has been ... tumultuous. Changes in my personal life, which led to changes in my professional life. I left a city I love, D.C., and moved back to Indiana. I questioned my decision every step of the way. (More than a couple people questioned my decision as well: "Indiana??? Why???")
When I left D.C., I felt like I had no choice. It seemed at the time to be a rash, out-of-control decision, but one I had to make.
A little more than six months later:
I've come to realize that decision was the one that helped me regain control.
I walked right into a job I love and I get to work with an amazing group of people (and I'm not just saying that because one of them might stumble upon this blog).
I am closer to my family, and I don't care how sappy it sounds, but I actually like my family.
I've reconnected with people from the old days and realized how much I missed them during those three years in D.C.
I've learned that people care -- and I mean really care -- about me, and they don't hesitate to come to my defense.
I rediscovered the Midwest, where people hold doors open for you, pull over for emergency vehicles, don't honk their horns, say "bless you" when you sneeze.

I'm not saying everything has been rainbows and bunnies. I still fear the same thing I've always feared and I have no control over that. But I've taken control of the things I can, and all it took was a 10-hour drive back home.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Incredibly random thoughts

There may be more of this to come, so let's consider this Part One.

* Is there one guy sitting in an office who gets the utility bill each month for, say, a huge place such as IU? How much is that stinkin' bill?
* Think of the main road you travel each day, now the most deserted road you've driven on. Now think of all the roads in between. Now multiply that by ... the world. Think of all the work and time it took to build all those damn roads.
* Has anyone ever admitted to actually falling for the Nigerian e-mail scam?
* Why is it so impossible for many people to grasp the proper use of the apostrophe?
* What do police officers actually do while you're sitting in the car waiting for them to come back with the ticket? It can't really take *that* long to check your record.
* I don't get fax machines.
* Look at your eyebrows. I mean, really concentrate. What a strange thing eyebrows are.
* Think of the last time you had a really bad cold. Where in the world does all that phlegm come from?
* I would hate to have to learn English as my second language. Seriously. Tear (as in drop), tear (as in rip) or trip (as in vacation) or trip (as in sticking your leg out in another's path) or crop (as in farm) or crop (as in a photo). I could go on and on. Someone please stop me.
* Has anyone ever heard Billy Mays (the OxiClean guy) doing anything other than screaming?
* Can animals tell that a person is allergic to them?
* Do any of the millions of infomercial products actually work as well as they do on TV?
* Belly-button lint. Weird.

On that note ...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Kind of makes you go "Hmm"

I got this from a colleague today and just thought I'd pass it along:

Let me see if I have this straight ...
* If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're "exotic, different."
* If you grow up in Alaska eating moose burgers, you're a quintessential American story.
* If your name is Barack, you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.
* If you name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, you're a maverick.
* If you graduate from Harvard Law School, you are unstable.
* If you attend five different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.
* If you spend three years as a community organizer, become the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a constitutional law professor, spend eight years as a state senator representing a district with more than 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend four years in the U.S. Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.
* If your total resume is: local TV woman, four years on the city council and six years as the mayor of a town with fewer than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified to become the country's second highest-ranking executive.
* If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising two daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian.
* If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a Christian.
* If you teach responsible, age-appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.
* If, while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system, while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant, you're very responsible.
* If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner-city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values don't represent America's.
* If your husband is nicknamed "First Dude," with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the United States, your family is extremely admirable.
OK, *much* clearer now.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Running from the law

So tonight at work, I'm reading a brief about a girl being pulled over for doing 118 mph on I-65. I jokingly say to a colleague (one who has heard all about my lead foot): That wasn't ME speeding on I-65. Fast-forward an hour or so and I'm driving home. I'm almost there, just one turn right and one turn left. And all of a sudden, there are the flashing lights. I go through the possible lines I could use and the best I could come up with was: Did you ever have one of those days? He wasn't amused. "License and registration, please." OK. Now I know for certain I am going to get a ticket. As I'm reaching for the glove compartment I realize what I'm going to find is ... nothing. I haven't put all the standard glove compartment crap back in the glove compartment since my car was broken into at the end of July. OK. Now the guy really thinks I'm a delinquent. He tells me he's probably going to write me a warning and I think: Yeah, right. Just WAIT until you see on your fancy police car computer that I've gotten two speeding tickets since moving back to Indiana in February. (Just a side note: Can someone please explain to me the difference between Maryland/D.C./Virginia cops and Indiana cops? I managed to live out there for three whole years without getting a single speeding ticket. Parking tickets, yes, and plenty of them. But I never got nabbed for speeding. I move back to Indiana and I'm a speeding ticket magnet. Can someone also explain to me why the ticket-writing process takes so long? Part of me believes it's because they want to shame you into not speeding again by leaving you sitting on the side of the road, lights flashing behind your car as others fly by thinking, "Sucker.") So after an eternity, the officer returns to my window and grudgingly starts to hand me a warning ticket, but only after pointing out that he now knows what I already knew: two speeding tickets in a matter of a couple of months. Not knowing what to say, I told him I had reformed myself since then. OK. That obviously did not make him happy. He had a look in his eyes that said, "I'm just about to tear up this warning and give you the real deal. And I'm going to keep you here for another half-hour." Instead he said, "Reformed? You reformed yourself by speeding AGAIN?" Oh no, officer. What I meant to say is that I had reformed until this very night, just a few minutes ago, when you pulled me over. I don't know what happened to me. I must have suddenly lost all of my senses and decided to put all of Carmel at risk by doing 65 in a 55. So shoot me. That's what I told him. Sort of. Or I might have just looked pathetic, sputtered an apology and drove the remaining two blocks to my apartment.
Lesson learned: Do not speed home on Wednesday night. You will get pulled over and will miss the replay of "Project Runway."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A memorial to nobody

I took this picture last month in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona (more photos from that trip to come) and the more I look at it, the more it bothers me. It can't have originally been a memorial to nobody. Whose picture is supposed to be there and what happened to that person? Who would want to deface (figuratively and literally) a memorial to someone's loved one? I know it's a small thing, but to the person who set up this memorial, it means a lot. To someone like me who stumbles across it, it's a reminder of the million injustices that happen everyday, everywhere. I'm no bleepin' Mother Teresa, but c'mon people. If there were 999,999 injustices everyday instead of a million, we would at least be moving in the right direction.

Do I have anything to say?

I've always read others' blogs with amazement. Where do they find the time? Do I have that much to say? And do I want to write it and save it for the entire world to see? If I write something and nobody reads it, have I really written anything at all?
So here I am entering the scary world of blogs. I don't know how frequently I'll post (I can hear myself already: I'll post something tomorrow.)
Let's see how long I last until laziness and procrastination get the best of me.