Monday, September 29, 2008

Dog is My Co-Pilot

Without question, my "new" apartment is significantly less intense than the last: the police haven't been there once; no one is cooking meth (as far as I can smell); and rather than wearing a snowsuit to bed in the winter, I sometimes feel the need to prop open a window to cool the place down.

So in terms of safety and overall comfort, it's an improvement.

But that's not to say it's perfect; far from it. There was the bathroom incident, for starters. Or the fact that my landlady has a habit of letting herself in unannounced, and generally fails to properly finish necessary repairs.

And the last guy to live above me was a neurotic, heavy walker who seldom took off his shoes when he was home but often bounced on the hardwood floors at a pace Michael Phelps would be hard-pressed to match in an Olympic-sized pool.

He suffered from hearing loss, a problem he accounted for by turning his radio up to obnoxiously high decibels, his speakers just inches above the rotting hardwood that separated our abodes. In other words: I could generally sing along with his music, the tunes so clearly broadcast into my home office.

But he was a nice guy, actually, and when I once mentioned the loud music to him, he apologized profusely and generally (though not always) kept his music down. Which is to say: he put his speakers on a rug, so the sound was muffled. It was still audible, but at least it was nowhere near as distracting.

When he moved out, I was thrilled to discover his replacement was a light-walker: someone I could occasionally hear walking, but only in the same way it's impossible for anyone to entirely snuff out the sound of their steps on an old, creaky floor. His music is generally kept down; and though I can make out his television set when my apartment is silent, if I turn on something in my apartment, I don't hear his TV at all.

It was near bliss until I realized he had one great flaw — a disturbingly dark mark on an otherwise clear complexion.

He has a dog. A small, yippy thing that barked almost constantly the first couple weeks after he moved in. But rather than complain — either to him or my landlord — I chalked it up to anxiety with being in a new place and figured I'd give the pup some time.

And that seemed to work. The dog barked less and less, and in the past month or so I've heard it bark fairly regularly, but never at intervals as long or as pronounced as those first two weeks. In short: it was occasionally annoying, but the bouts of annoyance were generally short-lived.

Short-lived, anyway, until this past Friday. The dog was barking when I got home at 5:30 p.m., and barked off and on for the next two hours... at which point, the pace picked up and was a near-constant until well after 2:30 a.m.

It was around 1:45 that I finally called my landlady, something I've never done before (at least: never in regards to a neighbor). She could hear the dog barking through my phone, as though the pooch were inside my very apartment.

She was skeptical that it was coming from immediately above me, as that gentleman — as it turns out — actually has two dogs. This became apparent to me when she went upstairs (she lives in the basement, three stories removed — and on the opposite side of the building — from the sound) to make sure my neighbor was OK.

We'd theorized that either:

• He'd left his dogs alone for hours, and the yippie one was lonely and/or needed a potty break.
• He'd had a heart attack or some other major medical incident and needed help

When I heard her walk into his apartment, the yipping continued but was joined by a deep, guttural bark from a presumably much larger canine. I was terrified for a moment that she was going to be attacked but as the footsteps continued and I heard her shout for them to shut-up, I figured she was still in one piece.

So as the two dogs barked and I tossed and turned in my bed, my alarm primed for 5 a.m. and a 3-hour road trip on the horizon, I waited for the wail of a siren to come to my neighbor's aid.

But no such thing occurred. Rather than lying unconscious on his floor, he wasn't home. And hadn't been home. Instead, he'd left two dogs, one of them quite large, cramped up inside a one-bedroom city apartment, potentially all day. And most certainly all night. Maybe he checked in on them once; there was a 1/2 hour period of silence around 10 or 11 when I thought maybe he'd returned home.

But then the barking resumed, and I was no better off for the brief silence.

I was angry and irritated. Exhausted and anxious. It occurred to me to give up entirely and hit the road then, rather than waiting for sunrise. But I knew I'd fall asleep the moment I got behind the wheel, so instead I alternately packed my belongings for the trip; crashed exhausted into my bed; and then got up again when it became clear — once again — that I couldn't sleep through the barking.

This cycle continued for five hours, when at long last — around 2:30, maybe 3 — I heard the hallway stairs creak, followed by light footsteps on the floor above me.

The dog hushed, its owner (or possibly animal control) there at long last to end our misery.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Boy Toy

Cousin: So do you have a new boyfriend yet?

Me: *pause* Do you have a new boyfriend yet?

[I should add that said cousin is a heterosexual male.]


Because of these and similar questions, which I seem to be hearing a lot lately, I've begun RSVP'ing to important events for 1 1/2 people, having re-instated a certain man of mystery from a decade-old retirement.

My closest friends know what that means.*

*No, it's not dirty. And NO, I'm not pregnant.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You Know It's Over When... immediately turn a conversation about all of the attractive, single guys who'll be at your friend's wedding into a discussion about your cat(s).*

*Of particular concern is when said conversation devolves into a wistful remark of how utterly cute it is when you reach down to pet said cat and she lovingly puts her paw on top of your foot.**

**Not that I would ever talk about something like that.***

***Who needs human companionship, anyway?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Netflix Flop

Let me say, first of all, that up until about six weeks ago, I was a happy Netflix customer.

They had nearly every movie I looked for, and I think it's great that renting a film no longer involves city traffic or stress about returning a movie on time. I just queue it up, wait 1-2 days for delivery. And, voila, it's in my mailbox.

[Assuming my mailman delivers mail that day — he regularly takes days off without having a temp fill in.]

I can keep the movie for as long as I want, with no late fees. With a flat monthly rate, though, the incentive is to watch as many movies as possible to get your money's worth.

But lately that's been nearly impossible.

Starting with the downed servers that cramped service for days just a few weeks ago — which I thought at the time they handled well (from a public relations perspective) — service just hasn't been the same.

Instead of a two day turn-around time between when I drop off a DVD and receive another one, the last few cycles it's been more like a 5-day turnaround. At one point I even reported two disks missing, having dropped them off early one Thursday and not hearing anything from Netflix by the following Monday (usually, you'll get an e-mail the next morning saying they were received).

But that's just the beginning.

Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? was sold out the one time I tried to see it in the theatre, so I saved it to my Netflix queue the very next day, hoping that meant I'd receive it the moment it came out on DVD.

When the film moved from the "saved" (in other words: not yet released) portion of my list to the "queue" portion, I immediately moved it to the #1 spot in my queue.

When the film released on DVD August 26, I thought for sure I'd have it August 27. But instead, its availability was listed as "very long wait," and it was another two weeks before this status was updated to "long wait."

I was immediately peeved, since by this point it'd been saved to my list for well over a month. Maybe even two. Shouldn't they have been able to meet their immediate demand by basing the number of DVDs ordered on the number of users who had the film in their queue prior to release?

But that, still, is not my biggest gripe.

You see, a co-worker/friend of mine was asking for my thoughts on Netflix, and I actually gave the service a glowing recommendation — with the aforementioned disclaimers referenced in our conversation.

He signed up and is currently in the third week of his free, 30-day trial.

Just for kicks, he added Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? to his queue this last Friday, when he still had some movies at home. The availability for him was immediately listed as "Now."

He suggested maybe I should remove it from my list and then add it again. You know... refresh my queue.

So I did.

"Long Wait," it said.

And this morning... well, early this morning he sent me this:*

(Click the image so you can read the type.)

Thing is, he doesn't even want to see the movie. So the good news is, he'll be loaning it to me when it comes in.

And while I'm happy about that, I'm nevertheless ticked at Netflix for so blatantly ignoring their loyal users in the quest to mislead (by prioritizing their demands) potential customers.

I understand this practice from a financial perspective but find it to be dishonest and unfair, all the same.

I think I'll just let my own screen capture, taken later this morning* — some two months after the film in question was saved to my list — speak for itself:

*Screen captures edited only to protect anonymity. No other changes made.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Day in the Life, Part IX
"Temporal Lobe Apathy"

I've always felt out of place among crowds.

I even remember the first time I experienced that sensation: I was 9 or 10 years old, and it was half-time at a high school basketball game.

I ventured out into the common area with friends for restroom breaks and nachos and -- in my case -- however much gum I could purchase with the quarter in my pocket.

But the area was packed with people navigating in all variety of directions, dozens upon dozens of conversations all buzzing into one. There were foot steps, I remember, and the smell of popcorn was ripe in the air (along with cold dragged in from the outdoors and perfumes and colognes and sweat and the last bounce of the basketball fresh off the court).

I was overwhelmed by all five senses, a certain nausea developing in the pit of my stomach and lingering as a pseudo-numbness in my hands.

I wanted nothing more than an open space, from which I could safely sit and observe the sights and smells and sounds without being a part of them.

There is something profoundly melancholy about so much of everything at once, I thought (or some juvenile version thereof), making my way to a bench and waiting for the crowd to clear.

There was a similar nausea, too, just days ago when I was away from everyone and everything but myself, and these memories:

I was looking at recent photos, scrolling one by one until something got... stuck... and the program started to scroll at its own, accelerated rate. Each image was on my screen for a split second -- at best -- before my computer shuffled on to the next.

By this manner the last six months of my life flashed by in one minute, maybe two. It unrolled like a movie -- a flipbook -- with people laughing, walking, talking... sometimes in sequence.

There were sunrises and sunsets of mirror image vistas. Flowers from all variety of angles.

Fireworks taking off.


And then falling.

It was perhaps one of the most surreal experiences of my recent life, and I spent it entirely alone.

No crowds.

No people.

Just memories.

And the same sickening overload.

I learned recently that these experiences may very well be the result of a medical condition.

I was watching a movie wherein one of the lead characters periodically enters a sort of... trance... where he becomes hypersensitive to the world around him, staring off into space only to later talk excitedly about something as simple as a flower, or as light as a breeze.

It was theorized he suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy -- a very real condition that has, as I've since discovered -- impacted a great many brilliant minds.

Artists. Poets. Musicians. Playwrights. Novelists.

A list of people I'd be proud to be listed among.

People who suffer from things like hypergraphia, deja vu, and jamais vu. People who were at once overwhelmed

and underwhelmed

by the world around them: sensations I've lived and relived for much of my life.

Now this isn't to say I wanted to find that I had a condition (and particularly not epilepsy, whose harsher effects I certainly don't intend to downplay); rather, I was mystified to think of creativity as a symptom.

A marker of illness. An anomaly.

It saddened me, in a way. Another facet of personality explained by medical science.

Is nothing real?

Is everything about biology and nothing about soul? Or even ephemera?

But I digress.

Greater research on the matter has confirmed I don't have T.L.E., a realization that leaves me as relieved as it does concerned.

Worried beyond belief that -- in the world at large, and my life --

normalcy will crush or cure the opposition.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Day in the Life, Part VIII
Empathy for the Living

My mind is a cacophony of words; images; thoughts.

It is silence, and then a terrifying mess of sounds.

It is awash with ideas and experiences, old and new, many now too lost in time to ever be communicated or understood.

For example: everything you see here is three months old — a single two days plucked from the early summer — though the words are a bastardization of every moment since.

But let us work backwards, for a moment. The unordered order of the recent past.

Yesterday I skipped the post-work workout and drove directly home; tired and unmotivated for anything other than sleep.

When I pulled up to my apartment, I was first greeted by a neighbor (don't worry, I like this one) and his dog. A short conversation and a minute or so later, and I was unloading my car when a man on a bicycle pulled up behind me and said:

"Excuse me, miss. You speak English?"

"Yes," I said, turning around to find a face as vaguely familiar as those words.

And then it hit me. Again and again, as he continued to speak.

He was exasperated and out of breath; a wad of cash in one hand and an inhaler in the other.

And then his story — as familiar as the cash, the inhaler, the bike — began:

He just needed a few more dollars (he said, showing me the wad of tens and twenties) to get his inhaler filled at the Walgreens down the street. He isn't going to hurt me, he said, he just needs a little help so he can get his asthma medication.

"I gave you 10 bucks for your inhaler a couple months ago," I said truthfully, realizing his plea was as likely a ruse before just as it was then.

"I know, I know," he said. "But I just need a little more. It's for my daughter," he said, gesturing to the invisible no one over his shoulder after repeating a story to me that was otherwise identical to the one before.

"I'm sorry," I said, shutting my car door, angry with myself for having ever given the ten dollars in the first place.

"God bless you anyway," he said, pedaling hurriedly on to his next victim.

I looked at my car and sighed, wondering if he'd return later to "bless me" (and my vehicle) for our lack of alms.

And three days before:

His face crinkled and flushed into a melancholy red as he let out a painful sigh.

"The sun is going down," he said, looking out of the window. "The sun is going down and I haven't seen my mom all day."

The inflection at the end — coupled with his keen observation of the rural horizon — was what killed me, my body filling with a sort of empathy that, these days, is reserved especially for him.

He's only six, after all. Going to school all day for the first time in his life, leaving his mom at home alone with his infant brother. Spending three nights a week refining his martial arts skills, and every other weekend with his grandparents.

But that wasn't all I thought about then, putting my hand on his shoulder and telling him I'd let his Papaw know it was time to take him home (it wasn't our weekend, after all).

Secondary to my concern for him, it bothered me that it's seldom his father he misses (or at least: that he talks about missing). That he's become so used to that absence in his life, it's hardly worth mentioning. It is, after all, his father who swims in the same gene pool as I, and it pains me to think our role in this little boy's life could be in any way amiss.

But I shake off the thought, reminding myself that this attachment between a mother and child is historic. An inevitable fact of life, really. It's the mother they so often cry for; seldom the father.

Why is that?

"But I can't go yet," he said, sniffling and wiping his eyes. "I need to bull ride Papaw first."

I informed my father of this change of events and stood by, amused, as my nephew threw on his favorite cowboy hat and hopped onto my father's back.

He was smiling and laughing in seconds.

It was the same smile I saw three months ago when I opened my apartment door to find him on the other side.

He marched in, hands on his hips, and rattled off a list of things he wanted to do during his weekend visit.

And, boy, did he keep my parents and I busy. Museums

and aquariums

and sculpture parks

and hatcheries

(just to name a few).

I had fun, really. All of us did.

But one thing really struck me on that trip, something that was solidified this past weekend:

There's no denying he resembles both of his parents, but it's particularly interesting for me to see him now: he's the same age his father was when I was born.

And now when I look at him, I see the beginnings of the boy I first remembered.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

McCain Defends His No. 2

Attacking policies and track records?

That I understand.

But for the love of God, let a man have his No. 2 in peace.

[And, no, that isn't an Onion article — though the headline certainly reads like one.]