Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Spellcheck, Shmellcheck

Today's word: unprofessional.  Disclosure:  I didn't actually look up a word today, since I had something else to post, but that word most accurately describes what I'm about to tell you.

About a month ago, I sent an email to a personal banker at a large financial institution.  I'm going to stay away from actual names in this post, but let's just say that if we stopped shipping souls into the underworld, it could be called Hell's Embargo.  Wink.

The email went like this:
Hi there.  I talked briefly with a teller last week when depositing a check into my business account, and she mentioned that I could upgrade to an account that would not charge a monthly service fee. Is there a minimum balance I would need to maintain?  Please let me know.  Thanks!

The response I received went like this (I'm not making it up, this is word for word):
Hi I just get your email let me know when u wan come and set down whit me  so we can see what options we have for u 
Now, I will say that this person's name did appear slightly foreign, so English may not be her first language, and I'm willing to dismiss misspellings and iffy grammar.  Since I'm an editor by trade, I assume I'm overly sensitive to these kinds of things.  But it was the abbreviation of "you" that absolutely blew my mind.  Although I realize we live in a world that operates on text messages, I was pretty sure she was on a Blackberry somewhere, forgot she was answering a work email, and instead thought she was tweeting.  

However, I gave her the benefit of the doubt, as I really wanted my question answered, and I replied thusly:  I don't have a lot of time during work hours, but I could do 15-20 minutes on Friday if you're available. 

This is the response I received: 
What time so I can ready for u 

Yes.  Really.  This person was hired, presumably, to interact with customers and convince them to put even more of their hard-earned money into the bank's hands.  I honestly thought I might be getting punked, but by then, my curiosity was really piqued.  I decided I had to meet this person in the flesh.  So I wrote:  How about 11:00? 

The reply:  Hi can u meet me at 12:00pm I have 

And that was it. At this point, I closed my laptop, because I wasn't sure whether to laugh or scream.  Strike three!  I'd given her several chances that I probably shouldn't have, and I finally decided I would just have to live with the mystery of what her problem was.

About four days later, I got another email from her, to the effect of what happened to me, she was waiting.  I was still debating whether to call her supervisor and let them know exactly the kind of business communication that was leaving her desk, but since I had an opportunity to tell her directly, I did.

I told her that her last email was incomplete, and that I had solved my issue online (sidenote: it took two emails and was even intelligible!) I also said that, in the future, she might want to be a bit more professional in her email messages, since using abbreviations and not completing sentences didn't present her skills in the best way possible.

I tried not to be a bitch about it, because I really hoped she would take it as constructive criticism. I didn't have the heart to tell her that she came across as challenged in some capacity, or that I am now reluctant, if not adamantly opposed, to meeting with any representatives from this institution.  Oh, who am I kidding?  They have all my money.  And it's being held hostage by people who can't put sentences together.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Witchy Woman

Today's word: water witch.  Definition: One who claims to be able to find water by means of a divining rod; a dowser.

I thought this word was super appropriate this afternoon, since it was raining when I got off the bus.  I felt my mood go from "You know, work was pretty good today . . ." to "Motherf*#king rain!"  This reaction wasn't because it feels like all it's done this fall is piss down water, and it's not because I feel like we got cheated out of autumn leaves, when it's my favorite season.  It's because, for lack of a better term, I think I could rightly be called a water witch.  

Meaning, in an altered definition, that as soon as I get rained on, I become ill-tempered and slightly hostile.  There are very few things I hate more than being wet and clothed.  Aside from just feeling generally icky, my wavy hair responds schitzophrenically to moisture and it's difficult to navigate through raindrop-splattered glasses.  One of the most miserable two hours of my life was the morning I got caught in the rain at the Twin Cities Marathon, waiting for my sister's shitty boyfriend to run by and cursing, cursing, cursing myself for being too much of an idiot to bring an umbrella. Completely my fault, of course, I'm not saying otherwise.  I only wish she'd broken up with him before the race and not four months after.

I'm typically a good sport about most things.  I go places and do things I'm not super jazzed about, I eat places that are "meh," I rally from being dog tired, all because the people I'm with want to do stuff.  I hope my friends would say that I'm not a complainer.  But the only times you'll probably encounter a rather grumpy version of me is when I'm wet.

Or cold.  For as much as I'm cat-like in a downpour, I'm almost reptilian in my inability to regulate my body temperature.  One of my friends once told me, "We could wrap you in a buffalo-skin robe and set it on fire and you'd still be cold."  It's true.  I'm a shiver bunny.  My family claims that I was never this much of a wuss until I spent a very long winter in a bone-chilling 34-degree house in Japan. All I know is, if it's below freezing and you've planned an outdoor activity, count me out.  I went to the winter carnival about six years ago.  It was 15 degrees outside. As I watched the deliriously happy ice skaters, I could barely restrain myself from yelling, "What's wrong with you people!?"

It's not that I don't admire the hardy Minnesotans that surround me on all sides.  I do.  And it's not that I don't like snow.  I do.  But I like snow when it's outside and I'm inside, warm and toasty with my free heat, drinking a hot chocolate, curled up in a blanket with a book.

When people ask me which I would rather be, too hot or too cold, I always choose hot.  Because although I sometimes feel angry and a bit crazy when it's sweltering, when I'm cold, I lose all hope that I will ever, ever be warm again. (By the way, have you ever noticed how much people swear when it's freezing? You rarely yell "Dammit, it's hot!" But walk outside in the middle of  February and I dare you not to shout "F*#k it's cold!")

So evidently we've established that I have about a 10-degeee window of physical comfort. Maybe that makes me a snow witch in addition to a water witch.  Or maybe an ice queen.  If you want to bestow frigid royalty on me, I'll take it.  Just don't make me live at the ice palace.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Personal Problems

Today's word: personally.  Definition: 4) In a personal manner, took it personally.

I'm inclined to think people take themselves a little too seriously these days.  Maybe it's because the world is becoming increasingly bent around our individual convenience, and technology is designed to "belong" to us in increasingly smaller and more responsive forms.  Maybe it's because everything sleek and cool now starts with "i."  Or maybe it's because everyone has more of a voice online and can create exactly the life they want to present virtually -- Facebook profiles that are all about "me," Twitter updates every four seconds detailing the most inane snippets of daily life, blogs where anybody can write whatever's knocking around in their head and send it out for public consumption.

Author's note:  Yes, I realize I just lambasted the medium I'm currently typing in.  I can't deny it, and I can't even say that this blog is an exception, because that would be taking myself a bit seriously, wouldn't it?

But I think it's this warped sense of self-importance or entitlement that causes people to take ridiculous things too personally.  In the interest of full disclosure, here are two ridiculous things I take personally.

1.  Traffic.  Well, not traffic in general.  I don't assume that the universe is out to make me late to an appointment or that the road construction is some kind of punishment from God (although it feels like it sometimes).  It's not these larger concepts I'm concerned with; what I take personally is mano y mano ... when someone cuts me off or honks at me.  Irrationally, I assume that this person has somehow singled me out to pick on me, and that from that moment, we'll be engaged in a not-so-friendly give and take of vehicular tag.  

Of course, I don't act on this thought, partly because I think road rage is unbecoming, but mostly because I have no desire to get shot.  I remember that, in reality, that person has already moved on (literally and figuratively), and beyond being momentarily annoyed with something that may not have even been my fault, they will not be stewing over the incident ten seconds from now.  This doesn't apply to the time someone roared past me and gave me the finger out their window the ENTIRE length of the Mendota bridge, but I had just moved to the city from a town with three stoplights, so they probably had a valid point.

2.  Movies.  If anyone knows me even remotely, they probably know that I love movies.  I don't mean in a common, casual, "Oh, yeah, I think I saw that one" way, because if you can't remember it, there is either something wrong with you, or you weren't in the theater.  I'm not saying my attention to storyline and detail makes me a better person, I'm just saying that for me, movies do exactly what they're suposed to do: transport you to a world of their creation.  

So in my mind, movie viewing is serious.  It takes some effort (and silence) to stay engaged.  Therefore, it absolutely blows my mind when people talk during a film.  I don't care if you're in a theater or sitting at home with the latest from your Netflix queue ... if you have a comment or thought, keep it to yourself.  We're all still going to be here when the credits roll and discussion time begins. IMDB will be available to answer your burning questions about the last place you saw that actress. If you think the movie's too long or too boring or too stupid, maybe just leave.  But don't sit there and complain, ruining it for the rest of us. To me, that is the height of rudeness, and few things you do will tick me off more.

Naturally, those rules don't apply if we're watching something silly that we've mutually agreed to trash all the way through.  Oh, you didn't know the rules?  That's because they're crazy, just like all the things we get worked up over when we're taking things too personally.  I'm as guilty of it as anyone.

The problem with taking things too seriously is that by doing so, we're assuming the universe gives a flying rip about our personal issues, which seem enormous to us but are rather infinitesimal on a cosmic scale.  None of the things that happen to us are truly earth-shattering -- very few are even ironic, despite what Alanis Morissette would have you think.  (Rain on your wedding day?  Coincidence.  Rain on your wedding day when you're marrying a meterologist who predicted 75 and sunny?  Ironic.)

So next time I'm getting a horn blast on the interstate or resisting the urge to shhhhsh someone at AMC 14, I'm going to give that person, and the cosmos, the benefit of the doubt.  Most likely, neither of them intend anything malicious.  I guarantee they're not giving me even a fraction of the attention I'm giving myself.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Today's word: devil's advocate.  Definition: One who argues against a cause or position simply for the sake of argument or to determine the validity of the cause or position.

Is there anything more annoying than people who find it necessary to constantly play devil's advocate?  I'm not talking about those who interject in a helpful, well-meaning, "Hey, but think about this ..." kind of way.  I'm referring to the people who are compelled to just be contrary, no matter what the subject is -- the people who might secretly agree wholeheartedly with whatever is being said, but who would never in a million years admit it.  

Why not?  Who knows.  Maybe they don't like the person who came up with the idea.  Maybe they need to appear smarter or more worldly than everyone else.  Maybe they automatically resist anything mainstream. Or maybe their underwear's too tight.  I'm not a mind reader; all I know is it drives me crazy.

And yet, I have to admit, there have been one or two people in my life who have unintentionally brought out this quality in me.  For whatever reason, I felt compelled to disagree with almost everything they said.  I knew I was doing it, but I couldn't help myself.  Call it passive-agressive if you must.  I grew up South Dakota Lutheran, we practically took lessons in it.

However, I'm generally a very agreeable person.  I'm even-keeled, I'm pleasant, I'm empathetic, and there are shockingly few things that I have strong enough opinions about to dive into arguments that would lose me friends.  Sometimes I think I'm even too "live and let live, to each his own."  My dad once said to me, in all seriousness, "I hate to break this to you, but you're what many would consider a liberal."  If by that I'm labeled as someone who recognizes that everybody's just trying to get through this world the best they know how, then I suppose that's true.

Almost more than any other quality, moodiness really bothers me.  I don't like not knowing what I'm going to get every time I see someone.  Because then I have to adjust my life to accommodate their mood, and I don't think it's fair to make everyone around you suffer because you're angry or tired or insecure or whatever. I'm not saying people have to be all sunshine and puppies all the time, but I could do my best to help you out if you'd just give me a heads up about what's really going on.

What bothers me is that, when I played devil's advocate with people in the past, I was becoming the thing that I hate ... and I hate that. Don't they say that the qualities that trouble us in others are really our worst qualities, the ones we aren't willing to admit we possess?  Is that what makes it so easy for us to recognize them in others?

I guess, in the grand scheme of things, being slightly grumpy and disagreeable isn't the worst thing I could have done.  I mean, I wasn't really advocating for the devil.  Come to think about it, that's probably one of the few issues that I would feel strongly enough about to make or break a friendship.  

Because if someone actually came up to me and said, "Have you heard all the wonderful things about Satan?" ... well, I would still be an agreeable person.  But I would be an agreeable person running like hell in the opposite direction.


Today's word: offset.  Definition: There are more than you'd think, but I'm going with 5) Botany  A shoot that develops laterally at the base of a plant, often rooting to form a new plant.

The first thing this definition brought to mind was my ailing curly bamboo plant, which I've had for the last six years and, after thriving unbelievably for all that time, has now begun to wither.  The leaf tips are steadily browning, and it hasn't grown any new shoots, and I have no idea what to do about that.

I've grown quite attached to this plant, not just because it looks super cool, and not just because I bought it right before I moved to the Twin Cities on my own, but because it's the only plant I've ever been able to keep alive. I think the reason for this success is the fact that bamboo requires two main things:  keep it out of direct sunlight, and don't over-water it.  Oh, and you only need to water it about once a month.  That's a very big plus in my book, since I tend to forget to water greenery and only notice it when the leaves start dropping off.

(Case in point:  one of my coworkers went on furlough for a month and left me a note asking me to water his plants.  I put this note directly above my computer screen so I would see it every single day.  I finally gave those plants a drink eight days before he returned. They are still alive, but they all have PTSD.)

This inattentivness used to bother me a bit.  After all, it doesn't reflect well on my abilities as a caregiver for my as-yet-imaginary future children. I mean, I had an obligation toward another living organism that involved grabbing a glass, going to the tap, walking ten steps to the table, and pouring liquid on it, and I failed to do these four very simple steps on a consistent enough basis to meet that organism's basic needs.  But to those who would declare "Irresponsible!"  I say this:  Plants don't cry.

But what if they did?  And what if they cried all the time, for reasons unbeknownst to us?  Would we put up with a constantly weeping begonia?  Or what if they could express other emotions, and we were forced to live with calla lilies that laughed hysterically, or hostas that shouted obscenities?

I'm not saying it's logical, people.  I'm just saying think about it.

One of my favorite "Deep Thoughts" from Saturday Night Live goes something like this:  "If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down?  Maybe, if they screamed all the time, and for no apparent reason."

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, if you somehow ended up with a manic depressive African violet) plants do not cry, and I am reassured by this in relation to my parenting skills.  To be fair, you cannot forget to feed a kid for 20 days without hearing at least a small grumble.  I don't want to deter any intelligent single men who may just be my as-yet-imaginary future husband by revealing this personal fault.  So I will say that I'm reasonably certain I could make a pretty serious commitment to providing regular sustenance for our child. I find a good deal of comfort in that, and I hope they do, too.

Because I will probably want a partner in crime, so to speak, in order to acquire that imaginary future child.  Unlike plants, I can't just produce an offset that roots in next to me and magically springs upward out of the soil, ready to rock and roll.  But what if I could?

Think about it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fowl Play

Today's word (and I'm not making this up): bushtit.  Definition: Either of two small long-tailed birds of western North America having predominantly gray plumage.

So, besides the fact that this poor bird has been harnessed with a spectacularly embarrassing name, what else can I say?  Well, I guess nobody ever thought Barack Hussein Obama could be president with his moniker, either, so there's hope for the bushtit yet.

Interestingly enough, I had a chat about birds on the way home from the bus with my friend and fellow apartment building dweller Greg.  We live very close to a nursing home complex that features a pond, where you can find 20-30 ducks on any given day in the fall.  I told him that last week I walked out the front door to find about 15 enormous Canada geese blocking my path, which freaked me out.  As they stared me down, I momentarily thought there was a waterfowl rumble scheduled that I wasn't aware of.  And I knew, instinctively, that if they decided to rush me I was going down in a hail of feathers and profanity, and I was probably taking at least one of them with me.

Luckily, they waddled off peacably when I walked into their midst, and I didn't have to resort to ridiculous posturing, as I did at my last apartment, when I encountered a giant raccoon at the garbage dumpster.  It was dark, I wasn't paying attention, and I didn't see it until I was about 10 feet away.  I froze.  It froze.  We both stood there, suspended in time, as I thought through my options:

a.  Turn around slowly and climb three flights of stairs back to my apartment, with my garbage.
b.  Drop my garbage and back away.
c.  Keep moving forward and risk rabies.

In the end, I went with d. Lunge forward dramatically while roaring.  Yes, I roared.  I yelled something akin to "Raaaahhh!" and hoped it would be gangsta enough to show the little robber that I was no Jack Hannah.  It worked, if only because, well, who saw that coming?  Not me, I guarantee you.  But you do what you gotta do.

And I'm not alone.  Greg told me that one morning, while tending his garden just behind the building, he was attacked by a turkey.  Out of nowhere.  Granted, they're delicious, but prior to basting I hear they're really mean. So now I have this image of my neighbor, who is a 6'3" black man in his 50s with dreadlocks down to his knees, a very imposing fellow with a gentle smile, battling Thanksgiving dinner in the backyard.  For those of you who aren't good at reading context clues, I'll end the suspense:  he survived.

Do we react this way simply because, as city dwellers, we are caught off-guard by wildlife?  Are we animal lovers until we're ambushed?  Would I be wrong to underestimate a bushtit based solely on its name?  Because if gradeschool taught us anything, it's that kids with weird names need an extra thick skin and maybe some karate moves if they're going to survive. I'll let you know if I ever take a roundhouse kick to the face courtesy of today's word.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A New Leaf, A New World

All right. I'm consistently disgusted with myself at my inability to post on a regular basis ... not quite as disgusted as I am with the fact that I've had a novel in progress for three years and am on page 80, but still, pretty ticked off. So I've decided to make this blog more of a writing exercise, in the hopes that the two failures are somehow connected, or at least that they might feed off of one another if I get on a roll.

Here are the new rules. Every day (yes, every
day, part of my brain that would prefer naps or TV!) I open the dictionary randomly and stick my index finger down. I'm using a real dictionary, not -- they still exist, although I believe this one used to belong to Macy's, much like 40 hours of my life each week and my 401k.

Whatever I land on, I have ten minutes to think about. I then have twenty minutes to write about it in a semi-intelligent way. When those twenty minutes are up, I'm done. No cheating. It's a jump-start, not a marathon. That was a mixed metaphor, but I'm moving on. See? Not deliberating endlessly and tweaking and refining as I go, but just hitting period return.

Today's word: George III.
To be honest, I briefly considered discarding this one as a trial run, because it pretty much blows. But since I'll no doubt be sending even suckier ruminations out into the blogosphere, let's roll with it. Definition: King of Great Britain and Ireland (1738-1820) whose policies fed American colonial discontent, leading to revolution in 1776.

So this is the
King George, the big kahuna, the one who touched off this whole crazy and beautiful thing we call America. I say beautiful because, for all its faults, it was a country founded on ideals and created in one of the ballsiest, most brazen ways possible. You have to admire the huge middle finger George III saw floating back at him across the Atlantic, along with his tea.

Which brings me to the recent "tax day tea parties" and the voicing of dissent in this day and age. I don't necessarily agree with those groups' rhetoric, but they deserve to be heard just as much as I do. That's what I love about America, and what most people take so for granted that they really should be ashamed: if you're unhappy with something, you can say so. You can shout it in the streets, and nobody's going to knock on your door in the middle of the night and drag you away to rot in a political prison. Unless you did your shouting from 2000-2008 and Dick Cheney happened to overhear you, which, given the wiretaps, he probably did.

What? A little liberal humor, you say? Get used to it. I'm a midwestern chick with a very open mind and a very low tolerance for bullshit.

Here's the problem with free speech, though. It's all or nothing. You can't put restrictions on it, even for groups like the KKK, whose sole mission is to espouse hatred (and boy, do we need more of THAT floating around these days!) Because who decides what's acceptable and what's not? I mean, besides the majority, and what if you're not in the majority?

That, I think, is what many people fail to consider. What if your party wasn't in power? What if you didn't grow up with food on the table? What if you couldn't afford an education, or health care, or housing? Forget being born a different race or gender or sexual orientation, I'm talking that fine line of chance that divides the haves and have nots. If the recent economic crisis taught anybody anything, it might have been how close the fortunate are to being "unfortunate" ... often just one paycheck, just one step off the path, and we find ourselves heading in a direction the world chose for us, sent on our way powerless and hopeless.

But that's when it's most important to have a voice. When nothing else can speak for you: not your money, not your status, not your job or your connections. The Founding Fathers gave all Americans that voice. Of course, they also gave all Americans AK47s, according to the NRA, which also get messages across pretty effectively. So really, guys, you're 1 for 2, and thanks again for being so vague.

If I can quote Jerri Blank in every episode of Strangers with Candy
: "I got somethin' to say!!" And it's true. Everybody has something to say, and thanks to modern technology, they can say it ... 24/7/365 ... even if it's stupid or offensive or just the most effed-up thing you can imagine (she typed, realizing she was adding her own two unsolicited cents to the cacophony). And while this is certainly no giant middle finger protesting injustice to anyone in particular, I've said my piece.

Now I'm laughing, because I just imagined George III logging onto the internet (in a very humorous, anachronistic way), and reading thousands of angry comments left by the colonists at his website:

ps. Editor's note: I just spent an hour on this, so we're going to have to revisit that 20-minute rule.