Thursday, December 31, 2009

So Take a Look, It's in a Book

Hi, I am the Pantless Wonder and I am a book-aholic.

I read the way other people flip on the television for background noise. I read the way other people watch sports, surf the web, play video games, or drink. It’s my passion. You see, my “little black book” is probably a little different than yours. Mine is filled with book titles and authors. I read in the bathroom, the kitchen, the bedroom, and every room in between. I can read on trains, planes, but not, strangely in automobiles. I can read while holding a baby and bottle, while walking on the treadmill, or while taking a bath (where I usually prefer magazines). When I am feeling down or particularly scatter-brained, I just re-read something, usually Terry Pratchett or Sharon Shinn.

Am I a little obsessive? Well sure, aren’t you about your hobby? You see, my love of reading started early in life. I can tell you with authority that the best Christmas gift I ever received was an entire box of Three Investigators books when I was a child. And I don’t mean a piddly boxed set. No, my friends, I mean the entire 43 books of the series. It took my parents months to gather all the books (pre-Internet of course) and I had to wait until mid-afternoon Christmas Day to even open it because my dad worked that year. Oh my, but it was worth the wait. I remember being speechless. I also remember that it took me until mid-August to finish them all.

My husband shares in my obsession, but sadly, our taste in reading rarely overlaps. Our shared to-be read shelf never contains more than ten books. He reads fantasy, I read sci-fi. He reads Vince Flynn and David Balducci. I read Neil Gaiman and Stephen L. Carter. We are only bonded in non-fiction, where we occasionally share business or sports books. This means of course, that our shelves groan under the weight of many different genres, but it also means that neither one can get in trouble for spending too much on books. In our house, there is no such thing.

This year, I read 59 books. I kept track. That doesn’t count re-reads, of which there were at least a dozen. My goal was to finish my to-be-read shelf before 2010, but I still have World War Z to get through (a Christmas gift) and the new Pat Conroy, which I keep trying to read, but keep closing due to my allergic reaction to flowery prose. Here are my top five reads of 2009:

1. The Post-Birthday World – Lionel Shriver
2. Sing Them Home – Stephanie Kallos
3. Lamb – Christopher Moore
4. Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates (a re-read, but still fantastic)
5. American Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld

And to be fair, here are the first books I wish I hadn’t bothered with:

1. Lord John and the Hand of Devils – Diana Gabaldon
2. Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time – Rob Sheffield
3. Look Again – Lisa Scottoline
4. Coronado – Dennis Lehane
5. What Dreams May Come – Richard Matheson

So with another year about to begin, I will start another list, rip a new page off my Book Lovers Page-A-Day calendar, add more titles to my little black book, and try to find even more time to read than last year. We’ll see how that goes – those pesky kids keep getting in the way. If you find a good book, pass it along. I keep every book I’ve ever read, but I’ll pass along the info to the next book lover I meet.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Adventures in Bargain Shopping

Christmas is over. The month of anticipation and shopping is past. The elf has been returned to the North Pole. The wrapping paper and boxes are in garbage bags, the toys are neatly put away in the playroom, the various videos from Santa and President Obama (no really!) have been deleted from my e-mail, and the Christmas movies will all get one more watching before being deleted from my DVR. Today, we are having a day of rest. We are not leaving the house. My son and I are wearing pajamas. My daughter is in a princess dress. Of course, she isn’t wearing one of the new ones Santa brought her, but her old tried and true Aurora dress, which I believe counts as her personal version of slumming it.

Why do I mention this? I set the scene today to explain why on Saturday, the day after Christmas, I went to Target to make a return. My thought process was simple – crowds vs. kids. Either I braved the crowds alone on Saturday, or I took the kids with me on Monday. Never having ventured to a store on the 26th, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

The first clue that I was in trouble came before I even entered the parking lot. There is one way into the shopping center containing Target, and it shares a stoplight with the adjacent mall. I naively thought that the backup was due to heavy mall traffic. Sadly, this was not the case. Picture a maze. There is one true path to get to the center, but many shortcuts and side paths that lead nowhere. Now, picture the maze filled with cars going in every direction and you’ll have the basic idea. So, I did what any sane individual would do and I headed for the service corridor behind the stores, bypassing the entire parking lot. Yes, I would up on the opposite end of the store from its one door, but since I am not actually the Wicked Witch of the West (despite the fear that I would inherit the hat from my mother) I don’t melt in the rain and just walked the rest of the way.

Now, considering the amount of cars outside, I expected an equivalent number of people inside. Strangely, this was not the case. Customer service was empty and I made my return with ease. But then it got weird. There wasn’t anyone actually in most of the store, excepting the electronics department. I walked around for a few minutes and only saw the same one guy on crutches looking for something to buy with his gift card. He was having a hell of a time. The aisles were stripped bare of any form of merchandise. Entire racks hung empty, entire rows of shelves were vacant. There wasn’t a sale to be had because there wasn’t any stuff to buy. Even the Christmas section was devoid of anything worth more than three dollars. But where were all the people? The parking lot was packed! What the hell was going on? I finally realized the truth – the aisles weren’t crowded because there was nothing to stop and look at, so people just kept wandering around. The entire store was a slow-moving mass of people with empty carts and empty hands. As long as I kept rotating around the departments at the same pace as the rest, we’d all just keep circling each other, distant moons and planets all in the same orbit.

Back in my car, on the far, far side of the store, near nothing and no one, I witnessed another strange phenomenon. Every minute or so (I sat and watched to be certain) a car would drive around the back of the store, never to return. I pondered the possibilities. Alien abduction? Black hole? Large package pick-up? Time warp? Police trap? My choice was simple – drive into the fray and spend the next hour moving inch by inch out of the parking lot, or take a leap of faith and follow the disappearing cars. I chose wisely. Turns out, someone had opened the gate to a neglected service road that led into a residential area and I was out and on my way within 60 seconds.

What have I learned from this experience? No return is worth the bewildering emptiness of a store that has everything having absolutely nothing.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ho Ho Ho

This poem is copyrighted by Neil Gaiman. Written by him as a Christmas card many years ago. I have borrowed/appropriated/stolen it for your benefit. Enjoy and have a merry holiday.

Nicholas Was...

older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.

The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not actually working in the factories.

Once every year they forced him, sobbing and protesting, into Endless Night. During the journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves' invisible gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.

He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.




Monday, December 21, 2009

Blocking the Box

I live in the Northeast, and as such, we got our asses kicked by a snowstorm this weekend. Saturday was just a whiteout of snow and wind and Sunday was a day of shoveling, tubing, and snowman-making. Schools were on delay (or in the case of my daughter’s preschool, closed) today. I didn’t understand this until I tried to go to the grocery store. The roads are still really poorly cleaned of snow, lots of two lane roads are now one, or maybe one and a half lanes wide, and since there is snow on the ground, all standard rules of driving are suspended. Oh, didn’t you know about that last part? Well, I didn’t either, but it is the only reason I can come up with for all the incredibly stupid driving I witnessed.

On an average day, it takes me 10 minutes to get to the grocery store. Today, it took 30. The one section of road that is normally two lanes was indeed only one lane, but as that stretch is maybe 10 yards long before it opened up, it shouldn’t have caused such a backup. Once near the store, there was only one cleared road leading up to it – the longest, curliest, most circumspect road possible. So as I took in the scenery, I noticed the two rows of cars double-parked immediately by the front doors, the better to avoid actually having to find a spot and maybe get wet feet. There is a parking lot in hell reserved for those people and it is as far away from the entrance as possible.

Once my shopping was complete (made easier by the bribe of a Polly Pocket for good behavior for my oldest and the promise of a cookie for my youngest), I headed out of the lot. That is when all rules of driving were apparently suspended. Let me give you an example. At a four-way intersection, a huge pick-em-up truck decided that the best way to beat the yellow light was to pull into the box. Essentially, this person parked directly underneath the stoplight and blocked traffic in three separate directions all for the pleasure of moving up two feet. Of course, since her truck was the length of three normal cars, she actually managed to back up traffic for two full cycles, all while looking steadfastly ahead as if she couldn’t hear the horns. And oh, were the horns a’playing. It didn’t matter if a car was six back from the turn, or two lanes over, laying on the horn seemed to be the best course of action. It also didn’t matter if the person in front of the horn-blower was powerless to move, was also using a horn, or was slowly turning puce due to increased blood pressure. Let that horn blow.

Let me share another example. Did you know that a four-door black Cadillac could fit into the blind spot of a Subaru? It can if it is trying to make a left turn from the right lane and seems to think the best way to do so is to drive directly into my right quarter-panel. I would have been happy to move forward and make my own left turn if the guy in front of me hadn’t decided his best course of action was to take up two full lanes of traffic by parallel parking as a means of trying to get into a non-existent right lane. I won’t even discuss how many people actually ran the red light as it suited them or how many of them were in such a hurry to get out and about today that they were unable to clean off the top of their car, leaving me to get whammed by chunks of falling snow at regular intervals.

Would you like to know the worst part of driving among this crowd? I couldn’t curse at them! Nope, I had two impressionable youngsters in the car and their daddy already taught them how to flip someone the bird. Instead, I had to suffice with muttering as quietly as possible under my breath and the occasional groaning noise. It really wasn’t the same.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Assimilate This!

So I just finished reading this awesome article about why the spaceships in V are totally inaccurate, use too much energy, would be impossible to hide from our satellites, and would wreak complete havoc on our atmosphere. I love that someone took the time and energy to debunk the spaceships, not the concept of alien invasion, extraterrestrials in general, or even the plot of the show - just the spaceships. Even better, in the comments section, people offered explanations based on “facts” from Independence Day and Armageddon.

God, I love geeks.

And let me make this perfectly clear. I am one. I am a Trekkie. I am also a Browncoat. I know that 42 is always the answer. I know that if I weren’t a Muggle, I would be in Gryffindor. I know that Death is not a skeleton with a scythe but a Goth-girl with an Ankh. I know that vampires live in the Rue Royal, Sunnydale, Forks, and Bon Temps. I know that too many people ignore the laugh, but that’s about standards. I know who watches the watchmen and it is always Sam Vimes. I know that it can’t rain all the time, that there is no spoon, and that these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. I know to speak friend and enter and that “my precious” isn’t always an endearment. I know about the Knights who say Ni, that every sperm is sacred, and that it is just a little mint. I know that the Dread Pirate Roberts never takes prisoners and that death cannot stop true love.

I am also a Gleek. That didn’t really fit in with the above paragraph, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

You see, I am proud to let my geek flag fly. During this weekend’s shopathon, I bought exactly two things for myself and they were both from the comic book store. I love that there is a group of people in this world who speak Klingon and Elvish and that others use “Frak” as a curse word. Everybody needs a hobby, right? I mean, there is a guy out there who believes he is Peter Pan (and actually found his Tinkerbelle, which really does prove there is someone out there for everyone.) I have started more conversations with people about Spike v. Angel or Bill v. Eric than I ever have about the Pats v. Colts or the Yankees v. Red Socks. It’s a great big world out there and if I have some small way to connect myself to another human being, then why can’t it be about whether spaceships would destroy our atmosphere? I mean, what would you rather talk about at a party?

[On a side note, there is nothing better than when the actor within the fandom fully participates in and enjoys it. If I didn’t love Nathan Fillion before (and trust me, I truly did), I loved him even more when he wore his Captain Mal costume on Castle. And today, Mark Salling posted an adorable little ditty on YouTube about his time on Glee that truly captures the love of the show, even from within. Shiny.]

Monday, December 14, 2009

Whistle While You Work

Yet another Sister-in-Law Shopathon is complete. Another year without tears, bloodshed, or declined credit cards, so I think it was a very good year indeed. We spent a grand total of 20 hours shopping and talked to a multitude of clerks in a variety of stores, and as always, we hit every turn on the bell curve of sales staff helpfulness.

Let me make something very clear – I do not believe the customer is always right. I worked in retail. I know customers are slow, stupid, inept creatures put on this earth to make life hell for those who really want a pristine store filled with carefully folded and placed merchandise. However, what I also know is that a store without customers is a closed store. A closed store does not need employees. So yes, while it sucks monkey testicles that you had to be in at 4am on a Saturday so that you could open at 6am for idiots like me and my SILs, actually attempting to shoot laser beams out of your eyes at us isn’t very good business sense. You know it is too damn early to shop, we know it is too damn early to shop – the fact of the matter is, you are open and we are shopping.

On the flip side, let’s talk about Brian at Lady Foot Locker. My happy foursome walked in looking to buy one pair of sneakers for under $100. We walked out an hour later with two pairs of sneakers (both much more expensive than originally planned) and four pairs of shoe inserts for a grand total of almost $250. Why? Well, because Brian took excellent care of us. He made sure we had our feet measured. He knew, off the top of his head, which exact shoe was best and which inserts, brands, and sizes were best for each of us. He was no-nonsense, kept us amused and entertained, juggled us and at least three other parties of equal size without batting an eye, and never once seemed less than pleased to be at work and helping us. Was he happy to be at work and waiting on four women punch-drunk with caffeine? Doubtful. But he never acted anything less than kind and professional. Kudos to you Brian and I’m sure all four will be back to your store in the future.

On the other hand, the list of stores we now avoid due to inept and rude sales staff grows every year. Last year Kate Spade got added to that list when their sales staff acted like handling a coupon was akin to touching rotting meat and argued with us over the validity of said coupon. This year, the staff at the Gap earned our ire by acting as if all the customers were getting in the way of their restocking. Um. Hi! Can you move your ridiculous sweater folding cart out of the way of the merchandise please? No? Really? Ok, well it looks like a bomb went off in your store – maybe you could say, put shit back where it belongs first, and then fold it all? No? Moron. Victoria’s Secret has been on my list for years. It only took one sales member to say to me, in the most degrading and obnoxious tone of voice you can imagine that, “we don’t carry (long pause while contemplating the absolute horror of my needed cup) that size.” Well thanks beyotch, but in a couple of years, when you are getting plastic surgery to try to make your rack even half my size, I’ll be the one laughing all the way to Cacique.

Work is a four letter word. But if too many customers walk out of your store saying “fuck” instead of “sold” then you really should find another form of employment.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

We are Family

As I have previously mentioned, I really hate shopping. Unless I am possession of a BN gift card and am happily trolling the bargain bins from own personal computer, I find the whole process tedious.

However, one weekend per year, I throw caution to the wind and shop until I drop. This weekend is called the Sister-In-Law-Shopathon. We all wear festive holiday shirts, and keep each other hydrated, fed, and aware of the closest bathroom facilities. Coupons are shared and exchanged, lists are double-checked, and several “dibs” are placed on items for our shared mother- and father-in-law.

The participants are my three sisters-in-law, whom, for the sake of brevity we will refer to as A, B, and C (and because those actually are their initials). C is married to the oldest brother and has been in the family the longest. She is a DINK and my joy and pleasure during the shopping trip is to goad her into excess spending. I always up-sell her on a wallet to match a new purse, shoes to match a new suit, or really anything I can have the joy of purchasing without actually have to either pay for or use. B is my husband’s sister. She has very strong opinions about which stores are to be avoided. She is a very particular shopper and can spend an entire day looking for one item. I’m next on the family chain and I am routinely left outside of stores, the only woman in a crowd of disgruntled men. A is the youngest member of the family and married to the youngest brother. She gets into trouble every year for not writing a list, but she is also the calmest and the hardest to incite to violence.

Day one is spent at the largest mall on the East Coast. We arrive a few minutes before the first anchor store opens its doors, allowing us to secure the best parking spots. This first hour before the mall properly opens is not spent in vain. We beeline to the fragrance counter, where the other three sniff bottle after bottle while I stand as far away as possible and try to amuse myself. (I am violently allergic to fragrance, so if I get too close, my resemblance to another rotund, bright-eyed, and red-cheeked holiday fave is a bit too close for comfort). Then, we head, en masse, over to the men’s department where we turn into a circus act, throwing various shirts and ties through the air to find the perfect measurements and colors to suit a very picky brother-in-law.

Once the mall is open for business, we wander at will. I frequently argue for walking the mall in a calm and orderly fashion. I am always overruled. Instead, we hit stores based on how long we will spend in them (Sephora), how heavy their wares are (Yankee Candle), or if we actually need them (The Children’s Place) vs. just want to wander in and make cooing noises at their merchandise (Burberry). Papal Dispensations are given for visiting the same store twice, for visiting multiple versions of the same store, or for stopping to put our bags into our cars. There are more potty breaks than seem right by law, everyone always has a shopping buddy, we always break for a mid-morning snack, a mid-afternoon meal, and a mid-evening dessert, and well, I have to say, a good time is had by all. A always winds up with a bra on her head, B always winds up being threatened with violence if she doesn’t just pick already, I am always the one calling for violence, and C is the one who, left alone for any length of time, will buy a new purse. By the end of day one, we will have spent 12 to 14 hours shopping.

Day two is spent at the outlets. We move a bit more quickly due to the brisk outdoor weather and the broiling indoor stores. The first store of the day is always Coach. A crappy food court and questionable rest-rooms mean that we eat and drink less on day two, which leads directly to an increase in crabbiness. The shopping is more urgent as we all want to find everything on our list, unable to face the possibility of even thinking of stepping foot in a store before the New Year. We always plan on ending the day at Neiman Marcus Last Call, but this has yet to happen. Instead, we always end our trip at Harry & David, our arms heavy with Moose Munch and various boxes of sweets and nuts, trying desperately to summon the energy needed to actually drive home. The actual length in miles isn’t that far, but the mental acuity needed to operate a moving vehicle is difficult to summon. I once got lost – on a drive I have taken dozens upon dozens of times – missing turn after turn, because I had lost all ability to discern east from west.

This year’s SILS is mere days away and I am trying to summon all my energy and good will to build a reservoir to help me suffer through a day spent among the teeming masses. I will smile at sales help, laugh with my SILs, and do everything in my power to find everything on my list. And when it is over, I will take a long hot shower, climb into bed, and thank the Lord my God that I have such fantastic sisters-in-law and that I do not have to work retail.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Could Frame Thy Fearful Symmetry

So, as it turns out, Tiger Woods is not only an animal on the course, but in the bedroom as well. Women have been crawling out from under barstools to claim that, they too, have caught the tiger by the tail. This is scandalous why, exactly? Correct me if I’m wrong, but rich/powerful man cheating on the wife isn’t exactly shocking. It should be. It would be nice if we lived in a world where it was, but it isn’t.

Our dumb little golfer decided to hit it on a different green and got caught. He got into a fight with his wife and tried to drive while aggravated while his wife (allegedly) attacked the car with one of his very own golf clubs. The media got wind, all the inconsistencies added up, and lo and behold, we have a story. As always, everyone involved is at fault (with the possible exception of the wife), but instead of accepting blame, they are simply asking for privacy. I love it when they do that. Privacy is when you keep your club in the caddy, but when you start swinging balls at every hole on the course, you’re going to have a little company. But please, no questions.

Sure, the story does tarnish Tiger’s image, but I always heard he was something of an ass anyway, and was so tight with a dollar he squeaked. The only thing his (alleged) cheating truly affects is his own marriage and his own family. Hopefully, he used condoms, because those ugly green jackets aren’t going to offer much protection from his extracurricular wet-weather activities. Really, all we can do is sit back and watch the spin. As fast as women pop up, his lawyers are smacking them back down. It’s Whack-A Ho, the adult version. In a few weeks, his wife will appear on his arm sporting a diamond the size of a FabergĂ© egg as her very own “Hello World” moment and all will be right with their world. But before his little scandal fades into obscurity, I do hope he has learned some lessons and in case, he hasn’t, I have spelled them out for him.

Dear Tiger,
Women aren’t divots, you can’t just stomp them back down and hope no one notices that your turf is no longer pristine. Also, I am not intimately acquainted with the length of your driver (which apparently puts me in the minority), but your, ahem, long drives could miss the windmill at a mini-course and still attract the attention of all and sundry. Keep it in your golf bag. The type of woman who wants you to swing at her hole is only after the flag – she doesn’t care about par, or choice of club, she just wants the bragging rights. If you really need help handling your club, hire a caddy. And last but not least, marriage isn’t a “gimme” – your wife will notice if you stop aiming. Next time, you’ll be lucky if the only thing you lose is your balls.


P.S. – These pants are not coming off for you.