Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Here we go again...

I went to Walmart on my lunch break yesterday, only to hear someone yell my name. Two someones, actually.

My parents were there, having just stocked up on the essentials (you know, chips, oreos, bread, milk, lots of Kleenex, dog and cat food, the usual stuff). My mother instantly said, "Laura, why don't you go show your father the laptops! I'll put this in the car and meet you in electronics!"

That was when I should have run away. But I didn't.

"I don't want to spend too much," Dad insisted as we walked across the sprawling building.

"How much is too much?" I asked, falling for his ploy, every second bringing me toward my inevitable fate: shopping with Dad.

My dad is the WORST shopper on the face of the planet. He once took over an hour choosing between two identical watch bands for his watch. We were in a tiny K-Mart, and all there was for me to do was stare at the glass cases while Dad made the sales associate want to kill him, kill herself, or both. Finally I strode up, selected the least expensive of the two, and forced him to buy it. The next day, he went back to the same store, returned the first watchband, and bought the other one.

He's not just indecisive. He HATES spending any kind of money on himself, especially on what he considers non-essentials. He'll buy forty packs of plain white undershirts that fill two drawers in his dresser. He'll even buy so many socks that they fill up his drawer so tightly it can't close. He'll buy clothes, but he wants to get them Walmart-clearance-style: three dollars a dress shirt. These shirts are as ugly as sin, but the pride he has in finding such a good deal outweighs the inconvenience of startling plaids and misshapen sleeves.

What he won't buy are the things he'd use the most. These things would make his life so much easier, but he considers them an extravagance and worries what the people at our church will think of him if he wears, say, Merrell shoes instead of knock-offs. This is a man with flat feet--completely flat! He gets knee and back pain in bad shoes! But his suffering is, in his mind, worth it if it means he can fit in. And by that, he means not be noticed as having anything "different."

Mom and I have gotten into the habit of cleaning out his wardrobe without his knowledge, getting rid of the worn out rag-like shirts he buys at Goodwill by the dozen ($.50) and some of the billions of socks (the ones with baggy elastic that aren't quite white anymore or others with holes in the toes). We then go to Elder Beerman or some other such place during a big sale, and buy him well-made shirts on clearance because he'll like them if we show him we saved lots of money on them.

It's the only way. I mean, family vacations (the two we had when I was a child) consisted mainly of eating off the dollar menu (which also meant McDonald's, the only restaurant with an established dollar menu at the time), driving hundreds of miles with no air conditioning, music, or other form of entertainment (while Paul slept in the seat next to me, his head smacking against the window of the station wagon with each sharp turn or pothole) until we finally reached our destination: a woods nearly identical to the one on our property but with no running water, flash flooding, leaking tents, and, worst of all, centipedes.

Once our campsite had been set up, Dad would take us to a grocery store where we would buy provisions like spray cheese and crackers, which we would eat for every meal while Dad marched us down four mile trails, turned us around, and lead us back to camp. Years later, I discovered that the trails he chose weren't really the length the map claimed they were, because the map didn't account for the length of the trail, just the distance between the beginning and end of said trail computed as if the trail were a straight line. In truth, we walked far longer, because the trails wound around hills with twists and curves so we didn't fall off a cliff or get bored and so that the parks and recreations people didn't have to build bridges over waterways and whatnot. It was lucky we had our great souvenirs to entertain us, otherwise we'd have succumbed to depression. These were, of course, ROCKS that we picked up off the ground, named, and built habitats for with moss and twigs.

From these trips I learned: 1. Never go on a vacation with Dad. 2. Never go on a vacation with Dad. 3. Never go on a vacation with Dad. 4. If you MUST go on a vacation with Dad, due to family insistence, obligation, blackmail, etc., be sure to (A) Bring your own money to buy all sundries you find desirable, like books or a poncho or REAL FOOD (B) Book a hotel reservation with Mom several weeks in advance, then surprise Dad by handing him directions to said hotel as we pile into the car or (C) Bring iPod and turn music up loud enough to mask sound of road-trip and Dad, then sleep in the car or knit until your hands cramp up. Luckily for me, we haven't had a vacation together since Dad started preaching, and that was back when I was 11.

Is it clear that, though I love my father, I do not trust his judgement regarding needs vs. wants? Because I do love him, and his dollar menu ways. He's quirky, but then, who isn't? But everybody has a breaking point, and Dad seems to be on a mission to find mine, with shopping and computer instruction (we'll get to that) as his main tools.

How much was too much? How much did Dad want to spend on his new computer?

"Oh, I could spend about three hundred," he said as we strode past the white undershirt aisle. "I wouldn't want to get an expensive one. I'm not going to spend five hundred, or something. But I want it with keys that are big enough for my hands."


"You know you aren't going to get a laptop for that, right Dad?" I asked. "They're more expensive. You'll have to just get a netbook.

"But those have tiny keys!" he insisted. "I want one with a keyboard I can use."

"So you want a laptop," I said. "You aren't going to find one of those for three hundred dollars. Unless you want it to not work from the moment you open the package and you want to have to replace it after the first year."

"No," he said. "I don't want to have to buy two!"

"Mine cost around seven hundred," I reported. "I've had it for three years now, and it still works wonderfully. I made sure to get one I could keep for at least four years, hopefully longer."

Dad nodded, this he approved of.

We reached electronics and I showed him the laptops. The first problem was that Walmart had mixed the netbooks in with the laptops and arranged them all by price, something that confused Dad beyond belief. He immediately began to look at each price tag.

"I could get this one!"

"That's a netbook, Dad," I said. "Look at that tiny keyboard. I thought you wanted bigger keys."

"I do!"

"Then look at laptops."

He stared. I explained how much memory would be good for him, how he should make sure to get one that wasn't assembled on a truck-bed in the middle of the desert by a guy with a glue-gun, some duct tape, and occasional teeth, but he didn't listen. I then stopped and just let him point at netbooks because they were cheap.

"You can get a netbook," I said. "But first you need to think about how you'll use it. Do you want to download a lot of software, like Office or other programs? Do you want to save a lot to the computer? And do you want to put music on it?"

"I want to do those things," he said. "I want to put Irish music on it."

"Okay," I said. "So you want a computer that can store more than a netbook can."

This was when Mom arrived. I repeated everything I told Dad, but unlike Dad, Mom listened. I then pointed out a few with good qualities. Then I told her that Dad wouldn't need the best laptop in the world, because he wouldn't be using it for hard-core gaming like Paul uses his.

"This one," I said. "Has more memory than my laptop, which is fantastic, and it's an HP like mine. I love my HP. They're all we use at work, too."

"Good!" said Mom. "Let's get it!"

You should know that every major computer purchase made by Mom in the years we've had computers in the house have been impulse buys. It's a good thing Paul and I know what we're talking about, because she'd have ended up with absolute junk otherwise.

"No!" Dad interrupted, catching Mom's arm. "We can't afford it!"

"Yes we can," Mom said. She does our accounting. She shrugged off his arm.

"JUL!" Dad almost-shouted. "We can't afford it!"

He continued to say this, growing in volume with each repetition. People began to stare. I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances, the only thing that didn't involve me telling my father to behave himself in public. I fled.

I went and stared at the DVDs while Mom talked to the sales guy. I perused the CDs while the sales guy pulled out the computer and while she payed for it.

Then I went back to work.

Dad, I thought, would be happy with his purchase in about six to 12 months. He would continue to remind Mom that it was a lot of money to spend on a laptop, and she would ignore him. He would have crippling buyers remorse and would come to me time and time again for reassurance.

"This is a good computer, right?" He would ask. "So-and-So said such-and-such thing about it. Are they right? Should we have gotten a different one? Did I need more memory? Is this processor any good?" He wouldn't know what either of those terms meant, but he would repeat them.

I would soothe him, as I did when someone criticized his Irish whistle playing abilities, or the new whistle he'd purchased.

"Do you like the computer?" I would say. "Do you use it all the time?"

"Yes," he would reply.

"Does it do everything you want it to?" I would continue.

"Yes..." Dad would say, looking forlorn in my doorway.

"Then So-and-So doesn't know what he is talking about. You're the one who knows what you need in a computer. So-and-so isn't using it, is he?"

"No. He isn't," he would pause. "Good. I'm glad. Thanks. I knew it was a good computer. I just wanted to check. I don't want to have a bad one."

Worse than that, though, would be the computer training.

Dad can use a computer. He's a smart guy. He can figure things out. He just thinks he can't. Also, he is afraid of them.

A few months after I started working at the library, I got a phone call.

"Laura?!" Dad said. "I need your help!"

I envisioned something serious, like Mom or Paul being ill, Dad being ill, or a vast zombie horde staggering across the state leaving scores of victims in their wake.

"How do I copy and paste a website into an e-mail?" he demanded.

"You highlight the text you want to highlight and then click "copy" and then go to where you want to put whatever it is, and click "paste" to put it there."

"Wait a minute," he said. "What?"

"You click to copy it--"

"Where do I click?!" he said. "I don't see a copy button!"

We were on the phone for twenty minutes. Once I'd finally gotten him to manage to copy the address he wanted, I told him to paste it where he wanted the address to go.

"I can't!" he said. "I left the e-mail!"

"Why?" I said. "I thought you were going to paste into the e-mail."

"I am! But I left there to copy the other address!"

"Well, go back to your--"

"I can't! Now my post is gone, because I left!"

Then he hung up on me.

Now Dad thinks he cannot copy or paste anything, anywhere, despite the fact that this is a complete and utter lie. There is your back story. Now you will understand what happened next.

I returned home with a new book, gave Paul his birthday present very early because he'd wanted a used game that is super-rare that I managed to find randomly and buy, but if it doesn't work, it would have to go back within seven days for him to get a refund, and his birthday is more than seven days from now. It's almost two weeks away.

I went back to my room, dumped my new book (Zombies vs Unicorns, a short story compilation edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier) on the bed, and kicked off my shoes.

"Laura..." I heard Dad call.

He was in his room, sitting on the little blue chair by the bed, bent over double to read the screen of his computer, which was sitting on the bed rather than, you know, on his...lap.

"What, Dad?"

"I need you to teach me the stuff," he said. "You've gotta show me how to put music on here. And you've gotta favorite iTunes, so I can find it."

"I can't do that yet," I said. "You don't have iTunes yet. And I can't favorite iTunes. Do you remember why we can't do that?"

[long pause]

"Because it's a computer program, Dad. It's like Word. I can't favorite Word for you to use, and iTunes works the same way. It's on your computer, remember?"

We'd had that conversation several times before.

"Okay," he said. "Let's get music."

I took his computer and started adding the various Adobe things you need to run the website that lets you download iTunes. Next up would have been Quicktime, which you need to download iTunes too, which is kind of stupid, when you think about it, because iTunes comes with Quicktime like a package deal.

"You need a password, right? For my iTunes?"


Dad vanished. I fought his computer some more, trying to get rid of this HP Advisor dock thing that was taking up space and slowing everything down for no reason.

Then he reappeared, right before I was about to start mutter one long line of swears in various languages, cursing the computer and its HP Advisor. Stupid thing.

"Here," he said, holding out a fragment of paper. "This is it. Wait. I thought my password was *********. It is, isn't it?"

"I don't know, Dad."

"Here," he said.

"I don't need that."

"But you need it, to get onto iTunes."

"I'm not going to buy music, Dad. I am downloading it."

"But you need the password."

"No, I don't. I don't need that to download it," I repeated. "You do, for later. You need to keep that. But I don't need it."

"Oh," he said. He put away the paper.

By the time he had returned, I had finally finished another update, but I was tired what with the measly two hours of sleep I'd had the night before.

"I'll get you the rest of the downloads you need tomorrow and Wednesday," I said.

"Wait. Wait, you've gotta teach me how to copy and paste."

"How have you used a computer for this long without learning that? You use it in Word, don't you?"

"Yes," he replied. "But it's not the same. On Chiff and Fipple, you put an address in the forum box, and it turns blue. I need to know how to make the letters blue."

He meant how to post a link. Which, we all know, is automatic when you type in something like an e-mail or an address.

"It works exactly the same way. If you can copy and paste in Word, you can copy and paste anywhere."

I pulled up his homepage. I showed him how to highlight the text he wanted to copy, how to copy it, and then how to paste it. Then I opened Word and I typed: "I MUST LEARN HOW TO COPY AND PASTE BECAUSE IT IS AN ESSENTIAL SKILL I SHOULD HAVE LEARNED ON OUR FIRST HOME COMPUTER BACK IN 1996."

Then I instructed him to practice copying and pasting that phrase. Then I made him try this one: MY DAUGHTER IS THE BEST IT NON-PROFESSIONAL I HAVE EVER AND WILL EVER MEET. I AM GRATEFUL TO HER FOR HER PATIENCE AND EXPERTISE.

And let's face it. If he can't manage to learn how to copy and paste, and he can't understand that copying and pasting is the same in everything Windows and Non-Windows because if it wasn't, computer users everywhere would have spontaneous psychotic breaks and go after Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and whoever else happened to be in their paths. If Dad can't figure out how to handle a simple copy and paste, after having and using a computer both at home and at work daily for over ten years, I don't know what to do. It's like the Year of Power Point all over again, only this time, he doesn't have the luxury of the I've-Never-Used-This-Program-Before Excuse to fall back on.

Some of you might suggest that I write out instructions so he can look at them later if he needs them. I have done that. That's what the little paper with his password for iTunes had on the back. Has he ever looked at that paper? No. How do I know? He didn't even know his own password. If he doesn't know that, he hasn't used iTunes without me. Even once.

But he has a surprise coming. If he asks me one more copy and paste question, I am signing him up for a basic computer skills class faster than he can say "dollar menu."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Why am I awake right now?

The purpose of this post is 1. to complain (always the first and foremost motivation for my actions) 2. to kill time while I wait for my sedative to work and 3. to inform you of a problem I have that is driving me crazy.

I can't sleep! It is very annoying and there is no real reason behind it, beyond what I will explain in a moment. No caffeine enters my body, except in the form of chocolate and sweet tea, neither of which have passed through my lips today! I have had no caffeine! And I am still awake.

This is particularly annoying, because I was so sick last week, I had to miss WAY more work than I wanted to. I was in the fetal position, sipping water, all week while I prayed that I wouldn't suddenly stop being able to drink water too, and land in the hospital with dehydration. That's how bad my stomach was. VERY bad. I couldn't knit; I couldn't even read anything.

Well, now that the shiny blue pills the doctor gave me have begun to work their fancy magics, I am able to sit, stand, drink more than just the water, and EAT. I am happy about all of those things, but the thing I am happiest about is that I get to go back to work!

I am THRILLED. I missed leaving the house, I missed my coworkers, I missed the books and the patrons. I missed it all!

But now I cannot sleep, and that will make it harder to go back, because in addition to the weakness I have left over, I will be exhausted as well. Not fun.

Sedative? Kind of working now.

The reason I cannot sleep is very simple. I am nervous.

I don't know if any of the rest of you get this, but when I have missed something, anything, and am now going back to do said thing, I get nervous.

*pause while Laura snatches a fly out of the air and disposes of it*

How come no one is ever around to see that kind of cool? I want to know!

I blame my heightened sensitivity to stimuli, caused by this nervousness.

Because I have my father's genes and because I was raised in a never-disappoint-anyone-ever household, I don't just get a little nervous. I get full-blown waves of stomach-churning anxiety, and I have had enough stomach-churning lately.

There was a time when I had this level of anxiety all the time. Well, on a good day, I had this much, on a bad day, I had a lot more. But those days, thankfully, are over.

A person becomes anxious for one reason: Your brain is telling your body that something bad is about to happen, and your body reacts by flooding your system with adrenaline, making you go into fight-or-flight mode. Right now, my brain is telling my body that we need to run from that giant carnivorous dinosaur over there in the corner, lest it bring about the end of Laura. Problem? There is no dinosaur.

So I have all that adrenaline for NO REASON. If this happened in the day, I would run about and get a lot of work done, distracting myself from the problem. It, however, is not day. It is night. And I cannot run the vacuum cleaner at night, nor can I throw in laundry or rip up the carpet in the kitchen. I am totally out of luck.

The one thing that makes all this worse is thinking about it while lying in bed, as awake as it is possible for one human being to be. It might also make it worse for me to, say, actually meet up with something that DID want to eat me, like a tiger or a Kodiak bear. But we don't get many of those in this area of Indiana.

Instead, I turn on a tiny light and I do something that usually makes me fall asleep. Since I have no term papers to write, no essays on a giant text to flesh out before I turn them in, mere hours from now, I am left writing to you. I cannot knit, because it keeps me awake. Television doesn't help, because I tend to watch shows that are exciting, filled with psychopaths and strange creatures bursting out of the repair guy's torso. The book I am reading has the hallmark of being exciting, and finding a boring book would be a surefire way to get my brain working even harder than it already is, making sleep all the more impossible.

So here I am.

Not sleeping.

Thinking about what it will be like to walk into the library tomorrow and see everyone, and reminding myself that my coworkers are highly unlikely to draw and quarter me when they see that I have lost over ten pounds in one week. That's right, folks. Ten pounds. The only consolation? That's a lot of Biaggi's I can enjoy in the future.

I'm going to go look at yarn now. Have a happy Monday, everybody!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Going to the doctor

My doctor can roar like a Wookiee.

It's true. Plus, he knows how much I love Star Wars, so he'll see me from across the waiting room before I see him and randomly roar like Chewbacca seeing Han Solo in Jabba's jail cell, and I'll know he's about to cure me of whatever plight I've picked up this week.

Can you tell I was a sickly child? Well, now I am a sickly ADULT.

I went in today and had vampiric* amounts of blood siphoned away after being poked and prodded with various implements.

The results:

1. I am not dying. This is considered good news by many parties, including myself.

2. I am likely not about to go from "not dying" to "dying" on the Life-O-Meter. That is also good news.

3. Blood taken from me is being sent to another place, where other tests will be run on it, in hope of discovering if Something Serious is wrong, like gall bladder issues or IBS. However, this is less likely than it being All Dad's Fault, which I will explain in a bit.

4. I have shiny blue pills that will, perhaps cure me. If, that is, my stomach complaints are caused by my father's Fail genes. See, Dad has acid reflux issues, as well as all kinds of other issues, many of which are mental. Sure, I diagnosed all of those, but the diagnosis is sound. If the shiny pills work, I get the dual benefit of Health and the Pleasure of Blaming Dad.

That is where the funny starts.

My doctor said, "Okay, take these, and if you start feeling wonderful, it's because of that weak Y chromosome of yours."

*pauses while blog figures out why that qualifies as an MD Fail*

"Doctor," I said, "I think it will be hard to blame my Y chromosome. Being as I do not have one. But perhaps you mean I should blame the suckier of my X chromosomes? The weak and sorry-looking one I got from my father?"

Then, all the nurses, gathered around the Closet of Sample Medicines Worth More than Your House and Mine Put Together, laughed at my doctor. Then his Official Nurse came out from her Place of Authority, noticed that he had not marked the shiny blue pills he gave me down in the Book of Pill Samples, and yelled at him. That is her job.

What did I do then?

Well, first you have to know that my doctor has been my doctor since I was a squalling infant sucking in my first breath of oxygen. That's right: he delivered me. So he knows all kinds of horrible things about me and all the gross things that I have contracted in my lifetime. That gives us a kind of bond.

I turned to my doctor and I said, "You got in trouble! And I SAW."

Then he looked at me, grinned, and said, "You turd!" And went back to work.

Also, I now have to read Ulysses.

*I may have just made up that word. If I did, I coin it here and now, and if you see it in the OED someday, remember where it STARTED.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Have the Best Brother--Ever.

It's true. Paul is the best brother.

I know he has been guilty of eating my food from time to time, but that is all forgiven now.

You see, I am dying, more or less. Mostly less, since I seem to still be alive at the moment and will likely remain to be for some time in the future, but I don't feel well so leave me alone.

I went out to eat on Monday with Paul and Dad. Then I went to sleep, and then I woke up at about two and Something Bad Happened.

I won't even tell you. Let's just say: it was unpleasant. And it involved throwing up.

I don't even know what day it is right now, either. Do you? I bet my computer would tell me, but I really don't want to know how many days I have lost to this stomach thing, and I know Rachael is going to tell me anyway. I'd rather just hear it the once.

Mom is--was--at her dad's house. So I was all alone, and I slept until 7:30 in the evening...it would maybe have been...yesterday? And I said to Paul: "Growing up is a miserable thing, when you get to the age when you are sick and there is no one to make you soup."

And then, do you know what?

Paul made me soup.

He made it from scratch, too. I had taught him many months ago, and he remembered. And it was good soup. Very good soup. And now it is gone, and there are no more ingredients for soup-making in our house. And I am sad.

But the memory of The Good Soup Paul Made remains, so I suppose I am still better off than without it. The memory, I mean. And the soup.

Two things: I am going to the doctor tomorrow to find out what is making me die. And I am surviving by watching Poirot given to me by Rachael. Thank you, Rachael. And I really don't want to know how long this stomach thing has been going on. Really. So tell Sally, but not me. You can tell Ashley! And Beth! But not me. Please?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kitchen Mini-Remodel Extravaganza!

While some of you are having barbeques, enjoying your last few days of summer, I will be tearing up carpet with my bare hands!

That's right, folks. The Great Kitchen Mini-Remodel Extravaganza has begun! It started yesterday when my mother was spied moistening wallpaper with a damp cloth, then using her fingernails to pick it off in long strips.

[This is where I would put a "before" shot, if my mother would let me take a picture of the kitchen. She won't. At least not until the carpet is gone. Hence, no beet-carpet pictures, either.]

So instead, look at these beets!

(Photo unceremoniously yoinked from Confessions of a Psychotic Housewife click to read her review of the beets in question.)

We're going to take a Family Fun trip up to the local Lowes, unless we get tired, give up, and go to Walmart instead. If Walmart has the paint we want. The paint we're planning to use is a special sort designed for use kitchens. It's resistent to stains, including grease stains, and you can scrub it as much as you like without worrying you'll take the paint off with the tomato sauce you managed to make explode.

Exploding tomato sauce happens.

I doubt we'll manage to get everything we'd like done over the weekend, since we are still supply-less at the moment for the whole painting part of things and we want to paint first because: no drop cloths necessary. See, if you need to rip up your carpet, you don't need to worry about putting down cloths because your carpet IS the cloth.

Tomorrow, if you see me, I will have paint in my hair! Also, I may have cut myself on something while tearing up carpet!

I will take pictures as we go to show you the general carnage. I leave you with a painting song: