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the latest waddle:

good morning, wordpress - 10:36 a.m. , 2009-07-03

elaborate murder attempt - 2:56 p.m. , 2009-07-01

building a tractor in the basement - 10:42 a.m. , 2009-06-19

ask no questions tell just a few lies - 3:17 p.m. , 2009-06-09

my long lasting flavor really lasts long - 1:10 p.m. , 2009-06-04

2002-07-29 ... 5:30 a.m.

Transitions are hard, linear narrative is artificial and quaint, and thus: In true frantic postmodern jump-cut style, I offer a page full of my own trademarked brand of semiotic jiu jitsu, my word-based jello salad of snapshots from my Pittsburgh trip. This way I can get all the "what I did today" crap out of the way in one entry and then return to the usual garbled mess type of entry that seems strangely beloved by a certain few.

Business travel is a lonely business. (Travel.) It's go go go all day, meetings and schmoozing and making nice and every minute is accounted for, and then you have some dinner where you have drinks but not too many, because, when you are with important work colleagues who are not friends, you don't want to suddenly get on the topic of the best acid trips you ever had or the time you ended up naked on the roof with a guitar-playing Spaniard. Then maybe you go out for like one more drink but things are definitely winding down at that point, and then suddenly it's only 10 pm but you are dumped off at your hotel room wired and at loose ends. There's only so much crappy television you can watch, and you're definitely not sleepy, so after a while you get bored with reading and playing solitaire Scrabble and masturbating (whoa! Did I say that part out loud?) so you go down the street to some over-loud sports bar and have a couple more crappy beers, and it's still pretty lonely but at least there is noise and beer and people-watching opportunities.

Such as Brandi, the frighteningly perky aging-sorority-girl bartender with the too-dark tan, who smiles all the time, but it's more the frozen grimace of professional cheerleaders or Solid Gold dancers than any expression of mirth or affection.

Beer: On Friday night our local arrangements guy took us to a restaurant and microbrewery inside a deconsecrated Catholic church. I cannot tell you how much fun it was to eat and drink here. It was a huge Gothic-looking church like the one I went to as a child, the confessional was the maitre'd area, the stained glass windows and the choir loft were intact, and in place of the altar were all the beer vats and brewery apparatus. (Apparati?) They even had the tables set up in long rows to give the impression of pews. It was a whole lot of fun for anyone, but I think it had a sort of extra special frisson if you grew up Catholic, and I highly recommend it for anyone going to Pittsburgh.

Crappy television: Business travel also seems to involve massive amounts of CNN. It is played at you at the airport, in the hotel lobby, and I think there were at least two isotopes of it on my room television. While I was getting dressed on Saturday morning I saw a truly horrifying thing on CNN: The Violent Femmes making a TV appearance. Why do these guys still do what they do? They still tour and still sing the same songs from their one-hit wonder of an album. (I think they have actually released subsequent albums; the catch is that no one cares.) Don't get me wrong, I have a few nostalgic bones in my body, and I remember digging those songs back in grade school (EARLY grade school: 1982!), but do you know how ridiculous it is to see two balding middle-aged guys on CNN singing about their permanent record and how they took three for their headache? Those songs are seriously teenage anthems and they don't work any other way. Mimi Smartypants paging The Violent Femmes: Evolve or die. Thank you.

Peril: So Saturday night I finally manage to get to sleep in my too-quiet hotel room with too-soft pillows, only to be woken up at 3:30 am by a fire alarm. I am an incredibly light sleeper, and the alarm woke me up but it didn't heart-attack wake me up, it was more just an annoying presence out in the hotel hallway. Perhaps I have been overly well-trained by all the fire alarm hoaxes in high school and college, because I honestly lay in bed for about thirty seconds, thinking that this had to be a mistake. Then I thought, "Wait. I don't want to be the asshole who dies in a hotel fire because she didn't think the fire alarm was real." So I put on clothes, grabbed my room key, and went outside. I even felt the door first like a real Safety Sam.* Outside, the alarm is still shrieking but there is no one in the hallway. I stand there for a minute, and then ONE other sleepy-looking person comes out of her room, smiles at me, and heads for the elevator. Well, if I'm going to evacuate I'm going to do it by the book, so I start going down the exit stairs (from the twenty-first floor), simultaneously pissed off about the non-emergency this is turning out to be and a little freaked out because going down and down and down fire exit stairs will forever now have unpleasant associations after the World Trade Center. When I get to about the ninth floor, the fire alarms suddenly stopped. I stood in the stairway for a while, and since I could hear zero activity and zero sirens I stepped out into the ninth-floor hallway and encountered some other hotel guests, who said that they had called down to the front desk and it was a false alarm. Okay. It's 4 am, I have to get up in three hours, but it's better than dying of smoke inhalation or becoming a horrifying clip on the evening news. Back to bed. An entire hour later, drifting off to sleep, there's a knock on my door. Once again I have to get dressed and answer the door (leaving the chain thingy on, since now I'm in full-blown Safety Mode). It's some hotel employee. "Just wanted to tell you there's no fire," he said. "That was just a false alarm, we've fixed the system. Everything’s fine." Great, I thought. You woke me up a second time to tell me of the absence of danger. Keep me posted, please. If there's not an earthquake later, I want to be the first to know.

*Who, according to the page, "automatically opens and closes his mouth when he talks." And "when he moves he is not at all threatening." Why am I picturing a safety robot gone haywire at the school assembly, picking up little kids and tossing them aside?

More peril: That exit row thing. The flight attendants always make those people verbally agree that they will assist others in the event of an emergency, and if you are "unwilling or unable," you can ask to sit somewhere else. I didn't sit there, but I think if I did I would have to be moved. It's not that I'm unwilling or unable, it's just that I don't think I could take the existential anxiety (the nausea, if you will) of being asked to predict how I will behave in a stressful situation.

Yet more peril: On this trip I had to go on a nature hike. It was billed as an excursion to a "nature center." That sounds okay, doesn't it? That sounds air-conditioned and free of animal life; maybe some displays of native butterflies or an interactive exhibit on ecology. That sounds like you don't need sturdy shoes or bug repellent or a large stick to beat off rabid mammals. Liars! Liars! This excursion was in two parts. The first was the largest bird-banding center in Pennsylvania; you know, you catch the birds, take their vital statistics, stick a metal bracelet on their little bird legs and let them go. We actually got to watch this process, and it was cool in one sense (especially all the biostatistics that this center keeps on the birds---I'm a sucker for a good regression analysis), but in another sense the guy giving the talk was kind of a foamer when it came to his subject and I got a little sick of birds after the first thirty minutes of bird talk. But that was a piece of cake compared to the next part of our tour: a hike to see a passive acid mine drainage system. We walked and walked and walked through the woods (in my not-so-sturdy shoes, without bug repellent, without having eaten a hearty breakfast, fearing muskrat attacks the entire time). Maybe you haven't had time to hit the link, so I'll tell you what a passive acid mine drainage system is. Are you ready? It's a series of stagnant ponds. Toxic water from the abandoned mine flows from pond to pond through gravity, and the cattails and reeds and soil leach out the poison, so that clean water is returned to the streams and rivers. It's a cool idea and I'm glad people are doing it. But did I need to see it? Did I need to hike all that way to be shown six or eight stagnant ponds and be told by a guide essentially what I summed up for you in one sentence? I thought not, but I was a good sport about it and didn't complain once. I was pretty vocal about the need for lunch, though, afterwards.

So anyway. I'm back from Pittsburgh, a little cranky (no! shocking!) about not having had a real weekend. Perhaps some mid-week drinking is in order.

---mimi smartypants hates being told what to do.


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