Wednesday, February 25, 2004

And a brick of Equal, please

Today's freakish coffee order: different guy in front of me requested a beverage consisting of SIX shots...of decaf. Whuh? What is that? "Gimme a lot of really strong coffee that's just...not so strong." Shouldn't this drink create some sort of whirling vortex of anti-matter?

Dude, we have this stuff called "water" that you might want to look into.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Once more around the sun

Happy Birthday wishes to two of my favorite people:

First, Holly, who sat next to me in Mr. Zukowski's sixth-grade homeroom and has been a calming influence ever since...even from her current home in Munich. Wish you were here, or I was there. Uh, more the latter!

Then, to Mike, my favorite curmudgeon, who IS here, actually...just down the hall at UberMegaFreeSodaSoft (not its real name). But doubtless wishes he were elsewhere too.

Much love, happiness, and chocolate to the both of you, today!

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Origin myth

I've been asked what the story behind "pagooey" is. The short answer is that it's a family nonsense word, one of the phrases or malapropisms that gets handed down for generations, like a code you speak to one another. (Do other people do this? My family has dozens. Some are based in ritual; for example, if you're lost and pull into a stranger's driveway to turn around, at least one of us in the car will call out "Hi! We're here!" for the sake of the unknown residents. Others are simpler, like mispronouncing "debris" as "der-biss," stolen from somebody's sister's college roommate. Really I need a separate glossary site, just for these.)

Anyway. Pagooey. In my mother's elementary school class, as in everyone's elementary school class, was The Kid That Everyone Picked On. You know the kid: the clammy-palmed nosepicker; the girl with thin, stringy, dishwater-blond hair and mismatched socks; the kid who smelled like sour milk, or pee, or fifteen cats, or all the above; the boy with a crust of impetigo on his upper lip; the kid with a shitty lunch, a harboiled egg and an off-brand soda; the kid who accidentally wore Spiderman pajama bottoms to school; the kid picked last. In my class, he was a boy. Billy. I'm going to hell for the stuff I willingly, relievedly inflicted on Billy. In my mother's class, the kid was a girl.

I don't remember the girl's real name, now...something with a P. Peggy? Patricia? At any rate, her classmates had come up with "Pagooey" and the name stuck. It didn't mean anything, or rather it meant that kid, and the taint of ill-fittedness and scorn that clung to her. Pagooey signified a perpetually running nose and hand-me-downs, cooties, paste-eating, the wrong shoes. Pagooey was, as much as anything, the concept of That Kid. "Eeewww, Pagooey!" they'd shriek on the playground, running from her--Pagooey might be catching.

My mother had a birthday, turning probably nine or ten, and made a point of inviting all her female classmates but Pagooey. It was the fifties; you could still do this, exclude one or another little freak without fear of legal reprisals, or having to pick up their therapy tab. The girls had a great time, doing whatever you did at a birthday party in 1956...prancing around in crinolines, eating cake? Something. At the end of the affair, seeing her guests out, my mother found something wedged in the door: a missive from the dreaded Pagooey. A sheet of notebook paper, smudged and smeary, declaring "Happy Birthday," with pictures of horses clumsily cut from magazines and pasted on.

I'll bet the Germans have a word for it, what my mother felt for the first time, holding that note...what I feel, retelling the story she's remembered for nearly 50 years. A guttural word, full of umlauts and spittle, combining disgust for the other with disgust for yourself; multiple syllables that, strung together, mean something like "Awareness of life's pathos and of how you are a cruel little shit and yet not wholly repentant."

But, you know, maybe the English word is "pagooey." It kept coming up, when I was thinking about a name for this blog. It's a funny-sounding word. Maybe its definition has softened, over time, or grown more hopeful. All bloggers are probably a little bit pagooey, myself no exception. I am sneaking onto your porch; I am snootling against your window. I am leaving a note in your mailbox. I am putting the words on the Internet where anyone can find them. I'm telling the story of our inner Pagooeys. Your party looks like fun. Can I come in?

Friday, February 13, 2004

Floor bagels

You know: "everything" bagels, with onion flecks and poppy and sesame seeds and kosher salt and what have you, as if they had been rolled across the bakery linoleum before ending up in your tissue-paper square? A little bit of this, a little bit of that, today.

* * * * * * * *

Yesterday morning, coffee cart at work: the guy in front of me ordered a beverage with FIVE shots of espresso. FIVE! Would you like a knife and fork with that? The barista, understandably anxious, made him sample it before she'd let him leave; what would she have done if his head had blown off right there? He approved the taste of this concoction...and then asked her to top it off with a swirly pile of chocolate-flavored whipped cream, drizzled with caramel syrup. "That looks like dog poo," his colleague declared frankly.

"I'm waiting for the vein to pop out on your forehead," I said. I'd developed a slight tremor just standing next to the guy. I like my caffeine as much as the next Queen City native, but holy crap, right?

* * * * * * * *

Apparently Science has documented the intersection of spatial relations and colorful, candy-coated snackery: a new study shows that identical spheroid shapes--namely, M&Ms--can be packed more tightly together than ordinary spheres. Ellipsoids (would those be...peanut M&Ms? or are those so random as to introduce, like, chaos theory?) can be crammed together to reach an even greater maximum density. I thought about this a lot today as I packed a substantial number of Valentine-hued chocolate spheroids into my own maw at the office. Mmmm, volume displacement.

* * * * * * * *

Hey looky! I added a "Comments"...thingy. Now I can interact with both of my readers! Click the link, love me, I'm needy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Turned left at Greenland

The media, last weekend, made much of the fact that it was the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' arrival in America, that first epic and epochal appearance on Ed Sullivan.

I was an infant when the band broke up; to me the Beatles have always been history. A vivid history, granted: both my parents were fans. I played my mother's vinyl albums, and knew by heart her tale of their concert at the then Seattle Coliseum--how the lads had to be smuggled out in an ambulance, how after their stay at the Edgewater hotel, the management tore up the carpets and cut up the drapes, sold off in swatches anything a few stray molecules of Beatle might have touched. (As a teen, my mother had a fuzzy pill of "Beatle lint" tacked to the wall for years. It's a long story.) I pored over the picture on Sgt. Pepper, though the only faces I could pick out were Marilyn and Shirley Temple. The year my father got the Compleat Beatles Songbook for Christmas, we puzzled out the guitar tablature and sang ourselves hoarse.

It was Christmas, too, nearly, when Chapman opened fire in the Dakota. I was nine. My mother was in the garage, wrestling a wet Christmas tree into the three-legged stand, when our neighbor Jane called and said in a voice I'd never heard, "John Lennon's been shot!" I knew John, Paul, George, Ringo--I could've told you that sooner than rattled off the Gospels--but I'd never connected the boys on the record jacket to grownups with last names. "You don't know who John Lennon is?" Jane cried at me, and she was crying, shouting in a way that made me feel uniquely stupid and afraid. "Go get your mother," she said.

It was a year or two before I really began to catch on, to understand that I'd missed something. The music was there, sure, and still is and will be...but I was slouching toward thirteen, and I felt like I'd been gypped somehow. There was nothing comparable in my world, nothing to get that excited about...and John was already dead. There wasn't going to be any more of anything "Beatles."

I got a taste, though. In 1982, a print of "A Hard Day's Night" was rereleased, and my mother took me and my best friend from grade school. She'd already seen it sixteen times, and while she was never much for sleepovers, for having to feed an extra kid breakfast in our tiny apartment, she made a strange and rare exception in this case. So we were already giddy, Alyssa and I, going into the theatre. We were staying up late! going to a 9:30 movie! with actual teenagers in the audience! some of them on dates! Did we put a few seats between us and my mom, for dignity's sake? I don't remember.

But the lights went down, and the movie started: first the teaser appended to that release, "I'll Cry Instead," with stills of the band and the cast and the hordes of girls, darting on and off the screen. And then the film itself, the title track, that first unmistakable chord, blang! like the sound your whole central nervous system might make being strummed, like an axe to the head, like pulling the rip cord on Adolescence. The crazed, cartoony chase through the train station: Beatles in phone booths! Beatles behind magazines! And somewhere in the theater audience, a girl, some unknown invisible girl...screamed.

It was like a match to a fuse. She screamed, and then suddenly we all were--shrieking our heads off, bouncing in the mangy spring-shot seats of the Northgate Cinema. We screamed and clutched the armrests, we howled at the punchlines, we committed pages of snarky Brit wit to memory in a single sitting.

There's a little old man in the cupboard.

I now declare this bridge...oooopen!

I'm a mocker.

She looks more like 'im than I do.

I've never forgotten it. It's still one of my top-ten, movie-ecstasy experiences of all time. The clean, crisp, sterile sound of the compact discs, so sharp you can hear Paul breathing; the perfectly restored black-and-white beauty of my special-edition DVD; they can't even touch the stale-popcorn, poorly-heated funk of that now-defunct movie house, the Beatles crackling to life on the dusty screen.

Thanks, Mom.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Only one, but the blogger has to really want to change

I'm pretty new at this endeavor, as you might have noticed. Yesterday I ended up explaining the terms "Weblog" and "blogging" to my therapist, and ultimately I offered to send him a link to this site. Is that weird? I can't help thinking that there's the punchline to a New Yorker cartoon in there somewhere.

"We're not here to talk about MY blog," maybe?

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Now in Original flavor and new Extra Chalky!

I can't stop playing with the ACME Heart Maker, which has served as a nice outlet for some of my on-the-job sentiments today. I haven't yet sorted out a place to host my images, so you'll just have to imagine...or duplicate my wit as follows.


Also HOT E, which I will load onto my Office Crush's desktop. In the alternate universe where I would be so bold.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Dropping my marble in the jar

Seattle had a special ballot today, to renew two levy packages supporting our public school district. So I stopped by my polling place on the way home and filled out my bubbles, in the affirmative for those who care. Perhaps when I become a property-tax-paying citizen in March, I will feel differently...but in the meantime, who am I to deny the little children their crayons and abrasive paper towels and asbestos-protection jumpsuits and whatnot?

Nearly everyone I know now votes by absentee ballot, through the mail. I did so myself in college, which at the time consisted of poking out chads with the provided Punching Tool. This was, if memory serves, a bent paper clip that also conveniently sandwiched ballot and voter's pamphlet together in the envelope. Dukakis in '88!

And of course there's talk of elections and referrendums being decided entirely online, in the near future; I'll be able to cast my vote with my feet up, defending democracy without having to tear my eyes from an "ER" rerun, should I so desire.

But I'll miss the polling place. There's something to be said for standing in line with your fellow citizens, juggling dripping umbrellas and registration cards in the junior-high library or the church basement (which smelled like every Girl Scout meeting I ever attended, firing a neurological event unchanged for 25 years). Going to the polls is the literal expression of "voting with your feet." It feels more like a civic duty, when you have to sign the register on the line a polite senior citizen has carefully hemmed in with a strip of tagboard.

I currently vote in an elementary-school gymnasium. I dig it, determining the fate of my community and, periodically, my nation, in a room with hula hoops and jump ropes hanging from the walls. The building smells like varnish and chalk and hot lunch. Occasionally, there's a bake sale, Tupperware tubs of cookies and brownies and crooked squares of sheet cake for a quarter. Once, at the end of the table I spotted a box of Twinkies. It was clear that someone's harried mother had driven to the Albertson's at 8:49 that morning, muttering
for crying out loud do they think I'm Fannie Farmer? and maybe next time you could tell me sooner that you need 56 vanilla cupcakes like I don't have enough to do; get that look off your face, you'll take these in and like 'em! The Twinkies had sold well.

I take it pretty seriously, I suppose. Though I've always been disappointed that there were never any curtains, no levers to pull, here in the Pacific Northwest. Our voting booths are some weird love child of an easel and a plastic patio chair. If there were actual levers, political choices chunking mechanically into place at my command? Imagine how I'd love that.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

I'm lookin' through you

I drove 300 miles, round-trip, yesterday to visit my father, who lives in a bleak little farm town just north of the Oregon border. My parents divorced when I was in kindergarten; Dad and I are friendly but see each other rarely, our visits out of sync with the typical holiday calendar. This was our belated Christmas.

My father and stepmom are a guileless and awesomely taste-free couple whose life would drive me to drink if I were forced to live it, but they seem to get along. Dad endures the Kountry Kitsch favored by my stepmom, made manifest in a tide of teapots, teddy bears, milk bottles, and geese in sunbonnets; he contributes to the overall decorative impact with his own collections of model tractors and antique gumball machines. So the service-for-four set of dishes I'd picked out, officially emblazoned with the John Deere logo, achieved the desired effect. In turn, I received two books and the Pyrex two-cup measure I'd asked for, hooray!...and another gift.

Some backstory: I didn't know my paternal grandfather, who died when I was very young. The sole memory I have of him, from a lone meeting, is of his physical presence, his body: a tall (to me), broad-shouldered, seemingly headless torso looming above me. I couldn't have picked him from a lineup.

So I was surprised to see his unfamiliar photograph framed on an end table in Dad's house. Dad told me it had fallen out of an old dictionary he'd been preparing to throw away: my grandfather, in full Army uniform--long-faced and formal, looking like no one I'd ever known.

I love old pictures. They fascinate me: cracked and faded, the inscrutable faces of my ancestors (or anyone's), wordlessly concealing their thoughts, the history of my scattered and estranged family. Dad knows this about me...but then...he misses. Just a tiny bit.

He's found someone with an elaborate, laser-etching tool that can scan a photograph and reproduce it, in minute detail, on any flat surface--a headstone, say, or...a sheet of glass.

So, my final gift: a 5'x8' laser-etched portrait of Master Sergeant Albert S. Douglas, U. S. Army, on clear glass, set into a beveled, leaded glass frame. His name and rank inscribed below; convenient hooks for hanging on top.

What do you say?

The details are striking, really: every crease, every shadow, the woolen texture of his uniform, captured in pin-dot, pointillist perfection, like a newspaper photograph. At different angles, the image of my sandblasted Grandpa takes on weight and dimension, verging on a hologram. "If you hang it in a window, the bevels will make rainbows," Dad said proudly.

I couldn't stop looking at it. My somber, grave grandfather, about to ship out to Germany to rout filthy Nazi immortalized in a craft-fair suncatcher. What would you think of this, Albert? I swaddled the portrait back in its flowery tissue and a pink shopping bag, took it home. Dad is eager to come help me hang it in my new house. Oh.

One thing that I enjoyed, though. Dad takes after his mom, and I take after him. At first glance, Grandpa Douglas was utterly unfamiliar, no hint of recognition or resemblance. But...

"Look at his eyebrows!" I burst out. Dark, straight, square. The same eyebrows I'd looked at in the mirror that and every morning; the same brows so in need of a little waxing or pruning that I despaired of them. Absolute and unmistakable, a weird little genetic blip asserting itself down through the generations, on Dad's face, on mine. Not another trace of him, but damn, those eyebrows.

Hello, Al. I see we have something in common.