Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Something that seems really cool, but not...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memory-al Day
The last time I was here for Memorial Day, a few things were different, and a few were the same...


-My brother marched in the parade with his High School marching band. The raw focus, the sheer angry joie de vivre I see upon his face behind the dark sunglasses: this is the brother we want to see. Or is it?

-The crass commercialism, mixed with patriotism, mixed with obesity-causing sugary sweets, that is the floats of the parade.

-Small children grabbing up all the candy thrown from the floats faster than any street-cleaner, like remoras sucking up scraps.

- The last time, I spent the first hour of the parade talking to E about our hopes and dreams for the future, walking around the parking lot next to the parade route with a cell-phone pressed to my ear. This time, I spent the first hour of the parade sleeping, tossing and turning about uneasily. I'm not really sure which I would rather have.

-More veterans this time around. People are still willing to clap, though.

-The last time, the future was bright.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ryan told me after meeting my parents that my mannerisms and so on are all almost the same as my father's.

I don't know if there's any man living I'd rather be modeled after.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Story #5: The Family
By this point in time, Lauren and I are fraying around the edges in terms of mental sanity, having already discussed to death ad nauseum the respective situations of our moral, family, home, economic, political, and love lives having been discussed, analyzed and picked apart from every angle possible in a Warren Commission-style series of inquiries conducted over dinner, at the same time trying to avoid either being perceived as an old married couple or becoming one. Today we decide to shake it up; Lauren proposes watching “Grey’s Anatomy” over a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
Now, my hearing being not quite what it was, I assume she means watching a television show about secretive Men in Black dissecting the otherworldly visitors that come in saucer-like UFOs, while splitting 1/8 gallon of some local brew (Smalltown U.S.A. is wet, but the county it is in is not). Much to my surprise, there were no government agents, no little gray-skinned coldly anthropomorphic aliens, and no fake ID’s in sight; instead we end up with some ice cream, a soap opera set in a hospital, and Lauren in stereotypically sorority sweatpants that have the name of our illustrious rich preppy white kids’ school stenciled down the side.*
Afterwards, there is a blur of YouTube videos that involve ghost riding, frat pranks, DUI, and a few other bits of nonsense, and then, finally, finally, FINALLY, Ryan arrives.
Ryan flies in from the West, and is understandably a little disoriented when she arrives. She is further disoriented by the fact that when she gets here Lauren and I are crying in relief that there is finally another one of us here, someone to break the yin/yang duality that we have created, someone who isn’t clawing to get out, someone who we can pretend is our adopted daughter (from South Africa).
When Matt arrives as our adopted son (from Korea), the family is complete; now I am the master.

Story #6: K-Mart
Matt, Ryan, and I are stuck with no place to go. So, like many cynical, bitter, alienated young people, we decide to go to Wal-Mart. Specifically, an establishment called “Super Wal-Mart”, which (allegedly) has the soy milk that Ryan (a vegan) requires to be able to eat her cereal.
By the way, since Ryan is a vegan, most of my conversations with her end up being enlightening, philosophical discussions about the ethical treatment of animals and animal products:

ME: So can you eat lasagna?
RYAN: No, it has cheese, which is an animal product.
ME: Well, what if we take the meat out?
RYAN:…it has cheese, which is an animal product.
ME: Can you eat barbecue?
RYAN:…think about that for a second.
ME: We can take the meat out of it for you!

We start driving south, cross the state border, and end up at an intersection which has…you guessed it. A K-Mart, a Mexican place, and Food City. Which means the Thai place is right here. I bang my head against the wall repeatedly until Matt gently takes my arm and tells me we are going to Super K-Mart instead, which is roughly the same thing.
As a hardened cynic, pundit, and geek, I have long since learned to avoid things with K’s (K-pax, Kristin, the KKK, K-wings) because of various unpleasant events/things associated with them (Kevin Spacey, Hiroshima, lynchings, the entire war against the Duskhan League) but somehow, I am convinced to go inside.
Super K-Mart has probably seen better days, unfortunately. Its shelves are half-empty and sagging, as though they haven’t been stocked since the boomtown times of the 1980s, and the only items there in plenty are discount candies, which Ryan (an insider, as she worked at Rite-Aid for two years) tells us probably mean they are the promotional kinds that they put in these big bins and nobody wants because they taste terrible. We end up not buying anything, although Ryan gets toothpaste from the convenience store next door.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Story #4: All Thai'd Up
So, on the advice of my boss, we hit the road in search of a Thai restaurant about 40 miles down the road- Route 15 North. With optimism and a full tank of gas on our side, we follow my boss' vague directions about (paraphrasing here) "follow 15 N until you hit a K-Mart, a Mexican place, and Food City".

An hour later, we are very upset. Having found the mythical location with the K-Mart, Mexican place, and Food City, we are unable to locate any Thai restaurant, and neither are the local townsfolk, as shown by the following dialogue:

LAUREN: Excuse me sir, but do you know where the Thai place around here is?
RANDOM GUY: Tie place? Uhh, I think there's a men's shop, or something, down the road...
LAUREN: Oh good God...no, like Thai, Thailand, you know...
RANDOM GUY: TieLand? Is that a chain?
LAUREN: Look, do you have any idea where this place is?
RANDOM GUY: Well, I'm sure it's, uhh, on the, erm, map here somewhere, with, you know, like, South Africa and the Iraq...umm...

We ride back in frustration and end up eating Pizza Hutt for dinner that night.

The next morning I discover that I have, in fact, been misled:

RANDOM COWORKER: Hey, I heard you went to that Thai place last night.
ME: Nope, couldn't find it along 15 N...
RANDOM COWORKER:....you don't take 15 N. That's in the wrong direction.
ME: My boss said 15 north...
RANDOM COWORKER: Oh, she must have meant 15 South...actually, that's not even the right highway...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

So my desktop is a rotating collage of pictures and images, some of which involve me and That Girl. One of those pictures showed up, involving me and her together.

Ryan's immediate reaction: Is that your girlfriend?
Me: Yup.
Ryan: Aww, she's cute.

Me: *thinking* Oh God, this relationship is doomed

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Story #2: High Noon ([Ar] 4s1 5d10)
Downtown Smalltown U.S.A. has two places to eat at lunchtime within walking distance from the place where I work, and around the corner from where Lauren works. Lauren and I choose to go to the Café by the courthouse, a little brick building shared with a New Age hippie-esque candles and perfume shop next door.
The Café, like any other ordered system, has rules about how it gets filled up. These rules were defined many years ago, and go like this:
1) The Aufbau Principle: In any given group of open tables, the one that requires the least amount of energy to get to is filled up first. Therefore, people will fill the tables closest to the door first and keep filling tables progressively further away.
2) Hun’s Rule: Atilla being a generally irritable person, he decreed during his invasion of Gaul that nobody could sit with him when he was eating. He later extended this rule to his army; thus, whenever they stopped for a pit stop at the local McDonalds his troops would go in and sit one to a table until all the tables in a building were occupied, and then and only then would his troops start to double up.
3) The Pauly Exclusion Principle: Pauly was a Smalltown lady of ill repute in the 1970s, and ran many of the shady lunchtime escort businesses in the county during that time. In order to maintain the exclusivity of her clientele and maximize profit margin, she decided that only one person of each gender may sit at each table, and therefore each table may only have 2 people.
Lauren and I are quite clearly unaware of these rules, because at 12:01 pm when we enter the restaurant and sit down everyone stares at us. This is turning into kind of a tradition; as Lauren and I don’t know anyone else here, we spend a good deal of time running around and generally raising chaos together. This leads to a lot of staring.
And speaking of staring…

Story #3: Yankee Doodle (CH3OOH and CH3OO—)
Lauren and I end up going to dinner at the Pine Mountain Grill, a uniquely American/Smalltownian experience that is 0.3M gift shop, and 0.5M restaurant. Afterwards, we decide to cruise town a little bit. Having heard rumors (true or false) that there is a Wal-Mart in Smalltown, we started to drive that way and ended up at a small-town-merchant-killing, environment-hating, globalization-homogenization-spewing Wal-Mart so small and weak and pathetic you almost wanted to wrap it in a blanket and take it to a rescue shelter. In all seriousness, I have seen FamilyMarts and 7-11s and some European countries larger than this Wal-Mart.
We enter, and spend 20 minutes trying to find the office-supply section, and probably about 40 trying to find a bath mat. Meanwhile, bemused, amused, and abused Smalltownians cause immeasurable blunt trauma to their internal organs desperately attempting to keep from bursting out in laughter at us. Finally, we approach a tiny home improvement section that would make the founders of Bed Bath and Bodyworks Beyond sad. I latch onto a beautiful and cheap (relatively- $9.86) white bath mat, all soft and fluffy to keep my feet from sogging in dampness all day. Here is the exact transcript of the discussion that ensued:

ME: Lauren, I’ve found it! Eureka! It’s my bath mat!
LAUREN: That goes around the toilet, hon. See the giant hole in it?
ME: Yeah, but it’s cheap!
LAUREN: It’s also the wrong color.
ME: What’s wrong with white?
LAUREN: You’re in a house with cats.
ME: The cats have white on their paws.
LAUREN: [Shakes head] Boys. [Picks up an ugly brown bath mat] See, this one would go so much better with the décor at the Casa…
ME: Uh huh. [Under breath] Oh sweet Lord, we’re turning into an old married couple. [Bashes head against the shelf] [Discovers shelf is a bit more rickety than it appears] [Screams as entire shelf full of bathroom decoration goes tumbling down like the walls of Jericho]

Basically, we neutralize each other entirely, and no outside interference is able to change the overall balance, or find a different solution.
As we walk out of the Wal-Mart bickering, we become aware of people trying to be discreet as they look at us out of the corner of their eyes, kids staring at us openly, dogs barking at us, and birds turning their heads to catch a glimpse, then turning back to their course just as they run smack into the automatic glass door that guards the entrance of the store. I consider what might be going on here. Then it dawns upon me that in addition to being naturally amusing to the locals as Yankees (despite Lauren having a thick West Virginia-Southern accent and me with my accentless Midwestern), we are being perceived to be much older than we are, Lauren because of her mature features and me because I am Asian.
Crap, I think to myself, we’re the new yuppie couple in town.
Lauren is sporting a black sundress, Paris Hilton model brown sunglasses, Coach bag and a (presumably) Asian trophy husband being toted around in a flamboyant cherry-red Volvo screaming up and down the “four-lanes” (highways). I am in my standard-issue collared golf shirt and some not-inexpensive jeans donated to my fashion-poor cause by a caring, charitable relative (Me being a 501© means I am completely tax-writeoffable; thus, the donations). We could not be more conspicuous in this relaxed little hip town if one of us was being titrated.

[Note from K: I don’t think titrated was the word you were looking for there]

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Notes from the Field
So, I've been in Smalltown U.S.A. now for almost three whole days, and I've had a few observations to make:

-Smalltown is not, actually, a *small* town (defined as being less than 1/3rd the size of my high school): as the welcome banner proclaims, Smalltown holds about 1500 people (and I kid you not, the sign actually says this) "two grouches". I can only exclaim my surprise that Big Bird is not lurking around somewhere.

-Smalltown U.S.A. is not, actually, a good representation of a *small* town in the U.S. of A. It has a remarkable arts and culture (Southern/Appalachian) scene, a good deal of outsider transplants who come to live and work here, a hip, edgy kind of feel, and not one, but *two* chain grocery stores (not quite BCS-league grocery stores, but mid-major at least).

-So there are four of us supposed to be interning at various locations here in Smalltown, but Lauren and I got here first, on Sunday afternoon. And that has led to some short anecdotes, none of which are particularly entertaining on their own, but which in their aggregate have proven to be somewhat amusing...

[Note: my deepest apologies about the various O-Chem references; I borrowed That Girl's textbook to browse over the summer in the hope that vague, half-remembered facts about the Big O will help me not completely flunk out of orgo next semester, and so random basic chemistry facts from the review chapters in the beginning have been floating around in my head]

Story #1: The Truth about Cats and Dogs (3 ethyl,2methyl-hexane)
So Lauren and I were actually supposed to be up here last week, but Lauren arrived first at the house the four of us interns were going to rent (called simply "The Casa"), and there was a problem: the nice lady who owns the place has cats. 10 of them. Or thereabouts.
Lauren is mildly allergic to cats; this was proven after the EMTs took her weeping, shivering, sniffling, oozing form to go get detoxed*, and so, she was obviously unable to stay at The Casa (note: the "The" must always be capitalized). She then drove back home and we agreed to come back on Sunday to see if we could cleanse the place of cat hair and be able to stay together.
It didn't work out nicely.

METHYL Branch: Lauren was homeless when she got back and had several housing options in the booming real estate market of Smalltown:
1) Live in a bed and breakfast- which had no vacancies. Crossed off the list.
2) Live in a Super 8 motel- not only were there enormous numbers of sketchy angry-unemployed-have-nothing-to-do-so-must-resort-to-urban-violence young white men hanging around, the rooms most definitely did not cost $8 a night. Crossed off the list.
3) Live with a "25-year-old new guy looking for a roommate" (fPendl in 5 years). Crossed off the list.
4) Live in a cottage rented out to tourists, next to a vineyard. Considered excellent, but was in a valley that had no cell-phone service. Crossed off the list.
5) Sleep on her boss's couch.
Guess which option she picked?

ETHYL Branch: Unlike my younger brother, I am not deathly allergic to cats, although I have been feeling really itchy lately after more close contact with cats than I know what to do with in the past 72 hours. But that might just be the toxic heavy metals leached into the water that I shower with (courtesy of Big Coal and Hillary. or something)
All of the cats and dogs that live at the Casa (peaceably...this lady should sell her secret to Jimmy Carter, I swear) are very nice, except for one. Not unpredictably, this cat looks a lot like Laura's Tacas, except perhaps a little grayer.
She (I refuse to believe this cat is an honorable male) was *waiting* for me outside my door when I woke up this morning. She purred, almost as if yawning contemptibly, and rubbed herself against my leg; when I reached down to pet her I heard an adamantine snikkt!!! and felt my leg being torn off by claws. Pain and suffering, gentle readers, pain and suffering like you cannot imagine.
That cat and I are not done yet. Oh no, not by a long shot.

More later...

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Now up to Four

1) Rejection of "Hollow Girl" from Writers of the Future, Summer 2004
2) Rejection of "First Date" from Overture Awards, Fall 2006
3) Rejection of "First Date" from Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Fall 2006
4) Rejection of "A Clean, Well-Lit Nowhere" from Writers of the Future, Spring 2008

Four down, forty-six to go...