Saturday, June 30, 2012

Critical Items

We haven't checked in on Virginia, our friendly neighborhood 95-year-old grandmother lately, have we?

I went grocery shopping for her today--I do it about twice a month.  It was so goddamn hot today--like 114 degrees in the grocery store parking lot, hot.  But Gigi needed some things, the same things she always needs:

  • sourdough bread
  • a box of Premium crackers (she likes them better than Saltines)
  • a gallon of buttermilk
  • a gallon of 2% "sweet milk"
  • laundry detergent

At least four of these five things are pretty much always on her list, and I just now realized they're all white.  Weird.

When she called me this morning to give me her list, she said, "I might be calling you later with more, but that's all I can think of right this minute."  I went ahead and added "cat food" to the bottom of the list, because she always needs cat food.  For years I've suspected she survives on a stew she makes out of cat food and milk.

Anyway, we went to the movies today because what else are you going to do when it's hot like this? And apparently Gigi called about six times while my phone was silenced, as is her wont (if someone doesn't answer, call again! And again! And again!).

I called her back after the movie and she was all, "I left a few messages on your answering machine.  I need you to pick up some critical items I forgot to tell you about this morning."

"What are they?" I asked.

"I can't remember," she said.  "You're going to have to listen to the machine."

So I have this bad habit of never checking my voicemail, and the messages tend to pile up for weeks until it becomes necessary for me to sit down and listen to all 16 of them at once.  Which is what I did today in the Bell's grocery store on Hawthorne, which is where Gigi likes me to go because they sell gallons of Mayfield buttermilk--not just half gallons like they have at Kroger.

Anyway, after about 10 minutes of listening to messages left on my phone by people trying to figure out where I was during the week of Paddle Georgia, I got to four voicemails from my grandmother, left today during a period of about nine minutes:

VOICEMAIL #1:  Jessie.....   Get me some cat food, will you? The raccoon got into it last night and ate the whole can.  Thanks, honey.  Bye.  [Note: Virginia keeps her cat food indoors--in the laundry room, which she calls the "back room." She keeps it in a small metal trashcan. The "raccoon" routinely finds its way into the back room and eats many pounds of cat food at a time.  It could also be a possum.  Nobody's really sure.]

VOICEMAIL #2: Jessie.  And get me some cookies.  I've been out of sweets for a month.

VOICEMAIL #3: Jessie, hey.  And if you're at Bell's, get me one of those lemon cakes from the deli.  I'm just dying for somethin' sweet!

VOICEMAIL #4: Jessie? I can't imagine where you are.  Get me a 6 pack of Hershey bars....With almonds. Call me back.

Critical items, indeed.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Coping Mechanisms: A Guide

Day 7: OMG so fun.
Christ on a Bike, that was a lot of work.

Welp, Paddle Georgia is over, and I think I'm all recovered-up.  But even though I feel like I've been hit with the sunburn/ dehydration/ overstimulation truck, I'm actually sort of sad when it's over.  Because Paddle Georgia allows me to spy on people. Like, all day long for a week.  It's better than the bus station.

Paddle Georgia's basically summer camp for old people.  And summer camp works really well for kids because they're used to not getting what they want all the time, but most adults have carefully coordinated their lives so they can be as free of inconvenience as possible.

My family, over it.
But Paddle Georgia gives these grown-ass people the chance to sleep in a gymnasium together, use locker room showers, wait in lines to eat, wait in lines for buses to the river, wait in lines for shuttles into town, wait in lines to talk to someone who can give them answers.  It's stressful, and I honestly don't know why they come back every year.  But tons of them do.  Like my friend Ricky says, these people are going to be ready to negotiate the outfall of a dystopian future.  So long as the dystopia involves refugee camps.

So, over the past week, I've catalogued a few coping mechanisms that people use when confronted with a refugee camp situation, and I wrote them down in an email to a friend who idly asked whether Paddle Georgia had given me any insights into the secrets of the human heart, etc.

Well, here's what I know about what 350 people do when they have to live together in gymnasiums for a week:

1. Find the Loopholes: Is there a weight room at this high school you can sneak into and sleep in? If you volunteer for the second shift of breakfast, can you break in line and eat before everybody else? If you ask an authority figure the same question a number of different ways, will she get confused and let you do whatever you want? The answer to all these questions is almost certainly "yes."

Yeah, I dunno...
2. Form a Dissident Sect:  Lord of the Flies-style.  Basically, you hole up with 5 or 6 other people on the outskirts of camp and mutter mean things at people under your breath as they walk by.  This way you can do whatever you want and people are too scared of you to tattle.
This child was particularly intimidating
3. Be the First in Line: if you get on the first bus to the river (7 AM), you don't have to wait in line to get to the river.  Then if you paddle really fast down the river, you won't have to wait in line for the bus back to camp. And then if you get in line for dinner at around 2:30, you'll be the first to eat at 6:30. If you play your cards right, you could spend your entire life being the first in line.

4. Ask to Talk to the Manager: if someone tells you not to camp there because the sprinkler system is going to turn on at 2 AM, ask to talk to her manager.  By the end of the trip I actually started telling people I didn't have a manager.  "NOBODY'S above you?" Nope.  Nobody. 

Some coworkers, hanging out super hard.
5. Napping: This one guy named Bill just took a nap in the middle of the floor whenever he felt overwhelmed.  He was a retired school bus driver and one time he fell asleep in front of the fanciest restaurant in this little costal town, which upset some lunching ladies, so I had to go wake him up and find him another place to sleep.  I put him in an alley between two condos, which made him perfectly happy. God bless him.

6. Be Late for Everything: You don't have to wait in line when you're late for everything.

So, yeah.  If you ever find yourself either back at summer camp, or in a post-apocalyptic hell-scape, keep these strategies in mind.  They're all pretty effective.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Humanity!

Darla spent a nice rainy Monday with me in my studio this week, and at one point, she said, "I know you're busy and stuff, but you haven't updated your blog in 8 days."

Sorry, dudes.  I know you can't get enough of me and my blog.

What do you wanna talk about? How about Paddle Georgia, because that's happening.

Well, Paddle Georgia starts on Friday, which means I'll be away from a computer for week.  I don't think I've ever written about PG on here because most years, by the time it's all over, I just don't even want to talk about it anymore.

But here's the short version:  it's a huge, completely unmanagable river trip the nonprofit I work for puts on every summer.  We take 350+ people on a river in Georgia for a week. It sells out in 10 days or less.  We arrange the peoples' camping, food, shuttles to and from the river, and sometimes we help them portage their canoes around obstacles.  That's it.  That's all we're supposed to do.  Of course, it ends up being much more than that.

We usually only have 5 staff people, which is a staff-to-participant ratio of...I don't want to think about it.  Anyway, during that week, I get to bear witness to fascets of peoples' personalities they usually keep hidden.

Picture a darkened high school gymnasium.  It's 11:00 PM. Hundreds of retired veterinarians and German tourists and refrigerator salesmen and inner city kids from Atlanta are sleeping together on blowup mattresses on the floor.  About a quarter of them are snoring.  I'm sitting at a plastic folding table in the hallway outside the double doors, rummaging through my backpack for the key that turns off the lights in the gym, which keep turning on automatically every 15 minutes.  I'm starting to get kind of panicky because it's been almost 7 minutes since the last time the whole place lit up like the White House Christmas tree. The janitor who gave me the key to the lights has gone off to find the override code for the lighting system. Of course, I've lost the key already because that's just how I do.

A harried looking man carrying an iPhone in one hand and a toothbrush in the other bustles over and asks me what the temperature is going to be at the campground tomorrow night at 8 o'clock. I don't have an iPhone and suggest he consult his.  He looks at his phone indignantly, grumbles something under his breath--possibly, "I hate you and your stupid idiot face"--and walks away.

In the meantime, a 14-year-old boy has wandered up and is staring at something on the table I'm sitting behind.  He picks up a mesh bag with a wet t-shirt in it.

Him: Can I have this?
Me: I don't know who it belongs to.  Could you put it in the Lost and Found box over there?
Him: Where?
Me: Right there behind you.
Him: If it's in the Lost and Found box, can I have it?
Me (rummaging through my backpack again, this time with feeling): Mmmmm.
Him: I mean, if it's in Lost and Found...
Me: Is it yours?
Him: [silence]
Me:  If it's not yours, put it in Lost and Found.  And go to bed--it's like midnight or something.
Him: It's 11:09.
Me: Close enough--

The gym doors slam open and shut and tearful gray haired woman hurries up to me, starting in the middle of a story about why her sleeping bag is soaking wet. Something about the showers in the locker room flooding. I stop looking for the key long enough to dig the spare blanket out of a different  bag on the floor and hand it to her.  She nods and says, "Okay."  Not "thank you." Okay.

When I sit back down, the key to the timer pokes me in the thigh. It's in my pocket.  I sprint down the hall to the basketball coach's office to turn it off, but it's too late.  The lights in the gym are already on.  But whatever, I turn them off.

And there you have an 8 minute segment of the middle of the night, Paddle Georgia-style.  It's like that for 7 straight days.

I kinda love it, kinda hate it.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cockroaches and Self Deception

I grew up in Georgia, in a series of houses that lacked many amenities, including central air conditioning. As a result, I've become nearly impervious to the Georgia summer. Anything above 75 and below 100 feels awesome to me. 95% humidity? Yes, please!

You know who else loves weather like that? Bugs.

Mostly just me and the bugs.

And since I grew up in houses with attic fans and open windows, I've seen a lot of bugs, in a lot of different places. In the shower, for one. Moseying across the kitchen counter, for another. Skittering along the living room wall close to the ceiling is something I've found they like to do in the evening, right before they settle down for a quiet snooze on your pillow next to your face. While it would undoubtedly be nicer living without them, bugs don't bother me too much.

Bryan, on the other hand, is bothered by indoor bugs. Ants, spiders, fleas, those little mustard-colored beetles, June bugs, earwigs, silverfish, grain moths, regular moths, fruit flies, house flies, and especially the ones he calls cockroaches and I call Palmetto Bugs.  He HATES them.

Luckily, the South is a place where euphemism is culturally embraced to an arguably unhealthy degree. One of my grandmother's friends still refers to the Civil War as "The Unpleasantness." And when you live someplace hot without air conditioning, you've just got to open your windows and deal with the various arthropods that emerge from the deep, dank places in the earth and want to cuddle with you.

So, you call roaches something romantic like Palmetto Bugs.  Or "wood roaches," which is what my dad calls them.

I guess my point is, one benefit of growing up in a culture full of stubbornly self-deceptive people is that I've learn the valuable skill of bald-faced lying to myself.  As a result of calling cockroaches "Palmetto Bugs," I am 100% not freaked out by them.  And I believe that my calling them that gives Bryan permission to be about 15% less freaked out than he would be otherwise.

Thanks to my homeland, everybody's almost kinda happy about something lame!