My annual holiday pilgrimage to visit family is looming this weekend -- and this one is shaping up to be a monster.
Not so much when I get where I'm going, of course. The actual holiday experience is forecast to be no more or less monstrous than usual.
Not that I'm saying it's monstrous. Just that if it isn't, this one probably won't be. And if it is, this one shouldn't be any more so.
Or less so. If it is, in the first place. Which I'm not saying.
I am, however, flying out of Boston on the Saturday before a mid-week Christmas, and that promises to be a squirming sweaty mass of monstrous humanity, the likes of which M. Night Shyamalan could make into some cheesy horror flick.
And I'm just talking about my row on the airplane. The rest of it is downright scary.
Holiday travel is never good. Weekend travel is a mess. "Prime time" flight departures -- like, oh, say, Saturday noon out of Boston and mid-afternoon in whichever fly-through southern whistlestop our layover takes us to this time -- attract cacophonous hordes of suitcase-laden humans, the large majority of which seem to head either toward or away from Florida or New Jersey.
Or Purgatory, based on most of their expressions.
"I've tried different ways to cope with this sardines-in-Santa-hats endeavor over the years. None of them have actually worked, so I won't depress you by recounting the many failures."
Put them all together, and you've got a perfect storm of stereotypical travel nightmares. Lines snaking across the sidewalks. Overstuffed overhead bins. Missed connections. Twelve-dollar drinks. Stranger cooties. Patdowns. Mechanical failures. It's like a list of categories from sixthcircleofhell.craigslist.org/.
I call it AHT: Airport Hell Time.
I've tried different ways to cope with this sardines-in-Santa-hats endeavor over the years. None of them have actually worked, so I won't depress you by recounting the many failures. In recent years, my coping mechanism has been to simply refuse to acknowledge the ordeal is coming until the very last possible minute. In terms of overall sanity, it's been somewhat effective.
In terms of packing clean underwear, the results are more muddled. As is some of the underwear, I imagine.
Mostly, I get enough clothing stuffed in a suitcase to manage. It's not always my clothing, and it doesn't necessarily match or fit or cover all the scandalous bits, but it more or less works out okay.
But what I usually find is that only thinking about packing twelve minutes before the plane is scheduled to board leaves me no time to prep anything that might make me more at peace (however minimally) during the trek. These are the things I think of doing, with one half-pantsed leg out the door. Copying new music over to my laptop. Downloading that ebook I bought last month to my phone. Investing in a Zimbabwean Valium mine.
These things might distract -- or soothe, or clinically sedate -- me for a while, crammed into an Airbus or a body scanner or a gateside half-assed Applebee's. But they are lost to me, because planning for them would require accepting, hours or even days in advance, that Airport Hell Time is coming. So you'd better watch out.
(Pouting irrelevant. You're cornholed, either way.)
Last year, I finally made an attempt. I'm not sure why I thought I was ready. Maybe we flew out at two in the morning, and I figured it would be clear. Maybe my wife slipped a handful of Zoloft into my Thanksgiving hash. Maybe I'd had some transcendent moment of Zen, the memory of which was subsequently wiped out.
(By Christmas travel. Naturally.)
Whatever it was, I decided to face the Yuletide beast up front and early. And I did all of those little things that every year I wish I would have done. I was prepared to self-entertain the shit out of this Christmas gauntlet, bag checks and flight delays and seat-kicking six-year-old snotbags behind me be damned. I updated all my phone apps in advance. I downloaded some games to try out. I had ebooks. On my laptop, more games. Lots of music. A big set of pictures from my digital camera I wanted to go through. Even a spreadsheet I'd been working on at the office. One way or another, I was going to find a little comfort on the road -- or the air-road... uh, -sky thing; oh for crissakes, you know what I mean.
I finished packing the morning of the flight, took a cab with the missus to the airport, settled into the cackling sea of humanity in the check-in line...
And realized I'd forgotten my chargers. Both of them. Laptop and phone. And with all that crap I'd been loading onto them constantly for a week, they were nearly out of juice.
You've got to be ho-ho-holy effing kidding me.
I did recover, in a sense. But by the time I'd made it through that line and the screening line and found the gate and searched out a kiosk selling fourteen-tuple marked-up portable chargers and waited in that line with all the other absent-minded yobbos who'd done the same stupid thing, the damage was done. Airport Hell Time had me in its clutches. My devices were dead. I was out forty bucks. The flight was delayed another three hours so they could squeegee a goose carcass off the fuselage or something -- and there was nowhere to plug in. The six hundred and twelve thousand other passengers on my flight, who evidently hadn't searched every inch of Terminals A through Q for a charger, already had their grubby little prongs in all the available holes.
So I sat.
(On the floor. No seats left. For obvs.)
And I pondered the futility of fighting Airport Hell Time. I realized it's inevitable; like City Hall and the IRS and various naked bits of Miley Cyrus, it can't be beaten. You can't escape it. You can only hope to survive the ride.
This year, I've given up. I know it's coming; I'm not avoiding it. I've started packing. I've got a couple of books -- which will no doubt get ripped apart in some baggage check melee before I get to read them. I downloaded some new tunes to listen to -- those are likely to be mislabeled tracks from an "Alvin and the Chipmunks Gregorian Chants and Whalesong" album I don't know about. And I made sure to pack my chargers -- which are sure to spontaneously combust in my carry-on, taking my phone and boarding pass and an innocent foam neck pillow out with them.
I suppose what I'm saying is: Happy holidays. And wish me luck.
If I'm not back in a week, I'm stuck in an airport somewhere, rolled into a fetal position and muttering to myself about Prancer, poinsettias and peanut packets. Airport Hell Time strikes again!
This morning, I entered an emasculation contest.
Well Not "entered", precisely. "Was chucked into" is more like it. I imagine that's how emasculation contests usually go; nobody enters them willingly. Like marathons, probably.
Anyway, there's some question as to whether I or this other guy should have felt worse about himself, cried his way back home and crawled under the covers. Me, or him? I don't know -- you decide.
Contestant #1: Yours Truly
Over the weekend, it snowed maybe two or three inches around Boston. I didn't need my car, so I left it in the parking lot. Resting. Stewing. And evidently, freezing.
So this morning, with the workday looming, I took my trusty windshield scrapery thing and cleared off the car. I got in, turned it on, blasted the heater, threw it into reverse and moved... nowhere. Spinny wheels. Smell of rubber. Mild shame.
I stepped out and investigated the wheel situation. There was a little snow, sure. But nothing I hadn't powered through or rocked over or peeled accidental sideways donuts around before. My car is great in the winter. I never get stuck. That stuff is for hybrids and "sports coupes" and no-wheel-drive BMWs.
(Seriously, with the Beemers. It's like the Germans refuse to believe snow even exists.)
"Jack Frost wasn't yanking my flywheel, so far as I could tell. And I think I would notice that. I'm just saying."
So I dug a little with my windshield brush, and tried again. And again. And again. I got a couple of feet, but the wheels just refused to grip. And I couldn't see why. There was no snowdrift behind me. No puddles of grease under the wheels. Jack Frost wasn't yanking my flywheel, so far as I could tell. And I think I would notice that. I'm just saying.
Anyway, it went downhill from there. A pretty brunette lady came driving into the lot, parked in the spot she'd clearly cleaned out earlier, and asked if I needed some help. I said, no thanks. She claimed to not know too much about getting unstuck, but offered, and I quote:
"But I'm Canadian, and I'm fearless."
Which is a phenomenal pickup line. But it doesn't get a Nissan on the street. I thanked her and went back to my scraper-scooping.
She went into her apartment building, then poked her head back out to ask if I wanted to borrow a real shovel.
Less optimal, as a pickup line. And little help to me, since there really wasn't any significant snow to shovel in the first place. Just an inch or two of ice that shouldn't have stopped a skateboard, much less my usually-Arctic-exploring vehicle.
But it did. I kept at it for another ten minutes, until another guy came out to try pushing me out. I got another two feet before thanking him, calling it quits and rolling back into my parking spot. Partly, I was worried I'd get into the middle of the lot, get stuck and ruin things for everyone else. Like a BMW driver.
(But mostly, the guy who was helping me was European, and I couldn't place his accent. Also, I couldn't go any further without bad-mouthing BMWs, and got worried he might be German.
Besides, snarking on German engineering just seems fundamentally wrong. That's like bagging on American consumerism or Brazilian crotch haircuts. Just... wrong.)
So I gave up and took a cab to work. And was thus introduced to:
Contestant #2: The Cabbie
I found a cab, and asked the guy to take me to the Cambridgeside Galleria, in Cambridge. Not because that's where I was going -- but it's close to where I was going, and it's a spot everyone around here knows.
(Because it's a mall. See: 'Consumerism, American'.)
He didn't know it. Blank look. Running meter. I tried again.
This mall -- and also my nearby office -- is in Kendall Square in Cambridge. Next to Harvard Square -- that's where Harvard is, kiddies -- it's the best-known area of Cambridge. So that would get us moving.
Except he'd never heard of it. Fine. Just take me over the B.U. Bridge, and I'll get us there.
He looked at me with the innocent guileless eyes of a newborn puppy. A puppy who had no idea what a "B.U. Bridge" is.
What a B.U. Bridge is, in fact, is a bridge just a few blocks away, and which connects the campus of Boston University to Cambridge, which is just across the river. Which the bridge crosses. To Cambridge. Where I wanted to go.
He shrugged. So I took him, turn by turn, to the destination, like an infinitely patient backseat GPS. Only let's face it, better.
"In 300 feet, go left."
"Take the second right, where that red car is."
"This yellow light lasts a while -- gun it. GUN IT!"
So I made it to work, finally. But did I win the contest? Who's the bigger dink here -- the guy who couldn't get out of the parking lot over an inch of ice, or the cabbie who's never heard of anything in the city he's driving?
I'm pretty sure I know the answer. Because somebody got that stupid cab out of the lot this morning.
I've been noticing a lot of urine lately.
Let me rephrase that.
I've been noticing people making a big deal out of urine lately. In particular, the color and how it relates to overall health. Those little "pee hue" charts are everywhere, it seems. Look, here's one whizzing by right now:
(You see what I did there? "Whizzing by"? Aw, yeah. It's goin' be like that.)
"Well, I've got a bone to pick with these tinkle tone testers."
Now, maybe these things have always been popular -- insofar as any infographic depicting the rainbow varieties of a bodily fluid can be considered "popular". Whatever you call them, I don't remember this sort of buzz in the past. Possibly, I just wasn't paying attention. I might be more tuned in, now that my toilet is taking up a greater share of attention.
Well, I've got a bone to pick with these tinkle tone testers. Because none that I've seen yet goes far enough. I know there are others out there who, like me, have led an... interesting life. And in so doing, have peed a whole freaking rainbow of colors. What do those mean? Let's consult the chart. My chart.
Urinalysis for the Rest of Us
What You Peed What It Means
You haven't peed yet.
You probably peed three hours ago and forgot to flush.
Oh, yeah. There it is.
That canned corn you ate may have gone bad.
That canned corn wasn't actually corn, was it?
It's possible you're dehydrated.
Or you've been eating Cheetos on the toilet again.
You should probably see a doctor.
Or stop using tomatoes as condoms.
Time to lay off the blueberries.
And the kale salads.
Aaaaand the mushrooms.
You accidentally peed in your Guinness.
Or your bladder is possessed by Satan.
Either way, that can't be good.
Good god, are you still peeing?
Seriously, are you made of freaking pee, or what?
All right, Grimace. We're done here. Get help.
I hope this helps. I'm not a urologist, exactly. But I do have a lot of strange pees. Close is close, right?
It's said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. I don't know what those who ignore toilet seat history are doomed to, exactly, but I'm quickly finding out. And it's not pretty.
Here's the thing.
My wife and I have lived in our condo for four years, give or take a blizzard season. The place has two bathrooms, and the toilet in each is fitted with a No-Drop Ev'r-Quiet Easy-Lower Seat™.
I have no idea whether that's the actual name of the thing, of course. But seeing as how it's a toilet seat, and to sell toilet seats you probably need some kind of flashy creative verbiage, and that whoever bought the things probably saw them in a late-night infomercial or something, it's a pretty safe bet that I'm close.
(Or that the actual name is worse. Like the "Slo-Commode". Or the "Whisper Shitter". I weep.)
The point is, you can't accidentally drop the lids or the seats on these things. If you tap the back of the seat, it glides slowly and gently down to the bowl, without any unnecessary drama or porcelain banging involved. It's a convenience. A middle-class luxury. A toilet that's seen, but never heard.
(Well. Except after "Taco Night", maybe.)
So these fancy terlet seats are a pretty nice thing. And, like all nice things, they have a problem. Namely, one gets used to them. One grows accustomed to one's nice thing, and then when one is in a situation without the nice thing, one's usual habits turn one into a rude and boorish monster who makes all the neighbors and maybe damages a bathroom fixture or two.
I know. It happened to me last year.
In that instance, I was a guest in someone else's house. A fine house, a very nice house -- but not a house equipped with space-age "Serene Latrine" technology.
(Okay, I'm taking credit for that one. "Serene Latrine" isn't half-bad.)
So, I banged the toilet in the middle of the night and woke people up, and go read the old post if you want all the details. I'm not obligated to relive all of my public humiliations year after year.
I save that shit for Christmas with the in-laws, thank you very much.
"You don't need to know who was doing what in there, or if it was Next-Taco Morning or what kind of horseplay might have been involved. Or why a horse was in the bathroom in the first place."
Anyway, that's the history. Zoom forward to last week, when we suddenly needed to replace the toilet seat in our guest bathroom.
I'm not going to tell you why, exactly, we needed to replace it. That's private. You don't need to know who was doing what in there, or if it was Next-Taco Morning or what kind of horseplay might have been involved. Or why a horse was in the bathroom in the first place.
Let's just say that the old toilet seat was... indisposed, and so we ordered and fitted a replacement. A replacement, it turns out, that is also not fitted with a Crashless Crapper Cap.
(Nah. The "latrine" thing was better. Ah well.)
And this is where the "ignoring history" bit comes in. Because I've used that toilet a half dozen times since we put the new seat on. And every time, when I finished I ever-so-gently tapped the top of the lid to close it. Not thinking, just force of habit. And history-ignorant.
So far, I've woken up my wife, made the neighbors' baby cry, set off a nearby car alarm and possibly perforated an eardrum. Which is not cool. I mean, I've only done two of those things in a bathroom before this whole seat debacle.
Well. Maybe three. But in my defense, that kid was always whining about something. It probably had colic.
Anyway, I've got to find some way to muffle this seat banging, before I do any real damage. Or we have to buy another one, with the Languid Lid feature. Otherwise, I'm going to lose my bathroom privileges altogether.
And Taco Night is just around the corner. Yeeks.
I meet new people from time to time.
Well, not "new" people, exactly. So far as I know, they've all been people for some substantial amount of time. Decades, in most cases. Some of them are actually quite old people, indeed. They're just new to me.
So. I meet new-to-me people from time to time. And I'd like to stop, because it's incredibly difficult. Every single little bit of it.
First, I don't remember names. It's like a social blind spot. I hear someone saying to me, "Hi, I'm..." And that's all I get. I'm always so busy being sure to make eye contact and smile and make sure my hands are dry and not reflexively staring at my crotch in a panic to see whether my fly is zipped, I never hear the name. Or see my zipper. It's a nightmare.
(On the bright side, I can usually play off missing the name, so long as I never, never ever see the person again. It's when they show up again, socially -- if it's a new neighbor, say, or a mother-in-law or prospective boss on a job interview -- that things get sticky. Eventually, I have to call these people something. And they never seem very pleased when my personal nicknames for them come out.
Well, maybe if Porky, Hairpile and Snagglefang would wear a nametag now and then, we wouldn't have this problem. I don't see how any of this is my fault, frankly.)
But that's just the beginning. Then there's the touching. There's always some sort of touching, and I never know which kind is appropriate. When do you shake hands? When should you kiss cheeks? Or "pretend to kiss cheeks, but don't actually touch your lips to my face, you big gangly doofus"?
(As it was once described to me. Rather loudly.
"So I'm always finding myself in the middle of some half-grasped handshake or near-gropey hug, or with my tongue in some strange European's ear."
I never know. So I'm always finding myself in the middle of some half-grasped handshake or near-gropey hug, or with my tongue in some strange European's ear. Never the sexy strange ones, either. It's always the hairy strange ones that smell like olives and failed national currency.
But that's not even the worst part. You'd think, after the triumvirate trauma of introductions and greetings and social pawing, that the horror would be over. But no. Then it gets personal -- because next comes the questioning.
Many questions are possible. "How's it going?" "Do you come here often?" "Did you know your fly is wide open?" But there's one you can always count on:
"So, what do you do?"
Maybe this is fine, if you do something that most people have ever heard of. If you plumb, say, or lawyate or buttle. These are easy enough answers. But I don't have one of those jobs. So I have to guess how much or little to describe, based on how familiar I think my new acquaintance will be with the field.
Obviously, I'm always wrong. So answering "what do you do?" usually goes something like this:
Me: I work for an epigenetics company.
New Person: Ah. And what's that?
Me: Well, you know about genetics?
New Person: Not really, no.
Me: It's like that. Only more meta.
New Person: Oh. Um... oh.
Me: I'm a bioinformatics programmer.
New Person: So... is that a computer thing?
Me: Yeah. Mostly, it is.
New Person: Ooh, can you help me set up my printer?
Me: Sorry, that's not really my area.
New Person: So you're not very good at your job.
Me: Yeah. Probably not.
Me: I sit at a desk all day and fiddle with spreadsheets.
New Person: You a stockbroker?
New Person: Financial analyst?
New Person: Tax preparer?
New Person: Did you go to business school?
New Person: Well, thank god for that, anyway. Chin up, pumpkin.
Screw it, I give up. I'm not meeting anyone ever again. If I know you, I'll be happy to see you again soon. If I don't -- and if you can't have the common decency to impersonate someone I already know -- then I'm sorry. I'm done. No more meeting. Kaput.
Unless you wear a name tag. And don't touch me. And just assume I'm unemployed.
So basically, just like the people who already know me. You're already fitting in!
This Thanksgiving week has been more... distracted than usual, so I'm way off schedule here. In lieu of actually getting back on track and posting something new, here's my favorite Thanksgiving-related nonsense from a few years ago:
Enjoy that, and your turkey, and I'll catch up with something new over the weekend.
Probably. If the tryptophan coma lifts in time. Wishbones crossed!
Like most people, I find taking cabs in Boston a white-knuckled, horrific experience.
My reason for this, however, is probably not as common. Let's talk it out.
A lot of people are scared by the driving, what with the cabbies careening across lanes and cutting off oil tankers and honking at people in front riding the mall escalator too slowly.
I don't mind these things. I figure when it's your time to go, it's your time. If you're desperate enough to step willingly into a Boston taxi, then you've effectively signed your life into the driver's twitching, hairy-knuckled hands. You're not paying cab fare, so much as contributing to a personal Russian roulette fund. It's zen. Or something. Whatever.
Other people hate cabs because of the language barrier. They complain that the cabbie can't understand them, or they can't understand the cabbie, and their trip to Logan Airport for vacation left them in the middle of Boston Harbor, scraping barnacles off their travel bag.
"If it takes a little doodling on a napkin and a game of charades to get where I'm going -- hey, it's still better than airplane food and getting fondled by some fat guy in Customs."
Also, their suitcase. You know what I'm saying.
The "lost in translation" thing doesn't bother me either. I like traveling abroad, and don't have the time or money to go as often as I'd like. But a cab ride crosstown is like a twenty-minute jaunt to... well, wherever. The cabbies come from all sorts of strange and exotic places. Haiti. Albania. West Jersey. All over. If it takes a little doodling on a napkin and a game of charades to get where I'm going -- hey, it's still better than airplane food and getting fondled by some fat guy in Customs.
So. What makes my cab rides so harrowing?
It's grammar. Or sentence conjugation. Syntax? Something like that.
Here's the thing. I got into a cab yesterday, and I wanted to go to this restaurant downtown. So I told the guy I'm going to this restaurant downtown. And because I have a shred of human decency -- okay, so half a shred, fine -- I also said "please". Here's exactly what I said:
"I'm going to this restaurant downtown, please."
(Well, not exactly what I said, of course. The name of the restaurant was removed, to protect the innocent. Nobody wants my name next to theirs on Yelp. That's not selling any cream pies.)
Now, look at that sentence; the thing is a nightmare. It's not a question, but it's got "please" at the end. It's half-declarative, half pleading and all wrong. It's stating a fact, but I'm entering a Boston cab. Meaning, it's highly fricking unlikely that I'm actually going to this restaurant at all. So it's basically a lie.
That's where I want to go, sure. But I tell the driver, and he nods non-committally, and that's the end of my control over the matter. He might pick a fight with a Winnebago driver who runs us off an overpass. He could dump me in a park south of town. Maybe we wind up in Cuba.
But I've got no confidence my stop is going to be the restaurant, and I don't feel right saying it. So I've decided to say something else instead. The question is... what? All my ideas are more grammatically correct -- but they all suck. See?:
"Can you drive me to this restaurant downtown, please?"
No good. It makes me feel like I'm twelve years old, bumming a ride from Dad. Or more accurately, "Daaaaaaa-aaaad", because "I'm late for soooooo-oooccer practice, gosh!" No.
"Shall we go to this restaurant downtown?"
Way off. First, now I'm Mary Poppins. Second, it's not entirely clear that I'm not propositioning the driver. And I'm not. Either of those things. I don't even own an umbrella.
"I would like to travel to this restaurant downtown, if you please."
Also, I would like the royal valet to fetch my satin codpiece, for I shall be spending the eve in merriment amongst the peasants. Next.
"My intended destination is this restaurant downtown. Warp speed, please!"
Basically an invitation to be dropped off in an abandoned warehouse outside town. Also, a challenge for certain drivers who think their twenty-year-old Ford LTD might actually achieve "warp speed". Or at least Mach 3.
So taking cabs is an even bigger pain in the ass than before. The last guy got me to some restaurant -- the right one? I don't know. After half an hour of downtown traffic and screaming down sidewalks, I forgot where I'd told him in the first place. He dropped me off in the drive-through of a Taco Bell the health inspectors closed six months ago. Maybe that's what I asked for. I'm not that bright. You can't rule it out.
Screw it. From now on, I'm handing the cabbie a Google Map and a note saying I lost my vocal cords in a childhood electronic toothbrush accident. Anything's easier than this.