Wednesday, May 30, 2012

summer jobs, part I: Twisters.

For the first thirteen years of my life, every summer was dedicated to the lake. Sure, I might have the occasional swimming lesson or summer camp that would interrupt my lake-filled summer, but that was all secondary. For the most part, my summers were spent at my discretion, which usually meant accompanying my family to Lake Poinsett.

Lake Poinsett didn’t have very many dining options nearby. There were a few c-stores and a couple of restaurants, but after a day of boating, you don’t really want to sit down with a menu and order steak. Finally, a restaurant came along to fill the void: an ice cream shop called Twisters.

Twisters was a lot like Dairy Queen. Their food was standard summer fare: hotdogs, burgers, fries. However, Twisters did have broasted chicken and (most importantly) ice cream. After hours of swimming, my family and I happily sloshed into Twisters and devoured our hard-earned ice cream cones.

The owners, Jim and Mary, were the nicest two people to ever walk this earth. They got to know everyone who walked through their door, and if there was time, they would join us at our table and chat. I looked forward to trips to Twisters not just for the ice cream, but for the chance to see Jim and Mary.

One Labor Day, we stopped in at Twisters to get our last fix before they closed for the season. Jim sat down with us, but this time he had a question for me: “How old are you?” I answered that I was thirteen. Jim asked if I’d be fourteen by the beginning of next summer. With an April birthday, I certainly would. Right then and there, Jim offered me my first summer job. I readily accepted, feeling like an adult already.

Summer 2001 was upon me before I knew it, and that meant my first day at Twisters. In South Dakota, you can work at fourteen, and I was more than ready to do so. Of course, I’d never had a paycheck before – birthday money and allowance made up my meager income. I was thrilled to be earning minimum wage, and I immediately began to compile a list of things I would buy with my riches.

I learned the ropes at Twisters fairly quickly. My responsibilities were similar to soda jerks across the nation: I took orders, made ice cream treats, ran the cash register, and did whatever food prep/cleaning tasks that needed to be done. I was the only fourteen-year-old on the staff that year, and that meant I couldn’t work past 9 o’clock (Twisters closed at 9, so I never had to mop the floor or do any of the less-than-pleasant closing duties).

For the first couple of weeks, I was in heaven. I got to hang out in one of my favorite places with the nicest people, and I was getting paid to do so! My friends and family would come to see me, and I could show off my new ice cream-making skills. Jim, a fellow Simon and Garfunkel fan, would let me bring my Simon and Garfunkel CDs into work so we could broadcast them over the stereo. Jim and Mary allowed free soda for employees during their shifts, and I would write a movie quote on my white Styrofoam cup, beginning my several-year tradition of “quotes of the day.” Best of all, as I was learning how to properly make cones, I was allowed to eat my mistakes. Yes, that was the life… until I found out that Jim and Mary were selling Twisters.

I was saddened, but I understood. Jim was a teacher, and he didn’t want to spend his whole summer working (Twisters was open seven days a week, Memorial Day through Labor Day). Mary had a full-time job, so working at Twisters during her spare time was getting exhausting. They were wonderful bosses, and I was sorry to see them go.

The new owner began training a few days before the Fourth of July – Twisters’ busiest weekend. She seemed ok at first, but I quickly learned what she was really like. Henceforth, I shall refer to her as the Dragon Lady.

In my working life, I have been blessed with some truly great bosses, Jim and Mary being the first in this long line of fantastic employers. Fortunately, I’ve only had one awful boss, and that was the Dragon Lady of Twisters.

After Jim and Mary trained the Dragon Lady in, they stopped working regular shifts and offered to be available for emergencies. The Dragon Lady was artificially nice when they were around, so we all spent our days hoping for an emergency.

Earlier, I mentioned that Twisters served broasted chicken. That chicken was the pride and joy of Twisters, and people just loved it. Our chicken meals came with coleslaw or beans, and I was someone deemed the coleslaw dressing maker. I would make gallons of this dressing at a time, which was quite the feat. I spent much of my time at Twisters digging mustard out of a giant vat, which would stain my skin a fetching shade of jaundicey yellow. “Evil Yellow Mustard Hand” would be a good name for a supervillain, don’t you think?

I spent two summers at Twisters, the second of which was entirely under the Dragon Lady’s jurisdiction. I was shocked when she called me back for the second summer: after spending all of last summer admonishing me for being too generous with the size of the ice cream cones, I figured I’d be on my own. Against my better judgment, I accepted Dragon Lady’s offer of another summer of employment. When you’re fifteen, you take what you can get.

During the previous summer, I had earned the unfortunate title of Champion Chicken Breader. Allow me to explain: all our chicken for broasting came to us, unbreaded, in boxes. One box held around one hundred pieces and would fill up one rather large serving pan. When the cook was getting low on chicken, someone had the less-than-pleasant task of gloving up and rolling the slithery chicken parts in breading. Aside from getting breading all the way up my elbows, I didn’t really mind. It gave me a nice break from answering the phone and making root beer floats.

I really was a champion breader: I wasted almost no breading, and I expertly stacked the pieces so that they wouldn’t topple over in their pan. Every once in a while, though, I’d run into an obstacle that would thwart all champion chicken breaders: green chicken. Every now and again, we’d order more chicken than we could sell, and the chicken would go bad. My solution was to throw away the green chicken. Dragon Lady’s solution was to tell me to “just bread it; it will be fine once it gets fried.” Horrified, I still threw away the green chicken when Dragon Lady wasn’t looking, and I warned everyone I knew not to eat the chicken.

As the summer wore on, Dragon Lady got crankier and crankier. She fired one of my coworkers because my coworker had the day off and couldn’t come in right away when called to come in when the night became unexpectedly busy. My family and I had taken a trip to Colorado that summer, and when we were pulling out of my aunt and uncle’s driveway, the rear axle stabilizer on our minivan broke. No one had the part we needed, so Dad had to get the old one welded, which set us behind a day. I was scheduled to work at Twisters, so I called Dragon Lady and informed her that we were stuck in Colorado for the time being. She reacted like I had just told her that I had stolen all of the money from the cash register. Dragon Lady ended the conversation with a snappy, “Well, you’d better be here the next day,” and hung up on me.

When the Dragon Lady wasn’t around, though, my coworkers and I still managed to have fun at Twisters. During that second summer, the Dragon Lady bought the little chunk of beach across the street. She installed a dock so boaters could park, run up the hill for their ice cream, and be on their merry way. The ice cream business was notoriously slow during the week, so on hot days, my coworker and I would wander across the road to the Twisters dock and dip our feet in the water. We always took the phone with us, and we always kept an eye on the road for potential customers. 

When Twisters closed on Labor Day, I decided that there was no way I’d be going back to work there next summer. The following summer, I would be sixteen and hopefully have more employment choices. Dad made his expectations clear: “Either you get a job, or you work for me… and I don’t pay very well.” Even picking rocks for Dad would’ve been a welcome alternative for another summer with the Dragon Lady.

Luckily, I did find another job: working at the local church camp (which is a story for another day). It was just down the road from Twisters, so I would occasionally stop by for an ice cream cone after work. One day, I was eating at Twisters with my parents, and the Dragon Lady approached our table. “Calla,” she rasped, “do you have any of your Twisters shirts?” (We had been issued red t-shirts with the Twisters logo in the corner.) I replied that I only had one, and she barked, “Bring it by sometime,” and promptly retreated. I gave my parents a “did that just happen?” look, to which my dad answered, “When we get home, you’re going to put that shirt on and help me change the oil in your car. If you ‘accidentally’ spill some oil, that’s just too bad.” Upon further discussion, we decided that I shouldn’t return the shirt at all: if the Dragon Lady wanted it so badly, she could come and get it. The Dragon Lady actually did call me a week or so later, asking about the shirt. I informed her of my incredibly busy schedule and offered to leave it on our front porch for her to pick up at her convenience. Believe it or not, she actually sent one of the cooks to get that shirt.

When my sister turned fourteen, she got a job at Twisters. I could hardly believe it, considering she has the same distinctive last name as me and was often seen at Twisters with me – the Dragon Lady had to have known we were related. Anyway, Darrah informed me that things had really taken a dive since I had been there: the Dragon Lady had taken to keeping vodka in her Styrofoam drink cup, and she had put a stop to Jim and Mary’s policy of free soda for employees. Best of all, there was a sign in the backroom stating that all employees must return their red Twisters shirts, or else they won’t be getting their last paycheck. I’d like to think that I was responsible for that sign.

So, my friends, that is the story of my first summer job. My first summer job experience was probably not much different than most; everyone’s first job is kind of crappy. Thankfully, my jobs have more or less improved since then. However, I’ve still got some decent job stories. Stay tuned for the next installment of summer jobs: the church camp!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

let's talk about art class.

When I was a kid, I loved to draw. I did nothing BUT draw. I lived for the days when Mom would take me to work: that meant I got to color with highlighters on those huge rolls of paper with the perforated edges. My mom’s office walls were covered in pictures I drew (some of them are still there). When I went to my babysitter Doris’s house, I would narrate stories to her. She would write them down, and I would spend hours illustrating them. 
Doris was patient enough to write
"beautiful" seven times in reference
to my less-than-beautiful
Christmas tree.
I drew everything you would expect a five-year-old girl to draw: mermaids, cats, rainbows. My animals tended to be quite feminine: I even made sure my cartoon fish had luxurious eyelashes and bright red lipstick.
This is a cat I drew for my mom's coworker Marlys.
Note the stunning use of highlighters and the
copious amount of mascara the cat is wearing.
As soon as I learned to write, I began penning my own stories. 
I created volumes and volumes, most of the stories being illustrated accounts of my own thrilling life. There was a book about how my friend Nick and I found a dead fish on the beach, and there was a book about the time my mom saved my pink silk rose (it was my Beauty and the Beast rose, of course) from the burn pile. During the height of my Lion King obsession, I wrote my own Simba and Nala stories: elementary school fan-fiction, if you will.

All that writing was just an excuse to draw. Sure, I drew plenty of free-standing pictures that needed no explanation, but I wanted my pictures to tell a story. What better way to do that than write my own little books?

For the first few years of school, all I did was draw and color. School supply shopping was eagerly anticipated: it meant that I’d get a brand-new box of crayons. In kindergarten, my favorite worksheets were the ones where you had to read the instruction: color the mitten red. A fast reader and an enthusiastic crayon-er, I breezed through these worksheets, actually disappointed when I had finished: I was a nerd-in-training.

When I learned that we would soon have an entire class devoted to art, I was ecstatic. This “going to school” thing was AWESOME. I eagerly packed up my bright red pencil box and skipped off to my first art class. When I arrived, I staked out the best seat in the house: up front, by the window. I sat patiently, awaiting instruction as to what we would be doing that day. Drawing walruses? Sculpting with colorful clay? I could hardly wait. To my great dismay, I found out that we would be practicing drawing shapes. Shapes? I was way beyond shapes. I knew the difference between triangles and squares; give me a break! I grudgingly drew my circles and rectangles, and I cut them out just as I was told. I’ve never been good with scissors; I can’t cut a straight line to save my life. But when my art teacher singled me out for my poor cutting job, I was mortified. Sure, the edges of my oval were a little ragged, but I was five! EVERYONE’S edges were ragged! To my absolute horror, my art teacher tore up my little construction paper oval and announced that I’d have to start over. Even at the age of five, I was pretty sure art teachers weren’t supposed to do that kind of thing.

This was the beginning of a long and painful relationship with this particular art teacher, whom I’ll call Mrs X. Through acrylic painting and plexiglass etching, she was the bane of my artistic youth. Mrs X had two favorites in each grade: one boy, one girl. Needless to say, I was not a favorite. The two favorites could do absolutely no wrong: Mrs X would praise them loudly, even if their artwork looked like something drawn by a drunk chimpanzee. The two favorites’ artwork would always make its way into the school art show. Mine would, too, but I always felt like I EARNED it.
My fourth grade bobcat made it into the art show, but
under great duress. you see that odd patch of grass under
the bobcat's feet? Mrs X had bawled me out because
"the bobcat is floating." Floating in a big sea of grass. She
insisted I fill in some grass at his feet so he would
no longer be floating. Hence the weird grass. 
Mrs X liked her class to all work at exactly the same pace, which, as any good teacher knows, is a ridiculous thing to expect. There were a few of us who would always go a little faster than Mrs X’s instructions. When we were still supposed to be sketching our mountain landscapes with pencil, a few of us had inched forward to outlining with the fine-tipped Sharpie. Few things could incur the wrath of Mrs X faster than getting things done ahead of schedule. If she discovered you oil pastel-ing your chickadee when everyone else was still filling in the background space, there was hell to pay. And by “hell,” I mean sitting on your hands, staring at the wall, waiting for Mrs X to give the go-ahead to work on the stupid bird.

Despite the teacher, I really did enjoy art class. My duck watercolor got a ribbon at the Duck Stamp contest (the ribbon said “honorable mention,” but a ribbon is a ribbon). I made misshapen cats out of clay, and I learned about the importance of not touching your face when you’ve been drawing with charcoal.

In junior high, a miracle occurred: Mrs X was replaced by a petite, soft-spoken new teacher. This new teacher did something that had never been done before: she taught us about art history. I was captivated. I loved learning about the insane lives of artists past, van Gogh being the clear winner in the crazy contest. I didn’t know it then, of course, but this was only the beginning of my pursuit for art historical knowledge (note: much more interesting than it sounds).

As soon as I hit ninth grade, art was no longer a requirement. High school art was still offered, but you had to work it around the rest of your required classes. In ninth grade, if I wanted to be in band, there was no way I could be in art: English was required, and English was offered first and fifth periods. Band was only first period, and art was only fifth. When it came down to it, I had to choose my clarinet. I missed being in art, but I know I made the right choice: I have so many more band stories than I do art class stories.

In tenth grade, I had the chance to be in band AND art, but only for the spring semester. I can’t remember why, exactly; I was in some class that was only required for half a year, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. Anyway, I had to pick a class to take its place, and my only options were plant science and art. I bet you can guess how long it took me to arrive at that decision.

There was a new art teacher by this time, and she knew her stuff. Unlike Mrs X, this new teacher knew what constructive criticism was. I loved every minute of this art class, whether we were making our own paper or baking goofy-looking vases in the kiln. This art teacher allowed us much more artistic freedom than Mrs X had: when we were doing examples of different types of shading, we had to draw four of the same thing and shade it in four ways. I drew a pterodactyl and got an A. 
Not a GREAT pterodactyl, but a pterodactyl all the same.
Same thing when we made color wheels: I made mini Simons and Garfunkels (this is 100% true) and painted them in reds, red-oranges, red-violets, and all the rest.

Our final project in this art class was a doozy: each of us was to choose a famous artist, write a paper on said artist, and reproduce one of their paintings. Remembering his ear-slicing, insane asylum-living ways, I determined that a paper on van Gogh would be an excellent choice. But what painting to replicate? It didn’t take me long to settle on Starry Night. Not only was it quintessentially van Gogh, but with its thick oils and crazy swirls, it looked like a lot of fun to paint.

“Fun” turned out to be “huge pain in the ass.” The characteristic painting style was incredibly difficult for me to recreate, and I had a hell of a time getting that black tower thing to look right. I got oil paint on everything I owned, including my hair and my brand new winter coat. My friend Allison (who was replicating a Kandinsky) and I even managed to smear oil paints all over the inside of her blue station wagon – we were taking our paintings to Allison’s house for some sorely needed extra work time, and since oil paints take for-freaking-ever to dry, our paintings rubbed off on the upholstery. Oops.

Somehow, I managed to complete my painting before the deadline (deadline = last day of school). 
Ta da!
My Starry Night didn’t look too bad, considering how slapdash it became as the due date approached. My parents had it hanging up for a while, and now I think it should probably come to my apartment. I could use something else on my walls, and I can tell people it’s a one-of-a-kind original.

I began college, fully intending to graduate as a psychology major. Care to guess how long that lasted? If you guessed one semester, you’d be correct. During my freshman year, as I was determining just what I wanted to major in now that psychology was out, I took care of nearly all of my gen ed courses. I needed a fine arts requirement, and about the only class that fit into that category was art history. (You may be wondering why I didn’t just join concert band to fulfill this requirement. It wasn’t that easy in Morris: you needed an artistic performance AND a fine arts class. Artistic performance = band, drawing, etc. Fine arts = art history.) I took a class called Principles of Art, and I remembered how interesting art class had been. The next year, I switched my major to English with a minor in art history. The year after that, I tacked on an art history major to my English major, and I loved every minute of it.

To graduate with a degree in art history, I needed two art classes. I was spending the summer after my junior year in Brookings, so I signed up for a summer class at SDSU. Lo and behold, they couldn’t garner enough interest – so the class was canceled. I didn’t know what to do: since I had declared my second major so late, I had my final two semesters meticulously planned out to the full twenty credits per semester; nothing could be replaced, and to add more than twenty credits would’ve been academic suicide. I sent a frantic email to the art professor in Morris who was offering a summer drawing class, asking if I could set up an independent study sort of arrangement: since I still had my full-time summer job in Brookings, I couldn’t go to the Monday – Thursday, 8 am – 9.30 am classes. The professor, who was incredibly understanding, told me that I could just come for a longer period of time on Mondays and skip the rest of the classes. He’d email me the weekly lectures, and I could just take pictures of the still-life in the studio and work on it in South Dakota during the rest of the week. My boss in Brookings was equally understanding; she had no problem with me taking Mondays in June and July off to complete a class.

I thanked my lucky stars that this was a drawing class for non-majors, aka it was kind of ok if I really sucked. While I loved to draw as a child, I was never that great at it. I loved it anyway, and  I really enjoyed my drawing class that summer. I brought my little sketchbook to Lake Poinsett on the weekends, and I happily created perspective drawings by lying on my stomach on the floor of the UMM fine arts building. 
You get the idea.
I spent most of summer 2008 covered in charcoal dust, but I was happy about it.

I took a photography class during the fall semester of my senior year, which would fulfill my final art requirement for my art history major. I loved taking the photos for the specific assignments; I loved seeking out artistic images within everyday life. I worked at a coffee shop on Monday and Friday mornings that year, and I would bright my camera along and take pictures of the rows of syrup or the little decorative pumpkins. For the final project, I took portraits of James and close-ups of his sheet music as he prepared for his senior trumpet recital. 
They look better in person.
The photography itself was no problem… it was developing the film that almost killed me. The cameras were all 35mm, and the vast majority of my time was spent trying to get decent prints. I would spend hours and hours in the darkroom and maybe get three prints out of it. Thank God for digital cameras.

I haven’t done much drawing since that last class at Morris. I tried my hand at painting one summer, but I never quite made it work. Maybe it was the year of dating the art major that put me off of creating art. 
Maybe it was the fact that art major
boyfriend painted this portrait of
me looking like I've come to drain
the blood of the living.
Or maybe my cameras finally took over: I take tons of pictures, and some of them edge towards the artistic side of things. Who knows. I’d like to think that I have some latent drawing talent that might’ve been scared into hiding by Mrs X. I extracted a bit of my long-lost drawing ability for my summer class, but I’m way out of practice. Maybe one of these days, I’ll whip myself back into drawing shape. For now, though, I’ll probably just stick with my camera.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

the dog chronicles: Spot.

When I was about seven years old, my dad told me that we were going to get a dog. I looked at him like he was crazy: he already had three kids, the youngest barely a year old. Why on earth would he want a dog to add to the chaos of our household? Perhaps Dad thought that every good farm needed a dog; perhaps he just wanted to teach his damn kids some responsibility. We lived in the country – no farm animals, thank goodness, but plenty of wide open spaces. Perfect for a farm dog.

Dad knew some people with puppies – free puppies, which are always the best kind. He carted the whole family off to the farm, where we would select our first family dog. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the puppies’ mother: a stout little Norwegian Elkhound with a friendly smile. She was followed by four roly-poly puppies: all fluffy, all adorable, all eager to come home with us. My heart melted. Now I knew why Dad thought we should have a dog: dogs are WAY cuter than any of us!
Case in point.
My sister and I immediately set about the task of choosing our new puppy. My brother, just over a year old, was more interested in pulling the puppies’ tails. Three of the puppies were brown, and one looked just like the mother: grey, black, and fluffy. It was this puppy who would follow us when we walked; the other puppies were not at all concerned with us. Sure, they were friendly, but the three brown puppies didn’t display anywhere near the interest in us that the little grey and black puppy did. He sat in the grass and looked up at us plaintively; you could almost hear him saying, “Take me home!” I scooped the chubby little dog in my arms and insisted that this was the dog for us.

The next step, of course, was to name our new dog. Mom was a strong proponent of “Patches,” while I wanted to name him Spot. It didn’t matter to me that he had no spots: I thought that Spot was just a good, solid name. My name won out, and that’s how we got a dog named Spot.
The only picture we have of Spot as a puppy. He was
much more interested in the approaching feet than
he was in having his picture taken.
Spot was a wonderful dog. He was smart, and he was fun. Whenever I would explore the woods behind our house, you can bet Spot was right there beside me. 
He even took part in Christmas card photo shoots.
We taught him how to shake and how to speak. Spot even took part in my sixth grade science project: I devised an experiment to see if he could tell colors apart. I had three jars covered in three different colors of paper (I think they were red, grey, and yellow). I would show Spot a dog treat, place it in the red jar, and mix the jars up. Then, I’d sit back and see if he could find it. No, it wasn’t the greatest set-up, but it was fun. I don’t remember how Spot did, but I do remember that he got his fill of dog treats for a while.

Spot was a Norwegian Elkhound/blue healer mix, and he wasn’t very big. 
Small enough to fit into my sweatshirts.
However, he thought that he was huge and terrifying. Spot would always try and take on the four-wheelers: he would bite the tires as you drove, but he always managed to stay just out of the way. Spot preyed on more than just four-wheelers: he would chase down deer, corner raccoons, and herd cattle. Whenever we would take him on walks, Spot would run through the ditches, leaping like a kangaroo to pounce on whatever hapless creature he would find. Much to my mother’s dismay, Spot tended to leave his hunting “trophies” scattered around the house. Mowing could turn into a horror movie if we forgot to clean up the gopher carcasses beforehand. The worst, though, was when Spot dragged home a rotting cow head that was about as big as he was.
But how could you stay mad at that face?!
Spot would get himself into trouble every now and then, though. One summer day, Mom took us kids for a wagon ride along the gravel road. Spot came along, as always, but he ran up ahead of us and began exploring the ditches. Suddenly, we heard a yelp. The whines were coming from inside a culvert, so we stuck our heads inside. Poor Spot had gotten his foot stuck in a trap. Of course, all the kids immediately became hysterical, and Mom ran back to the house to get Dad. Dad rescued Spot, and all was well. Something similar happened one winter: Spot got his foot stuck in a trap in the middle of a frozen slough. We hadn’t seen Spot all day, and Dad only figured out where he was by listening carefully for far-off barking. Dad rescued Spot once again.

Spot was a tough little guy: he even managed to get hit by a trailer and come out just fine. When we had Spot, we lived on a relatively traffic-free gravel road. Whenever Spot would see a car, which was not often, he’d chase it. We’d scold him and tell him that he was bad – no one wanted to see him smooshed on the road. Spot, as one might expect, didn’t listen. One spring day, my brother, sister, and I were playing in the yard with the dog. We heard a car coming, so we tried to hold onto Spot’s collar, but he wriggled away. Spot darted after the approaching pickup… but didn’t realize that the pickup was pulling a trailer. Spot got clipped by the edge of the trailer, and the force of it sent him rolling down the hill. My siblings and I witnessed all of this, and we ran towards our shaken dog. Aside from a small cut on the top of his head, Spot was fine. And you’d better believe he never chased cars again.

We moved into our new house in 2000, and Spot was a spry six-year-old dog by then. My parents were worried that he wouldn’t stay put in this new location, but Spot was just as happy as could be. Spot was easy-going and seemed to have a good attitude about pretty much anything… until my sister got a puppy.

It was the summer of 2006. I had returned for my first summer home after college, and I immediately organized a “welcome to summer” barbecue for my friends. That very day, my sister came home with a black lab puppy in tow. He was a cute little guy who would eventually grow into his huge feet, and Darrah named him Shadow. Shadow and Spot did not get along. By this time, Spot was twelve years old and crotchety. He was starting to go blind, and he had arthritis. Shadow loved to leap about and try to play with Spot, but Spot couldn’t see him. Spot, of course, didn’t welcome the intrusion, so he would just snap at where he thought Shadow was. Shadow was too fast, and it was really quite sad to watch poor Spot try and get Shadow.

As Spot grew older, Shadow grew bigger. Shadow was fully grown in no time, but he was still a puppy. Now that Shadow towered over Spot, Spot more or less gave up trying to catch him. Spot more or less gave up on everything. In February 2008, I got a call from my parents saying that they’d had to put Spot down. He was fourteen years old. I knew it was coming, and I knew it was for the best, but it was still hard to hear. Spot’s death was the final occurrence in a laundry list of crappy things that had happened to me that weekend: my computer’s power cord died on Friday, my car’s alternator went out on Saturday, and Spot went to the big doghouse in the sky on Sunday. They say bad things come in threes, don’t they?

Dad gave Spot a proper farm burial: in a field with a small pile of rocks to mark the place. Spot may be gone, but he’s not forgotten: a kid never forgets her first dog.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

clothes woes.

So I have this problem, and I feel like I’m a part of an epidemic in America: I have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.

Let me be specific: I have nothing to wear to work. (While this is not a literal statement, it sure feels like it.) Casual is no problem; my closet is brimming with jeans and awesome t-shirts.
Unfortunately, the jeans and t-shirts must stay home: my job requires me to dress business casual Monday through Thursday, and I can wear jeans on Fridays or Saturdays (but probably not with a clever t-shirt). I shouldn’t complain; there are a lot of jobs out there where I’d be in a uniform or – horror of horrors – a suit. Even so, putting together business casual outfits out of my casual closet can be a hassle.

As I do not get out of bed in the morning until I ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO, I pick out my clothes the night before. I always put it off until right before I’m about to climb into bed: I drag myself over to my closet and dolefully stare inside. I want to wear these pants, but I have to wear heels with them, and I really don’t feel like wearing heels. I could wear this shirt, but depending on where I am in my workplace, I could freeze to death. (Like many office buildings, mine has wildly varying temperatures depending on your location within the building. And I’m not talking about such obvious differences as “furnace room versus walk-in freezer. I’m talking about places that really shouldn’t be that different, like “sweating in the workroom versus deathly cold at the information desk.”) Should I find a cardigan, or should I just wear something with long sleeves and risk being too hot when I’m NOT at the desk? It’s a challenge, I tell ya.

More often than not, I simply surrender and pick out some trusty pair of pants and something involving a sweater. Add a necklace, and bam, it’s an outfit. Not very exciting, but good enough. Putting on dress pants day after day seems like complete drudgery, and don’t even get me started on the days I have to wear tights. When I get home from work, I practically leap into a pair of jeans. Jeans = instant relaxation. I can breathe a sigh of relief that my business casual day is over and the rest of the day is mine to do with what I wish.

Not too many years ago, I held jobs that required you to wear jeans. On my rare days off, I almost always wore skirts or dresses, simply because there was no place for clothes like that at work. I still would wear jeans, but only my “good” jeans – you know, the kind you HAVE TO HAVE when you’re in high school. You spend half your measly paycheck on them, only to discover that those TOTALLY COOL holes in the jeans turn into not-so-cool giant holes in no time. Yeah, those jeans.

I got my first business-casual job the summer after my sophomore year of college. Up until then, my summer jobs had all involved food service, cleaning chemicals, or lawnmowers (in the case of one job, all of the above). I was ecstatic: I could wear my nice clothes EVERY SINGLE DAY, and I never had to worry about spilling bleach on them or my clothes absorbing the smell of deep fryers. You can imagine how quickly my excitement wore off. After a few weeks of skirts and actually having to dry my hair in the mornings, I really started to miss my jeans. I had that job for two summers, and I found myself in a couple of business-casual internships after college. On my days off, you would never catch me in anything BUT jeans.

So here I am, five years since my first business-casual job. I wear jeans on my days off, and I wear pretty hum-drum outfits the rest of the time. Even though I have all sorts of clothes practically leaping out of my closet, calling “wear me!” I still lean towards the very basics. Why is this? Well, I feel like those extra-special clothes are too nice to wear to work, so I should save them for a worthy event. I know, I know: work SHOULD be a worthy event: dress for success and all. But in my job, the less flashy you dress, the better: I’ve have a number of questionable characters off the street say something about my clothes, which was never a workplace goal of mine. (One questionable character commented on my outfit for a few weeks straight and began calling me GQ – yes, as in Gentlemen’s Quarterly. Yes, I think it’s creepy.)

Of course, by saving my favorite clothes for deserving occasions, they get far less wear than my “meh” clothes. I’ve always been a saver: whenever I’d get a sheet of stickers, I would put them in my little sticker box and save them for something important. Needless to say, when I did some cleaning last year, I found my sticker box – still full of stickers. I guess the moral of the story is pretty simple: carpe diem (or, in this case, carpe stickers).

Now: carpe clothes. I need to start wearing the good stuff instead of letting it rot in the back of my closet. Why buy these clothes if they’re just going to sit there?! It’s a downright shame. But how do I convince myself to do this? I have good intentions, but I could very easily slip right back into my boring-clothes-wearing ways. What I need is some accountability. If you’ve been on the internet lately (and I’m sure you have), you may have noticed that the internet is flooded with style blogs – people taking pictures of what they wore that day and posting said outfit photos on their blogs. Often, they’ll tell you where they got their clothes so you can go out and buy the EXACT SAME OUTFIT BECAUSE IT IS AWESOME.

Admittedly, I have looked at a style blog or two, and they’re sort of interesting in very, very small doses. However, I just don’t think I’m fashion forward enough to really get into them. People who write style blogs tend to leap on trends immediately, whereas I like to wait around and see if they stick. Heck, I didn’t buy my first pair of skinny jeans until a solid two years had passed since they first appeared. So now, most style blogs are rife with neon pants and maxi skirts, and I’m not sure if I’m quite ready for that. (picture: purple pants, yes. Neon pants, no.)

I briefly toyed with the idea of starting a style blog of my very own: more jeans and sneakers, less I’m-trying-too-hard layers! However, a number of things stopped me. First of all, I live alone, so who would take my picture on a regular basis? Self-portraits never turn out that great, so scratch that idea. Secondly, I’m too modest for that. Not modest as in “my wardrobe consists only of turtlenecks,” but modest in that I lack the narcissism to post pictures of my daily outfits on the internet and expect praise.

So style blogging for accountability is out. Looks like it’s up to my willpower and/or ability to guilt myself into doing it. I will try harder to wear my favorite clothes and spend less time on the mediocre. I think I made this decision just in time: I got this awesome new pair of shoes, and I have no place to wear them. 
I'll be all dressed up with nowhere to go, but I think I'll be ok with it. With shoes like that, I'm sure I'll be fine.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

top ten Tuesday: guilty pleasure songs.

We all have our favorite songs: the songs that can instantly change your mood when you hear them on the radio, and you can’t help but turn up the volume and passionately sing along.

We’re going to talk about a very specific kind of favorite song, though: the songs you love dearly, but you hope no one will find out about. Yes: the guilty pleasure songs. These are the songs that you will sing along with when you’re the only one in the car. If, heaven forbid, that same song shows up on the shuffle setting on your iPod when you and a friend are in the car, you will lie, saying you have no idea how that song got there. You will then say, “You can change it if you want to,” but you will furtively hope that your friend admits his or her secret love for said song – it’s only ok to ‘fess up if someone else does it first.

So anyway, you know exactly the songs I’m talking about. And today, I would like to come clean and tell you about my top ten guilty pleasure songs. They’re disgraceful, I know. But who knows: you might find one of your own guilty pleasure songs on this very list. Bring on the shame.

Journey: “Separate Ways”
I’m afraid that we have to start off this list by talking about Journey. There’s no getting around it. “Don’t Stop Believin” was the soundtrack to my high school life. My friend Meagan and I played it constantly. We listened to it in the car whenever possible. We begged DJs to play it at summer street dances. When we had the closing shift at the Arlington ice cream shop together, we’d turn the radio station to classic rock and call in a request for “Don’t Stop Believin.” The height of our Journey love was probably in 2004 and 2005: well before “Don’t Stop Believin” experienced that bizarre comeback. Remember that? All the sudden, you heard “Don’t Stop Believin” everywhere. It wasn’t a night at the bar until you’d heard that song at least twice. I blame it on Glee. So now that “Don’t Stop Believin” was practically inescapable, its charm wore off for me. It will always hold a special place in my heart, and I will still sing along with it if the opportunity arises, but it’s just not the same. So now my new favorite embarrassing Journey song is “Separate Ways”: lesser known, but still unabashedly Journey.

N’Sync: “Tearing Up My Heart”
During the heyday of boy bands, you were either a member of Team N’Sync or Team Backstreet Boys. You were expected to be familiar with the repertoire of each group, but your allegiance could only lie with one. My boy band of choice was N’Sync. For one, they had Justin Timberlake. The rest of the N’Sync members didn’t seem nearly as wishy-washy as the Backstreet Boys, and N’Sync’s songs were simply better. My favorite was, and still remains, “Tearing Up My Heart.” I know you know exactly which song I’m talking about – but you can pretend you don’t. (wink)

REO Speedwagon: “Time for Me to Fly”
REO Speedwagon is one of those nondescript 70s bands that you forget about until they pop up on the radio (usually on one of those horrible “all 70s weekends” or what have you). But when they do, you remember that they were kind of awesome. The first time I heard “Time for Me to Fly” was – this is true – at a Styx and REO Speedwagon concert in Brookings, South Dakota (more on that when I get to the Styx song). I had never heard of REO Speedwagon until that evening, but I have to say, I was hooked. I spent a year or so listening to the likes of REO Speedwagon before I promptly forgot about them and moved on to the Who. But every time I hear “Time for Me to Fly,” I have to stop and listen.

AC/DC: “Money Talks”
AC/DC is one band on the long list of music groups that I thought I’d never enjoy. Guess who was wrong again? “Money Talks” is a fairly recent addition to this list, as I heard it for the first time no more than a year ago. When I lived in Minneapolis, I spent a lot of time driving: visiting my parents, visiting James, etcetera. When I got tired of the music on my iPod, I’d switch to the radio. When you’re in the middle of rural Minnesota, you’re likely to find a great number of country stations and classic rock if you’re lucky. Well, I was lucky – somewhere around Redwood Falls, I picked up a station that played “Money Talks.” AC/DC and I have been inseparable ever since.

Justin Timberlake: “Sexy Back”
I know, I know, it’s Justin Timberlake. When I first heard that Justin Timberlake was striking out on his own, I was certain that none of his efforts would be worth my precious time. Turns out I was wrong. I heard “Sexy Back” and directly retracted my premature judgment of Justin Timberlake’s solo career. He had me at that electronic introduction. This was one of those songs that I forgot I liked until a fateful road trip to Minneapolis a couple of months ago. James and I were making the boring drive home, and I started going through my iPod for some songs to make us laugh. I stumbled across the Justin Timberlake folder and suddenly remembered that “Sexy Back” was awesome and I needed to play it immediately. Much to my dismay, the only song I had in the Justin Timberlake file was “Cry Me a River” – a great song in its own right, but no “Sexy Back.” You’ll be glad to know that, upon arriving home, I fixed my lack of “Sexy Back” problem straightaway. I’m all set for the next boring road trip.

Styx: “Come Sail Away”
My friend Sarah was the one who first introduced me to Styx. She had the greatest hits CD, and we just about wore that thing out. When Sarah told me that Styx was playing in Brookings – a mere thirty miles away – we HAD to go. The concert was Styx and REO Speedwagon together – neither of us had heard of REO Speedwagon, but we would give them a try if it meant getting to see Styx. I wasn’t yet fourteen, but Sarah was the proud holders of a South Dakota learner’s permit: however, the restrictions meant that Sarah wasn’t allowed to drive past 8 o’clock. So we could get there… just not back. We probably could’ve gotten away with driving on the restricted permit, but our law-abiding parents insisted we figure something else out. Who could we get to take us to the concert? Luckily for us, Sarah’s mom Sharon was also a Styx fan. She volunteered to take us, and we had a great time. Styx played first, and we just loved it. When they played “Come Sail Away,” the crowd just went wild: middle-aged women were even throwing their bras onstage. Even though my love for Styx faded long ago, every time I hear “Come Sail Away,” I think of my first concert and what cool fourteen-year-olds Sarah and I were.

Barry Manilow: “Mandy”
Admitting you like Barry Manilow usually means that you’re a world-class weenie. Under normal circumstances, I would agree. However, we’re talking about “Mandy.” Sure, it’s got the customary gag-worthy Manilow lyrics (“Oh Mandy/you came and you gave without taking/but I sent you away/Oh Mandy) that would totally suck if he wasn’t talking about his dog. That’s right: “Mandy” is about a dog. I’m a sucker for anything involving dogs: show me a romantic comedy and I’ll roll my eyes and hate every minute, but show me Old Yeller, and I’m reduced to a blubbering mess. At James’s house one evening, we watched an hour-long special about heroic dogs – I bawled like an emotionally unstable child. So once I found out “Mandy” was a love song about a dog, I was totally ok with it. Before we were old enough to drive, my friend Allison and I would beg her parents to take us to ShopKo so we could buy fun socks. ShopKo had tons those little electronic CD things where you could press a square and hear a sample of the CD. Allison and I would roam around the store, setting each and every one of them to Barry Manilow. I’m sure the ShopKo employees were ready to kill us, but all we wanted to do was spread the joy of “Mandy.” Can you blame us?

John Michael Montgomery: “Sold”
Like most good farmers’ daughters, I grew up listening to country music. It was what my parents liked, so I liked it too. It took until I was about eight to realize that there was other music out there, but in the meantime, it was all country. This was during Trisha Yearwood/Alan Jackson/Shania Twain/Billy Ray Cyrus era, so the music was questionable at best. The first country song I really remember loving was “Sold” by John Michael Montgomery. It’s about a guy who sees a pretty girl at an auction, and he’s “sold” on her. My parents even bought me the cassette tape. My love affair with country music didn’t last too much longer, but I’ll always remember “Sold” as the first song I ever truly loved.

Right Said Fred: “I’m Too Sexy”
Fun fact: the first time I heard this song, it was in Grumpy Old Men. I was too young to really take notice, but the next time I heard it, I immediately recognized it from the film. I also recall seeing Conan O’Brien dance to it on Saturday Night Live. One thing you might notice while going through these song lists is that I love a good electronic beat. “I’m Too Sexy” is the perfect mix of dance and weird. Maybe that’s why it worked so well in Grumpy Old Men.

Europe: “The Final Countdown”
I played this song in high school pep band, and it was one of our better tunes. I didn’t really think much of it until I started watching Arrested Development. “The Final Countdown” is the entrance music for Gob, the inept magician, and it was awesome. Anything that’s ever happened on Arrested Development tends to be awesome, though. Arrested Development aside, “The Final Countdown” will forever remind me of finals week, December 2007. My roommates Sara, Matt, and I were slowly dying under the crushing force of college finals. We all had difficult/obnoxious classes that semester, and we had all procrastinated just a little bit. Or a lot. It was an incredibly long week, and I think we all started to lose it towards the end. To mark our progress, we had a tally on the whiteboard of how many finals each of us had left: hence, the final countdown. Every time someone erased a tally off the board to indicate a completed final, someone had to sing the intro to this song.
So these are my top ten guilty pleasure songs. As time goes on, I’m sure this list will change – songs that are popular now will graduate to embarrassing (Lady Gaga, anyone?), and maybe the songs on this list will become a part of the “songs that I love and should be embarrassed about, but I’m not” list (which I’m sure we’ll discuss at a later time). For now, though, these are my top ten. So if you’re ever riding in the car with me and one of them pops up on the radio, feel free to turn up the volume. I’m not judging.