Friday, November 14, 2008
It's never a good sign when you are walking up the sidewalk to your apartment at night and realize there's a man with a gun holstered to his side walking in front of you. It took me a second. He was just a walking shadow in front of me...and I knew there was something familiar with the lump on his right hip. As soon as I realized it was a gun I looked a few yards ahead of him and saw 4 other police officers (whew, yes, he was a cop) surrounding an apartment a couple buildings over. I went inside...
and was promptly disturbed by the fact that I wasn't disturbed.
I wasn't scared. I wasn't shaking. I wasn't calling my sister to tell her if she doesn't hear from me the next day to come check and make sure I wasn't killed by a stray bullet in a shoot out. I just came in. Put my stuff down. Petted my dog. Got ready for bed.
You see, this is FAR from the first experience I've had like this. I've been living in apartments for (yikes) 14 years now.
When I first lived at this complex with my sister, we once came home to a note on our door explaining that there had been a shooting in our complex and we shouldn't be concerned because it was an argument between two "friends" and not a random criminal targeting our complex. Didn't matter. Freaked us out. We moved a short time later.
At that complex, we came home and drove by two men in suits...one holding a piece of string up to a hole in a window and the other holding the other end in a parking space. I freaked out and when my sister asked, "Why, what are they doing?" I explained to her they were measuring a bullet trajectory. Turns out someone bought their teenager a bb-gun for Xmas and he decided to become a sniper. It made the news when his 5th victim was shot in the face at a gas station (they figured it was a kid because his previous 4 victims had all been shot in the behind).
A couple days later the neighbor downstairs and over one got evicted for firing a shotgun on New Year's Eve. I stayed at that apartment 4 yrs. My sis got married, I got another roommate. We left when we found out that the management was being taken over by a half-way house project and all of the people working there (in office and doing maintenance...yes, people with keys to our apartments) were addicts working on their recovery. My roommate would take the day off work if we needed something fixed because she didn't want me alone when they came in.
She went her own way, and I moved in by myself back at this complex.
For the first year, I didn't sleep. Well, 2 hours on a good night. I left the tv on all night for the noise. I was terrified. I realized that I was the only one to hear if someone was breaking in. I was the only one to deal with it.
Eventually, with time and prayer (and putting stuff all over and near my windows so anyone trying to come in would make one heck of a commotion) I was able to sleep. But the fun just kept coming.
We had a notice on our doors that a couple of thieves were going around knocking on doors and saying they were cops and when the door was opened they tied the person to a chair and robbed them blind. Needless to say, I stopped answering my door unless I was expecting someone. (The peepholes they give us are so bad that you can't see out them at night because of the glare from the exterior light right next to the door).
I've had to call 911 twice to report someone with a gun...both times I asked the operator NOT to have the responding officers knock on my door so they wouldn't know I was the one who reported it...both times they knocked anyway. (I can understand why some people don't bother). I've heard a helicopter flying overhead and when I stuck my head out to look I heard a voice from above (no, not THAT voice) telling me to go back inside and lock my door. I did (turns out the jeweler across the street had just been robbed and the thief came here..yay!)
There have been countless times where I come out and morning after morning someone else's headlights or taillights or side windows are smashed up. Every day for a couple weeks someone was going around and baseball batting the lampposts.
And the saddest part of all...I live less than 2 miles from where I grew up. I've gone by there recently. I've watched the home that my parents took exquisite care of become a sad commentary on modern society. We had lived there around 13 years I think. There have been at least 4 subsequent owners in as many years. The first one ripped out my parents rosebushes that lines the driveway. He ripped out the peach trees and grapefruit trees in the sideyard and slabbed it over to park his RV. He stumped the beautiful silk oak tree in the front yard (that had been the toilet papering target of many of my mom's students). And I mean he stumped it. It was like he had something against nature. He didn't level the tree to the ground and clearly didn't want to pay to have it torn out. It was like he just took a chainsaw to it and left the 3 foot stump just sitting there like some form of punishment. The next owner put a terra cotta pot on it. The next owner finally had it removed. The current owner put bars across the entryway. That last walk down that street (I used to enjoy walking the 3 mile circuit around the neighborhood) was just too depressing. I looked at the home I grew up in, the homes of the neighborhood kids, and I was grieved at what the neighborhood had become. It looks like no one cares anymore. No one cares about how their yards look, or how their home looks. It's all run down. I hate neighborhood associations, but I can understand why people came up with them. If you view a home as an investment and you tend it and care for it and maintain it...the last thing you want is everyone else on the rest of your street acting like they are all renting and it's not their responsibility to paint or pull weed or ...
Anyway. Anytime I mention I want to move to a better neighborhood, someone quickly reminds me that "better" neighborhoods aren't necessarily safer. Crime happens everywhere.
But I'm guessing they haven't had co-workers tell them how they listen to their police scanner and hear the cops called to my complex every night.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
When I was in high school, I took one of those aptitude tests that's supposed to let you know the kind of job for which you are best suited. Mine listed the following: FBI, CIA, detective, private investigator...you get the idea. I was in heaven. I'd been reading mysteries my entire life, starting with Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators and growing into Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. It was my calling. It was what I was meant to do! Confirmation!!!
My mother took one look at it and said "No!" and handed it back to me.
(pop went my bubble)
I never gave up on mysteries...still read them, still watch them. My friends and family find it annoying that I can usually guess "who done it" 10-20 mins into a show. But seriously, Hollywood is rather formulaic most of the time. It's not that hard if you know about economy of characters, etc. The only time I get thrown is when they use a deus-ex-machina (some completely illogical, oftentimes supernatural solution). I HATE that!
Some years back, I heard about The International Spy Museum opening in DC and I knew I HAD to go. I know, hardly a patriotic reason to see DC, but I mean, come on...I actually have an encyclopedia of Codes and Ciphers...I LOVE this stuff!
When my friend and I finally arrived in DC last month, I was like a 5 yr old on Xmas morning. I was walking on my toes, giggling, twirling around...I was SO excited. As soon as we checked in and unloaded our stuff into our room, we went right across the street to the Spy Museum! I bought our tickets to "Operation Spy", the interactive spy adventure you have to pay extra for, but it was my one and only chance to be a spy and I was SO EXCITED! So excited, in fact, that I apparently hadn't been breathing deeply enough, I was getting light-headed. I stopped and took a deep breath and POP, a disc in my upper back slipped. I froze! My friend's eyes got huge. "Are you ok?" I could barely hear her over the ringing in my ears (never a good sign), especially coupled with the fact that my eyes were fuzzing out like in-between channels on the tv. "You're sweating....you're pale...are you ok?"
I couldn't believe this. It was the first day of our vacation...this was the place I had wanted to come for years...and my back went out right after I got the ticket in my hand?!
My friend was trying to convince me we should go back to the hotel. No way! I paced gently back and forth (I knew if I sat down I wouldn't be able to get back up.) I glared at the flight of stairs in front of me that I knew we would be climbing. (The only warning on the ticket was that there were a lot of stairs). I didn't care...I was staying. I was going. I was going to be a spy!
After a lot of praying on both our parts, and a lot of shallow breathing on my part...my back eased to the place where I could move a little better. My friend stuck my wrist purse (the biggest one I'm allowed to carry thanks to my bad back) in her big bag and I tied my jacket around my waist.
"I'll be ok, I'm doing this!" I told her.
And I did. I couldn't put my hands down by my sides for the next 20 mins of the 1 hr adventure. But I made it.
It started with your group (you adventure with 15 people to a group, which was a bummer since the ad made it look like you'd be going with whomever you came with only...but I let it go). First, you have to figure out how to enter the room where you are going and you only have 30 seconds to do it. I actually was the one who figured it out; but honestly, it was by accident.
Once inside, they give you your passport and get you trying to memorize everyone else's name...but it's basically a distraction to kill time before your guide, I mean your senior agent in charge, shows up. Then you enter the made-up foreign country and your first stop is your safe room, where you learn who is who and then use some monitors to spy on your undercover contact and the person she's meeting.
You go through "sewer" tunnels, you hide from cameras and guards (imagine 15 people "hiding" in a sewer), you break into an office and search for clues (I got to break into a safe!) and reset the room (the show you if you left anything out of place)...you make a quick escape in the back of a truck...you interrogate a suspect on a lie-detector...you run up to the roof to escape by helicopter (well...a bright light and a rope ladder that drop toward you before the lights go out).
Basically, your tour guide is a one-man/woman show guiding you through the stuff you need to figure out...helping you if you are too dense to get it,etc.
Then we moved on to the actual museum tour (2 hrs). The first put you in a room where you have one minute to find a cover (name, place of birth, age, where you are traveling to and why) on a post that matches your age/gender...and memorize it. This time, you did actually have to memorize it. Then they move you to watch a short movie and release you to start the museum. You learn about all the basics of spying, spy gear, the history of spies....and then about 1/2 way through (1 hr later) you come to a screen where you have to sit down and these eyes are staring at you ...a passport inspector who is about to question you on your cover story. They even throw in a "think on your feet" question that you need to answer quickly and if you don't answer correctly, you'll have blown your cover, or at least become seriously suspicious. I made it through that part easily (nice to know my brain isn't as fried as I thought), and then they give you NEW info that you have to memorize...where you are going in the town you arrived in, who you are meeting and why, and where they work, how they are employed. Then you finish the museum tour and at the very end (another hour later) you come to the final screen where they ask you a combo of questions from your original cover, and the 2nd piece they threw in... and another "think on your feet" question. And I passed! It said I'd be a great spy! (sigh)
Is it wrong how blitheringly happy that makes me?
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Well...I was all excited. My first business trip. First, my boss IM'd me to ask me what I thought about spending most of Nov and Dec in Denver, CO. When I asked for a little more info, she said she was about to send an email out.
The email said they were in need of someone to handle a "delicate" situation in Denver, CO that would require being there most of Nov and Dec and they needed someone by end of business "today". I returned her IM and told her I had some commitments I didn't want to back out of and did she know what the specific dates were and what I would actually need to be doing? She said she was just about to look into it and would call me and let me know.
She ended up calling me at home after I had logged off work and told me that other people had volunteered but that she really wanted me to do it, that I was the only one she trusted with it. "IT", I found out, meant dealing with an office recently acquired in a merger that had 3 people quit as a result of the merger and someone needed to go there and learn their jobs (before you start thinking what you're thinking...they have no intention of closing that office and the people who quit were informed that no jobs were in jeopardy...I was just supposed to go and learn their jobs so we could help support their office from our office until they were able to hire replacements; at least I believe that was the gist of it).
She then told me she was going to go meet with her boss and ask if they reduce the amount of time gone (she didn't think I would need 4 weeks to learn their job as it was basically identical to what I do now, only on a different -and easier- system), and she was going to insist I be flown home for the holidays. Then she told me that she'd let me know.
Well, by 6pm I knew she'd have gone home for the day and she hadn't called, so like a frantic fool I called people trying to find someone to dog-sit and contacted the people who would be impacted by my not being able to keep prior commitments...and tried to figure out how I could afford a winter coat and freaked over the possibility of driving in snow for the first time.
I didn't fall asleep easily, but eventually, after much prayer and surrender, I dozed off.
First thing in the morning when I started up my computer there was an email to our team from my boss announcing she has found someone to go, and the winner was....not me.
I sat there and kept re-reading it. Ok, I know I had a migraine yesterday....I was out of it...perhaps I misunderstood. No, I had clarified that she didn't want the others, she wanted me. What was the deal???
I replied to her announcement to the effect of "Did I misunderstand what you said?"
When she got in this morning, she called me and said I hadn't misunderstood, but she had decided that I was too valuable to the team and the work I did would get out of control if I was gone for that long, so she picked someone else. (And I'm trying not to vent my frustration over who was chosen....I've already deleted it a couple times...ok, moving on quickly).
So, after many tears of frustration, my "first business trip" has officially evaporated.
I guess, technically, I could count taking medical supplies to the orphanage in Thailand when my sis and I were running a non-profit for orphans as a business trip.
Gee, it's not quite so bad if I think of it that way. I wasn't cheated out of a "first". I was perhaps saved from walking into a tense, stressful, unfriendly work environment I'd be alone in for weeks. Ok....(deep breath) feeling much better.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
So to pick up where I left off...amidst the running around like headless poultry, I managed to not only finish the two pies, but I baked them without burning them. They actually looked rather nice, if I do say so myself, and I do.
I put them both on a cookie tray and grabbed the vanilla bean ice cream to go with and hurried off to kinship group, arriving just before the crowd.
One by one people came in and looked at the pies and smiled. Some commented in the traditional male utterances of the day (oh yeah! we're gonna have pie! oh yeah!), some of the ladies commented on how "fancy" they were....(I did a lattice topcrust on the blueberry pie and on the apple pie I used mini apple cutouts to create 4 vents and placed the cutout pie bits on top of the crust between the vent holes)...others commented on how they were gonna have to wait until tomorrow for their diet.
Since it was game night, we let the pies sit while we joined in a rousing game of Apples to Apples. When we finished people gathered around, said it was a shame to cut into them,etc....but they got over it. I was busy scooping out the ice cream for people and chatting with folks in the kitchen...I didn't even eat. Then people started leaving and I started cleaning up the kitchen...and then I realized that despite the fact that at least 7 people had pie...I was left with over a pie and a half left. Whoever cut the pieces had cut 1/2 sized pieces. So I was left to take home almost all of my pies. (sigh)
I don't think I'll be making pies again. I'll be eating them for so long it'll be at least a year before they sound remotely appealing.