Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Look Back: The Vacuum Cleaner That Ended the Cold War

Oh yes.

You've probably never heard of the brand. It used to be called CMS, and it's now called Cleartrak. Yep, a vacuum cleaner.

We've had this vacuum cleaner for at least as long as my existence (24 years). As I am still living at home and both my parents have full-time jobs (something I'm also looking for...), I was called upon to vacuum the living room today. Not a problem. I don't mind, as long as everything's in good working order. It was; I vacuumed; our gray living room carpet is now in a clean condition.

See, this vacuum was purchased during the 1980s, the second best decade ever. (The 90s is first. Always.) Reagan was president, NASA was working again, and my parents purchased this beast of a cleaning machine through Amway.

The CMS Cleartrak Amway vacuum cleaner (complete with globe logo) is incredibly heavy. My dog weighs about 35 pounds, so I'm gonna estimate this bad boy at somewhere between 50 and 60 pounds. It has a clear cylinder and a gray/blue theme and lots of scuff marks from at least 24 years of life and 6 different houses. You turn it on, and it roars.

See, like everything else in the 1980s, this cleaning device is big and over the top. And it still works.* If Reagan had been in possession of one of these babies and flashed it around in Berlin, Mr. Gorbachev would probably have torn down the Wall himself. With his bare hands. Just the black hole-esque startup sound single-handedly inspired the movie Red Dawn. Yes, we still use this shining pinnacle of capitalism to suck all that dirty commie mess off the floor.

It's quite poetic.

I admit, I hated the thing when I was younger. As I grew and my responsibilities for keeping stuff clean added up, I've really started to love the old boy. Let's call him Chester. The loud noises that once bothered me (greatly) are now a welcome sound as Chester gets the living room, the hallway, my room, anything else clean. My dad says it's one of the best cleaners out there, and because it's lasted so long with only a few minor belt issues, I'm inclined to believe him.

Chester is something that's leftover from another time in my life, when I was naive and innocent, and that was okay.

And as much as I hate vacuuming anything, I know I'll have to get my own vacuum cleaner when I get an apartment. I know I'm gonna miss ol' Chester a lot, and not just because he's an awesome vacuum cleaner. What I do know is, I'll probably be borrowing him as an old friend to come and break the champagne bottle and inaugurate the new apartment and do what he does best: vacuum.

*Until a few years ago, my parents still had most of the same appliances that they received as wedding gifts in 1983. And it all still worked awesomely. I still use their hand-mixer, which is still mighty.

Monday, August 29, 2011

So This Whole Hurricane Thing...

All last week, I watched as the news networks and the Weather Channel all about had a collective fit because a hurricane was "headed straight towards New York." They warned the people of the Northeastern United States and feared the absolute worst for poor little old NYC.

Forget the fact that Hurricane Irene was gonna smack directly into a small, nearly unimportant area known as Eastern North Carolina.

And smack it did. I think the New Bern area took the worst of it, but Atlantic Beach, Nags Head, Wrightsville Beach, and a few other places definitely felt Irene.
And still, the entire day on Saturday, they still kept talking about New York. Even as the storm weakened and lost its status as an actual hurricane.

Even though North Carolina absorbed the brunt of it.

But you know, all this took be back a couple of years. Y'all know I went to Bob Jones University if you've read a couple of other posts. Inevitably, at some point during four-and-a-half years of college, it will snow/ice/freeze. Greenville is a close neighbor to Western North Carolina. Asheville North Carolina is an hour up the road. Greenville, however, is not in the mountains. It doesn't snow a whole lot, unless the winter is particularly freakish.

Big shock to y'all up in the Far Reaches, but we don't have a lot of snowplows down here. My town has maybe one or two. They're just not needed very much.Because ice is a smooth surface that greatly reduces friction and is a dangerous (sometimes deadly) surface to drive on, roads aren't exactly navigable. When it ices or snows, school closes for like a day, the town quiets, and people relax. (This rule generally applies throughout the entire Southern region.) Citizens play in the snow, or stay inside and read. They enjoy life. In a few hours, the ice/snow melts and life goes back to normal.

So all that time at college, I heard a lot of something that might have been good-natured ribbing, but sounded a lot like sour-faced griping. "Nobody knows how to drive down here." "I can't believe no one can drive on ice here." "We keep going to school in the snow, I can't believe it here." That's right folks, people actually complained about cancelled classes. (I can only imagine what their parents taught them about Santa Claus....) So, pretty much, for all of college (there's a whole lot of people from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that wind up at Bob Jones University, just saying...)* statements that should be considered merely factual observations often degrade into personal insults. Insinuations that only Neanderthals and similar primitive people not yet exposed to modern technology are unable to somehow overcome the laws of physics and drive with magical friction force-fields upon their tires abound. "Well, where I live, we know how to drive on ice." Good for you, buddy. Dream big.

See, this all came back to me when I observed that the Northeast was being all but coddled because *sniff* a hurricane's coming. I believe the words "disastrous" and "catastrophic" were thrown around some. Now, as I know hurricanes, catastrophic as a description doesn't usually apply unless you aren't prepared.

So let's put this into a fair perspective. If it never ices/snows in an area, there is little chance that one could learn to drive in those conditions. Southern winters are fairly mild, and unless it's a really cold year, we average about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Occasionally it will get down into the 20s.** I can remember one year when it was 9 degrees F the week before Christmas. Even with temperatures that drop below 32 F, you have to have perfect conditions and an already cold ground in order to keep the white stuff sticking around. We're not prepared because we really never have to be, and one snow day for schools won't kill our economy.

I'm not a geography expert, but I do have a good idea of what the East Coast looks like. The most obvious feature?

Hang on, 'cause I'ma blow y'alls minds...

It's coastal.

Yeah, all those panicky areas stick out in the ocean. Yeah, I'm talking to you, Maryland, Jersey, New York, Boston, and Bangor. Hurricanes should not be a surprise. Yeah, they're rare, but y'all have a heck of a higher chance of getting a hurricane than we do a whole winter's worth of snow.

I think yeah, y'all deserve a little bit of ridicule. Good times.

*And I cannot begin to describe to you how much I don't really care about the Ohio vs. Michigan thing. I pull for the University of North Carolina. Your mention of the rivalry is likely to earn you a blank face.

**Yep, and that was the time the theater's heater was broken. It was like 20 degrees F outside with a very lovely wind that just made it so fun and bone-chilling. I wore a coat for the whole movie (New Moon, by the way) and huddled together with my boyfriend for warmth. I was also wearing knee socks under my jeans. It was disappointing mostly because I had on a really cute outfit that my otherwise wonderful pea coat hid.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sentience Part 6

It's been a while since I've been able to come back to this story. It is time consuming, but look forward to an installment of "Sentience" every week until it's finished. For your convenience, I've included links to the first five parts of the story. Enjoy.

Sentience Part 1
Sentience Part 2
Sentience Part 3
Sentience Part 4
Sentience Part 5


He stared, not seeing the windshield, not daring to glance at the thing-woman-beside him. He caught her movements out of the corner of his eye. One hand moved around the opposite wrist in a slow orbit, wrapping a bandage over the newly sealed wound. She spoke.

"Who are your employers?" she asked.

He swallowed hard and told her the name of the company.

"They said they made you," Macon said. "They said you malfunctioned and posed a threat."
She snorted. "They would." She leaned her head against the back of her seat. "I worked for them. I found some documents that I don't think I was supposed to see."

Macon took a deep breath, feeling sick. "I believed them."

Marie rolled her eyes, then winced. "Ow."

"I'm sorry."

She waved a hand. "Don't worry about it...just a headache."

"They'll be looking for you now," he said. "I was supposed to bring your...remains back."

Marie closed her eyes. "That's what I was afraid of." She looked through the tinted back window. "I need to get out of here."

"The car?"

She shook her head. "Off-world, somewhere. Anywhere. Wherever I can go." She laughed bitterly. "Guess I better pack."

Macon looked down at the steering wheel. All he could do was help. Now he was involved. Responsible. "I'll take you to your apartment. If you need somewhere to stay, I've got a couch."

Marie smirked. "Thanks."

"No problem," he said as he started the car again.


They stared together at the orange glow that had been Marie's apartment building. The other tenants stood outside, milling about, many of them in pajamas and consoling crying children. The flames danced weirdly in the gray morning, the smoke darkening the sky.

Macon flicked on the radio.

"Officials are unsure how the fire began but the origin has been traced to one apartment and thought to be the result of problematic wiring. Fire crews managed to rescue all of the residents but one, Marie Boyette. Her apartment was the origin of the fire. She did not make it out before flames consumed the building."

She switched off the radio. "So...I'm officially dead now."

Macon frowned. "I guess so."

Marie studied her fingernails. "You mentioned a couch I could crash on?"

"Yeah," he said. "Let's get out of here."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Ghostly Carnival

"Magnificent desolation." The words of Buzz Aldrin as he gazed at the lunar landscape.

Are those words fair? Can I really use them to describe where I live? After all, it isn't truly desolate in Eastern North Carolina. It's not ruined. It's perfectly safe to live here. There's not a whole lot outside of the relatively small hubs that are our cities.

People who came before built houses and barns and lives, then left it all for us to find later. Empty intersections and forgotten homesteads.

In the far reaches of Wilson County, roads are narrow and shoulderless and the night itself is a presence. Take Wiggins Mill Road and just drive, past all the lone houses and single light poles and churches. You'll know when you get there.

These were taken in Wilson County, North Carolina. They are night photos of whirligigs built by Mr. Vollis Simpson. If you want to know more, check out this site.

Enjoy these pictures of the ghostly carnival. Some call it Acid Park, and repeat the very untrue local legend. The whirligigs are beautiful pieces of art in North Carolina. Mr. Simpson took an empty intersection and turned it into colors and light and wonder.

Magnificent desolation, indeed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fried Slice: Do I Really Need to Know?

So wedding stuff makes me grumpy. Just a bit.

Don't get me wrong. My own wedding is something I'm excited for. I'm going to get an awesome dress and a great cake and eat good food and marry the man I love. Sweet.

Hmm. Maybe I'm not talking about wedding stuff. Maybe I'm talking about marriage stuff. It's more important. The heart has to be ready, and that really has nothing at all to do with contracts or gum paste flowers or the lighting effects on the dance floor. That fact is pretty obvious, right? So let me back up and explain myself.

My fiance and I have been together for over five years. A good portion of that has consisted of a long-distance relationship. I live in North Carolina, he lives in Missouri. We have long visits. My dog loves him (and that's amazing.) Together, we've made a relationship that has had a lot of love and a few fights. We know we have quirks, because we've seen them up close. We also know that everything's gonna get really real at about 2:00 A.M. sometime in the future when one of us gets a wake-up call via the "icy foot zap." So yeah, I know relationships take work. Five years, remember?

Obviously, being a (reluctant) Twentysomething, I've had a few friends get engaged and married over the years. Yeah, I've only been engaged since January, but that sorta just made it official. I've always sort of known. My man's still in school and I'm paying for the wedding myself. Yeah, it's gonna be a minute. When I see my all friends getting speedily engaged and hitched like little matrimony moon rockets, I cringe a little.

'Cause I know and fear what's coming next.


Okay, to be fair, only one person has actually offered THE ADVICE and that was quite some time ago. This individual had known the intended spouse for a few years, they dated for a short while (like very very very very very short) got engaged in the spring of 2010, and were married by the end of summer 2010. A few months later, after I posted my engagement announcement on Facebook, this person ADVISED me that marriage was hard work, but worth it.


For me, that was the equivalent of someone informing me in a condescending tone that the invasion of Normandy occurred on June 6th, 1944. But imagine that the teacher or whoever was sharing this advice because I'd shared with them my intention to write my dissertation in pursuit of a doctorate, the subject of said project being the strategies and movements of the U.S. Airborne units during Operation Neptune and an exploration into the assault on Brecourt Manor. At this point, I think it would be pretty clear that I know what I'm talking about and have known for quite some time. Imagine the person with the condescending attitude having just watched the first scene of Saving Private Ryan like five minutes before and that being the first time they'd ever heard of the invasion of Normandy, let alone Operation Neptune or Operation Overlord.

That's sorta what it felt like.

And while that individual has been the only one to offer SAGELY SAGE ADVICE, I still have this reflex of...something, every time. There is joy for my friends, because finding the one person who is literally your other half is awesome. What I don't welcome is the advice that has the possibility of coming.

If you've just seen a clip of a film that features a few bloody minutes on one beach in Normandy, and that's all you know, as much as it has touched you and changed you, you cannot give me a full-on lecture about leg bags and the problems therewith. You can't tell me merely about the existence of Operation Market-Garden. I already know, and I've known a lot longer than you.

I don't hate advice, and I don't hate learning. Most people are like that. Because of the time I've invested in a long-distance relationship, just as if I'd dedicated my life to studying the details in World War II, I know stuff that others don't yet. I know what it's like to be hurt. I know what it's like to argue. Heck, I know how to fight dirty. But I also know how to love, how to forgive, and how to savor moments, even when the theater's heater is broken and it's 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside and somewhere in the 50-60 range inside.

This doesn't make me any better than the ADVICE offerer I mentioned earlier. But I do have the distinct advantage of time and patience and sadness and fights and near-breakups and forgiveness and love and joy and laughter.

In a word, life.

A better teacher by far than all the ADVICE I could ever get.

Monday, August 22, 2011

More Awkward Than Your 5th Grade Photo

"Not in our arsenal of snappy comebacks." - Walter

So let's say you grew up bookish and introverted. (Like me. Yay! Friends!) You probably read whatever you could get your hands on. I know I did. I vividly remember helping myself to a Reader's Digest my family had lying around. Good stuff. Some of it was a little deep for my age then, but I got the basic idea. Reading "Mike's Flag" and something that was like a Bieber fan's guide to Romeo & Juliet possibly had an interesting effect on my taste now. (This will be important later.)

Naturally, when I discovered that the Wilson County Public Library's Bookmobile* rolled around to my neighborhood every couple of weeks, I thought it was pretty cool. Crammed into a small bus that would probably send my current 5 feet 9 inches self into a claustrophobic panic attack, were, well, books. They had whatever I might be interested in, which at the time included The Babysitters Club, Goosebumps, and American Girl magazine.** Anything else that might be a ghost story was also welcome.

I grew up in the 90s. In that decade and the one previous, there was a wealth of kids' books that were available (but never required for me...ah the miracles of private school.) Now, granted, kids did slack off reading for a while there, but there were more readers than the intellectual elite would like to admit.*** (Why do you think The Babysitters Club was so popular?) This created a generation of kids who are quite intelligent and possibly a tad apathetic about academia (or, if they're like me, inwardly ambitious, painfully procrastinating, and somewhat snarky.)

All this boring intro actually has a point, so stay with me.

Let's say that after a crash course in Narnia, you graduated on to greater and higher works of literature. Great. So you're all up into some Austen and some Stoker and maybe a little Melville, all shunning the television in your quest for academic and philosophical greatness. So after you take a break and pull your pasty head out of the wood-pulp, you find after some assignment or such that you enjoy writing, shoot, that it's downright awesome. Not content to stick with mere poetry with its paltry sound devices and subtle imagery, you try your hand at writing some short fictional stories. Then the biggie. The novel. Yours is a high and lonely destiny, writing such works of intellectual amazement. Triple syllable words and old-fashioned ideals are reanimated, lurching across the page like so many undead.

And your dialogue's probably terrible.

But what? You're well-read! All writers should read widely. You've done it all right. You've read the classics and the manuals and the instructions on plot and characters and setting and structure.

You don't get to know a person based on their surroundings. Nor is any person likely to hand you a paper when you meet them that lists things like "sarcastic" and "nice." Description can only take you so far. I have brown hair (most of the time) and blue eyes (all the time.) No matter how long you dwell on what I look like, you will never know me. When I open my mouth, you'll start to get to know me.

Dialogue will tell you most of what you need to know about a character. Actions are helpful, but if your dialogue is stiff and formal (when it doesn't need to be,) well, that's a turnoff. Your characters aren't natural. But you've read all those books!

Watch tv. Or a movie. Maybe you could listen to how people talk around you.


Yeah. I said it. If you want to know how to write good dialogue, you have to hear it first. A good television show to start with is The Office. No, really. Drama is too much, and comedy not enough, but The Office is just about perfect. Conversations on the show flow at a natural pace, and that's what you're looking for. As far as movies, I'd shy away from the new Star Wars trilogy, but the original three movies are for finding some amazing banter and such. (Han and Leia, obviously.)

So now you've got your characters who talk like normal people. Their words move with a wonderfully accessible rhythm. But please refrain from...

The Campfire Tale.

One of the mechanical faults that I will now criticize the Twilight books for is that some characters start talking.

And don't stop for several pages.

This really isn't seen much until you get to know three of the Cullen "siblings." One's like "Eh, my family put me in an insane asylum and told everyone I was dead. *shrug* How ya been, I'm feelin' Italy, how 'bout it?"

And then you get stories from the blond sister and brother. She is not as long-winded as he is. This guy tells this story about how he was a Confederate soldier (and apparently the actor has amazing accent power in the film) who went to Mexico, and vampireness, and blah blah blah. Ya boy talks for like a whole chapter. There's never any interaction with other characters, except the in-narration dialogue (not realistic, really.) And at the end of it all, the rest of the Cullens are doing other stuff, like cleaning up the kitchen and manicuring their nails out of sheer boredom. Dang, dude, you coulda just said "This Mexican chick turned me. I met my wife in a bar the next century, and then we came here. Nice town."

Do not have your characters go on and on and on with no interruptions or questions. Your work requires dialogue that's smooth and flows. Too much talking from one person, and your novel takes on the tone of a wiki. Not cool.

*I think they don't run the Bookmobile anymore. This is sad, because for me, it was like mini-Christmas every couple of weeks.

**Don't laugh, I watched the end of Red Dawn and followed it up with 27 Dresses. I'm all eclectic like that. Or just, you know, human.

***I did not read a Newberry book until A Wrinkle in Time when I was in high school. Seriously, those award winners aren't popular among the kiddies. They're picked by teachers who probably cry over them and pick them because of that. I don't want to read sad junk now, and I especially didn't when I was nine.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

We're Doin' It Right (or just...you know...funner.)

My senior year of college was one where many a great thing was accomplished, such as my car actually making it to Greenville, South Carolina. And speaking of college.

Bob Jones University is a very interesting school. It's a fundamentalist (for all purposes very conservatively dressed Baptist) university with lots of rules and regulations and the occasional interesting happening, like Artist Series (which isn't the name anymore but whatever. Look it up.) During Artist Series, if the university doesn't put on an opera or a play (I saw a lot of Shakespeare...), they invite performers from outside the university to come and put on a show.
Since this post is partly about my senior year, I'll narrow in and focus on the two outside performers that I happened to see those two semesters: the Dallas Brass and the King's Singers.

I'm not crazy about brass music or choral music, at least not initially. I am not one to just sit and listen to classical music or barbershop quartets. That said, I was most unenthusiastic about seeing these dudes from Dallas who I thought had picked the most uncool instrument group (myself being a violinist). I looked forward to an evening of sheer boredom. But you know what? They came and they put on a show. They weren't just performers; they were showmen. They had fun and played some good stuff. Ever heard of Gabriel's Oboe? Look it up. It's from a movie called The Mission (which I have not seen) and shoot, I'm gonna use it in place of Wagner's Wedding March thing at my wedding. They played that. They brought brass music to life in a way that no one in or outside of Bob Jones University (brass heavy as they are) ever did. I laughed, I enjoyed music and the show that went along with it.

It being Bob Jones University, a true show just isn't enough. It has to be exotic. Which I think might be the reason for everyone at the school getting all excited and junk about The King's Singers, a group of men who, well, sing and were apparently god-like simply because they were British. So I was all "Eh, they might not be so bad, I'll give 'em a chance. Probably will be cool." After all, I am fairly certain that some of my fellow students would have gladly sold their first-born child for lunch and a private performance with these guys. They must be good, right?


Yeah, they were good. Heck, they were very good. They had a high level of skill and didn't slip once on the notes or the timing or the pitch...Yeah, that's how exciting it was. They stood on stage and sang American folk songs and old spirituals and one thing I actually liked that was about South Africa and Dutch people. Or something. They stood. And sang.

That's about it.

All this to back up my oh so humble opinion...

Here we go, it'll blow yalls minds...

America is not Britain.

BaGOOSH. Am I right?

This is not an anti-Britain rant. Heck, I love Britain. My favorite show right now is Doctor Who* and could you even imagine an American version of Harry Potter?

Harry Potter and the Jersey Devil?

Naw, I'm good with Britain. I think our version of Top Gear is way better. I've been disagreed with, of course. But the British Top Gear? Yeah, old dudes driving. American? They drive and break stuff. Aw yeah.**

Somehow, somewhere, sometime, there was a mass movement of denying who you are and of graciously (ahem) informing others of how wrong they were. Possibly that's why we have hipsters. Liking tea doesn't make you globally minded or more polite or more intelligent. Please understand me, I like tea. It's great. It's delicious. What I don't like are the pretentious little tea shops here in the States that pretend they can steep low-quality paper-bagged tea better than I can.*** Maybe, instead of bragging of our love of tea and all the bands "no one's ever heard of" (even though they probably have), we could just chill. Like tea and like coffee. But just stop pretending.

Maybe we could finally realize that we gained independence from Britain years ago, like it that way ('cause they probably do too), and realize the potential of learning from something instead of trying to be it.

'Cause writers, if you try to be Jane Austen or Charles Dickens and try to squeeze their genius into your stuff and create a disastrous mash-up of the two with a 21st century half-reasoned message about "society and stuff" that cannot and will never belong in that world, your readers will spot it a mile away. But you go ahead and do what you want and write what you want. So guess what? You're not them, so prepare for your baby to be slid back on the shelf and given a remainder mark sometime in the very near future.

More on that tomorrow.

*Did not River Song's identity raise more questions than it answered? And how 'bout that beginning for a season? American conspiracy theory folklore as a plot? Brilliant. Really. Great stuff. I did not see that coming. The Silence are pretty much They, Them, and the Men in Black. Love it.

**Don't even play; you know it's fun.

***It's true. The lowest quality leaves end up in bags. It is easier, and I found that Lipton Spiced Chai was really good to my sore throat yesterday. It's also great iced.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cultural Studies: The Beverage Debate (or stuff yall were wrong about...)*

So here's some insight into me. I went to college at Bob Jones University. Despite being located in Greenville, South Carolina, it is a) far from being a Southern college, b) a fascinating cultural study, and c) a help in affirming that I seriously love Eastern North Carolina.

So this topic came up a lot in college, and it comes up a lot elsewhere. I recently watched an episode of How the States Got Their Shapes, and I happened to watch an episode that focused on accents and regional vocabulary. We're all different. No surprise there, as the United States was settled by a very wide range of cultures. Obviously, we're all going to have a different name for carbonated beverages. However, they missed an important detail.

I'll back up. Starting in my teenage years, I first heard of the Great Debate, i.e. soda vs. pop. My youth pastor (who was from Indiana, went to college in Wisconsin, and had an accent straight out of Fargo), insisted that Coca-cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and the like were to be called "pop." For the purposes of fun debate, I (and probably others) insisted that the correct name was "soda," and I proceeded to call it this for quite some time. Naturally, when I got to college, I encountered this friendly conflict among peers. Then a third contender entered the ring. Apparently, across much of the southern United States, all carbonated beverages are referred to as "Coke." Apparently a conversation will go as follows:

"What do you want to drink?"
"I want a Coke."
"Okay, what kinda Coke do you want?"

Or something like that.

Now, an explanation, as I found from the earlier mentioned show, could be that Coca-cola was birthed in Atlanta. Fair enough, but this is just too complex, at least to me. However, it continued to be spread around as a "Southern thing" all the time, and I'm sure that it is true for many people.

I'll throw in some accuracy for you, just to set all of yall straight.

The correct term is "drink."

If you are my cousin's two-and-a-half year old son, it is "dink."

I believe that this term originated with the term "soft drink." Naturally, it was shortened. For my entire life, until high school, I referred to carbonated beverages as merely drink. I have returned home to my original dialect. Life is good.

So, naw, I'm not gonna have any drink, I already brushed my teeth tonight. But cheers everybody.

*This post is meant in humor. If you take it personally, then I am truly sorry for you.