Improbable Phrases

Who says that?


Anytime I moved to a new apartment in Chicago, one of the first things that I would look for in each new neighborhood was the closest post office. I would sometimes need to mail things, and also apartment mailboxes were so small that I would occasionally need to go to the post office to pick up packages. Generally, the post offices would be within easy walking distance of wherever I was living.

When I moved to Indonesia in 2012, the first thing that I noticed was that no one had mailboxes. It turns out that Indonesia does not have much of a postal system. Most people do not receive or send letters. In my first apartment here in Indonesia, my landlord would text the electric bill information, which would include a bank account number preset with the bill amount, which you would transfer the money to at an ATM. At my new place I at least get a paper bill slipped into the apartment under my door. This is the preferred method of “mailing” things, throwing them into the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. But the electric bill and various flyers from shops in the apartment complex that are scattered on the floor just inside the front door when I get home are the only “mail” I receive. I have no idea what an Indonesian stamp even looks like.

Earlier this week I got a notice that the package that my parents had sent me for Christmas had arrived. But it hadn’t come to the school, I would need to pick it up at the local post office. Apparently postal laws have changed since the last time they sent me a box, and now all international packages are opened, inspected, closed, bagged, and then kept at the nearest post office. I would need to go to Kelapa Gading’s Kantor Pos Indonesia and pay to retrieve it. The fees are figured by a combination of the value of the contents and the overall weight of the package. I had to pay 7,000 rupiah (about 60 cents) for my Christmas box.

I got in line for the package retrieval counter (Loket 14) and stood there for about 90 minutes. I shuffled very slowly forward during that time. Since the post office in general is an underused commodity, there are very few people working there. There was only one guy working the package retrieval line. He spent between 5 and 10 minutes on each of the 12 people in front of me. It was perhaps the slowest line I have ever been in outside of an amusement park. And there was no rollercoaster at the front of the line either, just a surly guy who clearly hated his job.

When he came out with the box, I double checked that it was mine and then had to sign two different forms in three different places verifying that I had picked up the correct box. The ziptied bag that they put the resealed box in actually made it easier to carry, so that was nice at least.

I sort of hope to never need to go to the post office here again.


An Open Letter

Dear News Outlets,

I’m so frustrated by your continued insistence on blowing things up into enormous scare-tactic sized news pieces. This is a prime example of some newspaper reporting that seems a little egregious.

And then there’s this. Now, CNN, I see that you tried here, and I appreciate that. Fox? Could you maybe step away from the horror-filled clickbait headlines? Give it a try, you might find you like it.

via Reddit

In general, folks, it seems like a determination to sell supplants any sense of what actually happened. It’s almost as though you’re saying to the public, “Are you scared about the world yet today? No? Do you want to be?”

And the answer is no. No, I don’t want you to sell me fear and panic with a side of racism and xenophobia about “those people.” Stop it. Also, just in general, stop telling me horrible and unnecessary things about planes and airports. I live a great distance from home and don’t need more to think about when I travel. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.



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Z is for Zoos

There is a tendency among some circles to denounce zoos, aquariums, and any other institution that keeps wild animals out of the wild, as the evil of the world that keeps animals from being free. Free to hunt as nature intended and free to roam the great plains. And most of all, free from the tyrannical grasp of humans. There is, so far as I can tell, one major logical misstep in that argument. The assumption that freedom will equate longevity and safety. Free to hunt as nature intended, yes, but with no guarantees that their food sources have been left living in the midst of overhunting and deforestation on the part of humans. Free to roam the plains, yes, but not protected from poachers who really like them some ivory. Tyranny or protection?

This argument also discounts the lasting environmental good that exposing children to different animal species has the potential to do. If a child sees, and identifies with, a particular sweet and fuzzy endangered creature, then maybe they’ll join the World Wildlife Fund, or the Nature Conservancy as an adult. That money saves the animals, the environment, and might make it possible for a few birds to actually live, as they say, free as the bird sings.

I visited a series of local zoos as a child. We had the Akron, Cleveland, and Columbus zoos to choose from. I think that each of them had their charm, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to each of them. I remember watching an orangutan make faces at me through the glass, and wishing I could talk to it.

There is really only one part of the zoo where I have reservations. And that’s the reptile house. Snakes? Fine. Lizards? Fine. Crocodiles and alligators? Oh my sweet jeebus.

Somewhere around the time I was in 3rd grade, I had a series of nightmares about alligators/ crocodiles coming up the stairs of our house and trying to eat me in the shower. For most of that year I took showers with the curtain slightly open, so that I could see them coming and then I’d jump on top of the hamper or something, presumably. My mother would periodically complain about the water on the floor, but I felt completely justified. I was saving my own life. I grew up in Ohio, by the way, which is not particularly near the Everglades. Neurotic much? Ever since then, even after I stopped being afraid that they would eat me in the shower, I have had a thing about alligators/ crocodiles. I am petrified of them. I do not care if they are big or small, and I don’t care if they are behind glass, I do not want to be anywhere near them. To be honest, I even get a little on edge during the parts in Peter Pan where they show the animated crocodile. When confronted by them in real life, I will generally gasp slightly, look away, and then walk off as soon as I can. My father will occasionally exploit this fact for his own amusement. I recall on one particular trip, as I was checking to see if there were alligators/ crocodiles in an exhibit, he came up behind me and grabbed at my ribs. I jumped and screamed. Not funny. I will never be able to go to areas along the coast where they live. I would be in constant terror.

But I do love most other animals. I am obsessed with octopi, as you may know, but I also like some cute and cuddly things.

Like coatis.Coati_ arenal
And tamarins.Tamarin_Monkey

And sun bears.sunbear

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V is for Valleys

Life is naturally composed of peaks and valleys. The peaks are obviously more fun, but it is in the valleys that you learn.

In January of 2002, I was at the lowest valley that I had ever experienced in my life. I had spinal surgery. The surgery itself was not the deepest part of the valley, I had been through numerous procedures in the past. It was the aftermath that threw me into a place that I didn’t even know existed. Pain, exhaustion, loss of motion, and most distressing to me, confusion. I had at least two instances where I did not know where I was, or why I had tubes in my nose, my chest, or IV needles in my hands. During one of these moments, bereft of sense and on the edge of hysteria, I tried to pull out my NG tube. I yanked at it, and got a few inches out. Then the nurse came in and I realized what I had almost done. The loss of basic cognitive functions just slayed me, right after I regained them. What if I hadn’t come out of the fog? What if I had lost me? I was embarrassed enough about these episodes that I chose not to tell my family about them.

The pain came in fits and bursts. Because I am a woman of routine, this was not what I considered manageable. There were times when I could not breathe, I was afraid to move anything, even a hand. In retrospect, there is no one to blame. Pain management is, at best, a sail between the Scylla of agony and the Charybdis of stoned oblivion. The morphine, specifically, was a handmaiden of Charybdis. I remember asking for some at a time when the pain seemed to loom over me at unsurmountable height, but I have no recollection of anything that went on after I received it. It was as though I was given morphine at 7 p.m. and then all time stopped until 6 a.m. the following day. And then I’d feel all right for a while, until I would suddenly experience a crushing sensation in my chest. If I had had the energy, I would have cried more than I did. I never knew what to expect, and I felt so completely out of control.

It was compounded by the fact that I couldn’t really control anything about my own body. The loss of purposeful motion was more than a little ridiculous in the beginning. I had to have a series of pillows to align my body in the one position that was comfortable *and* did not require any serious contact or weight-bearing on either of my surgical sites. No mean feat, believe me. And it required a little bit of elbow grease on the part of the visiting resident to turn me slightly to look at, God knows, whatever they wanted to see. I was informed that I would be sat up and asked to walk around, “as soon as we get that brace made.” That brace was more or less a bivalve shell with velcro straps. I had vain hopes that it would help hold me up, but basically it just rubbed my left hip regardless of the position I was in and left me trying to force my battered and broken skeleton to hold my weight. The humor of being unable to roll over had lost a great deal of its appeal by this point. And now they wanted me to sit, stand, walk?

And so I walked. And in the beginning I thought it would kill me. It took nearly 15 minutes to walk 15 feet. The pain, good Lord, and the exhaustion afterward did nothing to lift me out of that valley. I stayed in that valley for months, long past the time I went back to school. I wandered in that valley until I realized that walking isn’t everything. Which happened in the spring of 2007.  I am still convincing myself of this today. One day I will no longer question it. I don’t know when that will be.

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T is for Tunes

It was impossible to come up with anything to say for T is for Two. So we have this instead. It is a “First Line Index” of the first 50 songs that come up on my iPod when I hit shuffle. If you can name the song, feel free to do so in the comments. Dad, I blame you for #49.

1. Now somewhere in the black mining hills of Dakota there lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon
2. Nobody could hurt me like I know she could hurt me
3. Chunari, chunari
4. Slow down, you move too fast
5. Well, my temperature’s rising and my feet hit the floor
6. There’s no combination of words I could put on the back of a postcard
7. I didn’t hear you say you’re sorry, the fault must be mine
8. I’ve been a traveler of far away lands
9. Well, I know it’s kind of late, I hope I didn’t wake you
10. I was born to sing a good-time song, you know that nothin’ used to bring me down
11. Basic instructions before leaving earth
12. What do you do with a BA in English?
13. In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina
14. I read it all, every word, and I still don’t understand a thing
15. It’s been a long time comin’ and the card were stacked
16. I went down to the grocery store, to get in I had to pay a dime or more
17. Just to be loved by you
18. Well, if I had my life to live I sure would live it over
19. Half of what I say is meaningless
20. Oh no, I see a spiderweb is tangled up with me
21. Thíos ag cois na farraige bhí teach ‘g mo mhuinntir féin (Oh yeah, babe. Gotta love Google.)
22. You’re hot as a desert
23. Do you see what I see, or is it all in my head?
24. All of your ways and all your thunder
25. I recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone
26. Some stupid chick in the checkout line was paying for beers in nickels and dimes
27. 29 years I’ve been on this planet
28. Right now you are down and out and feeling pretty crappy
29. It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog
30. As the music at the banquet
31. Well, she was standing by my dressing room after the show
32. Such a crime I don’t remember being taken
33. Zumbale el mambo pa’ que mis gatas prendan los motores
34. A fire burns, water comes
35. Mira nena Linda ven que yo te cuento un cuento
36. In this world there’s a whole lot of trouble, baby
37. I had no choice but to hear you
38. You and me were cut from the same cloth
39. Martha my dear though I spend my days in conversation
40. I’m walkin’ back to Georgia
41. Open up with me
42. My name is Francis Tolliver in Liverpool I dwell
43. I need you
44. I don’t want to be second best
45. It’s such a tired game
46. I could have a mansion on the hill
47. And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson
48. If I could take you away
49. Mama’s got a squeeze box she wears on her chest
50. Dark clouds arisin’ thunder bolts arollin’

I read: Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler (series of essays on dining and cooking alone. Too funny. Especially one about being an Asparagus Superhero.)
Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet (Autobiography of living with Asperger’s Syndrome. Amazing, I liked the discussion of his synesthesia quite a bit.)