Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas: I Can Do This

Before I begin, let me just provide the following disclaimer: I like presents too.

That being said, working in retail has me swallowing down my own vomit with disgust at the commercialization of Christmas. I'm not super religious, and I know that kids love ripping open a ton of presents under the tree on Christmas Eve (or Christmas morning if you're weird) and that it's all part of the magic for them. I know this. But working in a major department store during the holiday season has me ready to spend Christmas in a monastery to get away from all this craziness.

Mostly it's the Christmas music that gets to me. I like a little Christmas music here and there, but when you're listening to it for 6-8 hours a day every day at work, it begins to feel like torture. Especially when they go beyond the traditional Christmas songs, a little Bing Crosby, a little Burl Ives, a little Mitch Miller and the Gang, and move into the weird stuff. Some country singer asking some girl why she left him right before Christmas, SO MANY versions of "Santa Baby" where that slut sings about wanting a yacht, and worst of all, a bizarre, trippy techno remix of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," which is just plain sick and wrong. Bing! On behalf of the 21st century, I apologize. Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

I'm so sick of it that the other day when I worked in the Hip and Groovy Young People department, I was actually relieved to hear the horrible crap "music" they play in there. Actually, I think the people up in corporate must have hired a new person to choose the playlist, because some of it really isn't that bad. There's some more folksy rock stuff, and only a few aggressive hip hop artists screaming about sex and money. Although there are still far too many songs featuring spoiled teens bitching about their girlfriends or their dads or something, but oh well. And then of course there's like thirteen Taylor Swift songs and that other girl, the blond one from American Idol with the curly hair who sings country. I dunno. But the point is, it's not Christmas music, which is great.

The funny thing is that because it's almost Christmas, people who don't usually shop at all are now "forced" to because they have to buy gifts for their loved ones. You can always tell who they are. Every single man in the women's underwear department. Every single man in the shoe department. Every single man. I'm only kidding, we do have some regular customers who are male. But there are people who look so lost and confused by the entire purchasing-an-item process. It's funny except on days when it's annoying.

They wander around looking lost and confused. Sometimes they accept help when we offer it, sometimes they don't. Many people around here seem suspicious of us, as though we get to personally keep the money they hand over and are trying to take them for everything they have. One lady found a set of bowls that said "Popcorn" on them and asked me how much they were, if they were on sale, etc. I told her the price and then tried to hand the bowl back to her because I saw that there were people waiting for me at the cash register. She stood there staring at me and said, "But I don't know if they eat popcorn! Will they like this?" Now how in the hell am I supposed to know if some strangers I have never met before eat popcorn? I think I said something like, "Who on earth doesn't eat popcorn?" and she ended up buying them.

Then there are the people who act like they have never even seen a cash register before. They're confused by the entire process of buying something. I practically have to hold their hand through it. This is the part where you hand me the item. Now I ring it up. You have a million coupons? Perfect. Here is the one you should use. No, you can't use three coupons at once. No, this item was not on sale. No, you don't get an additional discount for using your store card if you also use a coupon. I don't know why, you just can't. Of course I would let you if you could. Sir, I realize that when you were a kid ice cream cost a nickel and that you've never paid more than three dollars for a sweater. But when I was a kid I wore neon pink leg warmers, times have changed. Yes, this is definitely the price. No, you do not get to name your own price. You're paying with cash? Easy. Oh, you're paying with a credit card? Super. No, give me the card. Now sign on that little electronic box. You have to hit "Enter" after you sign it. You have to approve the amount. Ma'am? You have to approve the amount. You missed the right box, click it again. Now you accidentally canceled it and we have to start over. No, no, it's fine, I have all day to stand here and teach you how to use your credit card.

I swear the way these people bitch about cost and try to haggle, sometimes I glance around just to make sure that the store didn't turn into a middle eastern spice market when I wasn't looking. America! Hear me when I say this! YOU DO NOT GET TO CHOOSE HOW MUCH SOMETHING COSTS. THERE IS A NUMBER ON THE TAG AND THAT IS THE PRICE. GET OVER IT. IF YOU THINK IT IS TOO EXPENSIVE, GO SOMEWHERE ELSE AND LEAVE ME ALONE.

*deep breath* Thanks for letting me get that out, I feel better.

So as a result of all this, I am so over Christmas presents. If you have not received a present from me yet and you are not my brother or my sister, I'm sorry but you're not getting one this year. It's ok, you don't have to get me anything either. I think I asked for a battery for my laptop and my parents have that covered. And I'm not sending out Christmas cards. I might do an e-card to save paper, but I haven't decided yet so probably not. I just want to finish this last couple of days of work, have a safe flight back to Maryland, hang out with my people, and eat hangikjöt. That is all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

*Insert Jumping Up and Down and Squealing Here*

It just occurred to me a few days ago that come January I really will be going back to Chicago. It took a moment to wrap my mind around this. Chicago really does still exist, my friends are still there, and in less than a month I will be too! Then I thought, how depressing is it that the thought of going back to a place where I once lived boggles my mind to that level? Clearly, it is time.

Idaho has not come without its benefits, however. It is beautiful here; I made some great new friends, and figured out what I want to do with my life. The time I spent here on my own provided space for quite a bit of introspection without distractions, and that is a good thing.

That being said, I can’t wait to get back to Chi-town! (pronounced “Shy-town,” I don’t know who came up with it.) I’m so looking forward to it that I’ve decided to make a list of things I will do as soon as I get back. Yay, lists! So much fun, and the reason why my pockets are always filled with annoying little scraps of paper.

1. I’ll arrive at my friend Elizabeth’s house, where after I throw open the door and say something to the effect of, “What up, dorks?” there will be much jumping up and down and screaming. As undignified as this behavior is, it is programmed into our ovaries and completely involuntary.

2. I will attempt to make conversation, but as I will be suffering from an intense case of “Road Crazies” from having driven for 8 hours a day for the past four days, I will first need to process the bits of BBC Radio podcasts and all of my cross-country driving music out of my brain. Also, an immediate shower will be crucial. The rest of the night will be a blur of squealing, excited chatting, and getting used to not being in a moving vehicle.

3. Riding the El, which is the city transit system, was always a nice little time-out in my day. Sometimes when you can’t get a seat or when a crazy person sits next to you it sucks, but my adorable old neighborhood was close to the end of the Brown Line, which is my favorite one because it has the best scenery, in my opinion. It was so nice to get to sit down and listen to music while staring out the window on the way to work. So I’ll definitely be charging my ipod and enjoying zoning out for a while.

4. Julius Meinl. This will be my first destination on the train. I will sip delicious Austrian coffee, eat delicious Austrian food and generally feel warm and cozy and happy. I’ll probably be meeting up with a friend or two, before buying several bags of their imported coffee, worth its weight in gold.

5. The Chicago Girls will be assembled once again, more screaming and jumping up and down will ensue, a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey will be sacrificed to the gods, and more groovy tunes will be enjoyed. Maybe we’ll bundle up and go somewhere, maybe we’ll stay in. Whatever we do is always fun because The Chicago Girls are down-to-earth and smart and funny and trustworthy and generally amazing in every way. You can always count on them to have your back. Once we were walking around somewhere downtown at night, and a man came up to us and started singing “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” We joined him, I think by the end of the song I was the only one left singing it with him, one of the girls videotaped it on her phone or camera or something, and then when the song was done the man demanded money. When I refused to pay him for what I had naively assumed was a shared experience of delightful randomness with a stranger, he called us mean names and then fled the scene amid the echoes of the girls cussing him out like a small group of adorable, well-dressed truckers. Ah, those were the days…

6. Nancy. Catch-up time with one of my two Chicago Moms. The other one is the mother of my friend Sara. Sara’s sister, Annie, lives about three hours from me in Missoula, Montana and is moving back to Chicago at the same time I am. Apparently when their mom heard I was coming back too, she said she was happy that “at least two of my daughters are moving back!” How cute is that. I’m excited to see both of my Chicago-based surrogate mothers who set me straight in person when my own mother can’t reach through the phone and knock some sense into me herself.

7. The Icelanders! My Icelandic Chicago friends are extremely fun. They also graciously allowed me to stay with them for my last two weeks in Chicago when I lived there before. We used to have what I came to call “rock’n’roll dinners” because we would eat while listening to various rock bands. It’s nice having people around who can pronounce my full name, and they are part of an extended circle of Icelanders in the Chicagoland area. I’ll also be back in time for Þorrablót in February, woohoo! Anyway, they party like it’s 1999 all over again, and we always have a blast and a half.

8. Ordering in exotic foods from many lands. Omg I’ll get to eat my favorite Vietnamese and Thai dishes and have them delivered right to my door! Then there’s the Chicago Brauhaus, famed Bavarian restaurant and bar, complete with a live polka band on the weekends. It’s like entering a time warp when you walk through the doors. A time warp filled with German and Austrian beer, dumplings and various pork products served with sides of foods whose names end in “-kraut”.  Then there’s the tiny Polish restaurant Podhalanka, an amazingly well-kept secret that serves inexpensive, filling, delicious foods from the Old Country. Also that sort of Belgian place in Andersonville, the Swedish neighborhood, with all of those beers and mussels and amazing food whose name I forget, I think it’s the Hop Leaf. And Ed Debevic’s, the touristy re-created 50s diner where the waiters get to be rude to you and they play oldies and dance on the counters while you eat your extremely greasy junk food. And the Peruvian place with the really good chicken! And dim sum in Chinatown! Holy crap, I have so much eating to do. Mmmm...food.

9. Lake Shore Drive. Sometimes when I was really bored and it was between rush hours, I would get in my car and drive down the length of Lake Shore Drive, affectionately referred to by the locals as LSD. “I took LSD the whole way there and it was really fun!” “Get off LSD now, you’ve gone too far!” “LSD again? Lose the habit!” It’s got a sick view of both Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago, complete with truly impressive architecture.

10. Trader Joe’s! Yes, in the spring of next year there will finally be a Trader Joe’s in Spokane, Washington, a mere 30 minutes away from Coeur D’Alene. But that’s not my Trader Joe’s. The one I drive to when I’m sick of walking to the ethnic market and I need to stock up on affordable yet tasty foods. Chocolate-covered pomegranite seeds! Four-flavors-in-one-package hummus! Lavender soap with the built-in scrubbing things! Garlic naan! Cheap wine! The list goes on and on...

Omg I’ll be in my favorite American city again! Swing dance night at that one tiny club downtown! Indian food! Poisonous air polluting my lungs! The Chicago Art Institute! Holding onto my purse tightly at all times and never walking down dark streets alone at night! Chorizo tacos after 2 am in the little Mexican place under that one train station! Taking an extra 45 minutes to get home because I got on the wrong train! Standing under the heat lamps with the pigeons in the freezing cold winter while waiting for the same wrong train! Forgetting where I parked my car! Bundling up in three layers of clothing and my snow boots before leaving the house! Having to moisturize my face with olive oil every night because the ice-cold wind is trying to burn off the top layer of my skin! Artsy movie theaters that show foreign films and weird documentaries and replay “Saturday Night Fever” every once in a while! Being only one day’s drive from my folks in Maryland!

Not that I’m excited or anything...   

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Means Hangikjöt



I wish that when I went to a restaurant and was asked how I'd like my meat cooked, "smoked" was an option. Every meat tastes better smoked. In fact, vegetables would probably taste better smoked too.

Soon I'm going back to my parents' house for Christmas, and that means smoked lamb time. Yes, there are presents, and family togetherness, and a tree with lights on it, and seeing my friends. But mainly there's smoked lamb. Oooh, there go my salivary glands. My mouth literally waters at the thought of wonderful, smokey hangikjöt.

My mom has it shipped from The Land at some point earlier in the year. When it arrives several months before Christmas, she carefully takes it out of the package and holds it up so we can all gather around and bask in the glow of its magnificence. We "ooh" and "aah" and discuss how wonderful it's going to taste at Christmas, before it is nestled in the freezer to sit, safely preserved, until the blessed event.

Normally people in the Motherland eat their hangikjöt on Christmas day, but in our family we eat it on Christmas Eve. This is primarily because we don't want to share it with anyone, and on Christmas Day there is the danger that guests could arrive, or we may be invited somewhere else. But Christmas Eve is present-opening night for us as well, so there is no danger of unwanted pickers of our meat at our table, and our ravaging can go undisturbed.

The Day of Christmas Eve I wake up and hang around the kitchen annoying my mom until she throws me out. I hover over the stove where the smoked deliciousness sits in its pot of water on the stove, just beginning the sacred alchemical process that must first take place before it is safe for consumption. I lick my lips and gaze at it hungrily, I ask again what time it will be ready for dinner, and hover and hover and hover until she has to push me out of the room and send me to watch a Christmas movie or something. But it's no use. I physically cannot be away from the hangikjöt for too long. It calls me back, and I must stare at it in the pot and think how in just a few short hours I'll be sinking my teeth into its tender, salty, smoky flesh.

At some point in the early afternoon, my dad and us kids find an excuse to leave the house for a while, usually on some lame errand that my mom makes up to get us out of her way. We don't actually need anything, since my mom is one of those people who is so prepared for every event that even if nuclear fallout were to occur we probably wouldn't notice for several days afterward.

But the point isn't the errand. No, no, no. The point is that by the time we get home, the meat has been cooking for a while. And when we pull into the garage, there is a faint whiff of smoked lamb in the air. We rush into the house, I pause for just a moment with my hand on the doorknob, trying to savor the anticipation before getting shoved inside by one sibling or the other. And when we walk in.... BAM! The scent of sweet, savory, smoky, salty, amazing, everything that is pure and good and wonderful in this world, the scent of still believing in Santa Claus (all thirteen of them) and miracles and most of all, the scent of almost-ready hangikjöt has taken over the entire house.

This is the point where I usually make a big show of falling to my knees in front of the stove before I'm swatted away by my mother, who guards her treasure trove of meat like it's the Ark of the Covenant, which, as far as meats are concerned, it basically is.

A little while later, dressed in Christmas finery, salivary glands on overdrive, seated, quivering, at the table, we eat at last. The juxtaposition of flavors, the cream-based sauce, the peas, the red cabbage, the Coca-Cola classic (I stick with my childhood preference instead of wine or beer), the also imported Egill's Appelsín, the holy of holies shining like a reddish masterpiece on my otherwise unremarkable plate... That's what Christmas means to me.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What Are You Looking At?

There's a show on public television that's showing Tori Amos playing in front of some tiny audience somewhere in New York. I wasn't going to watch it because I haven't much cared for her last few albums, but then she played an older song from back when I was almost-obsessed with her, and I tried to change the channel but my inner adolescent wouldn't let me. I will say the first show of hers that I ever saw when I was in college in Oklahoma damn near changed my life. I had just come home from visiting my parents, I forget where they were living at the time. It was either Hungary or Maryland. It must have been Maryland, because I think it was spring break and I hadn't been gone that long. I flew into the airport in Tulsa, drove all the way to Stillwater, dropped off my suitcases, took a shower and changed clothes, then got back in my car and drove back to Tulsa (an hour and a half each way, this was when gas only cost about $1.50 a gallon) and watched her show. My seat was as far as it could possibly be from the stage, and she was just a little multi-colored blob with an orange head. Sometimes my eyes felt like they were about to cross from trying so hard to focus on her. But that show was really great. She was so much herself, and kind of quirky and odd, and it made me believe in my own creative voice. It was an exhilarating drive home that night, I sang along with her albums at the top of my lungs the whole way, and had a hard time falling asleep once I got home even though it had been a long day of travel.

Anyway, these days whenever I hear her songs, flashes of both Oklahoma and Maryland flicker across my mind's eye. Sometimes it's the rolling brown landscape of Oklahoma, tinted with the weird sadness that seemed to follow me around those four years that I lived there. Other times I smell the humidity of Maryland in the summer and see the lush trees above me where I would ride my bike around the neighborhood at night, softly singing her songs to myself while trying to outrun the mosquitoes (who feast upon my flesh like I'm their last meal-- which, if I'm quick enough to slay them by my own hand, is often the case). So she's been left on in the background while I write this.

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What a strange week! It was mostly good with a few stinging slaps mixed in, but none that will leave permanent scars. In fact, I can't believe it was only a week that went by, it was so up and down. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't time seem to be doing this fast-slow-fast-slow thing lately? In some ways it's flying by (Christmas is in three weeks????) but in other ways it's slooooooooow (that was only one day????). I guess it's only my perception.

So I think I'm going to wait until after Christmas to move so I can get more money together. I've worked a couple of days back at "Department Store," and everybody had missed me! They all thought I had quit and/or left the country without saying goodbye, but they were happy to see me and wanted to know what I've been up to and where I was and where I'm going. It's fun being back in a social setting at work! It's still kind of annoying at times, but working the phones at a call center has made me grateful that at least in retail people have to get up the guts to look you in the eye while being rude to you. Plus, they might be able to transfer me to Chicago! So, unless that goes through before Christmas, which I doubt, I'll come back here the first week of January and move then.

Oh, and listen to this! It's my last week at the call center, and by some strange twist of fate I got put into a training class because they're changing what my department does. So now instead of having to take calls and talk to people who don't want to talk to me (except for the old people who like chatting, which I of course let them do because I'd rather laugh for twenty minutes than talk about credit cards for six) I get to just sit back and be trained for something I will probably never have to do in the actual work place! What a gift!

Oh my gosh and speaking of the training class.....

Tonight was the first night. I'm back with my original trainer, but since she doesn't really know anything about this new thing we'll be doing either, we've got two guys from a different company location who are teaching us. One of them does just fine. But the other one was really getting on my nerves all night. First of all, when he stands up in front of the class and talks to us, he chews gum with his mouth open. It drives... me... crazy! How rude and gross! It's one thing when you're just sitting around but when you're giving a presentation? Come on. Then he does this thing where when he's talking he always squints one of his eyes (like Popeye), and instead of turning his head normally, he kind of leans it back and turns it from side to side like he's looking down his nose at us, or can't be bothered to hold his head up properly when he talks. I complained to one of my work friends about this, and how they should teach these trainers some public speaking skills before forcing us to look at and listen to them all day every day for a week!

So I sat there, alternately glaring and avoiding looking at him for about the first five hours of the day. Then, after dinner, my work friend leans over to me and whispers, "I figured out why that guy always squints one eye. His right eye is kind of lazy, and it doesn't always move at the same time as the left one when he turns his head." I stared at the guy's right eye for a few minutes and realized that my friend was right.

Great.

So I've just spend five hours thinking mean thoughts about how arrogant that guy must be to think he's too amazing to even look at us normally and is constantly half-winking at us, and can't even pick his head up all the way because it's too heavy under the weight of his own coolness... When really the poor bastard has a lazy stinkin' eye, and has to turn his head weird and squint to try to hide it! Uuuugggghhhh!!! Of course!

But the gum chewing thing is still uncalled for.

                                                     *   *    *    *    *

The other day at "Department Store" I was working in the men's department with a girl who is from Russia. She married an American, she's nice and has a weird laugh (like me) and doesn't take work too seriously most of the time. She, too, thought I had disappeared to parts unknown, and so we had a lot of fun chatting and catching up all day.

Then, something kind of shitty happened.

She had been helping a customer who looked like he was in his sixties or so. I guess he bought whatever he was going to buy and left for a few minutes. Then, as I was standing next to her at the cash registers, he came back and handed her a cd that is called "The Bible In 30 Minutes" and told her that since she had never read the Bible, he wanted to give her that. I told him that they must be reading awfully fast to get the whole Bible condensed to just thirty minutes, and he said that it just included the "important parts" and "the facts just to get you interested... And have you heard about the end of the world and 666 and Revelation? Well all that cool stuff is in there, too." My poor little Russian friend just stood there staring at the cd with this sad look on her face.

I said something about how if students can't use Cliffs Notes on book reports in school, he sure shouldn't be able to pass out a cd with just thirty minutes of the Bible on it. Then he turned on me and asked me what church I go to. I told him that I don't discuss that at work, and he said, "Oh, she must be Mormon." I said I wasn't Mormon, and he didn't seem to believe me. Then he started back in on my Russian friend, and tells her that she should listen to it and blah, blah, blah.

By this time I had backed away from him and was standing holding onto the sock and underwear shelf with one hand. (Maybe I thought that by looking at the male models on the packages, I would relax and not jump over the counter and physically attack him.) Then he looked at my name tag and tried to pronounce my name.

"Igna..? Igna? How do you say that name?"
"Inga." (It's called reading. You should try it sometime.)
"Inga, huh? What kind of a name is that?"
"It's Scandinavian."
"Scandinavian, huh?"
"Yes."
"Foreign atheist."
(If looks could kill, the one that I gave him would have at least lopped off one of his shoulders like an axe blade.)
"I am not an atheist!"
(His eyes widened, he held both hands up with his palms facing me and started to walk backwards. I stalked toward the counter again, emboldened by his obvious display of fear.)
"All right, Inga. I was just joking!"

Then my friend said, "So you believe in the end of the world?"
And he said yes and that it's important to know where you're going to go after you die because one day the world will end.
And she smiled and said, "I know what happens after we die. But I can't tell you," and laughed her great weird laugh. He said a couple more things to her and then walked away.

I looked at her, still holding the cd in her delicate little hands, staring at it with a hurt look on her face. This poor girl hears it all. She has a noticeable Russian accent and the people around here always make "jokes" about the Cold War and World War II and call her a Russian spy and ask her all of these stupid questions. (Like this guy had assumed that just because she was Russian she must be communist and atheist and had never read the Bible.) Sometimes they're really rude to her and say horribly mean things just because of the place where she was born. They ask her if she likes America or Russia better, and if she says something about liking both, or that America is great but Russia will always be her home they call her a traitor and tell her she should go back to Russia if she likes it so much. It. Is. Ridiculous! I mean with me the most they do is start talking to me in some ridiculous fake Swedish accent and start asking me where I'm from and saying "Ja" and stuff. I never play along and always do my best to make them feel stupid without directly calling them names.

Anyway, so I started telling her not to listen to that idiot, that he was so rude and that she should move to a big city where they're used to having other cultures around, and all the time she was still staring at the cd in her hands. So I took it out of her hands and threw it in the trash and kept trying to make her feel better. Then she said, "I just feel so sorry for him, that he really believes in hell and that foreigners are atheists. I am Russian Orthodox but I don't go to church, I believe a lot of different things." And I told her how I'm technically Lutheran but I also believe in other paths too, and in reincarnation and things like that. She said she believes in reincarnation too, and that's what she meant when she told that man that she knows what happens after we die but she couldn't tell him, which made me laugh because I had been thinking the same thing.

Anyway, eventually one of our managers came around, and my friend picked the cd out of the trash can where I had thrown it and showed it to her and explained what had happened. Our manager was nice about it and talked to us about how to handle small-minded people at work. We're not allowed to get into an argument or discussion about religion or politics with customers, so she told us how to try to change the subject when people start talking to us about it, etc.

Not everyone who lives around here is like that, but many of the uneducated people are. I don't know which preachers are going around telling people that foreigners are all atheist. I am also sad that the public education system of this area has failed its residents to the point that nobody around here seems to know that the Cold War is over, that the Soviet Union fell a long time ago, and that I-N-G-A is not pronounced "Igna". But unfortunately, this is the sad truth of life for some people. I mentioned this on facebook the other day and said something about having mandatory foreign exchange programs for students. At first I was joking, but I'm starting to think it would be a good idea.

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Speaking of the difficulties of being multi-cultural in America, combined with my idea of the Viking preschool from my last post, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with one of my Top Fifteen Favorite First Cousins the other day about when I was a tiny Icelander in American preschool... [insert flashback sequence here]

When I was little, my dad traveled quite a bit for work as a Super Amazing Secret Weapon of the Government, so my mom just continued with business as usual, raising her two large-cheeked Icelandic-Austrian babies now living in America to be, basically, large-cheeked Icelandic babies living in a mostly Icelandic house (meaning my little brother and I, my sister had not yet been born).

Due to my extremely high intelligence during early childhood (what happened to me since then, I am not sure), I have very vivid memories of those formative years, including the one spent at Our Shepherd Nursery School. We had two teachers, snack time, various play areas, story time, lots of crayons, etc. For the most part, I think I fit in fine with the other kids, except I was not affectionate with strangers and my normal facial expression was very serious. In fact, my dad used to call me "The Professor" when I was around four because of that.

Since I was raised by an Icelandic mother, I did not eat things like macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It wasn't until college that I even gave these foods a chance, and even then it was only because my roommate told me that I would like them if she made them and if I got hungry enough, which proved to be true.

One day at snack time, I sat down at the little table with my fellow tots, and saw to my dismay that there on the tiny paper plate before me was.... A peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Now, even at the age of four, I already knew that I did not like peanut butter at all. I think I might have seen it on Sesame Street and asked my mom to buy some, and then when I tried it I found it disgusting and spat it out. I thought it would taste like the Icelandic spread Mysingur, but it didn't.

Anyway, I pushed my plate away and told my teacher, "I don't want peanut butter, I just want regular butter."
She replied, "Well we don't have regular butter, so you'll just have to eat this."
What?! No regular butter? What kind of a hellish nightmare of a school was this?? What kind of a pathetic excuse for a civilized human being doesn't have a ready supply of BUTTER on hand? How could my parents have left me in the care of this horrible, butter-less woman?! Clearly, I must try to reason with her.
"But... I don't eat peanut butter. I don't like it. I just want regular butter on my bread."
"Well we don't have any regular butter, this is all we have. You'll just have to eat it."
Hadn't my mother explained to her that I liked my bread covered in smjör with the crusts cut off? What was happening?
"But, Miss Sharon. I don't like peanut butter."
"Just taste it, Inga. Take one bite of the sandwich, and if you don't like it, you can have something else."
Ok, there may not be a manual for raising children, but every single adult on planet Earth knows that attempting to force a child to "take one bite" of something they know they don't like will only end in disaster. To my four year old self, this was like asking me to stick my hand into a blazing hot fire just to make sure it wouldn't burn me. I felt my chin start to wobble...
"I don't like peanut butter! I don't want to try it! I just want...[here come the tears] regular... buuuttteerrrrr!"
The other kids stared, fascinated, and tried to console me. "Don't cry, Inga. Peanut butter is good! See? We like it! Try it! It's good!"
I was horrified by their sticky, peanut-butter-smeared fingers and faces. They ate like barbarians, while I was already on my way to mastering eating my food with knife and fork. The tears kept flowing.

The teacher let me cry for a few minutes. When the other kids had finished their snacks and I was still sitting in front of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, my chubby cheeks drenched with tears, she finally gave me a few cookies and told me to stop crying. What a bitch.

Another time when my mom came to pick me up from school, the teacher pulled her aside and said, "We're having a little trouble getting Inga to use the magic words."
My mom looked at her blankly, "Uh... What are the magic words?"
"The magic words are 'please' and 'thank you'."
"OK. I'll talk to her."

I remember this "What's the magic word?" bullcrap very clearly. Every time you asked the teacher for anything, whether it was a crayon, a piece of paper, a book, whatever, they would hold it just out of reach and say in this annoying sing-song voice, "What's the magic woorrrddd???" I refused to be taunted in this manner. I would just repeat, "Can I have the crayons?" Then they would hold them higher and say again, "What's the magic wooorrrdddd?" This would go on until finally I decided that I would rather not get the basket of crayons than be forced to perform like a trained circus animal for their sick, sadistic pleasure.

In Iceland we don't really use a word like "please" much. We have polite ways of asking for things, but you usually only resort to our equivalent of the word "please" if you're almost begging for something. We do say "thank you," on that one I was just being stubborn. But little kids don't go through this whole humiliation of being forced to use the word "please" before they get the thing they're asking for. It's just a linguistic thing, but it proved to be yet another barrier between Preschool Inga and her teachers.

Those teachers were weird, anyway. They always accused me of coloring too slowly. Like the picture of a cow that I colored turquoise. I was having so much fun and thought they would be impressed by my unconventional color choice. But my teacher just stood there yelling at me to hurry up and color faster because of some other crap we had to do. I'm pretty sure I ignored her until the entire cow was turquoise. I think that I didn't realize that their rules applied to me. I'm pretty sure that has followed me throughout my life. It'll be a rude awakening when one day I'm arrested for dangling a burning Justin Bieber poster over the side of a Las Vegas hotel room balcony with Jon Bon Jovi holding the lighter and screaming, "Come back when your balls have dropped!!!!"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Future Is Now

Well, I finally snapped a little bit. It was a slow snapping, one that took several months to arrive (or, depending on how you look at it, several years) and then once it was here it took a few weeks to complete. But the good news is that... In short, I'm no longer going to not do what I want to be doing in order to one day do what I want. I believe it has taken me anywhere from 5-10 years to learn that lesson, and hopefully I'll really learn it this time so I don't have to re-learn it yet again. At least I have it written down here as evidence. I put in my two weeks notice today at the call center, and will drive back east the second week of December.

I'm going to go to Chicago and if no work appears there I'll go to Maryland and work until I can start graduate school in The Motherland (provided that I'm accepted). That's my plan if I don't get the fellowship. *knock on wood 7-9-13* If I do get the fellowship all bets are off and so am I to start that process. I'll find out about that in December.

In the meantime, as many things as there are to like about Idaho (and I do), if I'm going to be leaving the country and going to school, it could be a couple of years before I'm living in the States again. And I don't want to spend the time after I leave wishing I had gone back to Chi-town to take care of unfinished business (seeing friends, taking those sketch-writing and improv classes, etc). So that's what I'm doing.

Now that I've gotten that decided, I feel better. I've had a major creative block for quite a while, and I think that I've managed to move that out now, my energy is up. My hands want to make things and my brain is hungry for learning. I'm so excited to go back to school, and to write more and have more new things to write about.

The things I'm thinking about for graduate school are a Masters in Old Nordic Religion and maybe even a postgraduate diploma in Preschool Teacher Education. Perhaps I can teach the babies about the All-Father and the Mighty Thor and Wise Frigga and Wonderful Freyja...

Wait, how amazing would a Viking Preschool be????? They could wear wool and fur tunics and say things like, "Fetch me my mutton and a flagon of ale!" The whole classroom could be designed to look like a longboat, and they could light bonfires on the playground and sing songs and tell tales! Oooohh...

No but truthfully, my favorite ages to work with in education are the little kids. (Probably because I can relate to them better?) I love watching those formative years and seeing how quickly they learn, and how excited they still are about learning! Plus it doesn't hurt that little kids are generally adorable, "say the darnedest things" (like the kindergarten boy who told me "Nice hair!" once when I was substitute teaching in his class), and they also get to do fun things in school like finger paints and dance time. (Rather, when I taught Spanish at a preschool in Oklahoma City that one semester in college, my students got dance time. What? It was fun!) So that's a thought that's turning around in my head.

So yes, I'm excited, and it's nice to feel excited and happy instead of impatient and frustrated. Also today at work when I went on break I had a voice mail from one of the staffing agencies in Chicago, so maybe that's a sign that this time around the City of Broad Shoulders will allow me a little work and prosperity, since I'm no longer denying my dharma. Or something..... Who knows. At least I no longer feel trapped and lonely, and by my own doing, no less!

I can't wait to traipse through the streets of Chicago with my pals again, and to sit around tables and laugh and talk into the night and then write it all down. (Well, not all of it.)

Vikings

  +


Finger paint
                                                                                                                  

Friday, November 5, 2010

OK So Here's The Plan:

I'm getting out of here. I don't know how, I don't know when, but it's happening. There. I'm glad we had this talk.

In Other News...

So it turns out I'm not a saleswoman. I know, I'm as surprised as you are. But as it turns out, succeeding at sales is very closely connected to wanting to sell things. This is where I fall short. It also turns out that I am not particularly competitive. The only part of competition that I truly enjoy is smack-talking my opponent. I can throw down smack-talk like a viciously competitive badger.
Vicious Badger

Ask anyone who has ever invited me to a Game Night (and lived to tell the tale). The game itself is unimportant. Games are stupid because they have rules. Take Scrabble, for example. Every single one of my friends loves Scrabble. I'll come right out and say it: I hate that game. It has too many rules. I just want to put whatever word I can think of containing the letters I have in my possession anywhere I want on the board at any time. But apparently, there are rules against that. Stupid game. But I digress. Where was I? Oh, right. So the outcome of the game itself does not matter, as I have written off all games with rules as pointless. What matters to me on Game Night is that by the end of it, the team I am playing against is crying, or at least has a temporarily lowered collective self-esteem. I couldn't care less about who wins. (The following sporting events are excluded from the preceding statement: Stanley Cup, World Cup, Capture the Flag.)

The reason I mention sales, competition, and my lack of interest in both, is that I recently secured full-time employment (yay!) in sales (boo!). I work for a company which works for a credit card company. I sit at a computer (which I thoroughly clean with disinfecting wipes multiple times a day, if you saw my co-workers you would understand why), don a headset, and wait for a call to show up on my screen. That is the best part of my day (besides my thirty-minute lunch and two fifteen-minute breaks). During this time between calls I get to email my friends at work (no outside emailing allowed), chat with the ones who sit nearby, and sip my coffee/tea/soda/water while wishing it was whiskey/rum/sangria/etc.

Then a call comes in. I chat with the people, I read the script, I make my voice sound really perky and smile a lot when I talk (I find this keeps people from yelling at me) and I say "I completely understand" a lot. The good thing about this part of the job (which is called "building rapport" in the industry) is that I get to see where the people who are calling me live. Luckily, I have either lived in/near, visited, driven past, or stopped over in an airport in many of those places, or at least know someone who has. Then I answer questions ("Unfortunately we will not be able to lower your interest rate today." "I am sorry about your divorce sir, I will be happy to change your address." "Of course I care what you think, we're on the phone, aren't we?"), and try to sell them products for their credit card. In all fairness, the products really aren't that bad. In fact, the calls themselves aren't that bad. And every once in a while if you make a sale, you get to pick a prize. Today, I reached my hand into a bag full of money... and pulled out a dollar. Woohoo!

The part that drains me is the competition. Apparently we're supposed to be "driven to succeed," whatever that means. And if what other people tell me is true, I think I can coast by without getting involved in the whole getting-really-into-making-sales thing for the next two, maybe even three months, which is more than enough time for me. It's just the atmosphere of competition that's slightly confusing and more than just a little amusing to behold.

Let me take this opportunity to say that I acknowledge that competition has its place in the world. Without competition there would be no Brazilian soccer fans! Imagine a world without them! I know, I don't want to either.

 Brazilian Soccer Fans
Also, I'm sure Industry in general wouldn't have happened without competition, maybe. Also jerks. We might not have as many jerks in the world without competition to give them an outlet for their aggression. Imagine that as well! It's like we would have to be motivated by happiness, or the spirit of helpfulness, or the will to band together and survive in this crazy world. No, but really, if you're competitive that's cool too. No worries. I will say this: if competition were eliminated from Planet Earth, I would sincerely miss public feats of strength. Call it my heritage, if you will, but yes, I do enjoy watching the occasional public feat of strength. World's Strongest Man Competition? Highland Games? Love them! (No, really, I do.)

Highland Games

I guess I should narrow this down. I feel like competition is annoying in the workplace when you pit co-workers against each other so that the company can make more money. I do like that my work gives us little prizes, that we get bonuses for our sales, that I can have monetary compensation which directly corresponds to the amount of success I have at my job. I'm just not cut out for this kind of thing as a career, make no mistake about that.

But it's fascinating to be surrounded by people who are! Well, not exactly surrounded, there are plenty of people like me, we glance at each other a lot during "Team Meetings" while everyone else is getting really pumped about making sales, silently reassuring each other that we're not alone in our lack of initiative. But I watch "The Others'" eyes shine, lit from within with the blaze of ambition, and I realize that the way they feel about making sales is the way I feel about expressing myself. Yes, being motivated by self-expression seems silly to some, hell it seems silly to me most of the time, but I can't help it if that's what gets me out of bed in the morning. And neither can sales-driven people.

I guess I'm just enjoying seeing the different things that motivate people. Money is a powerful motivator, that's for sure. But it just makes me wonder... How many different kinds of motivation for people are there? What motivates all of us? Are there general categories that we each fall into in one way or another? If you were to make a list of things you absolutely have to do before you leave the earth (this time around), do you notice a pattern? I sat down and wrote out my list the other night. I'm happy to say I've accomplished a number of things that were on my last list. Most of the items on my current list involve traveling and learning things, like physics and the flamenco. But what I want to know is, what does the Ultimate Salesperson want most out of life? Is it the same as what I want? Or are they driven by something else? I should ask one of them.

In the meantime, I've officially put it to the Universe that if It wants to drop a super incredibly amazing, brilliant, shining, glorious, impossibly perfect miracle in my lap, I'm ready to accept. We'll see what happens...


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Routines

I had a little bit of a rough ending to my work day yesterday. There is a girl in my training class who was just diagnosed with cancer, and I've been telling her about alternative therapies she can do to help her through the chemo and make it easier on her. She sent me an email through our office email and asked me some questions about the things I recommended, and I took advantage of a free moment to email her back. Well my trainer, an older woman who is a little bit of a battle ax, caught me emailing and even when I explained to her that I was done and I was emailing this girl about therapies to help her, she scolded me like I was a little kid and made me close my email and said I wasn't allowed to open it again for the rest of class. So annoying. Then afterward she gave the whole class a lecture about how if we open our emails again when we're not supposed to she'll send us up to HR and get us in trouble, blah blah blah. I, of course, was not swayed. I disobeyed her, yes, but I did so in order to bring comfort to a fellow human being who is young, has no insurance, and is scared to death of the ordeal she is about to face. If given the chance I would do it again in a heartbeat. But nonetheless, it was still kind of taxing. Plus it's been cloudy and rainy all week and I haven't been taking my vitamins like I usually do so I've been feeling a little down anyway.

When I got home I made a snack and turned on the tv, and since I don't have cable at the house and only get about four channels, I ended up watching an episode of "Independent Lens" that was all about the creative giants of American advertising. Listening to them talk about rebelling against the safe bet and the status quo through their creative ideas really inspired me (maybe I'll try the advertising industry?) and I got really pumped thinking about how I'm not going to censor my own creative voice. So then I got all excited and started coming up with all these ideas, like storyline for a play that is beginning to take shape in the ooze of my mind, and a performance art piece I think would be really cool, etc.

Work ends at 10:00 at night, and by this time it was already nearing midnight, so I had to do something to calm down and get ready for sleep. So, seeing as I am now house sitting and have the whole place to myself, with no roommates to disturb, I ran a hot bath and soaked for over an hour while reading aloud from my "Teach Yourself Icelandic" book. It was fun, I kept laughing at the different phrases and thinking about how if I did have a roommate, what they would be thinking listening to that crazy girl in the bathroom laughing and saying things like, "What time are you going to meet Anna? I am going to meet Anna at eight thirty," and, "We are going to a concert on Wednesday with Erla and Björn," or "Reykjavík has many statues." I love reading that book, especially for the grammar exercises, which are unbelievably complicated. I've never lived in Iceland or learned the language formally, and I never even realized it had grammar until I started learning Spanish when I was about 11 years old. (In fact, back in the height of my Spanish studies in college I spoke much better Spanish than Icelandic.) So now when I go through this book, I get all of these moments of, "OHHHHH! Now I understand!" There are also plenty of moments of, "Oh my god, I've been saying that wrong for 28 years," which are equally fun and a little embarrassing.

So that ended up cheering me up plenty. There's nothing like soaking in hot water on a cold night and reading, writing, and embracing one's own special brand of weirdness.

This morning I had my usual breakfast, drank a cup of coffee with cream and a "whisper of cinnamon" as my sister and I like to say, and listened to music on my friend's ipod that he had to leave behind while he's out of town. He has some good music on there, and it's a nice way to start the day. Currently, I like to mix Kings of Leon, Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" (which reminds me of San Francisco), and a couple of tunes from Paul Simon, during his world music and "Graceland" years (which reminds me of family road trips, listening to those songs with my dad and talking). Anyway, gotta go to work again. Hopefully I don't get punished for helping people again! ; )

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Can Do This!

I'm feeling much better! My mind isn't speeding around crazily (except when I have caffeine, which I've cut down on a lot) and I'm feeling more stable. I got a long list of instructions from Patricia, most of which I try to follow, but some I haven't gotten around to yet. She also taught me a form of meditation where I'm supposed to repeat a special mantra she and her meditation teacher gave me (in a sweet little ceremony) silently in my mind for twenty minutes, twice a day. I haven't had time to do it twice a day yet, but I think after this weekend things may slow down enough where I'll at least have time to do it once a day. It helps you release stress and makes your mind able to focus a lot better. Honest to goodness, it works. If anyone is interested in learning this method, contact me, and I'll put you in touch with Patricia.

I started a new job last week, working at a call center for a popular credit card company. I often find myself trying to keep from laughing thinking about it, but I've had so many different kinds of jobs over the years that little surprises me anymore (ask me how I know how to clean an entire bathroom in under ten minutes, or how to make two lattes, one cappuccino, and hot chai all at the same time). But this new job includes three weeks of training on credit, which has led me to look at my finances and say, "Oh shit." So now I understand why this happened. The Universe took me by the hand, sat me down in a chair in a basement classroom in Idaho, and said, "Here Inga. We're paying you by the hour. Now it's time for you to learn how to handle money responsibly." So if I wondered why I was sent to this place for the winter before I get to move to Iceland, it's so I can pay down my credit card and my final remaining student loan. Lots of fun. But at least I'll have a fresh start.

The other people I work with are mostly kids ages 18-22. On our first day my teacher could not pronounce my name (first or last) and a guy asked loudly from across the room, "Were you born in America? Or... somewhere else?" I told people to just call me Inga, or Kelly if that was easier for them, and now the running joke is that my name is Kelly. Despite that I have to say, they're actually a really friendly bunch. It reminded me that I should try harder not to judge people without getting to know their situation first, I guess. My favorite thing about the kids at work is that they all thought I was the same age as them, haha. One of the guys who's 20 has a friend who already works at the company, and a bunch of us were sitting around together on break and he said to his friend about me, "How old do you think she is?" and the guy guessed something ridiculously young. I promised to write them both into my will, whenever I get anything worth leaving to anyone. But don't worry, they balance out their compliments by calling me things like "old lady" and "grandma," and joking about how much sleep I must need since I'm "old".  I try to tell them that there is life after 25, but so far none of them seem convinced.

Idaho continues to surprise me with the new depths of boredom I can achieve. No, really, it's not that bad. (Yes it is.) The only problem is that I'm not one of those people who experiences boredom as an opportunity to get all kinds of things done, like taking up golf or macrame or balancing my checkbook or starting a cake decorating business. I'm one of those people who gets bored and turns into a puddle of ooze on their bed, reading poetry and thinking about all those wonderful fun times they had when they weren't bored, and wouldn't it be nice to frolic around in a big pile of leaves, if only there were anyone around who felt like doing that, etc. I know, I disgust even myself. A big part of the reason is that I'm living in just a little bedroom, and really the only place to sit is on my bed because I have clothes and books piled up on the only chair. And it's almost impossible to sit on a bed, you really have to kind of spread out and lounge, and then oh no look what happened, I slipped and fell under my blanket. And then I rolled over and my face landed on this book of poetry, and it opened to a page I really love, so now all I have to do is turn my head a little more to read it, and... the cycle begins again.

But starting this weekend there will be no more excuses! I'll have a brand new shiny paycheck and I'll be moving into my friend Jeff's house because he's leaving for the East Coast until the end of January. So I'll be able to get out of bed in the morning and, you know, leave my bedroom. And I'll have a kitchen again! I'll be able to cook actual food! I'm going to celebrate by making eggs for breakfast every day for a week. And I'll have the space to do yoga and work out at home, and my wonderful stallion of a car will be kept in a garage for the first time in eight years! (I love my car. I sing songs to it about how wonderful it is. We have the special bond that comes from driving across states with names like "Kansas" together.)

Anyhoo. That's about all that's going on. My dad is planning to visit me in November, and if you know me in real life, you should come visit me too! We can do... lots of things... I swear. No actually, we could. There are lots of hikes and outdoorsy things to do. And they do have liquor stores here. I would go hiking more by myself, but this is America and I grew up watching shows like "Unsolved Mysteries" and seeing movies like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," so I'm terrified that if I go by myself there will be nine serial killers and a rabid mountain lion in the woods waiting to rip me to shreds. Or something. But if I bring a friend and a can of pepper spray we'll be ok! Honest!

Oh, I almost forgot! Saturday I finally sent my essay application for this fellowship in Iceland I'm hoping to get. It took forever, I ended up writing seven drafts, still editing and revising it right up to one hour before the last pick-up time at a tiny little post office in a town close to here. It felt like giving birth to myself in essay form (minus the blood). The post office I went to had their final Saturday pick up at 4:30, and I had it paid for and ready to go by 4:22 or so. That particular post office is inside a store that sells Christian children's books and school supplies. There was an old man working there who looked so feeble, but still had dark hair all combed back with pomade, and a deep and sonorous voice. He sounded a lot like Garrison Keillor from "The Prairie Home Companion" when he talked. I told him I needed to send an envelope to Iceland, and explained that I was a little nervous because I was applying for a fellowship there. He asked me if I like reading the Sagas, and I said of course, and he said that he did too. It turns out he's of Swedish ancestry, and he wished me luck and said that he hopes I get it. So okay, I'm officially apologizing to the Swedish Americans of the world for all the sh*t talking I do about Swedes. There, I said it. So anyway, I really appreciated his kind words, and I would also appreciate any spare good vibes you might have lying around, if you feel like sending them toward me getting that fellowship. Inga in Iceland 2011! Tell you what, if I get it, I'll write much better blogs about trying to live on my own with the vocabulary of a two year old and delicious pastries. Plus, Iceland is a much cooler place to visit! (No pun intended.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"May I Look At Your Tongue?": The Hippy Healer

The time had come to find a proper hippy healer in this town. Whether that means that the person is a hippy who heals people or a person who heals hippies, I didn't really care. What mattered was that I had experienced a lot of pain in my "mysterious lady parts" during that "mysterious lady time of the month" and it was not normal. You've got to pay attention to signs, and to me this was a sign that I had let myself get way too far out of balance over the last month. So I called a local Ayurveda healer (Ayurveda is a form of medicine originally from India that encompasses mind-body-spirit wellness by keeping you in balance) that I had been planning on seeing for the last couple of months, but had to keep re-scheduling for financial reasons. I explained to her what had happened (I had such horrible cramps I couldn't get up off the floor). She said, "The time is now," and that we'd worry about how I would pay later.

I trust natural healers for most things more than I trust the white-coat regular doctors. Mostly because I've sat in rooms with people who were at one time very ill and were sent home to die by regular doctors, only to be healed by methods that those same doctors told them would never work. Also... I used to live in Oklahoma, and at one point while I was living there my skin was acting up, so I went to a dermatologist who gave me antibiotics to try to clear it up. One day I was running late for a hair appointment, and I didn't have time to eat enough food with the pill, so I just swallowed it with a little water while I was driving. Mistake. As I drove down the highway I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to throw up. Luckily, I was driving past a lake and barely had time to pull off the road and park the car next to it before I lost it. I grabbed the first thing I could find on the seat next to me, a newspaper, and vomited the pill onto the newspaper. I looked down at the little white pill, nestled in a pool of vomit, then looked up and out the window of my car. There, in a sage-colored pick-up truck next to me, sat an older Native American man, who had seen me throw up. He looked me in the eye, and I found myself whispering, "The white man's medicine is gettin' me down." I stopped taking the pills, and have sought natural remedies for most ailments since then.

Anyway.

I drove up to the house where the healer works, she also teaches yoga there, it looks like a normal two-story house in a cute little neighborhood, with lots of tall trees around. I got out of the car and saw a whole group of turkeys standing around in the driveway. (I later found out that turkeys are "good medicine" and symbolize peace and well-being.)

In fact she was teaching yoga when I arrived and had left some forms for me to fill out on a little purple bench, with a note saying if I wanted to I could fill them out in her office. But all the doors were closed except for the door to the bathroom and the door to the yoga room. So I slipped off my shoes to enter the yoga room, and saw that just outside the door was this picture:


You've got to pay attention to the signs. I felt good about being there, like I was in the right place. So I sat on the floor if the purple-walled yoga room, filled out the forms, impatiently writing sms messages to friends and on facebook because I'm currently unbalanced and hyper. I was looking at the pictures of Ganesha and Kali hanging on the wall in front of me, recalling what I had learned about their images in an Indian Art class I took back in college, when the healer (also known as Patricia) walked in.

Sometimes you meet people and you kind of recognize them as a member of your "soul tribe" right away? You see them and you have this, "Oh, it's you! Where have you been?" feeling instead of a "Nice to meet you," feeling? This was one of those moments. She and I had talked on the phone several times before and knew we were on the same page. I stood up and was ready to shake her hand, but she opened her arms for a hug and greeted me like she hadn't seen me for years. I happen to love when that happens, and I hugged her back and we went into her office.

It's funny, she starts sizing you up right away and analyzing you based on different features, figuring out which combination of the three "doshas" or categories, you fit into, and how much of each. They figure out your individual map of health. She looks at your hair ("You have Pitta hair") and your eyes ("Well you know you have Kapha eyes, don't you?"), your skin ("You're pale like a Vata"). And then she takes your pulse, she takes your pulse in your wrist for a long time. She closes her eyes and feels the light pulse, then the deep pulse, then she feels what features your pulse has. Quite a while is spent on your pulse, and she tells you what she feels there, like "You have a lot of life force in you." Then she says, "May I look at your tongue?" And you stick your tongue waaaay out and she draws a picture of it and talks about what she sees. Then she asks you about your sleep, your eating habits, your poo, your pee, your mental health, what's been going on in your life for the last few years, where you're headed now, all kinds of things.

We chatted for a long time, we laughed. It turns out I'm tri-doshic, which means I'm almost equal parts of all three categories, and so I have to work really hard to stay balanced. This was not a surprise to me. But the thing that's got me all out of balance is the Vata dosha in me. "Vata is like a wind that blows and tries to dry you out. It blows a lot more when you're moving or traveling a lot. This fans the flames of fiery Pitta, which is why you feel hot and get hungry so quickly and keep waking up in the middle of the night. Then Kapha tries to help, but it makes you tired and creates mucus in the back of your throat. And the wind of Vata is what's creating the pain, and anxiety, which then gets Pitta depressed..." etc. etc. So she figured out that if I get the Vata under control it will bring the rest of me in balance. She's going to study the information I gave her and then send me suggestions for things I can do, and then make me a special herbal tea to drink too.

We also got around to talking about astrology, and so she made me a Vedic astrology chart, which is the ancient Indian form of astrology. It proved her theory that I'm tri-doshic. It also showed that in Vedic astrology I'm a Leo instead of a Virgo, and my rising sign is Libra instead of Cancer, but my moon sign is still as fishy as ever, Pisces. Anyway, it was interesting. Apparently in this lifetime I'm heading away from "individual effort" (thank god) and heading toward "fame and fortune, and faith, spirituality, evolution". So it's nice to know that one day I will no longer be a dirt-poor nobody. ;) She's going to help me get all nice and balanced now so that when I move back up to the little island where I was born, I'll be able to do so without losing my grip. I should tell her how windy Iceland is, to make sure she gets me extra stable.

So anyway, that was my first experience with this particular hippy healer. She was so nice, we like each other, and I was able to make her laugh and stuff, she's happy to be helping me and I'm happy to be helped! Until I get her list of recommendations, I'm supposed to rest and eat "warm, moist foods." As they say in Iceland, "Vúhú!" Those are doctor's orders I am happy to follow! I'm always hungry. My inner furnace burns my food up fast. In fact, I'm hungry now. Time to eat!

I recommend a good Ayurveda practitioner to anyone who's feeling out of balance! Don't be shy, stick out your tongue, then tell them all about your poo. It's fun! I'll keep updating how it goes with the remedies.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fake It 'Til You Make It

I'm really bad at faking it. In fact, I make it a general rule in life not to fake things. Unless I'm acting onstage or telling a story or something, I'm usually (painfully) straightforward about how I feel about any given situation. I'm also compelled to share these straightforward feelings often and with gusto. Just ask the poor bastards who have had to read my facebook statuses that are basically non-stop complaints about how bored and miserable I've been over the last week or so. (Sorry guys, it turns out it was mostly pms.)

But at work I'm forced to fake it. Practically at gunpoint. Example. Yesterday I was at work in the Men's Department, which I absolutely despise. I don't mind the men who shop there, it's just incredibly dull. It's so boring I actually get a little crazy from it. I sneak into the bathroom with my cell phone and start desperately texting my cousin in Iceland (via Facebook mobile), who is almost always, without a doubt, doing something much more fun at the time and is more than happy to tell me all about it in great detail, which I read in a hungry frenzy of masochism and then wash my hands, sigh, and throw the door open back into the world of retail. Or I text friends who are in other parts of the U.S., who are also at work and have little time to console me about my choice to work in retail.

Anyway, so I walk up to this man and he asks me if we have a certain pair of jeans in his size. I cheerily offer to look it up in the computer, and according to the computer, it says we have two more pairs somewhere in the store. I go over to the big pile of jeans and dig through them, sure that somehow the fact that I am wearing a name tag will give me the Divine Gift of Finding Objects In Piles better than the average shopper. Shockingly, I did not find the two mystery pairs of jeans in the pile. Not to worry. With a reassuring nod, I told him, "I'll go check in the back." This is the part where I confidently stride to "the back," through the room of shoe boxes, through one door, into a little hallway, through another door...

But as I walked into the shoe room, I realized that I had no idea which "back room" has all the jeans. Do we even have a room of jeans? Is this even "the back"? I was heading toward the storage room which also has the solo bathroom where I do all my most desperate work-texting. Would there be jeans there? My legs kept walking, they seemed really sure of where they were going, so I decided to just trust them and assume they would know where to find jeans.

We entered the back room, my legs and I, and wow! They really did know what they were doing! Look at all these jeans! I never noticed that the path to the secret bathroom was lined with jeans of all shapes and sizes, like a forest of blue denim. What luck! But wow, so many jeans. Most of them looked like they were a different brand than the ones the guy was looking for. I flipped through one or two pairs, then looked over the Jeans Forest once more, and decided... Screw this noise. I emerged from the mystical Denim Wood, through one door, over the little hallway, through the other door, through Shoe Box Canyon, and back out into the store. There was the guy.

Once again I relied on the magical powers bestowed unto me by my Name Tag. "How did those fit?"
"Yeah, they're too big, I'm going to need the other size."
*Knowing nod* "Ah yes, well you know, we don't have any more in the back, not sure why the computer says we do, but we have a ton of [name brand] jeans in the Juniors department. Do you know where that is?" Reassuring nod and smile, man leaves my department to go look elsewhere for jeans, deep breath, and... End of problem. I think after that I spent a few minutes arranging the ties on the Tie Table. (It's like a rainbow of cloth. I. LOVE. The tie table. It's the only thing I enjoy about working in the men's department, besides being close to the Secret Bathroom.)

Old Ladies and Their Underwear
My favorite department to work in is the underwear department. Not just because it's underwear, and pajamas, but because I like the other women who work there, it's relaxed, the people who shop there usually need your help so they're not rude, and I like trying to convince old ladies to buy leopard print giant panties. They're always like, "Oh! No, I don't want anything that wild." And I'm thinking to myself, "Ma'am, these underpants are the size of Greek fishing nets, just getting one with a little leopard print on it doesn't really make them wild." But I usually tell them something like, "Oh come on, why not make it a little surprise?" Every once in a while there's one who will giggle and buy them, which is too cute for words. That's right, I am a warrior for old women spicing up their underwear collection. You're welcome, Planet Earth.

The Guys at the Pretzel Place.

Nothing helps you feel better in the middle of a crappy day at work then a big cup of soft pretzel bits dipped in cheese and washed down with a coke. Mmmm...salty, buttery carbs. Mmmm...cheese. Mmmm...coke. The pretzel place really close to the store, so we all go there at least once a week to ease our troubles with a mini food coma. I usually talk on the phone to my mom when I go on these little pretzel adventures, because I can speak in "code" (Icelandic) and no one will understand anything I'm saying, so I can express myself freely. Well the other day I wasn't on the phone at the pretzel place, and the skinny teenage boys who work there started asking me questions.
"Do you work at the mall?"
"Yeah, I work at [store]. Here's my name tag."
"Oh right, ok then you get a mall employee discount."
"Sweet."
"Your name is Inga?"
"Yeah."
"Are you... from... somewhere... else?"
"Yes. I am from somewhere else."
"Yeah, I thought so, cuz usually when you come here you're talking on the phone, and you're speaking some... other... language."
"Yeah, I'm spying on you guys. I'm with the Taliban."
"Hahahaha--- Are you really spying on us?"
"No."
"Are you really with the Taliban."
"Yeah, I'm in the Icelandic branch of the Taliban."
-blank stare-
"I'm kidding. Give me my pretzels."
"Have a nice day."
"You too. I'm watching  you."

Once Again, Corporate Ruins Everything
So at work they have this system for training you how to provide the best customer service. It's basically common sense, chat with the customers and get them comfortable with you, help them find what they need, help them find things they don't need, tell them they did a great job letting you help them pick out that one thing they needed and all those other things they didn't need, and then take their money and tell them to have a super delicious day. Or something like that.

But management is taking this common sense selling method to a whole new level of annoying. They obsess over how we're going to "connect" with the customers. They don't seem to want to face the fact no one in their right mind wants to be followed around by a sales person who won't stop trying to chat with them. I understand they want us to do more than just say, "Hi, can I help you find anything?" but they're getting ridiculous. The managers hunt you down (pretending to fold something doesn't keep them away) and force you to role-play with them. They pretend they're the customer and, right there in the middle of the store, you have to pretend you're helping them and come up with things to say. It's awful. They tell you to talk to these strangers like they're your best friend, ignore the fact that the customers get a frightened look on their face when you do this, and JUST. KEEP. TALKING TO THEM. Apparently if we talk to them, they'll buy more things. They don't listen to reason, that if you bother people too much they'll probably just leave the store and vow never to shop there again. They just believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if you're not making enough sales it's because you're not talking to the customers enough.

Sigh.

However, this is where I employ the trick I use most at work: The airhead trick. All you do is get this empty look in your eyes, smile a little bit when they're talking to you, and nod, and then agree with everything they say, in a softer voice than you usually use. Works every time. Then they think it's not that you're defiant, you're just a little dumb, and they just need to remind you of what to do, and you're always grateful for their extra help.

Send help.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Twice A Day, Every Day.

I was thinking about television shows and music I used to listen to as a kid the other day, when I suddenly remembered a record that my brother, Thor, and I used to listen to all the time when we were little. It was a story called "Karius og Baktus," and it was all about the importance of brushing your teeth. On the other side of the record (yes, it was a real vinyl record) was another story called "Litla Ljót," which translates to "Little Ugly" and was kind of an "ugly duckling" story about a girl who is ugly and then becomes beautiful. That story was just fine, but I'm here to talk about Karius and Baktus. Allow me to put faces to the names. Here they are:


They look innocent enough, don't they? Well, don't be fooled. Within that fun and playful record jacket, carved into the black vinyl grooves, is some of the scariest, most messed up sh*t you will ever hear. Ok, let me back up.

So the story begins by introducing Karius and Baktus as two characters who are brothers. They like to sing and laugh and have fun all day. Where do they live? This is where the horror begins. They live... IN YOUR TEETH. Yes, that's right. And they build their houses in your teeth by chipping away at them with tiny axes and hammers and stuff. Their voices are especially creepy, they have these shrill little laughs and they make you eat sweet things so your teeth will rot. Imagine being a young child and thinking that at this very moment you, too, might have two little men chipping away at your teeth with pick axes. Thor and I certainly did.

So you're hearing everything from Karius and Baktus's point of view, and occasionally you hear the muffled, distant voice of their host, the little boy in whose mouth they live, and I think his mother as well. One day you hear The Voice moan and say that he has a toothache. So his mom tells him he has to go to the dentist.

This is where it starts to get really messed up. In fact, I think they scream at the kid not to go, and when the dentist tells him, "Opnaðu munnin," which means, "Open your mouth," I think they told him not to do it. They were really scared of the dentist. The boy opens his mouth, and I think he gets his cavity drilled. I'm a little foggy on the details, but the end result is this: Karius and Baktus are murdered. They die horrible, grizzly deaths, and you hear every last terrifying detail. They see a light when the boy opens his mouth, and then the dentist's tools come closer and closer, and the two brothers commence with wailing, screaming for help. One by one their houses are demolished by the various dental implements. But it doesn't stop there. They drown in the water the boy uses to rinse his mouth, and you hear them choking, sputtering, trying to swim to each other and save each other, until finally their screams fade into the distance and they are washed down the drain.

Imagine that you are six years old and your little brother is two, and you're both listening to this on the record player in the living room, eyes wide with horror, chubby little cheeks quivering with fear. I distinctly remember straining to listen for the voices of Karius and Baktus when I brushed my teeth as a little kid. Sometimes when I didn't want to brush my teeth, my mother would say, "Look, I can see where Karius and Baktus are building a house in your teeth, you'd better brush them!" which would fill me with terror of course, not just because little tiny trolls were digging cave-homes in my teeth, but also because now I would be forced to murder them with my own toothbrush.

Many children's stories are messed up in ways that we only truly grasp later on as adults. Have you ever gone to Disney World or Disneyland as a "grown-up"? It's weird. But as children with an Icelandic mother, we had extra things to be frightened of. Not only was there Karius and Baktus, even our version of Santa Claus was scary. The traditional story is that 13 "Yuletide Lads" as their name translates in English, come down out of the mountains to sneak into people's homes at night and play pranks on them. But their mother was even scarier. Her name is Grýla and she lives in the mountains and, as it was explained to me, either eats or enslaves naughty children. She and her (third) husband, Leppalúður, also have a huge black cat who eats children who don't wear new clothes on Christmas.


Grýla

The worst thing about these stories, unlike many children's stories, is that they're totally plausible. There could be 13 weird guys who sneak around people's homes and peek in the windows, slam doors, steal food, etc. And there could be a mean lady who steals and mistreats children. According to the Wikipedia article on Grýla, in Iceland "a public decree was issued in 1746 prohibiting the use of Grýla and the Yule Lads to terrify children." Apparently, my mom did not get this memo. Even though I lived in America, I was regularly threatened with, "Á ég að kalla á Grýlu?" ("Should I call Grýla?) whenever I was bad. It never occurred to me that Grýla might not have a passport, or a plane ticket to America, or a phone, for that matter. I was scared of Grýla, and totally believed that my mom had her phone number and could have her here in the States to eat and/or enslave me at a moment's notice.

There were American tales that scared me too. The only one that really got me was the wicked witch from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Remember her?



Let's just say my childhood nightmares were well-stocked with frightening characters from various cultures. It's all right. Now it's something we can all laugh about (nervously). And I'm sure one day if I have kids who are driving me crazy, I'll pick up the phone and pretend to call Grýla too. And I'll definitely know how to get them to brush their teeth....

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Covered In Croissant Crumbs

What am I doing at Starbucks? I hate everything Starbucks stands for, I've decried it as "the McDonald's of coffee," I hate how they ruined the name Starbuck for me (it was the name of the first mate in Moby Dick), and I think their coffee tastes nasty and burned. But they have free internet. And my new house does not. That's why I'm here several times a week. That's also why the people who work here are starting to know my name. And what I usually order. "Refresh tea?" I switched it up to iced coffee today, to keep them on their toes.

I had to move away from my old place because my roommates wanted a new best friend instead of a roommate who had no interest in listening to their terrible music and watching romantic comedies with them. So now I live in a house that used to be a bed and breakfast, but is now divided up into rooms for rent. There are three guys who live upstairs (I've only seen two of them out in the driveway/parking area) and then my room and bathroom are downstairs. The landlady lives in the bigger part of the downstairs area.

The house is big and old and dark. But I only had about 48 hours to move, and the only other place I looked at was a couple of dead bodies shy of being a crack house. So I chose the bed and breakfast. It smells like mildew and is decorated in floral wallpaper, Bible quotes, and carousel horses. I'm sure plenty of people would find it cozy, but since my mother is a Scandinavian interior designer, I spend a good portion of my time mentally redecorating it.


And why, why, WHY do people around here decorate their homes with Bible quotes? I'm fine with the Bible, I'm a spiritual girl, and although my spiritual path is a mixture of a lot of different religions and beliefs, I'm not against Bible quotes in general. But I always pictured Jesus as this radical revolutionary of love. Some long-haired hippy guy beating the crap out of the coin changers in the temple and telling everybody to shut up and get along (in so many words). I just don't think he would like tacky, country-style wall hangings of his quotes all over the walls of poorly decorated homes! I sure don't. If you have to have Bible quotes all over your walls, at least make them cool looking! No teddy bears, please. They should have pictures of like, a dragon biting a lightning bolt coming out of a storm cloud, with a cyclone in the background and then in huge letters across the top the words, "Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Wait no, that's not very warm and cuddly. OK, how about instead you could have like, two Viking warriors, wearing bear skin shirts and helmets, running toward each other on a muddy field, one with a battle axe raised above his head and the other with a huge sword raised over his, and then in between them a picture of Jesus holding out his hands saying, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Now THOSE are Bible quote pictures I would like to see. Not teddy bears and angels riding a carousel horse through a field of flowers. Come on.

Anyway, I'm still working at a major American department store, whose name will go unmentioned. You'd be surprised the situations you find yourself in working retail... *insert dream sequence here*

"The 12th Year Is Silk"

I was working in the woman's "intimate apparel" department the other day when I turned around and saw a man lingering on the edge of the pajama section looking uncomfortable and lost. He seemed too nervous to even look directly at the pajamas, just glanced at them every couple of seconds and then looked around. He clearly needed help.

I walked over to him, he looked like he had just come from work and his job obviously had him doing some kind of manual labor outdoors. He had on a baseball cap, a flannel shirt, dirty jeans, his hands were all covered in callouses, and his skin was tan and freckled. He looked like he was about my age, maybe older, but definitely not older than 32.

Me: "You look a little lost, do you need some help?"
Him (in a thick southern drawl, which was strange since we're in the North, but added to the effect): "Yeah, do y'all have any, um... silk pajamas?"
Me: "Well, we have these nighties and some robes. Or did you mean for men?"
His eyes widened and he shook his head no, as if I had called his manhood into question just by implying that a man might wear silk pajamas.
Me: "Ok... Well this is all we have that's silk. Who are you shopping for?"
Him: "My wife. It's our twelfth anniversary, and I looked it up on the internet, and the 12th anniversary is silk, so I figured I'd get her some silk pajamas or something."
Me: "Oh! Well yeah, you could get her one of these nighties and a robe to match."
Him (looking at the short, revealing nightgowns): "Now, this is probably just the man in me, but do you have anything a little more practical than these?"
Me: "Well, no offense or anything, but silk isn't exactly a practical material. You don't think she'd like these?"
Him: "Well, I guess she would..."

First of all, the fact that it was their twelfth wedding anniversary shocked me. I know they get married young out here, but I didn't know it was a high school graduation requirement! I assumed he was my age, but that would mean he had been married since he was 16! Hey, it's possible. My guess is he was about 30 and got married right out of high school at 18. Good grief! At least they're making it work, I guess.

We went through the process of picking out a size. ("To be honest, she'd probably need an Extra Large. I bought her a nightgown once and I remember it fitting fine on the bottom, but it was, uhhhh... a little tight on top.") Then he chose a color he thought she'd like (midnight blue, a classy and sexy choice! I was impressed.). Then he got a matching robe. (He couldn't decide if he should make it match or not. After going back and forth several times I finally said, "She's going to want it to match," and took one off the rack). Every single part of the process seemed to embarrass him more and more.

I told him I'd give him a gift receipt so she could return it if she didn't like it, but that I thought she would probably like it. He said, "Well, I think she'll like the fact that I put a lot of thought into it." How cute is that? I agreed, and said I thought it was really nice that he looked up the traditional gift and wanted to follow that. (I really don't care about stuff like that, but I did think the gesture itself was very nice.)

Then he said, "Yeah, last year was really tough, because I had my sister look up what the 11th anniversary gift should be, and it was stainless steel!"
"Stainless steel? What on earth did you get her?!" I replied.
"A skateboard."
How. Adorable. Is that.
"You got your wife a skateboard for your anniversary?"
"Yeah, well, we're really into snowboarding, so it was actually a longboard, and she liked it a lot. The board itself was wood, but the bearings were made of stainless steel."

By this time I was placing the items in a gift box and there were a couple of ladies waiting in line behind him. He was worried that she would see the credit card statement before he had a chance to give her the gift. I told him if she asked him why he went to *store name* he should just say something like, "Can't a man go to *store name* when he feels like it without being questioned like a common criminal?..." He laughed, and as soon as he walked away, the woman in line behind him immediately said, "He was so cute."

All I have to say is, she'd better like that anniversary gift, because I liked it, he did put a lot of thought into it. It took him forever to pick out the color. So see, people? It is the thought that counts. And it counts even more when you haven't thought about a gift at all. It always shows. I still remember one Valentine's Day in college when the guy I was dating at the time and I decided that since we were broke students we would only spend $10 on our Valentine's Day gifts. I got him a DVD of the movie "We Were Soldiers" because I knew he liked Vietnam War movies. He bought me a purple teddy bear holding a heart. We are no longer together.

All right, time to go! I have more things to do than sit here writing about presents all day... Ok, all I have to do is go to the grocery store and then go home and do nothing. I think I'll start practicing knitting again. One day I'd like to be able to knit something other than a rectangle.