Thursday, July 22, 2010

Brits behaving badly

I realized today that a lot of what I've been reading could fall under the heading "Beach Reads", books that are light and undemanding, great for the summer season. You Can Get Arrested For That certainly fits the description. It's the true story of two Brits who traveled to the U.S. to intentionally break stupid laws. There are many absurdities in our country's legal codes and it was pleasant reading, following these two on their quest. They weren't always successful but managed to break enough laws to make their journey worthwhile. They fished while wearing pajamas in Illinois, entered a theater within three hours of eating garlic in Indiana, and peeled an orange in a hotel room in California. The unfortunate thing about the book was the constant drunkenness chronicled throughout. Did the reader really need to know that our travelers drank themselves silly in every Hooters they encountered? Alas.

You Can Get Arrested For That spurred a personal inquiry into our own state's peculiar laws. We've got 'em, although it sometimes takes a literal translation of the RCW to see how a law could be considered dumb. An example: no person may walk about in public if he or she has the common cold (per RCW 70.54.050, which forbids willfully exposing someone else to an infectious disease.) But some laws get right to the point, clearly making it illegal to pretend that one's parents are rich, buy a mattress on Sunday, or (love this one) paint polka dots on the American flag. Why are polka dots singled out? What happened, way back when? All of these have back-stories and I wish I knew them.

In Bremerton, you may not shuck peanuts on the street. You heard me. Don't do it.

Alphabet Juice, by Roy Blount Jr, is a great book for those who love everything to do with words. It's a dictionary, of sorts, offering alphabetic lists of words, expounding on their etymology, playing with usage, often leapfrogging from one fact to another and ending up far from where you started. I'd heard of Mr. Blount (Jr) but hadn't read anything written by him until Alphabet Juice. Shameful, really. He is right up my alley, in there with all the other smart and wry and funny folk, and I'm sorry I didn't pay attention earlier. An Author Binge may be looming.

Overheard on Twitter: Is it uncouth to eat the mac and cheese right out of the pot if it's just for you?

Next time: smoke alarms. Stay tuned.

(p.s. Regarding peanut laws, it is illegal to sell peanuts in Lee County, AL, after sundown. On Wednesdays.)

Friday, July 9, 2010

The saga continues...

...the saga of reading humorous library books. A fresh batch came in this week, notable titles that are all living up to their promise.

Let's start with "Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float" by Sarah Schmelling, one of the more offbeat books so far. The title refers to a Facebook attribute where members can join with like-minded souls on practically any subject or special interest you can imagine. I belong to various groups, including one named "When I read your status, I mentally correct your grammar mistakes." I belong because I actually do that. (I don't scoff at the mistakes, I just notice them and think Hm, that's not right.)

The book offers Facebook pages of books, plays, authors, and literary characters, with status updates, news feeds, profile info, the works. Juliet Capulet's relationship status is "It's complicated." Jane Austen has 4,537 pending friend requests. On an author's wall: Edgar Allan Poe is reading a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

Hamlet's Facebook page is one of the best. You get the whole play through the News Feed. In fact, on a reviewer wrote this about the entire book: "It's like super-cliffs notes for the Facebook generation." James Joyce has a page. So does Oscar Wilde and Dr. Jekyll (Dr. Jekyll is not himself these days.) You'll find "Little Women", "This House of Mirth", and "Great Expectations."

"Ophelia.." isn't a book to read straight through. It's better if you simply dip into it here and there. And it's best if you're familiar with classic literature and use Facebook, otherwise some of it won't make much sense. For example, a sequence from Hamlet:

Hamlet posts an Event: A Play That's Totally Fictional and in No Way About My Family
The King comments "What is wrong with you?"
Polonius thinks this curtain looks like a good thing to hide behind.
Polonius is no longer online.
Hamlet added England to the Places I've Been application.

If you don't use Facebook, those five lines won't be as entertaining as they truly are.

This book also reminds me of a webcomic, Hark A Vagrant, which takes classic (and not so classic) literature and irreverently shakes it up a bit.

"Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float." An unusual book that will make you smile.

Overheard on Twitter: Not really sure of the protocol. I mean, do I bring my OWN rubber chicken or are they provided?

Next time: Brits behaving badly. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Jobs

Our daughter is home from college for 6 months, waiting for approval for her study abroad. What's a 21-year-old to do, moving away from her independent world and back to her hometown and childhood room? First up: find a summer job, not an easy task these days, especially in South Kitsap.

Back in the day, if you were a kid and lived anywhere in the Willamette Valley, your summer days were probably involved with produce. Either you picked it or helped process it. I did both, starting with picking when I was in 6th grade. The farm buses came and accepted any kid who was waiting. We mostly picked berries and were paid by the number of flats we filled. It was good money for a preteen. One time, the buses took us to fields of green beans and everyone rejoiced. Green beans were much easier to pick because pickers could stand up most of the time. The pole beans provided shade, too, from that hot Willamette sun. We were paid by the pound for beans.

Green beans offered a diversion, too, a game called War Bean. Pickers would watch for beans that had grown into a U-shape, usually found near the ground. Two pickers would interlock their beans and pull. The bean that remained intact was the winning bean. I once owned a War Bean that reigned for most of the picking season, its resilience likely due to the gradual leathering that happens to aged beans.

Hops were the worst crop ever for a produce picker. The variety that we picked usually matured in the hottest part of the summer, late August. They were itchy plants so we had to wear long sleeves and gloves to protect our skin. To mitigate the heat, we picked at night under bright kleig-style lights, lights which attracted every flying insect in the county. It was great fun. The only benefit of picking hops was being paid by the hour.

I finally graduated from the fields to a cannery. The canneries received produce trucked in throughout the day from the surrounding farms. The flats were placed in a huge cooling room to await processing that evening. Line workers arrived around 4:00 p.m., suited up with gloves and hairnets, and took their places along the conveyer belts. We processed all of the fruit from that day, our shift lengths dependent on how much fruit had come in. We would regularly work 10 to 12-hour shifts during mid-summer.

I loved it. Working at the cannery was one of my favorite jobs in a lifetime of work. There was a camaraderie common to groups of people who work hard together. People played mild practical jokes on each other; we celebrated birthdays; tokens of recognition were given for silly things like Best Hat On A Forklift Operator.

The conveyor belt workers lined up along the conveyor belt according to seniority, mostly, with the newest workers next to the rinsing area. Ah, the rinsing area. This was where muscular guys would dump the contents of berry flats onto a screen. The berries would move along through a spray of water which removed dust and dirt. From there, the fruit gently tumbled onto a belt that slowly moved past us, the line workers. It was up to us to pick out all the non-fruit bits. At the end of the belt, 60 feet from the rinsing station, the fruit fell into gallon buckets.

There were six teams of two, one person on either side of the belt. You could "move up the line", a promotion of sorts, advancing positions along the conveyor belt. The people at the end of the line had the best eyes for little bits of stuff and good reflexes for picking that stuff out quickly. I finally made my way up there, literally up there, because the belt went uphill.

The line was reliably monotonous, strawberries strawberries strawberries going by, changing only with the crops, raspberries raspberries raspberries... But once in awhile, something happened.

It was the height of strawberry season. I was at the top of the line, working across the belt from Janet. Things were moving smoothly, strawberries strawberries strawberries, when we noticed a commotion near the rinsing station. We tried to figure out what was going on, looking back along the belt while trying to maintain eye contact with the belt contents. Something was definitely up at the rinsing area because those two workers were gesturing frantically at the belt. The next pair of workers began to gesture, too, jumping back from the line. So did the next pair. One of them shrieked. Janet and I became concerned. We called out "what's wrong?" but all we could hear was "Stop the belt!"

Stopping the belt was something that had never been done during my time there. Janet hit the large red button and the belt slowed to a stop, just in time. There, in front of us, mixed in with the strawberries, were lots of tiny green frogs. Clearly, field workers (6th graders, most certainly) had happened upon a community of frogs and decided to share them with the cannery workers. The frogs had been buried under layers of strawberries, unnoticed by those unloading the flats. The cooling room had put them into a mild hibernation, a state that was rudely interrupted by water sprays and bouncing screens. By the time the frogs came through the rinse, they were fully awake, on alert, jumping about. Line workers weren't expecting frogs to show up on the belt and they jumped about, too.

We corralled the frogs, a difficult task because there were a lot of them. It's also hard to catch a frog when a coworker is dancing around trying to avoid it. Not to mention that those of us who were not frogophobes were laughing pretty heartily. The line was down for nearly an hour, an unprecedented event, but we had to make sure that no frog ended up in a gallon bucket of fruit.

It was the best night ever at the cannery.

Overheard on Twitter: This cat is like grout. Just finds any crack between people, couch pillows, etc, pours herself in and sets up.

Next time: other jobs I have known, maybe. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tell Me A Joke!

I met a lot of interesting people during my stays in a Pediatric Ward. Some of those folk made daily appearances: nursing staff, interns, the cleaning ladies who all had interesting accents. There were Gurney Men, the men who would whisk a kid off to surgery or to be x-rayed. Sometimes the Person Who Takes Blood would come down the hall, heralded by the clinking of glass tubes in his cart. There were Sisters of Providence in their black-and-white habits, so intriguing to a Protestant child. They came every evening to say a bedtime prayer with me, the same prayer, a prayer that gave me the willies when I thought about the words (...and if I die before I wake...)

There were student nurses, young women who were allowed to give me penicillin shots because (the Head Nurse said) I was a trooper and could take it if they messed up. She said that to a 10-year-old. Looking back, I think she was helping me be brave because I had to have those shots four times a day. In all my time in the hospital, there was only one student nurse who seriously misfired a penicillin shot. It's telling that I still remember that.

I especially remember one student nurse, Julie, who had a natural gift for nursing children. She could go into any room and, no matter how cranky a child might be, have that child soothed and comfortable in minutes. She just had a knack, especially with those of us who were there for weeks and weeks. A special memory: Julie was ending her tour of duty as a student. It was June, time for the Rose Festival, and the Navy had just sailed up the Willamette into town. There was a special naval guest that year, a ship from Great Britain. Julie's boyfriend was on that ship! This was totally cool - not just a boyfriend, but a boyfriend from England! Julie brought him to the hospital to visit. He gave me a book about British naval history and signed my body-cast, drawing the British flag next to his name. When the cast came off a couple of months later, I asked them to cut around his signature so I could keep it. That bit of plaster is long gone, of course, but it was special for a long, long time.

Most people wouldn't link "hospital" with "humor" but many of my memories are of funny things that happened, like the time I came back from surgery in a fresh body-cast. The nurses moved me from the gurney to the bed. I was accompanied by the bedsheet. This puzzled the nurses - neither of them were holding onto anything but me. Behold! The casting people had plastered a significant portion of the bedsheet into my cast. The nurses' comments, once they figured out what was wrong, was really funny, a mix of consternation and amusement. Just imagine the entertainment this provided for an ether-grogged child.

A highlight was the Doctors' rounds. Doctors actually came around every day to see their patients and spend time with them, even when the patients were kids. One of the doctors shared my appreciation for the Marx Brothers and he made a point of coming in and telling me a joke whenever he had patients to visit. He also expected me to have one ready for him. We even had a small competition to see who could make the best pun. He took that time with me even though I wasn't one of his patients.

I remember one of my jokes, discovered within a comic book. Brace yourself:

Me: What was Snow White's sister's name?
Dr.: Hmmm. I give up. What was Snow White's sister's name?
Me: Egg White! Get the yolk?

That joke totally cracked me up when I was 8.

Overheard on Twitter: Dude next to me on the plane is very vocally professing love to his entire family. The ironic potential of this is worrisome.

Next time: The Frogs and the Strawberries. Stay tuned.