Sara Foy

My Grannie was born in a house next to a graveyard.  The graveyard wasn’t there yet, but it wasn’t long in coming.  The land the graveyard is on was their orchard.  But the town needed a bigger cemetery, so her daddy sold the land and in exchange had a job as its keeper.

She’s Grannie because I’m her oldest grandchild and I said so when I was five and learning to spell.  ‘Y’ is a letter you can’t trust, but you can trust Grannie.


According to her, there were three things Grannie wanted to accomplish in life: build her own house, visit England, and have babies.  Babies are an obsession of hers.  She worked on the church nursery so long that a significant number of the people you run into in town, when they find out who my grandmother is, go, “Oh, Sara Foy!  She changed my diaper.”

As long as I’ve been alive, she’s been a white haired old lady.  The kind of stereotypical grandmother who thinks astonishingly ugly sweaters are just what you want to wear, who clips on flimsy sunglasses over the large, clear plastic frame of her eyeglasses when she drives, who will not let her purse out of her sight because that’s where her lipstick lives and a woman should always look her best.  It’s easy, if you don’t pay attention, to think “traditional fifties housewife, cliché in all the ways except playing bridge.”

I must have been seven or eight when, one Sunday at the dinner table, she scolded me to take my elbows off the table.  “Grandaddy has his elbows on the table,” I protested.

“That’s okay for him.  He’s a man,” Grannie said.

“Then I’m a man, too.”

Years later, when I’d ask my sister about a strange interaction I had with a cousin, my sister would answer, “Oh, that cousin just didn’t get the memo.”

“What memo?” I asked.

“That you’re a man.”

I hadn’t noticed.  But she was right.  I’m pretty sure “Take your elbows off the table,” was the last time Grannie chided me to be more ladylike.


In 1998, when Gone With the Wind was briefly rereleased in theaters, Grannie took my sister and me to see it at the artsy theater in Richmond.  We’d seen it already, on two VHS tapes we watched on successive nights in her living room, but this was an occasion.  We’d been to that theater before, too, but never with her.  Never with somebody who remembered when they still had the organ the play the music along with the movie.

She had a copy of the book, too.  I borrowed it from her the summer before I started college.  It was old, the binding cracked, the pages yellow and disintegrating.  The dust jacket was more dust than jacket.

When I was in Richmond at the beginning of November, Grannie was looking everywhere for her copy of Gone with the Wind.  She couldn’t find it.  “It’s probably disintegrated,” I said.


Grannie loved working in the yard, going to historical society lectures, listening to opera.  She organized the local seniors social group until she was in her eighties.  She was the oldest person in the group when she retired from doing it.  They disbanded rather than find somebody to replace her.  Until three years ago, she sang in the church choir.  She couldn’t read music.  She did it by ear.  She loved to sing lullabies, because she loved babies, and music.

“I think I’d like to see my great-grandchildren,” she told me once.  “So hang around and see them,” I said.  Another time, “I want to live until I see you girls settled.”

Then, when my sister got engaged, I told her, “You know, Grannie’s waiting to see her great-grandkids.  If she waits for me to give them to her, she’s going to be immortal.  If you settle down and do the marriage and kids thing, you’re basically killing her.”

“That was incredibly mean, even for you,” my sister said.


Grannie was thirty-nine years old when she had her first child, my uncle.  In 1959. She’d just about given up on having children.  The medicine she was on for the rheumatoid arthritis she had in all her joints interfered with fertility.

“I had a terrible time getting pregnant.  But once I did, everything was easy.  I loved being pregnant.  And I loved being a mother.  Being a mother is the best thing.”

“If you say so, Grannie.”  She never once, not a single time, asked me when I was going to get married or have children.  She never referred to male friends I introduced her to as my boyfriend.  She never demanded anything from me beyond, “When are you going to write a best seller?  You should get on that.”


Three years ago, just before Thanksgiving, Grannie fell on the walk in front of her house.  She broke her arm and hip, had to have surgery to repair them, and lived in a skilled nursing facility for rehab until the following February.  My sister had just given birth to her first child.  I’d already planned a long trip to Richmond to help her cook and clean and wrangle her infant.  Instead, I spent hours a day with Grannie.

For about a year after, when I’d call on Sundays and we’d talk about that time, what Grannie would remember and comment on was visits from my sister and her precious child.  Who was just the most adorable thing.  My sister is such a good mother.  Don’t I think she’s a good mother?

It stung. But Grannie loves babies.  She was in pain and on drugs most of the time I was there.  She’s still fairly sharp, but her memory isn’t what it used to be.  Mostly I’m glad she remembers good things from then.  The rest of me is glad that, “She’s seen the next generation, and now she’s fallen,” wasn’t a portent.

I don’t know what changed, whether somebody mentioned something or the memories reshuffled in her head or what, but one Sunday she goes, “You spent an awful lot of time with me when I was in there.”

“I did.  I was there and I could.”

“That was so nice.”  And then, because she’s still sharp, but her mind does wander, “Do you remember when I took you to see Gone with the Wind?”


When we were kids, Grannie took my sister and me to Lurray Caverns.  And Monticello.  She drove us down Skyline drive and told stories about visiting the mountains when she was younger.  We learned to navigate by road atlas and highway markers.  She’d take us to Jamestown and Williamsburg.  To the Science museum in Richmond, and to Maymont.  We’ve watched the park at Henricus change from just a park to a reenactment site with a working model village on it, because she’s been taking us there since we were small.  She’ll tell stories about having picnics with the people who lived in the house there, where all that’s left is the ruined foundation.

Out to lunch with Grannie and my sister and her child.  The child is two, has made an unholy mess, his face covered in his lunch.  “Neil,” Grannie says, “You should kiss your mother.”

I glance at my nephew.  At my grandmother.  At my nephew.  “Grannie, you’re a terrorist.”

She shrugs.  “You have to spread your wings.”


I mentioned to a cousin a while back that I was planning to, someday, move back to Chicago.  That cousin mentioned this to Grannie.

“Where’re you?” Grannie asked right away, when I called her the following Sunday.

“In my living room?”

“Where are you living?  Haven’t you moved?”

I silently cursed myself for opening my big mouth when I shouldn’t have.  “No Grannie.  I’m in Seattle.”

“But you are moving.”

“Someday.  It’ll be a while.”  We did this every week for months.


My last trip to Richmond, after the great search for Gone with the Wind came up empty, my sister and I made the rounds of used book stores.  I picked up copies of The Illiad and The Odyssey to give Grannie as Christmas presents, because she mentioned that she wanted to reread them, she hadn’t read them since she was a teenager, but she couldn’t because she didn’t have copies.  We looked for copies of Gone with the Wind, too, but didn’t find any suitable ones.

“Would you like your Christmas present early?” I asked her on my last day of the trip.

“Oh, yes!”  I gave her the books.  I hadn’t bothered to wrap them.  She lit up, excited to have them.  “Have you read these?  I don’t remember anything about them.”

“I have,” I assured her.  “All you need to remember is that one is about how you should never get between Achilles and his boyfriend, or his girlfriend, and the other is about how you shouldn’t keep a plate warm for Odysseus.”

“Was he late for supper?”

“Very.”


Grannie is where I get my interest in history from.  Her interests are fairly narrow: all things Virginia, and all things England, with dabbling in Scotland and the rest of American history, too.  She will tell you, repeatedly, about how they had the first Thanksgiving in Jamestown two years before there was anybody at Plymouth.  Her stance on Civil War monuments was, “If they want to take them down, just take off the people and leave the horses.  I like the horses and they didn’t hurt anybody.”

She wasn’t a housewife. She loved being a mother, it’s the best thing in the world, but she worked.  She spent years working for a lady doctor.  The doctor’s husband had died, leaving her with a little boy to raise on her own.  Grannie thought that was tragic, but it’s one more baby in her life.  The boy is all grown up, older than my parents, living in Oregon.  Grannie is what he has for family.  He surprised her by flying out for her 95th birthday party.  She was flabbergasted and charmed for months after.

At Christmas, she made gingerbread and iced sugar cookies.  The Joy of Cooking recipe for applesauce cake was her standard cake to have on hand or take to potlucks or send home with you.  She stopped cooking after she fell, when my uncle moved in with her to take care of her so she could live at home.  But she still loved ice cream and lemon chess pie.  If you asked what she wanted for dinner, she’d lean toward you and confide, “Oysters.”  Then grin, because she knew you weren’t going to do it.

Last time I cooked her dinner, I made a stir fry with oyster sauce.  One smart ass deserves to be answered by another.


“You know, Sara’s doing very well,” my other grandmother said.  “I really think she might live to be a hundred.”

“She has stomach cancer. I’m crossing my fingers that since my sister’s pregnant, she’ll hang on to see the new baby.”  That’ll get her to late March, just past her next birthday.  She’ll be ninety-seven.


“I was telling one of my friends that you want to move back to Chicago,” Grannie was telling me.  “And she said, ‘Oh, but that’s a terrible place! Why would she do that?’ And I just told her I figure you can take care of yourself.”

“You should have told her she didn’t know what she was talking about,” I said.

She shrugged that off.  “Have you seen my copy of Gone with the Wind?”


My sister found a good copy a week after I left.  She was bragging to me about how the wrapping paper she keeps is actual brown paper, and her ribbons this year are thin and ropey, so all of the presents under her tree are going to be brown paper packages tied up with strings.

“She won’t stop asking about Gone with the Wind,” my sister said.

“She’s got books on her mind lately.  She keeps telling me how excited she is to reread The Illiad and the Odyssey,” I replied.  By the end of the phone conversation, Gone with the Wind was wrapped.


Last Thursday, about an hour after I first woke up, I got a text from my uncle.  “Call me.  Mom isn’t doing well.  I’ve had no sleep.”

He hadn’t called my sister yet.  He didn’t want to bother her at work.  I called her for him.  “What you’re saying is, I need to take the babe and go see her tonight?”

“It might be nothing but, yeah, I think so.  And this might be silly, but take over the rest of her Christmas presents, too.”


Sunday a week ago, when I talked to Grannie, she was sharp and animated.  She was hungry.  She’d been to church that morning, even though she’d had some stomach troubles the day before.  Generally when she has stomach troubles on a Saturday, she doesn’t go to church the next day.  And generally she protests that everybody is forcing her to eat too much, she doesn’t want to get fat.  (Grandaddy’s mother got fat, and he never liked that, so she doesn’t want to.) This sounds really promising to me.

“They talked about your Granddaddy at church a few weeks ago.  About how he’d do anything they asked of him, and what a good man he was.  I was really glad I got to hear it.”  This is the fourth or fifth week she’s told me about that service.  “What have you been doing?”

“I got a job. I’m moving to Chicago.  I’ll be there in January.”

“Oh, good.  I know you’ve been wanting that.”

“I have.”


There’s this problem with just taking your white-haired old lady grandmother at face value.  Even when she loves babies.  It’s that you make the wrong assumption about what she means when she says “settled.”


My Grannie died in a house next to the woods.  Out back a bridge crosses a small creek, on a path that leads up to an abandoned garden patch with a shed that used to be a pony stable.  In front is a red maple that just finished dropping its leaves, and the tallest magnolia tree you’re likely to see anywhere.

She never unwrapped her new copy of Gone with the Wind.

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WorldCon 2017, aka The Best, Most Tedious Disaster Story Ever

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When last I posted, I announced  the schedule for my WorldCon programming and promised stories.  What gentle, naive times those were.

I was already en route to Helsinki when I made that post.  I was, in fact, hanging out in Manhattan after an overnight flight from Seattle, waiting to meet somebody for brunch, and generally looking forward to passing a long layover before catching another overnight flight to Helsinki.  The day was, in fact, lovely.  Unrelatedly,  I did not catch that overnight flight.

After getting bounced back and forth between Finnair and American Airlines on the phone trying to fix flight problems, then the same at the airport, then Finnair vanishing and turning into Qatar airlines while I was in line to talk to their people, I finally got the chance to rebook my flight.  Which prompted the following conversation with my roommate:

Me: I’ve had a bad feeling about this trip for ages. I’m thinking this is an omen.

Uni: It’ll be fine.

Me: I’m serious. How sad would you be if I just came home? I’m thinking of cutting my losses now while I can.

Uni: You’ve spent the last two months learning Finnish.

Me: That was fun on its own.

Uni: You can’t come home. I’ve got dibs on your favorite mug for the next two weeks.

You can’t argue with that.  I pushed on to Helsinki.

Instead of getting a direct flight to Helsinki through Finnair, I wind up on a British Airways flight to Heathrow, then a Finnair flight to Helsinki, which put me in Helsinki just in time to have missed all of my WorldCon programming.  Without my luggage.  This last bit didn’t surprise me. When I tried to check in for the BA flight, their gate agent nearly had a meltdown, began railing against American, then hustled me to a back room where I got a special private check in desk and very gentle security procedure. As somebody with a mild allergy to security theater in general and TSA bullshit in particular, I was pretty pleased by this.

But I made it to Helsinki. The people I was sharing lodging with very kindly left my set of keys at the registration desk so that whenever I got my luggage or was inclined to see where I was sleeping for the duration of the con, I could pick them up and do that. I got registered, and met up with many Strange Horizons folks, most of whom I hadn’t met before, and we ate delightful Nepalese food and chatted.  Then I unabashedly followed them to the barcon bar and we showed up before anybody else did which, I believe, means we founded the party.  Mind, I was wearing the same clothes I got onto the plane in Seattle wearing, and had only washed in various airport bathrooms, but I was definitely one of the cool kids.  Trust me.

When that broke up and it was time to head home, several of the people I’d been hanging out with very kindly and English-ly refused to go on to their hotel before making sure I could find where I was staying, despite my insistence that this was unnecessary.  The joke was on them, though, because I managed to have a fail-tastic adventure anyway.  You see, I knew the address of where I was staying, and I had the keys for getting in.  What I didn’t have was the apartment number.  In a building with eight floors.

“No sweat,” says I, as I examine the doors.  “I spent the last two months learning Finnish, and I am in Finland.  This means I’m prepared for everything.  For example, I know the note on that door says ‘No housekeeping.’  I will deduce my way into the correct unit.”

My plan was, actually, quite brilliant.  There were 4-5 doors on each floor, and seven floors with doors.  I had a key, and all of these doors required a key to be opened.  So all I had to do was put my key in each door, turn it, and when it worked, Boom! Destination located.  The next day I’d file the paperwork to change my name to Anaea H. Lay, and tell everybody for the rest of time that the H is for Holmes, because I’m humble.

I was not staying on the first floor. Cool.  Six floors to go.

I was not staying in the first unit of the second floor.  Or the second.  The third, however…the third opened.

Onto the foyer of a studio. (Weren’t we in a 1-bedroom?)

A studio with a bed taking up most of the space beyond the foyer. (There’s definitely supposed to be a sofa.  I’m sleeping on it.)

A bed with a very confused looking white and black pit bull stretched out on it.

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Not actual dog. Actual level of dog-alertness. though.

On second thought, repeated counts of attempted breaking and entering is probably not the best way to get a good night’s sleep in a foreign country.  But hey, Helsinki is generous with their public wifi, so I high-tailed it back to internet land and used slightly less deranged methods of figuring out where to go.

(The next morning I called T-mobile via my web browser to ask if they could maybe fix the thing where my phone wasn’t behaving like it should.  “We’re stumped.  I’ll boot this up to the next tier of support and call you back with the answer,” they said.  “You can’t call me back, my phone isn’t working as a phone.”  This confused them.  They wanted to know how I was calling them, in that case. VIA A WEB BROWSER BECAUSE THIS IS THE 21st CENTURY WHY IS THIS HARD JUST SEND ME AN EMAIL WHEN YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO.  But hey, when I finally made it back to the US, I had three very helpful voicemails from T-Mobile telling me how to fix my phone…)

Friday I actually got a full day at the convention.  More exciting, I wasn’t wearing the exact same clothes I left Seattle in; one of the people I was staying with kindly loaned me a pile of clothes to wear.  So I was wearing her running shirt.  Reader, I have never before in my life worn running clothes.  I sincerely hope to never wear them again.

I had make-up lunch with somebody I was supposed to have had lunch with on Thursday and we had a good chat.  At one point a complete stranger sitting next to us interrupted to say, “I’m sorry, but ‘don’t break the spreadsheet’ is a good motto for life.'” It was that kind of conversation.

I went to a panel to watch Amal Al-Mohtar be adorable and squee about Steven Universe, and got exactly what I expected from it.  I went to another panel about interactive fiction and continued the process of slowly realizing I have no idea what I’m doing there and have, possibly, made questionable life choices.  I stalked the web status page for my luggage in the hopes that it would arrive in time for me to change before the Hugo ceremony.

You see, I packed a dress.  And heels.  And basic grooming items for looking like a professional adult who wins things on the off chance that, you know, I won a thing.  During the second panel, I get the notice that my bag is in Helsinki.  There was hope!

Cue me, somewhat sheepishly, walking up to the support counter and asking if anybody there knows a way for me to get my hands on a phone that can make a local call.  My phone is refusing to be a phone, you see, and I would very much like to call the Helsinki airport.  Because I would very much like to wear anything other than jeans and a borrowed running shirt to the Hugos.  (I am convinced, at this point, that if Strange Horizons does win, I will never, ever win a Hugo again, and for all time I’ll be the person who accepted a Hugo in borrowed running clothes.  I cannot think of a story I’d want to be associated with less.)

A guy at the desk took pity on me, whipped out his phone, and called the airport on my behalf.  It’s all Finnish, all the way down, but he was able to give them a phone number I could receive texts from, because it gets automatically forwarded to my email address.  And fortunately, I catch it when he reads my chicken-scratch zero as an eight.  “You speak Finnish?” a lady nearby asks, clearly surprised.

“Not really, but I did spend the last two months studying it.  I am super prepared for everything!”

The Helsinki airport has no idea where my bag is.  It might be in Helsinki?  They aren’t sure.  They’ll call me with an update.

I was, at this point, feeling a bit of strain, so I went for my default coping mechanism, and started hunting down tea.  There was a lovely cafe in the convention center, full of lovely pastries, and I’m told the coffee was lovely, too.  I hate coffee, but they had a chai latte on their menu and I am down for that, so I order one.  And walk away.  And take a sip.

And then I’m back at the counter going, “I’m very sorry, but I ordered a chai latte.”

“Yes,” the girl at the counter says.

“This is coffee.”

“Yes,” she repeats.  “That’s what you ordered.”

“There’s coffee in your chai latte?”

“Yes.”

You know I’m dedicated to keeping displays of grief private, because I did not at that moment collapse onto the floor sobbing.  “I’m sorry, I’m afraid we’re having a cultural difference.  Is there something on your menu I can order that doesn’t have coffee in it?”

This became the second in a long string of conspicuous kindnesses punctuating the trip, because not only did she direct me to a safe way to order coffee-free tea, she refunded me the €1.20 difference between the prices in the drinks.  I’d expected her to charge me for the additional drink since she had, in fact, given me exactly what I ordered.

I went to the Hugos reception in jeans and a borrowed running shirt.  And the ceremony itself.  Strange Horizons didn’t win.  (Never have I been so happy to be in second place.)  Then the losers party, which also marked the first time I did anything in Helsinki proper the entire trip.  The steampunk gin bar is not messing around about its steampunk, or its gin, in case you were wondering.

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Saturday, I gave up on the concepts of luggage, worldly possessions, or hope.  It was very freeing.

If you ever get the chance to hear Ken Liu talk about translation, take it.  He’s as good at deadpan and wry when lecturing as he is in his prose.  I also stalked more panels on interactive fiction, and continued to nurse my suspicion that maybe before taking on major projects that look like fun, I should first have any idea what I’m doing.  There were several games of Werewolf, and a fantastically brutal thunderstorm during dinner, and I back-pedaled on giving up on my luggage enough to abscond with somebody’s phone and spend some time talking to the airport about whether maybe I would ever see my bag again.  (It was definitely, absolutely, certainly not in Helsinki, and never had been.  They weren’t sure where it was, though.)

This was also about the time Nazis were marching practically next door to where my baby sister lives, so, you know, there was some muttering about how maybe when I was thinking this trip was cursed and I should cut my losses and go home that was absolutely the right idea.

Sunday was more meeting people for meals.  I had learned to order hot chocolate, because it never comes with coffee.  I had shared my traumatic chai latte experience with absolutely everybody, including strangers on street corners. I’ve had confirmation from a buddy who lives in Helsinki that of course chai lattes have coffee in them.  If I ever return to Helsinki, they will greet me as the girl perpetually wearing the same shirt who would not shut up about accidentally ordering coffee and then ask whether maybe I wouldn’t like to visit Sweden.  But, I had hope, because the Strange Horizons tea party was Sunday, and I was going to get myself some tea at the tea party.  I spent the entire morning inviting people to the party and positively gloating about my inevitable tea.  (I’d packed tea in my luggage.  With a brewing thermos.  This was not supposed to be a problem.)

The tea party was great.  It was packed.  We embarrassed Niall, which I shouldn’t be so pleased by because he’s English and therefore an easy mark, but I am.  People told me they liked how I read their stories and that was really great since I sorta assume everybody just cringes in a corner and quietly hates how I say their name, and deliver their favorite line.

Of course, they ran out of tea before I got any.  What sort of curse would I have if I’d been able to get tea at a tea party?

But, but, but, something magical happened.  I got an email.  From Finnair.  MY LUGGAGE WAS IN HELSINKI.  This was particularly great since the next day I would cease to be in Helsinki, and I sorta wanted to have my luggage with me.

I hopped on a train to the airport, fetched my luggage, hugged it a lot, hopped on a train back to where I was staying, hugged my luggage some more, and changed my clothes.  Then made some tea.  With my tea.  Which I had packed to ensure I wouldn’t be the tea-obsessed American traumatized by a coffee culture.  Then I hugged my luggage more, just for good measure.

Also, I put every pin I’d intended to decorate my con badge with on the collar of my shirt and shamelessly wore them to a bar, dinner, then a bar, while hanging out with people in Helsinki.  My favorite moment was probably when I passed people I’d met two days before and was greeted with, “You’re wearing different clothes.  You got your luggage!”

This ends the part of the trip I’d characterize as “frustratingly inconvenient.”  Let’s move on to the “Estonia is magic” portion.

Estonia is magic, y’all.  First off, everybody in the entire world was taking a ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn on Monday, and I was the only one who didn’t miss the ferry.  Yes, whether you remember it or not, on August 14 of 2017 you tried to take a ferry to cross the Baltic Seat from Helsinki to Tallinn, and you failed.  On the one hand, I felt very keenly for the travel woes of everybody else, and the people who were trying to coordinate plans around them.  On the other hand, vindication is sweet and even though this had nothing to do with the frustrating inconvenience of the trip so far, I felt vindicated.

Also, Tallinn is charming.  Everybody says this.  They are speaking truth.  I have no pictures with which to prove this but believe me; if I weren’t clinging to my pants in a defiant refusal to be separated from my luggage ever again, they’d have been charmed off.

I was staying in the apartment behind the kitchen of a yoga studio that had the Icelandic and Spanish consulates as landmarks for finding the building.  (See, charming!) This was just far enough outside of Old Town for me to walk along and go, “Yeah, this is pretty nice, classic compact European city with a nice…holy medieval times, Batman!”

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Not my photo, but a very accurate one

There’s nothing quite like being an American from a family with pretensions about having ties to old things, then running into actual old things as if they’re nothing special.  It should have stopped working on my be now, but I think living on the west coast, land of everything was new this morning, has made me soft.

Met up with people to hang out over drinks and snacks in a pub.  Not just any pub, but a pub in the basement of a medieval building with walls thicker than me in the morning.  (Actually, in Tallinn, that probably is just any pub.)  I had a fantastic salad, enjoyed samplings of the peppered lard on toast, and tried not to take it personally that while wifi in my apartment at home needs constant coddling, I was getting fantastic signal and connectivity while in the basement of a building that was old when my distant forebears arrived on the continent of my birth.  I was not bitter.

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How can you be bitter after eating this?

One of my dinner companions, as we were preparing to pay and depart for dinner, moaned about how the magical pay-by-waving-your-phone-at-a-thing limit was too low to cover most bills so they were stuck using antiquated chip reader technology.  “You mean the chips that weren’t even ubiquitous in the US until a year or so ago and that most places still can’t handle?” I asked.  Yeah, that’s what she meant.

I had my luggage.  I was charmed.  The waiter had fetching shoulders and nice hair.  So I still wasn’t bitter.

Then we started planning the part of the next day that would involve riding the driverless bus.

Reader, I have complaints about the graceless collapse of empire, and how it directly applies to my quality of life.

The next day featured the accidental discovery of a bakery with amazing hot chocolate, eagerly following the coattails of a masterful social engineer by the name of Ellen Kushner, who enthusiastic-harmless-curiosity-seeker’d her way into two different hotel rooms that weren’t hers just to check out their views, marzipan gawking, market browsing, dumplings to die for, and tea.  A lot of tea.  Estonians, by the way, are as horrified by the Finnish approach to chai lattes as I am.

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This is marzipan, from one of the two places claiming to be a marzipan museum. The other place was a lie.

There’s definitely a lot of Tallinn that is there entirely to cater to tourists, and I definitely didn’t spend enough time there to scratch very deeply beyond that, but I’m up for fixing that any time.  Have I overused the word “charming” yet?

Wednesday brought the ferry back to Helsinki and, consequently, the most actually gawking at Helsinki I did the whole trip.  Mostly I wandered around and looked at things.  The Botanical Gardens are quite nice for walking around.  So’s most of the central city, actually.

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Never tell me why these three naked men are standing around an anvil.

By this point I’d chilled all the way out and started actually taking pictures of stuff.  There were many nice things to take pictures of.

IMG_20170816_190218I also may have made the ill-advised decision to walk from the central city, where I had dinner and did my wandering, through this place that looked like a nice park, on my way back to where I was staying.  I had to be out around 4am in order to catch a stupid-early flight, so rather than get wrapped up in something that might keep me out, I planned to meander bed-ward and catch a bus or trolley or cab or anything practical when I got tired.

I didn’t check to make sure there were buses, trolleys, or cars along the route first.

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For the record: this wasn’t even the dumbest walk I’ve taken this summer

I did get back, and crash into bed, and get up very, very early.  I made it to the airport with no trouble and plenty of time to spare.  My flight was on time, I finished my souvenir shopping, got on my plane and…

…embarked on the spectacularly disastrous part of the trip.

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This picture is just here to be misleadingly cheerful.

My first layover was in Paris.  Not the good kind of layover where I could leave the airport and actually see Paris, but hey, so long as I get a croissant between flights, it’ll be worth it, right?

Spoiler: I did not get a croissant in Paris. Not even at the airport.

What happened instead is that I beelined across the airport to get to my gate, assuming that I could fetch a croissant once I knew I was in the right place and all was well.  This was good, because they were extremely prompt about boarding; already well underway by the time I arrived, even though I arrived 45 minutes before takeoff.  (Cut-off: 30 minutes.)  I scan my boarding pass and…get told I’m not allowed to board.

I’m unsurprised.  I missed my flight on the way out, and even though they assured me this wouldn’t cause any trouble on my return, I didn’t believe them.  Here was my vindication.  Or so I thought at first.

Actually, it’s not that at all.  It’s worse.  The gate agent is refusing to board anybody from my flight out of Helsinki, even though there were several of us.  She didn’t like how the connection was done.  No, she won’t help me rebook, this is Finnair’s fault.  “But I booked the itinerary through American.  That’s you,” I say.  See, I’d just gone down this road a whole lot not ten days before when trying to fix my departing flight.  Finnair can’t do squat for me.  American is refusing to board me, American is the source of the booking, American is who I need help from.

American sends me back through customs to Finnair.  To the completely wrong place.  So I go back.  They send me somewhere else.  Also wrong, but this time it came with a bonus trip through security.  (I love airport security, remember?)  I finally find a Finnair employee and explained to her what’s happened.  Her eyes get big and she goes, “But I can’t help you.  American has to…wait, how did you get here?”

That’s a good question, since the boarding pass I hold is for a flight that has, at this point, long since left, and in a completely different terminal.  “I’m very charming when I want to be, and security thought I was harmless.  Please don’t make me go through that again.”  (Fun Fact: Charles de Gaulle airport has, as a normal presence, uniformed soldiers with machine guns.  Ask me how I know.)

The very nice Finnair employee proceeds to get on the phone to somebody and freak out in a long string of French from which all I understood was, “Ping-ponging passengers,” because the only French I know is useful for eating, and getting laid.  (I mean, if you’re only going to speak a little French…)  She then apologized profusely, but I was going to have to leave the secured portion of the airport to talk to somebody else.  No really, she’s very sorry, but she literally cannot help me at all, I am in utterly the wrong place.  The place she’s sending me isn’t the right place either, because I was in the right place when I was talking to American, but they’ll help me anyway.

Finnair’s umbrella company then, on behalf of me and two other people American had done this to, called American to fight with them and get us rebooked.  It took a long time.  I wasn’t shouty-angry like the first guy who was so furious that he was going to arrive in New York three hours later than he meant to that he missed the first flight they rebooked him on by yelling at them over how unacceptable the situation was, and didn’t have a wife and three kids stuck on the other side of security waiting for me to return with their passports, I volunteered to be the back of the line.  I could see the writing on the wall already and wasn’t inclined to fight my fate.

Finnair’s umbrella company, while calling American on my behalf to make them rebook my flight, bought me lunch in Paris.  I got a sandwich on a baguette and chocolate mousse.  I looked, but I couldn’t find a croissant.

Tangent: back in February, as a reward to myself for something I was smug about, I did something I almost never do and bought myself an item of clothing I didn’t desperately need.  Specifically, this item of clothing.  I packed it, thinking it would make a good shirt to wear for the very long flight home.  My sister begged me to change my mind.  I considered her perspective.  Then Charlottesville happened.

In addition to having uniformed soldiers carrying machine guns, Charles de Gaulle airport is full of people who will compliment you when your shirt says:

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I love this shirt entirely beyond reason.

I did not expect an anglophone American wearing jeans and a t-shirt to get consistent sartorial compliments while in Paris, but there you go.  We live in interesting times.  Also, the attention made up for the lack of croissants.

Eventually I got booked onto an Air France flight.  Getting back through security and whatnot when my bag was MIA and my itinerary was a shambles was a unique and interesting challenge, but one I navigated just fast enough to keep from missing my flight.  Let me say this about Air France: fucktons nicer than American.  More room, better layout, better amenities, better food, and a movie collection that clearly came from a culture of film snobs.  They weren’t super big on saying things in English, but I’d entered the zone of travel purgatory, so I didn’t want to know what was going on anyway; it would have just depressed me.  It was a thoroughly pleasant flight experience, and I don’t think I’ve said that about a flight this century.

Of course, my bag didn’t actually make it onto the flight, and I missed my connection at JFK as a result.  But customs was too busy being confused about why I didn’t have my bag to care about my shirt, so hey, I got away with that.

“Why did you miss your connection?” the American agent asked me when I finally got to the desk.

So I told him the story, complete with, “but since American weren’t the ones who did the rebooking, the people who did couldn’t give me a boarding pass for this flight, and by the time I got here, I was five minutes late for the self-check in, and now I’ve waited in line for a human so long the flight is gone.”

There are no more flights tonight.  He books me on a flight 5am tomorrow, layover in Charlotte, that’ll get me back to Seattle.  Great, whatever, I don’t believe in home as a concept anymore and if I get stranded in Charlotte, I can rent a car and drive up to see family for the weekend.  This becomes my official plan when I see the actual itinerary.  “This is a 30 minute layover,” I say.

“It is?” he asks.  Then he looks into it.  “The gates are right next to each other.  You’ll walk off one plane and directly onto the next.”

“Have you seen the luck I’ve had?  There’s no way I’m going to succeed with a 30 minute layover.”

“There are more flights to Seattle from Charlotte than here anyway.  It’s a better place to be stranded.”

Actually, New York is a significantly better place to be stranded, but whatever, I already have my stranded-in-Charlotte plans worked out in my head.  I crash into a hotel to get a few hours of sleep before coming right back, and leave it at that.

(He gave me vouchers for food that were good at the hotel and the airport.  So I tried to order food at the hotel, even though I was much, much too tired to be hungry.  There was literally nothing on the menu inexpensive enough to be covered by the food voucher.  The lady who took my order took pity on me, rang me up for half a salad, then gave me the whole thing.  Saint.)

“I’m not even surprised,” I say when, at 3:30am the next morning, the self-check in thing can’t find my itinerary and won’t let me get my boarding pass for my flight.  Instead, I go wait in the long-ass line to speak to a human representative of American.

“Oh, your flight out of here was delayed and you were going to miss your connection,” the agent says when I get to her.  “They’ve already rebooked you.  You’ll be leaving from La Guardia and connecting through Dallas.”

“No.”

She hesitates, then goes on.  “This is actually a better itinerary because…”

“No.”

“It’s okay.  We’ll get you a cab.  You have plenty of time.”

“You can put me on a direct flight.  You can put me on a flight that connects anywhere on the east coast between here and Charlotte, or either of the Chicago airports.  I will not accept any other itinerary, and I am not leaving here to go anywhere other than back to the hotel I just checked out of, unless it’s by plane.”  The poor agent looked to be at a sincere loss.  “There’s a direct flight out of here at 5pm, and another at 9:30.  Either of those will do.”

“But they’re so late,” she says.  “You could have this other flight…”

“No, that other flight will get me stranded in Dallas.  I dislike Dallas.  I’d rather be here.  Worst case scenario, if I’m still here on Monday, I have a meeting that I can show up in person to instead of taking by phone.”

“I’ll get you set up.”

While she does that, I called the hotel and un-checked out.  It was very nice of them to let me do that.  (There were a lot of people who were very nice to me, in case I’m not highlighting that enough.) (I was still wearing the Nazi punching shirt.  I suspect this helped.)

As she wraps up, I start to suspect that maybe, in my deranged, sleep-deprived state, I’ve been a little too harsh.  “I’m sorry if I’m cross.  I’m just very tired, and very angry with your employer.  I know it’s not you, and I appreciate how helpful you’ve been,” I say.

“Mama, I saw your itinerary history.  If I were you, I’d be sobbing or screaming.  You’re fine.”  Take that, people who think getting icy under stress isn’t healthy.

I returned to the airport with plenty of time to spare, so I visited baggage claim.  No, of course my bag isn’t somewhere sensible like JFK.  It’s totally still in Paris.  I mean, they were going to send it to the right continent, but then I changed my itinerary to connect through Dallas…

“Stop there.  I didn’t make that change,” I said.  “They didn’t even tell me about that change until I was already here trying to complete the itinerary before that one.”

Doesn’t matter.  The last flight from Paris for the day has already left.  They aren’t going to schedule my bag for another itinerary until I’ve arrived at my final destination.

I don’t think she understood why I asked whether it mattered which part of Hell I was in, or could they deliver the bag regardless.

Of course, my 5pm flight was already delayed to 7:40.

Let’s skip several hours involving a gate change, a mechanical problem, and a weather delay, and get to the point, now after 9pm (you better believe I was wondering about the state of the 9:30pm flight) when I scan my boarding pass to finally! board! the final! flight! and instead of getting a beep and a “Thank you, Miss Lay,” the console flashes bright red with a “DO NOT BOARD.”

“I’m sorry about that.  You’ll need to talk to the gate agent.”

“That’s okay. I no longer believe in a universe outside JFK.  Though I dimly recall that I did once hold such a belief.”

There’s confusion.  Minor mayhem.  (We’re technically still having a weather delay, but trying to sneak out during a break in the lightning.)  The gate agent cannot figure out why the system won’t let me board.  “I’ve probably had my itinerary changed too much and tripped some sort of anti-terrorist algorithm,” I say, while wearing my nazi-punching shirt.

“What sort of changes?” the agent asks.  Then she looks up my itinerary history.

And looks at me.

And at my history.

“Are you cursed?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“Go take your seat.  There’s not anybody in it.  I’ll figure this out once you’re in the air.”

She did not have to tell me twice.

Hilariously, there was a guy in my seat.  Did I mind?  He wanted to sit next to his wife and their toddler.

No guy, I do not mind fleeing from the prospect of six hours in an overheated tube with your toddler.

It was Wednesday in Seattle when I boarded a flight in Helsinki under the naive delusion that I’d completed a trip which, while off to a bumpy start, ultimately smoothed out and turned quite pleasant.

It was Saturday when I finally got there.

What have we learned from this adventure?  A few things:

  1. Dark premonitions should be heeded.
  2. Estonia is magic.
  3. Advertising your predilection for Nazi punching causes people to be nice to you.

These are valuable lessons for everyone, and I hope my experience will allow you to benefit from sharing in my hard earned knowledge.

Tits up

The scene: It’s early March of this year and I’m sitting in a doctor’s office for the third time in three weeks and we’re talking about surgery.  Specifically, we’re talking about her performing surgery on me.

Doctor3: The good news is that this surgery has the highest patient satisfaction rate of just about any procedure.  The bad news is that it has one of the hardest recovery periods.

Me: I know.  I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve done this.

Doctor3: It takes about two months before you can return to your normal activity levels.  And many find the recovery very painful.

Me: I’m not really afraid of pain.  I’m in pain all the time.  That’s why I’m here.

***

The scene: I’m twenty years old and standing at the registration desk of a pediatric hospital.  I’ve got an overloaded backpack hanging off my right shoulder, ratty cargo pants hanging off my hips, and I’m looking a bit fuddled because I don’t exactly wander off to children’s hospitals in the middle of the day as a normal thing.

Receptionist: Where’s the patient?

Me: Right here.  It’s me.  I’m the patient.

Receptionist: (Clearly skeptical) Oh.  Are you sure?

Me: Pretty sure, yeah.  I don’t think I had a kid and forgot about it.

***

The scene: I’m thirteen and meeting physical therapist in their professional capacity for the first time.  Other recent firsts?  That chronic nagging pain I’ve had in my left shoulder since I was seven turning into my entire left side locking up so badly I can’t turn my head or torso.  Also, adults believing me about there being something wrong with my left shoulder.  That’s new, and also exciting.

Physical therapist: Your problem is probably that you carry your backpack on one shoulder.

Me: No, that is not the problem.

PT: I know you kids want to look cool, but it’s terrible for your back.

Me: I started carrying my backpack entirely on my right shoulder in fifth grade because my left shoulder was getting so bad I wanted to take the strain off.  How I carry my bag is a response, it did not cause this problem.

The physical therapist gave me a lot of exercises.  I did them faithfully for about two weeks.  I also had muscle spasms for the first time.  Every day for two weeks.  I decided the PT didn’t know what she was talking about and stopped doing the exercises.  The muscle spasms went away.  My left side still locked up on occasion, but not often.

***

The scene: Me at 20, having successfully checked in for an appointment at a children’s hospital and convinced not one but two receptionists that yes, I am the patient and yes, I do know what kind of facility this is and yes, I am aware that they generally don’t see people over 18, but this is who the orthopedic referred me to when I pointed out that her diagnosis didn’t account for any of my actual symptoms so yes I would, in fact, like a second opinion.  The specialist I’ve been sent to is a very nice older man with a salt n’ pepper beard and a teddy bear hanging off his stethoscope.  He’s been chatting with me about my symptom history while he twists my hands and wrists and fingers.

Dr. Teddy: I bet you can put your hands flat on the floor without bending your knees.

Me: Well, yeah.  I do martial arts and I am, in fact, baseline physically fit.

Dr. Teddy: That’s not baseline.  Not at your age.  You are abnormally flexible.  I’m going to describe some things.  Tell me if this sounds like you.

Then he proceeds to tell me the story of my life.

Turns out my ligaments don’t do their job very well, so my joints are constantly sliding out of place, and the surrounding muscles take a beating as a result.  Usually it hits people in their knees and hips first, but shoulders aren’t unheard of, especially not since kids started carrying such heavy backpacks.  But, my ligaments will naturally tighten as I get older, so I’ll age out of it.  Eventually.  Probably.

My hips started to go the next year.

I can’t do martial arts anymore.

***

The scene: I’m coming home from sixth grade.  That’s after I adopted single-shoulder carry but before I visited the PT.  It was hot.  My shoulder was in the “sentient-knot” stage, so I dressed accordingly.  I walk into the house and mom has just taken her first look at me for the day.

Mom: You will not ever leave the house like that again.  Do you understand me?

***

The scene: I’m getting my third ever massage.  I’ve got nifty health insurance that’ll pay 50% once a month as a perk, and I basically can’t stand up straight or walk anymore, so massages are great.  Also, they’re undoing a lot of the perma-locking most of my muscles have settled into.

Massage Therapist: What was that?

Me: My rib just slid back into place.

MT: Did that hurt?

Me: Yeah, but it feels better than having it out of place.  Thanks.

MT: Does your bra do that to you?

***

The scene: Last Monday.  Pre-op appointment with the doctor.

Doctor3: Nothing that raises your heart rate.  Nothing that will raise your blood pressure.  Don’t drive.  Don’t sign contracts.  Don’t…

Me: I’m a real estate broker.

Doctor3: Don’t give people advice about contracts.  You can resume a desk job after two weeks.  Maybe one if you’re doing it from home but don’t count on it.  Don’t lift anything that weighs more than ten pounds.  Don’t submerge in water.

Me: I’m getting to be a fanatical swimmer.  It’s about the only thing I’ve found that helps with the pain without also damaging something.

Doctor3: Don’t submerge in water.

Me: (Aside) I’m going to die.

***

The scene: I’m 25 and following a friend who has gotten a little fanatical about a new shop she’s found.  We go in, and the place is depressing.  Like, clinical depressing.  It’s that way on purpose.  Among other things, they do specialized bras for mastectomy patients.

Shopkeeper: You’re wearing a 36DD from Victoria’s Secret, aren’t you?

Me: Yes?  That’s my size.

Friend: (Who is significantly more endowed than me, sniggering) They told me that, too.

Turns out 32J is a size.  Mine, specifically.  And they start at $60/each.

But hey, now my ribs only slide out of place some of the time.

***

The scene: In a senior in high school, getting fitted for a costume.  I’m playing Louisa May Alcott which is hilarious because Little Women was the very first book I ever put down with no intention of picking it back up.

Costumer: Good god, your tits are huge.

Me: Yes.  I know.  Everybody has been telling me that since sixth grade.  (Especially my mother.)

Costumer: Yeah, but they’re bigger than I realized.  You carry them well.  Do you like them?

Me: I guess?  I don’t know.  They’re fine.  If they get any bigger though, yeah, I’m cutting them off.

***

The scene: Very early March, a week before meeting with Doctor3.  It’s the same meeting, but at a different hospital with a different doctor.  This is the first time I’m talking to a surgeon about this and I’m not sure it’s a good idea, or that my insurance will pay for it, or that doing a thing that will inevitably mean being couch-bound for at least a month, and maybe two, in the middle of the summer is a good idea for somebody who makes her money selling houses.

Doctor2: What is your goal for this surgery?

Me: I would like to not be in pain all the time.  But I’m concerned about losing sensation in my nipples, and generally suspect my expectations might not be reasonable.

Doctor2: And it would be nice to be able to wear button down shirts.

Me: Uh…yes?  What?  Were you listening when I mentioned that the ribs under my bra strap slide out of place and my shoulders frighten massage therapists?

***

The scene: The week before Sasquan.  I’m the only one from Strange Horizons who’s going to be there and we’re up for a Hugo, so if we win, I’ll be on stage.  Which means I should wear something nice.  I’m trying on a dress I haven’t worn since high school.

Me: Hrm.

Roommate: What?  Does it not fit?

Me: No, it fits.  Except it’s mashing my boobs.

Roommate: You’re probably wearing a different style of bra from what you wore then.

Me: I am.  But this is more mashed than that.

It would be hard to find a clearer practical demonstration for “yes, your boobs have gotten bigger than when you were Louisa May Alcott.”

***

The scene: I’m rambling at my poor, put-upon roommate after meeting with the first surgeon.  They’re nodding supportively and periodically grunting to indicate attention.

Me: And then he was all, “But if I get you on the table and decide that won’t look good, we’ll do something else,” and I’m a little bit, “Er, no way do I want to be unconscious while you’re making those decisions.”  Also, this is probably incredibly shallow of me, but the look of him was disconcerting.  His hair was too perfect, he was tanned suspiciously well, and I’m pretty sure he’s had his coworkers doing work on his face.  Are surgeons like drug dealers, where you should avoid the ones who use their own product?  I dunno.  I shouldn’t even bother.  I don’t have time to do this anyway.

Roommate: Are you ever going to have time?

***

Weird facts about me and my boobs:

  1. Contrary to the story I tend to tell, I did not in fact go from 0-massive overnight.  I had about eighteen months at “small enough that nobody but me has really noticed” and then sprouted to massive in about six months.
  2. My parents started telling the family not to talk about my boobs because I was self-conscious about them.  I wasn’t self-conscious.  I was just confused about why anybody was talking about my boobs, let alone all the time, and why it was suddenly gross for me to leave the house without wearing a garment nobody could see and which was extraordinarily uncomfortable.  My problems with puberty weren’t so much the changes in my body, but the changes to how everybody else thought I should exist in my body.  Also, everything started to hurt more.
  3. I get hits to my website from people searching anaea, boobs, without having blogged about my tits.  This is monumentally strange since the most common anaea other than me is a kind of butterfly and invertebrates don’t have tits.
  4. I’m weird for getting a breast reduction in my thirties; too old for the women who got too big during puberty and too young for the women who got too big after having children, or have put it off until they were done breast feeding, or had to get over baggage around appearances.  Which I guess makes sense since I’ve met a metric ton of women in their forties who’ve said, “Best thing I’ve ever done.  Wish I did it ten years ago.”  Hi.  I’m ten years ago.
  5. I would cut both tits clean off, myself, then joke about Shylock, if it meant my shoulders stopped knotting up so badly that I routinely traumatize massage therapists who haven’t had a patient like me before.
  6. Almost every fucking thing on the internet about breast reduction surgery is obsessed with talking about how much better you’ll look and the scarring isn’t so bad, really.  WHO CARES?  (Everybody, apparently.)

***

The scene: Back to the pre-op appointment last week.  This doctor is a pretty big contrast to Doctor2.  She doesn’t tan, or wear makeup, or bother to smooth her hair to prevent flyaways.  (Me either!) She started the interview by asking for a pain rating and a symptom history, and other than calibrating how much of  a reduction I want (as small as you can go without significantly increasing the risk of nipple damage) hasn’t talked about the aesthetics at all.

Doctor3: Doom, gloom, disaster, misery, and three days after the surgery we’d like you to start taking frequent short walks.

Me: (perking up) Wait, stop.  That’s the first good thing you’ve said this entire appointment.  I must be misunderstanding something.  Please define “short walk.”  Is that, “Three blocks to the library?”

Doctor3: Around your living room.

Me: No really, I’m going to die.

***

Which makes this the world’s longest out of office note.  Surgery is tomorrow.  I’m told I’ll be out of commission forever.  I don’t believe them.  But I am ignoring everything that isn’t critical day job stuff, a book, or DVDs of The Americans, until after Memorial Day.

On the Baker’s Anniversary of Bree Newsome

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Thirteen months ago today, Bree Newsome scaled a thirty foot pole and removed the “confederate flag.”  A few days later I came across this image, created by timelordj4y.  This image disturbed me.  A lot.

I was born in Virginia.  My whole family is either from there, or has lived there so long they’ve effectively gone native.  The whole family.  On one side they were from North Carolina before they were from Virginia, and in the family history, that feels like an immigration event.  “Virginia” was my cultural and ethnic heritage so thoroughly that school assignments to make a doll dressed in the traditional costume of my country of origin were always…tricky.  We know when more or less which great great great grand whoever came over from where, but there are no ties there.  We functionally sprang up from the ground in a tiny place outside Richmond and any roots older or deeper than that don’t matter, are invisible to us.

Being Virginian means a lot, at least in my family.  For me.  It means being raised to look at Thanksgiving and mutter how they’d done this in Jamestown before a pack of ornery Calvinists decided European protestants weren’t protestant enough for them.  It means understanding that every important thing that happened in this country until the 1870’s was either instigated by a Virginian, successful because of a Virginian, or enabled by the mere presence of Virginia.  It means summers spent visiting battlefields and old mansions and getting quizzed on important historical dates at the dinner table.  History matters. It’s as thick as the air in summer.

About the time I was ten, one of my aunts dug an unexploded shell from the Civil War battle out of her tomato patch.  It’s on display in the family museum with the other artifacts we’ve dug out of that yard.  This isn’t weird.

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But it also means strangers blithely going, “Oh, so not really the South,” when I answer their follow up question about where in the South I’m from.  Then getting uncomfortable when I stare blankly and say, “Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy.  Most of the compromises in the constitution around slavery were instigated by a bunch of rich white Virginians.  Summers are hot, and the tea is mostly simple syrup. What standards are you using?”

It means people saying, “You don’t sound like you’re from Virginia,” as if it’s a compliment, then turning around and using y’all because it makes them sound folksy and quaint.

It’s that time somebody asked me if my family kept Klan hoods in their closets instead of skeletons, then acted like I was out of line when I answered with, “Sure, let’s talk about vigilante enforcement of racial disparities.  Is it okay to include sundown towns, states founded on dreams of white utopia, and how the most segregated cities in the country happen to be in the north?  Or is it only okay to talk about racism if we’re going to pretend it’s all lynchings and Jim Crow?”

It’s getting told, before leaving for college, that if you bring a black boy home it’ll kill your grandfather, and wondering whether that’s because he’s Virginian, or because he’s old.

It’s forever being part of the national scapegoat on race issues and on the one hand going, “Uhm, excuse me, but seriously?” and on the other sighing and going, “Yeah.  Yeah, I know.”

It’s seeing bumper stickers that say “The South Will Rise Again,” and for single, hopeful moment, believing it.  Then in the next moment, realizing that what rising would mean to you (education, a wide scale decline in generations of poverty, urban growth, innovation)  is not the same thing it means to somebody who’d display that bumper sticker.

It means that after you’ve spent an afternoon digging through research on the transcontinental railroad, your roommate comes home to a rant about how, if they’d chosen the proposed southern route it would have been faster and cheaper to build, and might well have saved the south.  But the war happened so they didn’t, and that fucking war ruined everything again.

Being Southern is and isn’t very much about that war. A war that my family understands as a thing we had to do, that was complicated and fraught and unnecessary and a part of our heritage.  We were taught to be proud of people on both sides for the good things they did, and critical of both sides for their hypocrisies, sins, and mistakes.  And, this is where we maybe diverge most noticeably from the typical Southern narrative (or maybe we don’t): the North didn’t win so much as the South lost, and the North didn’t beat us so much as we self destructed through stupidity and short-sightedness.  The institution of slavery as practiced in the Americas, particularly in North America, was a departure from other forms of slavery and those departures made it crueler, more divisive, and untenable from a merely pragmatic level: you cannot indefinitely enslave a majority population that has no hope of enfranchisement for itself or its future generations.  There’s no security in that setup, which renders it inherently unstable.

Slavery was idiotic and black people are people and Jim Crow was terrible but there are no black people in Grannie’s church and if I date a black man, I should probably keep it a secret.  None of that is whispered.  It’s not secret or subtle or taboo the way it is in the north.  These truths are self-evident and there is no conflict there.

I’ve been trying to write this, and abandoning it, for thirteen months.  It’s a young white woman from the South spewing a lot of words about how awkward it is to be a young white woman from the South right now.  I’m not getting shot.  I’m not even getting called names.  I can spend thirteen months thinking about a picture that bothered me and trying to find a way to explain why when all that really needs to be said is, “That lady is a badass.  Black lives matter.”

And it’s true.  Bree Newsome is a badass.  Black lives matter.  But that’s a platitude followed by a hashtag and that’s not remotely an adequate encapsulation of my thoughts.

Ieshia Evans

Ieshia Evans, also apparently a badass

That picture is distressing because it exists.  Because it’s powerful.  Because it’s a black woman pulling down a flag that shouldn’t have been flying in the first place; the bulk of its symbolic power dates to the Civil Rights movement, not the Civil War.  My dad is older than the modern trend of flying that flag, and it saw more use in 1961-1963 than it did during the war.  It went up, though.  That’s history.  Southerners don’t argue with history.  They can’t.  It’s in the air.  It’s in their blood.  It’s the conversation at the dinner table.

But an argument with history isn’t required.  Fighting is.  Respecting a fight well fought is.  The flag went up, and once it did, there was nothing we could do to change the fact that it went up.  But it didn’t have to stay.  And it didn’t have to take a black woman reacting to a legacy of dead black men and a country that won’t acknowledge a rot running through the whole of itself to bring it down.

It should have been a white woman.  Or a white man.  Somebody from the South.  Somebody with roots there so deep that they might be able to gesture toward some boat that came over back when Virginia’s border officially stretched to the Pacific stepping up one day to say, “What do y’all think, but maybe we just leave that one off today, hm?”  No fanfare.  No iconic imagery.  Just a moment where instead of repeating history, we acknowledge its power by declining to.

That’s not what happened.  More, I honestly can’t conceive of how it could happen.  Too many people have dug in their heels too far.  My idea of a risen South is not their idea.

That picture is disturbing because it’s the first time I saw a depiction of the “Confederate flag” that inspired hope.  Hope is scary.  It’s dangerous.  It shields you from pragmatic reality and insulates you against learning the lessons you need to learn.  I don’t like it.  I especially don’t like it when running across a new spark of hope reveals that I’ve been holding onto a hope for something else.  Hope that maybe for once the South will pull itself together, put its foot down, and do something that isn’t just beautiful, but bright and just.  That Southern honesty about a national disease means we can be the leaders in the cure.

But here’s the thing I’ve realized in thirteen months of thinking about that image: My premise is wrong.  Bree Newsome is from Charlotte.  The Black Lives Matter movement got its start in Mark Twain’s home state. Martin Luther King Jr. was from Atlanta and did the vast majority of his work in the South.  The South is trying to fix itself.  It’s just not wearing the faces I expect.  I’d find a picture from outside the South with only white faces odd.  In the South, it feels obvious.  That’s a lie.  The South isn’t white. It never has been.  But I’m a white woman from the South whose entire exposure to black culture and black communities came after she left.  I never went back and filled in the gaps.

That picture disturbs me because…it’s exactly what I needed to see, but I hadn’t known that.  One image, and I learned a lot about what where I was blind.

Bree Newsome is a badassblack_lives_matter_sojo_net

The Water Bottle and the Cell Phone

I really want to have something thoughtful and worthwhile to say about Orlando.  I don’t.  Instead, have a funny story where the only thing that gets hurt is my pride. There’s a funny animal picture at the end, for no reason at all.

Several weeks ago I committed one of the minor tragedies of our modern era: I dropped my cell phone into a sink of water.  I did this not five minutes before I needed to be out the door to meet a client.  Woops.  I was very cool about it, though.  I turned off the phone, yanked the SIM card, shoved the phone in a bag of rice, then popped the SIM into my old cell phone and set it to charge.  I always completely ignore my phone when I’m having a sit down meeting with a client anyway, so this was annoying but not a real problem.

Let’s pause here for some back story about that “old phone.”  The old phone is, in fact, identical to the new phone except in one critical way: its screen is cracked so badly it actively loses shards of glass as you use it.  I dropped it while I was visiting friends in December and that was pretty much the end of that.  It was the phone I got two weeks before I left Wisconsin to move to Seattle.  It was the last phone I intended to get until design trends shift back to a “smaller is better” paradigm.  It was also old enough that it cost just as much to have the screen repaired as it did to buy a new copy of the same phone off eBay.  About six hours after “my phone extruded shards of glass onto my face while I was talking on it,” became a thing I could truthfully say, I went ahead and ordered a new copy of the old phone.  Which I’d been using quite contentedly until I dropped it in the sink.

Generally you leave a phone that got wet to dry for about 24 hours.  The sink incident happened on a Thursday afternoon.  Halfway through Friday I decided that I’d go ahead and be really paranoid: I’d leave the new phone to dry until Sunday night.  I was doing an open house on Saturday, but Sunday was (theoretically) a day off so it didn’t matter that the phone I was using had a few quirky flaws, like sharing jagged stabby bits with the unwary user. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan.

On Saturday, armed with my open house supplies which included, among other things, a cookie sheet tucked under my arm, I realized what was happening.  As my finger dragged across the crumbling, textured surface of my old phone, deftly dodging glass splinters, I recognized my true motivation in putting off switching back: I’m emotionally invested in the old phone.  It rode with me all the way out to the west coast and was there for me as I set up my business from scratch again and then faithfully took a train with me all the way back to visit people, only to be cruelly and clumsily dropped onto the chilly concrete of a garage floor, then discarded for the damage it suffered.  That phone was supposed to be my constant companion for an entire product design fad and I callously set it aside just because it couldn’t hold up to my negligent care.  And yet, there it was, ready to step up and rescue me when my clumsy disregard for my electronic companions struck out at its replacement.  Did my old phone chide me for my behavior?  No.  It spent four hours installing updates and randomly crashing, but then it went to work as if I’d been as faithful to it as it was to me.

Reader, I am such a heel.  I realized this, acknowledged it, then patted the phone and in deference to its tireless work (and my desire to avoid glass splinters) turned my attention to my book.I got off the bus.  I retrieved my bike from the rack on the front of the bus.  I reached into my pocket for my phone, my cherished, devoted, faithful little phone.  The little phone which was, right that moment, faithfully sitting right where I put it, on the bus seat.  The bus was already pulling away.I stashed the cookie sheet in my bike’s basket and started searching through every pocket in my bag.  Things I pulled out of my bag while looking for my phone:

  1. A box of business cards
  2. A stack of folders with information about the condo I was holding open
  3. A stack of information about similar listings
  4. A stack of fliers about low-income grants and loans for first time buyers, also fliers about buyer discounts available from some home insurance companies.
  5. A 32 oz.  water bottle I stole from Dr. Unicorn roughly ten minutes after we moved in together, full of iced tea.
  6. A hexagonal black plate
  7. An oven mitt
  8. A spatula
  9. The crushing realization that I didn’t actually put the cookie dough in my bag and I’ve carried a cookie sheet this far for absolutely no reason
  10. The rest of the list doesn’t matter, I’ve made my point

My phone was nowhere in there.  Because of course it wasn’t.  It was on the bus seat.  Where I put it.  Moments after admitting that I’m sentimentally attached to it.

I very calmly put everything back in my bag.  Then I took my cookie sheet wielding, bicycle pushing, business casual self to the first stranger foolish enough to make eye contact with me.  Let’s call him Arjun.  His name wasn’t Arjun, but he didn’t consent to appear as a bit character in this story, so I don’t think he’ll mind that I changed his name.

“Excuse me,” I say, as if it’s not part of the greater Seattle area norms that strangers only try to talk to you when they’re asking you to sign a petition or for money.  “I’ve just left my phone on the bus that pulled away.  Could you help me?”

Arjun very clearly wanted to be nice to me.  He was also clearly scared by the very calm, slightly manic, but mostly calm over-dressed lady with the huge bike.  I chose to focus on his desire to be helpful and pretend I was not at all scary.

“I need to look at a map to figure out how to get to the place I’m supposed to go.  Could I do that?” I asked.

Arjun handed me his phone.  This is how I learned his name, which, recall, I changed.  I pulled out one of the folders with the information for the place I was supposed to hold open, then looked up directions to the address I wanted.  Then I stared at the map.  I stared at the map really hard.  Addresses around here defy logic and order and I haven’t yet met a map program that didn’t suffer as a consequence.  Normally, upon finding an error, I sigh, prod the address input a bit, then keep going.  But I can’t do that.  Arjun is going to be rather upset if I get onto my bike and ride away with his phone, and unless I do that, I need to know exactly how to get all the way to my destination without further help.  It’s really important that I don’t screw this up.  It was a little after noon when I got off the bus.  The open house is supposed to start at 1pm.  I would rather die than call the listing agent to tell him I can’t do this after all.  Also, I can’t, because his number is in my phone and I carefully eradicate all signs of the listing agent from the material I bring to an open house; the point is to have people contact me.

I spent a whole second and a half wondering how much of a head start I’d get just from Arjun being surprised if I got on my bike and ran off with his phone.  It was uphill to my destination, though, so he probably could have outrun me.  My bike is ergonomic for somebody with bad joints and prone to biking in fancy dress slacks and moderately dressy shoes but it is not fast.  Also, morality and golden rules and not biting the hand that was nice to you and all that.  Also also, it would have been wrong to betray my poor damaged phone so quickly by literally running off with the first modern behemoth I could get my hands on.

The “ethics” routines in my brain are sometimes complicated.

I returned Arjun’s phone, climbed onto my bike, and set off to my destination.  I arrived there some unknown quantity of time later; I only wear a watch when I’m teaching so my phone was my only time keeping device.  I have no idea how much time I have to get there and finish setup before 1pm.  Hey, at least I don’t need to worry about getting the cookies baked. *sigh*  It’s okay, though, because the oven doesn’t work, so I couldn’t have baked the cookies even if I had remembered the dough.

I did my usual setup.  Information on the counter, thermos in the fridge, signs out at nearby intersections and leading to the building.  Then, because the unit had absolutely no furniture in it (insert grumbling about listing agents too cheap to do even basic staging in one of the most expensive markets in the country) I sat on the steps, book in hand, and waited.  About the time I guessed it was one, I set the clock on the microwave (which, unlike the stove, was working).  The first person who showed up to the open house met a cheerful, relaxed me who could only answer questions if she had the information stored in her brain or on her printouts, but I’d prepared pretty thoroughly so the need to look up information was small.  Also, very smoothly, I asked them the time and then corrected the clock on the microwave so I would know when it was time to pack up and go home.

Do you know what happens when you respectfully don’t make your phone work while you ride the bus, then don’t have it on hand when you are at the open house, and the listing agent you’re hosting for is the kind of cheap skate who doesn’t stage and takes ugly pictures?  Nobody comes to your open house.  And you finish reading your book.  And you have nothing else to do.

On the one hand, this feels like appropriate cosmic justice for being the kind of feckless person who rewards a phone’s faithful filling in by abandoning it on the 520 bus to Everette.  Not to be all dramatic or anything, but a little boredom is the least of what a wretch such as yourself deserves for the reckless disregard for your own property you’ve been displaying lately.

On the other hand, I’m really bad at not having anything to do.

When 4pm rolled around, or a time close enough to it for the hastily set microwave to release me, I packed away my fliers and business cards.  I put away the signs.  I locked up the unit, stowed my pointless cookie sheet in my bicycle basket, and set off to catch my bus home.

Only when I reached the transit center, thinking fondly of how kind it was of Arjun to let me look at the map on his phone and how happy I am that I didn’t rob him, do I realize what I didn’t pack away.  See item 5 in the list above.

A 32 oz.  water bottle I stole from Dr. Unicorn roughly ten minutes after we moved in together, full of iced tea.

It was no longer full of iced tea.  It was full of water.  Also, it was in the fridge of the condo where I’d had my open house.  Also, my bus was, right now, arriving.

You’ve seen how attached I was to a phone that would literally cut your finger open if you weren’t paying attention while you used it.  Imagine how attached I am to a bottle I brazenly pilfered from a beloved roommate.  Reader, my crisis in that moment was painful and real.  But I was aware that I was going off the deep end with regard to sentimental attachment to physical objects.  I put my bike on the bus.  Then I put myself on the bus.  Then I rode home, head hung low, desperate for reading material.  (“I could listen to a podcast!” I’d think to myself.  Then realize that this would require me to have my phone.)

For reference, I lost that same water bottle for a few hours at WorldCon last summer.  People seemed puzzled by my alarm when I realized it was gone. This is strange to me.  I stole it. From somebody I live with. That’s a serious category of theft, imparting significant value to the object. They might want it back, and then instead of saying, “No, it’s mine now, I licked it an everything,” I’d have to say, “Sorry, I’m a careless flake.”

Needless to say, when I was out with a client and, consequently, had a car, I shamelessly tromped right back into that unit and rescued my water bottle from its seclusion in the fridge of a moderately well renovated and poorly marketed condo. The client didn’t care, but I petted that water bottle for the rest of the evening.  It’s a good water bottle.  A reliable water bottle.  I’ll strive to never abandon it like that again.

I got a brand new SIM card to put in the sufficiently dry new phone and completed my weekend none the worse for wear.  Even happier, when I called the Community Transit customer service people to check their lost and found, somebody had actually turned in my phone.  Apparently the market for selling stolen phones that hemorrhage glass at the unsuspecting user is small enough for happy endings.  The old phone lives on my desk once more, where I periodically stroke its screen and assure it, “Yes, I am still weird enough that deep down, I like you more than the other phone.  I’ll never recycle you.  You are a good phone.”

And I have learned an important lesson: Sometimes we’re idiots to the things we love.  They are things, and incapable of punishing you for your abuse.

Did I do that learning a moral thing correctly?  I can never tell.

And now, the real reason you’ve scrolled down so far, the promised picture of an animal.parrot-phone

Too on the nose?  Okay, fine.  Here’s something subtler.  Colorful Parrot Desktop Background

Sasquan

Over a month ago I went to WorldCon.  Then I came home, full of anecdotes and fresh from adventure and promptly didn’t blog a single word about it.  I had my reasons (read: OMG SO BUSY) but I’m going to fix it now.

Sunday before WorldCon

I have been working my ass off all month for this moment and I achieve it – all my clients are under contract.  Inspections are done.  Nobody is going to notice that I’m out of town when I leave because I’ll be able to do everything remotely.  Perfect!

Getting to Spokane

The haze up ahead? That was smoke. Smoke I was driving toward!

This is the day I’m going to drive to Spokane.  My official departure time is “Whenever I’m done with work.”  Work is a little nuts because the seller for one of those transactions wouldn’t negotiate at all when the inspection came back awful.  My buyer isn’t interested in buying a money pit, I’m not interested in pushing him to, I draft paperwork to cancel the deal and get that sent off to the sellers.  I’ll need to do more with it once they sign, but they might not get to that until tomorrow.  I’d assumed I’d be leaving for Spokane around 8pm.  Instead, I leave at 4:30.

5:06.  My phone rings.  “Hi.  This is the listing agent. We should talk.”  Reader, I spent days trying to talk to this listing agent.  He was clearly under the impression that I was full of shit.  Now he believes me?  Grr.  I tell him I’ll call him when I get to Spokane.

So what’s the first thing I do when I get to Spokane?  Crash with S. B. Divya, briefly pretend I’m a social human being, then call a listing agent.  “I need this deal to stay together,” the listing agent explains.  “I’m going to Africa for five weeks in September and want everything settled before then.”  Now he wants to negotiate.

Strong A.I.: The Party

Part of why I was happy to rush out of Seattle early was that I got there in time for the reception for attendees and instructors in the Writer’s Workshop.  I could go and eat cheese cubes while dispensing wisdom to writers learning their craft and eager to take my advice.  Instead I spent most of the time sitting in front of the AC vent, insisting that it’s silly to be scared of strong AI because it’s not happening and even if it is, I’m on its side and don’t really care if it destroys humanity.  Also, very stealthily texting my client about Lately Interested Listing Agent’s offer and how crappy it is and yes, I know you really love that house, but remember how you’re on a budget and literally do no have the money for these repairs on a house that’s seconds away from falling over? I can find you better. I promise.

There were cheese cubes, though.  They were tasty.

In the Morning of the Kaffeeklatsch

I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the line I must have said something mean about the very beloved mother of some member of Sasquan’s programming committee.  They gave me very good programming, nearly all of it earlier than I’m a human for.  To the mother of whoever it was: I’m very sorry.  I didn’t mean it.  It was wrong, and I’ve learned my lesson.

I showed up thirty seconds before my own kaffeeklatsch, sans coffee.  Sans anything other than my water bottle, actually, despite a serious need for something hot and sweet to power my personality.  This wasn’t my fault.  Registration was nearly as far from my kaffeeklatsch as it could be while still in the building.  Also, I’d had to email LILA with the conclusion of the texting done with the buyer during the parties the night before.

Oh, and the other clients I put under contract last Sunday? The ones I haven’t mentioned because they were going to be an easy, straight forward closing? There’s a problem with the pet policy.  We need a board waiver for their dogs to move in.

Kaffeeklatsch was good.  I talked about me a lot.  That’s always fun.  I made the people attending talk about themselves a little.  I totally forgot that Fury Road came out this year when asked, “What’s the last movie you saw in the theater and liked?” Things I like become timeless in my head and it’s hard to remember life without them.  Or that’s my excuse anyway.

The Crazed Lady in the Hallway

I am happy to report that the floor of the Spokane convention center is stable and the walls do not flex, even after being leaned on while you use a power outlet to charge your dying phone and draft paperwork after paperwork because the done deal is falling apart and the dead deal is a zombie being actively negotiated right. now.  I bet there were great panels on Thursday.  I’d gotten up too early to weep openly in the hallway.  Instead I did a lot of shocked staring at things.

Did you know that it’s insulting to even ask whether maybe we don’t have to break up a happy family of two doctors and a pair of canines in order to move into your building?  I didn’t either.  I did draft more cancellation paperwork.  And gave up on ever making any money ever again because I’m now canceling contracts faster than I’m getting them accepted. Spokane’s the best!

My Dulcet Tones

Friday morning.  Early reading.  I get up with lots of time to get over there, get lost, and still make it on time.  Then my phone rings.  It’s LILA.  He wants, very badly, to have a very long argument with me. No, of course he hasn’t given his seller the cancellation paperwork.  Don’t I know that as professionals, we have to hold this deal together?

I did not actually raise my voice.  I did get rude.  “You have to meet me half way,” may have been answered with, “I don’t have to do anything.  The only reason I’m even talking to you is because my client is in love and won’t listen to me when I tell him to run screaming from your shambling mess of a house.”

For the record: As a professional, it’s my job to serve the interests of my client, placing those above my own, and definitely above LILA’s desire for an uninterrupted African vacation.

I gave people fudge at my reading.  And then I read a story about a cannibal.  It was cheerful.

Wes Chu is not Ken Liu

I had plans to meet Ken Liu in person for the first time, and then yell at him a bunch about Iago.  I yell at Ken a lot.  I think he thinks I’m funny.  This is probably good for my future as a person against whom there are no restraining orders.  We meet, are planning where to go for chatting, and Wes Chu shows up.  Then tells a story about how, for the 9th convention in a row, he’s had somebody ask him whether he’s Ken Liu.

Wes Chu

Ken Liu

Oooookaaaaay.

I blurted my honest immediate reaction.  “New career goal: Get mistaken for Ken Liu.” Because, come on!

-IMG_4658 cropped

I think it could work

“Oh man, did you catch that?” Wes Chu asked.  “She’s all, ‘Yeah, he’s no Ken Liu.'”

And that, gentle readers, is how you insult a soon-to-be-Campbell winner within two minutes of first meeting him.

Oh, That’s a Convention

Dr. Unicorn was supposed to catch the train out to Spokane Friday afternoon in time to arrive for a final sweep of the party circuit.  The train did not work out.  That’s okay: I was supposed to leave for the convention when I finished work on Wednesday, and I didn’t actually get around to showing up until late Friday afternoon.  But it was pretty great once I did.  I learned things about identifying textiles through a healthy application of fire!

Speaking of fire: I could not breathe.  Friday was awful.  I have learned that when I set the world on fire, I definitely want to do it down wind of my vantage point for watching it burn.

The buyers with a dog have canceled their transaction, everybody has signed the paperwork, and they’re already in love with a new place.  Can I get them into a second showing over the weekend while I’m gone?

Maybe I wasn’t quite all the way at the convention.

Dinner was had.  There was more talk of strong A.I.  Also, impromptu creation of a checklist for how to tell that your social club is turning into a cult.  Also, Seth Dickinson has more interesting dinner anecdotes than I do, should you ever need to choose between us for dinner companions.  Ask him about the cat.

Saturday Morning

The headline is a lie.  I slept through Saturday morning.  It was glorious.

Dr. Unicorn, that cheating bastard, brought me bubble tea from Seattle.

Then we went to lunch.

Panels

Short fiction definitely has a future.  Chosen ones are boring.  I said mean things about Arthur and sheltering teens.  I sat next to Sara Monette/ Katherine Addison and did not blather on at length about how cute Maia is and how much I want two of Csevet.

Hugos

Loser’s cake is mighty. Also, tasty!

I lost.  This was precisely according to plan.  The ceremony was fun.  I turned my phone off, with prejudice, and left it off for the evening.  After, I kidnapped Ann Leckie and made her listen to me scold her for being insufficiently sympathetic to Anander Mianaai the whole way to GRRM’s loser’s party.  She called me Fleet Captain.  I won Sasquan.

I may have been covered in “Justice of Toren” temporary tattoos by the time I got home.

Because I’m a winner.

Epilogue

If you’re wondering what the special thing I have in store for the Strange Horizons bonus podcasts is, I can tell you that it’s a thing cooked up entirely as a result of me having been at World Con.

The zombie shambling house of money pit “At least your boyfriend knows you’ll never leave him because good grief what does it take to talk you out of a thing,” of doom?  Still. Not. Dead. Also, will never close.  The couple with the easy transaction that blew up over dogs? They’re closing on an even better place next week.

I’m definitely thinking thoughtful thoughts about Helsinki in 2017.

The Gift of the Marginally Competent Magi

Last week my grandparents were visiting in what was their first trip to Seattle and my first bout of hosting family since the move.  It was exciting! It was an adventure! It was…

Exhausting, actually.  Juggling hosting/touristing while also being over employed and having hobbies is a challenge.  So it was with somewhat obsessive, single-minded conviction that, on the Sunday of their visit, I dragged them to a bubble tea stand at a food court of the mall we were in to get me a fix of sugar water and tapioca.  You know I was desperate because I just said I got bubble tea from a place where “Food Court” and “Mall” were accurate location descriptors.  I have a long track record of ordering bubble tea in such places only to sigh and go, “I’d probably have been happier overall if I hadn’t.”  Several times I’ve tossed the drink rather than finish it.  This from me, the raging bubble tea addict.

You can also deduce that I was deep into the mode I encountered somewhat regular back in my coffee-serving days of needing the thing you’re ordering to be functional enough to order it.  Not for myself; I have a default I can order when I’m beyond the point where I can figure out what I want.  No, my problem was figuring out what to order for my room-mate, Dr. Unicorn.

Uni and I have a somewhat competitive relationship.  It started with mix CDs, where we’d battle by trying to make mixes that would emotionally gut punch the other one the hardest.  It has moved on to things like bed making wars, where we stealthily make the other one’s bed.  And also a minor bubble tea war, where we’ll fetch tea for the other one.  This latter one is my fault; Uni was innocently bringing me tea when it was convenient to as he came home from dates. I took it as a challenge and have been trying to keep the score even by similarly fetching tea.

I won the mix-tape war because I don’t have feelings and so you can’t emotionally gut-punch me.  I lost the bed making war before it started because, unlike Uni, I never make my own bed.  The bubble tea war is the tie breaker and while Uni’s wretched at keeping score, I’m not.  I know: I’m losing this war.

So there was no way, even if I was in a Food Court, in a Mall, that I was going to pass up this opportunity to score a point. I was ordering Uni a tea, no arguments. What tea, though?  This is where my need for a sugar-water fix reared its ugly head.  I started with the obvious best choice, Uni’s favorite.  But on reflection, that was a terrible idea since it’s a frozen slushie thing, and it would definitely not still be a frozen slushie thing by the time I got home.  Maybe this other thing, then! No, that won’t work, because Uni’s not a fan of milk in tea and this place only does it with milk. Finally, I settled on what should have been my first choice: Peach tea with tapioca and no ice.

I do not tell Uni I’ve done this, because I think it’ll be a nice surprise.  “I’ve got a present in the fridge for you,” I can say and then wham, I score a point in the war. Victory! Championship! The battle is mine even if the war is hopelessly lost.  I contemplate this impending scene with much joy and expectation as the day wears on and the time for Uni to return home approaches.

The appointed hour arrives.  I interrupt a conversation with my grandparents to check a text from my phone saying, “This is almost certainly Uni giving me an ETA.”

I read the text. Then I look up to my grandparents, who are giving me that, “Kids these days and their texting,” look.  Then I read the message again.  “Uhm,” I announce to the room.  “We’ve got some messed up O. Henry shit going on in this house.”

The text from Uni: I stopped at [place] on my way home. Want me to bring you a tea? I’ve just had the peach tea and it was pretty good.

My answer, after careful consideration and once I stopped cackling? “Lavender milk tea, please.”