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Cakewalk for Democracy February 23, 2008

Posted by flyingsirkus in Uncategorized.
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Photo by Sam Morris

Delegates and alternates crowd the hallway leading to Bally’s convention center as they wait to get in to the Clark County Democratic Convention Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008. Image from The Las Vegas Sun.

Today I arrived at the Clark County Democratic Convention at Bally’s Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip to fulfill my obligation as a delegate from my caucus location for Senator Barack Obama. Having participated in the last two presidential contests from the dazzlingly bizzare vantage point of Florida residency, I take very seriously the idea that one person can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of an election. Therefore, I feel it is my responsibility to stand up and be counted, and in the State of Nevada, that meant both caucusing for Senator Obama and volunteering to be a delegate at the County Convention representing his campaign for Clark County.

I cannot express how delightfully shocked I am that so many of my neighbors in the Democratic party feel the same way. The caucus took place a few weeks ago, and for the first time Nevada was one of the first major contests, which motivated a lot of people to make an initial stand for their candidate. Because I was working on the Las Vegas Strip on the Saturday morning the caucus was held, I was afforded the opportunity to leave work and walk to a caucus location set up by the Culinary Union at the casino next door.

The Culinary Union (of which I am not a member, but my husband is) worked with the Nevada Democratic Party to make the Las Vegas Strip what is called an “at-large” district. What this boils down to is essentially a secondary caucusing location (not based on home address) where qualified voters could caucus. Qualification to attend a caucusing event at an at-large district location was based on whether or not a voter was scheduled to work that day on the Strip, and was intended to be a way of enfranchising the thousands of eligible voters in Las Vegas who, by necessity, work on Saturdays to keep the Strip, the revenue-generating engine of Las Vegas, running.

Because I was working that Saturday morning, I was eligible to caucus at the at-large district at the Luxor. My local contact for the Obama campaign was an at-large organizer, and he informed me that I should be at the caucus location by 10:30, registration would be over by 11:00, and the caucus would kick-off, count voters, and be over by noon at the latest. I shared this information with my employer, and off I went to do my bit for the democratic process.

All went well for the first forty-five minutes. The ballroom where the caucus was held filled with a steady trickle of people, and the general curiosity of the caucus process made for engaging conversation with politically-minded strangers. The room kept filling with people, and as I checked my watch, 11:30 ticked by without so much as an announcement from one of the official-looking people engaged in conversations around the room. At 11:45, the announcement was made that the people outside at the registration tables were still working on processing registration for the multitude of people who had arrived ready to caucus, and that we were to sit tight. I called my employer to let him know I’d be delayed, then watched and listened as the caucus unfolded.

The at-large district consisted of convention rooms set aside at about every third casino up and down the strip. I worked at the southernmost major casino on the Strip, Mandalay Bay, and so my location was next door at the Luxor. Employees from the casino next door to that, the Excalibur, were also using that at-large location to caucus. The organizers expected about 250 people. Close to 500 showed up. Now, a caucus is what’s called a warm-body event, which means that when a head count is called for, the actual number of heads are counted, as opposed to a primary where paper ballots representing the desires of those heads are counted. This means that 0nce you are admitted to a caucus location, you MUST NOT LEAVE until the caucus is completely over. There were no restrooms in the ballroom, and soon it was 12:15 and still no indication that any kind of count was going to happen in the immediate future.

The room was swarming with people, and organizers were scrabbling to find chairs for everyone. With all the cameras recording everyone’s every move, the aura soon turned high-school-pep-rally, with Democrats chanting the names and slogans of their candidates, trying to drown out the other candidate’s supporters. I declined to participate in the fist-pumping shoutdown, and the woman next to me berated me in the third person for not being peppy enough: “I don’t understand why SOME PEOPLE aren’t fired up,” she kept hollering in my general direction. “Why aren’t SOME PEOPLE showing their spirit?” In response, I wanted to grab the microphone from the podium at the front of the room and start drowning out the “O-ba-MA!”s and the “HILL-a-RY!”s with a perspective-shifting cheer of “DEM-O-CRATS! DEM-O-CRATS!” It seemed very silly to me, since we are all ostensibly on the same big-picture team, but as Andrew Lloyd Weber had Jesus sing to Caiaphas, “Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd? Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.”

Eventually, we all gathered in smaller groups for the ugliness that is the caucusing process. From what I understand, the caucus method was chosen over the primary method because it is relatively less expensive, but the confusion and resentment towards the political process that ensued were definitely NOT worth the cost savings. Some people, afraid for their jobs, slipped out the door and caused the total number of heads counted to be inaccurate, so heads had to be counted again and again. Others complained about being hungry, thirsty, and unable to leave to pee. Still others had to postpone plans, put babysitters on overtime, cancel later events, and otherwise interrupt their routines because of the tremendous amount of time the process took.

After everything was over, the organizers called in the final tally of caucusgoers and, in some really twisted mathematical nighmare, it was decided that something like 78 delegates were needed to represent the 460 people who caucused for Obama. How is it possible that TWENTY PERCENT have to be WARM-BODY COUNTED AGAIN? It seemed extraordinarily high and unrealistic to me. However, I figured that there was no way that many people would show up at the convention, so I signed up to be a delegate, figuring that I knew that I would at least be there.

Boy, was I wrong.

Last night, I received a recorded message telling me not to forget that the Clark County Convention was going to be the morning of February 23. I was told to be there as early as I could, and that the proceedings would start at 8:00 am and that the convention would be held at 10:00am. I dropped my son off at my grandmother’s house at just after 8:00 and drove to Bally’s Hotel and Casino. There was a wall of traffic blocking the lanes leading to the casino. “Uh-oh, Spaghetti-o” I thought, channeling the spirit of Queen Tilli.

It took me about an hour to park my car. Once I got into the casino, I was directed to the back of a line that was–I am NOT making this up or exaggerating–approximately a half-mile long, snaking its way through hallways, over ramps, and around slot machines and blackjack tables.

“Oh, well,” I thought. “If people can wait three days in line for Star Wars tickets, I can certainly wait a few hours for participatory democracy.” I tried to read, but the line was moving just fast enough and the material I was reading was just challenging enough that I couldn’t retain what I was reading. So I struck up a very interesting conversation with the man in line next to me that spanned languages, world travel, foreign cuisine, how to cheat at roulette, how to mark a deck of cards, the intricacies of being an optimistic cynical socialist, the metric system, the pros and cons of cat ownership, and birdwatching. It was a very long line; I’m glad I can talk about a lot of different things.

Finally, I arrived at the front of the line and was sent to the at-large district table to find the form I had filled out at the caucus naming me a delegate. The folder that was supposed to hold all the delegate forms from the Luxor was empty; my form was nowhere to be found. After helping the woman riffle through delegate forms, way too few for the number of people who should have been represented, I was sent to the alternate registration table and registered as an alternate. This means that I did not get to cast my vote as a delegate for Barack Obama.

However, I did sit around and wait to see if somehow, somewhere, the mysterious forms would be found. I got to do this with over a thousand other people whose forms were also lost. Visions of Florida were dancing through my head. I also saw delegate votes being collected in unmarked white boxes by volunteers, which I thought was a pretty risky practice. Who’s to say that some lunatic didn’t take his or her box into an empty room, shake all the ballots out, discard the ones that marked a choice opposing the one the lunatic preferred, and then consolidated the votes elsewhere?


I did get to hear Al Franken make a personal and funny speech over the loudspeaker that I found inspiring, but for the most part I got to listen to angry people who felt disenfranchised because the organization was so bad. Remember that theme I mentioned earlier? Four years ago, the Democratic convention had 800 attendees. This time around, they estimated an attendance of 5,000.

Over EIGHT THOUSAND PEOPLE showed up at the convention today.

The fire marshall had to work with the organizers to find space for everyone, or the entire convention would have been cancelled due to fire safety regulations. A motion was called by both the leaders of the Clinton campaign and the Obama campaign to recess the convention and reconvene sometime at least two weeks from today, but not more than a month from today. People were furious, and I can’t blame them. Many took off work, had to pay for childcare, or cancelled/rearranged plans in order to have their voices heard TODAY, and to be told they had to come back, possibly stand in another half-mile long line, and do it again was infuriating. People did not want to be rational and wait for the Democratic Party to better organize so that everyone could be enfranchised; they wanted to feel as if they had NOT wasted their entire day. However, it is difficult to move on when so many hundreds of people are looking for someone to blame, some scapegoat to vent their fury upon. Once the committee leader made clear that no voting was to take place today, I decided to leave. I knew people would not want to listen to reason until someone could explain things to them in a way that appealed to their own self-interest, and I know I will return to represent Sen. Obama regardless of what is decided in committee.

So that was today’s experience in participatory democracy. I am very disappointed that so many people did have their days wasted, but at the same time I am tingling with excitement that SO MANY PEOPLE bothered to stay as long as they did, to want to make their voices heard and to want to stand for REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT and not this “Ah’m the Decider” bullshit that has stained our democracy for far too long.

(Edited to adjust the numbers of attendees, which I recalled hearing as 50,000 anticipated and 120,000 actual, but according to official numbers were the much more reasonable 5,000 anticipated and 8,000 actual. Also added a picture of one of the hallways jammed with people. Keep in mind that there were also ballrooms FULL of people!)


NaNoWriMo October 31, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Who Am I?.
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I’m doing it this month!  November is National Novel Writing Month.  The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel by the end of November.

I’m pretty sure that the novel is supposed to be fiction, but me and Da Roolz never danced anything but a psychedelic jitterbug.  I don’t have a fictional story in mind right now, so instead I’ll be writing my memoirs.  I want to get a feel for what 50,000 words really feels like.  I’ve also been reading a lot of autobiographical stories, like Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors and Dry and the memories of food critiquing at the New York Times by Ruth Reichl, and maybe I can do some fictionalization and produce something like their novels.

Wish me luck!  I’m thinking this trip down memory lane will feel a lot like regurgitation, but the healthy kind.  Here I head down the peristaltic journalistic roller coaster.   Wish me luck!

¿Por Que, Lupe? September 16, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Friends.
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Someone was so thoughtful as to write an online memorial for Daniel Rilleau, for whom my son was named. I never met that Daniel, but he was one of my husband’s best friends and I was really touched to read all of the wonderful memories people associate with him. Another friend of mine recently wrote about how the ages in obituaries seem younger and younger to her. It’s time to contribute an online memorial for an old friend.
I used to work as a personal banker for Bank of America in Sarasota, FL. Before that, I worked as a waitress in a few restaurants around town. One of the restaurants where I worked was a waterfront seafood house called Bart’s Bayside.

There was a line cook who worked there who never failed to crack me up. His name was Lupe, and he was a teddybear pothead, always easygoing about the frantic pace of the kitchen and with a grin like a five year old’s. I remember one of the first conversations we had. Lupe must’ve just finished smoking a joint, because his eyes had that happy-sleepy red tint to them. I was walking by him in a hallway, and I stopped and said, “Lupe! You look sooooo….


I know he was expecting me to say he looked high. But when I said ‘tired’, he just grinned with relief in his shy goofy way and said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m really tired.” We both knew he was stoned. But it was a funny little moment, the kind that you never forget because the moment is just so sweetly silly.

I worked with Lupe for about three years. Sometimes we’d drink beers together after work at the bar, but mostly we just worked together, me goofing up, him just fixing the problem, then clean up, clock out, and Lupe was off in his Buicky low-rider.

Some maturity bug was biting at my ass about two years into my employment there, and I started realizing that if I didn’t stop drinking so much that the bartender would regularly let me pass out in the bathroom to sleep it off, I was going to be one of those fifty year old waitresses with the husky voice and the gin blossoms. I have always had a devil-may-care attitude toward life, but I KNEW fifty year old waitresses and they all carried huge purses to accomodate the mind-rattling number of prescription pill bottles necessary for them to function.

No, thanks.

So I started working as a bank teller at age twenty-two, mostly to curtail my blossoming alcoholism. Don’t let the twenty-two fool you. I had a fake ID at 18 when I lived in Las Vegas, and I left for Italy, where there was no legal drinking age restriction, at 19. I moved to Florida at twenty and turned twenty-one four months later. Every restaurant I worked in had a bar where I’d drink every day I worked. I’d been bar drinking for a good long while by twenty-two.

I surprised myself by being good at responsible office jobbing. I was good enough at it that I was promoted after a year of tellering to teller manager, then to personal banker. Personal bankers are the ones who sit at the desks and open accounts. In a town like Sarasota, it was really easy to get to know the same elderly people who came in every week to open a new CD or roll over an old one, and it was our practice as PB’s to read the obituaries in the papers in the breakroom, since Sarasota is second only to St. Petersburg in earning the nickname “God’s Waiting Room.” EVERYONE in Sarasota is grandparent age or older. So you read the obits to keep up with your customers, and you know to expect the estate paperwork and unfamiliar family members.

I was working as a PB at a bank inside a grocery store, and, since it was a nice day, I had decided to take my lunch outside. I was eating a sandwich and reading the obits, not really thinking about what I was reading, when the name GUADALUPE SERNA jumped out at me like a nightmare terror.

My thoughts were competing with the panicked thunder of my heartbeats for dominance in my brain. “It can’t be Lupe,” I thought. “Maybe it’s his dad?”

No. Guadalupe Serna. Born 1977. My age. My friend.

I saw the name of the funeral home and the date and time of the memorial service. I was sure I wouldn’t know anyone there. But I knew I had to be there to find out what happened, why Lupe. Bart’s Bayside was where I picked up a lot of my early Spanish, and I remember I used to have a little catch-phrase poem to greet my friend: “Hey hey, Por Que, Lupe?”

¿Por Que?

I got to the funeral home as most of the mourners were arriving. The parking lot was full of dark Mexicans, so sad, though the little children were playing together gleefully in their Sunday Mass best. To my relief, the first person I recognized was another server I had worked with at Bart’s. She and Lupe had been the closest of friends, and it was she who told me what had happened.

Lupe had been playing football in the afternoon with some friends. Midway through the game, he said he didn’t feel well, so he decided to drive home. As he was driving, he had an aneurysm and lost control of the car. His car crashed. He died on impact.

The funeral was only the second one I’d ever been to. I had never seen an open casket, and the shock was tremendous. Lupe was in his white football jersey, and he looked for all the world like he was in the middle of a sweet dream. I don’t remember the priest’s words at the funeral. But I do remember a friend of Lupe’s, whom I’d never met, sang and played one of Lupe’s favorite songs to say goodbye.

I still tear up and smile when I hear Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”

Glurge and Snark September 6, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Jesusitis.
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A woman on one of my Atheist parenting boards posted this email she was sent by a friend:

Breakfast at McDonald’s

This is a good story and is true, please read it all the way through until the end! (After the story, there are some very interesting facts!):

I am a mother of three (ages 14, 12, 3) and have recently completed my college degree. The last class I had to take was Sociology. The teacher was absolutely inspiring with the qualities that I wish every human being had been graced with.

Her last project of the term was called, “Smile.” The class was asked to go out and smile at three people and document their reactions. I am a very friendly person and always smile at everyone and say hello anyway. So, I thought this would be a piece of cake, literally.

Soon after we were assigned the project, my husband, youngest son, and I went out to McDonald’s one crisp March morning. It was just our way of sharing special playtime with our son. We were standing in line, waiting to be served, when all of a sudden everyone around us began to back away, and then even my husband did.

I did not move an inch… an overwhelming feeling of panic welled up inside of me as I turned to see why they had moved.

As I turned around I smelled a horrible “dirty body” smell, and there standing behind me were two poor homeless men. As I looked down at the short gentleman, close to me, he was “smiling”. His beautiful sky blue eyes were full of God’s Light as he searched for acceptance.

He said, “Good day” as he counted the few coins he had been clutching.

The second man fumbled with his hands as he stood behind his friend. I realized the second man was mentally challenged and the blue-eyed gentleman was his salvation. I held my tears as I stood there with them. The young lady at the counter asked him what they wanted.

He said, “Coffee is all Miss” because that was all they could afford. (If they wanted to sit in the restaurant and warm up, they had to buy something. He just wanted to be warm).

Then I really felt it – the compulsion was so great I almost reached out and embraced the little man with the blue eyes. That is when I noticed all eyes in the restaurant were set on me, judging my every action. I smiled and asked the young lady behind the counter to give me two more breakfast meals on a separate tray. I then walked around the corner to the table that the men had chosen as a resting spot. I put the tray on the table and laid my hand on the blue-eyed gentleman’s cold hand.

He looked up at me, with tears in his eyes, and said, “Thank you.”

I leaned over, began to pat his hand and said, “I did not do this for you. God is here working through me to give you hope.”

I started to cry as I walked away to join my husband and son. When I sat down my husband smiled at me and said, “That is why God gave you to me, Honey, to give me hope.” We held hands for a moment and at that time, we knew that only because of the Grace that we had been given were we able to give. We are not church goers, but we are believers. That day showed me the pure Light of God’s sweet love.

I returned to college, on the last evening of class, with this story in hand. I turned in “my project” and the instructor read it.

Then she looked up at me and said, “Can I share this?”

I slowly nodded as she got the attention of the class. She began to read and that is when I knew that we as human beings and being part of God share this need to heal people and to be healed. In my own way I had touched the people at McDonald’s, my son, instructor, and every soul that shared the classroom on the last night I spent as a college student. I graduated with one of the biggest lessons I would ever learn: UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE.

Much love and compassion is sent to each and every person who may read this and learn how to LOVE PEOPLE AND USE THINGS – NOT LOVE THINGS AND USE PEOPLE.


This is a great example of glurge, and very poorly written glurge at that. If you are a big fan of glurge, then please read no further. You’ll just get upset. If, on the other hand, glurge makes you go all snarky (like me), then please enjoy my alternate ending.

I leaned over, began to pat his hand and said, “I did not do this for you. God is here working through me to give you hope.”

I started to cry as I walked away to join my husband and son. When I sat down my husband smiled at me and said, “That is why God gave you to me, Honey, to give me hope.”

We held hands for a moment and at that time, we knew that only because of the Grace that we had been given were we able to give….

Well, we all sat down to eat our blessed McBounty, and the homeless men sat a few booths away. We were laughing, having a great time as a family, sharing our favorite Bible verses about how Daddy is the Boss of the Household and how Mommy had better ask next time before spending Daddy’s hard-earned money on fucking bums, because Loving Heavenly Father had given ME to HIM, not the other way around. Then, my little boy said to me, “Mommy, that man is choking.”

I looked over to where he was pointing and saw that the smelly man God had just blessed with free McMuffins was clutching his throat, much like he had clutched his coins earlier. The gagging sounds he was making sounded like the noise my Hummer was making right before we discovered those other homeless people huddled beneath the hood, looking for a little warmth. He fell to the floor, blue with lack of oxygen where he had once been blue with lack of warmth.

The homeless man’s friend looked at me, with pleading eyes. “Ma’am,” he said, fumbling his words, “my friend needs mouth to mouth. Can you please help?”

I turned to my son. “How lucky you are to see this!” I said to him. “Jesus is calling this man home to Heaven!”

With that, we all rushed out the door into the roomy comfort of my megaSUV, where we sang Bible tunes as we sped off toward home, our voices echoing in the cavernous vehicle with all the wonder of Gregorian chant.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Yes, I’m callous…when I’m calling BULLSHIT. Chicken soup supersaturated with sugar…I heart Barbara Mikkelson.

My Life Defined, Part II August 16, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Dad, Individualism, Who Am I?.
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Some more memories to catalog…

My First Political Awakening:  It must have been 1984.  I would have been starting the third grade.  Of course, it was an election year and my elementary school was doing mock elections.  I grew up in a particularly military-heavy community, so most everyone’s parents were conservative Republicans and adamantly pro-Reagan.  A classmate asked me who I was going to vote for.

“Reagan,” I said, without a thought.   Then, she asked me a question that changed something in me.


The words started coming out of my mouth before I could stop them, and I remember the thought process as if the sentence was being diagrammed as I spoke it.  I knew as I spoke that I WAS WRONG.

“Because that’s who…my…dad…would….vote…for.”

Then it was crystal clear.   I was NOT my dad.  I was ME, and I was about to do something that had been drilled in my head was my SPECIAL RIGHT as an American.  I was going to vote, and I knew that it should be meaningful.  My answer was horrible.  An interest in politics was born.

I started paying attention to the six o’clock news, which was always on when my dad was home.  This was well before the age of twenty-four hour news networks, back when you read the morning news in the paper over coffee and caught the nightly broadcast before Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!  I started asking questions about the broadcasts, about Presidential speeches and national news.  Then I’d question my dad’s answers.  Dad took these questions as arguments, and would eventually answer my questions with this awful phrase:

“One of these days, Kristina, you’ll realize that you’re wrong and I’m right.”

I am thirty years old, and to this day, my dad considers my political preferences to be nothing more than rebellion against his superior ideology.   The fact that I am a liberal progressive today has much more to do with an abiding interest in creating a society I believe is good, not nostalgia for a society that never existed except in the minds of 50’s TV scriptwriters.

My First Awareness of Racial Differences:  My best friend growing up was the girl who lived next door.  Her name was Tracy, and she was three years older than I was.  She had an AMAZING collection of Barbie dolls, Barbie toys, Barbie clothes…baskets and baskets full.  We played Barbies together every day on the walkway in front of my house.

One day, I decided to ask her a question that had been sitting in my head for a few weeks.  “Tracy,” I asked as I changed my Barbie’s clothes, “what’s it like to be black?”

She gave me a funny look.  “You’re not white,”  she said, and that was her entire answer.

Looking back, I can’t believe how much her answer shocked me.  My dad has blonde hair and blue eyes.  My mom is from the Philippines.  I had never thought of myself as anything BUT white.  I remember looking down at my arm and SEEING, for the first time, that my skin was really not white, but a deep tan from playing outside all summer.

Sure, I had grown up listening to my mom speak Tagalog to her friends, and to my mom and dad speak Tagalog at dinner when they wanted to keep something from us.  Yeah, my favorite foods were lumpia and pancit, and my favorite bedtime story was my dad’s version of Brunettelocks, where Goldilocks turned into an “Ay, ‘sus!” exclaiming, change-the-f’s-to-p’s talking scatterbrained Pinoy.  But all this was COMPLETELY NORMAL.

I think a huge part of my perceived whiteness stemmed from NOT being members of the Roman Catholic church.  Filipino households, to me, were like holy sanctuaries in and of themselves.  Gilt-enhanced paintings of The Virgin Mary and The Sacred Heart were ubiquitous in every Filipino household, as were statues of Mary looking down while standing in a fountain and omnipresent candles burning behind stickers of Jesus on tall glass canisters.  Oh, and there was the vinegary smell of fried fish that permeated the air in most Filipino houses.  Not ours.

The other part of my whiteness came from having an extremely ordinary name.  The Filipina girls I knew were named Rummalee and Cinderella, Madonna and Natividad.  They had last names like Macapagal, Abacahin, de la Cruz, and Santos.

Who, especially me, would have pegged Kristina Brown as a Filipina??

I thought I was going to uncover some great secret about Blackness; instead, I discovered my obvious Brownnness.

Do This In Remembrance of Me June 27, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Individualism, Who Am I?.
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If there’s one creepy common denominator among Christian religions, it’s the seriousness with which they regard that cannibalistic grape-juice-and-saltine ritual called Communion.  In the Fundamentalist Evangelical church I grew up in, if a person did not confess all the sin in his or her heart prior to partaking in Communion, sanguinary punishments lurked in the participant’s near future like Donkey Kong shooting up steroids behind a barrel, ready to decimate the physical body of the otherwise devout believer neatly and completely.  I found Communion terrifying as a child, and I was torn between the disappointment of my parents and everyone else in the church watching me refuse Communion because there might have been a moment that I thought my sister was a jerk that I forgot to confess, and braving the wiles of a hopped up Jesus, ready to destroy me with maggots in my muscles for daring to eat of his body and drink of his blood with a fleeting yet unconfessed moment of sibling derision still lingering in my heart.

The ritual was always the same.  The round double-decker silver plate, with the handle that doubled as a decorative cross, was passed around, filled with dry matzoh wafers.  It was explained that yeast, or leaven, represented sin (How?  Does sin eat the sugar in your soul and fart CO2 bubbles to make you rise until you’re light and fluffy?  I never got that part.) and so therefore the body of Jesus had to be broken from a big flat cracker.  I remember for a time, we attended a Southern Baptist Church that forbade the women from wearing pants, but used Wonder Bread for Communion.  I, and many others from my original church, refused to take Communion, Wonderous though the Bread may have been.  As the last parishoners took their crumb of the Savior, the pastor would recite I Corinthians 11:24:  This is my body, which is broken for you.  Take, eat, and do this in remembrance of me.

Consumer Christianity.  Literally.  But what if Communion was productive?  Wouldn’t that make it better?

I was thinking about this ritual earlier this week.  I took a short trip back to my hometown to visit my friend Ryan.  We stayed at his mother’s house, which is in the same neighborhood where I went to junior high school.   I once asked him where he went when he was feeling reflective, and he mentioned that he walked to the school, which was around the corner from his mom’s house.

I had my own memories of my junior high years, but most of those involved not so much the building or my friends, but my walk to and from school.  I lived in a different neighborhood, about a mile and a half away from the school, and it was the decision I made one day when I was twelve to stop taking the bus that was the crux in my life Robert Frost wrote about.

I was about halfway through the eighth grade.  I had just moved to this middle class neighborhood from a lower class neighborhood where my next door neighbor’s dad had shot someone in the middle of the day, where perpetually knocked-up Navy wives sat in lawn chairs, mesmerised by despair, watching their Aryan brood spill chaos, like the toxic substances oozing over rashes from their unchanged diapers, across the neighbors’ lawns, where boys in wifebeaters stuck gappers in carburetors while their teenage Puerto Rican girlfriends danced pantiless on the roofs of their cars to strains of Madonna.

The girls I grew up with in Rosemont Forest wasted afternoons with their brothers watching mommy dogs devour half their new litters of wormy puppies if their families were good, and fought their horny brothers off with lots of determination but not much success if their families were not so good.  This was the neighborhood where I smoked my first cigarette, had my heart broken for the first time, and sat, enthralled, in my neighbor’s stepdad’s spare room devoted entirely to his collection of Playboys, surrounded by airbrushed centerfolds displaying their curvily scribbled turn-ons.  Our Barbies didn’t go to prom; they went straight to where Ken and Skipper were parked and popped the cheating bitch’s head clean off with one violent tug to the ponytail.

But my dad finally got promoted to Chief Petty Officer, and with that promotion came the decision to move the family to a bigger house in a better neighborhood.  The home they chose was zoned in the same school zone, but it might as well have been another country.

The girls in my new neighborhood wouldn’t have known how to handle themselves in a fistfight, but they could insult each other into little puddles of tears with casual ease.  Their clothes bore no hint of iron-ons, their mothers actually drew the hearts in their Skippy sandwiches, and their musical tastes were, in a word, banal.  On my new block (no longer a block, mind you, but a cul-de-sac), the band of choice, the unwavering standard of Cooooool, was The New Kids on the Block.

I could have given a shit about the New Kids on the Block.  This branded me, more than any other aspect of my personality, as Weird.   However, I was not tough like the girls I grew up with, the girls who could kick ass.  I was a reader, not a fighter.  So I had no idea what to do when the girls in my new neighborhood started choosing up sides in their New Kids Pubescent Sexual Fantasy League, and tried to coerce me into participating.  It was completely foreign to me.

“Mark would never love you,” they’d spit at each other, their words like Atomic Fireballs of Truth and Passion.  “And how can you think Jordan is the cutest?  Joey is so much cuter.  And he loves me, not you, you slimy cuntfinger.”

It would amaze me how hurtful those words could be to these girls–not the slimy cuntfinger part, but the “he loves me, not you” part.  They’d hate each other in the morning, write a blizzard of notes folded into factory-building shaped origami establishing allegiances,  go to war in the cafeteria in the afternoon,  then choose up sides again and do it again on the bus ride home.   It was like watching expensive cars crash, over and over and over again.  However, I was not amused by disposable dignity.

One morning, as I was approaching the bus stop, dreading the inevitable pull to choose sides in a battle I cared nothing for, something about the nasty chatter just kicked at my heart.  I decided to keep walking. I ignored the calls advising me that I was an idiot, that I missed the bus stop, Hell-looooo?  I walked a mile and a half to school, and it was the most peaceful morning ever.

That afternoon, I decided to walk home.  A few weeks later, I got a brand new Walkman, and that was it.  I never rode the bus again.  Every day I’d walk to school to the strains of music I liked.  Better the exuberance of Bette Midler singing “Miss Otis Regrets” than the intellectually toxic and pheromonally manipulated New Kids shit.

I loved that walk.  Aside from learning to ride my ten-speed, it was probably the most liberating thing in the world for me.  I felt like I flipped a great silent bird to convention and walked on in freedom.  I loved that walk so much, I either walked or rode my bike to school all the way through the eleventh grade, where the trip was about a mile longer.

It didn’t take much convincing, but last Sunday I talked my friend into walking from the junior high back to my old house with me.  I have never walked all the way home with anyone, so it was a little weird for me to have conversation where I once had They Might Be Giants’ Flood album.  As we walked, the streets took on an animated quality, with those things that had not changed taking on the quiet background peace of an Impressionist painting while the new features of the landscape stood out in sharp Fauvist relief, begging to be touched, noticed, appreciated…

We stopped at my parents’ old house and chatted for a while with a new neighbor, but it wasn’t the house that I retook the walk for.  It was for the physical memory of the walk, the memory of the roots of my individualism; it was out of respect for those things that I wanted to repeat the after-school ritual.  It is eighteen years later, and I want to feel a communion with the girl I was and maybe find something of the strength it took her to say Fuck You to those things she could not live with, to find her own beautiful way of dealing with what Tom Robbins calls “the tyranny of the dull mind.”

I found a flower bulb in the middle of the street on the way back and put it in my pocket.  I think I can make it grow here in the desert.  Grow, bloom, and flourish, in remembrance of me.

Servittude, Part II: Restaurant Slang June 18, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Servittude.

Here’s one I’ll ask your help with, with a bonus True Story at the end as a Thank You Gift.

I tried Googling “Restaurant Slang” the other day and couldn’t find a decent site listing phrases that those of us in the industry bark and bandy about all the time. All I could find were sites listing cutesy old-time diner speak (like “Adam and Eve on a raft, wrecked” for two eggs over easy on toast…no one in the modern biz talks like that unless they’re in a theme restaurant.)

Here are a few that I can think of off the top of my head from my fourteen years (!!!) as a short order cook, pizza cook, prep cook, restaurant owner, and, of course, waitron. If you’d like to comment with some contributions of your own, let me know under what name you’d like to be credited and I’ll add your suggestion to the list. It’s my list, so I reserve the right to omit suggestions I’ve never heard of or that I don’t think qualify as slang (like a Black and Blue steak, which is an actual cooking style for meat).

(insert number here)-top: Party of (x) number of people, table of (x) number of people. Table capable of seating up to (x) number of people.
All-day:  total number of a specific menu item hanging on the ticket rail (“I got five french toasts workin’ all-day” means that, as of right now, there need to be five orders of french toast in the window fast.)
Clusterfuck: traffic jam created by restaurant staff
Comp: Giving food away to the customer for promotional/retention purposes (see Spill, see Void)
Deuce: table capable of seating up to two people, more if your hostess is creative. Party of two.
Dupe: Duplicate ticket/carbon copy of an order. Also, the pad of paper used by servers to write down orders.
Dyin’ in the window: refers to food that has been sitting under heat lamps waiting for some item to complete the order
Eighty-six: to be or to run out of
Grat: Gratuity, mandatory tip added to a check
Hi-top: tall tables that require barstools/barchairs to seat. Cocktail tables.
In the weeds: So busy you can’t stop or critical mass will be reached and shit will start seriously hitting the fan.
Kill it: Overcook food almost to a cinder.
Meez: your mise-en-place, or set up
Open kitchen: A working kitchen area visible to guests in the restaurant.
Sidework: seemingly neverending list of preparatory tasks performed by waitstaff, like slicing lemons, folding napkins, polishing silverware, etc.
Slinger: server. Often preceded by hash, egg, snail…
SOS: Sauce on side
Spill: taking food that has been prepared and/or served off a bill (see Void, see Comp)
Stiff: to have been left no tip; the person who left no tip
Throw a pie: to make a pizza (see Toss a pie)
Toss a pie: to make a pizza (see Throw a pie)
Two-top: table capable of seating up to two people, more if your hostess is creative. Party of two.
Void: taking food that has not been prepared and/or served off a bill (see Spill, see Comp)
Waitron: Server
Window: heat-lamp area where food transitions from the kitchen to the dining room


This actually isn’t so much about slang as it is about shorthand. I used to work as a short-order cook in a dingy diner on the oceanfront in Virginia Beach. This was in the days before the ubiquity of computers, when waitstaff had to write their orders down on dupes and hang them on the ticket wheel for the cooks to read and fill. We had a typical breakfast menu item: your choice of eggs done your way, one of four breakfast meats, your choice of toasts, etc.

There are universal codes that every server/cook who has worked breakfasts knows: OL, OE, OM, OW, OH for egg styles (over light, over easy, over medium, over well, over hard), WHI, WHE, RYE for toast choices (white, wheat, or rye). Then there are things that servers abbreviate with a little more latitude and a little less consistency, usually the meats: B or BAC for bacon, SAU or SSG for sausage.

Let’s say the menu item number for the standard eggs-meat-toast breakfast is #3. If someone orders over easy eggs, white toast, and bacon, the server would write a dupe that looks like this:


Well, I had only been working as a short order cook for a few days when one day, the waitress hung this dupe on my wheel:


And I stood there, completely puzzled. Count? What the heck did she want me to count? The dupes were starting to pile up on the wheel, the waitress was nowhere to be found, and I could not for the life of me figure out why she wrote COUNT on the dupe.

I should mention that I was working in an open kitchen, so I was only about five feet from an entire counterful of guests.

After turning this over in my head for a while, the light bulb eventually flicked ON. She did not mean “count” like 1-2-3-4 etc. She was making up her own abbreviation for Country Ham!

I was so excited that I figured out the riddle that I said the obvious answer out loud phonetically, and without thinking, and quite loudly, and for the entire counter of guests to hear:


Ever hear an entire breakfast restaurant go silent?

Nerdcore Games Junkie June 15, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Academia, Servittude, Who Am I?.
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Wednesday was another day in the life of an eggslinger.  It was the lunch shift, and I had a dull station on a slow day.  The customers were dull and unwilling to engage with me, and so the minutes ticked by like time slogging through syrup.

The hostess sat a single woman at the center deuce in my station.  (I can’t find a decent Restaurant Slang page on Google, so I’ll let those of you outside the biz know that a deuce is a table that seats only two people.)  I noticed the woman was doing a magazine with Sudoku puzzles.  I am a big fan of mathematical puzzles, but Sudoku seems so trendy right now that I tend to shun those in favor of more classic challenge puzzles.   This doesn’t mean I won’t solve Sudokus, just that I’d pick up a Variety Puzzles magazine over Super Sudoku! any day.

This led me to think about a quote in a book I read by Anne Tyler called Ladder of Years.  The main character leaves her comfortable, predictible life one day and, on the spur of the moment, hitches a ride to an unfamiliar town where she sets up a new life for herself without informing her family.  It is an incredibly well-told story, where feminist ideas just ARE:  not pushy, not a betrayal, not bitchy or political; just the idea of a woman not having to answer to a husband and grown children she no longer feels a responsibility for and following her own whims for the first time.

Anyhow, in the book a big deal is made over the observation that a woman is rarely, if ever, seen eating alone in a restaurant without a book or a magazine.  As a woman who has done a lot of eating alone in restaurants, and a woman who has worked in many restaurants, and a woman who loves to read, I have found this hypothesis fascinating.  I have eaten out alone with and without books, and I have watched women eating alone in restaurants, and I have to say that Tyler’s observation is for the most part accurate…except for the past few years, when cell phones have replaced books as the single woman’s distraction.

Anyhow, I greeted the woman and took her order.  Ironically, she ordered almost exactly what I would have ordered had I found myself lunching at my restaurant for the first time:  an order of crab cakes and a glass of La Crema chardonnay.  I commented on this and smiled, partly out of standard waitress banter but mostly out of a sort of happy self-recognition.

A good server will walk by a table three or four times during the course of a customer’s meal.  S/he won’t necessarily say anything and may not even be noticed, but the server’s presence on the floor is vital to reading and anticipating customer needs and upping sales.  As I was walking past my customer’s table, I noticed she had moved on to a different page in her magazine.  The typeface on the page was cheerfully familiar, and it stunned me for a second.  I had to make an unscheduled stop at her table.

“Excuse me,” I asked.  “Is that….Games Magazine you’re reading?”

She smiled and showed me the magazine cover.  It was Games.

Games Magazine has been my favorite periodical ever since I was about eight years old.  As a child, I attended the Old Donation School for the Gifted and Talented in my hometown, and it was that school that taught me to love clever puzzles.  Word puzzles, number puzzles, logic puzzles, pop culture puzzles, picture puzzles…all were fair game, as long as they were challenging and threw in an egregious amount of bad puns for good measure.

Games went out of print for a few years, and I remember being happily surprised when I saw it again on a magazine stand in my mid teens.  I buy it whenever I see it, but I have realized that in the past few years, my trips to the bookstore have gotten further and farther between and I have not picked up an issue of Games probably since my early twenties.

As if my question about the magazine she was reading didn’t have the dork-identifying tone of voice that most people reserve for impossibly valuable art, cars, or cocaine, I had to let her know how I identified her choice of reading material.

“You know how I knew that was Games?”  I crowed idiotically.  (wait for it…..wait for it….)  “I recognized the typeface.”

Yeah, I actually said it.  I am about as groooovy as they come.

Luckily for me, she was as enthusiastic as I was about the magazine, and invited me to help her finish a puzzle she had been working on.  Ah, bliss.  I solved the one that had snagged her, then attempted to finish the puzzle while standing at the table.  I got all but two right away.  What a bonus!

We only chatted for a minute, but I was thrilled to talk with a fellow woman (how’s that for an oxymoron?) interested in puzzle solving.  I told her I’d blog about the experience.

Oh, yeah.  Nerd-core.

But guess who gets to wake up every morning, excitedly anticipating the arrival of her first subscription issue of Games Magazine in the mail?…

Why I Want To Be A Teacher June 14, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Academia, Who Am I?.

Here’s an essay I wrote today for admission to the College of Education at Nevada State College.

Why I Want to Be A Teacher, by Kristina Raisinbran

There is a real and contagious condition that a child must be infected with in order to understand what it is to be a success in life.  This condition is called a Love of Learning, and I am a firm believer in its communicability.  I am also afflicted with this condition, and I want to become a teacher in order to expose as many children as possible to its life-changing side-effects, including a passion for asking questions and finding answers, an awareness of the underlying beauty in the world, a zest for the written and spoken word, and a desire to be a contributing member of a progressive society aimed at cultivating the greater good.

There is a tremendous need to reach a community of children who face tough challenges in almost every aspect of their public lives.  These are the children of our immigrant community.  Many of these children are uprooted without warning from their comfortable home countries, where they were surrounded by the friends and family who have been constant figures in their lives since birth, and taken on frightening journeys into the United States, where they live lives of social isolation.  They do not speak the language and are shunned by their American peers, and because of the risks of deportation are not allowed far from the home.  Their poverty and differentness are brought into sharp contrast with their schoolmates’ new wardrobes and fancy Lunchables.

I received my Associate’s degree in Florida, where I saw firsthand the challenges the immigrant child faces, especially in regards to standardized testing.  These students were taught just enough English to get a job at McDonalds, since passing a state-level English proficiency test meant they qualified to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.  Teachers did not want these students taking the FCAT, since their lower scores would bring down the school’s grade and therefore cut the school’s funding.  I watched these children in academic limbo, being babysat in computer labs but not being taught English at a level where they would be competitive in any but the lowest of service industry jobs.

These are bright children, with interests like any other child’s.  These are children who are reachable, but they must be approached by someone whom they can trust, who doesn’t bore them, and who has clear rules and expectations.  I am multilingual.  I play guitar and draw passably.  I have a deep interest in science, theatre, and the arts. I am not afraid of classroom discipline.  And I know I can make learning fun.  My students and I would all walk out of my classroom better people.

I had the great fortune of being taught by three incredible langauge teachers.  John Mueller, my first German teacher, taught me the difference between speaking a language and communicating in one.  Leonid Kobyljanec, my Russian teacher,  taught me to value cultural differences and to have a tremendous amount of fun with incredibly difficult subject matter.  Antonio Spezia di Montespina, my Italian professor, taught me to immerse myself in language body and soul through exposure to his analysis of how Italians think based on their Roman history.  I’d use all the tools these teachers have graciously equipped me with and more in order to give these children a lesson in a subject they’ll never be formally taught: the value of intellectual freedom.

Baseball and Paris June 9, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Space.
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I love it when I have something cool to look forward to on television. There is precious little I ever really want to watch and I don’t have TIVO or a DVR, so when something is scheduled that I want to see, it’s like a little Event. And today was the scheduled launch date for the space shuttle Atlantis to head out to the International Space Station.

I love shuttle launches. I remember falling in love with them when I was in Mrs. Beck’s fifth grade class. Space was on my mind; I was preoccupied with the return of Halley’s Comet, since there was a good chance that I’d get to see it again before I died. My favorite field trip was to the planetarium, and I was fascinated with learning to identify constellations to the point where I fell asleep outside in my backyard one winter night, to my mother’s horror, trying to chart and memorize the portraits in the clear night sky.

Nineteen eighty-six was a tremendous year for space news, and the schools were abuzz because Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, was scheduled to go into outer space with the astronaut team. I remember very clearly the day of the Challenger launch. It was six days after my ninth birthday. There weren’t enough televisions to let every classroom watch by itself, so two other fifth-grade classes filed into our classroom and sat down in the rows between our desks. I remember being glad I had a desk.

Mrs. Beck turned off the fluorescent lights and we sat and watched the pre-launch while our teachers chatted with us. As the T-minus count numbers ticked downward, we chanted along with the announcer like it was the dawning of New Year’s Day. We’ve all seen video of what happened. The rockets flared, the shuttle launched…and then came the horrible branches of smoke, the panic chatter from the television, and the horrified gasps of our teachers.

This was 1986. There was no instant replay. One of the teachers turned off the television. There was no more to see. No one tried to deconstruct the tragedy; it was before the age of 24 hour analysis and commentary. We were overwhelmed just trying to process the image and the loss. I remember how quickly the conversation turned into our teachers’ recollections of the Kennedy assassination, which most of them had seen on television when they were about our ages. And I remember very clearly Mrs. Beck, the first teacher I ever loved, saying to us somberly, “You will never forget this day.”

She was right. It was my first national tragedy, the first time my heart joined the rest of America in the solidarity of suffering. It was my first experience with heroism, and it inspired a love for those astronauts which later developed into a love for space exploration. I wouldn’t discover science fiction for another five years, but when I did, I was hooked.

As an adult, I had the good fortune of living just a few miles south of Cape Canaveral for about a year, with the added bonus of being a stay-at-home mom. I had the incredibly good fortune, not only of getting to pick up the NASA channel on basic cable, but also to be able to watch the shuttle launches on television, then run into my front yard and look to the northeast and actually see the shuttle burn a bright point past its smoky trail into space. Our area code there was 321. How cool is that! I’ve witnessed three space shuttles physically take off and leave; two from my front yard in Indian Harbour Beach, and one, incredibly enough, from the campus of Manatee Community College on the WEST COAST of Florida.

So I was psyched today to watch the launch. I know from watching previous launches that if the shuttle misses its window, it can take days for conditions to be optimal enough to permit a launch. However, I still wanted to see it. There is a television behind the bar where I work, and I asked the bartender if he’d change the channel from the baseball game to a news channel.

He agreed. The countdown was at three minutes. Three lousy minutes. After one minute, the complaining started. No one wanted to watch the launch.

Have you ever seen a baseball game? I mean, really watched one? Baseball is the most boring game on earth to watch. It takes forever for anything to happen. Pitch. Swing. Did he hit it? No. Pitch. Swing. Did he hit it? No. You’d think I could take five minutes out of the game just to watch the launch, just to hold my breath with the rest of the Americans who care about space…

It took one more minute for the conversation to turn to Paris Hilton’s return to jail, and all the speculative crap that went along with it.

Oh, well. It’s not the first time I’ve felt like Diane Chambers. I remember watching the speed of the shuttle increase steadily in miles per hour, and I wondered why the rate was not given in kilometers per hour. Was it to make the numbers more meaningful to the American audience? Now, I’m the first person to step up and say that I hate the idea of the US converting to metric as its everyday standard. U.S. Customary units are MUCH more practical for everyday use and conversion, but that’s another rant all on its own. But for science, only metric will do for its capability of addressing the microtiny to the macrohuge in meaningful relationships. So why not KPH?

But I can’t complain. I may not have liked the celebrity train wreck noises my co-workers were making, but at least I got to see the launch up until the first booster dropped. Then, it was back to baseball. I mean, consider the ramifications if something were to go terribly wrong with the game, and the fans were not there to root, root, root for the home team.

If they don’t win, it’s a shame.

My life, defined: Part I June 9, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Who Am I?.
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A catalog of self-defining moments:

MY FIRST MEMORY: It’s late 1978, the beginning of the hot season in the Philippines and the end of the rainy season. I’m about a year and a half old and suffering from prickly heat. I’m lying on my stomach, wearing a cloth diaper. My dad is rubbing cool talcum powder into my back, attempting to ease the itching, and singing the song “Dixie.” This is the first thing I remember, and it makes me wonder if this was my first memory of love: comforting touch and cheerful music.

MY FIRST HEAD TRAUMA: It’s spring of 1980 and I live in a rented house on base in Guam. My mother has never cut my hair, and it is very long and shiny black. My mother has warned me about jumping on her bed, but I love the forbidden adventure. She has a seventies-green faux velvet bedspread with tassles fringing the edges. Bouncing on this fuzzy bedspread is a tactile pleasure. I flop onto my back and crack my head against the corner of my mother’s hardwood nightstand. I scream and cry and run for my mother. I find her, and she asks me if I’ve been jumping on the bed. I confess. She scolds me for a few minutes, then sends me to my room. I turn to take my punishment, and remember hearing my mother scream. My back is soaked in blood.

I am rushed to the military hospital. The doctors decide that, instead of shaving my head, examining the injury, and giving me stitches, that they are going to appeal to vanity and instead simply tie my hair in a knot over the wound and send me home with an inflated latex glove to play with. I actually suffered a skull fracture which was never subsequently examined, and I have a two inch dent in my head for the rest of my life. I entertain the idea of visiting a phrenologist occasionally, but in seriousness I wonder if this injury changed me or my perceptive ability in any way. I have an irrational fear of jumping on trampolines that has lasted into my thirties.

MY FIRST YEAR OF SCHOOL: It’s fall of 1981 and my dad has been stationed in Virginia. We live within walking distance of the elementary school, and as my mother walks me to the school I remember being impressed by the crossing guard. After a few weeks of kindergarten, my mother gets a phone call from Mrs. Dorey, my kindergarten teacher. Yes, I remember her name. Mrs. Dorey tells my mother that she doesn’t think I belong in kindergarten. My mother asks if I need to be held back. Mrs. Dorey says no, she means that she thinks I would be more suited to the first grade. My father is out to sea and so my mother writes him a letter and waits for him to make a call through the ham radio operator to discuss moving me up. They decide it would be a good idea, and so I am moved into the first grade classroom.

A week or so of first grade, and my mother gets another phone call. It is Mrs. Sears, my first grade teacher. Yes, I remember her name, too. Mrs. Sears tells my mother she doesn’t think I belong in the first grade. My mother is worried that I am suffering in the first grade, and lets Mrs. Sears know it won’t be a problem to move me back to kindergarten. “No, Mrs. Brown,” says Mrs. Sears. “I think she belongs in second grade.”

So my mother writes another letter and waits a few weeks for my father to call. This time, they decide to keep me in the first grade. They fear the social struggles I will have as a five year old in a class of seven year olds and beyond.

At my high school graduation, I joke that I’m the only senior who should have been a junior AND should have graduated already. I never felt socially awkward about being the youngest female in my class, but all my friends post high school have been, on average, a decade or more older than I and I married a man eighteen years older than I am. I wonder how significant age is to me subconsciously.

Jump on my FM June 6, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Music, Who Am I?.
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Click LAUNCH STANDALONE PLAYER to hear some of my favorite music in the background!


Right now, there is not a good code for WordPress, so I’m using the MySpace code, which is why this looks a little weird. As soon as the Project Playlist people update their codes, I’ll plug in the right one.

Servittude, Part One June 3, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Servittude.
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In case you haven’t figured it out yet, restaurant servers are an illusion. We are. We are paid a commission by the customer for the privilege of making the customer feel wealthy enough to own another human being to do the work of entertaining for them. We are, in a very limited capacity, Rent-a-Slaves. But if we are smart waitstaff and pick working environments more for their high menu prices than any other reason, we can be well-compensated Rent-a-Slaves.

In exchange for being an illusion, we tend to harbor highly frangible fantasies about our customers…or, I should say, Temporary Masters. We want to think our Temporary Masters are kind, intelligent, sympathetic to common human failings, and, most importantly, have the ability to think for themselves and communicate their wants and needs clearly and politely.

Ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha. Ha.

Waiting tables is the only profession I know of where the customer is allowed to punish the employee monetarily for any reason whatsoever, or no reason at all. You don’t go to the grocery store and ask to get free groceries because you waited longer than you’d liked to get checked out. And you certainly don’t demand that your grocery checker’s wages get docked simply because s/he couldn’t wait on you AND wait on the customer with the ten wagonloads of food in front of you at the same time. And you would NEVER suggest that your grocery checker’s pay be withheld because you bought something that, for whatever reason, you didn’t like. But people do that to waitstaff all the time.

A tip is a whip, and most people would be surprised at their capacity for mercilessness when it comes to how they treat their waiter or waitress.

What surprises me most about waiting tables is the fact that customers (and many servers themselves) don’t realize that the server is a SALESPERSON and makes more money the higher the SALES are. People tip more for the privilege of being sold more food and beverage, and more expensive food and beverage, than they do for good service.  It’s the truth.

Don’t believe me?

A server’s lousy tips are more indicative of their sales inablility than of their ineptitude as a Rent-A-Slave.

Let’s say you sit at my table and I’m your server. I’m not slovenly, or rude, or slow; just the opposite.  I’m friendly, polite, and efficient.  However, I’m a terrible salesperson. Here’s how a Lousy Server handles this breakfast. Watch the dollar signs:

SERVER: Hi, welcome to The Restaurant. What can I bring for you today?
CUSTOMER: I’ll have a cheese omelet ($8) and a glass of water ($0).
SERVER: Very good. I’ll have those out for you in just a moment.

Total Bill: $8

Tip: 10% = .80, 15% = $1.20, 20% = 1.60

Here’s a better server:

SERVER: Hi, welcome to The Restaurant. What can I bring you today?
CUSTOMER: I’ll have a cheese omelet ($8) and a glass of water ($0).
SERVER: Very good. Now, our omelets don’t come with any toast. Would you like some toast with your omelet?
CUSTOMER: Yes, I’d like some wheat toast, please. ($2)
SERVER: Wheat toast. Any juice, milk, or coffee with your omelet?
CUSTOMER: How about some orange juice?
SERVER: Would you like a large ($7) or a small ($4)?
CUSTOMER: Small’s fine.
SERVER: Very good. I’ll have those out for you in just a moment.

Total Bill: $14 (with a potential for a $17 bill if the customer had opted for a large orange juice)

Tip on $14: 10% = $1.40, 15% = $2.10, 20% = $2.80
Potential Tip on $17:  10% = $1.70, 15% = $2.55, 20% = $3.40!!!

And if it were me, I’d have offered a side of bacon, ham, or sausage at $3 to $4 a shot.  Other servers I know would have mentioned a cappucino or coffee, or even a mimosa or bloody mary.  It’s all a matter of how much you’re comfortable pushing.  You judge each table indivudually, but they’re all potential upsells.  Every last one.

See how it works? The better server, the one who makes more money at the end of the day, can offer absolutely LOUSY service, but still do better on a 10% tip than your first server, who makes only .20 more on a 20% tip!

A successful server can manipulate the whip.

Now that you understand the fundamentals of how a successful waiter’s brain works, I feel I can talk with you more intimately about Servittude…but please, let me not bombard you with 100 Reasons Why You’re An Idiot When You Sit Down At My Table. Let’s have a coffee together. It’s on the house. Read a few more blogs, then we’ll discuss your myriad shortcomings. 🙂 Thanks, and Come Back and See Us Again, Soon!

Don’t Challenge Him May 30, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Dad, Jesusitis, Who Am I?.
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My dad and I didn’t always have a rocky relationship. I learned to question from him. I learned to love math and science, German and literature, bluegrass and classical, the pleasures of hard work and the pride of supporting the underdogs of society, all from my dad. Then somehow we got parabolaed, and instead of zooming along, parallel to his life and experiences, we collided head-on and sped off, Newtonian, in equal and opposite directions. And oh, how opposite.

The point we bent around was Christianity. He found Jesus and his followers, warts and all. I found it all repulsive, angels and all. And that point is beating his plowshare into a sword, and my sword into a plowshare.

Our views on Christianity color our relationship like green mold on a vivid yellow lemon. I cannot really fathom what he thinks of me and my empirical approach to life, although I do know from the analogies he uses that he thinks I personally am dangerous to all he holds dear. Our last discussion turned ugly as he threatened to use his gun against me and “all my liberal ilk.” The prompting for this death threat? My body language. He didn’t like how I held my wine glass when I talked hard science back to his pseudoscience.

We can’t have any kind of discussion. Everything leads back to fags, liberals, and…well, fags and liberals mostly. He follows the Fundamentalist Christian Party Line like it was handed down from his Master Chief. I can’t understand how someone who understands a concept like Chain of Command so thoroughly won’t understand a simple evolutionary flowchart.

My uncle, who is also my dad’s older brother, had a few quiet moments with me at my niece’s birthday party last week. I know my dad talks to my uncle, and I also know that Dad was either avoiding me at the birthday party or he was genuinely interested in what was going on outside. Anyhow, my uncle started by identifying with me. He told me he was a Democrat, and that there were just things he didn’t say anything about in conversation with my dad. He said he respects my dad and the decisions he’s made, and so he just doesn’t say anything about anything political. Then, he quietly urged me to do the same. “Respect him,” said my uncle, “don’t challenge him.”

And therein lies my current family dilemma. I don’t argue with my dad to prove my intellectual superiority, or to strip him of his religious beliefs, or to get my Freudian rocks off. I argue with my dad because I love him, and I hate to see him fight with the deliberate stupidity with which his pastor arms him. I know my dad is better than that. I know this, because he was my teacher whom I did respect.

That’s probably the best analogy I can come up with. Let’s pretend you had a favorite teacher in school who taught, say, English. The teacher taught you to love English, to love language and to care about the words you choose, to devour books that are worth spending time with and to be able to recognize the flaws and the greatness of a piece of literature. Then, one day, the teacher (who had always spoken Pig Latin as a hobby) decides she wants to speak nothing but Pig Latin for the rest of her life. Okay, yes, you respect her decision as an intelligent adult to be a speaker of Pig Latin, but that doesn’t make her decision any less ignoble.

So fine, my dad wants to take some guy’s interpretation of a holy book and base his whole worldview on it. Even when the facts prove his worldview is seriously flawed. Now, if this were someone you loved, what would you do? It would be easy to brush him aside, to say “whatever” and change the subject to the weather and everyone’s health.

I love my uncle. I love my dad. And I just can’t do it.

I can’t sit quietly while he spouts off about how ridiculous it is to spend tax money on education. I can’t sit quietly while he makes up or quotes bizarre information. I can’t sit quietly while he praises Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in one breath and calls young black men “coons” in the next. I can’t sit quietly while he mischaracterizes the context of every political issue his pastor finds important enough to preach about.

I don’t bring up anything remotely religous or political around him. That’s as far as I can go. But, as my dad himself taught me, it does no good to limp alongside a lame man. My mistake is in thinking that the facts will convince him, but really the only thing that will convince him is for tragedy to strike him right where the pastor says it shouldn’t hurt.

I only hope he’s not aiming his real-life guns at me when tragedy strikes.

I fell in love for twenty minutes… May 29, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Individualism, Who Am I?.
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At first, it wasn’t that she was fifties pin-up gorgeous. I work in Las Vegas, and see beautiful, confident women every minute of every day at the casino where I work. It was the spiraling march of letters and punctuation that snaked around her upper arm like an Egyptian bracelet, black as her hair, that snagged one of my heartbeats and claimed it for their own.

She was chatting with the bartender, her smile so big her molars winked at me while her eyes were elsewhere. I was dressed in the unstylish all-black drab anonywaitron uniform that sucks away personality faster than prison stripes. There was a break in the bartender’s flirtatious conversation, and I grabbed it.

“I couldn’t help but notice your tattoo,” I began, my own originality spiraling away in the black void of the uniform. “What does it mean?”

She smiled, and this time her teeth full on and literally blinded me with science. “It’s a mathematical formula explaining how heat and light are transferred as energy in the atmosphere.”

‘Wow!” I said, and I walked away. I wanted her to know that I thought it was the most interesting tattoo I had ever seen in my life, and to see it on someone so achingly gorgeous was tantamount to an Old Testament miracle. It was like she’d walked straight out of Douglas Adams’ brain and into my bar. I didn’t want her to think that I was some random table-waiting idiot, and I wanted quite badly for her just to talk to me some more.

I totally forgot what I was walking away to do. I know I was busy, but at that point I could have had hoardes of angry customers snapping their fingers and glaring at me, giving me the “Miss!!” hiss, and I would have been just as oblivious. I walked back over to her.

“Did you get that just to piss off the people who think global warming is happening because they think the sun is getting hotter?” I asked her. I think it was the right thing to say. It sparked a conversation.

“You know, I never expected my tattoo to be so political,” she confided in me. I felt like I was swimming in caramel; warm and gooey inside and outside. “I used to be a physicist, and this was a formula I used often. I wanted an original tattoo, and I’ve never met anyone who has one like this.”

I knew how she felt. On a much more superficial level, I have three earring holes in one ear and one in the other. I have always wanted to meet someone else with the same combo. The closest I’ve come is a dear friend who has three in one and none in the other, and when I found that out it just made me feel closer to him kinshipwise, even though it’s a very silly club to belong to.

When she said that, I knew I was out of her league. I knew there was someone out there with a tattoo that would blow HER mind, and that would be it for her. But it never hurts to flirt, right? So I replied to her, “I’d like to get an Infinity Cat in my armpit one day.” Maybe not the best sentence to offer to further a flirtation, but I had a feeling she’d get it. I was right. It made her smile.

“You should!” she encouraged me. We chatted for a minute about global warming. It was weird for me to actually have a conversation with someone who agrees with the science I’ve read. Most of my conversations about global warming end up being debates. It made me feel awkward, like all of a sudden she started stripping off her black-and-white spaghetti strap dress. She showed me a little bit of her mind, and it was breathtaking.

I had to walk away. What was I going to do? I’m an unhappily married woman, and she was just driving a spike of fascination into my heart that I couldn’t bear to be driven in one more time. One more interesting conversational tidbit from her and I’d start falling into insanity. Life would stop making sense.

I retreated to the other end of the bar to fold napkins. I watched her intermittently. Two of my fellow waiters started chatting her up. Neither of them can use a sentence without calling the person they’re talking to “Dog.” She was having a great time talking to them, laughing at their jokes and making witty comments at their conversation. Then she was gone, off to attend a friend’s wedding, then back on a plane to Massachusetts.

I’m a pretty girl myself. I’m not shy, and I have a big laugh. I think I’m pretty smart, and a good conversationalist. And my body, while not her caliber, is really not bad. I’m no bloated egotist, but I think I’ve created an interesting person out of the life I get to live. I wonder if I’ve ever made anyone fall in love for twenty minutes?

I remember her, and I’m happy.

Divine Love Ass Wipes May 24, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Jesusitis.
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I belong to an Atheist parenting board, and for some reason, our membership was recently accosted with a flood of religious scam snailmail from an organization calling itself St. Matthew’s Church.  The letters beseech the recipient to take the offerings it sends for free, like a Miracle Prayer Rug or a Jesus Handkerchief:
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                                                        Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

What kind of snarky atheist mommy doesn’t realize the potential money she could make off of the kinds of people who really believe this shit??  Like, let’s say…the devoutly psychotic followers of Fred Phelps and his phenomenally offensive Westboro Baptist Church! These are the people who hold up signs that say “God Hates Fags” and protest at military funerals, ostensibly because God hates America now for being tolerant of His creation’s propensity for using its apparently God-given volition. Go figure.

Gene Roddenberry once said, “We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.” Maybe all Phelps needs is a good dose of Star Trek.

Anyhow, here is my latest philosophical foray into Separating Fools from Their Money. Sonny!

Dear Faithful One True Christian ™,

I received your name from the Westboro Baptist Church Prayer Chain Directory, and I knew you would be one of the few people on Earth who truly understands the tremendous amount of love God has for His Chosen People.

Recall, for a moment, the story of Balaam’s Ass:

21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his ass, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road.
 24 Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between two vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 When the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat her again.

26 Then the angel of the LORD moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. 27 When the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff. 28 Then the LORD opened the ass’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

29 Balaam answered the ass, “You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

30 The aass said to Balaam, “Am I not your own ass, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
  “No,” he said.

31 Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.

I give you these passages as a gift, because sometimes we don’t know enough as Christians to not mistreat our own asses, when it is our asses that speak the TRUTH! We should not spank our asses. Our asses were not meant to take such abuse.

We have chosen you because you, as a devout follower of Fred Phelps, have shown incontravertably that you let the Spirit of God come flowing freely from your ass. You let your ass shine. We recognize this, and find you worthy of great reward.

Therefore, in loving reminder of God’s great wisdom and mercy, please accept these Divine Love Ass Wipes. Use them to clean your asses, and to remember always the wisdom that you have that comes out of your ass, inspired by God Himself.

But there are others who have not heard the wisdom that God sends shooting forth from asses like yours. We want you to touch the asses of the unbelievers, make them hole whole and holey holy. We know that it can be very difficult to touch the soul of the unbeliever (or in the case of the atheist, to find the soul at all! ha ha ha).

Therefore, we ask that you send your Love Donation to Saint Bertrand’s Church, so that we can do God’s work in striking the asses of the unrepentant. Don’t delay…God hates to twiddle His thumbs. Or jam them up His ass, as it were.

Your Faithful Friends at,

Saint Bertrand’s Church

Who can send me a seed offering of a Pitney Bowes Home Postage Meter, so that I may commence God’s work?

“There are only two mantras… yum and yuk. Mine is yum.” May 3, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Who Am I?.
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Nice one, Tom.

I’m no Buddhist, but you must have a mantra even if you don’t call it as such. I have two.

One is quite lengthy, but it serves to calm my nerves when I go into a panic or become overwhelmed with some other pesky emotion like anger, frustration, or worry. It’s the entirety of The Nations of the World as sung by Yakko Warner of Animaniacs fame. My co-workers know more about geography than any other waitstaff on the planet.

The other is much simpler. It’s sijadasi. That’s the word Yes in each of the five foreign languages I’ve studied: Spanish, German, Russian, Italian, and American Sign Language. Two notes about its pronunciation:

1. It is pronounced with your clenched fist raised to shoulder level, thumb across your knuckles, and your wrist flexing up and down. If this confuses you, go back and read the list of languages one more time.

2. Its verbal pronunciation is exactly the same as the words “Sea Odyssey,” one of my flimsy romantic fantasies, flimsy because I get seasick faster than the fastest peristaltic roller coaster letting loose with its sour alimentary volleys.

So here begins my personal sijadasi, the spill of my thoughts dislodged by symbolic mantric chanting.