Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Welcome to Nerf University

Day 1 of Census Enumerator Training:

The Census, as you know, brings us closer to Jesus. Apparently there's some question about whether Mary and Joseph were really headed to Bethlehem, from Nazareth where they'd been living, to be counted among the descendants of David. That's supposedly how they found themselves at the inn (no vacancy) and subsequent manger. But I'm told that might not be true. Shocking.

Fast forward about 2,014 years, and here I sit at the Wyndham Garden Hotel conference room among 14 other Parkwood-ites, training to come count you. No mangers necessary.

The operation--non-respondent follow-up--is known as NRFU or "Nerf U." Rock on.

Here are some things that surprised me on day one:

... Today is all paperwork and fingerprinting. We completed 23 forms between 9 and 11:15. The afternoon is dedicated to finger-printing us--each of us twice in hope of getting clear prints. This is the fourth-and-fifth time I've been fingerprinted. I wonder if that's weird.

... Census enumerators complete DAILY timesheets. An entire page--two copies--every day, every employee. They are paying for our mileage and our time to commute to and from this training. I made $13 just by showing up.

... I have been given a card that says, basically, "I am with the census--is there someone here who speaks English?" in 51 languages, including all the ones you'd expect, but also Navajo, Nepali, Somali, Swahili, Ilocano, Urdu, Tigrinya, Pajabi, Dari, Dinka, Hmoob, and others. Burmese looks like a language of entirely backwards Cs, Laotian looks like Barbie handwriting, and Malayam looks like lace.

... I have been given a very nice U.S. Census Bureau tote bag.

... The Census is conducted by the Department of Commerce. Why?

... The Durham office employs over 1000 census workers.

... My safety is of the utmost importance to William W. Hatcher. One safety tip: Be on the look-out for deer, moose, and other animals. (No mention of tigers, leopards, or other exotic animals that are perfectly legal pets in NC).

... There is no limit to how many times the Federal government will ask you to print your name on a single sheet of paper: to attest that you have received something, that you read the something, that you understand the something, and that you will act according to the something. Then, before you sign it, you have to print your name legibly, so they know it's you. Or something.

... My 7s look funny.

Inauguration blog - Pt 3 - Jan 21, 2009

The few blog posts under this one are re-run from emails sent before I started blogging. I apologize for the repetition, but I love these stories and hope you will too!

Hi everyone!! I am so sorry it has taken so long to let you all finally know about our
Inauguration Day adventure, but I have basically been recovering from it! LOL!

It was an amazing feeling to be down there, even though we got nowhere near the actual festivities. But we were on the Mall with the other 2,499,996 people, and the amazing technology of the "jumbotrons" and incredible sound system made it feel like we were RIGHT THERE. Of course, everyone watching at home also felt that way, but you didn't have the frostbite, so we were definitely the lucky ones!

Yes, the 2:25 tap on my leg in Sue Ellen's guest room as she gently reminded me that we had to, ummmm, GET UP in the middle of the night, was a shock, but the coffee got flowing, and the warm brown sugar oatmeal kicked in, and soon enough we were showered, dressed in the fifty million layers, depends in our pockets, and on our way! Oops. Casey forgot her phone. Back in she went, and then, YES! We were on our way!

Worried we would have to wait in line for the shuttle, we were sure to arrive early to the Loudon County commuter lot. We all burst into laughter to find ourselves one of only a handful of cars. Wide, stunned eyes stared out from heated interiors as we pulled by and joined the ranks of the I-can't-believe-I'm-awake-at-this-hour waiters. When the bus pulled up, we all walked like zombies in the yellowish light.

Sue Ellen and I, of course, broke the horrified silence on the bus by whooping it up a bit. We were greeted a few minutes later by amazingly cheerful transit employees who reminded us how to get back, passed out little papers with details and travel tips, and cheerfully sent us on our way.

That would definitely be a theme among the kabillion workers and volunteers. All were smiling and cheerful, and on the Mall were calling out directions, advice, and "Welcome!" Such a great culture of "come on down!"

We then bussed and Meto'd--and again, the train driver continually updating us as we lurched along, stopping frequently to wait for trains in front of us--and finally we arrived at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro.

Along with about 800,000 others. OMG! The first hint of what was to come as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder through the people-moving area and then up up up up up the non-functioning escalators. I always love to see uniformed officers under such circumstances, and they were everywhere. We started our habit of thanking them as we shuffled past, and I was surprised by their, "Oh no--thank YOU for coming down!" responses--a consistent answer the whole time we were out there.

We then joined the crush on the street, and from then on, we were basically shoulder-to-shoulder for the rest of the day, with only short reprieves when we simply couldn't take it and would duck into a corner for some breath.

The feeling on the street when we arrived (it was still dark) was festive and chant-filled. "Yes we did!" rang out periodically, as we watched buses unload scores of law-enforcement pesonnel, smelled the already-for-sale hotdogs and various food vendors, were wowed by the bling-covered t-shirts for sale and in the crowd (Obama looks great in bead-azzle), and joined the crowd in front of the local-news camera. We watched a group of police officers surveying the crowd from a walled perch, happily taking people's cameras and taking pictures of the crowd for them.

We finally made it to an open Mall area and poured in from 12th Street, then made our way back up to about 7th Street, where we found a spot not too crowded and with a good view of the Jumbotron. I have to say, I was BLOWN AWAY by the technology. The video was clear and the sound was AMAZING. No need for the radio except for curiousity's sake to get updates on Metro, etc. Sue Ellen's blackberry email alerts (thank you Verizon for being free and clear all day) told us the parade route was filled around 9, and by 10 they were discouraging people from coming to the Mall. (It didn't stop them apparently.)

I texted a friend who was watching from home to get crowd estimates, and he said probably about 2 million. Sounds about right, and I think every one of them TOUCHED ME. OMG! But the good thing was that the crush of people kept us relatively warm, if you don't mind the claustrophobia.

The Jumbotrons played Sunday's concert to keep us entertained during the four-hour wait--we got on to the Mall about 7 a.m. By about 10 I think we decided to just sacrifice the toes we could no longer feel and debated whether numbness or sharp pain (a la fingers) was scarier.

But once the actual ceremony started, none of the other distractions mattered and all our attention was focused on the screens. Chants broke out every time an Obama appeared, and the Na-na-na-na-na-hey-hey-hey, Good bye! song when Bush was on screen.

After the ceremony was a ridiculous crush of folks to get back on the Metro, and it took us two hours of tight tight tight crowds to finally shuffle our way onto the train, and then the bus (much less crowded) and then the car (easy) and to Mark's SMILING FACE as he served up a delicious dinner in front of American Idol. I was SO HAPPY to be back in jammies and under the covers, and while I had planned to head back to NC that night, I was happy to hear the roads were icey and friends recommended I stay one more night. Phew! Thank you Mother Nature for the unexpected snow day!

It was worth it, and it was an amazing experience, but not exactly fun! I am SO GLAD to be back in my bed!

And so ends Jen's Obamablog.


Inauguration blog - Pt 2 - Jan 19, 2009

I know you've been eagerly awaiting the news... so here it is, the second installment in my grand adventure.

Let's just cut to the chase. We actually bought Depends. No lie.

And the amazing thing is, you can't just go to the store and buy Depends. Oh no! That would be waaaaay too easy. There are a MILLION decisions to make. And don't be fooled by the small little pads that look like they would be an acceptable option. Oh no, those are just for "leaks." Rest assured, not a mistake you want to make. So after about 15 minutes in the FREAKING DIAPER AISLE, we made our choice. The entire time we were there, I was getting vaguely sick to my stomach.

And just to clarify, we're not wearing them tomorrow (thank the goddess)--we're just bringing them for an emergency, the idea being that we could find a place to hide, tuck it "in," and then use it. Brilliant really, except for the ENTIRE DISGUSTING PLAN. But thank you Casey, for testing it out for us this afternoon. Phew!

On a completely unrelated note, let me tell you how hard it is to find an old-school am/fm radio. Thank you Radio Shack! Thank you NOT, Best Buy, Target, WalMart, and Circuit City. Apparently, no one listens to radio any more. Did you know that? OMG!

So, just before I sat down to write this (which has taken forever because I am simultaneously looking up big players in Greek mythology as Casey studies for her exam on Wednesday), we had packed clear ziplock bags with bottled water (never going to drink it--see the above paragraph about the Depends), cereal bars, apples, PBJs, napkins, kleenex (doubles as TP), and baby wipes. Tomorrow it's a 2:30 wake-up call for coffee and shower, wake the kids at 3, leave at 3:40 to get in line for the 4:15 shuttle. Remembering, of course, how often I'm going TO BED at 2:30! OMG!

Think of me tomorrow morning as you're rolling over in your warm snuggy bed, and then drinking coffee in a heated store, and then enjoying the ceremonies on TV.

Big sigh.

Inauguration blog - Pt 1 - Jan 19, 2009

This is the first of three installments about the inauguration adventure. Again, sorry for those of you who have seen it, but it's one of my favorite adventures...

Hey everybody!!! Here's the first installment of Jen's grand adventure!! :o)

As with all brushes with history, we start with the mundane. If you think there's something exciting in this email, think again... And feel free to skip it entirely.

As I write this, Nick is getting ready to test his tomorrow outfit. He's bundled up a la "A Christmas Story," and we all need to know, is it enough? He's about to venture out on the deck, where he will be banished for 20 minutes, to see if the outfit will stand up to tomorrow's torturous temps. The prediction is a mere 29 degrees. Holy shit!!!

I made the drive yesterday without incident. Well, unless you count the fact that my stereo died as I crossed the VA line. That meant telephone entertainment. And for all the children watching, texting at 70 mph is never a good idea...

The traffic was minimal. I occasionally saw cars decorated with Obama stickers, a few painted with slogans on the windows, and many of them packed with people. One poor woman bearing the "Sportsmen for McCain/Palin" sticker looking quite irritable as she maneuvered among the damn liberals clogging up her highways.

It's been a year since I've seen the family, and in that time Casey has become some gargantuan GROWN-UP easily as tall as me, and, as she proudly announced, nearly my weight. (We joked that all she needs is my boobs and she'd be tipping the scales right along with me. And those she'll probably have by next week.) Oh my god!!! Nick has basically shaved his head a la the major sports star he's destined to be. (And to catch you up on the weather-testing process, he just stepped out side, full of drama, "Aunt Jenny? Start the timer!" and the the primal yell as he hit the cold.)

Last night was a cozy family affair as the Steelers made their way to the Superbowl--a phenomenon that created quite a frenzy in this football-crazed, Steeler-loving house. Breakfast was started with a passionate chant of "Steelers goin' to the SOO-perbowl!" in the deep tones of full-grown Mark and the enthusiastic squeals of 10-year-old Nick. Oh yeah, a year passed and it feels like yesterday that I had my cupboard under the stairs. But this time, without an ounce of heartache. Yay!!

You would think I might have received a grand welcome, but honestly, the kids were way more interested in my iTouch. LOL! Such is the fickle love of adolescents! :o) My basement nook was meanwhile usurped by a new air hockey table (HELLO! My FAVORITE!!) and a new Ping Pong table (Nick's fave, at which I suck. Aunt Jenny is SUCH a disappointment...).

In a few, we're off to Target for a phone charger (how did I come away with every cable known to an iPod, but no phone charger? Grrrrrr.), wool socks, and an old-school am/fm radio. If we see NOTHING, we will at least hear the speech live. (Thanks, btw, to the villager who had that idea. Was it Vinny? You are SO RIGHT.)
I will keep you posted as interesting, or totally dull, things happen!

Woo hooooo!!!!

Excuse me, your corpus callosum is showing - Feb 26, 2009

I got I got I got I got I got I got I got

to see a dissection yesterday!

of a BRAIN!!!!

at the MORGUE!!!!!

I have the best job ever! The BEST JOB EVER!!!!


Now, surprisingly, when I've told people this, they've asked whether the person was alive, so before I continue with the story, let's be perfectly clear... the person whose brain we were dissecting was most definitely DEAD.

It went like this like this like this... it was SO COOL!!!

OK ok ok ok, so me and my friend Robin, we are both social workers, and we heard one of the docs had arranged with the Medical Examiner's office to have an ME cut a brain and discuss it for the third-year residents. Now, they all went to medical school, and they've done all this before, but we focus almost entirely on the brain here, and the powers that be figured it would be a good refresher for the docs. So Robin and I horned in.

You should know, too, that at UNC the Morgue is on the eleventh floor. The eleventh floor, people!!! There's a DRAIN. Think about it! EWWWWWWWWW!!!

But we were in one of the side rooms. We weren't in with all the actual bodies. We were, though, apparently in the BRAIN room. Picture a box the size of a box of chocolates, but made of clear plastic. Picture that clear box filled with fluid and a SLICE of BRAIN. Then picture SCORES of those boxes all along the shelves that lined three walls of the room, floor to high ceiling. OMG! Brains everywhere!!!

I was looking around, marvelling at it all, and on the chalkboard were weird drawings of Y-branches bulging in the middle, and a roughly brain-shaped sketch and words like berry aneurysm and uncal herniation. And then I was looking at the clear boxes with the brain slices, and suddenly felt a little woozey. As long as it's just anatomy, I'm good, but as soon as I start thinking, that's what MY brain looks like, oh dear, the room would start spinning. Gack!

And then a large, tattooed, burley dude came in wielding a huge Ginsu-looking knife and laid it on the stainless steel table next to the scalpels and scissory-looking things that were there, and walked out silently.

And then a few minutes later, the sweet, Mr. Rogers-esque ME dude came in, wearing his oh-so-perfect red tie and blue shirt, and he outfitted himself in a plastic aprony/covery thing (note the scientific jargon--I do work in a hospital, btw), and he suggested we all get started, so while we had been chatting casually--Robin and I along with a handful of third-year residents--we quieted down and perched on high stools closer to the table...

And then Mr. Rogers reached into a white plastic BUCKET and with no further ado, but with a strange splutting sound, PULLED OUT A BRAIN!!!!! Aaaaarrrgggghhhh!!!!! A BRAIN people, a BRAIN!!!! And he plunked it down on the table!!!!! PLUNK!!!!

And on top of the brain is a thick, plastic-looking thing that looks exactly like a Harris Teeter bag, attached to the top but hanging loosely on each side, and he's explaining that this brain has been treated with something that made the blood vessels turn a dark brown instead of the bright red we would usually see, and so while it looks almost exactly as it would coming out of the skull, a fresh one would be more pink. And while he's doing this, he's moving the Harris Teeter bag back and forth, and it is firmly affixed to the center of the top of the brain.

He tells us that he knows nothing about the person who donated the brain, but he can tell by its size that it's a female--one of the docs and I simultaneously say "'Cuz it's so big!" and then high-five the "jinx" moment, but he says, "No, a woman's brain is about 100 grams smaller..." and I say, "Oh, we're just that much more efficient..." and he comments that there is a lot of variation in brain size, so it could just be a small man's brain, but he's fairly certain it's a woman because there is very little fat!!! So of course, the women, who well outnumber the ONE other man in the room spontaneously and simultaneously errupt with "Fatheads!!!" And then smile and say, "Well, of course, except for you two..." to the two poor men in the room.

He notes that she must have been over 60 because there is signfiicant atrophy. Really? And he points out how the squiggly wormy parts of the top of the brain are squiggly and wormy, and how in a healthy, young brain, all those squiggles are pushed tightly together so that the "space" between is just a line, but in an older, atrophying brain, caverns start to appear between the squiggles, and sure enough, in this one, he can slide his finger in between. She's over 60. I'm two-thirds of my way there. My brain is atrophying even as I watch this man slide his finger between her squiggles. The room starts to spin again. I focus on my affinity for crossword puzzles and hope for the best...

He then proceeds to point out the different lobes of the brain, shows how people used to do lobotomies, pulls off the Harris Teeter bag (the Dura), shows where people get different brain bleeds, talks about the meninges, including the "arachnoid," (who knew we had spiders in our skulls???), and then ...

He takes the Ginsu knife, and carefully cuts, like a jello prop, a SLICE OF BRAIN. OMG! And it goes SPLUT as it falls to the side and hits the table! OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG!!!
And he happily points out various brain structures, showing where there is white matter, grey matter, and different nerve bundles. He cuts slice after slice, reciting names of things that all sound familiar from classes years ago. He shows us the olfactory nerves--thick white cords, just like you'd expect--and the optic nerves, and then various blood vessels that shoot up in the center. The pituitary gland looks like a mushroom and dangles perfectly intact from one of the slices.

The whole time, I'm fine as he's quoting Latin names, although one really must giggle when you get to the peduncal. But as soon as he would say something like, "This controls balance," then it would become too real, too personal, and the room would spin, the nausea would rise. But I fought it back by focusing on the Latin... He showed where a small aneurysm or any kind of swelling would affect various parts of the brain, describing what the consequences would be, and how in the lowest part of the brain, where everything narrows to a tiny knot at the base of the skull, how even the smallest disturbance would have dire consequences (the girl behind me said, plainly, "and then you die...") and I kept saying, "I really need to NOT KNOW all the things that can go wrong..."

And in about an hour the whole thing was over, and then he was grabbing with his hands all the pieces of brain to plunk back in the bucket the way you and I would clean up after a kid was playing with Play-Doh.

Always happy to meet the neighbors - Nov. 5, 2009

So, first of all, rest assured, I am safe, at work, back to normal life, including the unlocked, unbarricaded doors. All is well...
The white van is still parked outside my house, and now my dilemma becomes this... when the dude DOES come to get it, do I call the police? Do I assume they've picked him up by now, and when he comes to get it, it's after his release?

I can also imagine the bureaucratic clusterfuck that would be that phone call. I have information about a white van, parked at a specific address many days ago, about a suspect whose name I don't know, whose crime I don't know, yadda yadda. Aye carrumba, I hope hope hope he comes and gets it while I'm at work.

And what if he NEVER comes to get it? How long do I wait before I complain about an abandoned car? And if I DO call about that, do I tell them the whole story? Aye aye aye.

So as I'm pulling out of the driveway this morning, the gentleman walking his dog and looking in the van windows caught my attention, so I pulled up in my car. He's about my age, white, slight build, red hair, walking a pretty black dog. "So, you're interested in that van?" He says he knows a little something about it, and I'm like, Yeah, all I know is the cops are looking for the guy, they asked me to call if he comes by. Redhairmanwithblackdog says, "He's my neighbor, and the cops were at his house last night..." We chat. The suspect is really nice, but had some "stressful times with his wife" a couple weeks back, and redhairmanwithblackdog figures the police activity is related to that. I said I didn't think it was anything serious, as the cops didn't seem to upset about the whole thing. Yadda yadda, pleasantries... redhairmanwithblackdog lives a few doors up the street from me (on McCormick, for those of you familiar with my neighborhood), which of course means suspectman lives a few doors up the street from me... So, no need to lock my doors any more (I didn't last night anyway) since I am in no more danger today than I was four days ago, what with the suspect living on my block...

And after more yadda yadda about the suspect, redhairmanwithblackdog says, "You ride the bike, don't you?" and we chat about his black and red Nighthawk that he's trying to get on the road, and oh yeah, when the weather gets warmer lets get a group together and ride...

So, there you have the update. I'm always happy to meet my neighbors...

The Fugitive - Nov. 4, 2009

I hope you don't mind, but I am copying here some of the stories that pre-date the blog. For those of you who got a bathroom reader or were up on the previous emails, these are re-runs, but for those new to this blog, these oldies are goodies, and I wanted them remembered here.

There's something inherently creepy about a white van. I know, I know, they're EVERYWHERE, and yet, when they're out of place, they're just creepy. Too many Magnum PI episodes, or maybe it's all the Murder She Wrote, but the bad guys are always hanging out in a mysterious white van, parked on the street.

Like the one parked in front of my house right now.

And in the TV shows, no one pays any attention to it, but here, on my street, I know it doesn't belong. I know most of the cars on my street, and even when there are random guests parked here, they're never white vans.

So when I pulled in around 10:30 last night, and there was a white van parked right in front of my house, it was creepy.

But you know me, I just sauntered on into my house, totally confident that all would be ok...

I was a little wired at that hour, having had my last cup of coffee late in the day, and having scraped my house most of the day, so I was widewidewidewide awake, and when the police lights strobed through my living room windows, I glanced with mild curiosity to see the black-and-white parked down by the corner, and mostly ignored it, hanging out in the back of the house where facebook and the latest Star Trek episode are easily accessible.

Until Eddie, the neurotic wonderdawg, started LOSING HIS SHIT. I knew it was the cops--people walking around, the lights swirling... it was too much for him. And his barking/howling/yelping/skittering energy was just too much for me, so I went into the living room just as the flashlight circle of white bobbed it's way to my front door.

I held Eddie tight and cracked the door, apologizing and explaining that he's loud but really quite friendly, and the verynicepoliceofficer sheepishly reported that the suspect had gotten away, and "well, we found his van, and um, well, if you see anyone come to the van and tinker with it, or get into it, um, can you let us know? Cuz, like, well, he got away."

I cheerfully said of course, noting that my dawg would alert me to anyone going near it even if I'm in the back of the house, and he cheerfully went away, as I -- prepare yourself, this is huge -- LOCKED THE DOOR behind him.

If you know me, you know I don't even have a KEY to my house. I have no idea when the last time I locked my door was, but yep, that deadbolt was turned. It was a weird feeling. I felt like it was rude to the cop to have locked the door behind him, but I was also pretty sure he understood...

I also flipped off all the lights, since I WOULD be watching for the escaped suspect, and I WOULD be calling 911 immediately, and I did NOT want him to watch me do it.

And then I remembered the back door. The one that doesn't lock. Or even latch. The upper hinges have sagged a bit--this happened in the spring, and now the door latchy thing doesn't line up with the strike plate in the frame, and it doesn't close. It looks closed, well enough, till a breeze or Eddie the wonderdawg push it open, then it swings freely into my laundry room, where it continues to hang open till I see it or get home or whatever and close it.

Hmmmm.... I study the door closely. I really really really don't believe this guy is coming back, and I really reallly really don't believe he's going to come into my house, but at some point, I've got to lie down, shut my eyes, and actually sleep with the white van on my street and the fugitive's whereabouts unknown. So I study the door. I pull, I lift, I tug, I shove, I slam, I knock and bang and hmph and shoulder and push and shimmy and all the verbs I can think of, and in the end, barricade the door using a table that pushes right up against the opposite wall of the laundry room so that sucker ain't going anywhere. Phew!

And then I sit on my couch while chatting with Bill, and watch for the suspect to return and me to save the day and call 911 and catch the dude who is probably wanted for nothing more than running a stop sign in Chatham County somewhere...

Needless to say, he didn't return, and I didn't get to save the day, but I did get to see my favorite-ever Star Trek episode, and the white van is still parked on the street...