Thursday, 30 March 2006

Paranoid? Who You Calling Paranoid?

This morning at 8:13 a.m. – after I’d been lying in bed for more than an hour, loathing myself for not getting up and going to the gym and for not sorting out the issue of my houseguest who is overstaying her welcome – I got a text from my boss.

“Can u talk?”

This boss does not like to talk. This boss likes to send text messages. Long text messages, lots of text messages, text messages when it would sometimes be easier just to, well, talk.

“Yes,” I text back, and promptly begin panicking about what could require him to call me from Spain two hours before I have to be in the office, and four hours before he’ll be back in the office himself.

Could it be the profile I just wrote for our Australian sister magazine? My sources included some shady figures, one of whom called me in Vietnam at odd hours, and then called one of our interns (not this one) at 11 p.m. demanding the magazine be hand delivered. Unlikely, because he saw the story last week.

Then again, I thought to myself, it’s always the things you least expect that cause problems. Even in a story where you’ve worried over nearly every word, it’s always the two or three you considered the most innocent that somehow raise the hugest objection. So maybe it’s…

Seven minutes later, my boss rang. He needed me to file a timeline so basic an intern (yeah, yeah, except this one) probably could have done it.

Wednesday, 29 March 2006

I've Got a Lot to Learn

You learn something new every day.

To paraphrase a line from one of my least favorite monthly features at my old employer, here is what I learned:

1. How to spell my sister’s fiance’s first name -– she wrote it in an e-mail to me for the first time, and I realized I’d been mentally spelling it wrong for the past seven months (aka the entire seven months she has known him).

2. That the squat ugly thing on which my TV stands (and on which I usually pile books, my coat, magazines, etc.) has a purpose in life. A door lifts up, a la a garage door, and voila -- it's a filing cabinet. Have I mentioned I have worked in this office for 2 ½ years? But hey, I’m on the road a lot. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

3. From a random whois search, that my employer is the owner of a humor web site I would have sworn belonged to a couple of cheeky geeks.

4. That we may just have the dumbest intern on the planet. Because I’m the only other American in the bureau, she comes into my office frequently to get me to “translate.” After three days of being asked by various staffers about the post (translation: mail), she still couldn’t figure it out and asked me: “Have you seen the New York Post?” And today I got a description of a party from her that misidentified the venue (the name of the place is in foot-high letters when you enter) and described one polka-dot dress as poke-o dot. Never mind that she described the party theme as 1940s when all the women were dressed as flappers.

Tuesday, 28 March 2006

The Kid Loses the Picture

Is it better to have taken a picture and lost it than to have never taken it at all?

This evening, as I was hunting for the memory card with my Olympics pictures on it, I realized where it was: In the zippered pocket of a handbag I threw in the garbage at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong Sunday morning.

This would never have happened with a roll of film.


This is what I get for (a) having a flat disorganized enough that I can’t find the cable to download my camera pictures promptly, (b) having a life disorganized enough that I can’t find the time to find the cable to download my camera pictures promptly, (c) trying to be a good friend and therefore cramming everything into the one suitcase I brought so my friend could have the extra (empty) bag I’d packed in said suitcase for the loot I knew I’d pick up in Vietnam, and (d) being a little lazy (see previous about one bag). Oh, yeah – and for throwing out a perfectly decent-if-not-my-taste handbag given to me as a birthday gift last year. (In my defense, most of the beading had come off.)

All of the rest of the pictures I’ve taken in my 3.5 years in Europe – with the exception of the ones from the first 3 months – are sitting in plastic yellow Snappy Snaps bags in the corner of my flat. I’m not even sure what some of them are of any more. I debated tossing some of them last week, when staying in nice hotels and prowling trendy Hong Kong homewares shops made me consider a minimalist existence for about the millionth time.

But the memory card I lost has the sort of pictures I’d be able to identify even years from now: the crazy media centers, the late night dinners with fellow reporters who felt like longtime friends after two weeks – even pictures of myself (something I usually refuse to have taken) on the job. I guess all the better reason to be glad I have at least the blog as a record of my time there…

Speaking of which, I spent two weeks completely offline (I didn’t even succumb when the friend I travelled was dragging me around looking for places to check her e-mail) and it’s taking me a little while to readjust to blogging. It’s funny how I look at my life differently when I blog. It’s not like I go out and do things to blog about them or anything. It’s more like sometimes I can feel myself turning events into anecdotes while they’re happening – something, frankly, I’ve been guilty of long before I ever started blogging.

Anyway, it was nice to live completely in the present for two weeks – but it’s also nice to be back.

PS Photo from the market at Hoi An in Vietnam, and of a spring roll appetizer served to my friend and I at yet another garnish-mad restaurant (the spring rolls are on the toothpicks)... more pictures TK. As soon as I rotate some of the vertical ones. Or figure out how. Assuming it doesn't require extra equipment. Ridiculous proportion of sentence fragments implying past bedtime. Or jetlag. Or both.

Monday, 6 March 2006

Truth About Grandma

I meant to write a witty and wise (naturally) rumination on sisterhood, spinsterhood (well, not yet, but give me a few years), and the effects of living abroad on family ties – topics very much on my mind now that my sister has announced she’s marrying a guy whose last name I don’t even know. Because every last one of my sister’s friends is married, I have this vision of myself at the wedding, standing alone on the dance floor, being smacked in the chest with the bouquet like a dodge ball. And I meant to write about how envious I am – not so much that my sister has met someone, but because her husband-to-be will know my grandmother, and with any luck, even have her at the wedding.

The wedding news broke last week – I found out just after I attended the Closing Ceremonies for the Olympics, and was so flummoxed by the news I actually had to call my sister the next day, just to make sure she knew I was happy for her, in case in my shock I hadn’t responded appropriately. (Though she often won’t tell you what they are until after you’ve disappointed her, my sister very definitely has rules for ways certain situations should be handled. I still remember her reprimanding me once years ago for not saying “bless you” when she sneezed.) Then I went straight from the Olympics to Florida to see my grandmother, who’s broken her hip.

Even after each of her heart attacks, I’ve never seen her look so old and afraid. My grandmother has lived through the deaths of her husband and two children, and she’s made dozens of jokes about her own. I’ve never once heard her feel sorry for herself. But breaking a hip was the one thing she always said she didn’t want to happen to her – no one really recovers from that, she’d say. And now she has, and the humor and the dignity were gone last week – she’s afraid, and I’m afraid, too. She’d get so anxious at nights – so unable to breathe – that she slept in the chair next to her bed, because she had to be upright. She has home care, but I slept next to her – or more accurately, dozed occasionally. At least once an hour I’d be wide awake, either from the sound of her agitated breathing, or because I wanted to double check that she was, in fact, breathing.

She cried – something she never does. (Last year I got her to admit that she thought that if she started crying, she feared she would never stop.) I was too busy doing things – cooking her required no-salt meals, fixing her TV after her friend watered both it and the plant on top of it, fetching, organizing – to cry as much as I might have. The sight of someone so strong reduced to tears because she has to go to the bathroom – and doesn’t know if she can make it in time – is so spectacularly awful I’m incapable of describing it at the moment. So, too, is going down to the storage bin to fetch your mother’s wheelchair – my mother’s wheelchair – for her mother to use.

One day I got out a suitcase of letters my grandfather wrote to my grandmother while he was away at war – letters my grandmother has been telling me about for a few years now, but visits with her have always been too busy to have a look. I sat on the floor at my grandmother’s feet and read a few aloud. Then I stopped because I didn’t want her to see me cry. I looked up at her and realized she wouldn’t have noticed.

She shook her head and said – sounding sorrier for herself than I’ve ever heard her – “If he ever saw me like this.” I wish I didn’t have to.

* * *

A return to wit -- or attempts at it -- and, yes, an actual link or two soon. I promise.