Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Engineerus industrialii and Me, Part I

As I've mentioned before, Sparky is an industrial engineer. I tend to announce it as if it were his species, but fellow girlfriends, fiancees and wives of these professionals will probably confirm the validity of the habit.

Engineers, unlike milkmen, retail salesmen and copy-machine repair guys, are engineers twenty-four hours a day. The milkman goes home, puts down his little bottle-rack, takes off his milkman costume (brooding, perhaps, about Kennedy beating Nixon,) and becomes an Ordinary Guy. He does not, we think, read up about the latest in dairy technology, dream of owning one of the new carbon-fiber cows, or draft plans for a better bottle-top, one that lets you use the old bottles to make ranch dressing. No, when Joe the milkman goes home and takes his costume off, he, much like Spiderman, is an Ordinary Guy once more.

At the risk of swiping my metaphor from 'Kill Bill,' engineers are not like Spiderman. They are like Superman, in that they are always engineering, every place they go. Hand an ordinary guy a beer bottle, and his response is probably alone the lines of "Dude! Sam Adams!" Hand an engineer a beer bottle and he will immediately think of four new uses for it, three design features he admires, eight flaws he thinks he can correct, and seventeen environmental issues he could use the beer bottle to fix, thus resulting in fast internet and peanut butter (the two requirements for engineer life,) for all.

The engineer is constantly analyzing and seeking to improve things -whether the rest of the world thinks they need it or not. He often devises a completely new and unique solution to what he sees as a problem with some item, only to have a five-year-old appear and demonstrate what the item in question is actually for and how it is used. In this case, the engineer's shoulders will slump momentarily, he will gaze at the item sheepishly, and in three seconds he will be cheerful once more and preparing to take the item apart. Doctors naturally fear engineers -not only will every device in the examining room be ruthlessly played with and possibly measured, but a diagnosis of heart murmur will probably prompt the suggestion that an alternator be installed -oh, right...yeah. (The sad-puppy look of the engineer is a truly heartrending sight, irresistible to nerdy females, and perhaps the reason for the survival of his unique species.)

The engineer does not read the manual. He takes out his graph paper and his number-two mechanical pencil and makes his own as the item is dissected. Only in the case of a particularly large and complex item with unusual value (such as a Honda or a favorite cousin with a burst appendix in the middle of nowhere,) will he open a manual, and at that time, said manual tends to attach itself to the engineer on a semi-permanent basis. It is carried in his backpack (as engineers lean toward the utilitarian and often the ergonomic, a briefcase is a creature unknown to him,) and the pages become dog-eared and yellowed, like the beloved pornography of a long-haul trucker. The engineer rivals only the English major in his tendency to notate margins, and the amount of graphite found on the edges of graduate-students' copies of Faulkner, we all know, is sufficient to lubricate small-electronic parts.

The consciousness of the engineer, and therefore his perception of himself and his environment, tends to run to the binary. He is either clothed or naked -concepts like 'formalwear,' 'business attire,' and 'weekend clothes' are only introduced in his senior year of college, usually after the first interview in coveralls over a science-fair t-shirt from middle school goes badly. There is either food or no food -hence the extreme premium engineers place on a mate with even minimal adeptness in the kitchen. They have been known to dwell exclusively on one foodstuff, switching only when a more efficient or tastier alternative is presented, or Student Health tells them they've got scurvy. The frozen-food industry is mainly responsible for the proliferation of engineers since the 1950s -before, many are presumed to have died from eating nothing but homestyle biscuits and grape jelly.

The McDonald's dollar-menu double cheeseburger, lately rumored to be in jeopardy for its' continued existence, is a crucial part of the engineer food-chain. Should it disappear from menus, many engineers, particularly single ones, will die.

The simple solution is rarely the one taken by engineers. An engineer, if told it might be fascinating to experiment with drinking, will obtain Everclear and proceed to systematically taste spiked versions of all three of his favorite potable liquids until he is either stopped or passes out. Ask an engineer if there could be buffalo wings for dinner, and one is more likely to encounter a frozen bag of bird parts and a horrifying mixture of every condiment in the fridge than the Domino's guy with a Styrofoam box and some bleu-cheese dressing. ("Still not spicy enough!")

Engineers also have imagination mixed in amongst their science-filled braincells. Give an engineer a kitten and a pad of graph paper, and in two days you will have enough in the way of conceptual sketches, measurements, fabric stress-test analysis and Web research for either a corporate proposal, grant-money plea or webcomic on the Amazing Jet-Powered Rocket Cat.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the type of creature I am marrying this winter.

I'm writing this while he cleans something up in the garage. He told me I don't want to know what it was. I agree with him.

I have also counted the cats and checked the fire extinguishers.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The weirdest CD ever

For some perverse reason, I recently dug out a copy of 'Aquarius,' the second album by dance-pop band Aqua. If you are not familiar with Aqua, the mid-nineties brainworm ditty 'Barbie Girl' was their doing. Why, yes, I am a masochistic fuck.

Wikipedia informs me that the members of Aqua are Danish-Swedish in origin -which begs the question of what goes on in those Scandinavian countries. 95% of the world's four-letter-named sugarpop comes from there. A sick imagination leads me to believe that it is some sort of regional industry, with little Swedish kids being separated into boy-girl, boy-girl foursomes and given a spandex budget and a Moog synth for their fifth-grade school projects. First ABBA and now this.

That being said, roller rinks were not worth going to in the late nineties if Aqua songs were not played. Aqua, Spice Girls, Semisonic and Weird Al songs, with the occasional selection from 'Grease,' (which, in case you were not a child recently and don't know, is the dirtiest of the apparently family-friendly musicals,) ah, such was the soundtrack of my wheel-footed youth.

And roller-rinks were a big deal to me in the late nineties. Two bucks to get in, another two for skates, three if you wanted Rollerblades, and all the Skittles and AirHeads your leftover lunch money could buy. It was the only place where you could simultaneously get and burn off a sugar buzz. If your folks weren't picking you up 'til nine, sometimes you'd get a soft pretzel with nacho cheese, which you could share with another kid -hopefully male and cute.

Some lucky kids formed couples, which meant they might break a wrist holding hands on the rink. There was schadenfreude for all, a wheel of instant-karma wherein a kid who turned to laugh at someone falling would slam right into a wall. Even the nerds got their moments of starlight there, beating the high-scores on the ancient arcade games I strongly suspected my mother of having put her initials on in the Seventies. ("That line of nines? My mother. Totally. Who else was 'SJE' in this town thirty years ago?") Kids who wouldn't talk to me at school shared pretzels and chatted like old friends, kids from other schools became the friends I would count on in years to come. I beat a bully at air hockey and he stood up for me on the schoolbus forever more. I helped a smaller kid up from falling and her big brother was the first guy I ever got to turn down for a date. The lights flashed and turned colors, the floors shone, and anyone could be cool for a brief moment. Even the geeky girl in the blue glasses.

When you're eleven, that's quality nightlife.

So here I was, listening to the one ballad Aqua saw fit to include on their second album, the title track 'Aquarius.' This was the roller-rink's 'slow song,' the one that had once accompanied a smaller, nervous version of myself skating while holding hands with a boy for the first time. That smaller version had been in the throes of a horrible crush on said boy, and hearing the song, it was hard to believe I was somehow twice the age I had been that night. I shut my eyes, saw the flashing lights, and for a moment I remembered what it felt like to be eleven and too terrified of falling down to avoid falling haplessly in that bittersweet thing called puppy love.

It's a pretty song. Download it if you don't believe me.

I opened my eyes and saw Sparky sitting at his computer.

"I think I've heard that song before..." he whispered. "They had it at the old skating rink."

We didn't grow up in the same small town -far from it. But it appeared we had a little more in common than I thought. (Of course, it was somewhat less likely that his crush had gone on to become a beloved friend who came out of the closet to the geeky girl in blue glasses before anyone else he knew.) After sharing some memories and winding up with a mutual craving for Skittles, we got on Google and discovered the nearest skating rink is only about 30 minutes away by car. We could go back in time and be that couple holding hands, and this time it would really last. Fulfilling childhood dreams is not something one can go about doing every day -but what can I say? We're the kind of people who like Aqua and the Spice Girls, we don't have good sense.

Wish me luck. If I break a leg, you'll all get more blog postings and who wants that?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Re: drawing petition

...Just because you know it's a deer doesn't mean anybody else can tell it's a deer. The fact that nine out of every ten large-size quadrupeds one sees in our region are frickin' deer doesn't mean that drawing doesn't resemble the Mutated Moose Ad Campaign of Ought-Seven as rendered by third-graders in glorious Crayola.

In unrelated, but somewhat more bloglike news, our kitten has developed the alarming tendency to break into the refrigerator, tear open any and all plastic bags (they usually contain tasty human food!) and, perhaps most perversely of all, to attack and bite to death every condom packet he comes upon. Does he have psychological issues regarding mylar? Is he asking for a baby brother? What gives?


We have two cats, of course. Alexei, The Gray One, has been my pet since I was in high school, but Arthur the Little Beastling is a feral we found and rescued at three weeks old just over a year ago. We named him Arthur C. Cat because the only way to get a tiny kittenlet to sleep is to purr for it -and, well, Sparky's deep voice reading some classic sci-fi was apparently close enough.

Alexei is a sensible, affectionate and somewhat doglike example of felinity -he's loyal, comes when called and has a weird tendency to 'bark' for attention. (As a small kitten, the household from which he came included a very paternal Great Dane/Shar-pei mix who took it upon himself to rear the kittens. Amusing sight.) He's a mixed-breed that resembles a Russian Blue, but with a sort of mournful expression. He's gray, after all, and tends to look like a little raincloud that will mew pathetically if you don't pet him.

Arthur, however, is one of those white-and-striped kittehs that look like either a white cat ran under a spray-paint stencil or a tabby cat was dipped in Clorox. His expression is usually of the "What the deuce?" inquisitive/fierce variety, and as I have mentioned, he attacks things. Gentle Alexei, despite being older and rather larger, is clearly not in charge of the situation, but he has been known to help calm the little beastling at times. It isn't that we don't adore both of our lovely cats -but Arthur's behavior's just been so bad lately.

It also doesn't help the little guy that his big brother is one of the world's biggest cuddlesluts. I do not exaggerate when I say that the sound of the toilet seat being raised causes Alexei to immediately awake or stop what he is doing (important catly business!) and race over to the commode to take advantage of his human's being stuck in one place for at least five minutes of high-quality cat petting. He will not be dissuaded from this, and we find ourselves alternately warning or...well, NOT warning dinner guests that the calls of nature in this house feature a cat telemarketer who wants you to upgrade your long-distance carrier to Stroking and Scritches. Compared to this level of saccharine adorability, is it any wonder Arthur distinguishes himself by becoming a juvenile delinquent with a tail?

Sparky has a spray bottle, though. It leaves the potato chips alone or it gets the hose!

Drawing petition

Hello all, its good to see this project getting off the ground at long last. Dusty has been putting off the start of this comic/blog for months now because she doesn't think she can draw - I strongly disagree : ). At any rate I would hope to see a few pictures posted here from time to time - one of my favorites is the following (she won't post it, so I will just have to describe it)

The first panel shows a hunter loading a gun in a tree stand with a tranquilizer dart, next panel the hunter stands over the deer with a can of 'deer safe paint', next we see the deer happily grazing with other deer, and we catch a glimpse of color on one side. Finally, months later, we see the deer through the window of a speeding car a split second before the collision - as the driver freaks out and swerves, we see clearly visible on the side of the deer, a full color ad for "Joe's Auto Body and Collision Repair"

What do you think, shouldn't she post this one?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


When I was a little kid, we would sometimes have spaghetti for dinner. This normally caused me to panic.

For those of you whose parents were not in theatre, spaghetti is, at approximately a buck a box and three for a jar of sauce, one of the cheapest foods imaginable. Only ramen is so brother-can-you-spare-a-dime economical. When you factor in a picky little sister who still only eats plain noodles, only dirt gives a more competitive bang for the kid-feeding buck.

When I was small, spaghetti dinners meant 'holy shit! Payday's three days off and we're broke!' Putting on the worn VHS of 'Lady and the Tramp' and throwing a theme dinner might have worked for my small siblings, but I was a fairly sharpish little six-year-old. I could tell when Mom and Dad were pulling overtime or worrying for the lack of it. I avoided spaghetti at all costs for many years, and on occasions when it was patently unavoidable, the tomato sauce always carried a coppery aftertaste of panic.

Sparky, however, does not have such negative associations, and as such, he harbors no grudge toward the cheap-ass food. He orders it in restaurants when he feels like it, has preferences about how it is to be served (the spaghetti of my youth came in 'hot,' 'cold' and 'Parmesan cheese on top,') and frequently requests it. To him, it is a special treat.

We had been dating for about two years before the dreaded s-word came up as a dinner possibility. We were at the grocery store and he picked up a box of it.

"Uh...dear? We aren't broke, are we?"
"Of course not. Why do you ask?"
"...That's spaghetti."
"I know."
"Oh. ...Was I bad?"
"You don't like spaghetti?"

Therein lies one of the ironies of the age. I dreaded spaghetti and what it meant. I feared its' presence on the table as the sure sign of a coming Apocalypse, usually of a Daddy's-working-late and can't-read-your-story-tonight nature.

I didn't mind it, as far as taste. As a matter of fact, it was the one food I never did dare complain about. If Mom and Dad served spaghetti, they had enough worries. Least I could do was eat t he stuff gracefully.

"I d'know. It just...it wasn't good at home."
"Really? How did your folks make it?"
"...While arguing and waving bills at each other, much."

I should point out at this juncture that not only is Sparky a hopeless engineer, he is the son of an engineer and therefore did not spend any portion of his childhood with his health coverage coming from the state. My folks were not dirt poor, either, they just had some lean times. Sparky's idea of 'lean times' is "When Mom was finishing her second degree and Dad was still building the house." My idea of 'lean times' involves frequenting pawn shops to keep the heating on in January.

Nevertheless, he understood once I explained the negative connotations I felt spaghetti had. Clearly, he explained, I had been conditioned to associate spaghetti with crisis times. (Why, yes, I had just told him that.) The engineer's solution for such conditioning, therefore, was counter-conditioning. We would have to eat spaghetti -really good spaghetti, and lots of it, and when there was nothing wrong. Hells, spaghetti should become one of our celebratory foods.

Yes, we have celebratory foods. Everybody does. Stick a candle in a dead raccoon and it becomes birthday roadkill, does it not? Shut up and let me finish.

So we made spaghetti. It was my task, as She Who Does the Cooking, to experiment with adding browned ground beef, cooked sausage, sauteed onions and all manner of spices to store-bought sauce, all in an effort of reconditioning. Normally, the more I get to jake with a food's recipe, the more I like said food. Sparky, otherwise known as He Who Does the Dishes, was well aware of this, and by playing my strengths against my weaknesses, he was soon able to make me into a mild aficionado and frequent server of spaghetti, in addition to many other things pasta.

Why, yes! He is an opportunistic git who wanted meatballs! Doesn't make him any less wonderful for trying to de-traumatize the daughter of theatre folk. And it's okay, I make him watch musicals.

This would be a fine place to end the post, perhaps with a recipe for a particularly tasty iteration of sauce I've developed to please Sparky. It would be a fine thing if that were the end of the anecdote.

I was diagnosed with celiac sprue this year, after about six months of lead-up symptoms and a surgery. For those not familiar with the Plague, celiac disease means that one cannot eat wheat gluten ever again, on pain of some dramatic symptoms Sparky calls 'rocketbutt.'

It seemed that the exercise he had influenced me to start getting regularly was not the only reason for my dramatic inverted-freshman-fifteen weight loss and Ethiopian-orphan-grade gut bloating. The pieces of peanut-butter toast I had been happily replacing meals with in an attempt to look a bit less like Mia Tyler and more like Liv (a patently stupid venture on which I shall never again embark,) were literally tearing my tripes apart and rocketing right through me, leaving no nutritional impact whatsoever -except maybe from the cinnamon and legumes.

The first few trips to the grocery store after my diagnosis were like the visits of a newly-frocked priest to a whorehouse, or perhaps a recovering alcoholic to a liquor store. "No more of this for me! Nope, nope, nope -this I can have, but who wants to drink straight margarita mix? Damn! Why on earth do I even live?"

It is only the celiacs of this world who realize just what a pervasive element wheat is in the American diet, or precisely how good the Asians have it with their delicious rice-laden food.

(I would like, at this time, to extend my thanks to the entire Asian continent and the nation of Mexico for producing rice- and corn-based dishes I can eat. In particular, the developer of the frozen microwaveable egg roll, or Celiac Hot Pocket, has my undying gratitude.)

Of course, spaghetti is made from the finest wheat -and almost nothing but. The food I had dreaded for so long...well, I was finally justified in that. Trouble was, Sparky still loves the stuff and I'd grown to like it quite a bit myself. I cursed the Deathly Sprue every time I saw a box of noodles, a jar of sauce, or 'Lady and the Tramp' for six angry months. All that reconditioning, and for what? A beloved food that I couldn't eat for fear of death by rocketbutt.

Luckily, my Amazing Best Friend sent me a big box of gluten-free goodies in which my autistic godson, her little boy, was not interested. (They say a gluten-free diet helps with autism symptoms sometimes, and hey, anything he doesn't like, Aunt Dusty likely will!) Said box contained crackers, cereal bars, mac-and-cheese mixes, cookies -everything I had resigned myself to a life without!

Oh, yes. There was also a package of brown-rice gluten-free noodles. My Amazing Best Friend is hell of awesome and full of win.

Tonight I made Sparky a crockpot-ful of meat-laced, fresh-sauteed-onion spaghetti sauce and we feasted like two dogs in a back alley. Life is good!

Inaugural Post - Not a Webcomic

So, the story of this story is that my fiance asked me to start a webcomic. His rationale was that I enjoy webcomics, that I am funny, and that there are webcomics that support themselves via advertising -and I'm an advertising major, how convenient! He neglects, of course, to notice that I cannot draw for shit.

But he wouldn't quit bugging me about it. I even drew some stick figures and left them in the scanner to point out that no, I cannot see any possible way of my doing a successful webcomic. He maintains that said drawings are funny and that poor drawing skills are no barrier to webcomic glory. Dude's been reading too much xkcd.

I will concede, though, that I can probably write fairly well and that I should indeed be doing something.

So here it is. A potentially-illustrated blog. Not a webcomic.

So there, Sparky.

I am going to call him that because I believe all bloggers should have hamster names. Sparky was actually the name of a gerbil I had once, but my engineer's penchant for mucking about with car batteries (and reading Girl Genius,) makes me think he should be called that, also. He also tends to eat carrots much the way the original Sparky did. I shall be called Dusty because 'Sparky' is taken.

Oh, well. Here goes nothing.

Wait! I need an abortion joke! R.K. Milholland started with an abortion joke and he is everything I hope to be on the Internet. *thinks*

How do you get anti-choice protesters to read your blog? ...I d'know, dead baby jokes?

Shit. I'm not going to be good at this.