Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Eating pastries and being visited by the devil

Two weird dreams last night:

In the first, I was trying to find the house of a lady with whom I had some MUFON business to discuss. When I got there, she was having another meeting in which there was no place for MUFON issues. I took a seat with her other guests and had some pastries. Normally, I don't get to eat in my dreams because I wake up right when I am about to take a bite. But this time I was able to eat several pastries and they were delicious. The last one had a hint of cream cheese. I had just started chewing my first bite of it when my cell phone woke me up in real life. It was only after 6:00 am and, seeing who it was and knowing it would not have been an emergency, I let it go to voicemail. Then I lay awake in irritation at being unable to finish that cream cheese pastry. I have never been able to go back to sleep and continue a dream. I did go back to sleep for a couple more hours, which led to my next dream:

A college-age looking boy came to my house and was talking casually to me. After a few minutes, I noticed that his shirt was changing colors and his hair was different. I told him he was the devil and he admitted it. So I banished him in Jesus' name and he disappeared. But he returned a couple hours later when I was out somewhere with some people. This time he followed me around chatting humorously, and after awhile I had to remind myself he was evil, because he was proving to be enjoyable company. That's all I can remember of that dream. (Would rather it not be interpreted...)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A weirder kind of Deja Vu

Recently I was typing an email to somebody about a really unpleasant situation I had run into last week. As I explained how I had been verbally attacked by a woman I barely know, I had a moment of deja vu in which I suddenly remembered that my friend Becka had experienced that same thing about a year go and had told me about it. In fact, I remembered her telling me that she had had to take the same steps I was taking to defend herself from this person's venom. She had emailed, just as I was... I could remember her enthusiasm as she told me, and when I tried to remember the specifics of her situation, I happened to look up at the TV and something seemed familiar about what it was showing, and then the feeling faded. Suddenly, it was as if none of that memory of Becka had happened. I tried to recapture the memory, but it was simply nonexistent. Nothing like that had happened to Becka, not that she had ever told me anyway. The entire "memory" had been a deja vu.

I was mystified. Deja vu normally makes present events seem like they have already taken place for you, not for somebody else.

Fast Food and the Breakdown in Communication

I just went through DQ for my favorite treat -- a Brownie Batter Blizzard. The girl came over the speaker and asked for my order.

I said, "I would like a Brownie Batter Blizzard, please."
She said something that I couldn't quite hear, but I figured she was asking what size, since I had forgotten to say.

"I would like a small one, please." I said.

"So, that's one medium and one small Brownie Batter Blizzard?" she asked.

"No, I'm sorry," I said, realizing that she had probably asked if I had wanted anything else. "I just want ONE, SMALL, Brownie Batter Blizzard."

She gave me my total and told me to pull to the second window. When I got to the second window, she said, "So that's one Medium Brownie Batter blizzard?"

I looked at her a second, then repeated in the exact same way I had just said it 15 seconds ago, "No, I would like one small Brownie Batter Blizzard."

She looked a tad distressed, and that's when I saw that the girl behind her was already filling a medium cup up with ice cream. I gave up. "I'll just take a medium, that's fine." I said. Apparently it was important to them that I eat a medium blizzard today. I really shouldn't let them down.

Then the girl at the window indicated to the girl filling up my blizzard, "She says you used to be her English teacher." I took a second look at my former student and greeted her.

Then the girl said, "She can't speak good English," to which I laughed good naturedly, and she shut the window overcome with giggles at having teased her friend. (I refrained from telling her that perhaps the problem was
she couldn't understand English.)

All was pleasant as I completed my transaction, and my blizzard was delicious. However, while I realize that we did have a miscommunication at first, I nevertheless feel that we are running out of options when it comes to communication these days. It used to be that we relied on the spoken word, but that seems to be failing us. Dairy Queen isn't the first -- nor will it be the last -- place to get my very simple order wrong. Whataburger just about grinds to a halt when I ask for a plain dry cheeseburger with jalapenos. They can't resist just dabbing a little mustard on it. They just can't fathom that I mean what I say. Or perhaps they aren't listening, or maybe they disagree with my choice of food and they have a better idea.

One of these days, we are just going to have to bring hand puppets along and act out a skit for the benefit of the fast food staff. One puppet will ask for a small blizzard, then the other puppet will try to prepare a
medium blizzard. Then the first puppet will pull out three different blizzard cup sizes and sing a song about small, medium, and large, until the other puppet understands and even sings the chorus himself. Once the staff can sing along, I will know they understand, and I'll get what I ordered.

That's what we are going to have to do eventually to get good service.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Houston, we have a problem.

As always, I must pay homage to a terrible day – two actually – even though they were somebody else’s terrible days.

Yesterday began a two-day nightmare for my cousin Matthew. He tried to board a plane to Israel only to discover that his passport, which was due to expire in less than six months, was not acceptable. The group he was flying with left without him. But let me back up about 6 hours…

Yesterday morning, Matthew was in his apartment on his phone, probably talking to his girlfriend and anticipating his drive to the airport. Suddenly, his front door opened and in walked a stranger, key in hand. They both stared at each other in shock. Turns out the property management company for Matt’s apartment had advertised that his side of the duplex was for rent and given the key to a hopeful client. After awkward explanations were exchanged, Matt drove to the property management place and administered a well-deserved lecture.

It was several hours later that Matt would find himself returning home with his luggage, his friends en route to Tel-Aviv. I had just returned home from taking my dad to the airport for the very flight Matt had just missed when I got a call from my brother Bryan. Bryan, who had been Matt’s ride home from the airport, was driving a borrowed truck. He had been unaware that this truck’s gas meter was broken, until it ran out of gas miles from their destination. Bryan and Matt were now sitting on the side of the road in 106 degree weather. Fortunately, they were only 25 minutes from me.

I rescued them with a gas can, and returned home. Meanwhile, it was determined that Matt would apply for an emergency passport in Houston today and hopefully catch a flight this evening. Getting very used to feeling useful, I offered to drive him. (He had done the same for us on our recent trip to the UK.)

We left my house at 4:30 this morning and arrived at the passport office sometime after 9:00. When it was Matt’s turn at the passport office window, he could barely get his request in before the lady proceeded to lecture him in the rudest manner I have ever witnessed from somebody in a professional setting. She literally rolled her eyes in disgust every time he tried to explain himself. “How long have you known about this trip, sir?...Six months! You had six months…!” And on she went until Matthew was stunned silent and I was ready to go through the window and throttle her, security guards be damned. Matthew is easily the most prepared person – next to my husband – that I know. Had he known that a passport due to expire in four months is considered already expired, had he not used the logic that comes so easily to him which told him that the expiration date is exactly that – an expiration date, he would have had his passport renewed. This lady knew nothing, yet she talked down to him in the most demeaning way. (Think Madea from “Madea’s Family Reunion” without the humor.) The only thing stopping me from telling her off was the fact that Matt was at her mercy.

When she walked away for a moment, I said to Matthew, who had turned very red, “Pray. Just pray. She is out of line.” Then I proceeded to do the same, but when I did, my anger increased until I had to stop and apologize to God for the turn my prayers had started to take.

The lady returned to inform Matt that had he been issued new tickets from Delta, she could have given him a passport today. But he hadn’t. Matt staggered. Delta had told him the very opposite – that he could not get new tickets until he got a new passport. In the end, she told him the soonest he could have his passport was tomorrow at 2:30. This Israel trip is to be 10 days only. Matt had now lost two of them. We were also going to have to find lodging.

We returned to the car where Matt made several calls, meeting with frustration at every turn: Delta said they needed to hear from Matt’s travel agency, but when he called the travel agency he only got the voicemail. He finally managed to reach his travel agent (who is currently in Jerusalem with the group) only to end up having to yell over the singing of a choir halfway through the conversation. It was so loud I could hear it. By now, he was literally shaking. Meanwhile, I sat next to him brainstorming ways to coerce Delta, who had failed to issue him tickets, into paying for our lodging, and to get the lady at the passport office fired. We both sat consumed with our plans until he finally reached Delta.

By the end of Matt’s incredibly long phone ordeal, he had learned that all Wednesday flights were booked and he would have to take a Thursday flight. Now he was missing three days of the trip, but he seemed calmer, because, frankly, I think he had run out of energy to care. I temporarily abandoned my plans for revenge and we went to find a place to eat.

We agreed it was essential that beer be part of our meal, so I searched for breweries in my GPS system. That started the next nightmare, as my GPS system led us in a maze only to end up at a closed brewery. I entered another brewery, and this time we were led through even more of a maze across the city. (We had driven in a similar fashion to find a Starbucks earlier in the morning, and never had found it.)

I finally said: “Watch us end up back at the passport office with the brewery right behind us.”

Matt replied: “That lady from the office will be standing there tapping her foot, saying ‘Not today. Just keep on drivin’.”

We both collapsed into laughter, and I felt my anger fading. By making this lady a caricature, Matt had extinguished my anger in a way prayer couldn’t. God can use anything, including humor, to set our hearts right again. We finally found an open brewery, but it took about as long to find a place to park.

We enjoyed a delicious meal and an I.P.A. beer. Matt talked to his girlfriend for a bit while I read my book, and we left feeling refreshed. We could now head home, as Matt had decided it would be more expensive to find lodging. The plan was (and still is): he will return tomorrow for his passport, and Thursday I will drive him to Austin for his flight.

Now we were in the parking garage, but could not find our car. We ended up looking on every floor (of which there were only four, fortunately) and found it at last. Surely, this was the last hurdle.

Of course it wasn’t. At some point, we realized we were almost out of gas; in fact, the needle had passed the last notch and was almost on the ‘E’ itself. I search for gas stations in my GPS and it showed that one was very close, just a straight shot down the road. However, when we turned the car to exit the parking lot we had pulled into temporarily, the GPS got confused and told us to take a turn. I should have said something – I noticed that the map still showed just a straight shot – but after a U-turn and a long drive to the next exit, we ended up literally feet from where we had been. It was like the fates were nothing but cruel. But at least we had made it. And I had to use the bathroom after the beer and then the Starbucks we had finally found.

I walked into the bathroom and thought there must be some mistake – we had taken a wrong turn and ended up on the backside of hell. I have never seen such a horrific looking bathroom in my life. Even had it been clean it was an eyesore, with rust and mold and cracks and holes, the walls and floor protruding in places as if possessed. Somebody had attempted to flush the toilet at some point and not succeeded…and that’s all I will say about that. I made a concerted effort not to touch, look at or even think about anything in that bathroom, lest I become contaminated.

Once I made my escape, I hurried to the car and dug for my Purell. After slathering on, I rubbed some on the door handle and even on the things I had pulled from my purse to find the Purell. Just as I replaced it, Matthew got in the car. “That was the worst bathroom I’ve ever seen –“ I began.

“So was mine – I need the Purell!” He threw his hand out, looking straight ahead as if recovering from fresh trauma.

We briefly rued the bathroom’s condition, but there was little more to say, and we lapsed into wordless horror until we recovered.

Eventually, we were chatting and laughing again, but then Matt got on the phone with his girlfriend, allowing my mind to drift, and I ended up missing an exit. I got off the next exit and came to a fork in the road, during which time Matt, still on the phone, said, “Circle! Circle!”

“Circle” meant nothing to me, as I wasn’t sure which road made a circle. “Left” or “right” would have sufficed. I went left, and that’s when Matt got off the phone and made me get out of the driver’s seat.

But we made it, safely, and in the end that’s what counts. Matt goes back to Houston tomorrow, and flies out Thursday, so keep him in your prayers.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Loch Ness Tour

So after years of imagining what it would be like to touch the murky waters of the great, long-necked Nessie, I finally made it to Loch Ness. This came close to the end of my UK tour in which I had already enjoyed the things I was most excited about and considered the rest of the trip more an indulgence of my husband Richie’s search for his Scottish roots. However, as we made our way across the dock into the boat, I reminded myself this had been a life-long dream. Perhaps I would have been more excited had I expected to see something, be it a mystical monster or an overgrown eel. But not only had I resigned myself to seeing nothing because sightings are so rare, I was now questioning whether or not there really is something to see.

Be that as it may, I stood on the deck and concentrated on the waters – not muddy and brown, like I had imagined after hearing of their murkiness for years, but a dark, lovely teal – soaking in every sight, smell, and sound to imprint them on my mind. As the boat began moving across the water, I suddenly thought how much like Galilee the lake looked, with similar surrounding hills. This realization further dampened my attempt at a mystical state of mind. It made Loch Ness just another lake, even less so when I considered that the presence of Christ on Galilee was a historical certainty – and Nessie just a possibility.

The boat took us only a very short distance before we started hearing something about castle ruins that we would be visiting. Oh - I looked to the right - there was a castle here? Of course. Surely I’d seen the pictures before. They had to present some other attraction, some…actual reason for being here. They made a big deal out of this castle called Urquhart, something about Jacobites and Robert the Bruce we had been hearing about all through Scotland. I began to feel extremely ignorant. Was I about to visit a historically significant sight of which I knew nothing? Had I really come all this way only to look for Nessie? Worse yet, did the tour guides know that many of us had come for just that? How they probably had a laugh every day, after presenting “mysterious” sonar readings on pictures they had taken with their cell phones – just as our guide had. I was glad I hadn’t been impressed. Again, the feeling that the Loch Ness phenomenon is based more on hype than anything substantial began nagging at me.

It suddenly seemed very important that I become acquainted with the Jacobites and Robert the Bruce (even though I’d looked him up twice this week and still wasn’t entirely sure). I couldn’t have come all this way for nothing.

But until we docked, I studied the waters closely, determined not to miss anything if, after thirty-five years of a few mostly explainable events, I was suddenly rewarded with something extraordinary. The waters were constantly waving, creating small, foamy white caps on the surface. Once in awhile a long, uniform wave would create a dark line, but nothing I could possibly have mistaken for a creature. No head, no neck, no silhouette, nothing. Urquhart Castle, which now seemed a large, gloomy symbol of my present academic deficiency, was drawing ominously near. Through the loud speaker, a voice had been presenting all kinds of information on the castle’s history, but I couldn’t hear well over the engine and the wind, and I don’t listen very well when there is no speaker in sight (OK - except to George Noory).

At last we docked and made our way up the many steps to the castle, parting with my mom who opted out of the castle tour to have coffee at the visitor’s center. The first part of the castle I chose to enter contained a prison. I ascended the stairs to a niche and peered through the bars of a cell where I was startled by a dummy prisoner. This reminded me of a Ghost Hunters episode in which Grant was stunned by the appearance of a ghostly face when he peered into a similar area. I reflected fondly on this very exciting episode a moment then retreated to the visitor’s center. I had finally resigned myself to the fact that the next half hour would not be adequate time for an education that would foster appreciation of this castle. I bought some souvenirs for friends before rejoining our tour group.

We were bused to Loch Ness museum, where we were herded from room to room to watch a video on the history of Nessie. The video began with the story of St. Columbia who ordered the beast to stop killing people and the beast complied. None of the proceeding stories offered the same delicious mixture of religious and crypto content to hold as much of my interest Moreover, too many pictures or sightings had proved to be hoaxes, seagulls, logs, deer, seals, or ducks. I found the theory of the sturgeon interesting, but very little was said on that.

In one room, we could not tell from which wall the video would be shown. When a picture finally appeared on one end of the room, we hustled to the other end. Then suddenly the video began behind us, and we hurried to the opposite end again. I think we all felt a little like herded cattle, and were exhausted.

I enjoyed the last couple video presentations because we were able to sit down, and my back hurt. When the final video was finished, we waited in momentary, awkward silence and then exited. By now we had only five minutes to inspect the gift shop before we needed to be on the bus. (“4:25!” our guide emphasized repeatedly.) But I couldn’t find the checkout counter. It seemed there were many pseudo-checkout counters – elevated floors with a counter that, once approached, would have no clerk and no register. After wandering stupidly around for several minutes, I finally asked somebody and was directed to a rather hidden stairway leading to a floor I would have never noticed. I felt like I had advanced to the new level of a video game.

Almost to the counter, I suddenly realized I had been shopping for everybody but me, and I still had no souvenir for myself. Spotting some pewter key chains, I snatched one that bore Nessie on one side and Urquhart castle on the other – a fitting memento for my experience. I was a little resentful that I didn’t have more time to carefully consider my purchase, but it was almost “4:25!”.

Our guide was late. We stood confused, in the heat on the parking lot for several minutes until the bus finally pulled up, full of new tourists. Our guide hadn’t told us he would be picking up a new group, and this revelation made curious his permission for us to leave on the bus any items which we hadn’t wished to carry. Slightly stressed, I made my way to my old seat to find two new occupants in it. Fortunately, the small shopping bag I had stuffed into the pocket of the preceding seat was still there.

“This is mine,” I said, as I snatched the bag up. My words were meant to be merely an explanation, but the occupant’s wide, apologetic eyes told me I had likely sounded three years old. I made my way with Richie and Mom to the very back of the bus, during which time a lady from the new group snapped at Richie to hurry up because she was hot. I was sorry I hadn’t heard the exchange, because I would have gladly helped her into the lake to cool off.

Once crammed in the back seats, peering at the heads of the new group I now resented, we were on our way. The guide, who had specifically been using mine, Richie’s, and my mom Barbara’s name since the beginning of the tour, was talking again. Of course, I wasn’t listening too closely, but suddenly I heard him say: “On the way to Urquhart Castle, Barbara from Indiana asked me, ‘Will there be anybody playing bagpipes at the castle?’ I told her no, because…”

I didn’t hear the rest of what he said because I was now staring agape at my mom. Had she truly asked such an asinine question?

She was just finishing applying her lipstick, and hastily whispered, “I didn’t ask that.”

“Did you ask him anything at all?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

We both sat back a moment to consider the guide’s ridiculous fabrication, and suddenly we were laughing. It was exactly the kind of laughter that would possess me as a child in church, complete with silent convulsing, tears and the hopeless inability to stop. Richie was annoyed, as he couldn’t concentrate on what the guide was saying with us falling apart right next to him. The idea of my mom – or anyone – asking such an air-headed question was too much. We attempted to stop laughing several times, but would lose it again, and continued this way until it was time to exit the bus. We never knew why the guide had chosen to make my mom look like an idiot, but it was the best entertainment of the day. If it wasn’t enough that we had harbored secret hopes of seeing Nessie, now we had a false reputation as stupid Americans who expected to hear live bagpipes being played at castle ruins.

Only my husband Richie, who is a far better listener than I, learned some things of educational value on our Loch Ness tour. He toured the entire castle and took pictures, reading all the plaques, and he listened intently to the guide – at least up until my mom and I disrupted things. In my defense, I have come away with a 700+ page biography on Mary, Queen of Scots. It might not help me with the Jacobites at Urquhart Castle, but at least I’ll be better able to appreciate Edinburgh Castle more the next time around. And the only way I would visit Loch Ness for the lake again is if I could descend it in a submarine and explore the life that does inhabit it. For now, I’ll just settle for the web cam view.