Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Worst Thing to Say

It finally happened. I've heard people say this on television and in movies but I never, never thought this was ever uttered in real life. On an idle Tuesday morning after some light chitty chat, someone on the van actually asked me this question:

So, what does your husband do for a living?


Honestly, who would say such a thing in this day and age? It's not so much a question as an opportunity for judgement, appraisal, and outright nosiness. I've been racking my brain since yesterday trying to fashion an appropriate response to this inappropriate question.

Herewith, a sample:

Oh, Steve? Well since we lost everything after Enron collapsed, he's been dropping fries at the Burger King on Main. He's got a great discount!

John is a "Power Seller" on Ebay.

Oi, Gladys Kravitz, how is my husband's chosen occupation any of your fucking business?

He's Mr. Mom to our two Boston Terriers.

Alex has had some trouble holding down a job since he got out of jail, but we always have Jesus.

Sarah and I have been together for 11 years now and she's a district attorney.

I drop him off at adult day care before I catch the van.

Pete is relapsing pretty bad so I haven't seen him in about a week.

My baby's a kept man, he don't need to work.

As the rules of decorum and good manners dictate, never ask anyone this question - especially not a wise ass like myself who will spend too much time obsessing over the perfect answer while taking extra time to think the worst of you.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Silence of the Vans

I spent Sunday afternoon swapping out music on my MP3 player; this is evidently what passes for entertainment in my household. Despite my nerdiness (or maybe because of it) I was most eager to listen to all the freshly loaded music on the van this morning.

When I arrived, they seemed to be battening down the hatches despite the fact I had a full two minutes left before our scheduled departure.

Fall is truly the best time for sad bastard music. Around this time every year I dust off The Cure, Mazzy Star, Galaxie 500, and Bauhaus and settle in for a good mope.

Twenty some minutes into my commute, hovering between sleep and ennui, this song crept into my head.

This song, which has been sending chills down the spines of movie goers ever since we first saw Buffalo Bill cavorting in his boudoir in his homemade skin suit, really is quite catchy.

If you can let go of the context (which, let's face it, is nigh impossible) it's got all the makings of a moody classic: Droning? Check. A little too long? Certainly. Unintelligible lyrics? To be sure.

So, as we move toward Halloween and into prime mopey music season, I can't think of a spookier cut.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


If you would kindly indulge me on a riff about the wee ones, or rather, their parents...

Don't make me listen to any more stories about your children. Please.

I like to fancy myself one of those liberal minded empowered sort of women, embracing my sisters and their choices with all the love my tar black heart can hold. But honestly, can't we find something else to discuss other than the fruits of their collective wombs?

No, no we can't.

We can't because they don't read, don't follow politics, don't involve themselves in much beyond their immediate brood. Hell, they barely talk to their spouses. I will relay a story recently overheard by Van Mother:

Me and Van Father were having a rare evening out and talking, just talking, when my husband says, 'Why can't we do this more often, just sit and talk with each other? Do you remember when we first got married and would go camping all the time and travel? I miss that. When can we start doing that again?' Van Mother's response was (no shit), 'In about 18 years, Honey. When the kids go off to college it will be just us again.'

Oh, the horror.

The mommies may look at me and think that I'm jealous, barren, or cracked. To which I respond: Nope, If only, and Perhaps.

Adulthood was something I really aspired to with all of its cocktails and autonomy and excessive eye makeup. But what I thought was the last exclusive club, now seems to let any tot or adolescent wander in past the ropes.

I have built my child-free oasis away from the mommy mongering and have filled it with breakables, pointy-edged furniture, leisure time, and Bloody Marys for breakfast.

So please, when you notice my eyes more glazed than a Krispy Kreme, stop talking about Junior's ear infection.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Vanpool Chronicles: The Show

Hitching a ride to work en masse is officially the New Hot Thing. It's got a taint of that smile-on-your-brother-everybody-get-together-try-to-love-one-another-right-now thing with a bit of the obscenely popular Tread Lightly On the Earth, Live Green thrown in.

We even have our own show: Carpoolers. Now, from what I overheard on my own vanpool about the show (Wait, 'poolers talking about other 'poolers: it's like looking in a mirror...with a mirror... Whoa.) Generic White Guy said the show was pretty awful and not at all representational of life in a real pool. All I know is that it's got that Jerry O'Connell fellow who to me will always be Vern the Fat Kid from that gem of a movie, Stand By Me.

Which got me thinking -

With thanks to my blog PR manager and fellow librarian, as well as the fine work over at byoolin's trebuchet, I have decided to cast The Vanpool Chronicles as a television program.

Vanpool Chronicles Cast
Van: 2005 Ford E Series 350 Passenger Van
Van Mother: Amy Sedaris
It: Gollum
Neo-Pompadour: Edward James Olmos
Generic White Guy: Gary Cole (Office Space's Lumbergh)
Hispanic Woman: The ever-intrepid Dora the Explorer
Gap Lady: Judi Dench
Tall: Dakota Fanning
Grande: Margaret Cho
Houston Rocket Yao Ming (in drag)
2 Wizend Crones: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
Vacant Rider Slot: To Be Announced
vAnnie: Herself
I'm sure my show (like Carpoolers) would likely die a quick death and be cancelled because who really wants to know about vanpoolers anyway, right?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Vannies: A Demographic Breakdown

1 15-passenger van

17 Total riders assigned to van

13 Full-time riders

4 Part time riders - I know precious little about this crowd as they only appear about once or twice a month. Not sure if they get a discount as the full monthly price is hardly a bargain for a few rides.

From here on all data reflects Vannies only, no part timers.

Of my 13 Vannies:

Two are male. One married, one single. One is generically white and wears short sleeve shirts with the occasional tie and talks about his barbecue acumen, the other is Hispanic and sports a truly bitchin' neo-pompadour, but has the annoying habit of sucking air through his front teeth.

Three are Asian. I noticed early on that this is a rather cliquish group. No one talks to them, but they talk to each other. Of the three Asians, I'll call them Tall, Grande, and Venti (she's got to be at least 6'). Venti appears to be the linchpin, Tall and Grande chat up a storm with her, but seldom talk to each other.

Van Mother, she is the public face of our vanpool. You must go through her when joining or leaving the vanpool. Van Mother is the Alpha Vannie and the very picture of a suburban working mom. With Van Mother, it's all precious anecdotes about her offspring and spouse. I thought I would like Van Mother but following The Big Stink incident (refer to Big Stink post) and after she sort of tuned me out when I responded that no, I don't have any children, during the first 12 seconds of our first conversation, I really don't have much to do with her.

It, I don't care for It or her real life androgynous name. She is a squat woman with a short, gray perm who lives with her mother. 'Nuff said. It is also a dog breeder or breeder enthusiast or some fucking thing. Inexplicably, Van Mother and It have forged what appears to be a friendship.

One Hispanic woman, we share a drop off and have managed some light bonding. She has started taking the stairs with me in the morning and asks me about my dogs and weekend plans. She can be spotted forcing herself to ingest green tea out of a pink ceramic mug roughly the size of her head.

One rather hip older woman, who looks a bit like a geriatric Gap ad: all ballet flats and well cut t-shirts. She is quite possibly the most disarmingly personable human being on Earth; pleasant without being tiresome and just a bit feisty.

Two middle 40's women who radiate an aura that says, "I don't give a shit." I love them. They refrain from talking in the morning (due in large part to the fact that they are sleeping soundly with their faces suctioned to the window), rarely if ever talk about their kids, and seem to be just as annoyed as me when the Asians are hypercaffeinated and trying to talk over each other.

One Black woman who left on maternity leave shortly after I joined the van and we recently heard that she won't be returning. So, be on the lookout for news about our newest member whenever s/he arrives.

Then there's me, a solid decade younger than my van ilk and probably the only Democrat, judging by all the Bush/Cheney '04 stickers on their SUV's. I'm the only one who reads on the van, except for the generic white guy who occasionally brings the paper (of course). Me and Venti listen to music and, incidentally, Venti loves metal. I know this because she turns her music up loud enough that I can actually sing along with the Zeppelin.

This is the motley cast of characters that populate my vanpool life, these are the everyday folk, the hardest core Vannies.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Big Stink

Upon joining The Van, I received a typed list of Van Guidelines (we're all adults so they're "guidelines" not "rules"). The eighth and final item states:

Please be sensitive to allergy needs.
Go light on the perfume and cologne.

Now, I am nothing if not sensitive the allergy needs of others. I myself apply only a whisper of a scent that hints at the charm, sophistication, and discerning taste of the wearer. This is in stark contrast to the women (and occasional man) radiating the stank of the drugstore perfume they presumably laundered their clothes in, shampooed their hair with, and swished around their mouth. These fragrance abusers leave watery eyes and sneezing fits in their wake, befouling elevators, restrooms, and yes, vanpools.

Along with my fellow vanpoolers, I recently received an email stating that there had been at least one, and possible more, riders bitching about the fragrance intensity of their fellow passengers. We were issued an edict prohibiting the use of "Perfumes/colognes, scented lotions, and/or other things that might cause others to react and/or feel sick."

You know what makes me sick?

Timid motherfuckers who would rather tattle to the self-appointed Van Mother than address their grievances with the offending party.

Was I too engrossed in my book or did I have my mp3 player turned up too loud to notice when my van morphed into a Fascist regime? How was it that our freedoms of olfactory expression were revoked on the basis of one complainant?

It must also be said that I have not noticed anyone's noxious fumes while on the van (apart from general ride home ripeness that can't really be avoided when you're standing under the Texas sun waiting on your van for any longer than 45 seconds).

Reminiscent of the Poker axiom that 'if you can't tell who the sucker is after 15 minutes, it's you,' I had a horrifying thought dawn on me: what if I was the offending party?

Aghast, I questioned the three riders who board at my stop if they were the offendees or if I was the offender. Although all three said no, two of them looked at me as though I asked them how much money they make or what they paid for their house. The way I see it, if someone was irritated enough to complain about someone's perfume, they should at least own up to it.

To date, neither the source of the offensive smell nor the complainant has been identified.

For my part, the day after the email was sent, I was sure to add an extra spritz of perfume to my morning routine just to keep Democracy alive and well.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Vandom Thoughts: Fall

According to my calendar, Fall is here. Mind you, 90 degree humidity-filled Houston heat does not make me think about crisp air or crunchy leaves, it makes me wonder why the hell I don't just move to Vermont.

Fall is indeed my favorite season and I think it has largely to do with pumpkins. Pumpkins, both decorative and deliciously edible and a lovely color to boot. Also, pumpkin carving may just be the most wholesome activity one can engage in. If you're into that sort of thing.

I'm sure I'm in for another year of trick'o'treaters in shorts, doused with mosquito repellent. My parents have taken to giving out full sized candy bars for Halloween, which I think is terrific insurance against vandalism or theft by neighborhood hooligans. I can hear it now, "No, man not that house. Old Man Johnson gave me a full size Snickers." Mind you, in my youth my father would have never given in to such a display of extravagance. I guess age is mellowing him, that or he really likes Halloween now.

Herewith, a recipe to get you in touch with Fall:

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Feel free to Veganize and/or half recipe

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick spray or line them with parchment paper.
Using a mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Beat in the white and brown sugars, a little at a time, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, then mix in the vanilla and pumpkin puree. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Slowly beat the flour mixture into the batter in thirds. Stir in the chips. Scoop the cookie dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are browned around the edges.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Vaniquette: Part I

As with any form of public transportation, there are many unspoken rules governing personal conduct while on the van. In extreme situations, the rules may be temporarily suspended, but disregard them at your peril.

Rule the First - Let s/he who boards first move to the back. This rule, while ironclad in its simplicity and logic, is most often ignored. By everyone. Rule the First breaks down as soon as the first person on the van picks the best seat, which is ordinarily near the front as these people disembark first. Sneaky.

Rule the Second - Let s/he with the widest ass arrange themselves to occupy the smallest possible area. Speaking as someone with, ahem, ample thighs I am a stringent supporter and follower of this rule. I don't want anyone's chubbles encroaching on my space any more than I seek to encroach.

Rule the Second pt. II - In fact, refrain from touching your riding companions all together. A brush or a nudge is acceptable as you are settling in, but after that, even if you have to contort yourself to the point of physical pain, keep your shit to yourself.

Rule the Third - Hygiene. This cannot be stressed enough. Be advised when riding with international passengers who don't always possess the same fanaticism as their American counterparts with regard to bodily odors, you may be best served to sit in the back- even if it means you get off last. Should someone offer you a breath freshening agent, take it.

Rule the Fourth - If you must use your phone on the van, at least make it interesting for everyone listening. I would much rather hear a profanity laden tirade about alleged public/private indiscretions or even a well thought out treatise on the Electoral College than suffer through another conversational volley about who is going to pick up the kids from day care and wouldn't some overly processed foodstuffs be nice for dinner.

Rule the Fifth - Whilst in the van environment your every sneeze, sniffle, cough, throat clearing, and nose blow is under scrutiny. Everyone gets maybe three of any noise in a given week. Any more than that and I begin to think you not only have a reprehensible lack of social grace but are in fact the second coming of Typhoid Mary.

Learn and live these rules, gentle reader, for they will keep you above reproach, or at the very least, keep you from annoying the hell out of people in an enclosed environment.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Get in the Van

You have seen us, we populate the landscape of your daily commute: Vanpoolers.

Fleets of vanpools descend on the city every morning and recede into the suburbs every evening. I am one of them, and this is the story.

Admit it, you've wondered what goes on behind the tinted windows of our late-model 15 passenger vans: Are there assigned seats? What station do they listen to on the radio? Who does the driving? Do they talk to each other? About what? and Why are they driving so godamned slow?

Full disclosure: I am a relatively recent convert to The Van as mode of transportation. I finally secured a respectable grown up job about six months ago and while I was delighted to join the 9-5 set, sitting in bumper to bumper traffic for 45 minutes twice a day would have lead me to bash my brains out on the steering wheel of my Volkswagen. There simply is not enough NPR in the world to make that drive a worthwhile use of my time. Not to mention that my benevolent employer sees fit to gouge staff at the rate of $150 per month to park on the premises.

I needed an alternative and that right soon. So I took to trolling the parking lots of chain stores surrounding my subdivision looking for vans advertising for riders (that's what we're called, "riders"). I found one that would fit my needs perfectly and it was, of course, full.

During the intervening three months, I joined another vanpool which ultimately broke up (yes, just like landmasses and garage bands, vanpools are coming together and breaking apart all the time).

On my first morning of my new vanpool, I introduced myself around and tried not to seem weird. I even thumbed through a recent copy of People magazine to prove my accessibility and normalcy to my new riding companions. I later realized that any attempts to put my best vanpool foot forward with this crowd were an entirely wasted effort.

And this is how it began. We have been together for three months now and I have more material than I could use in a year. So rather than entertaining my family, friends, and Gays with these tales, I will share them with you. I hope you enjoy the travelogue of this life.

Keep your eyes on the road,