WTF happened to the practice of counting change? Before: you went to the store, the total was $7.25, you gave the clerk $10, and she said, “75 gives you 8, and 9 and 10.” Now: total is $7.25, you give the clerk $10, and If you’re lucky, she says, “2.75 is your change.” More often than not, she simply shoves a bunch of change at you.

This irks me on more than one level. First, customer service. It’s not particularly friendly to jam a fistful of money at someone. Second, it makes me feel like a miser who’s slowing down the line when I purposely stop to count my change and make sure I received the correct amount. (Note: it’s not always the correct amount. I tell them either way.)

I’ve noticed on the rare occasion that someone counts out change in old-school style, they are almost always over the age of 40. Seriously, pay attention and report back to me. Do you get your change counted out? Is the person 40+?

 

Recently, four different friends have said, “Seeing your house makes me want to go home and clear out all my clutter.” I find it ironic and hysterical that I, of all people, would inspire anyone to de-clutter. I’m such a recovering pack rat!

I am in the process of losing nearly 20 pounds. Of paper. More specifically, letters — you know, the correspondence that existed long before email was invented. I’ve always loved writing and receiving letters, and I had regular pen pals through high school and college. Inveterate letter writer plus chronic pack rat equals one very heavy box that I’ve carted around through all my moves. (Another friend recently said she’d moved three times in the past five years, and my first reaction was “wow, that’s a LOT” and my second reaction was, “oh yeah, me, too.”)

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The box barely survived this move.

Why didn’t I just chuck the box in the recycle bin? I was tempted, very very tempted. But back in high school, I went on a retreat and part of that retreat was receiving surprise letters from our parents, telling us they loved us. I’d misplaced those letters years ago, and wanted to find them, especially since my mom passed away.

So, I kept this box in the hopes that I’d jammed those letters in there at some point. But I wasn’t ready to go through the old letters or even to read the one I wanted from my mom. Looking at those letters made me feel overwhelmed, both with memory and with the task at hand. Until last week, when I did this:

So many letters, so many memories.

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I want to get it done, so I can get outside!

I rifled through, read very few, and found the missing letters from my mom and dad. I sat there in our entryway and cried. But then I felt light and ready for the purging task at hand. I’ve sorted by sender. I’m reading a few at a time, laughing and remembering, and chucking most of them in the recycle bin. The picture of the overturned box is unintentionally symbolic. The letters are in shadows…and a whole world of light and adventure exists beyond them.

Here, some tea towels. Innocent enough, even if you don’t like the color of the stripes.

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But look at the front of the towels, and you will see how creepy they are.

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I offer these as proof of two things: (1) I was a weird kid who went through an embroidery phase and (2) sexism was alive and well in the 70s. Really? Brainwashing kitties? Obviously their not-so-subliminal messages didn’t work. They’re super wrinkled. I hate ironing.

I found these in a closet somewhere in my mom’s house eons ago and reclaimed them. Then quickly shoved them in a box. Now, they’re going to be hand towels for parties. Can’t wait to see what kind of snarky comments they elicit.

Really, more like why-the-hell? I know what this stuff is; the question is why do I save it?

Case in point: traveler’s patches. I unearthed them recently when refinishing an old piece of furniture. I bought them as a wandering exchange student. I remember seeing backpacks covered with patches, thinking how cool those people must have been. I wanted a future of never-ending travels, of patch-covered backpacks.

Truth is, I never sewed them onto any backpack. That summer I didn’t own one,  and I’ve long-since graduated to a wheelie suitcase. They never decorated any form of luggage, but I’ve saved them for decades, moving them from apartment to apartment. They’re small and shoved in a box, and every time I see them I think, “Maybe someday I’ll do something with them.”

That someday is today, and that something is to hurl them into the donation pile. I thought I’d take a picture to commemorate them. As I took photos, I realized a couple of things: (1) though I lived in Spain for a year, I never got a patch of Spain; and (2) the photo felt like so much braggadocio. “Look at me! Look at all the places I’ve been! I must be cool!” I think that’s why they never made it onto any of my luggage.

This photo instead: patches indistinguishable, since they’re soon to be gone. Passport in focus, with plenty of blank pages to represent adventures yet to come.

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Clearing out old paperwork, I found a file entitled “Ideas.” Filled with parts of poems, pieces of essays, a screenplay tidbit, even drafts of personal ads (for me and for friends), it’s mostly dreck and drivel from younger days, but I can’t quite throw it away.

And, for laughs, here is something I wrote more than half my life ago while working my first job out of college. With apologies to Roberta Flack…

I heard it was a good job
I heard it had a plan
And so I came to work here
And advance when I can.
And here here it is this new job,
A strange new place to be
Killing me softly with this work
Killing me softly with this job

I feel all flushed with fever
Embarrassed by my plight
How can I tell co-workers
I cry each, every night
I pray the work will finish
But computers drone right on
Killing me softly with this work
Killing me softly is this job
Ruining a young life.

PS – There was another poem I wrote about that workplace. I think it was called “The Cesspool.” English major post-college angst at its finest!

Usually, if you combine two things you’re ambivalent about, you’re left feeling lukewarm at best.

How is it, then, when you combine medicine with technology, I’m fascinated? I had an MRI today, and walked away with the CD of images. With most of them, for all I can decipher, I may  as well be looking at photos taken by Curiosity of the surface of Mars. But others are amazingly clear. Check it out…

WTF is wrong? I have no idea. But it sure looks cool!

WTF is wrong? No idea. But it sure looks cool!

It takes scores of exceptionally smart people working together to figure out how to use magnets to get a picture of the inside of your body — a picture that you can then study on your computer screen. It makes my brain hurt a little to think about it. But not as much as it hurt when I learned that my neighbor helped invent a camera that can go into your heart to take pictures.  Whoa.

(Meanwhile, running’s on hold. Maybe forever.)

I am trying to come up with a theme for a regularly-scheduled blog post.My friend Kristy does “Six Word Sundays,” and I like that, but my camera’s acting hinky these days.Derek suggested “Derek’s Dumb Ideas,” where he sends me six words or less, and I write an index-card sized story on that.His first submission, “Calculus textbook discarded on the sidewalk.”I may yet do that.Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I was thinking Wednesday would be a good day for a WTF, or wacky blurb, or general wackiness.It started with me asking myself “What the f—k did I just do?”

To answer: I just registered for the 17th Annual Sharkfest.(I picked this particular Alcatraz swim event solely because I like the title.Talk about bragging rights!)I’m now scheduled to jump off a ferry by Alcatraz and swim to shore.On August 15, 2009, if all goes according to plan, I will plunge into the cold waters of the bay, and swim to Aquatic Park without flippers, fins, or a motor.And I paid for the privilege.

C’mon, do it with me. http://www.athleteslounge.com/events/event.php?eventid=2551

If your answer to that is “I don’t even like swimming in my own bathtub,” I invite you to come cheer me on. Granted I won’t hear you while I swim a mile away, but I will love seeing you as I emerge from the water quite possibly cranky and most definitely cold.

Does this mean that I’m now a swimming stud? that water polo’s a breeze? that I’m a skinny fish?Not so much!But maybe this will help.Here’s to hoping.

(P.S. – You may not root for the sharks!)