Thursday, September 29, 2011

Portland!

So, RR and I went to Portland, Oregon.  We've never been to Portland, Maine, but I hear it's lovely there.  But we can only speak about Oregon.  It was pretty.

One reason we went was to visit our friend who just moved there.  She doesn't know anyone in Oregon, and she's starting her Ph.D. program and was a little nervous about it (I don't know why, she's brilliant).  Another reason is because we'd heard that there are lots of restaurants and bakeries that were willing to accommodate people with multiple food allergies--that, unfortunately, turned out to be true (see references to weight gain, below).

I had never been to the Pacific Northwest, but I'd wanted to for a long time because I love trees and green things, and they have lots of coffee there.

So we did a lot of this:
 IMG049

You know what they also have a lot of there?  Chocolate.  CHOCOLATE, y'all.  [side note on the importance of commas: without a comma in the previous sentence, I would have been saying that they have a lot of "chocolate y'all" in Portland, and I don't know what a chocolate y'all is, nor do I know if Portland has any. Commas matter, y'all.] 

Anyway.  CHOCOLATE.  That even I can eat.  And I did.  A lot.

RR and I were a little afraid that the housekeeper at the hotel would open the fridge and see it stuffed full of partially eaten chocolate items and think "this is why everyone in this country is fat."  That's not incorrect, but I really don't want to be Exhibit A in the case of The Problem With The American Diet.

That is one of the reasons why we kept the "do not disturb" sign on the door for most of the trip.  The other reason was that I don't need housekeeping to notice that I pack each article of my clothing in its own individual Ziplock bag and decide that I'm crazy.  I'm not crazy.  I'm just really, really paranoid about bedbugs, and Portland has problems in that area.

We also visited the Portland Farmer's Market, where they had a lot of beautiful vegetables, some good coffee, and, oh, yeah, a stand that sold chocolate pie we could have.
We bought two.

We ate one that night with a coffee stirrer, being unable to make ourselves wait until the next day when we could acquire cutlery.  In our defense, I can't tell you how long it's been since we were able to buy pie we could safely eat.  And we seriously love pie.

To help balance things out, we walked a ton, and I love that Portland's downtown area is very walkable.  Some of our walking was due to our repeatedly getting lost.  Even with phones with GPS, we still had problems. Yes, we are that talented.  But it is always a little bit of a blessing getting lost, however annoying it is at the time, because you get to see parts of a city you might otherwise not ever visit see.  Of course, when we got off a bus at the wrong place on the Pacific Highway, it didn't feel like a blessing. 

That bit was kind of my fault, as I'd insisted that we take the bus out to this one particular grocery store that we all like here in Texas. I thought it would make my friend feel more comfortable in her new city, and she could stock up on her favorite groceries. But not only is it not close, but it's a smaller store than the one she's used to, and it didn't have some of the items she was really looking forward to buying.

I won't consider it a total waste of time because now my friend won't spend any time thinking she'd like to go there but feeling too afraid to get on the bus to the suburbs.  No, she won't be going back there soon, if ever.  I think it was the nearly missing the bus on the way back that did her in.  Or maybe the weird guy at the bus stop in the middle of Sketchyville on the Pacific Highway.  I'm not sure.  But either way, she's seen it, and now she knows she's not missing anything.

They did sell this:
IMG060

I've seen this mistake before, but only on the Internet, never in person. I was delighted to see it. I don't always laugh at mangled English.  It's not hard to learn enough of another language to get by in restaurants or at grocery stores, but it's very hard to learn another language really fluently.  So I try to give people a break.  But I do laugh when the language mangling is done by a company that surely has access to people who speak fluent English.  And I do laugh when, by merely changing a letter placement, the company changes the name or description of the product from something people want to buy to eat (bean curd) into a word that people use to avoid saying "sh!t." 

So that was our trip to the suburbs.  Tigard, Oregon, I salute you and your bean crud.

We didn't just walk around in circles while we were there, although sometimes it felt like it.  We saw "Dial M For Murder" in 3D.  We, of course, went to Powell's Books, where I bought Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior.  It was an enjoyable, interesting, easy read, and I managed to get most of it read on the plane ride back.  That was a huge deal for me because I usually get too nauseated on planes to read.  Our friend was so happy that we didn't get sick on the plane, she jokingly said, "Hey, now you're ready for the trip to Korea!" Yeah, not so fast. I haven't even made it to Europe yet.  And I still get antsy if I have to sit on a plane for four hours.  But still! Progress!  Maybe one day I'll even make it to Australia, although I've kinda given up on that dream because of my fear of all the deadly things there. I can't pack myself in a giant Ziplock. Right?

And of course the Farmer's Market and the chocolate places.  Thank you, Moonstruck and Cacao, for making us a little fatter.  

Cacao chocolate
Cacao.  The picture's a little blurry because I was too excited to have a steady hand.

Oh, and, the cafe at the Nordstrom in downtown carried a cookie that we had over a year ago and haven't been able to find since.  

IMG058
Yea, peanut butter fatness.

Oh, and we went to the Oregon DMV.  Twice. 

I don't mind going to the DMV, generally, because it provides cross-section data of Americans. Everyone has to go to the DMV (well, everyone who wants to legally drive or go places that require I.D.), so you see all types.  But it can't truthfully be described as a pleasant experience, and twice seems excessive.  And sadly, our friend will have to go yet a third time because even though we had all the right forms by the second trip, we weren't told on the first trip that she needed to wait until school started so that her enrollment could be verified.  The DMV employees were all very nice when they turned us away, but it still gave one the feeling of defeat.  That was ok, though, because as we discussed with our friend, going to the DMV is a universal American experience--meaning, wherever you go in the U.S., the experience will be the same.  You always know what to expect there.  So it kind of makes you feel like no matter what state you're in, you're still home.

I guess that's enough about our trip for now.  I don't have a good ending for this post, so here's a picture of trash that was in a chair in the lobby of the hotel we stayed in.  

IMG056
Stay classy, Hilton! Thanks for charging us pages we tried to print on your computer that never actually printed.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"They tried to make me go to rehab, but I won't go because they're trying to kill me."

I know I shouldn't joke about this, but my grandmother is in the hospital and thinks the doctors are trying to kill her. She fell and broke her hip, and she's going to have to have rehab after her surgery, but she's Not Pleased.

I would say it was a symptom of mental deterioration related to old age, but she has always been, as my dad said in a moment of understatement, "suspicious." Her motto in life might just be "Trust No One." Nobody knows more than her about anything, and the fact that the doctors were not letting her go home, and were giving her treatment that she did not agree with, that could only mean one thing: they wanted to kill her.

My mom was not having it. "What information do you have that they need to kill you to keep you quiet?" she asked. My grandmother did not have an answer. She also did not have an answer to my statement that yes, she's right just because people are doctors does not mean they know what they are doing, but "they know more than you do." I am quite certain that she is still, days later, thinking up a response to that, which I will hear about later.

She was so indignant the other night about the fact that on the day she was admitted, the medical staff had referred to her as "uncooperative." Apparently, at some point they had to strap her down just to treat her. She referred to this as "putting [her] in handcuffs." She's a little free with the hyperbole.

"Can you imagine?" she asked me the next day, shaking her head. "Calling an 85-year-old woman 'uncooperative?'" Y'all, she was so offended. I mean, the very idea.

Oh, but I can believe it, alright. That's basically what we've been saying about her my whole life, only we don't say "she's uncooperative." We say "That's How She Is."

But I resisted saying anything. I'm just glad that my mother had warned us that our grandmother was being a tad difficult. She doesn't think of herself as difficult, of course. She thinks it's everyone else.

I know I shouldn't make jokes about the subject, especially since my grandmother is not in the best of shape right now. But that's the family way--do whatever grandmother wants, but gather in groups behind her back and complain about how she is not inhabiting the same plane of existence as the rest of us.

She really is being ridiculous, y'all. As far as I know, her sisters (the eldest of which, in traditional Southern style, she has always referred to as "Sister") do not even know that she is in the hospital. I don't know why, I didn't ask, I just obeyed my mother's frantic early-morning text (waking me up while I was on vacation, I might add) telling me not to say anything on Facebook. Oh yes, my great-aunts, who are all over 80, use Facebook more than I do. So, yeah, we have to protect the news like some secret family shame.

Of course, this is the same grandmother who, only a few years ago, asked my mother if my sister and I, since we were then over 30, were old enough to be told that one of my relatives had been divorced. So what would be shameful to my grandmother really doesn't have to be that shocking to anyone else in the country.

On the upside, this whole thing has provided an opportunity to see my uncle who lives out of state. He flew in to be here from my grandmother's surgery, and it was nice to see him again. He asked at one point if we were Facebook friends with his daughter, my cousin. He's a nice man, so I said only that I rarely go anywhere near that site. I also thought but did not say, "dude, we are not any kind of friends with her as she does not see fit to associate with this side of the family, and we only ever mention her in connection with that time she got attacked by the alligator and how we were glad she wasn't permanently injured because that way we can say how she kinda had it coming after skipping out on our grandparents' fiftieth wedding anniversary just so she could have a slumber party, and yeah that probably makes us terrible people, but she hasn't visited in at least 12 years, even though during that time period when she apparently had the time resources to fly around the country exhibiting pugs in dog shows. The End."


Spending time with my family can be very stressful because I never know when one of them, particularly my grandmother, will say something that I disagree with, or even something that I find horrifying, which will put me in the awkward position of choosing between being rude by contradicting an older family member, or not saying anything, thereby indicating apparent agreement, which kills me. Thus the reason I have the reputation in my family for having "a little bit of a mouth on me."

At one point yesterday, my grandmother proudly told her nurse, who is Vietnamese, that my sister and I were learning Korean. My sister, the nurse, and I all just looked at each other, the nurse with a look that said "How do we get out of this conversation because I am not sure how to react to this" and us with looks that said "We know that Korean and Vietnamese are not the same so please don't hate us." I gave a slight shrug and shook my head a little bit.

In her defense, I know that my grandmother was just searching for safe small talk topics and that she knows that they are not the same language. But I don't think she knows that Korean and Vietnamese are so different that identifying her nurse as Vietnamese and then following up with a remark about Korean was a total non sequitur. And I don't think that she realizes that assuming that a person from Vietnam would give a damn about someone learning Korean, when the only thing those two languages have in common is that they are spoken on the same continent, is a teeny bit racist.

The nurse just said, "I . . . don't speak Korean. [pause] But learning another language is hard."

She's a really tactful woman, that nurse.

Then my grandmother helped a bit by saying that we also spoke French, which allowed us to move the conversation to learning languages generally, a topic that I'm always happy to talk about, seeing as I would like to learn every language ever spoken. And it enabled us all to pretend that she was only bragging about her grandchildren's language learning abilities and not implying that all Asian languages are the same.

But that brief awkward moment? That's what hanging out with my family, and in particular my grandmother is like, all the time.

I guess I should just be relieved that that's all she said. It really could have been anything. I mean, it could be anything. My grandmother is what is sometimes referred to as a "loose canon."* Going out with her in public has always been an adventure because her sense of humor and her sense of propriety, though generally proper to the extreme, has a tendency to go off at the most inconvenient moments. This is not because she's old. She's just like that.

Oh, she also asked the nurse if she was a Christian. That was a tense moment. I wanted to quickly divert the conversation to something else, or shout out, "You don't have to answer that!" but I was frozen in horror at what might come next. The nurse said that no, she was a Buddhist, but she would pray for my grandmother (that's what started the conversation--my grandmother asking us if we'd pray for her). My grandmother thankfully waited until the nurse's back was turned to roll her eyes.

I'm from the South, and we respect our elders, but I was fully prepared to either walk out of the room or apologize for my grandmother right in front of her if she had started trying to convert that poor, patient nurse. But for once, my grandmother let the awkward conversation drop.

I bet the nurse is totally used to that kind of thing if she works around old people a lot, so I guess I shouldn't worry about her being offended. But it was exhausting trying to stay one step ahead of my grandmother. Grandmothers! You can't live with them, and you can't go out in public with them, but they sure do make life interesting, n'est-ce pas?

할머니 사랑해! But please spend the rest of your time in the hospital in quiet reflection.

So, anyway, that's what's going on with me. Next post: my recent trip to Portland. It was fun!

*EDIT: My grandmother is sometimes referred to as a "loose cannon," not a "loose canon." We never refer to her as a clergyman or an authoritative set of written works, loose or otherwise.  Nor do we refer to her as a body of principles, although she kind of is, but in that way she is more rigid than loose, if sometimes somewhat contradictory.  Sorry if that caused confusion.