Awful features of cookouts

Cookouts are a hotbed of danger, awkwardness, and yard games. It’s bad enough trying to sit comfortably at a sun-baked picnic table splattered in bird shit, but really, that’s only the beginning. With Labor Day in just two days, I figured that the penultimate entry of Humidfest 2014 would be an opportune time to discuss some of the unsavory qualities of outdoor barbecues.

A lake!

You are in less danger from the many drunken boaters on this lake than you are from every single thing that happens at a cookout.

Purposely attracting yellow jackets

Soda is a mandatory part of every barbecue ever. This is stupid, because it attracts yellow jerkbags jackets to the picnic table, placing everyone in grave danger.  Bumble bees and honey bees are just in it for the pollen. Yellow jackets are like the asshole Aqualish in the Mos Eisley Cantina who picks a fight with Luke Skywalker for no damn reason. Or, because fighting. Basically, the fact that they were in the same location is enough. Either way, Obi Wan Kenobi slices his arm off, and it’s all good. Unfortunately, I live in Massachusetts, and there is no Obi Wan Kenobi here to come kill the yellow jackets with his lightsaber. So, it’s only common sense not to have soda at a picnic, when you don’t have a Jedi to defend you from the consequences.

Potato salad roulette

Unless it’s garlicky, olive oil-soaked Italian potato salad, potato salad is something that mostly sucks anyway. So that’s already a strike against both it and summer, which is when it comes out of hibernation to give us salmonella.  Enter potato salad roulette. How long has it been out? Are you willing to risk it? YOUR LIFE IS ON THE LINE.

Undercooked hamburgers

When meat is ground, the bacteria sitting on the outside mixes with everything else in squishy meat curls. That means that the inside of a hamburger needs to be cooked to well done. No, it’s not 1000% percent definite that someone will get food poisoning if they eat a bit of meat that’s still pink. But is it worth the risk? Not really, in my book, and I happen to prefer my burgers blackened anyway.

Most of the cookouts I’ve been to in the last two years have had undercooked hamburgers. And not all cooked by the same person either. There have been four culprits. If I so much as mention that the meat is undercooked, I’m told it’s ok, and I’m over worrying. It’s like being the only person in a movie who sees the whole conspiracy, and everyone is just trying to silence me.

Volleyball

Gym class volleyball always turned me into an exemplary Apathetic Loner Girl, Daria style. In my eyes, the other kids didn’t seem to grasp that there was no reason to get excited over, or invested in the outcome of the game. To me, it was perfectly acceptable to watch the ball fly by instead of bothering to try hitting it. The gym teachers didn’t care, but my team mates were not cool with this, and they let me know. With gusto. Or zest. Also, yelling.

Volleyball went from a slightly fun game that I had no enthusiasm for, to something more akin to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Plus, it’s not something I want to attempt while suffering the consequences of potato salad roulette.

Oppressive heat oppressing us

Last week was a busy week, so my previous update to Humidfest 2014 was two weeks ago. In that last Humidfest 2014 post, I wrote about summer activities that are actually better in winter. There is a whole other category of activities that are not only better in winter, but that the tyrannical oppressor of Hot Weather makes impossible this time of year. Here are some of the ones that I miss the most.

Thai red lentil curry

You’re the one I miss most of all.

Eating soup

Soup is one of the best food-forms in existence. Delicious umami slurpiness with chunks of whatever vegetables, meat, or noodly goodness your heart desires. I know gazpacho exists, and it’s a summer soup, but it doesn’t make up for the loss of every other kind of soup. Sausage and kale. Chili. Pho. Tortellini. Red Lentil Thai Chili.

Sleep

This one seems like it should be obvious, but apparently 72 degrees Fahrenheit is the national average room temperature. This probably explains a lot of culture-level problems. Obesity epidemic? How could anyone do anything BUT eat corn chips and watch TV with lethargy-producing 72 degree air lulling them into a fog? Kids are underperforming on standardizing tests? Maybe if the school’s thermostat weren’t sending them mixed messages they’d do ok.

I always find that anything over 70 indoors makes me start to nod off, and yet, I can’t actually sleep at that temperature.

Do things at home

Maybe I’m unique in this one because my air conditioner is a lazy piece of crap that won’t exert the effort to cool my entire apartment, which is small enough that my air conditioner has made itself an embarrassment to its species by not cooling it. Yes, I have personified my air conditioner. How could it be my nemesis if it were just a badly designed appliance?

Drink hot cocoa

I am apparently considered a good cook, but really, I’m mostly good at picking out recipes. I am not the cook in my household, and I’m extremely slow at chopping things.

But.

My hot cocoa is amazing. And I like experimenting with different kinds. In eighth grade, we had an assignment to demonstrate to the class how to do something. I taught my english class how to make peppermint hot cocoa with peppermint patties. A few of my classmates came up to me the next week to tell me that the cocoa was amazing! The best ever! Had changed their life and now they were going to quit middle school and LIVE, dammit!

I got a bad grade on that project because instead of bringing in a microwave and cooking the cocoa right then and there, I typed instructions and brought in the ingredients to show everyone. Yes, my language arts teacher apparently expected a scrawny eigth grader to carry an entire microwave to school, on the bus and everything, because “It would have been better if you had made the cocoa in class.”

Eh, fuck it. I’m making cocoa tonight anyway.

Congrats, grad!

The other day, someone I met five years after I graduated college asked me if I’d finished school yet. It’s not the first time this has happened to me. For once, I gave up, said yes I had, and accepted my congratulations. I’m not sure what I would have done if he’d asked any follow-up questions, like what I was planning to do now, or when my graduation ceremony was. “Well, I was thinking I’d spend a couple years unemployed—that’s been a popular thing for 2008 grads, you know, recession—and then I figured I’d take a job completely irrelevant to my degree. The job, in fact, where you asked me this question.”

Many years ago, I thought that looking younger than my age would eventually work to my benefit, and I’d be grateful for it. Maybe that’ll happen in another ten or twenty years. A year shy of thirty, it’s turned out to occasionally funny.

Once someone asked me if I live at home. I answered, “Do I live at home? Uh, well, yeah. Home is where I live.” It’s been awhile since I lived with my parents. A few times, older people have mentioned cassette tapes, then exclaimed, “I bet you don’t even know what a cassette tape is!” Once, this even happened with the color chartreuse. Granted, I was born ten years after they heyday of chartreuse, in the 1970’s, so that one might have had some merit.

Minor, persistant annoyances have been more common than funny stories. Since I have a job that’s heavy on the small talk, questions about school come up at least once a week. These conversations should be innocuous, ending with a chuckle and me saying, “Yeah, I’m totally old enough to drink and rent a car, and I even existed before Seinfeld came on the air.” Unfortunately, I have a lot of regrets about college. Such as: where I went, why I went, what I studied, why I studied it, and how. Instead of being able to leave the past in the past and do what I can in the present, that past is dragged up with depressing frequency.

Then there’s the tendency of people to treat a twenty-one year-old differently than they would a twenty-nine year-old. My partner is also young looking for his age. Because he’s more charismatic than me, he usually ends up with more funny stories in these situations. We’ve both had times when someone treated one of us poorly, then suddenly changed their behavior upon learning that we were eight years older than they had thought, pay bills, and are otherwise able to put up a thin veneer of adulthood. It feels weirdly like a sociological experiment. Like a man in a dress with sock boobs, experiencing how the opposite sex exists in the world, sometimes I feel like I’m experiencing the world of a person who is not actually me.

So far, I can only think of one time when looking younger than my age has been to my benefit. When a misogynistic creep was regularly coming to a coffee shop I worked at, and a lot of the women there were addressed as (let’s mad lib this: choose an adjective) bitch, I got off lucky with a daily “Hey there, buddy!” Too young for misogyny? I’ll take that.

Summer activities that are better in the cold

Laments about how short summer is are a common thing at this time of year. Hitting the beginning of August means that this dreadful time of year only lasts for another month. Lucky for us, the actual equinox doesn’t get a damn say in this. Summer ends when the mustard-stained labor day paper goods are thrown in the trash, and we all know it. There also seems to be some sort of summer-guilt brought on by not doing enough summery things. I don’t have the emotion of summer-guilt, but I can understand because that’s how I feel about fall.

No one needs to experience summer-guilt at all. As it turns out, a large number of common summer activities are superior in cold weather.

Running and hiking

Running in the summer, I am one with my environment, in the sense that my environment is a foul terrarium of pervasive humidity, and I am a sticky, sweaty humidity-wraith. No skin, no bones, only sweat and unhappiness.

Running in the winter, I am alive and joyful. Pushing myself through exhilarating cold, muscles pumping, the cold is manageable as long as I don’t stop. Plus, no one thinks you’re a badass if you go running in the summer. You’re a just a runner. But running in zero degree weather? Viking level badass points.

Hiking is the same deal, with one added benefit. In the summer, the trails fill up with people. Winter scares them off, and you can enjoy nature in all its frigid, austere beauty.

Kayaks on a beach

The birth of an armada.

Kayaking

Kayaking is easily one of the top things that makes summer bareable for me. I get the same exhilaration powering through choppy waters that I do running in the snow. Even in the summer. In fall, the waters are calmer. Jet-skiers have given up until next year. Autumn leaves ring the lakes, and reflect off glassy-smooth surfaces. Wood fire smoke fills the air.

Getting married

After physical activity, the worst way to exacerbate the heat is to dress poorly. All formal wear in existence is the epitome of dressing poorly for summer. Most people want their friends and family to be happy for them on their wedding day, not resentful of their life choices because of easily avoided discomfort.

Years ago, I went to a December wedding. The couple played Christmas music at the reception. Cupcakes with mountains of snowy white frosting were topped with candy snowflakes. The bride wore a hooded wedding cape over her dress. How cool is that? And it could never happen in the summer.

Wearing white

It’s not just at weddings. Wearing white, in general, is a lot cooler looking in the winter. This is coming from someone who hates to wear white. Imperious ice queens. The white witch. Princess Leia on Hoth. Actually, all I can think of here are female royals. But no one pulls off white like they do.

Star gazing

Ever notice how much clearer the night sky is in winter? Cold air can’t retain as much moisture, therefore you don’t have to squint up at the stars through a veil of humidity. Perfect clarity.

Adventures in speech recognition

QWERTY-Dvorak keyboard

A keyboard set to Dvorak is a great way to mess with people using your computer. Cy jab anor x. a p.annf ocmln. .bjpflycrb ofoy.mv

The other night I found myself with a bit of wrist tendonitis. It was the final day of Camp NaNoWriMo. I had 3500 words to go, and seven hours to write them in. Not really an insurmountable obstacle, until my wrist flared up. I had a lot of trouble with wrist tendonitis about five years ago, and after doing some research, I decided to switch to the Dvorak keyboard layout, which is supposed to be easier on the wrists. It was designed to be faster for typing the English language, with vowels on the left side of the home row, and the most commonly used consonants on the right side of the home row. The least frequently used letters, including J, my own personal Scrabble-bane, are all along the bottom, the most difficult row to reach.

I’ve never been sure how much the Dvorak layout helps alleviate wrist problems. Soon after switching over, I discovered that the source of my problem was all the Plants vs Zombies I’d been playing. The constant clicking was tough on my mouse hand. I stuck with Dvorak anyway. Though it took me awhile to adjust to it, I’m now a faster typist.  104 wpm, according to the typing test I took a minute ago.  Better than my QWERTY high of 86.

The other night, my wrist flare-up was from drawing right-handed. My rule is that if I have even the slightest hint of tendonitis, I don’t type. Maybe Dvorak is better than QWERTY, maybe not, but either way it can still irritate an already-aching wrist. Most days, protecting my wrists from worse problems (I’m a wimp. I’m not going down the carpal tunnel.) is more important to me than getting another 1000 words. But most days aren’t the last seven hours of Camp NaNoWriMo. I wanted to hit 29,998 words, and I was willing to do the unthinkable.

I was going to shut down Linux Mint, and boot into Windows 8 for a purpose other than playing games that I didn’t feel like configuring through Wine. I was going to try transcription software. Dragon Naturally Speaking was out of the question, because I’m poor. So by transcription software, I mean the default speech recognition application that comes with windows, used not with any kind of decent microphone, but with my computer’s built-in mic.

It quickly became obvious that I would need to go through the software training to tune the software to my voice. The software training involves orally reading a lot of dull facts about the software, with an awkward amount of enunciation. 

In order to make it understand what I was saying, I needed to use the same strategy that Avatar Aang used against Koh the Face-stealer.  “Show no fear. Show no emotion at all. Show no hint of a Massachusetts accent, and for fuck’s sake don’t speak as fast as a Rhode Islander.”

In between repetitive suggestions that I speak like a newscaster and improve my diction, a few of the sentences set off warning bells.

Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn

Mitth’raw’nuruodo, before he was Grand Admiral Thrawn. Similar to how my laptop is a nascent tactical wizard.

The training says that if you correct a mistake the software made, it’s “unlikely to make the same mistake again.” In other words, the speech recognition software is not only sentient, it’s better at life than the vast majority of all humans. Including myself.  It also says that the spelling dialogue, used for correcting words, is “very efficient and powerful.” Like a wizard, or Grand Admiral Thrawn.  When speech recognition software turns my laptop into a bona fide lifeform, this is going to be an inconvenient personality for it to have.  This is what file backups are for.

Although the software training appeared to go badly (and I also didn’t do all of it), I decided to attempt writing fiction with it. After all, I only had six hours left at this point, and I hadn’t shaved off any of those 3500 words.  I could go on at length about how stupid it looks when your dialog is surrounded by the words “quotation marks” instead of the real deal, or the many variations I had to go through for every single word. But I won’t do that. You can probably get the gist. It was like the longest game of telephone ever, where everyone playing is also on speed.

Still, the real reason I don’t want to persevere with transcription software (besides the fact that my wrist is now just fine), is the same reason I never tried it before now. Writing well is easier than speaking well. Why would I demote my writing down to the level of my speech?  With careful typing and a lot of rest, I was able to write most of the 3500 words.