Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Call of Sleep

Sleep and the lack of it are powerful things. On any given night, if I've slept less than 10 hours, I feel strongly upon waking up that staying in bed and sleeping more is a good course of action. Fortunately, the more motivated parts of my mind can convince me to get out of bed on workdays, but I like to enjoy weekend mornings by setting my alarm unnecessarily early and then being able to ignore it when the time comes.

A part of this mentality may have slipped into my regular sleep, and many nights I find myself waking up at 1 or 2 AM and being able to enjoy falling asleep again. There may be more to examine about my sleep habits, but I'm about to fall asleep now and I can't think of anything to say except I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Cashier Reactions

One sort-of-social interaction that I've come to enjoy is the process of taking groceries through a checkout line rather than using self-checkout machines. One reason for this is that I'm not confident in my ability to correctly identify and weigh fruits and vegetables, but in some of the more isolated periods of my life, talking to a cashier has been a nice social jolt without the trouble of engaging in a full conversation.

Cashiers, I hear, have a very monotonous job, and it seems that if they've been in that line of work for any length of time, they've seen enough to not be surprised by any customer purchases. For the most part, I've found this to be true. When I was going through checkout one day with at least a dozen microwave meals, I was worried that the cashier would make a snarky comment or at least non-verbally judge my life situation. I got no such reaction. When I was going through checkout one day with ten or eleven bottles of grape juice (about 5 gallons total), I hoped that the cashier would be interested, or at least raise an eyebrow. No interest was forthcoming. In my quest for a cashier reaction, I should have, of course, observed the old stories and known that the moment would come when it was least looked for.

Today, I was doing pest control in a relatively remote suburb and went to the nearest grocery store for my lunch break. I had, in fact, packed a lunch, but I needed to find a restroom, and a grocery store is as good a place as any. I was on my way out of the store when I thought that it would be rude to use the facilities without buying something, so I looked around for a good snack.

It was by these events that I approached the checkout counter with a single banana. The cashier not only smiled, but laughed; "Just one banana?" I was pretty happy myself, and I got my debit card ready for a transaction that would surely incur more processing fees than the banana was worth. The cashier laughed again when she saw that my total charge was 18 cents. It's difficult to find something cheaper than that at a grocery store--a smaller banana, perhaps, but nothing else comes to mind.

In any case, I have rarely had such a dynamic exchange with a cashier. When she waved goodbye with an "Enjoy your banana," I even remembered to say "Thanks, have a good day" instead of "Thanks, you too." The moral of this story is ambiguous, but I am happy to learn that cashiers are not all impassive.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bus Stop Encounter

A few months ago, I was waiting for a Megabus that would take me from Indianapolis to Atlanta. It was a hot day, and the bus was late, and most of the people who had been waiting at the stop when I first arrived had left to sit inside until the bus arrived. Just me and a middle-aged lady remained on the roadside.

We started a conversation from our common ground: the weather (a famous staple) and the fact that we were waiting for a bus.The lady talked about times in the past that she had been let down by Megabus and Greyhound. A few months ago, she had planned a bus trip but had missed the bus, and was left with no option but to eat the cost and not go on the trip. She was obviously keen on catching this bus; after all, we were the only two left standing in the sun after forty minutes of waiting.

I kept looking up the road, expecting the Megabus to show up at any moment. There were a lot of city buses going by, and several of them stopped in front of us, but we stood back and kept waiting for the Atlanta-bound bus.

About an hour after the bus had been scheduled to arrive, the lady said, "Look! There's the Megabus!" I looked, and there it was, trundling up the road behind two city buses. I picked up my backpack and turned to get in line at the bus doors. When I looked back to see if my new acquaintance was behind me, I saw that she was stepping onto one of the city buses, carrying her bags with her. I wasn't certain what to think, but surely she would realize the mistake once she showed the city bus driver her ticket or was asked to pay a bus fee. However, in just a few seconds, the doors closed and the city bus drove off, lady and luggage and all.

Is there something I should have done? Perhaps. I don't like the thought of this lady missing another trip because of a moment of confusion, and maybe I could have shouted something, but it was all over so quickly. I also wonder if it's possible that I misinterpreted events, but I can't think how. Maybe one or both of us was addled by the sun. In any case, I wonder what the next few minutes, hours, and days held for that lady. A bus stop encounter was all we had together, but for both of us separately, life goes on.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Wedding Advice

I went to a wedding recently-- as far as I can remember, the first wedding I've ever been to. There was, of course, lots of good food, an impressive amount of photos taken and many fun traditions to learn. The bride and groom got a lot of the same comments and questions through the day:
"How are you feeling?"
"Congratulations!"
"Has it sunk in yet that you're married?"

The groomsmen, who had a much simpler job, heard just one thing:
"Don't lock your knees."
"If you lock your knees while you're standing on stage, you'll probably faint."
"If you lock your knees and faint, you'll ruin the moment for the bride and groom."

It was a lot of pressure, to be sure, but everyone managed to get through the ceremony without collapsing. That probably means good luck or something along those lines.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Bear Encounters

My summer doing research in the Yukon involved a lot of interaction with squirrels, many meetings with chipmunks and hares, and more face time with bears than I expected. It was relatively common to see bears on the side of the road while driving, but viewing a bear from the safety of a vehicle feels somewhat detached; the three bear encounters I had on foot in the woods were a whole other bowl of porridge.

The first bear I met was foraging under a tree near the top of a hill my coworker and I were climbing. It turned to look at us and my mind went blank. I had a vague idea that I was supposed to say "hey bear" or something like that in a low, reassuring tone, but there was just a second of silence and then the bear turned and ran in the other direction. We quickly retreated back the way we had come.

After this first encounter, it was brought to my attention that there was a 40-minute bear safety video that all technicians were supposed to watch before working in the field-- this part of my training had somehow been passed over in the hectic first week I was there. The bear knowledge that I did have came from a children's sticker issued by the parks system:
If You See A Bear,
1. Don't run
2. Slowly back away
3. Go find an adult
The 40-minute video, in general, elaborated on these steps.

The second bear I met was in a particularly thick section of spruce forest where the young trees were close enough together that it was difficult at points to find a way through them. It was early in the morning and I was feeling sleepy until I saw up ahead that two dark pillars--more trees I thought at first--were in fact the two front legs of a bear that was looking at me. I've had underwhelming experiences with caffeine, but I can testify that seeing a bear while you're alone in the forest produces instant alertness. Fortunately, I had received training for every step of the typical bear encounter. I instantly forgot what to do and just stared silently back at the bear. After a second, it turned and ran in the other direction. After another second, I turned and power-walked back through the forest.

This pattern of bears avoiding humans is fortunately very common when the two species meet. I was told that, in general, bears treat humans like they treat other bears, keeping out of each other's personal space to avoid risky and unnecessary conflict. In most cases, the bear is aware of the human from far off and avoids them without the human ever knowing. There are, of course, things you can and shouldn't do that make bears more likely to attack.

My third bear encounter was much more intimate than the first two. I was sitting against a tree, watching a squirrel territory to see if other squirrels would invade and try to steal the home squirrel's food. I had been watching for about an hour when I heard a rustle behind me. I of course assumed that it was a squirrel, and I didn't want to turn around because any sudden movement on my part might frighten it off and keep it from acting naturally. I sat still, then, for a little bit, but I didn't hear any more rustling, so I turned around to see what the squirrel was up to. A large bear was on all fours about ten feet behind me. Since I was sitting on the ground, we were eye-to-eye, and it certainly didn't feel like an advantageous situation for me. The bear and I stared at each other for a few long seconds and then it turned and ran off, and I followed suit.

I feel fortunate both to have had the opportunity to meet bears in the wild and to have gotten through each encounter safely. Along with my other treasured experiences in the Yukon, I remember these three moments of sudden terror and a surging fight-or-flight response. There were, of course, other bear experiences of interest that summer; one afternoon, in fact, a bear got into our camp and broke into a couple of the wooden shacks we slept in. However, being out in the wild with no shelter and coming across a predator much more powerful than an unarmed human has a way of shifting perspectives. Looking back, it's an experience I'm glad to have had, but I would be happy if I never had it again.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Waiting Time

A valuable part of my day-to-day life is waiting time, moments when my only job is to sit or stand quietly and wait for something to happen. In my mind, this is different from not working-- while I have a good amount of time to relax, I'm usually still doing something. Perhaps the possibility of doing something productive makes relaxing time different from waiting time. In any case, waiting time lets me unwind and refocus in a very satisfying way.

In the past few weeks, the only real waiting time I can remember is waiting at crosswalks and sitting in a movie theater before the movie starts. In the past, I have enjoyed waiting times on public transportation and in line at the grocery store, but since I moved to Charleston I haven't needed to use a bus and the checkout lines at all the stores I've been to are too efficient to get much waiting done. Even the last two medical appointments I've gone to have had me in and out of the waiting room as quick as you like.

I remain hopeful, however; new opportunities to wait are around every corner.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Interior Design

One of the surprisingly fun parts of getting my own apartment has been furnishing it. I'm no design expert, of course, but I thought that if I laid out a few guidelines for myself, I could at least put together something that was visually consistent. The theme I settled on was simple, square designs; most stuff is wood and upholstery is blue or grey fabric. My accent color is sunshine yellow. The chair pictured below is the inspiration I had in mind when acquiring furniture.
For aesthetic (and financial) reasons, most of my household items and furniture are the basic model offered by large retailers. All of my video game experience tells me that this is the correct way to furnish a starter apartment, and I can upgrade when I reach the next level.

In some ways, I regret that I can no longer fit my worldly possessions into a suitcase and a backpack, but regular use of the How Would I Feel If Everything In My House Was Consumed By Flame test helps keep things in perspective.