Monday, February 27, 2006

La Grippe Aviare

My brother is currently studying in France, and he recently received the following email of warning:

Dear students:

As you may know, bird flu has arrived in France. On your walks in parks or woods, don't touch birds dead or live. On the other hand, there does not seem to be any reason to change your diet.

The UC Education Abroad Program Staff

I was furious at the vagueness of the email. Is the bird flu a big joke? It is not possible for someone to draft a more thorough letter that covers acceptable and unacceptable bird relationships? I suppose this is something I will have to take upon myself, even if I am on sabbatical.

Dear students:

As you may know, bird flu has arrived in France. Below please find a list of guidelines/helpful suggestions for interacting with birds during this hard time.

-You may continue to eat most poultry. Do not eat any birds that appear overly skinny or that are a dark purplish color.
-Wash your hands after shaking hands with a bird or after touching door handles or railings at places where lots of birds, especially foreign birds, frequent.
-Do not walk home alone after dark through heavily-populated bird boroughs.
-Do not eat anything that a bird offers to you.
-Do not agree to carry anything in your suitcase as a favor to a bird.
-Do not accept rides from birds that you do not know, especially if it appears that they have been drinking.
-Do not share your bed with a bird.
-Do not kiss birds that you do not know on the mouth.
-Do not share chapstick or mascara with a bird.
-Do not read emails or download attachments from unknown birds.
-Do not sign as a guarantor for a bird that you have just met.

If you are unsure about a certain situation, we ask that you err on the side of safety and contact us immediately.

The UC Education Abroad Program Staff

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Zoologist Staff Meeting

This morning was our biweekly staff meeting. There is no set location for our meetings; they move around the zoo. Today we met on the benches in front of the polar bear exhibit, which is probably the furthest point from the koala enclosure. I have put in three requests for a golf cart, but Wendy in Maintenance made it clear that unless I am in management, 200 pounds overweight, or doing someone in management, I am not getting a golf cart. So, I walked to my meeting. The lazy petting zoo clique took the Skyfari.

I showed up a few minutes early so that I could get a seat, but the African safaris (a nickname for anyone who works in the northeast part of the zoo, i.e. the elephant crew, the giraffe crew, etc.) had taken up all of the benches. I saw one of the guys who actually works at the polar bear exhibit complaining to Rich, the park director, about how the host should always get a seat, but Rich shrugged it off, most likely because he spent 18 years as an African safari and will forever favor that group. I ended up standing in the back next to Leonard, a short bald man who jokes, a little too often, about how he wants his apartment to look like the naked mole rat terrarium. Leonard does not have a girlfriend.

The topic of today's meeting was "invisible cleanliness." Rich spoke about how to keep the animals' habitats clean without being seen by the guests. He said that you don't see people cleaning up after animals in the wild. I thought that was the stupidest thing I'd heard in a long time. Rich tries to be encouraging, but he relates everything back to how it is in nature. I once made the mistake of asking Rich a question about my health insurance. He started his response with, "You know there's no health insurance in nature." We have not spoken since.

Meetings are held at 6:15PM, 15 minutes after the park closes. During the summer, when the zoo stays open for Night Zoo, which lasts until 10:00PM, we have our meetings before the park opens. The meeting went long tonight, because we all sang Happy Birthday to Linda, the crowned eagle trainer, and then had cupcakes. I cut out as soon as the song ended so I could go look at an apartment in Normal Heights. My lease is up in a month and I would like to live closer to the zoo. Work might seem less like work if I could home for lunch. I'm thinking seriously of taking the apartment. The landlord doesn't allow pets, but honestly the last thing I need right now is an animal waiting for me at home.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Little Explanation of Where I Come From...

I found this in my inbox this morning:

Hi Leighton: I have been waiting for a long time to tell you this, but I feel you are sufficiently emotionally secure to let you know the real truth. The fact is, I had an affair with Clint Eastwood. Yes, the commutes to Carmel every weekend were hard to hide, but we managed. Love finds a way. And then, nine months later, out pops you!. I thought you would like to know. I didn't want to complicate Clint's life so I never let him know. That's why I love his movies so much and it explains your violent tendencies. Love, Mom

Mom, I appreciate your honesty. Thanks for telling me, even if you waited a while. The truth feels good!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Today I went to work with my sister, and then left to make a phone call in her car. It was pleasantly warm. I went back into her office and said that I was going to take a nap in the back seat of her car, as I enjoy being warm.

She woke me up three hours later. It should be noted that she drives a Honda Civic hatchback, with a very small back seat. It should also be noted that I felt quite rested when I woke up, albeit slightly groggy and a little confused since I dreamt that I only slept for an hour.

Monday, February 20, 2006

February 20, 2006

I believe I am almost completely well. I was going to go to the doctor the other day, but it would have cost me over two hundred dollars just to get looked at, so I opted for a little home therapy. I lay in bed for hours at a time and breathed very slowly, and drank lemon lime Gatorade. I only spoke on very important occasions. When I became bored with lying in bed and thinking, I went through the Algebra section in my sister's GRE prep book. I made the same careless errors that I made in eighth grade, but it is still my favorite math and it made me want to be a math teacher. However, I had ample time to rethink that, and I do not want to be a math teacher. I want to do math homework; big difference. When I was burned out on math, I watched several hours of West Wing Season 1, and drank tea and took vitamins. The combination appears to have worked; my sore throat has calmed down and my voice has returned.

Now that I am feeling better and I have had a few days to do nothing but think and read and solve inequalities (both in algebra and in society as a whole), I believe the emotions of making a major cross country move are beginning to catch up with me, and I am in a frightfully bad mood. The microwave keeps making a low crashing noise, and I would like nothing better than to use a baseball bat to teach it a lesson. Following that, I would like to cry for a few minutes and then watch a movie. And if someone wanted to play with my hair while I watched the movie, I would be okay with that. I know some of you are frightened by my e-anger, but you are just going to have to be okay with that, and learn that I am not dangerous.

One of the nice things about getting sick in Santa Fe, as opposed to New York, is being taken care of. I kept picturing myself getting bundled up and riding the bus to the doctor's office, and then riding the bus to the pharmacy, and then trying not to faint while walking back up the five flights of stairs to my old apartment. Here, I can be driven to the doctor's office, if I should choose to go, and people make me tea and buy me ice cream and tuck me into bed. It is delightful.

I do think that getting sick was my body's way of letting me know that I have not let myself adjust to moving from New York to Santa Fe. I didn't want to have to adjust. Adjusting to New York took much longer than I expected it to, and I think I was under the impression that moving in with family would save me from having to adjust to anything new. I guess I have been viewing this whole thing as a vacation. You don't have to adjust to anything if you are just on vacation. (That is unless someone is taking you on a vacation to break some big news to you, like you are getting kicked out of your house or your parents have actually not been married this whole time.) A few nights ago, I was driving around Santa Fe and I was struck by how unfamiliar it looked. It could be for a number of reasons: 1) I have lived here for two weeks 2) I have been in bed for a good amount of that time and 3) I have not yet grasped the idea that all of my stuff is in New Mexico and I am in New Mexico and I am not leaving here to return to New York or California anytime soon.

I have attached some fine photos that illustrate past blog postings.

The Christmas tree I found on the street (Davis Christmas 2005- Best Ever? You Decide. December 29, 2005)

Me outside of Jurassic Pets (They Said They'll Catch Me One Day, Napping. February 9, 2006)

Inside of Jurassic Pets (They Said They'll Catch Me One Day, Napping. February 9, 2006)

I call this photo "New Life." It is me in Santa Fe. I am smiling, and I am in casual clothes, and my shoes are up on a desk. I had spent the day reading and writing.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pretend Zoologist Journal Entry #1

I have been a zoologist at the San Diego Zoo for two and a half years. I began cleaning cages in the marsupial exhibit while still in undergrad, and only recently began caring full time for Mei Mei, a year old female koala.

People see me in my khaki shorts and matching shirt and assume that they are better than me. They think that playing with cuddly-looking animals is a dream job for any girl, and that anyone who knows how to snuggle could get hired. They don't realize that I had to go to school for eight years and then undergo exhaustive testing. No one can seem to grasp the idea that wearing shorts doesn't rule out the chance that I have a PhD.

Children think that my job is magical and cool. Men do not. I haven't been on a date in three years. My khaki clothing makes me invisible to anyone attractive, and it doesn't even matter because no one single and attractive goes to the San Diego Zoo. It is not a singles hangout. The men who hit on me are overweight or married or overweight and married. The overweight thing doesn't bother me, it's that they approach asking me out as though I would be doing them the greatest favor in the world. I am not sure how they expect me to respect them when they do not respect themselves.

You would think that all of the zoologists would be friendly with each other. I imagined we would all sit around and eat churros and laugh about how the koalas are continually high and how the desert tortoises can't go fifteen minutes without crawling on top of each other. But there's none of that. There's a zoo hierarchy that I never imagined. One guy actually dumped his girlfriend when he got promoted from fishing cats/servals to the big cat exhibit and she did not. The only people who truly get along are the four women who work in the petting zoo. They formed a tight group after realizing that no one else would talk to them, and that there was no need for competition because it was near impossible to be promoted out of the petting zoo. I've tried talking to them, but, come on; it's the petting zoo. We have nothing in common. I don't think you even have to go to school for that.

I don't even know why I became a zoologist. I think my parents recommended it after seeing how well I took care of my stuffed animals, many of which had been purchased at the San Diego Zoo. But it's different. Koalas can be fierce, and they don't like being held like babies. That was a perk I was counting on. Instead, I spend most of my day taking koala temperatures and misting their leaves and explaining to the heavy married men hanging around my exhibit that koalas are not even bears.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Whoa Whoa Whoa, It's Magic

I do not feel so good today. I have not been feeling my best lately, so I went to bed early last night. Fourteen hours later, my sore throat was worse than when I got into bed. I went and got a chicken green chile burrito from El Parasol, my sister's cure for colds. It has enough green chile to clear up your sinuses, and it provides your immune system with a boost of vitamin C. My sinuses have cleared, but my throat is still sore.

I have been working out a lot. Last week, I bench pressed the bar three times IN A ROW. I have not done it since because I pulled something in my back while bench pressing, but don't you worry, I will do it again. I will probably even do it four times. I am excited to be working out in Santa Fe because the altitude is 7,000 feet. I ran out of breath last week trying to get my shoes off; it is that high. I am pretty sure that when I return to sea level next month, I will be able to run like a horse. My goal is to get fast enough that I can chase and capture small wild animals like prairie dogs or marmots. I won't eat them, or anything. I just want to be able to do it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Someone Who Will Watch Over Me

I had a post up yesterday that set the record straight that I am not a lesbian, but I deleted it because there was no context for it and I thought it might just confuse people. It probably confused some people more to see it and then not see it, as if I had changed my mind. My brother-in-law said that he has never thought for a second that I was a lesbian, but I explained that that is because he knows me. To someone reading this who has never met me and seen how comfortable I am with my good friend heterosexuality, I could see how a few of my comments, or the fact that sometimes I like to write with the voice of a man, could give people the wrong idea. So, consider it clarified that I like men, even if I get nervous around them and act like I do not notice them or am mad at them. I am sure you all feel as good as I do now, having cleared that up.

Today being Valentine's Day, I am of course going to discuss love. One of my grandmas once told me that she has a problem with the way people throw the word love around. I love that movie. I love going on vacation. I love when I find a star on the wrapper of my Tootsie Pop. I do not have a problem with it; it is a part of our culture, and a way to place emphasis. If no one knew how to decipher the different types of love then there would be a problem, but there are rules around using the word love that most people follow. I have the freedom to say that I love eggs. The person I am speaking to will inherently know that this love for eggs is well below my love for my family (unless it has been a bad week at home.) Also, I know that if I cared for the hypothetical person I was dating only equally as much as I cared for eggs, it would not be enough to justify telling that person that I loved him. That is, unless I am talking about the love I felt for egg sandwiches my sophomore year of college, when a lifetime of hating breakfast foods caught up with me in a way that was both surprising and fulfilling.

I hope I have made my point. The general population knows when to use and how to interpret the different levels of the word love, so I say go ahead and use it when you need to use it. There is a large hierarchy of positive feelings and very few words to describe them, so use what you have. I love good water pressure. I love corduroy. I love God. If you think I love all of these the same then I would appreciate it if you would stop reading this blog because I am going to offend you and you are not going to understand me, which I will then be offended by.

A few more thoughts on love. I was in a funk this morning, and it took a few hours to sort out. I was sort of mad at myself, and sort of sad, and pretty fearful. After some reading and some praying and a lot of thinking and a glass of tea, I realized what was going on. I was condemning myself for not being perfect. I don't realize when I fall into that; I usually only notice that I have been trying really hard to be perfect when I make a mistake and am depressed by it. If you ever want to feel fearful and tired, try being perfect, whatever your version of perfect looks like. It is sort of like strapping on a couple hundred pound weights. So, if anyone feels like learning my lesson today, don't get mad at yourself for not completing a task or feeling human emotions or not understanding everything that is going on in your life. It is a waste of a perfectly good morning.

Monday, February 13, 2006

La La La La La La La La La, I love you.

Last night, I put on perfume before I went to bed. I felt like doing something because I could. And, well, I did it. And then I laid in bed for two hours, thinking about how I smelled and how I was thinking about how I smelled. I really thought I might lay there all night. The novelty of smelling nice wore off in about two minutes, in case you were thinking about trying it for yourself. Then I just had a noxious smell stuck in my nose and a noxious taste stuck in my mouth. And I was cold.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Crazy Taos Friday Night Extravaganza

Tonight I went to Taos to watch an American String Quartet concert. I enjoy going to classical concerts for two main reasons: 1) there is no greater place to think and 2) it is my chance to hang out with the over 60 crowd. We don't actually talk, but we rub shoulders and I smile at them with my eyes.

Meghan, Ronnie and I pre-partied with chimichangas and margaritas before heading over to the Taos Center for the Arts. (We were completely sober, a detail that will become important a little later on.) We waited outside in twenty degree weather at the will call window while the woman ahead of us told her friends in the will call booth about some sort of sporting accident.
"Did he have a helmet on?"
"Well, he was wearing a helmet, but he hit his head on the left side."
"Oh dear, that just sounds awful!"
It felt like I was sitting in on a coffee date, except that I was really, really cold.

I experienced something tonight that I have never before experienced at a classical concert. I think the woman behind me was drunk. Besides just talking and moaning throughout the concert, she yelped at the end of the Mozart piece, and then at different points during the Shostakovich piece she said, "finally!" and "oh, great." I did not hear or see a single thing that should have prompted these outbursts. It was as if she was watching a soccer match and commenting on calls from the referee. I was impressed with her silence during the second half of the concert, only to turn around and see that she was not in her seat. She had probably passed out in the bathroom. What kind of person gets drunk before a live performance of classical music? Maybe she used to be a prodigy and she now writes jingles, or maybe she thought she was sneaking into a late night showing of Agent Cody Banks and was pissed at her mistake.

I fell asleep at the last American String Quartet concert that I went to at the Manhattan School of Music. This should not reflect on the quartet in the least; there were a number of reasons why I should have expected this outcome and opted out of going in the first place. 1) I had stayed up really late the night before and then woken up before 7am, 2) the concert took place at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, the exact time that my body has been trained to fall asleep (another story for another time), and 3) I had slipped on ice early that morning and laid myself out on the sidewalk like I had never laid myself out before, and should have been home in the bath or in bed. On top of that, the concert hall was drafty, so I formed a toasty little nest by tucking myself into my chair with my overcoat. Add peaceful classical music and I believe anyone in my place would have fallen asleep. But hey, I am not defensive about it, I just thought that you should understand the sleep-conducive nature of late nights and warm coats and harmonious music, ok? Get off my back.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

They Said They'll Catch Me One Day, Napping

Now that I am not surrounded by the constant and persistent crazies of New York, I thought that I was going to need to start using my imagination more. And then I drove past the inspiration of inspirations, a little Godsend called Jurassic Pets. I was so excited, I thought my head was going to fall off. What kinds of scary, pre-historic animals would be for sale at Jurassic Pets? I had to wait a few minutes to find out, as a note on the door said that the owner was picking up some new fish from the Albuquerque airport. There was a man in front of the pet store who further explained that the flight could have been delayed, etc., but that I did not have to worry because the owner would return. He ended his explanation with the statement, "I work here." Just a thought- if you actually worked there, wouldn't you have a set of keys?

The owner returned 15 minutes later. I think I had been picturing a man walking off of a plane with a large glass bowl of fish, which would go through some sort of disease test before being handed to the eager and waiting owner of Jurassic Pets. Instead, the owner came in carrying large, white boxes labeled "Tropical Fish. This Side Up." So this is what it feels like to be wrong. Interesting.

On first appraisal, it looks like a standard pet store. Wall of reptile terrariums. Wall of fish aquariums. Two parrots, one dove, and one cockatiel. That is the end of the normal pets and the beginning of the jurassic pets. There is a large terrarium with an alligator named Freddie, who is not for sale, and a number of plastic boxes with hissing cockroaches, tarantulas, scorpions, and millipedes (centipedes? come back to me, sixth grade science, come back to me!) I have a continual fear that I will be in a pet store when all of the glass on the aquariums and terrariums will simultaneously break, leaving me swimming in a thick clump of snakes. Though that may be a little extreme, the four-month-old St. Bernard puppy named Avalanche who was bounding around the precariously-stacked plastic boxes of tarantulas, upon which the large glass bowl of scorpions was perched, seemed like a really, really terrible idea.

As it turns out, the pet store prides itself on being interactive. An excited customer pointed to the ceiling, where there were large, hanging tree branches. I was told that the snakes are usually hanging on the branches instead of being confined to their nice, safe cages.

Anyway, I went back today. I wore a hat, which was a good call since the snakes were in fact hanging from the ceiling. I am in the mood to nurture and think that I should wait on having a baby until I have things like a husband or a way to make a living or my own room. Instead, I am in the market for a pet. By the time I left the pet store, I was pretty set on getting a Jackson chameleon (see photo,) because I think I could legitimately tell people that I had a pet dinosaur. That was a bad idea for me to look up pictures of Jackson chameleons just now, because now I really want one again. The pet store owner said that he could also get me a female chameleon so that I could easily breed them. He said, "Put them together and he will get RIGHT on her." It was an awkward pet store moment. I like the idea of breeding dinosaurs, but there is always the chance that I will not be able to sell them, and then I will become that weird reptile lady who goes to the grocery store with her pet dinosaur on her shoulder and stares down other people as if they are the weird ones for not having a reptile crawling down their arm.

Another option is the horseshoe crab. They look like garden tools, but even as I type this I am bored with the idea, so I guess that answers that. Maybe I could nurture my neighbors by bringing them brownies. It is much less of a commitment.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Few Thoughts for Me Mates

If I were a true pirate and lived on a pirate ship, I believe I would have a hard time trusting my fellow pirate co-workers. I mean, we take what is not ours by force daily, and we scoff at the rules of the land. Sure, we have our own code, but I tend to think that our constant devaluing of other people's lives and property would have to seep into our interpersonal affairs. And then what? Who do I share my prized collection of bejeweled goblets with- one of the women I've raped or one of the families I have torn apart? It's a lonely life, and one that I did not fully understand when I began my apprenticeship. I just thought we would drink a lot and roll around in gold coins and peel fruit with large knives, and form lasting bonds. But here I am- a murderer, a thief, and a scoundrel who doesn't know if he can count on his pirate friends to show up to his birthday party at the Rusty Oar. It's time to make some non-pirate friends. Maybe I should join a band or take a pottery class at the local community college.

Friday, February 03, 2006

People on their way to work; baby, what did you except

Last night, I dreamt that I had a large boyfriend from New Jersey. I have doubts as to whether I was actually the main character in the dream for two reasons: 1) I have yet to be attracted to anyone from New Jersey (my apologies) and 2) he accused me of not hugging and kissing him enough, although I think that I am prone to being overly affectionate.

Anyway, large New Jersey boyfriend and I are driving to visit his family. In my head, I think that this is a pretty bad idea because I know that we are going to break up soon, and I do not see the point of forming any attachments with his family. It should also be noted that the New Jersey highway looks a lot of like a stretch of Trabuco Street in south Orange County, and the New Jersey landscape looks suspiciously like Colorado.

As we are driving, large New Jersey boyfriend says that he is not getting enough physical affection. I say, "well, I am not going to have sex with you." And he responds that I could at least hug and kiss him more, and I need to kiss him right then. I say that I find this to be a poor idea since he is driving, and he says that he is a very good driver. We compromise with a kiss at a stoplight (on the highway?)
I'm really glad we broke up. He didn't get me at all.

I am making a conscious effort to continue dressing as if I live in New York. Upon my arrival, my brother-in-law requested that I not succumb to the Santa Fe style of dressing, which is basically an excuse for New York and LA retirees to live out their Frontierland fantasies. The dress code involves a lot of fur, turquoise and draping, Native American fabrics. I know what you're thinking, "Leighton, you would look so good in that!" Thank you, I know. But I just can't do it.

Having been here for almost a week, it is time for me to begin the process of making friends. Moving to New York taught me that initiating friendships is exactly like dating. I have to have an awkward phone conversation where we figure out what movie to see and where to meet, and then when we meet up we ask each other interview questions about family and likes and dislikes. And then I try to hold her hand at the movie and my hand gets sort of sweaty. It's exhausting, really.

I don't know who to be friends with here, and I don't understand their outdoorsy nerd speak. I don't have anything to say about free climbing, unless I revert to my anecdote about the time I went bouldering and severely bruised my ass. But I don't know; ass bruises sort of seem like a topic of conversation for close friends.

I guess I'll keep you posted on my progress. At least I have Gypsy, Meghan and Ronnie's geriatric cat that insists on hugging my neck at all times of the day. Her last owners neglected her, so she is an interesting combination of lavish affection and latent rage.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Papa Sang Bass, Mama Sang Tenor

I made it! I am safely out of New York and in Santa Fe. The trip went very quickly, due mainly to my ability to sleep on planes. In fact, on my flight from Chicago to Albuquerque, I had three seats to myself and was able to stretch out and take a proper nap. I am a plane sleeper of the truest kind because I refuse to use any sort of medication. Plane sleepers need dedication, not pills. Rookies think that if you are meant to sleep on planes then you will fall asleep quickly and sleep undisturbed until the nap is over. It's not true. Even the best of us are going to be woken up frequently by turbulence, overeager flight attendants and crying babies. Waking up is not the problem; the issue is whether or not you will make yourself go back to bed. I woke up a number of times, but refused to actually sit up until I heard," Flight attendants, prepare the cabin for landing." At that point, I accepted success and sat up, buckled myself in properly, chewed gum and put on a hat.

My brother-in-law, Ronnie, picked me up from the airport. When I last saw Ronnie, a month ago, he promised that he would hit me next time he saw me. As we drove to Santa Fe, we received a call from my sister. I was looking out the window while Meghan and Ronnie talked, but I heard Ronnie say,"Guess what I'm going to give Leighton right now." And with that, he socked me in the thigh. The nice thing about having a blog is that I can choose to give my side of the story and leave out any instigation on my part. I feel so powerful.

As expected, I felt healthier within hours of being here. In fact, I am currently eating a brown rice rice cake. My poor insides have been so warped due to convenience and high fructose corn syrup. No longer, poor body, no longer.

On another note, I received a call last night letting me know that a list I submitted to a Web site called McSweeney's has been posted! You can check it out here: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/lists/. It is titled "Responses to People on the 6 Train That Hopefully Convey My Feelings in a Polite Way."