Experiment: Laser Tag

First of all, the place smells like bad pizza.

A pizza cooked days ago, kept lukewarm under a heatlamp. Like worse than a Hot-n-Ready smell. A sweaty, public pool pizza.

This is because they have one of these pizzas (pepperoni) under a sallow heatlamp, sitting next to the cash-register. From the looks, a consumer-grade heatlamp. You might buy something similar from SkyMall, to accompany the Old Fashioned Looking Popcorn Machine you keep in your "game den." And the $2.50-a-slice pizza looks completely desaturated. Ninja Turtles would cry.

Speaking of Ninja Turtles, the whole place is actually sort of sewerlike. The walls are black and foamy with low ceilings. Accents of neon green and pink. It's humid. Teenage-boy-voice frequency. Which mostly means lots of awkward laughter that sounds like it's being choked out of them. They are excited. They occupy every last seat on the opposing benches. Team Green and Team Red. They throw taunts to each other, though friends. They are remarkably different in size, some still pushing 100 pounds, others like newborn giants. (Were teenage boys always so strange?)

We are the oldest people in the place by at least ten years. It is my first time playing laser tag.

The guy running the register is dressed in all black and I don't even think that's part of his work uniform. I bet he is 15. We ask him for two tickets for one 30-minute game of laser tag. He says we can't pay him for another 10 minutes. We don't understand but comply and wander back into the arcade area to kill time.

There is a birthday party going on. It's seems like a big downer, even for the 13-year old birthday boy. Maybe next year, kid.

We finally pay, get split up as a couple and join our respective teammates. Jared gets greeted by his team. I get a scan and a nod from mine. I am the only female in the whole place. They offer to let Jared select the game music since he is new (which will be blasted from the stereo system during play). He looks through the options and selects Star Wars. They quickly veto that ("no way" "stupid" "lame"), and instead pick something that sounds like it'd be under the "angry" filter on Killer Tracks.

This snobbery and shunning of Star Wars makes me upset. I conspire to rub up against them and make them nervous during play, or whisper sultry things into their ears to disarm them, then go for the kill.

I never get the chance. I am completely blindsided by the game.

The second I slip on the still-sweaty vest and grab the gun, I'm the last to get up the stairs. Upon entering the warehouse section, I'm memorized by the artwork, the black lights and the insane neon. Part dorm room, part glow-in-the-dark-gang-scene from Batman Forever, if you saw that.)

My first plan of action is to strategically survey the land. I want to know exactly how the passageways connect. I do this with zero interference. Then I hear some yelling and follow the noise, keeping my distance. I duck behind an old barrel labeled TOXIC. I get in position. I wait for someone to walk by.

I wait for someone to walk by.


No one is coming. I am a useless sniper.

I strategically take the perimeter route to where I hear voices. I see some red flashes (indicating gunfire). I crouch down and follow the lights. I run (against the rules, absurdly) towards the silhouette. I take aim at his right shoulder blade and fire. HIT!

The tiny teenager just laughs at me.

I turn around. The entire Red Team is perched on a landing above me. I walked right into an ambush. It's a turkey shoot.

When you get hit by the other team, you have three seconds of immunity. After I get hit, I take about 2 of those 3 and run (against the rules) out of harm's way.

Where are my Green comrades? Why is it so humid in here?

Did I mention I am wearing a silk blouse (surprise date).

The remaining 20 minutes are just as disappointing. No one is playing strategically. They are only using 5 percent of the warehouse. No sneak attack. No snipery. Just teenage boys being irritating and smelling up the place.

I still manage to make about 20 hits in the next ten minutes.

I run into Jared the one and only time. We stop and give each other a quick kiss.

I turn a corner in haste and hit a guy in the face with my gun (accident).

I overhear a guy say, "Don't go after that guy's girlfriend. He'll probably kick your ass."

I get pissed off overhearing this. I can play dirty. I can play reckless. And I do for the last 10 minutes of the game. I run the whole time, sweating up my very stylish outfit.

I hit another guy in the head with my gun (accident?)

And then, just as fast as it starts, it's over. 30 minutes down.

I make my way downstairs, find Jared waiting at the bottom, remove the even-sweatier vest.

We get our scores. Jared comes in 4th overall. I come in 14th. Out of 19.

I am completed outraged by this as any natural athlete would be. I vow then and there never to play again. Not so much because of the humidity, the lack of respect for one of the great movies of our time, the CHEATER behavior of the teenage boys. Not even because of the pizza smell.

But because I was terrible at laser tag. Call me a snob or a pessimist or a bad loser but it's not worth playing if you can't win.
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Experiment: BLT TIME

Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato
- Texturally complex
- Salty and Tangy
- Good on many breads
- Lettuce is an under-performer

Bearnaise, Lettuce, Tomato
- Memorable, for all the wrong reasons

Bacon, Lamb, Tomato
- Lamb adds a nice substance
- Bacon is still dominant flavor
- Tomato succeeds

Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato Juice
- Tomato Juice does not work the same as au jus
- Mushy

Bacon, Lettuce, Turkey Bacon
- Dare to be great
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Experiment: Raccoon Handling

Is it wrong to pick a favorite married couple?

Because Paul and Jamie from Mad About You are so it.

Oh hey, Leah & Brandon. What are you two doing in this blog post about favorite married couples? Weird.

 . .

Leah's the kind of girl who will crack an egg over the shower curtain (and onto your head) when you are taking a shower and then come back minutes later to toss over a piece of toast. Buttered. She will coerce you to try some new "candy" that turns out to be turtle food. Leah calls her English mom “the Juice Box,” and her dad invented the Snickers Ice Cream Bar. The Snickers Ice Cream Bar.

And Brandon? Brandon is the Werner Herzog to her Klaus Kinski. He also, I recently learned, goes by the nickname “Pip.” Together they fake fight at the top of their lungs to convince their strait-laced neighbors they are in a Jerry-Springer type relationship.

 In other words, I love them.

They are also the caretakers of three baby raccoons. Raccoons who were abandoned in their infancy and need TLC before they are re released into the wild.

Is it legal to keep baby raccoons in your 300 square foot apartment? Probably not. But kicking three homeless raccoons back out on the rough streets of Provo? I’ll not abide it. 

It was a lovely summer night and they invited us over for some good old neighborly raccoon-greeting.

I'll be honest. I was terrified to touch one. Tiny human hands!

Brandon opened the front door and three kitten sized raccoons fell out. He was carrying a baby bottle full of reddish stuff.

“They just woke up – they’re a little drunk.”

The three of them wobbled along like they had learned to walk (crawl?) that very day. He proceeded to feed them, one by one, the smoothie looking concoction.

Nothing will make you feel more Emersonian than seeing a man with a beautiful red beard suckle a raccoon.

After they were fed they had an even harder time walking. The fat-bellied raccoons became less scary and more cute. I bent over to pick one up. They were soft. They were nuzzly. You could grab them by their skin on their back and just toss them around like pancakes.

They also are very well trained. All three of them galloped through the grass to play follow the leader.

It was beautiful. Just four neighborly neighbors sitting around in wicker chairs on the porch, having some beards, wearing some plaid, feedin some raccoons.

And I could not have been more wrong. I totally misjudged raccoons. (I still have a vendetta out for moles – prove me wrong, internet-active mole community).


Leah and Pip have just moved to paradise, aka, Oregon. (Just another reason for me to move to the Pearl District?)

I am in need of a new favorite married couple who are caretakers of unexpectedly well-behaved wild animals. Banjo-playing is a bonus. Is there a couple out there like this? Or am I just chasing waterfalls?

(I worked two TLC references into this post, I am incredible.)
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Haikus for famous people

Mr. Howard Keel
Bless your beautiful hide and
Your mustache of youth

Sir Larry David
I'll eat your jokes for dessert
Surly curmudgeon

Hey Dolly Parton
I'm thinking of a number
Between 9 and 5

Sad times Chris de Burgh
Fame dying, lady blushing
Might even say red

Gilded Betty White
Just die already so folks
will stop exploiting you. Irony?
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Theory: Soccer as Virtual Reality

Tomorrow sees the kickoff of the 19th FIFA World Cup, which, in a way, is a homecoming.

I am at home now, on this field. Belly-down on green shag carpeting, the smell of clean, perfectly clean dirt – cleaner than any kitchen cleanser. The light quiet. Muted hustling of feet. How is this not my home?

I am a soccer player. Meaning?

It’s strange the way identities pull themselves together and, to a degree, how little we are consulted in that decision process. We can fake interests all we like, try on new hats, explore new options in the form of recreation and career and calling, but the things that truly come to denote our lives, those things come in search of us. We can accept them graciously, as the gifts they are, or we can deny them.

Do we become what we love? What our body loves?

My body loves soccer. On the field, I am completely complete. It’s always been this way.

As children, we played for different reasons. Hobby, friends, parents who needed free time, orange slices, just you know, something to do. Others were not there for those reasons. We were there because we were supposed to be. Tiny thighs already bulk with the markings of a pro.

Thighs like jodhpurs at 5, thighs that you will hate for that, but that will give you speed like a missile and allow you to chase anyone on the field and reclaim possession of the ball. Calves melty with muscle. It’s as if your legs marked you for sport before your mind could decide if you even liked it. You will be good at this. You will be great.

You loved it. You loved everything about it. You were a complete natural. You loved the ripe smell of the goalbox, the kiss of the ball on the curve of your foot, the svelte leather uppers of your Copa Mundials, the chase of the center fullback locked on a right wing, the tackle, the snap of the ball as it leaves your foot, the complete exhaustion, the impasto Van Gogh swirls of green and mud.

And how it is not vulgar to compare it to art. Not at all. The thinking and not thinking. The relief in letting your body be the brain for awhile. This happens in art as well, losing yourself in a painting, your hand making all the decisions. Kicking, pacing, tracking, intercepting. Breathing deep compensatory breaths. Forfeiting master control for 90 minutes. Reacting. Zoning out, but maybe being more zoned in than you ever have before as a human being.

If you want to excel, you have to sell your body to soccer. I have two screws in my ankle right now that will attest. And an arthritic knee. Most days now I swim to stay in shape. It’s likely I’ll need multiple joint replacements in the golden age. Why harp the glories of something so destructive?

Have you seen it? Have you had the distinct pleasure of playing with a great team and worthy opponents? There is nothing else like it.

It’s a beautiful game. The most beautiful in the world. Speed, geometry, agility, finesse. As methodical as chess. As loose as the surf. You play with your whole body. The primal rush of a sprint. We were hunters once after all. We were quiet. We caught our sustenance. Now we catch a ball. It feels similarly glorious, I imagine. Trapping and holding that ball. Competing for it.

That hollow globe which one day, after a sweaty Kansas night practice, I seem to control as if by magnetism. I was owed this, and now it’s here. It arrived. I can put the ball anywhere I want with sniper precision. The Jedi Mind Trick is real and it has come in this form. I can call the ball back to me as well, like a pet. And when I do call it back it feels alive trapped against my chest, my thigh, my foot. Remember that? And when you noticed for the first time that you were juggling, completely involuntarily?

Your body knew how. It knew a language you didn't. And boy, it was fluent.

I don't play too much anymore. I want to save my ankle. I want to be able to teach the game to my kids. But I can watch. I'll be watching this month.

It’s painful in ways to be a spectator in a sport you used to own. But everything eventually comes back, in some sweeping outpouring of love or God or karma or fate or whatever it is you believe in. I can watch the game, and I can literally feel the game. Feel what it’s like to make that slide tackle. Feel what it’s like to score off that diving header. It’s a little bit more than vicarious living. It's like virtual reality. Or it is virtual reality. (The next wave, right Jaron?) I know it is. I've got that sweeper intuition.

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Color Winners

Really guys? I expected much weirder of you.

HAha joking joking. Really. You were all so superbly superb.
The race was so close it took me a MONTH to determine the winners! (<---lie)

I got distracted by life. You know how it goes. The foibles and follies of L I F E. (<---half lie)

I got distracted by thinking about Babies. (<---truth)

To Trevor/Sherry who wooed me with 2 of the 5, I present this gift:A sweet little Iranian film about someone who never could have won this contest (he is blind). It's stunningly beautiful. A gem.

To the three runner ups,

but only because In Living Color: Season 1 was too expensive.

Please send your most current mailing address to my email inbox. To all the entrants, send me your addresses and I will send you a colorful custom portrait of you and a loved one. You specify the loved one.
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Theory: I Should Work for Ikea

Branding means constantly thinking about and defending your color choices. What will communicate Authority? What will evoke Friendly Political Discourse? Rootsy yet Technologically Forward? Delicious? It’s lots of fun to sell by color. (And even more fun to sell by music because you get to use words that make you sound ridiculously effete in normal conversations: modal, percussive, etc. Even I make myself sick sometimes. Also, since when do I write about work so much?)

It’s so interesting what colors communicate. It constantly surprises me how differently they’re seen. For my synesthete allies, it’s expected. We all make connections between colors and items and moods without even thinking about it. For clients and everybody else, red can only mean anger, love, war, or Christmas. Come to think of it, even these four aren’t conceptually that far apart.

People seem to be stuck in these cultural symbolic ruts like this, from time to time, and it might be a good idea for us to push out of this.

Apropos, how is it that people get the job of Professional Color Namer?

You know, like the people who decide your sweater will be available in Honeydew instead of Light Green?

How do I get that job?

I think I’d be really good at it, and it would make your Ikea catalog much more interesting.

"Yes, I'd like that DRAGĂ–R in Stroganoff." See! So fun to say!

Alright, friends. Show me what you got. I'll pick my favorites and send the winner, well, something colorful.


Swedish Meatball

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Experiment: Make a Web App

The Food Nanny is in beta! Go test it out.

In particular, check out the Nanny App - it's an online meal-planning tool with tons of recipes, the ability to add your own, the ability to customize how many people you're cooking for, and at the end it CALCULATES ALL THE FRACTIONS FOR YOU. (I cook for 2 usually, not 6, and I hate having to figure out what 3/4 of 1.5 cups is. MATH.)

And yeah, The Food Nanny is one of my babies - from branding and design strategy to app architecture and production. I usually don't talk much about work, but I'm particularly happy about this 9-month project and I think it's one I will use time and again.

Look how far I've come.

(Don't try to win. You won't ever win. The hit states for the pinata are a bit wacky.)
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Experiment: Diorama

There's a large subset of people I know who've had a terrible time giving up their childhood. They're paralyzed at the thought of having full time "adult" jobs. Responsibility. See adulthood as some lesser, unfun land of death and debt and taxes. Not seeing the liberty in it all. Call me naive, but I love the liberty of adulthood. I love that I can still enjoy the things I did when I was young, and in addition I can afford to do things that are even more fun, like go to Dave & Busters. HAHHAH. I love that joke.

You can still make dioramas. Dioramas never get old. Still total fun. And so empowering to make a miniature world. The characters are bound by your laws, your blueprints, your spatial dimensions. Your mistakes. Even those turn into something cool in the end. (Did you see petite Philippe Petit?) Makes you kind of realize how cool it's going to be to create other things some day, like universes. Universes where there are no Dave & Busters and no DMVs and no Lady Gaga.

It's Sunday. I'm remembering Deiter Uchtdorf's take on creativity and spirituality. He says it better than I can. Or at least he sounds cooler saying it.

The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before. Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty.

You might say, “I’m not the creative type." If that is how you feel, think again, and remember that you are spirit children of the most creative Being in the universe.

Isn’t it remarkable to think that your very spirits are fashioned by an endlessly creative and eternally compassionate God? Think about it—your spirit body is a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function, and capacity beyond imagination.

But to what end were we created? We were created with the express purpose and potential of experiencing a fullness of joy. Our birthright—and the purpose of our great voyage on this earth—is to seek and experience eternal happiness. One of the ways we find this is by creating things.

What you create doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t let fear of failure discourage you. Don’t let the voice of critics paralyze you—whether that voice comes from the outside or the inside.

The more you trust and rely upon the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create. That is your opportunity in this life and your destiny in the life to come. Trust and rely on the Spirit. As you take the normal opportunities of your daily life and create something of beauty and helpfulness, you improve not only the world around you but also the world within you.

The God I believe in is unbelievably creative. The master painter and the master scientist. And I'm betting He loves dioramas.

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Experiment: 30 Day Purge

No sweat.

I got rid of so much stuff in the last 30 days.
  • Motorola pager
  • Dora the Explorer pillowcase set (unopened)
  • Pretty Together by Sloan (CD)
  • photos of Tory L.
  • a knockoff Chanel bag
  • A bunch of ticketmaster stubs I'd been keeping for TEN YEARS including Live, Remy Zero, Travis, JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP
  • like 2 years worth of Wired and J.Crew catalogs
  • a few dozen wedding announcements I've been holding onto for some reason, including hers - they were sitting in a giant bird's nest. Incredible. I guess I feel bad about throwing away photographs.
  • Motorola bluetooth earclip. Used once.
  • 9 pairs of soccer socks (kept 3)
  • Doc Martins sandals circa 1999 (not the exact model, but close)
  • 2 pairs of jeans (one dating from 1999)
  • over 800 notes from grade school and middle school (kept about 50 truly hilarious ones)
  • Death to Smoochy on DVD
  • my New York City Public Library card (whimper)
  • a half-finished scarf that's the color of vomit
  • my Paulo & Bill workshirts
  • a really gross bag of old make-up, including the sparkly blue eyeshadow from my SENIOR PROM.
  • a pendant necklace of kittens suckling a unicorn
  • Oyster card
  • the christmas tree
  • the off-white fabric I've been carting around for too long and not doing anything with
  • bubble wrap from every piece of bulk mail I've been sent in the last two years
  • Hannah's Hang-out Guide
  • my fake engagement ring. I blame Micci.
  • my grad school acceptance letters
  • my short story rejection letters
  • a rose temporary tattoo
  • my very first Western Digital hard drive (it was enormous and only held 80GB. my first portfolio was on here!)
  • lots and lots of mucus (Bronchitis)

To celebrate, I'm going to buy a Wii.

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Experiment: Meat Packing

It's 5:45 am and I am in the parking lot of the Deseret Meat Packing Facility in Spanish Fork, Utah.

It's dark, starless. I am finishing up my Luna bar and tying my tennis shoes. Jared is rubbing sleep from his eyes. At 6:00, about the same time we have finally gotten warm, we leave the car to enter the plant. It is still dark outside, but inside it is weirdly bright, Pantone 1215. Tall tropical plants, gold nameplates, chairs that don't really get sat in much. The waiting room kind of looks like a mid-90's dentist office.

Or it's what we presume is the waiting room, no one is waiting on anyone.

"Hello?" we ask. Nada. Then comes a woman, Joan, who is the volunteer coordinator. We are some of those volunteers. We have volunteered to pack meat. Actually, I have no clear idea of what we have volunteered to do. I am here out of 70% curiosity, 30% desire to give service. I couldn't let this opportunity pass me by. How often are members of the public allowed entrance, let alone physical work-opportunities, inside a meat packing plant? Not often, I'd venture. And I intend to muckrake (a la Upton Sinclair), or at least use giant garden-variety pitchforks to rake apart slabs of cow. Just wait, it's coming.

Joan starts to explain the rules. They are all reasonable and unsurprising.

No chewing Gum
No jewelry.
No sandals.
If meat falls on the floor, don't pick it up. It's contaminated.

She exhorts us to read the rest of the rules "THOUR-ougly." We pick up the laminated yellow sheet and take turns. 16-point font. Nothing memorable.

Before we're allowed access to cowtown, we have to step into the clean room for orientation with one other guy with a football build, Courtney. It's here we are suited with our white lab coats, embroidered with Deseret Meat on the breast. We get our hairnets. We get our mandatory earplugs, but I pass, and slide them into my white coat pocket like they're cards I'm trying to hide in a poker game. I don't want to miss a thing. Need all of my senses.

On our way out of the clean room, we each take a turn dipping our sneakers into a vat of some liquid chemical disinfectant. (One of the accounts I worked on for awhile was for animal biosecurity, so I know, or think I know what I'm getting into.)

And then, without any real fanfare, we're in.

We were told to dress warm, and this is why: the whole facility is set at a cool 40 degrees. Gotta keep that beef fresh.

The place is a vision to behold. It's aluminum grey, and looks really, really clean. Well, except for those giant sides of cow cadaver gutted on meat hooks.

The concrete floor is polished and stark, except for little puddles of blood here and there, Pollock-style. Even these somehow look sterile.

Our guide walks us to our station, through a few small rooms, and I try to stall as much as I can to scan the activities of each room, but our guide walks briskly. I don't blame him, it's cold.

"Okay, wait here."

We're left alone, in what appears to be the largest room, the heart of the factory. There are 30 or so industrious workers (what time did they get here?) about their duties. A few guys furthest from us are using pitchforks to transfer chunks of meat out of a giant cardboard box into a smaller cardboard box. All meat products appear to be wheeled in and out in giant cardboard boxes lined with plastic tarps. This seems a bit weird.

The most surprising thing about this place is that it doesn't really smell. Sure, it's got this mild warm smell, the way a grocery-store meat counter sort of smells, but really, it's nothing to throw up about. It's also sort of got that acidic disinfectant smell about it, which pairs nicely (or at least, tolerably) with the meat scent.

A loud beeping starts, like a truck backing up, and behind us a garage-door-looking device pulls in towards the ceiling. This must be where they make sausages. You know those moving clothes racks at the dry cleaners, that spin around and stop at your item? This is what the sausage machine looks like, but instead of blouses and trousers, there are rows and rows of empty sausage casings. They look a little bit sad in their deflated state.

The man who's shoveling the filling around looks a little bit sad, too. He has his lab coat on, and over that he's wearing a bloody butcher's apron. He has a hairnet and a mouthnet to keep his beard in check. That's the other thing, about 75 percent of the men working here are mustachioed or bearded. And that there little detail, is totally living up to my expectations of a meat packing plant.

He's shoveling, yes, with a huge steel shovel, sausage meat from a coffin-sized trough into a funnel shaped device that is connected to the dry-cleaners machine. Then, another series of beeps and the garage door falls down to the floor, and my voyeurism comes to an end.

A jockey-sized man approaches us (Moustache). He informs us that we'll be packaging hamburger patties.

"You got fast hands?" he asks me.

"Pretty fast."

He points me toward the right-angle meeting point of two machines. The funnel machine and a machine that looks like it makes giant bubble wrap. Upon closer inspection, this bubble wrap is just the bottom half of the hamburger patty packaging. I'm instructed to put the stack of four patties shot out by machine A. (funnel machine) into these little plastic dimples, which are then fed through B. (sealing machine) and come out store-ready on the other side. Easy enough.

Jared is evaluated for size and strength and put to work at a meat trough overflowing with ground chuck. He shovels meat onto the candy blue conveyor belt, that runs upward and dumps the meat into a giant funnel. "An escalator for meat!" I say excitedly to my co-worker, who is the only other female in this whole joint. She is also way too old to be working here. I ignore tact and ask her age.


!!! 84 year-old lady in a meat packing plant. Mind blown.

By now it's 6:30 and I'm raring to get started. I'm told that we're waiting to get the machine warmed up. The funnel machine that presses meat into patties and separates each patty with a square of wax paper. If it's not warm, it won't press the meat out into circular patties, it'll just mush them up together.

The Technician (Moustache) makes small talk with me.

"I bet you were surprised when your husband signed you up for this, huh?" he chuckles.

"No way, I signed him up."

"Well, hah! You've got a lot of moxie!"

"That's not the first time I've heard that," I boast.

I turn around and excitedly mouth "'moxie!'" to Jared, who is obediently wearing his earplugs.

Ga-runk. Ga-runk. Garrrrrrrrrr. The machine starts to hum.

"Feel this," says Technician Guy.

He motions for me to put my hand on the side of the machine, which I notice is labeled "MEAT HOPPER." Sure enough, it's pretty warm. Go time.

Jockey-man nods to Jared (Beard), who picks up the shovel and starts loading the meat.

And what do you know, hamburger patties start coming out along the belt. It works! So simply, too! Not like the Rube Goldberg gig I'd imagined/hoped for, but really quite simply. The first 300 or so stacks of meat come out clean and I quickly start filling them into the plastic. They come at me at about a 5-second interval, plenty of time when you've got such fast hands, meh heh heh.

The 84-year old is doing quality control, inspecting the patties for irregularities, making sure they only come out four to a stack. I am dutifully filling the plastic circles with meat, occasionally turning around to make a "look at what we're doing!" face to Jared. He's hunching up his shoulders from the cold, only really enjoying his task because he knows I am mine. But every once in awhile when I turn around, he goes into these overblown muscle-man poses with his shovel. Hot.

This is easy. I am a cool cucumber.

I am mentally humming Factory Girl by Whiskeytown (fantastic song btw) and imagining what my life would be if this were my FT job. What I might do to relax after work, who I might be married to? I am imagining this is all happening in rural Illinois, like probably the near the Quad Cities. Probably like Moline. The routine of this patty packaging task is perfect for this kind of romantic dreaming.

About 20 minutes in I start seeing some problems. Not with my alternate fantasy-life, with the task at hand.

The patties are coming out 3 to a stack. I'm not sure why this is happening, but the 5 second delay still allows me to grab an extra patty from a different 3-stacker and pile it on the first to make the full four. It's a little bit rushed, but I can still make it happen before the whole sheet of plastic casings goes to the next machine to be sealed. Quality Control lady is unfazed, so I don't mention it.

Then they start coming out 5 to a stack, then with extra wax papers between each patty. Some patties are malformed and falling apart. Bwah!

I am trying my best to get all the patties correctly configured before the next one comes, but there is some definite bottlenecking and I'm forced to set some aside on the small metal shelf I've been given. I look to QC lady for guidance.

"The machine's lost its heat," she says without looking up.

She continues inspecting my work. So I continue to work, shoving sort-of formed patties of four into the pockets as fast as I can. At this point, I'm more than a little stressed. The beef doesn't stop coming! And believe me, when it comes to conveyor belts, you do not want to get behind. It's a little bit like that I Love Lucy episode where she and Ethel freak out when they can't package the chocolates fast enough. But unlike their conveyor belt troubles, I can't just pop the product into my mouth and keep going. At least with not getting really really sick.

"Can we stop this for a sec!" I shout at her. She can't hear me. She can't read lips either it seems. I hold up my hand in a "stop" motion, eyebrows raised.

Out of nowhere comes jockey-man. He hits the giant red button on the machine. He literally scratches his head for a minute. Then disappears.

I step away from the machine. Jared puts down his meat shovel. I leave my appointed station and go talk to him.

"Had enough?" he jokes.

No I hadn't. So we wait there for 10 minutes, then 20 minutes, then thirty. Technician guy reappears. He unscrews some nuts, screws some back in. Turns machine on, off. I guess it's still not getting warm enough. That old Meat Hopper. Good fer nothing machine.

It's only an hour and a half into our 3-hour volunteer shift, I've only got slight blood stains on my lab coat, and this situation isn't looking good. We stand around for another 45 minutes, talking to another volunteer. A rich retired guy. An odd fixture in this place. He's got elastic band booties over his wingtips. He seems to be enjoying this morning even more than I am.

"Aren't you glad we don't have to eat this stuff?" he says. "I sure feel bad for those unlucky who get that for dinner."

He motions to the microwave-sized slabs of cow whose destiny is ground beef.
(Turns out, 100% of what's packed in this plant is donated to the financially needy. Hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks.)

"You think you'll be able to eat ground beef again after being here?" he asks me.


"Not me. Ehhh," he shudders, turning away to look at sausage casing room. "Even worse," he points.

It's 8:30am. We've been waiting about an hour for this machine to get fixed and the romance of meat packing is losing its appeal.

"Okay, let's go," I concede. "I just wish I could have been used more."

"I'm hungry," says a very cold husband. "Let's go get an Egg McMuffin."

We find our way back to the clean room, discard our hairnets and throw our soiled coats into the laundry linen-bag.

We are about to leave, when Joan has a light go off in her head.

"Hang on." She runs out of the waiting room.

She comes back with two four-pound tubs of frozen ground beef. She hands it to Jared. She is smiling ferociously.

"Um, thanks," we mumble.

"Isn't this just for the poor people?" I whisper on our way out. "She thinks we're poor, doesn't she?"

And you know what I realize, going out into the bright 9am morning? It doesn't matter what she thinks, because we are experientially rich.

We also kind of smell.

What I have learned:

1. A meat packing plant is not that much of a spectacle. But the people working/volunteering there are.
2. It's good for your soul to have these kind of experiences. A friend gave me this book for my birthday a few years ago, and it talks a lot about having as many new experiences as you can, in fields you know little to nothing about. I know that things like this do wonders for your creative well-roundedness. That being said, if you ever get a chance to go to or work at a factory of any kind, do it.
3. I'm glad I'm not a poor person, for many reasons. One is that I don't like red meat very much.
4. There appear to be no on-the-floor volunteer opportunities at any US cheese factories. If you find out otherwise, please notify me promptly.
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Experiment: "Leisure" Cards

When Jared and I got married a few months ago, we vowed to do what we hadn't done during the social exclusivity of our engaged relationship--actually get to know our neighbors.

I was thinking aloud one night about how quickly We are to disclose our interests, tastes, feelings, photos to a wide digital audience (friends, family, secret blog readers, Facebook acquaintances) but rarely broadcast these same interests to our "analog neighbors" (if you'll allow me the liberty of using that term).

The past 3 places I've lived I've barely known the names of my neighbors, let alone their interests or occupations. (It was only when I had to knock on my Morningside Heights neighbor's door to plead with him and the other French exchange students, to please, oh please, stop blasting Mariah Carey at 4am, that I actually saw who lived across the hall from me for the first time. Turns out they were cute, and the song in question was "Fantasy," which, let's agree, is certainly one of Mimi's best. It was okay in the end.)

Nevertheless, what is it that makes us [me] so afraid of neighbors? Why don't I A) know them B) care to know them? What happened to good old neighborly ways? Block parties? Yelling at your neighbor (but by his first name) for the treat his dog left in your yard?

So when we moved into our first house in a more family-centric neighborhood, I decided to do something a little bit different to get to know my new neighbors. I made these.

"Leisure" Cards. To hand out when I meet my neighbors. A new (yet decidedly old) kind of social networking. Actually talking to my neighbors in person. Knocking on their doors to say hi. Passing my info along, along with my likes/hobbies, in the chance that ever twain interests shall meet, my neighbors can, in the words of that awesome jingle, come and knock on our door.

Plus, my work is cutting corners and won't let me order actual business cards. So leisure cards will have to do.

It was a nice Saturday, so we cooked up some pretty fantastic cherry chocolate chip cookies and made the rounds.

Some neighbors weren't home. We left them our leisure cards/cookies anyway. Hopefully they don't look like junk mail.

The neighbors who were home were really great to meet. Like the nice middle-aged mom who immediately invited us in. She's got 3 rambunctious young boys and a cocker spaniel who looks like a human trapped in an animal's body (Jared and I have been calling him "muppet dog" for about 3 months - now we know his name!)

Or like the kid brothers who answered their door and said their mom couldn't come to the door, but told us their names and interests anyway. The taller one also did explain as we were leaving, "I'm the oldest, and also the only one who speaks Russian." Yep. We asked him how to say goodbye in Russian, repeated it back to him, and went on our way.

And then there's the Spaghettios (not their real name, but rhymes with it). A young family with, I kid you not, 6 kids under the age of 5. When we knocked on their door the 4-year old boy came running out of the house past us wearing a leopard-print bodysuit, no shoes. The parents are pretty awesome, and within 5 minutes Mr. Spaghettio and Jared were exchanging LOST theories. They even took us up on an "interest" on Jared's leisure card, and came over tonight to play games.

What I have learned:

Leisure cards = success! Though we'll see if more people actually get in touch with us after this neighborly gesture.
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Experiment: 30 Day Purge

Day 4


Most women in their twenties who keep photos of 17-year old boys are called Harry Potter fans.

I am called. A total creep.

I swiped these out of the yearbook room my senior year of high school. Don't let the androgynous name fool you. As you can see, Tory was all man. Or more likely, I suppose accurately, all teenage boy. And I crushed upon him for a few hot months. The full-bred Italian, the soccer star. The man of the mane.

It makes sense - if you abide by a similarly skewed moral logic - for an 18-year old to possess such souvenirs. But I'm pretty sure I had plenty of chances to throw these away since then. And yet, I didn't.

Packrat at heart.
Packrat of the heart?

I invite all of you, gentle readers of this blog, to follow my late lead and toss away proofs of old crushes. It's alot easier to sneak digitally nowadays. But please empower yourselves. You don't need those stolen photographs anymore. Rid your iphoto of unrealized love.
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Experiment: 30 Day Purge

Not exactly Hollywood Juice Diet Style. More like A&E Hoarders style. It's not quite so bad as to be like a mental/compulsive disorder, it's just I honestly can't be convinced to throw anything away. This hasn't been problematic, really, because I don't buy a lot of things to begin with. But even so, little trinkets manage to build up after the years, the few things I've purchased, things I've acquired, been given. Things just amass. Moral of, don't buy me gifts. Unless edible.

Each day for a month I will be forced (mutinously! by my own brain and hand!) to just get rid of something. Can it. Chuck it. Throw it the way of Nick Nolte. Currently, all my ephemera is hiding out in the "1/2" of our 2 and 1/2 bedrooms. Nicknamed, The Room of Requirement, because honest to you, everything you'd ever need to start a colony can be found within. Plus it's a weird yellow and we're not really sure what to do with it.

Exhibit A.

For "A Jerk."

My high school pager.

You know, clearly a staple of 15-year old life. So, you know, my all my celeb friends can get a hold of me. The friends I have, who for unknown reasons, wouldn't be with me at high school parties or boys' soccer games. Who'd have some urgently important piece of 411 that they'd just have to find a pay phone and alert me (this was before the days of truly consumer grade mobile phones).

The only other people besides lame high schoolers (Lindsey and I had identical Motorola models) who really carried pagers those days (1999) were dealers and doctors.

"Paging Doctor Aggen. Yeah we just wanted to alert you that Ben Panos was spotted at the Overland Park Sonic ordering a grilled cheese. Oh, and also, your favorite Third Eye Blind song is on the radio so hurry home and tape it."

My boyfriend would also send me little digital love messages*. Like the proto-text message. I think this pager was a bit twitter-like in its limitations, in that only messages of certain character counts were permitted.

*Like what, for instance? A new AAA battery can answer that question! Let's break into the archives of the late 90's.


Romance, romance, romance.

Is this why I kept this useless bit of technology for so long? That a part of me couldn't part with the romance? These tiny love-notes? Or did I keep it because I thought it was kitchy? Or so I could like, totally Relate with Dennis the Beeper King? Or is it because I'm worried it'll swing back into vogue and I want to be ready at the onset?

I don't know that questions of this weight have easy answers.

I do know that having chucked this relic of 1999, I already feel the small pains of nostalgia, and question if I did the right thing.

Turtle Face.
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how could i forget? getting married to Jared. He's the best!*

Did you know his webseries got some love from the New York Times?
And New TeeVee? And he was totally a cover-boy?

Here is a teaser trailer for Season 2, but you can go see all of The Book of Jer3miah at the LDS Film Festival this week.

I am lucky he married me. Stay tuned for many good things from Team Cardon.

*said like Toad in MK.
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Who saw this coming.

Formalized science in high school is like the academic equivalent of waterboarding for 99 percent of rightbrains, who'd rather be writing A-grade book reports on novels they've merely skimmed. I guess it wasn't just the teenage rightbrains, it was really everyone, except for that one kid. You know the kind, who bleeds ambition and whose constant handraising irritated you mucho.

Irregardless of this, the total insufferable tedium of high school science, I always performed at/above capacity. I just never took any real pleasure from it. Sure, dissecting fetal pigs was smelly fun, but, as a rule I found the concept of scientific absolutes and rules deplorable. I like(d) options. (This is also why I hated that greater of two evils, mathematics.)

Clearly, this sentiment manifests a total misunderstanding of scientific rigor. Science is a lot more creative than high school (and undergrad) teachers spun it. There's wiggle-room if you know where to look. And there are really quite miraculous things that science can teach us/me.

Like space. Space is just totally cool. It turns me into nothing more than cranial putty. Prrreeetttty.

Joking aside, I guess you could say space opened a lot of doors for me, scientifically. It made me start wanting to WHY. And WHY I did. I WHY'd all over 2009.

I watched meteor showers in the early am. I started subscribing to lots of science blogs. I looked at a lot of space porn. I took the time to read how hydrogen bombs work. I tried to learn about infinity. I used a NASA-grade telescope to look at Saturn. Apparently, I said the following to Jared in my sleep: "Our love transcends space and time." I started reading the Concrete series. I watched a lot of LOST. I cried in the first 5 minutes of Star Trek. For Halloween, Jared and I dressed up as Stephen Hawking and A Brief History of Time. (I tried to conduct legitimate experiments.) ETC.

Plus, the cream - I'm married to the sci-fi nerd of all time. Jared can't be here to defend himself right now because he's busy reading Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass.

But don't worry, I'm sure later he'd love to show you his Star Wars playing cards, or maybe if you're LUCKY, the Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels.

I really can't make fun of him much though. I really love science and the genre that it spurred. I just happen to like the more socially acceptable kind. And you probably do too, for that matter.

Love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? GUILTY.

Love the Huey Lewis ballad Back in Time? GUILTY.

Love Huey Lewis? GUILTY. Of being awesome.


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Get a good look at this face. This is the jerk who sucked away my 2009.

I first heard mention of David Foster Wallace in my MFA orientation (I guess something good came out of that whole sham). He died about a month after I started reading Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, in November of 2008. I was surprised how sad this made me. The saddest 'lil girl in Utah.

It's just that when you find a new author you love, you change. That sounds totally trite, I know, but it's the truth. You think differently. You speak differently (especially with an author who's got such a psycho vocabulary you are sure he is just making up words at will). You write differently. You just want to devour everything they've touched. Read and watch every interview you can and find yourself as amazed with the artist as you are the work itself. You kind of have to give yourself to them. Your time, your attention, your love, your mind. A holistic surrender.

Please appreciate my sincerity. It's more than respect. I love this man's mind.

DFW is funny. Bizarro, laugh-out-loud, anecdotally, you name it. He nails all breeds. Then of course, he's a certified genius. Critics love to write him off as a smarty-pants, though many have shut it posthumously.

I think writers love to love him because he writes nonfiction like he's the Eye of Providence and writes fiction like he's a frickin alien. Other writers love to find this bravado irritating. But through all the love letters to DFW on the one hand and all the undeserved vitriol on the other, people seem to agree on something at least. The man's got heart.

There is something so intent, so sincere about his work. He's a perfect blend of heart and head. At the conclusion of my first DFW book, I sold him to others as Vonnegut w/ Heart. A much smarter, more interesting Vonnegut. With a lot more heart. A total original (that dorky bandana!) A total midwestern middleclass underdog. There's this charity about him, this sincerity that I don't find in a lot of his contemporaries.

Above all, he is the antithesis of everything I hate about postmodernism. There is meaning, and there's lots of it, and, well, he really means it.

I am happy to recommend the following:

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men
This is Water

Consider the Lobster

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
Infinite Jest (technically, I am not entirely finished. It's a very large, complicated narrative. But I was immediately hooked. I even brought it on my honeymoon. It was the heaviest thing in my bag)

Thank you, DFW for making me so excited about writing again.

Honorable Mention

SUM by David Eagleman is a fantastic speculative romp through the afterlives.
Field Knowledge by Morri Creech is transcendent (I was lucky to find my favorite piece online).
The Night in Question by Tobias Wolff was some good short storying.
THEM by Jon Ronson is funny, with a motive.
Rabbit, Run by John Updike is linguist crack.
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Supergroup city!

So much sheet swapping in 2009. Monsters of Folk, Volcano Choir, and Vetiver all put out decent albums. I'm not going to discuss them here. No, I've decided that music journalism is one of the kinds of writing I most despise. Not because I think articulating the feel of music is impossible (it is challenging) or because I think it undeserving of critique. None of that. (As a teen I spent hours upon hours in Borders soaking up Q and NME, or paste before it went hacky. I used to love it.) It's just lately I have barely read anything that hasn't felt kind of showy/indulgent/pitchforky. Instead, a musing.

I oft times like to wonder what it would be like if I could only understand things literally. Like band names.

Volcano Choir
Scientists around the Pacific Rim use seismographs and other tricky instruments of measuring the earth's heave and haw to record the sounds of molten volcanic activity. They end up just using a crappy little Sony or Emerson tape player to record the audio, which is a probably because if it falls in the lava, or someone's cheeseburger lunch accidentally ignites from the heat and blows and the ketchup clogs up the recorder input, replacement is relatively inexpensive. Sometimes they (the recorders or "Lava Whisperers") accidentally pick up native animal sounds, and then this just screws with the purity of it, the lava. It sounds almost like a weirder than usual Brian Eno album, a lot like humming and soft hiss and gargling salt in your throat. But you can't even touch the CD, ever. It would turn your hands to flesh soup. You also can't touch the mp3 because it is of course intangible. Even if you found some way to dissect the internet and touch the electrical current of song, it too, would burn your hands from the electro-energy. How did I learn this? LOST, of course.

Monsters of Folk

It's November, 1989. During a screening of Back To the Future II Tim Gillermo gets up the nerve to put the moves on his date. He works his arm around the back of her red leather jacket and settles it on her shoulder. He starts exploring downward to her young, Malibu Musk-y skin, dewy as ever. Only it's not dewy. Its more like an entire miniature deciduous forest has implanted itself onto her forearm. Tim looks down. It's not her forearm. Tim looks up. It's not his date. It's an old Appalachian. He's gnawing on a corn dog. On second thought, it's a giant rat tail, maybe opossum.

He looks to his buddy to the left, Rick. Rick is not rick. Rick is a lenticular, switching between three Bob Dylans in I'm Not There (which is really a headtrip because the film won't be released for another 15+ years, and so on).

Rick throws himself up from his seat as the Bob Dylans and the Appalachian start frothing at the mouths. He runs frantically through the aisle, over other young couples and kids. The Dylans and old Appalachian start chasing after him, chanting threats. He manages to clear the aisle and is rounding the exit when he suddenly trips and falls forward, breaking the nosepiece to his glasses as he lands. He may have also twisted his ankle. He looks behind him. It's Rumplestitskin, crouched down low with one leg out. He's brandishing an ax-saw. The trio of terror converges upon him. He screams.

However, this cry for help occurs at the exact same moment in the movie where young Jennifer (upon meeting old Jennifer) screams and passes out in the doorway. Nobody hears him.

Tim passes out in the theatre exit.


God, on the third day of his creation, creates a perennial angiosperm. As far as grasses go, it's okay.

SEE? Much more fun to read than a music review, huh?

I'm settled; the musical concept of the year goes to the supergroup. With all this incestuous musical get-up, my question remains, when is someone going to team up again with Dolly Parton? Kate Bush? The totally awesome Juice Newton?

Honorable Mentions

Honestly, it's been so long since I found a whole solid album. I think I'm going to write a Barthes-type essay on the death of the album. Another time. When I'm feeling showy/indulgent/pitchforky.

I liked the stuff from Fanfarlo. Andrew Bird. D.M. Stith. Grizzly Bear. Cymbols Eat Guitars. Dead Man's Bones.

I liked the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

I'm not going to argue with anyone that Merriweather Post Pavillion was great.

In fact, I'm liking this equation. After all, my most listened to song acc. to itunes was AC's remix of the YYY single Zero (supergroupy move, this mixing?)

But I think my favorite of the year goes to Seals & Crofts. This song is the best. Not joking. Incomparable.

Not really worth mentioning

Rock. Is it just dead? Or has it evolved to something outside the label of "rock?" Why is it if I want to have fun music I have to dip into dance or rap?

2010, here is your charge - make [rock] music fun again!

And give me some more supergroups!
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