Friday, August 31, 2012

How to Prepare for an International Trip

Many of you in the know are aware that I'm headed overseas tomorrow to attend my friends' wedding.1  My students, however, are in ignorance of this fact. They're blissfully unaware that when they show up for school next week, they'll be greeted by a dreaded substitute.2

With all of the work that must be invested ahead of time for a teacher to miss a week of classes in the middle of the school year (and it's a LOT), I've put off actually doing anything to get myself ready for the trip until right now -- after 6:00pm the night before. 

Fortunately, I'm such a pro at preparing for international trips that even cutting the packing and prep this closely, I still have time to sit down and blog about it before commencing with the actual grunt work.3

How to Prepare for an International Trip: 

STEP ONE: Initiate Passport Protocol. If you are anything like me, your Passport Protocol looks something like this: a few days before the trip, start setting things out in order to save time on the actual packing day. With this in mind, take your passport out of the wooden box on your dresser and set it over on the bookshelf by the luggage where it will be easy to see when you're packing.  Then forget about it. Pile some clean clothes on top of the passport. A few days later, while packing under a time crunch, open the wooden box on your dresser to discover that your PASSPORT IS MISSING.  Start tearing the house apart. Really go for it. Dig to the bottom of your closet, bent over at the waist and flinging everything that you own over your shoulder until it all makes a huge pile in the middle of the room. In a true panic, with a film of sweat coating your upper lip and visions of displeased-looking TSA officials dancing in your head, dash to Google and feverishly type in key phrases such as "EMERGENCY MISSING PASSPORT REPLACEMENT" and "OVERNIGHT PASSPORT RUSH JOB" before suddenly remembering that you've set your passport out earlier in the week so that it would be easier to find while packing.

STEP TWO: Watch your Packing P's and Q's. This means getting past important mental obstacles, such as realizing that 1) all of the clothing that you own is WRONG, that 2) what is not wrong is STUPID, that 3) what is not wrong and stupid is actually FRAYED and/or BLOTCHED, and that 4) everything else is IN THE HAMPER. After a furious and somewhat confusing inner dialogue, convince yourself that it's going to be both more time efficient and financially responsible just to wash, dry, fold, and pack all of your dirty clothes than to go buy an entirely new wardrobe just for this trip.4 Once you've successfully navigated this treacherous mental puzzle, go do your laundry and pack.

STEP THREE: Observe Alarm Clock Conventions.  Since 9/11, navigating airports has become both trickier and more time consuming than ever. It's a good idea to be better than on-time, especially if your flight is international. This means that even though your phone's alarm clock has never failed you once, it's still necessary not only to check at least five times that the alarm is set properly, but it's also prudent to have a back-up alarm system planned.  In addition to your phone alarm, go ahead and dig out that old clock radio that you've been meaning to donate to Goodwill. This way when you have to get up at some horrific hour the next morning to catch your flight, you'll get to wake up not only to an annoying blast of frenetic beeps, but also to the obnoxiously-jovial warblings of your local radio personalities. 

Even with the clock radio as a backup, it's still probably necessary for your body to wake you up every forty-five minutes so that you can ensure that both your alarms haven't let you down. This is only to be expected.

The truth is that getting ready for any trip--especially an international one--is generally the worst part of the whole experience. Once you're finally out there, you will find that all of the pressure of planning falls away, leaving you with a sense of sweet, sweet freedom.

Remember that there's a big, beautiful world out there waiting for a visit from you

Hope to see you out there!
1. Yes, the apostrophe positioning is correct. TWO of my friends are getting married TO EACH OTHER. 
2. Although preparing lesson plans for my sub wasn't as tedious as it usually is, because the girl subbing for me is one of my former STUDENTS who is now a bona fide ADULT with a COLLEGE DEGREE and a HUSBAND and EVERYTHING. Because she was one of my students, there's no need to write out all of my tedious classroom routines and expectations -- she's already experienced them first hand. YAY!
3. Also, blogging when I feel the pressure of a deadline is one of my well-established routines. It's part of my process. Don't judge.
4. Unless, of course, you are a guy. Since guys don't have to try most things on and can also get away with finding one shirt that they like and then just buying it in every color, it would probably be quicker for them to go buy a new wardrobe than to wash what they already own before packing.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

How to Respond to the Realization that Your Neighbor May, in Fact, Be a Serial Killer (Formerly Known as a 'Mass Murderer')


You've done your research. You've read the signs. You've figured out that your neighbor shows Serial Killer or Serial-Killer-Like Tendencies! Knowing how vital it is for you to proceed with caution, I have put together this little post in order--I hope--to help prolong your life.

Incidentally, even if you haven't come to suspect that your neighbor may be a serial killer, it's probably in your best interest to take these tips to heart anyway. Because sometimes serial killers blend in. Sometimes they're handsome, intelligent, hardworking professional-looking men who occasionally indulge in seemingly selfless acts such as volunteering at crisis hotlines while also occasionally killing people on the side.1 So you just never know. 

Better to be safe than sorry.

How to Respond to the Realization that Your Neighbor May, in Fact, Be a Serial Killer (Formerly Known as a 'Mass Murderer'):

Step One: Stop Inviting Him to Neighborhood Cookouts. First, it's just not safe to have him around all of those people.  Who knows what/whom he will fixate on next! It could even be you! Second, there's really no telling what he may have slipped into the barbecue. Sure, it may smell like chicken, but... Remember Jeffrey Dahmer?2

Step Two: Hire My Mother to Keep Watch. Okay, so it doesn't have to be my mother, per se. What you're looking for is someone with a keen eye for detail, a lively interest in what's going on across the street, and an ability to remember the usual pattern and routines of others.  In this way, you will be able to keep track of his movements at all times without having to go through the difficult and often frustrating task of attempting to hide a GPS tracker on him without his knowledge.

Step Three: Invest in some giant magnets. Everyone knows that serial killers tend to choose from a limited array of weapons, some of which could be formed of iron and/or stainless steel (i.e. knives, ball peen hammers, certain types of guns). The idea here is to line your driveway, sidewalks, windows, and door frames with these magnets, which will create a safe path to and from your house. It wouldn't be a bad idea to line the walls of your house with magnets, either. Imagine your serial killer's surprise when his weapon sails right out of his hands! Sure, this may mean that you will have to alter your wardrobe accessories a bit (and, if you are an American, never have a working credit card strip ever again) but this is your life that's at stake. Obviously, sacrifices must be made.3

Step Four: Invite him along for a group camping trip to a remote cabin in the woods on a stormy weekend. According to every every scary movie I've ever watched (both of them) there's no better way to force a killer to show his hand. This is a bold move, and I applaud your willingness to go to any lengths to prove to the authorities that your neighbor is, in fact, a psychopathic killer! Just try to ensure that you are one of the last two campers to make it out alive. Otherwise you won't be able to gloat when he finally meets his demise. Unfortunately, in this scenario he probably won't live to stand trial, meaning that he will never be forced to confront his sense of moral responsibility. No, in this scenario he's more likely to be accidentally electrocuted or have a giant oak tree crush him just as he's finished ripping off a creepy laugh.4  But the good news is that the neighborhood will be much safer for those who do make it back from the trip.5

Okay, so maybe Step Four isn't such a good idea... especially if you don't like camping.  

The truth is that every time I'm struck with the horrifying reality that serial killers walk among us, I comfort myself with the realization that hundreds of thousands of people have unwittingly lived in perfect safety side-by-side with serial killers, sometimes for years at a time.6 They've lived near them, shopped with them, attended social functions with them, and waved to them in the street.

Honestly, there are many things in life that I find are easier just not to think about, and the existence of serial killers is only one of them.

It's easier not to think about:
  • how airplanes stay up
  • light being both a particle and a wave
  • the national debt
  • the continuing popularity of Nicholas Sparks novels
  • reality TV
  • string theory
  • RuPaul
  • synchronized swimming
  • boy bands
  • serial killers

1. Um, Ted Bundy, anyone?  But seriously, if you don't know much about his case, I encourage you to drop everything and read this and/or watch this really excellent documentary. Just don't click on THIS if you plan to sleep well tonight.
2. In case you don't.
3. If your serial killer happens to be one of those poisoners or stranglers, though, this will probably be a waste of money. Worse, it will give you a false sense of security. In that case, you can invite him to the cookout, but only to feed him something with iron filings in it. You know, just to hedge your bets.
4. Also, take plenty of flashlights and batteries, because I'm pretty sure the power in the cabin is going to go out almost immediately. And update your insurance, because something bad is going to happen to your Jeep.
5. At least, until the sequel comes out.
6. Judith Ridgeway even stayed safely (if not happily) married to a serial killer for years, claiming that she'd never even had a clue.  But, come on.  I've read a little bit about their relationship.  She should have had at least an inkling that something wasn't right.

Monday, August 13, 2012

How to Tell if Your Neighbor is a Serial Killer

During the course of my vast criminology research,1 I'm often shocked not only at the gruesomeness of the crimes committed (and what these crimes says about the human condition), but also at how often a brutal killer's friends, neighbors, and even family members lived seemingly in complete ignorance of the killer's true nature.

Hence, the need for this blog post.2

How to Tell if Your Neighbor is a Serial Killer:

1. He is male. You can't argue with statistics. Nearly every single serial killer, ever, has been male.3 Fortunately, this first point is generally an easy one to verify from a distance. Although it's getting harder and harder these days to tell, especially in some neighborhoods.4 

2. He is seen carrying large/sketchy/deadly/mysterious objects to and from his vehicle at odd hours. Although, by this definition, my sister/roommate would be highly suspicious: not only is she often seen lugging bulky items such as saddles, horse blankets, and masses of saddle pads and soiled towels to and from her truck, but her truck is also full of an array of rather shockingly dangerous items including (but not limited to) chainsaws, machetes, both ball-peen and claw hammers, heavy blocks of pig iron, plastic sheeting, animal medications, and (once) a video camera.5 Furthermore, since her schedule is often ridiculously full, she's regularly seen ferrying these items to and from her truck under cover of darkness: both in the wee hours of the morning as well as late, late at night.  So maybe this point is debatable, because for all of her faults, being a serial killer isn't one of them. (I don't think....)  It's okay, though, because I have a few more points up my sleeve.6

3. He always manages to appear on his stoop for a cigarette break every single time you leave for work, arrive home from work, head for the gym, check your mail, come home from shopping, leave to drop off library books, or take off on a long walk.  This means either that he has memorized your schedule or that he just sits behind his blinds with an eye on the sidewalk in front of the building, just waiting for you to appear. We know this type from personal experience, because we currently have a neighbor with this exact M.O.7 It doesn't matter at what time of the day we come or go: both of us have noticed that the minute we walk up the sidewalk, the Staring Neighbor appears on his stoop with a cigarette. However.... come to think of it.... Although this sketchy behavior easily skyrockets him to the top of our colorful list of Creepiest Neighbors of All Time, we have no concrete proof (as of yet) that he is, in fact, a serial killer.8

Okay. Although I will admit that Steps #1-3 haven't been extremely helpful, I promise that my last point will offer some fool-proof serial-killer-spotting advice. 

The best way to determine once and for all that your neighbor is a serial killer is if you notice that....

4. On a fairly regular basis, he kills people. Although this point isn't generally as easy to verify as Point #1, it is the best indicator that your neighbor probably is, in fact, a serial killer.  If you happen to come to the troubling realization that your neighbor is a serial killer (formerly known as a "mass murderer"), it is very important that you DO NOT PANIC.9 Remember that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There is help available. 

In fact, I happen to have a list of some very specific protocols which you should follow.

COMING SOON: "How to Respond to the Realization that Your Neighbor May, in Fact, Be a Serial Killer (Formerly Known as a 'Mass Murderer')"10

Until next time, People of Earth, keep your eyes open... and be safe out there. 

1. Primarily consisting of marathon readings of Ann Rule's true crime novels and occasionally watching Law and Order reruns.
2. I'm all about meeting only the deepest and most obvious social needs. 
3. At least.... the ones who have been caught. MUAHAHAHAH----*Ahem.* Excuse me.
4. Yes, I mean you, downtown San Diego. And also you, Greater Seattle Area. 
5. I am not making this up.  For more on this, see "How to Live with an Equestrian."
6. And by "up my sleeve," I mean "in my brain." Because my brain apparently... wears shirts? (Mostly vintage tees, but sometimes, when feeling especially snarky, a crisp new polo shirt with an ironically-popped collar.) 
7. We, in our vast creativity, have nicknamed him The Staring Neighbor. 
8. Although he does kill off a sense of trust in our fellow man.
9. That will only provoke him.
10. !

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How to Overcome Writer's Block in Twenty Simple Steps

1. Clutch at hair in impotent fury.
2. Roar like a dinosaur.
3. Do a few lines that look like this: JFKDL:SJFL:KSDJF:LDSJFLKD:SFDJSL:
4. Delete them.
5. Write some actual words.
6. Glare at them.
7. Decide that the words you've just written look weird. Wonder why spell check hasn't underlined them in red. Question whether you have written actual English.
8. Try crossing one eye to see if that makes the words look more normal.
9. Hit backspace rhythmically until the weird-looking words disappear.
10. Decide that coffee might help. Brew coffee. Drink it. Realize that it doesn't help.
11. Consider taking a flamethrower to the keyboard.
12. Wonder if you should insure the laptop first.
13. Google insurance policies and read them for an hour.
14. Remember that you're supposed to be writing.
15. Repeat Steps 5-10.
16. Google flamethrowers and dig credit card out of purse.
17. Cancel the order due to fear that you might turn flamethrower on self.
18. Repeat Steps 5-10.
19. Repeat Steps 1-2.
20. Wait for the neighbors to call the authorities.1

1. Either 911 or Animal Control. It's a toss up.