Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I went down to Pennsylvania for about 48 hours this past weekend. Now that Mrs. Gerbil and I live on the East Coast, it's much easier to plan last-minute trips to my parents' house. Instead of being cooped up in a plane for 5 hours, plus enduring all the aggravations of the airport, I stretched out on Amtrak for 5 hours.

In my experience, time passes much more quickly on the train than on the plane. For one, there's cool stuff to see outside. You can gauge your progress by which stops the train has yet to make. The seats are wide, there's lots of legroom, the bathrooms are reasonably sized, and you can walk up and down the aisles the whole time without getting stuck behind a beverage cart or being ordered to go put your seatbelt on. Because the train doesn't have seatbelts.

I think there's a certain beauty in the run-down structures that one typically sees along the tracks. Also, I find trainyards absolutely fascinating. I can't explain it. This journey definitely did not disappoint on either the dilapidated building front or the trainyard front.

In one of the trainyards in Connecticut, I spied the most amazing maintenance of way cars. I am not sure what they are called, but they are flat and have a big metal steering wheel type thing on one end. They can be connected to each other or to an engine, and they are obviously not for transporting anything beyond the yard. One of these cars was particularly awesome. At one end was stenciled the following instruction:


I'm sure this means something very particular in train-speak. At least, I hope it does. Either way, it's very good advice.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

And the survey says...

First things first: We have phone service! The Verizon guy came this morning and had everything working in less than 10 minutes. Praise the Lord and pass the address book! Haven't heard from our case manager, though we did get a nice (albeit rather superfluous) phone call on our land line to inform us that our phone was now in service. Right-o. That only took two weeks...

And now for other things.

In the mail the other day we received a "Consumer Product Survey of America." I have no intention of filling this out, as doing so will only result in our being bombarded with junk mail. Even if I did not provide our address, I'm guessing that the serial number on the form is already associated with same. And besides, most of the questions don't pertain to our shopping habits anyway.

However, just for laughs I reviewed the survey thoroughly. I found that the "not applicable" field descriptions were priceless. For example:

hair loss: we do not have
bladder leakage: we do not have
and my personal favorite:

toothpaste: we do not use
This all kind of reminds me of lolcat syntax:


I couldn't have said it better myself.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Playing telephone

First, some ketchup: Day Five of our cross-country drive took us to my parents' house in good old Newtown, PA; and Day Six took us to our new home in South Hadley, MA. We've been here since January 13, but we only just got the internet to come into the house this morning. Thus, my lapse in blogging. Sorry about that. (In any event, there wasn't anything funny on Day Five except my parents; and by the time we actually made it to our new abode, we were too tired to consider anything funny.)

So, yes, the internet now successfully comes into the house. The telephone, however, does not. Verizon was supposed to have connected our new phone number on January 11, such that it would work when we arrived a few days later.

It did not.

Well, that's not entirely true. We plugged a phone into the jack and got a dial tone.

When we moved to Berkeley, we discovered that we had a dial tone but no ability to receive calls, as some other number was coming into the house instead of the one we'd ordered. Amazingly, SBC was able to fix the problem within 48 hours. What had apparently happened was that the previous tenants had not disconnected their phone service (which was with another company), so SBC had to send someone up the pole to unplug the line and plug it in again. And voila, we had our rightful phone number.

Having learned well from this experience, I called my cell phone from our newly-plugged-in Massachusetts phone to see what number came up on the caller ID. And lo, it was not our phone number.

So I called Verizon on the 14th and asked them please to hook up our phone which was supposed to have been hooked up on the 11th. I was assured that this would be done by the end of the business day.

It was not.

I called again on the 15th and asked them please to hook up our phone. The representative said that there was defective wiring outside the house, and that it would be corrected either by the end of the week or by February 8. I expressed my frustration that (1) our service had not been connected as scheduled and (2) no one had contacted me to inform me of any problems, when I'd provided my cell phone number for exactly this reason upon placing the order. I made the representative promise me that we would not be charged for phone service until it actually worked. Then I asked what we were supposed to do about all the people (read: potential employers) to whom we'd given our non-working number. The representative offered us a voice mailbox.

"I hope we don't have to pay for that either," I said. The representative thought for a moment and then agreed that we would not be charged for voicemail. Score!

By the end of last week, we still did not have a working phone line. So I called Verizon again. I was told that there was a problem with the outside line--more specifically, that there was no line coming into the house.

"That's interesting," I said, "because every call I've made about this issue has been from a phone that is plugged into a jack in my kitchen."

(This is oddly similar to a situation frequently encountered by Childhood Friend J, who used to work for the phone company in Wisconsin. The difference is that his callers would call him to say their phones weren't working at all--then inform him that the number they were calling from was the one that was out of service.)

I was assured that there was, indeed, a problem outside the house, and that someone would fix it as soon as possible. I was also offered a rather condescending explanation of "how phone lines work," which I politely (okay, semi-politely) declined.

Yesterday, we were very excited to see a Verizon guy up the pole that serves our house. Oh, frabjous day! Calloo, callay! But alas, by evening we still did not have our phone. So I called Verizon again. Verizon said that the number that was coming to our house used to belong to the animal hospital across the street. The animal hospital had since switched carriers and phone numbers, but through the miracle of crossed lines, we somehow wound up with their old number. Verizon also said that the pole-climber had indeed found a working line up there, which could be routed to our house once another technician could come to unplug some wires in our network interface box and then plug them back in again. Verizon promised that this would be done by 11am today. Verizon also promised that I would get "more confirmation calls than I probably wanted" today, not just from the repair department but also from our case manager.

I feel a little weird being case-managed by the phone company.

Needless to say, by 2pm today no one had gone near our network interface box. I called Verizon again and, after initially being told that there was no work order on file for today, was promised that "someone will be out by the end of the day today." It's now well after dark, and not only does our phone still not work, but I haven't received any of these fabled multiple confirmation calls.

I'd call our case manager (again, being case-managed by the phone company? totally weird) but I have no way to get in touch with her.

Verizon must be taking lessons from the Department of Mental Health.

Friday, January 11, 2008

On the road: Day Four

Today we had a relatively short day of driving--eight hours as opposed to ten or ten and a half. We drove from Lonoke, AR, to Knoxville, TN. This particular stretch of I-40 is equally rich in churches and porn shops, as Mrs. Gerbil observes.

I didn't take any scenic pictures today. I did, however, capture some amazing truck graffiti:

(The world on time, indeed!)

Also we passed arguably the best-named town in the entire state of Tennessee:

(Yes, that does say "Bucksnort.")

America the Beautiful? Try America the Weird!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

On the road: Day Three

Today we made it all the way from Amarillo, TX, to Lonoke, AR. Lonoke is about twenty minutes or so east of Little Rock. My cell phone doesn't work very well here, and the phone book is about as thick as your average elementary school novel, but lodgings are much cheaper in these parts than they are in Little Rock.

The cat complained a lot more than usual today--almost four hours of pissed-off meowing. She finally settled down for a (thankfully very long) nap in the early afternoon. We determined that she was just frustrated with being in the car for so long. She's not the only one!

Odd sightings of the day:

1) The Northern Hemisphere's Largest Cross, or so the billboard would have one believe. It's in a field just east of Groom, TX. And indeed, it is humongous.

2) The Alanreed Jail. It's in the microscopic town of Alanreed, TX, at a perfectly respectable (though also microscopic) combination of a gas station, country store, and post office.

The only other customers at the gas pump were two guys about our age who were also on their way to western Massachusetts from California. Small world!

On the road: Day Two

Today we drove from Kingman, AZ, to Amarillo, TX. It was a very, very long day. Three of the four of us (i.e., Mrs. Gerbil, the cat, and I) were rather displeased by the length of today's drive. The cat, on the other hand, feels the need to complain a lot before allowing herself to be lulled. She'll go to sleep after about an hour of kvetching; but that first hour is not pleasant for anyone involved.

The scenery, however, was lovely. For some reason I hadn't realized that the desert would be covered in snow in the beginning of January--perhaps because when I think "desert" I think "hot." But there was quite a bit of snow throughout much of Arizona and New Mexico.

We made it almost all the way across New Mexico before the sun set. Said sunset lit up an awesome cloud formation in the eastern sky.

Odd spotting of the day: a purveyor of ostrich eggs and half-price meteorites. Well, actually, we didn't see the place itself, only its billboard.

What I want to know is this: Who determines the regular price of meteorites?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

On the road: Day One

Mrs. Gerbil and I are en route to our new place in western Massachusetts. Today we drove from our lovely extended stay quarters in Emeryville, CA, to Kingman, AZ. (We had left our Berkeley apartment on New Year's Eve day to accommodate the landlords, but to accommodate our employers, we had remained in the Bay Area another week.)

Before today, I had never seen California's Central Valley, which was long and full of artificially irrigated orchards. Further down the road, while the sun was still up, Mrs. Gerbil and I enjoyed the Joshua trees in the Mojave Desert, which we agreed looked like something out of Dr. Seuss.

Of course, we also noted a fair number of odd things. We saw an RV called the Citation, which we agreed was even better than the Intruder. We saw a billboard advertising a (poorly proofread but profoundly jerky-riffic) website, FreshJerky.com.

We spotted a restaurant in Barstow called Bun Boy. I am not making this up.

Finally, there is a rather large prison bus in the parking lot of our motel. Neither Mrs. Gerbil nor I wants to know what the Arizona Department of Corrections is doing on the premises.

Friday, January 04, 2008

And tango makes three

We have some designs on the gerb--namely, that it will be a musician. It probably doesn't matter whether musical aptitude is determined by nature or nurture (or some combination of both), as both of its mommies are musicians from musical families.

And already the gerb has definite preferences. It gets all excited when I break out the violin and play unaccompanied Bach, though it tends to sleep through the rest of my repertoire. It dances when Mrs. Gerbil plays this one tango by AlbeƱiz, but it stays quiet when she plays anything else. It slumbers through violin and piano duets, yet it totally partied when we went to hear the awesome Italian guitarist Roberto Dalla Vecchia a few months ago. But the rhythm that gets it going the most is still the tango.

Mrs. Gerbil likes to sing lullabies to it, a practice which looks to the untrained eye like her serenading my navel. (As the gerb reliably starts to stir when it is mommies' bedtime, I fear that it will start to associate lullabies with waking up!) Last night she decided to sing it some tangos.

Well, we only know two tangos with words ("Hernando's Hideaway" and "The Tango Maureen") so this was a short-lived activity. Neither of these songs is particularly appropriate for babies, but the gerb got down and boogied nonetheless.

What a sophisticated creature is the little gerb!

In other news, today is my 28th birthday. Daaaaaaaaaaaang.