Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Found in Translation

As I embark on the second major abroad adventure in my life, I have started to reflect about the first time I left the U.S. One summer during college, I had the great opportunity to go to Portugal with a college friend and her mom and sister. When she asked me if I wanted to go I immediately said "yes," and then looked up where Portugal was. (World Geography was not at the top of academic subjects I had mastered. Don't judge. I have other skills---I can still name the prepositions in alphabetical order, so put that IN your pipe and smoke it).

So I was going to Europe.....

I was meeting them there and was scheduled to arrive at the Lisbon airport two hours earlier than them. I did not know it yet but my luck with air travel sucks and the gods of ETAs laughed in my face when I started my journey. It ended up taking me over 24 hours to get there, and my friend and her family beat me by six hours.

I was nervous and excited and had no idea what to expect. I knew it was going to be different, but being completely surrounded by a foreign language that I was not even proficient in was something I had to experience to understand.  Flying Air Portugal there gave me my first taste of a language barrier. As I boarded the plane in Newark, I caught snippits of Portuguese, a language full of hard vowels, guttural noises, and ʃ where I would usually put 's'. (That's the 'sh' sound for everyone who is uninformed... you still judging that I didn't know where Portugal was?) In the airport, I still got the gist of what was going on around me,  because most of the passengers were speaking English. The moment that plane took off, though, it was like stepping into a drunk Portuguese family reunion. Not that anyone was drunk. Or related. Or maybe they all were? Who knows. I just know the plane got rowdy and happy all in another language. I could tell that a lot of my fellow passengers were returning home or had some personal ties to Portugal and were excited to be on their way. It almost felt like the plane scene from Moonstruck (except going to Portugal and not Italy) and there most likely was someone from the old country who put a curse on that plane.

On this plane ride, I learned my first rule of international travel:

1) When you don't understand, answer "I don't understand," especially when you know the flight attendants on the international flight speak English. Don't sit there like a wild eyed mouth breather and look around for help from others. The question was "Chá o café?" (tea or coffee). I didn't want either.... how do you say water?? I thought I looked American enough for them to assume I didn't speak Portuguese.

Which brings me to my second rule.

2) There are no assumptions in international travel. People of all ethnicities, skin color, backgrounds, races, nationalities, etc. travel and speak all sorts of languages. And, a lot of countries are much more hospitable to tourists than the U.S. In fact, it's not uncommon for people to speak multiple languages (including English) and to be willing to work with you on what you know. They don't just pull the ole' American trick and speak slower and louder. Even so, you should learn a few key phrases to help you get around....

Onto the third rule.

3)The key phrases I learned in Portuguese:
  •  "Obrigada."     
    • Thank you (feminine)
  • "Desculpe."      
    • I'm sorry. (Especially useful when you bump into the old woman (probably the one that cursed your plane) multiple times on the bus).
  • "Quero dos bolas de chocolate." 
    • I want two scoops of chocolate.
Food is kind of a big deal to me. I documented all of my meals and immediately made myself familiar with the country's desserts and potato chip selections. There are some weird flavor Dorito's out there, yall.

I was picking up the nuances of traveling abroad and my brain quickly adjusted to not understanding everything around me. Most meals served as an adventure in ordering and zoning out with the TV on lost it's appeal because I was already zoning out since I didn't understand it. The chatter around me became white noise until the fourth or fifth day there when my ears pricked up. I heard English. American English. And not just that--- the accent--- it was familiar. It was Southern.

We were exploring a castle in Lisbon that was over 1,000 years old when the voice slammed into my ears. "Y'all come look at this!" I spun around. I had to find the owner. "Check this out, y'all." They had their backs to me. They were checking out the sandwich stand at the entrance to the castle. (Naturally--- that's the first thing everyone would investigate when visiting a 1,000 year old landmark). Nonetheless, I was drawn to the accent. I understood what they were saying. I wanted to say 'hello,' see where they were from. "Awwwww mannnnn, I'm tired of these weird sandwiches. Who makes a sandwich with just some dumb cheese and tomatoes!?" "Yeah, man, you can't make us a cheeseburger or something!?" I froze. "Why can't they just give us some turkey or something? Who eats this stuff anyway?"

At that point, the Americans turned to continue on their tour of the castle and I saw the shirt one of them was proudly sporting.

Are you kidding me!? I'm on the other side of the world. I'm dealing with a language barrier for the first time. I'm feeling homesick. And my loneliness is answered with a BAMA fan!? Not only that, but a BAMA fan that wants a CHEESEBURGER at a CASTLE in LISBON. Thanks, but no thanks. I'll take loneliness any day of the week.

I cringed and hurried away. I didn't want them to hear me speak and then want to be my friend. I had enough friends. I didn't want to bond with them over anything. Which brings me back to rule number two.

2*) There are no assumptions in international travel unless the assumption is about the person yelling about cheeseburgers and wearing a huge sports team logo and has no concern for the culture around them or level of their voice. Then they're American. Through and through.

But then again, who am I to judge?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Bitchy Kitty Litmus Test

I'm pretty sure I have mentioned it to anyone who is near me for three seconds and appears to be able to hear... but I have a bitchy cat (cough, cough, cough).

She spits at strangers, scratches me, and almost always regurgitates her food. She's the worst.

At this point in our eight year relationship, I've come to accept this fact but, for a while, I was sure there was a way Sophie and I could work through her terrible temperament. I googled different options, searched PetCo high and low, read about "natural blends" of substances that calm cats down, researched homeopathic cat medicine, considered googling "kitty lobotomy" but realized the results would be horrific and in no way the funny sarcasm I was looking for, and finally settled on talking to my vet.

I have to point out, too, that Sophie puts on a major show at the vet. Those are the only people in the world (besides me aka her "food source") that she tolerates. Every time I walk in with her, they goo and gah and click at her, and I always roll my eyes and wonder what great animal drugs they just took in the back room to make them excited to see "Bitchface" (as my mom calls her).

I set up an appointment to see the vet to take care of some other things and, while I was there, I asked her about any possibilities of medicine or training that would make Sophie nicer. She petted Sophie while she talked to me about gadgets that worked sort of like air fresheners and would release calm inducing pheromones into the air. She mentioned a few other options and also kind of implied that Sophie wasn't that bad and none of these were 100% proven and all cats are different and maybe I should just love her for how horrible she is. (She didn't say that last part but I heard it).

I left disheartened and went back to work to wait for them to call me to come pick up hell kitty. A few hours later my phone rang and I headed over to pick Sophie up. When I got there, they brought her up in her carrier and put her on the floor and the vet came out and pulled me aside.

"So there was one option I didn't discuss with you earlier..."

I was definitely curious. I wondered what had happened that made her want to follow up with me.


I looked puzzled. I didn't know if she was offering one to me. I cocked my head and squinted my eyes. "What?"

"Valium. There are options to give animals that really need it human drugs that will calm them down."

At this point, a cat that lived at the vet and had a pretty sweet life wandered over to see what was going on. He rubbed against my legs and dragged his tail across Sophie's crate. I bent down to pet him and kept listening to the vet.

"I mean..... Sophie doesn't even like Onion."

OK- I had heard "valium," but now was I hearing "onion?"

I did the confused face/RCA dog thing again. Was there some unknown food trick that I didn't know about to find out if your cat is truly as horrible as she seems? Was there a bitchy kitty litmus test????

She tilted her head toward the cat I was petting. "That's Onion."

I was back up to speed and Sophie was having a full out break down in her carrier while another cat rubbed against it and her owner.

"Onion gets along with almost every animal that has come in here. And Sophie just really doesn't like him."

Sophie's box rocked and weird spit/yowling mash up noises came out of it.

I thanked my vet for the information and headed home with a ball of really angry fur and considered the option. This was quite the commitment. I would need to stay on top of it. Also, I traveled sometimes for work. Would someone else give my cat these pills? I discussed it with my parents and soon after my Dad found a cartoon similar to this one.

Yep. That was enough of a reminder. I liked my face the way it was. And I guess I would have to like Sophie the way she was, too.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Don't put that in your mouth...

It's amazing how many times these words are uttered to a toddler. Money is filthy, communal toys are probably disease ridden, and lead based paint is, well, lead based paint. People have the "pay attention to what you are about to chomp on" lesson drilled into them by the time they are children. With this groundwork laid, you would think most humans age ten and older would have an acute awareness of what they should and should not ingest. But sometimes things get tricky....

When I was a kid, my parents took a friend of mine and me to a Mardi Gras parade. It was a truck parade, meaning we watched dozens of 18 wheelers roll by pulling crepe paper covered truck beds filled with people of all ages. Usually families ride in truck parades and there is no central theme or bead so you can catch anything and everything. Literally. Used stuffed animals? Yep. T-shirts for political campaigns that happened four years ago? Yep. Items that Oriental Trading probably discontinued years ago for safety reasons but they somehow made it into Mardi Gras wholesale warehouses. Yep.

Also, for some reason, the drivers of the trucks feel the need to blast their god damn horns all five miles of the route so, as an adult who has usually had enough to drink by Mardi Gras day, truck parades are now the bane of my existence. But my parents were good sports and let us hang to catch a few of the trucks one year.

So my friend and I were out there waving to the riders, getting our insides pulsated by close range truck horns, and catching all sorts of shit. All sorts of it. In the midst of shit catching, my friend snagged a jewel toned hexagonal jelly that was about two inches in diameter and in a plastic bag. Without missing a beat, she pulled it out of the bag and shoved it in her mouth. She immediately regretted her decision. This thing that she just caught was definitely not edible. She spit it out with an emphatic "PLEEECCCCHHHHHHFFFFF" and sought out solace with a coke.

Turns out the jelly was just some goo thing that you could throw at a wall and watch it roll down. They were in the same family of sticky hands that you could launch at a target three feet away that stuck with a distinct "fwap" noise and left a sticky memory as it peeled away. This was the nineties and toys that left grease stains on wall paint and eventually ended up unrecognizable, covered in dirt and hair, and stepped on by an unsuspecting parent in the middle of the night were big.

Between being raised on "toys" like these and Nickelodeon shows with Gak, I'm starting to think that my generation may not be suited to run the world.

So I guess the moral of the story here is look before you ingest. Make sure it's not something that will go "fwap" in your mouth or roll down your insides leaving a slug trail of "fun."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

It's not the size of the dog in the fight...

But the size of the fight in the dog. Supposedly.

A few years ago my family and I were staying at a Bed and Breakfast that was pet friendly. We had our dachshund, Louie, with us. Louie was a sweet boy and preferred snuggling against an ample breast (ahem... Momma) over interacting with other dogs. Actually, he preferred snuggling against an ample breast over pretty much anything. In fact, when my parents took him to the dog park he looked at them like "what the hell am I suppose to do here and with those other animals?" and then proceeded to get into my mom's lap. Oh, Louie.

Given his kind demeanor, we were all a little surprised when Louie got territorial at the Bed and Breakfast when a local dog came to check us out. The dog was a decent sized mutt who probably weighed at least 2.5 or 3 times more than Louie. He was friendly and clearly knew his lay of the land because we had seen him wandering through the property and checking the perimeter throughout our stay. His owner's contact information was displayed clearly on his collar which was also indicative of his rolling stone, playboy lifestyle. The owner's information apparently trumped the dog's name because that piece of information was not included around his neck. So we only had one way to refer to the dog: as Mason D.

So when Mason D. came to get our feedback on our stay and discuss what type of yelp review we would be leaving, Louie got a little offended. He let Mason D. know his opinion by immediately marking the sapling he was standing by. Mason D., trained in hospitality, tried to ignore his gesture but couldn't let it go. Before he took off for the next guests, he left his mark on the tree and shot Louie a look.

Louie quickly calculated his options and decided he was no longer the ample breast loving dachshund of his days past. He was going to man up and let this dog know there was a new sheriff in Bed and Breakfast town. He stared at Mason D. as he lifted his leg on the tree and wrote over the scent. Louie let out a few grumbles as he ineffectively kicked dirt and grass over his reclaimed sapling with his back feet. "Hmph," Louie said as he proudly turned away and looked at us.

Well, Mason D. was not going to be trumped. He was a bigger dog with a bigger bladder and immediately marked the tree again. At this point the sapling yelled out "OK yall- I've been watered enough" but the dogs didn't seem to care. The 'grumble, pee, kick' volley was maintained for a few more rounds until Mason D. had enough. He had other guests to greet and other spots to claim and had no more time for Louie's foolishness. He put it in reverse, squatted, and straightened his tail. The beleaguered sapling looked up and moaned "OH SHI...." and spluttered as Mason D. proudly left his solid mark. He didn't even give Louie one last glance as he trotted away from the feces covered tree. He had studied his opponent and found Louie's weakness--- height. There was no way Louie could get the range on the tree like Mason D. could. Louie, defeated, turned to us with sad eyes. He looked at each of us and then brightened up when he got to my mom. Maybe a life of resting on ample breast wasn't so bad after all....

 In memory of Louie...

May he always have an ample breast on which to lay his head.

Monday, July 14, 2014

That time my bucket list activity was a complete bust

First of all, before I tell the story I have to tell you that I just googled bucket list (gotta do my research before I blog, ya know) and the movie immediately pops up. The description of it is a "comedy-drama." I'm no expert but I am pretty sure it was a lot less comedy and a whole lot more "stab you repeatedly in the cockles of your heart with pins made of nostalgia, regret, and reminders of mortality until your eyes are red rimmed and you have the salty taste of tears and snot on your upper lip."

Anyway, that's not the point of this story. The point of this story is I recently got to do something I have wanted to do for a long time. Use. A. Metal. Detector. That's right. I was that person. And I had accomplices. I only regret that I left my visor and fanny pack at home. Those would have really rounded out the look.

I was with some friends and we rented a metal detector. Unfortunately, we did not just rent it for fun. We rented it to look for a lost ring. My friends Forbes and Nancy got engaged and, in the excitement of the moment, Nancy moved a ring she always wore on her left hand to her right hand (can't be too flashy now and double up on the lefty) and it slipped off of her right hand. I was visiting them immediately after this mishap and we decided to be problem solvers and take our "I spy" skills to a whole new level. We were gonna find that ring if it was the last thing we did....

Forbes and Nancy live in a small town so we had to call a rental company a few towns over to rent the machine of my dreams. When we went to pick it up, a very nice lady with frosted blonde hair and American themed clothes helped us. "Are you looking for jewelllrrryyyy" she asked in a wonderfully thick southern accent. They relayed the story of the lost ring and she frowned. After a few 'tuts' and head shakes she assured us that the last two people who used this exact metal detector found the jewelry they were looking for. "Don't worry, hunny--- you'll have that ring back fast. Just make sure you keep the detector on the 'trash setting' so you don't miss it." (Foreshadowing event #1).

That's right. Trash setting. I was giddy.

On the way to the scene of the engagement I regaled my friends with stories of all of the things I have found over the years. Money. Credit cards. Tickets to events. iPhones. IDs. I am good at finding stuff, y'all. And I bragged that fact up. My past experience of finding lost shit only made me feel more confident that using a metal detector would help me find something absolutely amazing. I was thinking BIG. Like a cache of hidden jewelry that was centuries old. Or Jimmy Hoffa. Or somebody else's beautiful locket with initials- what's that--- my initials??--- how peculiar--- inscribed on it.  (Foreshadowing event #2).

We decided to make a quick pit stop before putting the metal detector to the test and swung by their house to make some mix drinks. You can't just go looking for a ring with a metal detector without a bourbon and diet coke. That would just be wrong. (Foreshadowing event #3).

We got to the site of the proposal and began looking. Almost immediately, the metal detector picked up on something. The three of us got down on our knees and furiously dug through the grass. A candy wrapper.

We all shrugged and moved on. There was a general consensus that we were likely to happen upon something wonderful (besides the ring) and this false positive kind of gave us hope.

The metal detector went off again. We all got down and started looking. A screw. Well, shit.

By the fourth "drop and dig" I realized how much we resembled apes looking for lice on loved ones. We were frantically pushing grass apart and picking up any fragment of anything that was kind of shiny. We looked like assholes.

Around the tenth false positive, we decided to relocate. Our spirits were beginning to deflate. Not only had we not found the ring, we hadn't even found anything of value. Not even a quarter. Nothing.

We retraced their steps of the night and, trying to restrengthen our spirits, moved onto a second location. "You never know. It could be here." "I mean if we don't find it, we should find something good at the next place." "Oh, we will find it."

The sun was starting to set as we got to spot number two and Forbes began his back and forth motion when the detector beeped. We all looked excitedly. A bolt. Forbes had not moved two feet when it went off again. We looked. A nail. Without even moving away from the spot, the detector beeped frantically. We wearily looked. Another nail.

I looked up at them from my squatting momma ape digging through grass pose. "I'm officially done with this shit." I took a seat and drank my drink and (kind of) patiently waited. Nancy soon joined me. Forbes was intent- this was the first great thing he could do for his fiance. I, however, was over it and let Forbes know. "Forbes- give up. Puhhhleasse. You're not going to find it. It's getting dark and I'm getting bitten. And I need a refill soon. Let's go out to the field where everyone went to watch the fireworks. We'll at least find some money or something." I gave a sidelong look at Nancy. "Sorry," I shrugged to her. She agreed. And we were off.

We made it out to the field as the sun set and Forbes pulled the metal detector out of his car one last time. We all knew better than to hope for anything, but we couldn't help it. This was going to be where the whole scavenger hunt came to fruition. We weren't going to have just wasted our time and money for nothing.

We walked behind Forbes as he detected.

WASP Handbook Entry #285: What to wear while metal detecting. Red shorts. Chocos. A button down shirt. Basically, casual wear. Any outfit you might wear while cleaning the attic, working in the garden, or any other activity that may cause perspiration.

So this big field of promise--- this field where just two nights before rowdy southern people had gathered to celebrate America--- had nothing. No random screws. No candy wrappers. Nothing. The metal detector was quiet as a queen's fart.

We were all done. Forbes put the metal detector up and we silently moped walked and enjoyed the view for a bit.... which turned out to be great.

So- moral of the story? While we didn't find true gold with the metal detector, we did find gold in the sunset and spent a great night with each other. And good friends are more valuable than gold.

JUST KIDDING. Just writing that made me throw up in my mouth a little.

The moral of the story--- don't put your hopes on the stories of a woman who is making money off of the fact that you lost your jewelry. Not that she was the villain- but she certainly inflated our hopes. Don't brag about how good you are at doing something that you have no control over (like finding random things). It's the same as saying shit like "don't worry guys- our team has never lost any game that I have worn this hat to." Finally, while drinks to go are ALWAYS wonderful, sometimes they weaken your focus on the task at hand. But that's really debatable and not a scientific fact.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Not my best moment

Heidi, the dachshund and Zydeco, the kindof dachshund

I recently dog sat for my parents. They have two dogs- a bitchy dachshund and a nutso puppy (that was given to them under the premise of being a dachshund but SURPRISE- he's not). The dachshund, Heidi (aliases: Plumpkin, Ms. Pamplemousse, Fluffy Tater, Heidi Zee) has been a part of our family for years. She has never really been well behaved but her size makes her manageable. The other dog, Zydeco, is a very recent addition and he is the equivalent of a four year old hopped up on Mountain Dew and Pixie Sticks. And he don't give a shit. Please see Exhibit A below. I keep wondering how long it is socially acceptable to say "but he's just a puppy." Four years? Ten years? (Disclaimer- he is just a puppy, 7 months old- but if he doesn't calm down- can we still say that to people?)
EXHIBIT A. Zydeco felt like my blinds need some sprucing up.

So during the dog's trip to New Orleans, I told my mom I was going to bring them over to a friend's house for dinner. She let out a sigh and warned me about how hard they are to deal with. "MOM- I'm 30. Some of my friends have kids! They are just dogs. I think I can manage it."

If I die tomorrow, go ahead and put that quote on my gravestone as my famous last words.

I spent that entire night at my friend's house wrangling the dogs. I eventually put Zydeco on his leash and attached it to my chair. I was over it.

Needless to say, the few days with just the dogs and me was quite an adjustment in my life. I appreciate the luxury of only having to get out of bed when I am ready or when Sophie is rude and decides she is ready to go outside before I am ready to get up but those days aren't that bad.

One of the nights dog sitting consisted of going to bed at a reasonable hour, waking up at 11:30 to the sound of Sophie puking, turning the lights on to see where she puked, realizing she had thrown up into my bra on my dresser, washing my bra off, putting Sophie out, falling back asleep, getting up at 1:00 A.M. to put Heidi down so she could get some water, falling back asleep, waking up at          5:00 A.M. because Zydeco was awake and why wasn't I?, falling back asleep, and waking up at     6:15 A.M. because the dogs were up and were ready to pee.

I rubbed my eyes and trudged to the back door, still half asleep, while the dogs went nuts around my feet. Talk about "rise and shine," they really wake up ready to face their day of sleeping and eating!

I opened the back door to let them out and Sophie sat in the middle of the steps. She lifted one cat eyebrow and stared down the dogs. "Yeah?" And they just sat there. Her reputation was well known to them and they were not taking a chance. "Sophie, MOVE!"  I wasn't afraid of her (at least not right then). She didn't move. "ARGGGHHH," I picked her up and as she yowled and the dogs made their way outside. I put her down and rolled my eyes. Just in time to see Heidi's butt disappear under my house.

When the dogs are in town, I use an ice chest to block the space under the house to prevent Heidi from taking off. Since I had let pukey Sophie out the night before, I moved the ice chest to let her roam her damp, dark, under house kingdom. This was all a lot for my tired mind to comprehend and my response time was slower than usual.


It was too late. She was gone. I said every four letter word (ie nuts, dang, gosh) as I made my way through my apartment to the front door. I frantically looked for my keys and threw on a pair of running shorts. I panicked as I imagined her running out onto my very busy street (busy with cars and pedestrians) and slammed open the front door to find her in a pointer's stance frozen at the front gate. Half in my yard, half out. She knew she had screwed up. "HEIDI, WHAT THE HELL!? GET YOUR ASS BACK HERE." I slammed down my front steps just as a pristine runner jogged by. She had on a sports bra and no shirt and her six pack was not glistening because she was one of those girls who "doesn't really sweat" (followed by cute shoulder raise and hmmm lucky me face). She looked at me in my very over size t-shirt, bra-less, hair partially up on one side of my head because I slept in a pony tail, running shorts on.... backwards, and face still puffy with the marks from my pillow... oh yeah--- and yelling at a dog who appeared to be doing nothing (just standing there). She made a quick face and ran on her beautiful little way.

I may have been thinking slower, but the juxtaposition was immediately evident. 

I picked up Heidi, marched back into my apartment and sighed. I shook my head, fell on the couch and told myself out loud: "Not your best moment, Leila."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

God Protects Fools and Drunks

And sometimes drunken fools.

A few years ago I was tailgating at a major southern college football match up and was mingling with other supporters wearing the same colors as me.

I was making small talk with a guy with a serious southern drawl and had just told him I lived in New Orleans. He immediately got excited about the Saints and asked "have you heard the joke about Drew Brees?"

"Maybe- try me."

He gave an appropriately timed pause, widened his stance to a 'joke telling' posture and began:

"Alright so if Drew Brees was a Jew" (the last word said with a slight emphasis).

I interrupted. "Alright- I have to stop you right there. I really don't want to hear a joke from an ignorant anti-semite."

He paused to consider what I said. And then he responded.

"Well, I am not ignorant and I don't know what that second word means."

I started to laugh but then turned it off. I looked at him to see if he was joking.


No slight smirk. No twinkle in his eye.

He was serious.

I gave him my best "bless your heart" look and walked away.