Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 895: You're not doing it right #8,419

SH: You know that if I'd put those sausages away, they'd be all lined up.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 498: Once is enough

SH: You're pretty trusting, letting me go out with a pretty girl (aka the Nighttime Wife, who is one of SH's singing buds).

Me: I know how old you are.

SH: Uh-huh.

Me: And I know what your [wxyz] capabilities are.

SH: Oh. I see.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 863: It's like he doesn't know me at all

SH: Hey! You've been using my toothpaste!

Me: I know.

SH: And squeezing it from the middle!

Me: I know.

SH: You have your own toothpaste. Why are you using mine?

Me: To annoy you.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 958: Priorities

SH: We could finish the movie.*

Me: Good.

SH: Or I could go running.

Me: Um-hmm.

SH: Or I could watch [some political thing].

Me: Oh that would be swell.

SH: Or we could [wxyz].

Me: If you really wanted [wxyz], you would have put it at the top of the list.

SH: What do you want to do?

Me: Watch the rest of the movie.

SH: So you don't want me to ignore you and go running and do political things?

Me: I don't care if you ignore me. Just do it after we watch the movie.

* We started the movie Rock Star last night. Yes, the story is a cliche. Yes, it's about a heavy metal band. But sometimes, there is a primitive appeal to heavy metal. Sometimes, it's fun to crank up AC/DC on the radio and roll down the window as you drive along the highway. There is a tiny little bit of rebellious teenage boy in all of us.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 398: Cookie conundrum

This happened two days after we ordered three boxes of Girl Scout cookies, which is highly unusual for us. We usually don't buy cookies of any sort except for the expensive Toledo cookies and look how that turned out. The only reason we bought these was because my friend at book club was telling us that she had taken her daughter door to door selling but the girls in the troop whose parents sell cookies at work for them sell way more than her daughter. My motto is if you ring my doorbell and ask me to buy your cookies, I will do it. It is a safe motto to have, as it seems that most Girl Scouts sell via their parents now.

My other motto is that I will be very annoyed - very - if I am forced to buy your child's products simply because you are my boss. Are you listening, Jim C? Bringing your kid's band candy bars to work and then asking me if I want to buy one is not fair. Am I supposed to say no to the person who controls whether I have a job or not? People. Don't ask your subordinates to buy your kid's candy bars or cookies or wrapping paper. Don't ask your co-workers. Or, at least, don't ask your childless co-workers. You parents can buy from each other - I bought yours so you have to buy mine - but leave those of us without children out of it. All we get is overpriced wrapping paper. No selling at work! That's what I'm saying.

So Julie brought her little girl to our house and SH and I pored over the cookie list and ordered three boxes, which is three more boxes of cookies than we really need in our house, especially when you consider that we still have a roll of HobNobs in the freezer from our last trip to England, which was in 2009, I think. Or 2007. I can't remember.*

And yet, SH complains.

SH: You know what don't have enough of around here?

Me: What?

SH: Cookies.

Me: Nope.

SH: Are you agreeing with me?

Me: Yep.

SH: Not enough cookies.

Me: Except there are those chocolate buckwheat and the cornmeal lemon cookies in the freezer.

SH: Not those. They're frozen.**

Me: What about the pizelle in the cupboard?

SH: Those are for with custard.

Me: So?

SH: The problem with cookies in this house is they take too much planning.

* First world problem or old age? You decide.

** And just how long does it take to thaw a cookie, really? Not very. I know, as I have eaten a cookie I have extracted from the freezer even before I have made it back up the stairs before.

*** Hiding cookies from myself in the freezer isn't necessarily the best strategy, although sometimes I forget they're there. Sometimes, I forget the Fritos are in the freezer, too, but when I remember, I want some RIGHT AWAY. NOW. Oh wouldn't they be good with the ranch dressing I made yesterday? Yes, they would. Or with the leftover Ro-Tel tomato dip from book club last week. Only half the group showed up, which was fine because that meant lots of leftover Ro-Tel dip and Memphis Junior League onion dip.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wisconsin 101: Ice Station Zebra, the shower

Here's the other thing I'm waiting for in addition for the snow to stop and for it to be warm enough to inflate the tire, although Sharon has informed me that the valve freezing thing might not be so.

I'm waiting for the bathroom, the bathtub, and my body to be warm enough that I can shave my legs without ripping the top of every follicle off with my razor. When you shave goosebumps, you end up with blood. Blood all over the place. The shower doesn't look as bad as it did the time I colored my hair Clairol #22 Cinnaberry, but a little bit of blood goes a long way. The shower curtain is still stained from the Cinnaberry, even though I've washed it since 2005.

I try to avoid blood in the shower these days. I am the person in charge of cleaning the shower and blood just complicates things.

I faced the shaving in the cold issue when I was a Peace Corps volunteer and renting a room. I thought I was renting the top floor, but then Maruja la Bruja crammed seven more people into that house, including the three men who would each shave in the bathroom in the morning and not rinse their whiskers down the sink. I complained to Maruja that she needed to keep the bathroom clean either herself or by hiring a maid, but she was unswayed. After nearly electrocuting* myself in the shower and then having to resort to heating water on the stove and taking a sponge bath every morning when Maruja refused to repair the shower, I finally moved.

The bedbugs did not help, either. Nor did the guy who rented the room next to mine who looked like a Chilean version of Woody Allen and I assure you in the strongest terms that I am not a fan of that man telling me that all I had to do was knock on the wall between our rooms if I ever got lonely in the night.

Faced with shaving in a cold bathroom (southern Chile, where I lived, is cold) standing in a tub with two kettles of hot water balanced on the piece of wood that I had laid across the front of the tub, with a razor that until I started taking it back to my room (I know, dumb) was being used by Maruja's husband to shave his thick, white whiskers - he denied using the razor, even though he was the only person in the house with hair that color, I decided to try waxing my legs instead.

There is a reason people pay a waxing professional to wax for them.

It's because the waxing professional cannot feel the pain that the waxee feels and hence is ruthless about ripping that wax off the leg.

I applied the warm wax to my calf. Let it cool and harden. Pulled. Hard. And through the tears that oozed from my eyes, watched blood ooze from my pores.

I stopped. It hurt too much. I decided there was no reason to have shaved legs in Chile, anyhow, as the only romantic attention I had gotten was from the married father of five on the train to Santiago one night. "Here's my card," he said. "Call if you want."

He had just told me about his family. I guess I was supposed to be OK with it.

Back to now. Now I have reason to keep my legs shaved - sort of. SH and I have been together for six years now and we have things down to a routine, if you know what I mean. Now I have a functioning shower in a heated bathroom without an old man using my razor. I have no excuse except it does use a lot of energy to heat the bathroom with the little wall heater and to get the tub warm enough - no point in having warm air if the tub itself is freezing cold.

So do I shave or not?

* The shower head had an electric heater attached to it and heated the water as it emerged from the pipe. A good idea in theory, but when you have to ask your friend who is also renting the top half of the house with you to stand at the fuse box to throw the switch every time the shower heater cuts the power, you start to seek alternative means of bathing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 416: No shortcuts

As he is standing in the back door.

SH: Sweetie? Would you do me a huge favor?

Me: Sure. What?

SH: I know you don't support my political views -

Me: What do you want me to do?

SH: And that you don't agree--

Me: What?

SH: But I have snow all over my shoes --


SH: And I don't want to track snow in the house.


SH: Would you get that [political] sign for me so I can put it up in the yard? It's in my office.

Me: Sure. But could you just once get to the point?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wisconsin 101: Rules for the Y and a perfectly-toned nose

I have some advice for you new-to-the-YMCA-ers.

That's great that your New Year's resolution is to get into shape.

But you're bugging the rest of us who have been coming to the gym for years.


Because you are breaking the rules.

Don't break the rules.

That's my advice.

Here are the rules I mean.

1. Have your card ready when you get to the front desk. Do not make me stand behind you while you take off your gloves, remove your sunglasses, chastise your child, and dig through your purse to find your wallet. You'll make me late and then I won't get the Good Spot in step aerobics.

2. Don't change your clothes in the upstairs restroom. Notice that there are a bunch of women at the Y in the morning and only two, yes, that is correct, only two toilet stalls in the ladies. That means that only two of us can pee at a time. Which means that the rest of us have to wait and heaven forbid that it be a school's out day and the teachers are taking all the little kids to the bathroom because then none of us will ever get a turn. Do not use the stall to change your clothes. There is 1. your house or 2. a locker room where you can compare your body to everyone else's and realize that hey, we're all in this together and nobody looks that great naked in real life.

3. If you knock over the stand holding all the exercise bands on your way back from picking up your hand weights, do not just leave it there on the floor with 100 exercise bands scattered next to it. Do not walk to the front of the class and ignore the mess you have made. Do not continue with the dead lifts. Do not wait for appalled Midwestern ladies to look at you, look at the mess, shake their heads, and drop their weights so they can clean it up. Be ashamed of leaving a mess for others. Be very, very ashamed. And don't even dare to return to class a few weeks later and then start yelling at the guy behind you. That's the only time I've ever regretted wearing earbuds and listening to the radio instead of that awful Les Mills Body Pump music. I couldn't hear what you were yelling but boy did I want to know.

I wrote an opinion piece for the local paper about going to the gym after the new year. I told people to stay away - that they would be wasting their money to join a gym in January. One commenter wrote,

tired of having gym rats with their perfect bodies look down their perfectly-toned noses at them with disdain. The same disdain that drips from Class Facotum's every word.

Obviously someone who has never seen me and who didn't understand that my main point was that these new people are taking up all the parking.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Wisconsin 101: Ice Station Zebra

So here's what I'm doing. I'm waiting for the snow to stop or at least get to the right depth so I can shovel it. There is no point in shoveling it yet: the radar still has snow over eastern Minnesota coming our way and there is only an inch on the ground.

That's the big question with snow: when do you shovel? You don't want to let it get too deep because then you can't push a load all the way across the driveway. But you don't want to start too soon because then you are wasting shoveling effort. You want to get it just right - enough snow but not too much - to optimize (i.e., minimize) the shoveling effort.

Unless you like shoveling, which means you have a very different idea about what is fun and what is not and I probably would no get along with you.

The dilemma about the shoveling timing reaches back into other activities. If you have ever studied operations research, you learned about bottlenecks and critical paths. If you have to 1. shovel, 2. drink coffee and 3. take a shower all in the same day, how do you time these activities? Which one is the bottleneck?

It depends. It depends on what you are going to do when you are done shoveling.

If you drink too much coffee before you shovel, then you will be wasting time coming back into the house to pee. But if you don't have enough to drink, you'll be thirsty.

If you take your shower early, your hair will be dry by the time you have to shovel. But if you shower before you shovel, you'll get sweat all over your clean body. If you shower after you shovel, you get rid of the shoveling sweat but then your hair is wet and you want to go out for pizza and gallery night with your husband and have to use the hairdryer on your hair, which is not so good because your hair has finally rebelled against your frequent coloring of it.

If you wait long enough to shovel, you might get out of it - your neighbor with the snowblower might do your sidewalk. Then you can leave the driveway undone. Although SH is all, "No! We can't drive on the snow! It leaves those hard tracks and they turn into ice!"

I say, "Just walk carefully. It's not like our driveway isn't going to turn into an icy Driveway of Death anyhow."

The other thing I am waiting for is for it to get warm enough to put air in the tire that is low.

Yes, this is one of those things that I never would have needed to know if I hadn't been tricked into moving to Wisconsin. If it is too cold, you can't put air in your tire. Why? Because when it is one degree, with the wind chill of 15 below, it is possible for the valve to freeze open. Even if you fill the tire, by the time you drive from your house to the Y, the air will be gone. Which is not good for the rims.

I didn't know this until I took the car to the tire place down the street to see about inflating said tire before I went to the gym for the afternoon body step class.

When it is 20 below with the wind chill, I don't exercise outside.

SH was sure I would have to go to a gas station and pay for my air, but I said I was going to ask the Firestone guys, at least. Sometimes people are nice and put air in your tire for free.

I drove the two blocks to the store. I asked the mechanic if he would put air in the tire. He told me it was too cold.

Too cold to inflate a tire?

How could that be?

"Da valve freezes open and den you have a flat," he said.

Well crap. I had eaten cookies all day in anticipation of my gym visit.

I know. It takes about two cookies to fuel an hour of aerobics. I was fueled for 7 hours. But what if there were a blizzard and I couldn't get to the store? And the power went out? Wouldn't it be better to have some extra padding to keep me warm?

I asked if the tire was too low for me to drive to the gym. He peeked out the back window of the garage. Nope. I could drive on it.

Then I asked him about how much he would charge for the air and that's when I proved SH wrong because he (the Firestone guy) said he wouldn't charge anything because sometimes, that's how people roll. And now yesterday's post might make a little more sense. I have been lacking creativity and editing abilities lately. It's too cold to think.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wisconsin 101: Free stuff

Me: How much do you charge to fill a tire?

Mechanic at the tire place down the street: Oh we don't charge nuthin.

Me: You don't even have one of those machines that takes quarters?

Mechanic: Nope. You just bring it back and I'll take care of it for you.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 947: The head cheese

SH: Hey! The cheese drawer is all out of order!

Me: What do you mean?

SH: You're supposed to stack the nuts in the back, the soft cheeses on one side, and the hard cheeses on the other. You just tossed stuff in there without even looking!

Me: So?

SH: You need to be more careful.

Me: You are more than welcome to be the person in charge of the cheese drawer in this house.

SH: You're the one who has the time.

Me: And yet I haven't the inclination.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 613: Saving the good stuff

SH: I'm going to meet this guy for coffee on Monday at Cranky Al's.

Me: But they close at noon.

SH: I'm meeting him there at 8:30.

Me: In the morning?

SH: Yes.

Me: Up? And showered? And dressed?

SH: Yes.

Me: I guess I know where I rate.

SH: Yep. You get the everyday me who hasn't had a shower since yesterday.

Me: I'm so lucky.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 898: Detail man

SH: Oh - I forgot to turn out the garage lights.

Me: So?

SH: I didn't want to do it while I was out there. [He was grilling salmon - yes, SH grills in the winter - is that odd?]

[I think that's perfectly reasonable - I would leave the light on until I was in the house so I can see, but I suspect SH has a different reason.]

Me: Why didn't you turn them off out there?

SH: Because then the switch inside would be in the wrong position.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Spain 12: Buying the very expensive cookies

In Toledo, we kept passing this elegant cookie and candy shop. We were cold and we like cookies, so we went into the shop. We had already browsed in some of the clothes stores on the main drag, but the stuff we could afford was made in China, so you know. Besides, we already have clothes.

We already have stuff. We don't buy souvenirs any more, unless you count cheese as a souvenir. I count is as Necessary for Life. We got our rugs in Morocco, but that was house accessorizing. I bought the coasters in Germany because I finally found some that would keep moisture off the table rather than just accumulating it in a puddle at the bottom of the coaster until it all ran out onto the wood surface.

Well, maybe we buy souvenirs. I suppose it depends on how you define "souvenir." We bought a folding pocket knife for the kid who feeds our cats. That's a souvenir - hopefully not a souvenir that will make his mom tell me he can never catsit for us again because we keep buying him inappropriate presents. He's 13. That's old enough for a knife, right?

What we mainly buy when we are traveling is food. We want to try the local foods. Our only non-tapas restaurant meal was at a small restaurant in Toledo where we had stuffed piquillo peppers, bean soup that was so good that even SH, who does not like beans, liked it, tortilla, and a local pork stew.

Almost everyone eating in the place was a tourist, but maybe that's because it was only 7:00 p.m. and only losers eat that early in Spain. SH and I were the only tourists who weren't wearing tennis shoes. We were almost the only ones who weren't wearing beat-up jackets that said "Harley" on the back. I guess I should have known that Harley Davidson had such an international reach, but to see a man with an English accent wearing a Harley jacket in the middle of Spain was a bit odd.

Yes, I am a snob about what people wear when they are traveling. Yes, I am the person who goes to the grocery store, the hardware store, Target, and the library in her gym clothes after her body pump class. I'm a hypocrite. Except that when I travel, I try not to look like a slob. I just don't care so much about looking like a slob at home because at home, I don't bear the burden of representing all Americans.

Where was I?

Oh. Right. Food. Food is our big thing when we travel. We have enough stuff in our house, except for cheese, and after trips to Spain and to Pittsburgh, we are actually good on cheese for a while. (Yes, I know. Cheese to Wisconsin, coals to Newcastle.) We always want to try something interesting.

So we thought we would try Spanish cookies. They smelled good and they were being sold by weight out of bins, which we all know means bargain.

There were about a dozen flavors, various combinations of chocolate, vanilla, and nut. The clerk offered us each a sample of a small, chocolate-filled cookie. It was good, with oozy chocolate in the middle.

Now we had to buy something. We had tried the sample. We were obligated.

I never feel that way at home, but apparently, many people do. Did you know sales increase 300% when you sample an item? I read that number somewhere so it must be true. Sometimes it is - sometimes I sample just because I am hungry and because eating is my main hobby, but occasionally, I will taste something really yummy and not horribly expensive, like the Sendik's crab dip, and buy it, even though I have never put "crab dip" on my grocery list my entire life.

"How many cookies in 100 grams?" SH asked the clerk.

"Oh, four or five," she told him.

One hundred grams cost three euros, we think. We just remember the shocking total.

If we had just done the math, we would have thought, "Hmm. Four dollars for three ounces of cookies. That seems rather expensive."

But we didn't.

We gathered our six cookies and threw in a few pieces of nougat (six euros for 100 grams ouch).

We had chosen these items. We had touched them with our plastic-glove encased fingers. We had to take them.

"Eleven euros," the clerk told us cheerfully. Actually, she said, "Once," but you know what I mean.

Eleven euros = fifteen dollars.

She handed us the very small bag containing six cookies and four pieces of nougat. SH looked at the receipt. The cookies had weighed 200 grams, not 100, which meant that instead of six cookies for 100 grams, we got three. These were some heavy cookies.

We couldn't give them back. We were too embarrassed and in too much shock over the price.

Fifteen dollars for six cookies and four pieces of nougat. About $1.50 apiece.

"That's not so expensive," I suggested as I swallowed hard.

"It's expensive," SH, the man who spends $$ on beer and wine, which is far more wasteful than spending it on baked goods.

"Not if you think about what you would pay for gourmet cookies at home," I said. Except we never buy gourmet cookies or indeed any cookies at home because store-bought cookies are not as good as homemade, especially my coffee chocolate chip shortbread cookies or my ginger bacon cookies.

SH and I are not big spenders on little things. It is hard for us to swallow spending $15 on cookies, even gourmet cookies. We should have bought two cookies and been done with it, but we thought it was a bargain and who wants not to take advantage of a bargain? Not us.

So our greed to get a Deal got the better of us. We got what we deserved, except for the part where the cookies weighed twice as much as the clerk told us and how are you going to argue about that? I have a hard enough time challenging that sort of thing in English, much less in Spanish.

We decided just to enjoy the cookies and be done with it. When we returned to the hotel, we sat down to eat some of our worth their weight in gold cookies.

They tasted like dust.

We turned to each other and gasped. "The sample cookie was a lie!" we said. We were disappointed: our fancy Spanish cookies were not all that. Fortunately, I had little Nutellas from the breakfast buffet, so all was not lost, but we learned not to judge a cookie by its sample. Next time, we'll stick with chocolate. That's always safe.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Spain 11: Getting a ticket refund with the clock ticking down

When we arrived in Madrid, we went immediately to the train station and bought tickets to Toledo, where we planned to spend the first three nights of our six nights in Spain. We missed the 6:00 train to Toledo by only a few minutes. If I hadn't lost my glasses in Charles de Gaulle - I will never see them again - and spent all that time trying to find out how to get them back, we could have made that train, but we had to wait for the 7:00 train. Which was boring, even with the cup of cafe con leche we got at the little cafe.

But we bought our tickets at the snazzy train ticket machine, which, amazingly enough, accepted our credit card. So many times in Europe* our card has been rejected, even though the rule is supposed to be that if a merchant takes MasterCard, he takes it even if it's from the US and doesn't have the microchip in it that European cards have. The merchants we have encountered have not cared whether we bought from them or not.

"Oh ze card eet does not work," they shrug. "Tante pis."

I should amend that: the clerks we have encountered have not cared. I suspect the owners of the businesses would care. But clerks? They are paid whether you buy or not, which I had to remind myself of when I was a clerk at Macy's over Christmas several years ago after I was laid off. "No matter how rude someone is being to me," I would think, "I am still being paid." Although I would also think, "Is it worth nine dollars an hour before taxes to have someone be nasty to me?"

What was not obvious to us when we bought the tickets was that there was a financial advantage to buying a roundtrip ticket over two one-way tickets. We priced the trip both ways and the price appeared to be the same. As we were not sure which train we would be taking on the return trip, we thought, Well, we might as well wait.

We left Toledo Friday morning. Got to the train station at 10:00 for the 10:30 train, bought our tickets from the ticket seller - and I noticed something on the bottom of the ticket. I asked the ticket seller about it.

"That means you get a discount when you buy the ticket to come back here," he told me.

"But we're not coming back. We've already come here. We came on Tuesday."

"Then where's your ticket? I can give you a discount."

He glanced at the clock and then at a sign next to his booth. The sign said, "Ticket sales stop 15 minutes before departure time." It was 10:11. The train left at 10:30.

We stepped out of the line while we looked for the old tickets. I searched frantically for my ticket stub. SH went straight to the pocket of his computer bag, pulled out a handful of neatly-organized documents, thumbed through it, and pulled out his ticket.

I couldn't find mine, no matter how hard I looked through my purse and my book. (You mean you don't use boarding passes and ticket stubs as bookmarks?) It was the glasses all over again. Resigned, I stepped back in line. At least I could get one refund.

I got to the front of the line again. I handed the man SH's ticket stub and his new ticket. The ticket agent refunded half the previous sale, then sold me a new ticket at the discounted price, a savings of $3.

I took everything out to SH and started looking for my ticket stub again. A three-dollar return! Just for a two-minute transaction! That's a pretty good deal.

Yet I couldn't find my stub. "I don't think I left it on the train and I don't remember throwing it away," I told SH. "Where could it be? Why isn't it in my purse? Why would I throw away something that would save me money?"

It was 10:12.

"Is that the purse you were using when we got here?" SH asked.

I looked down. I was wearing my travel purse across my shoulder. It's small with a flap and a long strap. I don't need all my regular stuff when we are walking around town.

But on the plane, I wanted a bigger purse - a purse to hold my passport and tickets and three pairs of glasses (reading glasses, regular glasses, and RX sunglasses) and a snack and a water bottle and a book.

That purse was the one I had been using when we took the train to Toledo. It was now at the bottom of my suitcase.

I threw the suitcase to the floor, unzipped it, and dug through my jeans and sweaters and socks until I found it. I opened it. Alas, my lost glasses did not appear, but there was the ticket stub.

"Give me your credit card," I demanded. SH handed it to me and I ran back in line.


I waited as the slowest people on earth bought their tickets. They were interrogating the ticket seller about every possible option, which was crazy because the only options in Toledo are to go to Madrid. Every hour, on the half hour. That's it. Pick your time. That's the only thing you can pick.


People got in line behind me. Too bad. Show up at the station 16 minutes before your train and expect to buy your ticket right away? Not my problem.

My turn. I rushed to the counter. Plopped everything down. "Found it!" I exhaled.

The ticket agent did not smile to see me again, but to his credit, neither did he roll his eyes as I surely would have at someone who was going through so much trouble to save a mere $3.

"But that's the cost of an order of churros!" I would have protested, had he said something to me. "Plus it's the principle of the thing - never pay more than necessary!"

He probably thought what I thought when I was at Macy's: Bless her heart I'm being paid no matter what and she's just material for my blog about crazy customers.

At 10:16, he pushed the new ticket across the counter to me. I averted my eyes as I walked past the other people in line. Sometimes you have to break some eggs.

* First world problem

Monday, January 16, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 951: Backwards and in high heels

SH promised me a few years ago that he would take dance lessons with me. He has tried to fulfill the promise, but we have encountered obstacles. The first salsa class we took in Madrid several years ago was allegedly 1. a beginners class 2. starting at 10:00 and 3.taught by Peladito, the short, bald guy who spoke English.

At 10:30, a tall, not-bald man showed up and started barking instructions in Spanish to the very advanced class.

SH freaked out. "I don't speak Spanish!" he said. "This is not a beginners class!"

I was annoyed but not freaking out because when someone tells me 10:00, I expect 10:00, not 10:30. You would think I would have known better after living in South America for two years. And I did, which is why I was merely annoyed instead of freaking out.

I asked the bartender for our money back. He looked confused. I explained patiently that we had been told that the class was a beginners class with an English-speaking instructor and that this was an advanced class in Spanish. He summoned the manager, who looked equally confused as I calmly repeated my statement and asked for our money back. He seemed disinclined, but I was firm. Polite but firm. We had been promised X and delivered Y.

I didn't mention the late start. What was the point of that?

He eventually returned our 20 euros to us and we were on our way.

The next time we tried taking dance classes was at a Saturday workshop at the community center. Mike and Betsy were teaching the three-hour beginner salsa class. The next Saturday would build on the beginner class.

If you've ever taken a dance class, you know that you can't go to just one. That you have to go to a few in a short time to really get it and for it to stick.

SH and I were both frustrated with Mike and Betsy because they spent way too much time talking about salsa theory instead of actually teaching us the steps. Then, at the end of the class, when I still had SH convinced that one more Saturday session would do it, Betsy announced they were cancelling the class the next week so they could go to a salsa competition in Chicago.

Leaving aside the professionalism of cancelling something that has been on the calendar for three months and for which two dozen people have enrolled and paid - OK, I won't leave it. That was horribly unprofessional. Cancel a professional obligation because you want to go to a contest? So so wrong.

Where was I? Oh. The class was cancelled. SH and I couldn't make the class held a few months later. I gave up for then.

It was a year later before I could get SH to go to another dance class. That was when we stumbled on the polka class at Polish Fest, the class where the old polka guy smiled and said, "Youse are generally doing pretty nice today."

SH was still convinced he couldn't dance and would never dance, but then groupon sold a coupon for two swing dance classes and Friday night dance at the Knights of Columbus hall in West Allis.

The groupon was about to expire, so we went to the class the other night.

The hall was rearranged from the fish fry set up and readied for dancing, with tables pushed against the wall and chairs placed facing the dance floor. The band was setting up in front.

We knew we were in trouble when other dancers walked in carrying bags with their dancing shoes. We had brought the shoes on our feet, me in cowboy boots because they are usually good for dancing and SH in his old leather-soled shoes that look like they belong on the feet of a man wearing a smoking jacket and an ascot. We thought our shoes would be fine. But we were already behind.

Some of these people were in serious swing dance mode, the men in suits and spectator wingtips, the women in dancing heels and twirly skirts. They looked great.

We were in jeans and t-shirts.

We were so behind.

The class started.

The teachers were two women, although it wasn't until the one of them introduced herself as Susan that we realized she was a woman. They were very careful to identify the dance roles as "leader" and "follower" instead of man and woman. Which I suppose is fine. I don't care. But I had never heard such a reference before, especially in a class of 30 male/female couples. Although I have seen women dancing with women at many weddings, so maybe it's not so far fetched. Sometimes you're the follower, sometimes you're the leader.

Their dancing and their speech were perfectly choreographed, just like the Sweeney sisters on Saturday Night Live. Susan would say, "The leader steps to the right" and Pam would say smoothly, "And the follower steps to the left."

SH started to panic when the teachers ordered the men to go to one side of the hall and the women to the other. Pam and Susan debated for a minute over whether the men were going to the west side or the south side. "Why not just say 'men over there, where the other men are'" I thought, but I didn't say it out loud because I am trying to leave my smart aleck days behind.

After we practiced a few basic steps, the teachers ordered us to partner up. Much to SH's relief, we were reunited.

We practiced for a minute, then the teachers ordered us to change partners.

"Followers, step one person to the left. Leaders, stay where you are."

SH's eyes flew open and his jaw dropped. Horror crossed his face. He shook his head as the next woman stepped up to him, then he apologized profusely to her for what he perceived to be his complete inability to dance. At a DANCE CLASS. As I moved further down the line to new partners and SH got new partners, he continued to apologize. Instead of dancing.

"Some of them actually knew how to dance!" he told me later. "And I was dragging them down!"

After half an hour, the class ended and the general dance began. I found SH.

"This is so stressful!" he moaned. "I can't do this!"

He sat down and had a sip of his beer.

Of course there is a bar at the K of C hall. Catholics, not Baptists. Plus this is Wisconsin. In the winter. What else is there to do?

I tried to encourage him. He really is better than he thinks. He has a strong sense of rhythm and has a lot of natural athletic ability.

"But I don't know how to lead! How do you know what step to do next? Why isn't there a formula for this?"

I tried some more to convince him that dancing was fun! and he could learn!

"If I can't do it right, I don't want to do it at all," he said firmly.

"But for you to be able to do it right, you have to learn and practice!" I said. "It's OK not to be perfect!"

"But I don't like not being perfect," he said.

"If you were perfect, I wouldn't be able to stand you," I said. "An imperfect dancer is fine with me."

He shook his head. "I don't know how to do this!"

Perhaps I could write a program in BASIC that choreographs a dance routine for engineers.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 148: Leaning Pile of Visa

Me: Hey! Quit moving my stuff! I can't find anything after you've hidden things.

SH: But we're having company for supper. The place needs to look good.

Me: Is that why you have this two-foot pile of old newspapers here?

SH: It's stacked neatly.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Spain 10 : A bad churros experience

You guys, I am embarrassed to blog about this because it doesn't reflect well on me at all, but it is a story and perhaps someday, one of you will be spared our humiliation, mine self inflicted and SH's CF inflicted, because of what you learn from reading this.

Here's the deal: There are sometimes three sets of prices for cafes in Madrid. There is the standing at the bar price, the sitting inside price, and the sitting outside price. Which makes sense because that is just the cafe owners using market forces to their advantage and charging more for what is usually the more desirable real estate.

However. SH and I had forgotten about that. We hadn't done any outdoor eating since we had arrived in Spain because I hate to be cold. But it was a pretty day in Madrid and when we went into the churro shop in search of the perfect churro - we had not found such in Toledo, where we had two churro experiences, once with great, freshly-made churros but not so great dipping chocolate and the other time with fabulous chocolate but warmed on the grill previously and still a bit frozen churros,* we marched straight to the bar to order because it seemed like the fastest way to get our churros and take them outside to sit at the churro shop's tables.

"Are you going to want to eat outside?" the clerk asked.

But of course. It was nice weather. We live in Wisconsin. We take advantage of opportunities to be outside that do not involve shoveling snow.

"Then go out there and he will take your order." She nodded at a waiter.

We got a table and opened the menu. There were three sets of prices, with the highest prices double the lowest. As SH and I were arguing about what this meant and what it implied for our decisions, the waiter appeared.

Flustered, I told him: "One order of churros and chocolate."

"Do you want coffee?" I asked SH.

He didn't know. I wasn't going to order coffee on my own because I can't have an entire cup of caffeinated coffee any more and it seemed wasteful to order just a decaf. All I wanted was a few sips of SH's verboten coffee.

"Wait," I said to the waiter. "We don't know."

But he turned and went into the shop, returning in 90 seconds with the churros.

By then, after evaluating all the inside v outside prices and determining that there was at least a one-euro difference between the two, which sometimes was a mere 25% price increase and other times was a 50% price increase and a few times was a 100% price increase, and if there is anything you know about me by now it's that I always look for the arbitrage opportunity, that is, if there is a commodity (i.e., churros or a nice purse or jeans) that costs $X in one place and $2X in another, I am usually going to choose the $X option unless there is a compelling reason not to and part of the definition of commodity is that there is not a compelling reason, we decided it was not worth $3 extra to sit outside to consume a product that we could eat inside for less.

I suppose the inside/outside thing could be what makes the churros not a commodity - that the setting is what increases the value of the churros, but a churro at a cafe is a churro at a cafe is what I say.

I convinced SH to go inside.

Let me add here that moving was completely my idea and that SH was against it all along, not so much because he wanted to pay more but because he thought it would be embarrassing to move.

I am a sinverguenza. After living in South America for two years and breaking so many rules I didn't even know existed, I am immune. When you are a foreigner in a culture, you are going to do dumb things. You get over it after a while. And sometimes you even use it to your advantage.

You mean that in Germany, even if there is absolutely no traffic coming from either direction, you still wait for the crossing light? Who knew? Oh well I'm already on the other side.

Meanwhile, the old German guy who is still waiting for the light is scolding you in German, which you don't speak, so you just shrug, give him your "I'm just a dumb foreigner" look, and continue you on your merry way.

The waiter asked what was going on. "We want the inside price churros," I said, "so we are going to sit inside."

The waiter scowled. "You already placed the order!" he said.

"I told you to wait!" I answered.

He shook his head and waved the bill at me. "If you don't pay this, I eat it!"

I thought that was a little extreme. We weren't refusing to pay for our order. We just wanted the inside price.

I sat at the inside table. The waiter refused to bring us the churros.

We sat.

Nothing happened. It was a Spanish standoff.

SH said, "It's not worth it. Let's just go back outside."

Which we did, pretending that we had planned this all along, even though we were slinking past the rude waiter in shame.

Another waitress brought us our now-cold churros y chocolate. Our waiter pointedly ignored us.

We ate. "Should we leave a tip?" SH asked.

"He was really pissy to us," I said. "I get the idea that he is either not working for tips or doesn't care about pleasing us because we are tourists and probably won't be back."**

"You had already put in the order," SH noted.

I scowled. I hate to be wrong. I hate it when it's my fault.

"I told him to wait!" I protested.

"You had already given him the order."

"He didn't have to be so rude. We should have gotten just a little bit of gringo slack," I argued.

SH agreed with me that we should have gotten a bit of slack or at least not-pissy behavior. No tip. Which was very hard for SH to do as he is a 20 percenter for anything but horrible service.

Then we found out from Rubi that nobody tips in Spain anyhow - or they barely tip - so there was no satisfaction there.

Next time, I will tell the waiter to wait before I tell him what I want.

* The bartender gave us a double order for the regular price. When I asked if the servings were always so big, he answered, "Hoy si. Manana no." Today yes, tomorrow no.

** Which wasn't necessarily true. We have been to this churro place on each of our three trips to Spain. But I suppose $10 once every few years is not enough to inspire niceness. Let me note, though, that this was the only rudeness we encountered from a waiter or clerk during our entire trip and in the waiter's defense, we kind of asked for it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wisconsin 101: Early Bird karaoke

You guys know that SH and I have a mixed marriage and that one of the mixes is bedtime, right? We disagree on other big issues, like politics and religion, but disagreeing on bedtime affects you every day, not just during an election or during Wisconsin 2011.

I would be happy with nine or ten hours of sleep a night, starting at 10:00 p.m. SH thinks that five should be enough for anyone. Isn't that what caffeine is for? And if he never saw daylight again, he wouldn't mind, especially now that he is taking megadoses of vitamin D to accompany his Eye of Newt and other daily potions. Were we living four hundred years ago, he would be stopping at the apothecary for a mixture of ground bat wings, dried beetles, and unicorn dung.

"It helps with the prostate, you know," he would tell me as I turned away in horror and returned to peeling my potatoes (they had potatoes by then, right? post-Columbus?) or threshing, winnowing, and grinding my wheat and rye to make bread and hoping that the rye hadn't gone bad and turned to LSD.

Yes, we are at the age where words like "prostate" come into our conversation occasionally, as do the laments about what to do about Ear Hair and Long Eyebrow hairs. (Don't pluck them. Trim them. That is what we have learned.) We reached a milestone a few months ago when he had to pull one of my chin hairs because I couldn't see it. The joys of being a nearsighted person who is developing farsightedness.

All of this is more information than you wanted, although I know some of you are nodding and saying, Preach, sister.

So. The staying up late thing. SH is perfectly happy to stay up until 2:00 a.m. I haven't done much of that since my immediate post-college years and that was when I could still sleep until noon the day after.

Now, my body has become a finely-tuned machine that wakes up with the sun and the cats, who start to whine as soon as they hear any movement from the bedroom, which means sneaking out to the bathroom and then back to bed is almost impossible unless you can sleep through a whining cat who is convinced she is going to starve to death despite all evidence to the contrary which I cannot, even with earplugs.

Not wanting to go out late has kept me from accompanying SH to karaoke. I love to hear him sing, but I don't want to have to stay out late to do it.

We found the perfect compromise.

Old People - and I say that with affection as we are joining the tribe - Karaoke.

Old People Karaoke (OPK) starts at 7:00 p.m.

Seven real people time, not 7:00 musician/SH/football time.

This is Wisconsin. People here get up early, you know.

We went to the Chinese restaurant that hosts the OPK - we didn't know it was OPK before we went - we thought it was just K - and discovered that we were the youngest people in the place and we're not exactly spring chickens.

The good thing about getting older is that you don't care what people think any more - in a good way, which means that if you like to sing then you're going to sing and so what? You got a problem with that?

Only of course no old Wisconsin person would ever be that aggressive as to say, "You gotta problem wit dat?" They would just shrug and say, "Well, you know. I like to sing." And the other person would say, "You betcha," which can be used sometimes as the northern equivalent of "Bless your heart."

The good thing about old people who are bad singers is that they still pick good songs. I would rather hear "After The Loving" sung badly than "You Gotta Fight For The Right To Party" sung well. That's something that Old Wisconsin People (OWP) and Madrilenos have in common: even at their karaoke worst, they still pick good songs. Young Wisconsin People, bless their hearts, sing some awful music, but OWP sing Frank Sinatra and Neil Diamond and Madrilenos sing old Spanish love songs that make everyone in the bar sentimental as they link arms and sing the chorus together.

SH, of course, knocked it out of the park with "Kiss and Say Goodbye," although his fake Southern accent at the beginning talking part of the song cracks me up every time. SH is not a Southern accent kind of guy, but he does get a nice, deep graveliness to his voice in that section before he jumps in with the falsetto start.

I was thrilled that we were out of there by 10:07, with SH having sung three songs. We heard the 90-year-old man in the suit and bow tie sing "My Way" and the guy with his own special karaoke shirt - emblazoned with "Acapella Al" on the back and adorned with flashing guitar-shaped buttons and a pin that ran the script "Thank a vet for his service" - sing "Okie from Muskogee." There was not one single rap song, not that rap is so bad, but it has to be executed properly and I think we can all agree that this was not the crowd to do it. Not one single heavy metal screaming song and I'm not even going to try to say anything nice about heavy metal - I mean the extreme stuff, not the guilty pleasure AC/DC songs. Not one whiny song. Just nice old songs, some well sung and some not so well sung but all sung with enthusiasm and happiness and isn't that a nice way to spend an evening? I think so.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 142: Sinkhole

Me: Would you please leave the dishwasher thingy on this side [the side where I wash dishes] of the sink instead of that one? [the side where I leave the compost bowl]

SH: I like to put it on that side.

Me: I hate having to look for it every time I wash dishes. Is there a specific reason that you want it on that side?

SH: Yes. After I wash dishes, I want the sink to be empty.

Me: So for esthetic reasons.

SH: Yes.

Me: Whereas I want it my way for practical reasons.

SH: So?

Me: My way should win.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 982: Life on Downer Avenue

SH: I'm depressed.

Me: So what are you going to do to get over it?

SH: What do you mean? Right now?

Me: Not necessarily. But what steps are you going to take to be not depressed? Or do you want to be miserable? If you're happier being miserable, then I guess there's nothing to do.

SH: I'm a whiner, not a problem solver.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 157: Where is the "off" switch?

SH: You listen to this station?

Me: Yes.

SH: But they are [not of your political beliefs].

Me: But the local hosts are good and they get good guests and they have interesting discussions.

SH: If you like listening to people talk about politics, why don't you like talking about it with me?

Me: I don't like arguing about politics.

SH: But why do you listen to talk radio and not want to talk to me?

Me: I can turn off the radio.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 151: Compromising immunity

After SH and I have already flown from Pittsburgh to Detroit and sat next to each other during the layover. We are fifteen minutes into the Detroit-Milwaukee flight. He has heard every sneeze and sniffle that I have made.

Me: I think I might be getting sick. [Big sneeze, sniffle, sniffle, reach for the handkerchief.]

SH [recoils in horror]: What! No!

Me: Maybe.

SH: When did you realize this?

Me: What did you mean?

SH: When did you realize you might be getting sick?

Me: I don't know.


Me: Yes.

SH: What if you make me sick?

Me: If your immune system is OK, you should be fine.

SH: Did you know you were getting sick before you kissed me?

Me: I don't know.

SH: How can you not know?

Me: I don't know.

SH: When did you know?!

Me: Fine. I knew when I told you, OK? Now be quiet.

SH: If I get sick, I'll be annoying.

Long stare from me to him.

Me: You are already annoying.

SH: I'll be more annoying.

Me: That's not even possible. However, there's your answer: Would I deliberately cause myself the grief that your being sick brings with it? I would never kiss you thinking I might be infecting you. Unless I was about to leave town and wouldn't have to deal with you.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Spain 9: How to find your lost glasses

I don't lose things.

You might laugh, Oh CF! You are such a joker! Everyone loses things!

I do not.

I have never lost my car keys. Or my wallet. Or my driver's license. I don't lose things. I am organized - my computer documents are in files - how do people who just save everything to their desktop or to their C drive ever find anything? I have a system of files set up and documents are in the files where they belong. Want a receipt from our 2009 taxes? In the Taxes/2009/Receipts file. Where it belongs.

I don't lose things.

So imagine my surprise and my distress when I sat down on the flight from Charles de Gaulle in Paris to Madrid and opened my purse to discover that my reading glasses - for which I had just gotten new lenses - were not there.

These are the glasses I have had for years and not abandoned because they are among the few frames I have ever owned that don't make me wince in pain when I see myself in the mirror. Usually, I remove my glasses before looking in a mirror - who needs that much detail? - but these glasses didn't bother me. I actually thought they were kind of cute.

The glasses weren't there.

We hadn't taken off yet. In a normal situation (i.e., not at CDG), I could have begged the flight attendant to let me run off the plane and to the lounge next to the gate where I remembered leaving them, but we had boarded the buses to the plane at Terminal 2F gate 25 and were now about 17 miles away at Terminal Middle of Nowhere. Because, as you will remember, the Madrid flights always board from 2F but the plane to Madrid was at the other terminal because the London flights always arrive at Terminal Middle of Nowhere and there is NO WAY TO CHANGE THAT.

I panicked.

Where were my glasses? How would I do anything on my computer without my glasses? Why had I brought the Good Reading Glasses on a trip instead of the Ugly Reading Glasses that were sitting under my computer at home? Those cost more, but I would gladly have lost them so as to have an excuse to replace them.

Yes, I have two pairs of reading glasses because I am very lazy and do not want to always be going from the bedroom to the kitchen to find where I had left those darn glasses.

I also keep a pair of glasses in the basement for watching TV.

If it's any consolation, these are old glasses. I only got new lenses in the Good Glasses because 1. my eyes are getting a wee bit worse and 2. we had money left in the FSA.

Where was I?

Oh. On the plane. No glasses. No way to go back to Terminal 2F and run into the lounge to grab them from the table where I left them.

I asked the flight attendant whom I would call to get my glasses back. She shrugged helplessly? The gate agent in Madrid? she suggested.

When we got off the plane, I asked the gate agent. "Lost and found," she said.

I tried protesting that I had not lost the glasses at Barajas, but she was unyielding.

Lost and Found told me that they did not handle items lost in other airports. Which I knew.

Back upstairs to Air France ticket agent. "Ask the supervisor," she said.

Supervisor shrugged. "I do not know."

We looked across the hall. There was the Air France business class office. The lady there looked and looked for a number. She called the lounge and handed the phone to me. It was a fax line.

She shrugged. "That is the only number I can find," she said. "But try this email." It was the email for Air France lost and found.

Yeah right.

I emailed Delta (our ticket was on Delta and they code-shared with Air France) customer service.

"You need to contact Air France lost and found," they said.

I sent an email and got this response:

Dear customer,
We duly received your mail concerning the lost item, and we will do our utmost to investigate. However, if you do not receive any reply from us within 8 days, the tracing has to be considered as negative.

Please do note that Air France is not liable in case of lost, partial reconstitution or deterioration of your property.

Air France

Does that answer inspire confidence in you?

It sure doesn't give me any hope.

I wrote back to Delta, begging them to just give me a phone number if they wouldn't call themselves.

"I'm sorry you are disappointed in my response," the Delta lady said.

When we got back to Atlanta, I asked the man in the Delta lounge if he had a number for the Air France lounge. He did not, but suggested I go to the Air France office in Terminal E to talk to them.

SH and I had just walked from Terminal E - after going through the passport line with the slowest passport agent ever, a man who processed only six passengers in the time it took the other agents to process two dozen and who kept closing the passports and putting them on the desk so he could ask us about the weather in Milwaukee and was it better to fly into Milwaukee or Chicago and why were we taking cheese to Wisconsin anyhow and I was ready to scream but SH had already cautioned me against screaming or being a smart aleck to him so I just bit my lip instead - to the lounge in Terminal A. Now I was going to have to go all the way back.

But if I could get my glasses back, it would be worth it.

I took the tram to Terminal A. Had to ask four people before I found the Air France office. A man there looked up the AF lost and found and said there were no glasses listed, but suggested I go to the Air France gate to talk to Stephanie, who might have the number for the lounge.

I went to the gate. Stephanie was busy, but Sheri told me that Stephanie did not have the number but that I should file a claim in the baggage assistance when we got back to Milwaukee.

We went to baggage assistance in MKE and the woman there told me she had no idea what I was talking about.

I am tired. Maybe I should just give up.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 989: He's not responsible

After we pass through security on our way to Pittsburgh to Pete and Julie's.

SH: You have the sandwiches, right?*

Me: I thought you had them.

SH stops abruptly. Wheels around. Stares at me.

SH: What?!

Me: What do you mean, "What?"

SH: I wasn't in charge of them. I don't have them.

Me: But you always take them.

SH: Because you give them to me! I don't have them! And I'm hungry!

Me: Well, let's look at the cafe up there to see what our options are.

SH: No! We have to talk about this!

Me: What's there to talk about?

SH: It's not my fault! I'm not the one who was responsible!

Me: OK. I forgot the sandwiches. I'm sorry. Let's see what there is to eat.

SH: You're the one who made them and packed them. You're the one who's responsible.

Me: Fine. Whatever. Let's get something to eat.

SH: No! We have to deconstruct what happened and design a process to keep it from happening again!

Me: OK. How about this? You help me remember to take the sandwiches.

* The sandwiches I had made so we wouldn't be at the mercy of the airlines and the airport for food. Airport food is better now than it was 25 years ago, when the only option was Dobbs catering, at least in the Houston and Dallas airports, where I was stuck, but it's still not fabulous unless you are in Minneapolis or Miami. I would go to the Miami airport for La Carreta.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Spain 8: The drama of buying shoes

This is how we buy shoes. In Spain. Which was our main Christmas present to ourselves after the trip itself. It is very hard to shop for SH because when he wants a bottle of wine or a CD, he buys it, and of course we are all aware of the Blue Shirt Situation. He doesn't shop for me because I need more stuff as much as he does, i.e., not at all. We are full of stuff.

Except shoes. Can you ever have enough shoes? I don't think so. Or, you can have enough but need to replace your black boots that are over ten years old and were made in China anyhow. And your black pumps, which you used to wear to work but are now 1. too high for your skinny feet - yes, we lose fat in our feet as we age. I didn't think it was possible to want to retain fat in many places on my body, but my feet are better served with their own Milwaukee Roll and 2. dried out with cracking leather.

So we decided that given our China boycott and the difficulty of finding nice shoes in the US that are not made in China and yet are within our non-Christian Laboutin budget, we would shop for shoes in Madrid.

Rubi helped. She identified a shoe store (Strover) she likes- recommended the shoes - and even showed me possibilities, i.e., the leopard shoes you see above. Those are mine. Those are not professional shoes. They belong to me.

We went to the store on Friday night after the Big Drama of Trying to Find Rubi and Victoria. They had the leopard shoes in my size, but there was a flaw in the only pair available. The clerk called another location to have them hold a pair there for me on Saturday.

Fast forward to Saturday, when SH and I slept until 11:30 a.m., which is something I thought I had left in my college days, but when there are blackout blinds and when one stays out until 1:00 a.m. at Madrid karaoke, and when there are no cats demanding to be fed at the crack of dawn, one can sleep very very late.

I need to check into getting some of those blinds for chez CF.

We woke up. The store was closing at 2:30. It was a metro ride plus one transfer away. Transferring on the metro in Madrid is not always easy. The night before, we had gotten onto the innocently-named Circle Line to go one single stop to transfer to our line. Easy as pie, we thought. Easy.

We got off at Cuatro Caminos and thought, We should jog to the transfer point because it is already 1:14 a.m. and the last train runs at 1:30. Jogging, however, hurt because we had spent two days walking in Toledo, including up the steps to the tower of a very old church built in the days when people were tall and a rise twice the rise one sees today was common. I felt as if I were in a step class from hell with the weird lady at the Y who puts three risers under her bench and does jumping jacks between routines because she JUST CAN'T STOP EXERCISING.

I agree with her that the class could move along just a little bit better, but I will take the chance to gossip with my Y friends rather than do any more work than I am paying the instructor to make me do.

So we jogged lightly despite the pain in our legs - no pain in my feet because for once, I brought ugly shoes on a trip - and it hurt so we had to stop but then we had to start again because we wanted to get to the stop. But every time we jogged up one impossibly long escalator, another appeared. It was like living in an Escher print.

Where was I? Oh, so because of all the hassle getting to the new stop and because we missed the penultimate train by THREE SECONDS and we would have sprinted had we known those three seconds were so important, we were really late getting back to the hotel and we were really tired.

So we slept late.

I had accepted before we went to bed that there was a possibility we might sleep too late to get to the shoe store and that the leopard shoes might never be mine. If that happens, I thought, it was just not meant to be.

But when we woke, I saw that there was time so I started to nag SH to hurry up hurry up there were shoes to be bought! Hurry!

He graciously agreed to wait until after we had picked up the shoes to go to lunch. Of course, neither of us were that hungry after our tapas feast with Rubi and Victoria the night before. We got showered and dressed and got ourselves to the store.

Only there were two Strover stores on the same street.

Just like in Best of Show with the Starbucks.

We stopped at the first. I asked for the shoes they were holding for my Spanish name - remember how in high school Spanish, we all had to pick a name? - and they didn't know what I was talking about.

Didn't matter - they had a pair anyhow.

I tried them on. Yes, still liked them. Bought them.

The store down the street half a block was the one that had men's shoes, which was our next objective. We trotted there and I was distracted immediately by the other women's shoes that I had not even noticed in my quest for the leopard. Boots! Heels! Black suede heels with alligator heels!

And none of them made in China.

I started picking out things to try. SH, too, was looking at shoes, but he has been buying shoes for years without my help so I thought he was fine now.

I handed my samples to the saleslady and waited eagerly. SH kept distracting me with men's shoes.

Men's shoes.


I tried on my shoes and boots. Oh like.

"Hey!" SH said. "I need your help!"

I looked at him, bewildered. Surely he had bought shoes before and did not need me to tell him how to do so.

"I can't speak Spanish!" he said in exasperation.

You guys know SH is an engineer, right? And a perfectionist. I have no problems looking like an idiot in my attempts to speak a foreign language, but unless SH can speak a perfectly conjugated sentence with the perfect accent, he does not want words to leave his mouth.

I rolled my eyes. All he had to do was show the shoe to the guy and say his American size and the salesman would do the rest.

But SH didn't see it that way. I abandoned my boots and heels and settled in to help The Engineer optimize his shoe decision, which took half an hour. Which was pretty fast considering it takes him almost that long to buy bacon.

Then I turned back to my shoes, chose what I wanted, and voila. It was 2:25. The store was closing in a few minutes. It was Christmas Eve. People wanted to get home. I didn't want to be the one keeping them there on a holiday. I do not remember with fondness the customers who brought all their price checks and maybes to the cash register at midnight when I worked at Macy's.

The salesman ran SH's credit card.


"But we just used it at the other store!" we said.

Salesman ran it again.


Wait! said the saleslady. She pulled out another machine. "Try this one."


SH started to get mad. "I put a travel alert on that card!"

I was getting worried. My new boots and heels, so close and yet so far. And SH, with all the time he had invested in choosing one pair. What if he couldn't have them now?

Besides, the salespeople had spent an hour helping us. I wanted them to get their commissions.

SH turned to me. "What about your card?"

"I left it in the safe at the hotel," I admitted. Why do I need money if I'm with him?

He opened his wallet again.

I never thought I would be so grateful to see all the credit cards. I have only two credit cards and used to be a one-credit card woman. SH got an AmEx for me so I could get miles on his account, but I used to be strictly USAA. SH, however, believes in optimizing mileage and other award programs.

He looked at his AmEx and shook his head. "It will cost an arm and a leg in conversion fees," he said.

He tossed aside two other cards. "Fees too high," he said.

He sighed and took out his debit card. No points for the card, but it is with USAA, which means that we are not going to get screwed on the conversion.

We left the store at 2:40, the shoes clutched to our chests. OK, in bags hanging from our hands.

We went to Cien Montaditos to celebrate with coffee, beer and sandwiches. Then SH wore his shoes that night to Victoria's for our Christmas Eve serrano ham feast with Rubi and he admird them all night long. He loves his new shoes.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Spain 7: SH and Rubi sing at a Madrid karaoke bar

After the drama of not being able to find Rubi right away because of the multiple metro exits and multiple El Corte Ingleses, which has become an empire that will soon battle Walmart and Macy's for domination of the world, a la Godzilla vs King Kong, we settled in for a lovely evening.

The first thing we did after introducing ourselves - it is not so hard to identify Americans in Madrid - and doing the two-cheek Spanish kiss with both Rubi and her friend Victoria, we had a beer. Well, SH had a cana and I had some water. SH decided to not be cranky and whiny.

Which was good, because the next stop of the evening was the shoe store where we were already supposed to have shopped for the leopard-print shoes that Rubi found for me last month when she bought the zebra version.

I tried on some boots that were too tight. "If you lost some weight in your legs," Victoria said, "they would be fine." Which shocked me for a second until I remembered that 1. oh yes, Latins tend to be a little more direct and 2. she was exactly right. Spanish women must have skinnier calves than American women. Oh well.

The shoes in my size had a flaw, but the saleslady called another store a few miles away that also had the shoes and had them hold them for me. I will tell you about that drama later.

Once the shoe shopping was done, we were on to the real point of the evening: eating and singing.

Victoria took us to a tapas place she likes. It was completely empty because who goes out at 8:00 on a Friday? The emptiness was to our advantage in being able to find a place to sit but to our disadvantage for the calamari that we ordered. "They're heating the oil," Rubi explained, "but I think they're really fishing for the squid."

Fortunately, our fried peppers arrived quickly and we devoured them. Hot, salty, slightly greasy little green peppers with the tiniest bite. We ate them all and Victoria and Rubi generously let SH and me have the lion's share. Those are the peppers in the first photo. Padron peppers, I believe. A cross between a jalapeno and a bell pepper and absolutely divine.

The calamari still hadn't arrived, so we ordered some pinxtos, little open-faced sandwiches with baby eels, tuna, cheese, peppers and salmon.

Victoria went to scold the bartender about the lack of calamari. It arrived, hot, fatty, and salty, which have become my new favorite flavors. I never thought sugar would fall from favor on my list, but I am becoming a salty snacks person in my dotage.

We took a short walk, then found another bar and ate some more. Pinxtos of oxtail, hake, cheese with roasted apples, and one more flavor I can't remember. Victoria, Rubi, and SH had wine, I had a Schweppes lemon soda, which I had not had since we lived in Spain when I was a kid. I usually don't like soda - it's too sweet - but this was good. Also, when SH and I are overseas,* we usually get a real Coke made with cane sugar. It tastes completely different from the Coke made with corn sweetener here in the U.S.

These Madrilenos know how to live.

Then we went to another bar to say hi to Rubi's friend who owned the bar. The guys next to us had ordered a tortilla. "She makes the best tortilla in Madrid," Rubi said.

I looked longingly at the tortilla. One of the guys asked, "Are we in your way?" I guess my longing look = "get out of my way." Who knew?

"I'm just admiring your tortilla," I told him.

"Would you like to try some?"

"Oh, no, I couldn't," I protested.

"No, really!"

"Don't ask me again!" I warned him, "or I might say yes."

A minute later, he tapped me on the shoulder. "Here." He handed me a fork with a piece of tortilla.

What a great country.

And what a great tortilla.**

Victoria had left us, but Rubi, SH and I soldiered on. Next stop: Karaoke.

I don't like to go out to karaoke with SH at home because the bar is very loud, because many of the singers are bad, and because I have to wait 40 minutes between SH's songs. Forty minutes of boring.

But at the Madrid karaoke place, there were not very many singers. With the exception of the drunks who moved to the downstairs party shortly after we arrived, the singers were excellent. SH sang almost immediately.

Rubi had modestly classified herself as "advanced intermediate" karaoke.

She forgot to mention that she is an excellent singer. Both she and SH made people stop and listen.

While SH was singing his first song - Suspicious Minds, a white-haired Spanish man came up to me and gave me a thumbs-up and told me that SH's English was muy bueno. When I told him it was SH's native tongue and it better be bueno, he asked me if SH would sing a Kenny Rogers. Me encanta Kenny Rogers! he said.

SH declined, as he does not like to sing songs he does not know in a new place because he wants to show off the songs he does know and who can blame him? I will note that before he met me, SH would have looked with disdain on Elvis, Johnny Cash, Johnny Lee, Engelbert Humperdink, Tom Jones, Ronnie Milsap, Glen Campbell, Brooks and Dunn, and a host of others whom he now not only sings but owns their CDs. I have contributed, in my own modest way, to the enlargement of SH's world.***

And he to mine: I can appreciate some Britney Spears songs now.

Rubi rocked with her version of Killing Me Softly.

There was a six euro drink minimum at the bar, i.e., we were supposed to each spend $8 on drinks, which almost made my heart stop until I took a deep breath and realized that two beers at home cost that much and SH usually has two or three beers when he goes out.

"Sometimes I buy shots for people," he told me, which was information I could do without, as I think of spending money on alcohol only one step up from setting it on fire. At least shoes can be worn more than once.

However, Madrid is a big city and has big city prices on alcohol, so that six euros bought only one beer. I got one and SH carefully poured it into his glass and Rubi's glass while I sipped on a tiny little bit. Technically, I suppose we were cheating, although it was my beer and I drank part of it. If I hadn't shared it with Rubi and SH, then it would have gone undrunk and they wouldn't have bought any more.

SH and Rubi each sang a few songs, then sang Endless Love, which I think is a total cornball song but it is technically difficult and they did it well. It was also one of the few duets in English. They didn't even have Jackson, which is my favorite after I Got You Babe, which SH will not sing with me. Then we went back to the hotel. Which involved drama at the metro. The end.

* I know. First world name dropping. Trust me I understand just how lucky we are and am extremely grateful and very scared it could all go away any second, which is why I try to save as much money as possible by being the frugal person I am.

** Yes, Rubi, I know you don't like sentences that start with "and." I know it's against the rules. But if "gift" can become a verb, then there are no standards left.

*** SH was reared in a world where only classical music was acceptable, so even basic pop music - the Beatles - was quite a rebellion for him. One can understand. It's not like Paul McCartney is a good singer or composer or anything.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 152: Optimizing the important things

SH: Hey! Look! If you stack the tupperware this way - with the larger ones nested in the smaller ones - they all fit in the drawer!

Me: Uh huh.

SH: But now it all fits!

Me: Oh.

SH: Why aren't you more excited?

Me: I am so excited.

SH: This is a big deal!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 629: Hide and seek

Me: Do you want some nonpareils? [Of the 30 oz bag of Gittard nonpareils that his mom sent him for Christmas and that he asked me to hide from him after he ate a good portion of the bag between the box's arrival and my getting home from the gym]

SH: Last night, I looked for them. I thought you had put them someplace obvious downstairs.

Me: Nope.

SH: So I had to have Pringles instead. And now we're out.

PS I wrote this before Christmas, before we went on our trip. I hope I can remember where I hid them.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Spain 6: Getting lost, panicking, and being found

The plan was to meet Rubi in front of El Corte Ingles at the subway exit at 6:30 for tapas and karaoke.

"If we're not there by 7, it's because we're dead," I joked to her when we were making the arrangements on the hotel phone that I dared not dial out because I couldn't find anything telling me how much a local call costs and if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

Plus I don't know how to dial a phone in Spain - I mean, I don't know which numbers you use and which you don't - and that is scary. Don't laugh. Like you are perfectly comfortable figuring out the phones in a foreign country.

Our first mistake was severely underestimating the amount of time it would take to 1. find the metro station and 2. get from Atocha to Goya.

At 6:50, SH and I were still on the train. As we looked anxiously at the map, a man standing next to us asked solicitously, "Ees there something I can help you weeth?"

"We're just trying to figure out how much longer to our stop," I said. "We're already 20 minutes late to meet our friend."

He waved his hand. "Bah. In Espain, 20 minutes ees not late."

We arrived at Goya. Climbed up the stairs. Looked for El Corte Ingles. Of which there were two and of which both were surrounded by throngs and throngs of people.

SH panicked. "Which El Corte Ingles? Which? We'll never find her!"

We started walking around, looking for a buxom blonde. Lots of morenas, no rubias. We checked the street names. We walked to each corner of the intersection, which took ten minutes because there was so much traffic and so many people.

"The day is ruined!" SH moaned. "Ruined! I was really looking to this! This was going to be our only fun night out. And now it's ruined and it can't be fixed!"

"We're not done looking," I told him.

"But you told her that we weren't coming after 7:00!"

"I'll bet that once she got here and saw the madness that she realized it might take a little longer."

He shook his head. "No, no, no. There is no way to fix this day. It's just awful."

I slapped him. "Stop being hysterical!"

OK. Not really. I do not hit my husband.

But I did roll my eyes.

"What's the backup plan?" he asked.

"We don't have one."

"How could you not have a backup plan?"

"Well, if we would have had a backup plan, it would have been to meet at the bar where she originally wanted us to meet but couldn't find the exact address."

I got out my notes and looked for the name of the bar. Cerveceria Santa Barbara, within view of the shoe store that had my leopard-print loafers.

"But why didn't we just meet at the bar?"

"Because I wanted an exact address, not just 'Cerveceria Santa Barbara near the shoe store!' Anyhow, that's the backup plan, so stop panicking."

"No, the backup plan when there is no backup plan is to panic!"

"There's the bar right there. Let's at least go inside before we give up."

We didn't even have to go in. When we were five feet from the door, the buxom blonde* emerged.

"You're here!" she said.

SH was incredulous. "But - but how did you know to wait at the bar for us? And wait past 7:00?"

"Because as soon as I saw how many people there were and that there was more than one El Corte Ingles, I realized that our original meeting place was a bad idea. I knew CF would figure it out."

And then we ate and drank and sang and I will tell you all about that in the next post.

* Who had not yet met me in person when she suggested I put my money and credit cards in my bra to foil pickpockets.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Spain: Before the trip

Me: Why don't I pick out your underwear so we can start packing?

SH: No!!!!

Me: Why not? I'm just going to pull some out of the drawer while you lie there.

SH: No!! You can't pick my underwear!

Me: Why not?

SH: There are specific travel underwear. You don't know which ones.

Me: Travel underwear?

SH: Some of them are more compact. Then there's the polyester/cotton issue. You can't do it.