Where I Wish Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie Cameoed in My Life Instead

Last Monday my phone lit up with a call from an 888 number. I thought it might be a telemarketer or some other type of solicitor, so I didn’t answer the phone.

Whoever called did leave a message.

I listened to the message.

The person who left the message said she was from my bank’s [static] department and to call a number at [static].

I listened to the message again to see if I could understand more of it.

Then I decided to check my bank account online.

Fancy. There were two $100 charges from gas stations somewhere in Texas in the past five days. Thank goodness it wasn’t more, but still: $200 is a lot of money.

The last time I was in Texas was February 2008 for the Austin half marathon. If my information was stolen then, would the perps have waited six years to use it? Besides, I’ve changed my debit card at least once since then.

From the partial voicemail message and looking at my bank account, the puzzle pieces finally fit together to form a very annoying, cussworthy story. But since I still couldn’t discern the static for the number on my voicemail for the bank’s fraud prevention department, I called the general customer service number instead.

I explained my situation to a nice person. He went to get someone from fraud.

The person from fraud was also very nice. I told him about the suspicious debits. He told me that he’d file a claim and send me another debit card overnight.

He also told me that it would take up to 90 days to reverse the charges. At the time that sounded like a horribly long time to wait, but both debits were readjusted just two days after this phone call. And since I couldn’t see my online account until I activated the new card, I had no idea that my account had been reimbursed. (I could have called and found out, but I decided to wait.)

While the nice fraud department guy was processing the claim, he saw that the bank had already sent me a replacement card by regular mail. He said my card was one of the compromised ones from the holiday season. He asked if I shopped at any of the places featured on the news for having customer debit card information stolen.

I said that during Christmastime, I had definitely shopped at the place whose company logo looks like a bull’s eye. A red circle surrounding a large red dot.

Hackers. They got me.

My new debit card arrived in the mail a week later. I activated it and regained online access to my account. While I don’t use my debit card a lot, it’s nice to have the account and my information (somewhat?) secure. It just bothers me that people out there have no qualms about stealing other people’s private information and spending their money. It bothers me hard.

Thankfully everything ended well for me. I hope all the other hacking victims were just as fortunate.

On Conversation and Small Talk

“A friend of mine once said that you can never trust a person who doesn’t talk much, because how else do you know what they’re thinking? Just by the act of being willing to talk about oneself, the person is revealing something about who they are.”

— Chuck Klosterman, Eating the Dinosaur

Almost everyone I knew in high school observed two main modes of speaking from me: Snide comments and occasional insights. This did not count raising my hand if I had the correct answers to teachers’ questions. I made friends slowly at that time, and those patient enough to stick around discovered that I was also capable of thinking deeply, even though I didn’t often verbalize my thoughts.

How did I process reality back then, that version of life trapped inside a high school bubble? I listened. I observed. This is how I found out about THE shocking moment of the Crying Game during trigonometry. One of my classmates saw the movie at the theater, and she could not wait to talk about it at school the next day.

Observing is also how I found out that band members M (girl, drum major) and T (boy, trumpet player, OF COURSE) may have had a thing for each other. M was a senior and T was a junior. I was a sophomore. After school one day, the band waited for our band director to return from somewhere and start rehearsal. I was practicing my part in one of the instrument rooms. Minding my own business. Then M and T ran in, oblivious to everything. T closed the door and had M pressed against it with his body. Then they started making out.

I watched for a few seconds, and I wondered if I should keep playing my clarinet. I decided that was better than watching. When I played the first few notes, T and M stopped what they were doing. I tried not to look at them but to keep playing. After a few seconds, one of them opened the door and they both left the room.

Beyond high school and into college and the real world, I continued the habits of listening and observing. I liked talking about myself, but I would only do it when people asked me questions. But I also loved asking other people questions and getting to know them better.

This was fun to do in college and especially New York City. I found myself in several settings with complete strangers. After a few questions, some laughs, and some observations about how we ended up in New York, we discovered valuable commonalities that became the foundation for friendship.

I never liked small talk, and because of this, friendshipping in the big wide world pushed me out of my comfort zone. While I always did better if people were willing to jump into deeper subjects more quickly, I also observed that small talk was some people’s starting point for meatier conversation. In some cases, if I couldn’t stick around past small talk, bonds would only form at that level.

Not everyone was like me; not everyone would work the same way my high school friends and I did to maintain our relationship. I would have to manipulate a paradox and give interpersonal space at the same time as internalizing the world around me, bringing different perspectives within my grasp.

Over time, I practiced and became good at small talk. Because I had worked on my observation skills for so long, I could read a person, initiate a conversation and make subtle adjustments to keep the discussion going. It felt great.

More time passed and maybe I fell out of practice or took it for granted, because suddenly it seems now that I suck at talking to people. Wires crossed somewhere and created a short and my conversation skills are no longer where they used to be. Although I can still listen and observe, it’s harder for me sustain my side of the conversation with actual spoken words. I’ll occasionally interject a question or a snide remark, but while I listen I also close up. Or go back to the safe space of small talk. Which I hate. But it’s safe. Defense mechanism, definitely. But why? and how can I get past it?

Part of it is that I can sym-/empathize, but sometimes I don’t know how to express that. Or I don’t know what’s appropriate. Or that if I try to relate, I’d be saying and revealing too much about myself when the conversation isn’t about me. I think that goes beyond introverted tendencies.

Obviously, I have no trouble writing about myself.

In general, people have been so willing to let me know more about them. I need to reciprocate. I have been selfish for so long, and I have to be better.

So, how about this weather?

Starting Off

Late Wednesday night/Early Thursday morning I was standing in a checkout line at a major supercenter chain. In Orem, Utah. Just off Exit 269 on I-15. Across from UVU. I was on my way back to my apartment and picked up a few groceries so I wouldn’t starve in the morning. I had arrived from Senegal Sunday afternoon and spent a few days in New York City before returning to Provo.

The cashier greeted me and started scanning my things. Now, she might have had a super long day, and it was close to 1am, but she was complaining about her job.

Everyone has bad days at work, and maybe the timing wasn’t ideal for this particular interaction between the cashier and me, because I had just come from Senegal, where 50% of the population is unemployed, and this young lady has a job in AMERICA during a RECESSION.

I wanted to tell her to get a little perspective.

Instead, I reassured her she had only 10 minutes left on her shift and wished her a good night.

We landed at 0550 on Sunday, May 1. The humidity immediately surrounded us, but I was eager to get off the plane. In great haste, I descended the metal roller staircase then walked toward the shuttle before I realized I forgot my duffel bag. I turned around and let a guy wearing an airport vest know that I forgot my bag.

-J’ai oublié mon sac.
-Quel siège? Quel côté?
-Le droit. Trente-sept.

So, I followed him back onto the plane,  retrieved my bag and jumped on a shuttle bus from the tarmac to the gate. I kept close to some people I recognized as my classmates. The terminal felt crowded that morning. The full flight dispensed a swarm of people – some happy to be home, others respectfully curious – into a hot, dark,  old airport that was named after the first president of Sénégal, Léopold Senghor.

We picked up our luggage from the lone, sluggish carousel. Chatter surrounded us. French and not French. We passed through the border. Customs was a little too easy.

We waited outside. I wasn’t sure for what, or whom. I wore my backpack and held my duffel bag and suitcase tightly. I had noticed that random men were taking people’s luggage, and that didn’t seem right.

Not all of us were on this flight. Others in the class were coming from the East coast or Europe. They would be arriving at other times. We wondered aloud about the girl who had arrived the night before and was told in our prep class two weeks earlier to find her own way to the hotel. That didn’t seem right.

After a while, our group started walking toward somewhere. Our uncertain chemin  seemed to lead toward an old, white Blue Bird school bus. We loaded our luggage and boarded the bus. The engine started and a consistent, high-pitched beep pierced our ears. We soon learned that it would never stop. The bus driver wore a scarf. And then there was another guy. Madame Thompson introduced him as a son of Aminata Sow Fall, and he is probably one of the most attractive guys I have ever met.

Along the way, we were passed 1.5-liter bottles of water. I didn’t really talk. I thought about how I’d brush my teeth and getting along with my roommate and the food and my ability to sleep. I wondered about the culture and the lectures and my anxiety about speaking a language I struggled with. All I knew was that I was with a group of fellow students in a foreign and fascinating country full of people I was a little scared of and with a culture I was eager to discover. We were on a beeping school bus with a surprisingly trusty engine, and our eyes followed much of the passing scenery. We observed old buildings and walking women balancing things on their heads. We noticed the coast hosting the early exercisers who raced the rising sun. We were an obvious displacement, and I felt like an anachronism. But we were headed into the belly of a city of a country of a continent of a world begging to be more fully understood, asking for proper perspective.

We were going to school.

Some Things About Safety

A few weeks ago, I was in my Study Abroad prep class. Someone had come in from the Study Abroad office to give a presentation on international traveling safety. The first topic on her slide show was about virtual kidnapping. She asked the class if anyone knew what that was. After a reasonable pause, she explained that virtual kidnapping is when bad guys get a hold of your personal information, call family or friends, tell them that they are holding you for ransom and threaten not to release you until their requests are met. The bad guys will usually have a recording of someone screaming and/or crying in the background to heighten the effect. So, while family or friends are on the phone with the bad guys, the “victim” mostly likely has no idea someone is threatening her loved ones for money. The victim could be sunbathing at the beach or having monkeys pick nits from her hair or exploring a sacred mosque in the city.

That’s some scary, right?

I haven’t broadcasted my departing and returning dates here or on facebook (which is where a lot of bad guys get their information). If you’ve asked me personally about my itinerary, I have told you.  I’ve limited viewing of personal data on facebook to friends, and I swear, if any of you relate that information to a bad guy, and I hear of someone threatening people I love? My new pet hippo will attack you. Horace will bite your head off then sit on your body to squirt blood from your neck like a tube of toothpaste. Then Horace will brush his giant, flat, plant-pulverizing teeth with your blood.

A few of you should have gotten or will be receiving a packet with my flight information, passport number, health insurance number, and contact information of the hotels where we’ll be staying. A few of you know how to get a hold of my mom in case anything happens.

I won’t have regular internet access or international cell phone service, but I’ll leave updates whenever I can.

Like I mentioned before, our class is going to have its very own bus, so we won’t be riding around with strangers. I won’t carry my passport with me, and hopefully my stint in New York City has trained me to be wary of pickpockets and various hoodlums. And, I’ll always go out with a buddy. Maybe this buddy will end up being the guy I date when we get back to the states and eventually marry. No dating is rule #1  on a BYU Study Abroad. 2. No proselyting. 3. Obey the Honor Code. However, that is a gigantic “maybe,” even bigger than Horace. And Horace is a rare breed of enormohippo. FYI.

This is all precautionary stuff.  I’m looking forward to having an unbelievable and very fun time.

Three Episodes Today

This morning when I waited for the A train at West 4th Street, it felt like a sauna. Just like a sauna, except everyone had clothes on, and there were no coals or wooden, tiered benches to sit on. And it was sticky. And not very clean. I felt a layer of moisture form instantly on my arms, and I saw a few people wipe their foreheads of sweat, so I did the same. Slick. And all I really was concerned about was whether a visible puddle formed in the armpit of my shirt. Because I was on my way to work. And I had clothes on.

This probably isn’t the best time to admit that I don’t wear deodorant, eh? I do drink a lot of water, and my body odor isn’t offensive. Is it? IS IT. Look at me. Tell me I’m not smelly, and I may reconsider putting you in a headlock.

I don’t know why I have these kooky, violent ideations.

I almost had words with the vending machine in the work kitchen today. I politely drop my money in. I push the buttons that correspond to the tasty snack that I want, the coil spins to release the tasty snack, but the tasty snack does not drop, but instead perches perfectly on the edge of the shelf. Then I try kicking the machine. True story. The window is made of fiberglass and when I push on it, it gives the appearance that I’m actually shaking the machine, but that’s impossible, because the vending machine weighs 500 pounds, and it’s only the window that shakes. So I kick the side of the machine. I sideways jump-shove the machine. Left shoulder, because my right shoulder is already too jacked up. The machine makes a lot of noise, but that tasty snack evades me. It just sits there. I don’t have enough change to try giving myself two of the same kind of tasty snack, so I give up. I don’t really need that tasty snack, anyway. I’d rather drink the rest of my half-gallon of water for the day and smell my underarms at intervals and impress myself with how much I don’t stink.

On my way home, I went back down into the Fulton Street Inferno, and some police officers stood next to a table, ready to check bags at random. I got a good look at the table. It was white. And it was plastic, like a card table or something you’d sell contraband behind. A female officer stood opposite the two guy officers, and she saw me and my backpack, my backpack that’s longer than my torso. That makes me look like a terrorist, apparently. So, Ms. NYPD stopped me and said, “Excuse me, Miss? Your bag.” So I took off my bag and set it on the table. The guys didn’t open it, because I think that’s against the law. What they did instead was rub my bag with a white piece of cloth or paper, two inches square. Then they placed it in a slot of a black, rectangular box. It reminded me when we were kids of those boxes we made with two slots and we put a slip of paper with a question on one side in one slot and the piece of paper came out the other slot that had the answer written on the other side. It was a magic machine, remember? Anyway, this box had a green, digital display, which the officers appeared to be studying. After about five seconds, they handed me my bag and thanked me, and I went on my way.

I have to say, ion chromatography isn’t as cool as a magic machine. Ion chromatography would have been able to detect my sweat with minutely trace amounts of stinkiness, and a magic answer machine would have told me I exude a delightful aroma. Which is ALWAYS true.