Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Plunged Into Digital Darkness

Four Netbooks in Two Weeks
© 2011 Leighann Lord

Okay, I’m jealous of Mac People. Mac People have Mac stores, where they can talk to Mac Experts. It’s telling that we don’t have Windows Stores with Windows Experts. We need them. But if we had them it would probably be some poor guy curled up in a corner, crying: “I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong. I don’t know how to fix it.” 

Mac people are often referred to as cult-ish, but we Windows folks share a certain solidarity, too. We use an inferior product and we’re proud of it. Windows teaches you a lot of valuable life lessons. You learn to live with:
Loss: Where are my files?  
Disappointment: My computer crashed, again.  
Irony: Running your computer in “safe mode” makes you feel anything but.
Using Windows is very motivating. It motivates you to buy a Mac. I briefly thought about doing just that when the screen on my two-year-old Acer Aspire One Netbook (running Windows XP) suddenly went black. One minute I’m looking at my desktop, the next I’m plunged into my own personal digital darkness. Since Windows has taught me the necessity of being my own geek squad I began trouble shooting. I checked power sources, connections, and settings, but to no avail. Note to self: no matter how frustrated you are, taking a hammer to your hard drive will most likely violate the warranty. I instead vigorously shook my computer like it was a crying baby. 

Clearly It was time to see a professional. I briefly considered bringing my little computer into a Mac Store, hoping they wouldn’t notice, but I was afraid I might set off some sort of Windows loser alarm. They might even smell me coming. Windows users stink of fear and frustration. Mac users smell of candy and cupcakes. But it’s entirely possible Mac Experts don’t actually know how to fix anything since nothing ever goes wrong with a Mac.

So I went to my Local Computer Guy. (I think of him more as my Digital Therapist.) His diagnosis: a dead motherboard. Fixing it would have cost more than the $300 netbook was worth. And so, just like that, it was over. All that was left was the extracted 120 gig hard drive.

We’d had a nice run and I’m going to miss My Precious. I’ve written almost 100 blog posts on it as I toured and performed in Iraq, Haiti, Germany, Kosovo, Singapore and Brooklyn. The latter, of course, being the most exotic. I was actually very lucky my motherboard didn’t expire while I was on the road. Like a salmon, it came home to die. Having technology fail far from home is what we call in the trade, fucked up.

My friends suggested that maybe it was time to get a laptop. I have both Mac and Windows friends because I am very progressive, open minded and hip. When we all get together, we simply avoid talking about technology, and stick with less volatile subjects such as sex, religion and politics. 

I am not so tolerant when it comes to mobile phones. There are BlackBerry people. There are iPhone people. And then there are people who use both. These people are whores. I know the politically correct term is multi-technical but by god, have some loyalty.

All of my computer friends agreed I should bite the bullet and get a MacBook Pro. In fact, the Windows faction was most insistent: “You’re free now! Save yourself! Run! Run and don’t look back!” But I’m paraphrasing.

I am told that MacBooks are expensive, but worth every penny. Unfortunately, at this point, I can only afford the excitement and insecurity that a Windows machine can provide.

I also much prefer netbooks to laptops. I still have an old Dell that’s big, slow and heavy enough for a little impromptu bench pressing. Netbooks are inexpensive and compact enough to fit in my purse. Perfect. The amount of traveling I do requires my gadgets to be small and portable with ample battery life.

I didn’t have a lot of shopping around to do when I bought my Acer two years ago. There just weren’t that many netbooks on the market then, but things have changed. I hoped a rare two-week stretch at home would be more than enough time to find a replacement. Twelve days and four computers later I think I have a winner.

My first thought was to go back to the well and buy another Acer, this time in red. It was cute and I looked cute with it, but a measly three hours of battery life and one gig of memory is a deal-breaker.  

My second choice, an Asus EEE PC would have been great without the schizophrenic cursor that jumped around at will due to a hypersensitive touch pad. It was also very frustrating that I couldn’t remove the pre-installed virus software. Despite five hours of “live computer chatting” with seven technicians (Rod, Kiran, Frederick, Rod (again), Melvin, Anna Katrina and Randy) the software remained, confirming my suspicions that it wasn’t installed to protect me from a virus. It was a virus. 
Maybe that’s the real reason why most computer customer support has moved to India. If it were any closer, say within a two-hour drive, there’d be violence. Next time, the price of airfare and length of the flight may not deter me. 

Amazon and CNET had great things to say about Toshiba. So, with the clock ticking, I bought one. Well actually I bought two. I had to return the first one because after only 24 hours of use it stopped booting up. The programs wouldn’t load and I got more Windows Update errors than I could count, forcing a system restore. I should have known something was wrong when I saw I had both a C and a D drive. In this case, two is not better than one.

I suspect someone bought the Toshiba, tried to partition the hard drive — which made Windows 7 (Starter) freak out —  and then returned it. The store simply repackaged it and put it back on the shelf.
Why bother exchanging it? Because butchered hard drive aside, the specs weren’t bad: two gigs of memory, 250 gig hard drive, and a dual core processor. Sweet. As a writer the nicely spaced, un-cramped keyboard is a dream and the cursor doesn’t go anywhere I don’t want it to. If it was available in red, it’d be perfect but that’s what skins are for.
In the end, I don’t know what’s been more stressful: dealing with a computer crash, shopping for a replacement or watching my Mac friends struggle not to say, “I told you so.” 

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ www.VeryFunnyLady.com. Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Beyond Scared Straight

 © 2010 Leighann Lord
Before I was married, I used to love falling asleep with the TV on. Just set the timer for 30 minutes and drift off. However, when my husband goes to bed he needs complete silence and utter darkness. He is not remotely comforted by the glow of the flat screen or the lilt of late night commercials. He can't even drift off to TV shows he likes. That actually makes it worse. If he likes the show he gets caught up and then has to see it through to the end. So when I travel it’s a treat for me to turn on the TV and wait for Morpheus. That’s how I happened upon A&E's "Beyond Scared Straight." It's the 2.0 version for a new generation of wayward teenagers brought to a prison to see their future if they don't get it together in the present. Not exactly a new concept but this particular episode featuring teenage girls had me rivetted.

They looked like ordinary girls. They could have been anybody's daughter, niece, sister, cousin. But these young ladies were stealing, fighting, drinking, doing drugs or as they put it: "Just smoking a little weed. What’s wrong with that?" Apparently nowadays, girls will be girls. 

Well, these Young Ladies had run afoul of the law so many times they’d earned themselves invitations to "Beyond Scared Straight" and an opportunity to parade their pain in prime time. It could be worse. They could be hoarders, ice truckers, 16  and pregnant, or little people in a big world. But these were street smart chics. A trip to the local penitentiary would be like a day at the mall, right?

When the Young Ladies arrived on site, I was confused. "Wait a minute," I thought, "Why are they taking them to a mens prison? Oh, wait. Those aren't men." Severe fades and tattoos aside, these are the hardest women I've ever seen. They may have played it up a bit for the camera, but it wasn’t that much of a stretch.

At this point, if it had been me, it would have been a very short show. I’d of stayed in the car, seat belt securely fastened.  "No, thanks, I'm good, deeply sorry for any trouble I’ve caused. I'd like to go home now, read a book, get a job and pretend this never happened. You had me at 'Beyond.'"

But the Young Ladies, full of bravado, still thought they could tough it out. I guess they had to. Signed releases notwithstanding, just because your mouth writes a check that your ass can't cash, doesn't stop people from trying to collect on it. As someone said on the show, "It's one thing to act like a stone cold killer. It's another to meet one."

I felt bad for one Young Lady whose face seemed plagued by a perpetual faint smile. Clearly an involuntary nervous reaction, the Inmates thought she wasn't taking the program seriously. "Oh you think this is funny?" said a woman pulling an 18-to-life stretch for first degree murder. "I will fold you like a piece of paper." I get chills just typing the words. See, this wouldn’t have happened if Smiley had stayed with me in the car.

Another Little Toughie who was giving her father and step mother a hard time thought life would be so much better if she could go live with her mother. Turns out, her Mom was back in prison and just in time for her daughter’s “Scared Straight” visit. This is TV gold. I bet the producers of the show practically peed themselves silly when they learned of their good luck. Emmys all around.

As the Young Ladies stood silently on the yard — at a distance not nearly big enough for my liking — The Inmates mercilessly teased and taunted them. In the cacophony, Little Toughie's Mom cried out to her daughter: "This is not what I wanted for you! This place is hell! You don't know what goes on in here! Don't be like me."

Seriously, can we just get back in the car? At this point I dropped all pretense and turned off the TV timer. I was officially caught up.

Part of the process was determining whether or not the Young Ladies had learned anything from their visit. If they could demonstrate they had, they'd get to go home at the end of the day. If not they'd get an orange jump suit of their very own and stay at the prison for another 72 hours. One by one, they each appeared before an American Idol-style prison panel of judges. 

The oldest of the visiting group, Miss Mouth, was a 17-year willful, wild child with an alcohol problem who'd been verbally and physically abusive to her mother. The Inmates questioned M&M about this. Not surprisingly, she didn't have a lot to say by way of a credible defense, which earned her an orange jumpsuit. Her new cell mate promised to “be both Mother and Father,” and to deliver the ass whupping her parents had clearly neglected to give her. When brought back before The Panel, a shaken and teary eyed Miss Mouth mumbled, "I want my Mom." So did I.

As with all TV shows like this you wonder if the right people are really watching. After all, this show wasn’t for me. Or was it? Sometimes I wonder how much I’ve missed out on by being Ms. Goody Two Shoes. Not all roads lead to prison but if it’s possible, I was scared even straighter.  

ith such an effective format, they should consider developing a version for potential white collar criminals. Perhaps a chastened Bernie Madoff scaring young, up and coming fraudsters. “Don’t be like me! It’s not worth it! Oh, you think this is amusing? I will drop you like a bad investment! Put on the orange blazer!”

Dude, you should have stayed in the Lexus.

The Inmates participating in “Beyond Scared Straight” weren't all rough neck lesbians, most looked like ordinary women. They could have been anybody's mother, aunt, sister, daughter. I don't know what they received by way of compensation for being part of the program, but it wasn't freedom. Their message was loud and clear: Learn from my mistakes or be prepared to put on the orange jumpsuit.

I didn’t fall asleep until long after this show was over. I was wide awake thinking of all the people who had been a positive influence in my life. They took the time to put me on the right path, and hoped I had the good sense to follow it because there are no guarantees. We each make our own choices. Next time, I might choose to read before I go to bed.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ www.VeryFunnyLady.com. Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Praise the Lord & Pass the Ammunition

© 2011 Leighann Lord

Last month The Atlanta Journal ran an article about a group of folks planning to appeal a ruling against guns in church. Maybe I’m a tad too citified for my own good but do you need a law telling you not to bring a gun to church? That has lack of faith written all over it. There are just certain things you should know to leave at home before going to church: gun, skepticism, porn collection.

I live in New York City and while we have the reputation of being a rough and tumble town it’s actually illegal to carry a gun here and that’s probably a good thing. With our quick tempers and lack of patience with piss poor service, things could get dangerous for people working at say, Best Buy. I’m kidding. Nobody actually “works” at Best Buy. The only person who might get hurt is some random guy who walked in wearing a blue polo shirt. 

But are guns in church really a bad thing? Historically many conversions have happened at gunpoint so why break with tradition? I don’t go to church myself.  My brain gets in the way. But this is just the sort of thing that would make it interesting. Having a piece at a peace service has certain intrinsic advantages.

First, shorter sermons. Nobody likes a long-winded preacher. And nothing will make him cut to the chase quicker than addressing an armed and restless congregation. I would’ve loved to have been locked and loaded the first time I had the displeasure of hearing St. Peter’s: “Wives be submissive to your husbands.” I fantasize about standing, Dirty Harry style, clicking the safety off my .44 Magnum and saying, “No, we’re not reading that today.”
“Women should remain silent in the churches.” 
“Really? So you’re saying I get to use a silencer? Sweet.”

And then there are the fashion implications. You can’t show up to church on Sunday with a Saturday night special. What would Jesus think? You’re gonna need a dress gun. Concealed or unconcealed means “will my Sunday-go-to-meeting gun fit in my purse or match my outfit.” How else will god know you really care except by how well you coordinate your ensemble? And wearing a side arm makes things a little more complicated, as in: “Baby, does this gun make my butt look big?” And what does a man say to a woman who’s got her finger on the trigger of a Taurus 85 Revolver with a custom ruby red rubber grip? Let us pray.

Finally, fair or not, a gun gets you the little courtesies like seconds on the wine and wafers. Who’s gonna say, no? Leverage during confession: “Ten Hail Mary’s? I don’t think so, padre. Let’s call it an even five, and me and my little friend will see you on Sunday.” 

And let’s face it, armed altar boys are a game-changer.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ www.VeryFunnyLady.com. Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cliche But Cool: Eating Alaskan King Crab Legs in Alaska

©2011 Leighann Lord

To say that I’m a picky eater is like saying Barack Obama is having a tough presidency. It began in childhood and it was a chore getting me to eat. I sat for hours rearranging the food on my plate, more of it going on the floor than in my mouth. Yeah, I was “that” kid.

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uch to the bewilderment of my West Indian family, I don’t like nor can I tolerate spicy food. As a second-generation American I seem to have lost any inherent genetic ability to handle anything hot or curry. This doesn’t bother me though. I figure if I am kind to my colon, my colon will be kind to me.

As an adult I’m still rather picky. Cheese? No. Carrots? No. Chocolate? No, not really. Unlike the majority of my gender, I can survive without it. I’m way more likely to scarf down food I’m familiar with rather than trying something new. That’s why I’ve eaten at Pizza Hut in Rotterdam, KFC in England and McDonald’s in the Bahamas. When I went to Alaska, the locals were eager to tell me about the regional specialities: deer, moose, halibut. No, no, do I have to? (There’s nothing wrong with deer or moose it’s just that I didn’t grow up on it.) I opted instead for the Make-Your-Own-Slam at Denny’s. Yeah, I’m “that” girl.

In Fairbanks however, we went to eat at a lovely place called Lavelle’s Bistro. Highly recommended by natives and friends, the decor, ambiance and service were on par with any of Manhattan’s finest. As I perused the menu lots of stuff looked good, but about midway down the entrees page, everything changed when I saw: 

Wild Caught Alaskan King Crab Legs 

To my mind’s eye it was written in glitter. I gasped so audibly, my dinner companions thought I was in distress. And I was. The last time I had crab legs Britney Spears was a sweet young thing, ever so gently pushing the envelope of good taste. 
The internal debate began: should I or shouldn’t I? Yes, I love crab legs. No, they’re too expensive. Could I really spend $45 on a plate of crab legs? But these weren’t just any old crab legs. These were (drum roll, please): 

Wild Caught Alaskan King Crab Legs!

I don’t know what “wild caught” means, but I can only assume The Crab didn’t go quietly. Would the struggle make it taste better? God, I hoped so.

I mean, how often would I get the chance to have Alaskan King Crab Legs in freakin’ Alaska? I’ve always assumed my crab leg experience would be limited to The Red Lobster on Sunrise Highway. I had to order them. My Husband always says, when you’re on the road you deserve to have at least one really good meal, and I don’t think he meant Denny’s.

But on the other hand, it was so cliche. It’s like the people who come to New York and order a New York Strip steak, or the people who go to England and order bangers and mash. The latter are profoundly sorry for doing so, unless it was their goal to commit suicide by taste bud. 

But was I really going to be that much of a tourist and order Alaskan King Crab Legs in Alaska? Yes, I was. Given my choices of other traditional Alaskan things to do — ice fishing, moose tipping, alcoholism — the crab legs at least seemed doable. (I don’t know if there’s really such a thing as moose tipping, but with the average male moose clocking in at eight feet tall and fifteen hundred pounds I wouldn’t advise it. That’s a “Darwin Award” waiting to happen.)

As a precursor to the crab, my friend Gina and I split a plate of calamari, and it was good to a fault. It made me realize I’ve never had really good calamari before. Clearly, hitherto Lavelle’s, I’ve been eating deep fried crap with the chewy consistency of a worn out, rubber tire. Oh good grief, why did I agree to share?

And then came the Crab Legs.

I was breaking all the rules here. There are certain foods I don’t like eating in public: ribs, hot wings, crab legs. They’re messy and I’m a vain, neat freak. Moreover I think it’s unseemly to fight with your food, but this was a brawl I couldn’t miss. Between nut cracker and bare hands, I wolfed down one pound of Crab Legs — baked potato and butter on the side — like it was chow time at the prison mess hall. Those crab legs were wild caught, wild eaten and will be fondly remembered. How were they? People, please. Red Lobster should be ashamed.

The After Math
I so didn’t want to stand up and do stand-up after a meal like that.  But much to my surprise, we were treated to dinner by our gracious MWR Host at Fort Wainwright. It would’ve been totally rude to miss the show because I was back at my hotel room sleeping it off. I may not be able to hold my liquor, but I can damn sure hold my crab legs. Oh yeah, I’m “that” girl.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ www.VeryFunnyLady.com. Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.