Corporate sincerity

Got a holiday card from one of the vendors at work today. The card says:

"With sincere wishes for the holiday season
and hopes for a happy and healthy new year."

"Sincere wishes" of what?

I personally hope that they are not sincerely wishing me to get sacked so that the new person will start buying from them.


Holiday parties

Was at two holiday parties Friday and Saturday.

First was my company's party, which got much much better as alcohol was consumed. I almost embarrassed a co-worker's wife.

Yours Truly (YT): "Hey, can you keep an eye on my purse while I go get some food and a drink?"

Wife (W): "Sure! But that's a big purse! Why'd you bring it?"

YT, patting myself on all the places pockets could have been: "Women's formal clothing does not offer pockets, where I could have put my stuff..."

W, pointing at her husband with bulging pockets across the room: "Oh, that's what men are for! Why didn't you bring yours?"

YT: "He's quite inconveniently away."

W: "You should have made him come!"

I set up to say: "I routinely do," but catch myself just in time to say: "I... tried."


Then last night I went to a much more fun party given by an artist friend of mine and her husband. They had a well-stocked bar in the basement, and I ended up spending what was left of the night in a spare bedroom, with a very friendly purry cat as bed-mate.

The main attraction of the party was the "Dirty Santa" game, in which I ended up winning a stretchable silicone "Magic Tube" which, so the packaging says, can be creatively used on fingers and other elongated objects, besides the obvious.

Turned out well that I did not have to get up at six to go to the autocross, so that I could actually drink and stay up late.


Autocross canceled

Bummer all round. Oh well, I'll have more time to shop for Xmas gifts for my friends in Virginia and New York.

And maybe finally give Bonnie a bath.



This morning before work I stopped by the shop to have my car's attending look at Bonnie to make sure everything was still fine.

It seemed to be :)

Harry showed me the bad parts--there weren't that many--and asked if I wanted to keep any of them. I picked: the timing belt inside pulley, the retaining disk, and the infamous woodruff key, which came in two pieces.

Exhibit 1. Inside pulley.

The inside edges were broken off while Harry tried to pry this pulley off the crankshaft, but look at the front! Pretty impressive. The sprockets on the pulley were bent, shaved off, or simply broken off. Harry said that he noticed metal shavings on the outside of the engine cover, and that's what made him look inside to find this mess.

Exhibit 2. Timing belt retaining disk.

The crankshaft screw became loose, allowing the parts to slip, and the woodruff key wore through the keyway on the retaining disk to almost twice its original width, causing further moving of the parts in relation to one another. The side shown is the one facing the timing belt pulley, with ridges ground in it by the sprockets.

Exhibit 3. Woodruff key.

It is bent, worn through, AND broken. So it looks like the failure was brewing for quite some time. First the loose bolt allowed the retaining disk to slip, and constant grinding bent and wore the key. Then eventually it broke, but not too recently, because the break surface is corroded.

Ashraf and I tightening the accessory belts put additional stress on the timing belt pulley, so it slipped 12.5 degrees and resulted in all the performance problems.

I will keep the two bigger parts on my desk. This adventure was way too exciting not to have anything to remind me of it.

Everybody, look at me!

Now with my THSCC forum account finally active, I found a picture of Bonnie and I on the course at the last event. (Only a portion of watermarked picture shown. See full picture here.)

With me in the car is Dustin who was kind enough to help me with advice. This was my second run, in the morning.

The two afternoon runs sucked for me, because my ankle, sprained just a week before the event, was throbbing after working the course between runs. My afternoon times were worse then the morning ones, plus I hit more cones, and got a DNF on one of the two runs.

Coming Sunday, there's a no-points event coming up, and I hope to improve my times. With fewer participants, there is also hope that we each will get more runs, which is always great :)



That's the first business book I actually enjoy reading.

The usual variety of business bestsellers like "Good to great" or "Seven habits" or even "First, break all the rules" begins to bore me after a couple of chapters (short attention span) by endlessly repeating and reaffirming the main thought of the book with countless anecdotes and generalizations.

Even if I can't agree with everything Peters writes, I enjoy the layout of the book and the way the thoughts are presented almost in hypertext. Actually, this is the closest functional approximation to hypertext in print I have read.

Natural Born Killers

Watched Natural Born Killers Director's Cut tonight, for the first time after seeing it at ZooPalast theater in Berlin when it first came out in Germany in October 1994.

The movie was "unter 18" and I was younger than that. I remember sneaking in using my older friend's student ID. Ticket in my hand, line at the door, they are checking everybody young-looking, but after a brief hesitation (felt like ages) the guy let me through.

Seeing the film again today, with more background knowledge about US culture and history, I expected it to feel different, less immediate, more intellectualized today. But it was just as powerful and visceral as I remembered it.

Kara Walker

I've got to say it, out of contemporary American artists, Kara Walker is definitely one of my favourites. Forgot to mention last time that Nasher has a few of her newer pieces on display, which comment on the African American experience of the Civil War. Powerful.


At l(e)ast she's running

They were able to take that pulley off the crankshaft, so I dodged the really big repairs bill.

The car runs better than ever--particularly noticeable with cold engine, and I expect better fuel efficiency now too. And of course, now I have the added benefit of having had pretty much all the car systems checked through and through, and knowing they all work well.

While they had the engine opened up, I went for a new timing belt and a thermostat, so that I won't need to have this sort of work done any time soon. Three years at least, if I continue to put 20,000 miles on the car each year.

Now I am looking forward to the autocross next weekend.


My car got me at last

So after two full days of searching for a reason for all the weirdness, they found it: The timing belt pulley inside the engine was loose, and was causing timing problems as well as broke off a (small) piece of the crankshaft.

As I type this, the pulley is not coming off the crankshaft, because the piece that was supposed to hold it in place on the crankshaft, the woodruff key, is rusted onto it, and won't let the pulley come off.

So my options now are, if the pulley comes off, get the few relatively inexpensive parts replaced, and get the missing piece in the crankshaft filled in with JB Weld, and pay for labor; if there is no way to get the pulley off, it will be cheaper to install a rebuilt engine.

The folks at the shop are really nice to me, so they will charge me a flat fee for labor in the first case. The second case, well, I try not to think too much ahead. I'll deal with it if and when I have to.

My car's "attending physician" picked me up at work to show me the damage. It was really sad to see Bonnie on the lift, with rags covering the valves and other parts they were not working on, with just the front part of the engine exposed, it looked almost like a body on an operating table.

Sad day.


My car is out to get me (or my money) Part 3

So I dropped Bonnie off at the shop this morning and they could hardly find anything really wrong with her.

The alternator/water pump belt was over-tightened, but nothing really to account for the cylinder misfires. It was a "random multiple cylinder misfire" code, which did not really help troubleshoot.

The attending did a lot of maintenance work, so Bonnie should not complain now that I spend no money on her. She got:
  • Alternator belt adjusted;
  • new spark plugs;
  • fuel filter;
  • fuel injector cleaner additive in tank;
  • missing bolt on intake bracket;
  • compression test (came out fine with all at 150);
  • front rotors and pads.
So all in all, I felt like I should have gotten some return on investment, but instead, Bonnie runs worse now. Pick-up on acceleration is gone, I can depress the pedal all the way to the floor and nothing happens. As in literally nothing.

The sound of the engine also changed, but I could live with that if everything else was working. Being beat off the line by old minivans is not something I am used to. Not since I got rid of the scooter.

So tomorrow morning, off we go to see the doctor again.

Provincial survival guide

You know how they publish all the urban survival guides for the rural and small city folk? Well, here's a provincial survival guide for the urban outcasts like me.

It is a mite reassuring though, that urban population (in its widest sense I presume) is predicted to be in the majority beginning next year.

Chapter one: Provincial survival essentials
  1. High-speed internet connection.
  2. Netflix or other DVD-by-mail rental subscription (you don't seriously expect all the cool movies to be available at a local Blockbuster, do you?)
    Oh, and let me tell you about Blockbuster--the fact that they censor their movie selection has put them on my "not if you were the last rental on earth" list.
  3. A well-stocked library.
  4. A time-consuming hobby that requires travel (I was lucky to find autocross, which gets me out of town at least once a month and keeps me occupied during the rest of the month, be it trying to figure out my car or meeting other gearheads).
  5. A reserve of wine and/or other alcoholic beverages, for when all else fails.


My car is out to get me (or my money) Part 2

One symptom down, one to go. The squeak is fixed.

Asked for advice and for help on the MSCCNC forum, and one of the guys volunteered to show me how to take the accessory belts off the car, so I could test the theory that it was indeed a belt squeak (see Part 1 for details).

He showed me all the bolts that hold the two belts in place, then he took off the belt that drives the air conditioner and power steering, and then I put that belt back on. Of course it was not that belt. But the other one, driving the water pump and alternator. One of the pulley bolts was loose, and after it and the tensioner were re-tightened, the squeak was gone.

To get to the first belt, we had to disconnect the air temperature sensor on the intake, and of course, even though the car was not running, the computer noticed that and registered this as an error code. Oh well, big deal, I thought, but stopped by a tire/alignment shop on the way home, and turns out, another error code was there--the cylinder misfire.


My attending mechanic was not happy that I had the misfire code cleared the last time, so he had nothing to go on, now he's got the code, and hopefully it's nothing serious.


Ego emissions

I did love that "Low ego emissions" VW Passat ad when it first came out, and it rings true. I am by now proudly the smallest car on the road (as opposed to white-knuckles-terrified smallest car on the road I was in the first few months), as I valiantly steer my little Miata among the trucks, SUVs, and minivans that constitute the majority of traffic around where I live.

Just last evening on the way home something happened to me that I noticed quite frequently before. An SUV pulls up behind me on a 45-mph road. I'm going a bit over, with the rest of traffic. SUV passes me on the right and wedges itself into what I thought was a safe following distance from the car ahead of me.

Well, a'ight, wha'ever, I fall behind a few yards, but then another classic thing happens: the SUV slows down to 43, so now they are falling behind the car I was following, and force me to perform an unsafe pass on the right.

I guess it is not prestigious to be in a large vehicle behind an itty-bitty Miata.


Move on.

But this morning, a similar situation was brewing up. Red light. I'm the front car in the left lane, and a huge truck, something like Nissan Titan, pulls up to the line in the right lane next to me. Right lane becomes a turn-only lane just about 200 yards down the road.

Light changes, I accelerate, but then the truck accelerates harder, so it is clear it wants to cut me off and get in front of me. "I'll race you, fucker," I say and step on the gas. I'm still in third gear, at maybe 4500 RPMs, as the truck finally gives up and gets in the lane behind me, just before right lane ends.

I had to muster what little civility I had left not to give them any hand gestures, but man, did I enjoy watching the truck in my rear view mirror for the next ten minutes!

Don't know about death...

... but Wake county where I live, is making sure I get my share of taxes. Vehicle tax bill came last week. Now I got the property tax revaluation. Makes me "revaluate" my decision to become a homeowner.

My car is out to get me (or my money)

I think my car has decided to get a holiday present from me, whether I like it or not. First, she gave me a cylinder misfire code ten days ago. This was reset and did not happen again. Dodged the bullet, I thought, but no! Three days ago, she started squeaking--most likely from a belt, but could be a water pump or some other part failing, for all I know.

Last year, just before Xmas, she made me buy her a new ignition coil pack, a crankshaft position sensor, and induction service, something I'd equal to a week-long spa retreat in the human world.

Now, holidays approach, and here she is again, demanding attention. I guess the used stock alloys weren't good enough to please my lady.

I need to mention to her that I fully intend to change the belts myself so she hopefully gets scared enough and stops the squealing (ha ha).

Back from "sanity leave"

I totally lucked out this Thanksgiving.

After some crazy shit at work (don't ask) I needed some time down and did not want to go anywhere, but I had three invitations.

There was this
one that I promised to go to, but the hostess forgot to send me directions, so I thought "Hey! I told everyone else I was going there already, so I don't have to go ANYwhere!" and bravely stayed home.

On Friday, I slept in, then went to Durham at about two in the afternoon. First to Nasher museum, where they had some post-communist conceptual art on display and a smattering of works by Oldenburg, Rauschenberg, Rothko and Kline (actually, more like, one of each but Oldenburg, whose there were two).

Then I went to Scrap Exchange for some art supplies, found some cool textured paper that I think I can use to play around with white gouache and ink.

After that I had a long long long dinner at Pop's with braised duck breast, 2 glasses of wine and a scotch for after-dinner drink. I was pretty inebriated after that, so I had to walk 25 minutes to the club that had a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band playing, called the Funky Monks.

spent about two hours there, maybe three, then walked back to the car. At this point I was sober enough to drive, so I did, arriving home at about one a.m.

The other three days I just walked in the park and ate and read and listened to music--haven't had so much time for myself in ages, feels like.

Finished "A short history of tractors in Ukrainian," which reminded me too much of my crazy Russian-German-Ukrainian family. The book's got a happy ending though, something I dare not hope for.


At $5 a search, I think I'd rather keep my shoes on...

So I was booking a flight on Southwest, and they apparently are for full disclosure about fees and taxes and stuff that make my flight cost double what they say they'd have charged me. I casually glance over the table showing all the details, and words "September 11" catch my eye. Funny, I think, it is November now, and I am flying in December, what's September got to do with it?

Turns out, there is such a thing as a "September 11 Security Fee" which also Southwest says is government-imposed.

So not only do I get to enjoy taking my shoes off plus whatever TSA contractors consider "outerwear" (stripping down to my T-shirt sometimes), taking my laptop(s) out of the bags, complying with the ridiculous 100ml (3.5 oz) restriction on liquids and gels, and sometimes still being patted down and my bags searched--no!--I also get to pay for the pleasure.

You know, I'd rather keep my five bucks, thank you very much.


Maybe I'm too German...

...but I just expect a different level of construction quality, and I pay every time I assume that. Like this morning.

Being for energy conservaton and shit, I try to keep the water temperature in my boiler at about 40C (104F), but it seems I did not get the setting quite right, and the water was closer to 37C, which felt fine when it was hot out, but started feeling a mite too cold on November mornings.

So I decide this morning before taking the shower, I need to finally fix that, and so I fearlessly approach the boiler with a screwdriver.

My assumptions were that the unit would be properly installed, which in my book means proper electrical insulation and grounding. Let's ignore the ease of control access for now (which is not present).

Based on my assumptions, I figured that it would not be necessary to disconnect the unit at the main breaker. Oh how wrong I was.

Not lethally wrong though, and the fact that I am typing this entry proves that. But I have to tell you, I did not enjoy the experience of 120V zapping through my body all too much. I found myself on the floor about half a meter (1.5 ft) away from the boiler, but was mostly fine.

Lesson learned.


Joined THSCC tonight

Went to the monthly club meeting tonight, membership application form already printed out and signed :) The pizza joint where the meetings are held seems to be favoured by other groups too... When I first got there I assaulted some other people, who I did not recognize but thought could be Tarheels. They weren't, but they knew where to find them, and sent me to the back room, which by then was not very full, but filled rapidly within the next minutes.

Seems like many of the people at the meeting recognized me. Somebody told me that pictures from last weekend's autocross were posted on the forum, and there is one of me there, too. Finally! I will SO post it here when I get my hands on it :)

Too bad they did not have their cars (or at least pictures of their cars) in the meeting, because that's how I remembered them all :) I did recognize a few faces though, and even matched a couple with names. Dustin, the autocross VP was at my table, and Mark, the tire guy was there too, so all in all, I did not feel completely lost among total strangers.

The nice lady, owner of British racing green Mini, welcomed me quite warmly, and invited to join the LAD class. I am still contemplating... I have a whole season to run as a novice, in NOV class. Barring a miracle (me winning three times in a row) I will still be in NOV in a year.

What I'll do after I graduate out of NOV, I don't know. I have three options now: SCP (can't run Stock because of the aftermarket exhaust header); TIR (if I am cheap and keep buying street tires for autocross); and now LAD, which I have yet to warm up to. I mean, the ladies are nice and all, but if I want to be good, I want to be as good as anyone, not just "good for a girl." Not to say that's what LAD class is about, but I have not yet wrapped my mind around this notion.

Long story short, the Chair read the applicants' names, profiles, and reasons for joining out loud, and the members voted by Yeas and Nays. Tarheels have an interesting tradition that nobody ever gets accepted by a unanimous vote, so there is always at least one person voting Nay. I got a round of hearty applause for having listed a speeding ticket in my "Driving record" section, and was accepted with all Yeas and one Nay.


Participation is everything... particularly if you don't come in last

Went to my second autocross event on Sunday, and automotive deities have heard me again! I came in one before last in final results! Being a bloody beginner, not finishing last was my only goal, so I guess I achieved that :)

It was my first time changing my own tires for the event, and it seems to have worked out fine. Actually, it went amazingly well for someone who has never changed a tire before. One note to self: before bleeding competition tires to lower (storage) pressure, it is best to take them off the car, or the jack won't fit under the car anymore...

I have taken a few shots of my car in the pits, while I was changing the tires, and just before I went to walk the course. There were a few people there shooting stills and video, just need to find out where they will publish them.

Besides from being a lot of fun, and an excellent workout, the event also helped me gain confidence in my car. It is a different feeling to drive a car I care for myself (at least to some extent). In a few months, when Bonnie needs new brake pads, I hope I will be able to change them myself.


TSA plays it safe

Last week I was talking to a friend, and we got to talk about cars, a Porsche 911 he almost bought, and then I asked: "So do you say nine-one-one or nine-eleven when you talk about Porsche?"

He said, nine-eleven. And I said I didn't know what the right way was to say this, but that I could not hear nine-eleven anymore, because of all the "security" talk.

He laughed and told me this story.

Apparently, TSA has the same level of security checks for people entering their building as for people trying to board a plane at an airport. Whatever makes them happy, right?

So they check these guys, make them take their shoes off, take their laptops out of their bags, walk through metal detectors etc, etc. Then they give them their visitor badges and tell them that the people they came to see are actually in the other building, and -- get this -- to get there, they simply should exit the "secure" area, walk in the street to the other building and enter there without any further screening.

There are no visible video cameras or guards, not even a fence--they have to walk in the street, where they can potentially get any number of dangerous items from someone waiting outside, and carry them into the other building. Or they can give their badges to someone else, and there would be no-one to see.

A disclaimer: I did not verify the story, but knowing how government agencies of non-totalitarian states usually work, I do believe this to be true.

Aggressive friendliness

I don't know about you, but I shuddered when, looking for information on room service in the "Guest directory" at the Marriott Courtyard I was staying at in Arlington, the mission statement (one page long, no less--speaking of concise and actionable, hehe) told me that the staff saw it as their goal to "display aggressive friendliness" towards me, the guest. I tried to imagine how they would act on this.

Here's a little scenario.

Guest checks in, gets keys, heads to room.

Check-in clerk, with a smile and a baseball bat: "Have a good day! Or else!"

I dunno.

But too bad I did not think of taking that page with me.


I think I got me some autox wheels

Posted a wanted ad on MSCCNC forum and found some stock 14" the same day. Aluminum "daisies" with tires that should still have a few races in them, all for a hundred bucks!

Will try to pick them up when I'm back in town next week. Really, really itching to go to an event now.

[edit: Sat, Nov 10, 2007. Picked up wheels on Friday evening. Indeed, there *is* a way to fit four wheels in a Miata: One in the trunk, one behind the seats, with the top up, one behind the passenger seat, and one in the passenger seat. Here they are]

Pumkins are so passe

I clicked on the stylized Google logo on my iGoogle page a few minutes ago...and it came up with a "Halloween" search.
Here is what the image search has returned:
Intrigued, I clicked, and got here: http://www.fabrica.it/blog/2006/10/pumpkins_are_so_last_season.html

Happy Halloween, everyone!


Note to self : Avoid AAA cervice center at all cost

...and I do hope some AAA quality assurance person reads this.

AAA, which I am a member of, had a promotion--a 70-point (or something like that) free safety check at any of their car care centers in October. I thought it won't harm and I went to one close to work in Raleigh, NC. Used my lunch break for it. Got some takeout, brought the car in, and ate my food waiting.

I came in to pick it up, it's ready, and they have a report for me. Besides finding my b0rked wheel alignment and all tires A-Ok (that was before I noticed that tread wear and had the alignment fixed) they suggested to:
  • Flush coolant (which I just had changed together with the radiator less that 3000 miles ago, when my old radiator leaked);
  • Flush transmission fluid (also changed about 15,000 ago)
  • Change all belts (just changed them all 20 miles ago, should have another 40K in them)
  • Change brake rotors and pads (according to Harry the mechanic, my car's attending physician I should need new pads in about 7K, but rotors are fine)
  • and--get this--Throttle body and fuel injection system cleaning!
As supporting evidence for the latter they showed me a dark greasy smear on the work order and said, "Our mechanics just stick their finger in the throttle body and smear on the paper, and if it comes out dirty, you need a cleaning."

All this with a straight face. To an owner of a Miata without any symptoms of fuel delivery problems.

Findings: they overlooked existing problems with alignment and tread wear, but tried to sell me on unnecessary work.

Conclusion: avoid at all cost.


Welcome to the club

I got this '99 Miata, (a.k.a. MX-5) and she is my favourite pet. I've had Bonnie for just over a year and 20K miles now. She's my very first car, me being a Euro immigrant and all.

So from my last visit to Europe I brought back a 5-quart canister of some super-duper synthetic 5-40 motor oil I got there as a present. I could not wait to put it in my car. It says on the canister (in German) that the oil should be good for about 30K miles or 2 years, whatever comes first.

When it was time for the oil change, Harry, the mechanic of my unconditional trust says that he does not really care what the Germans have written on the package, and that I will gunk up my engine if I follow these instructions. So after much bickering, we agree that he will let me keep the oil in there for 7K mi, and we'll change the oil filter at 3,5K.

Time flies, and so here I was, getting my oil filter changed. My car's on the lift, and I see a nasty tread wear pattern on the inside of the right rear tire.

I had that tire blow out on me last October, and so I assume that the wheel must have gotten out of alignment then, and that the nice people at the Sears auto center I got towed to from Nowhere, VA must have forgotten to align this wheel, even though I asked them to.

So I ask Harry if he knows someone I can go to for alignment and stuff, and he recommends a place close to where I live, which I call that same afternoon and make an appointment.

I have to note here, that a bit before I had the tire blowout, I also smashed up two of the Helium alloy rims that came with the car, and was using some semi-light Konig Reasons while I saved up enough money to buy and replace the Heliums. About six weeks ago, I got two new Heliums, and so I wanted to get them installed now as well.

I got there, new rims in the box in the passenger seat, and went in. The owner was just wrapping up with an earlier customer, so I stood and looked around idly. On the literature rack, I notice a sticker of the Tarheels Sports Car Club--the one I went to autocross with.

So as soon as he turns to me, I ask him if he's in the club. Turns out he is! We start talking. He tells me he's not been to an autocross for a while now, because he is into track events now. Me as a novice, I'm just standing there in awe.

After a while, we also get to the car and what needs to be done on it. He says that to get all this done, I'd need to leave the car with him for a few hours. All would be well, but I am on a lunch break, 5 miles from the office, and my only means of transportation will be on the lift in a few minutes.

I am trying to figure out who to call at the office to pick me up, when he says that if I, a Miata freak, would not mind driving a Beemer, I could take his, just get back here by six. Wow. That was nice. Really nice.

When I got back, six on the dot, the car had four same-looking wheels which now also were properly aligned, for street with a nod to autocross. Can't wait to try out this setup now.

Accident on I-40 : Extreme rubbernecking

Alright, I am driving home from Charlotte, taking I-40 to Raleigh. Enjoying my little bonnie car and some music. Not too much music, as anyone who was in a sporty convertible going about 75 would attest. Love your Miata, love the road noise.

About an hour down the road, there is a sign warning that there was an accident in about 10 miles, with two right lanes closed. A couple of miles later, the traffic slows, then all but stops. The road has four lanes: two closed, two stuck. I'm in the "fast" rightmost lane. Ahead of me is a CR-V with a Christian fish magnet and "EVANGE" license plate. Two people in it, having an engaged conversation.

In a few minutes we're at the scene of the accident, crawling at 2 mph. People are trying to get out of the congestion fast. I know from experience they tend to overlook Miatas easily, so I concentrate on the road and don't pay much attention to the accident.

Seems to be bad though. Several rescue vehicles are on site, I thought I saw at least one rolled car, but could not tell for sure. My Christian friend changes into the *slower* right lane, which is closer to the scene as we pass it...

I shrug and drive on.

Two minutes later, the CR-V passes me on the right. Go figure. Mustn't have been so exciting an accident for the gawker after all.

Charlotte : More cluelessness

It is the morning of my biometrics appointment.

I set out to walk to the USCIS office. They don't let you bring in your cell phone, or any other equipment, so I think I'll just leave my travel bag with the hotel front desk, like I have done a bunch of times before.

The answer is, "Sorry, we don't do this after nine-eleven."

Okay, so I ask them to keep an eye on my Miata, which I park in front of their office in a spot sprinkled with broken car window glass--very reassuring--and head over to the fingerprinting place.

It's only down the block and to the right from the hotel, and I walk fast, but even in this short time I manage to attract more cluelessness.

A green sedan cruises up, the window rolls down, and a guy leans out.

"Hey sex, what's going on?" he then inquires.

I look at him, then look ahead, never slowing down.

"I was talking to you babe!" he demands.

"So what?" I blurt out and walk away.

Fingerprinting is then done fast and without incident, and I thought that would be the main event of the day.

So I get back to my car, find all my belongings still intact and drive off.

Days Inn : Charlotte : Cluelessness

I got a biometrics appointment at an "Application Support Center" in Charlotte. Nice speak for having my mugshot and fingerprints taken. I am applying for permanent residence.

So I drive down to Charlotte after work. It's past nine when I finally hit the Days Inn just down the street from the USCIS office. Check into my room, head out for dinner. Irish pub across the street is way too noisy after a 2,5 hour drive in a Miata, so I head back to the Mexican I first ignored. They share the parking lot with the hotel. And have about seven customers, which at this point is a plus.

I sit down at the bar, get a Margarita and some bar food, and this waiter starts to chat me up.

"Where are you from?"

Me, vaguely, "From the hotel."

"You work there?"


I stare at my mediocre quesadilla while he fails to take the clue.

"Do you work for the American Airlines?"

Surprised, "N-no..."

I finish my food fast, pay with my card and leave.

Get to the hotel room with a little buzz from the cocktail and happily fall asleep listening to my MP3s.

Then my room phone rings. It's 11:55. Yes, P.M.

"Hello, who is it?"

"Hi, it's your friend!"

I recognize the voice of the guy from the restaurant. Too sleepy to curse, I say good night and hang up. Try to go back to sleep, when I realize that he must have used my name from the credit card receipt to call me up at the hotel!

I call the front desk. Sure enough, he called there and used my first and last name to ask to be connected to my room. I tell them to please not put any more calls through to my room and fall asleep a few minutes later, wondering how this guy's mind must work.


Reading Paul Auster

Somehow Auster's books always set an ephemeral, almost unreal mood, making me feel like every thought, every motion is meaningful and even necessary in the great scheme of things.

Feeling like I need to be in Berlin, or New York, or London, on an unwelcoming winter night, feeling my cheeks and nose numb from the cold, sitting in a nearly empty bar with a few strangers, feeling the snow on my clothes turn to damp, then dry.

I have read a lot until I finished my degree. Now, with a few years' real-life experience, I feel like all these books, all that I thought I knew, is now irrelevant, because I am now a different person, who will need to re-acquire, reclaim the knowledge rendered useless by time.