WORST QUESTION: "Would you like to buy a headphone set?" This flight attendant tried to sell me $7 worth of headphones for a 90 minute flight. "What's showing?" the guy in front of me asked. "Oh, Entertainment Tonight-type features, music videos, that sort of thing," she said. Girl, I don't watch Entertainment Tonight at home when it's on for free. The day I pay actual money to listen to TV hosts talk is the day I want somebody to kill me for potentially poisoning the gene pool. I glanced up a couple times from my book (purchased for $6.50, incidentally) at the TV monitors and those lucky, lucky headphone-wearers were watching some weirdass Claymation thing featuring reindeer who seemed to be going on a hike somewhere, complete with bedrolls. See, I don't even want to know what was going on there, let alone pay for the privilege.

BIGGEST SCREWING: Airport parking. Are you ready for this one? Are you ready for this? Forty dollars. FORTY dollars. To park. To sit my car's ass down four miles from the airport. While my apartment is seven miles away. Yes, we shall be taking a taxi next time. BEST BABY: All of 'em. I had two babies at my disposal this week and one toddler. Brooke, my sister's best friend's baby, showed off her drooling and crawling skills; my baby cousin Tyler continues to be very adorable, and he let me dance with him; and two-and-a-half year old Kaitlyn.... well, here's what Kaitlyn did: BEST SAVE: My cousin Melissa. We were at my family's party last night and I--awful as it was, much as I tried to avoid it-- could not suppress tears at the dinner table. (I'm sad about something, but to tell you the whole sordid tale would put you into about $940,000 worth of therapy, so let us just say: I'm sad about something.) I was quick and quiet about wiping them away, but my cousin Missy, just married, saw. "What's wrong?" she whispered. "Talk to me." We've never been tremendously close, Missy and I, as we were too much alike as youngsters, but she and I have been bonding more and more since adulthood. Now the very thing that had us knocking heads as children-- double artistic temperaments-- is drawing us closer and closer, and I caught the bouquet at her wedding. So I spilled a PG-rated version of My Life Thus Far. "Try to think of Taufling," she said. "I can't imagine my life without Kaitlyn and Tyler. They're the world to me. Your niece or nephew will look at you like you're the best person ever. There's no feeling like it." Which of course almost made me cry harder, but hey: It's Christmas! What's Christmas without a minor emotional breakdown? Right about then Kaitlyn came scampering up to her Aunt Melissa, who whispered, "Beth is feeling sad, can you give her a hug?" Kaitlyn held her arms out, and damn if a two-and-a-half year old could fix what the double-shot of Butterkist couldn't. BEST FAMILIAL BURN: Tie for: -My sister's brother-in-law, who, upon seeing his sister in a truly fashion-risky, semi-fringe-on-one-shoulder shirt, said: "You look like a second lieutenant in the Swiss Army." -My very tall brother-in-law Britton: At my family's party we played that game where everybody opens a gift and you try to "steal" somebody else's. Our cousin Mike is expecting a baby around the same time Taufling will be coming into the world. Mike took my sister's copy of Seabiscuit (fear not, she stole it back) and Britton said, "You just go ahead. My kid will beat up your kid someday." BEST GIFT: At said gift exchange, I nabbed a baby toy from my uncle for Taufling. No one dared take it from me, lest they incur the wrath of Aunt Beth. It was way better than what I originally opened anyway, which was, of course, a snowbrush. Always highly useful in Florida. WORST DEFENSE: Cincinnati Bengals. You sucked today. You SUCKED. WAY TO SUCK WHEN IT MOST MATTERED.

December 29, 2003

Gary "No, Seriously, I'm Still A Jockey" Stevens does this to me all the time. He'll make spooky-spooky comments about setting off for the White Pants Only Retirement Home For Jockeys, vanish from the entry cards for a few weeks, then spring right back into the saddle just as I'm dumping his career into Rubbermaid to save it in the fridge.

He'll be riding a colt named That's An Outrage on December 20th in the Hollywood Futurity, then Buddy Gil in the Malibu Stakes on the day after Christmas. (What's an outrage? Foals are usually named with a nod to their parents. His mommy's name is Cable News, which, granted, is a constant outrage, but seriously, my shoulders are just in the air on this one, because how do you pick just one cable news outrage? Is the owner referring to CNN as a whole, or just the dinner hour? Why all the ambiguity? Why not just name the damn thing "Fox and Friends Is An Insult to the Intelligence of My Coffee Table" and be done with it? I need to hire myself out as a professional thoroughbred namer.) The webmaster at the racing site I write for has been biting her fingernails over Gary's "maaaaaaaaaybe I'm retiring, maaaaaaaaaybe not," but I took these most recent rustlings with approximately 47,000 grains of salt. Here's a guy who, by job description, must cast decisions based upon the reality of the nanosecond and the flying hooves of the moment. And Gary Stevens is the type of person who is a jockey not only by trade, but by blood cells. It would be like me crying off writing just because I have no discernible writing career at the moment. Won't happen. Can't. (pause for crying jag in bathroom of large, decidedly unliterary engineering firm, returns to keyboard)

December 12, 2003

The orbiter Atlantis rolled over this week. I'm sadly without security clearance at the Kennedy Space Center these days, but an extremely awesome person was present to bless the event-- my former co-worker, Nick the NASA Poobah. Nick is the type of person you want leaning against your filing cabinet in the event furious, grenade-bearing person bursts into the office screeching that the nearest vending machine is charging $87.50 for bottled water. (Where the subcontractor I used to work for is concerned, this is not at all an out-of-hand possibility.) Nick won't throw a woman in front of him or flinch in the slightest; he is going to fashion a deadly weapon out of a stapler and a yellow highlighter, take the bastard down, then very calmly get on the next bus to the launchpads. He will also, on his way out the door, take exactly enough time to assess the situation in action-figure fashion: "They're called drinking fountains, Jack," he'd say, and depart. You get the feeling that he went to bed sometime in 1962, woke up in the middle of the Clinton administration, and has been trying to figure out at exactly what point the world went to hell ever since. TRUE NICK STORY: He and I were briefing an auditorium full of people about an upcoming shuttle launch. A question and answer session went on and on, and finally one guy stood up and said, "You've been answering questions about technology, history, physics, and politics. How do you know all this stuff?"

I knew enough to let Nick handle this one, so I kept my mouth shut while he waited out an exquisitely timed pause. Then: "I make it all up." My Nick stood to feel the most personal hurt after we lost Columbia, and yet had the wherewithal to not only remain composed in front of the roomful of guests for whom he was narrating the landing, he huddled with everyone who was working that day, pulled the crew together, and issued exactly the right instructions. And yet he feels loss and joy, redemption and hope as deeply as the rest of us: At Columbia's memorial service on the landing strip where she was to touch down that day, it was his jacket that was draped around my shoulders just as I began to fall apart. When I am Empress of the World, Nick will be in charge of PR for the entire Kennedy Space Center, and never again will the gift shop sell astronaut oven mitts made in China.

So you see why it is only fitting and good that Nick presided over the transport of Atlantis from her processing facility to the VAB. "Slightly bittersweet, as you might expect," he emailed me, "but not without grandeur and majesty. Perhaps, in horse breeding parlance, she is 'by Columbia, out of Discovery'. In any event, she is every bit the thoroughbred."

As is my Nick.

December 11, 2003

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Mary Beth is an introvert.

She is eager to communicate but prefers doing so via email, a giant stage, or intense conversation about Important Things.

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