Saturday, August 29, 2009

Day 325/365 - Freshly Shorn

For this week's self-portrait we have the nape of my neck not long after I'd gotten a haircut. I've been needing one for the past couple weeks, but I had other stuff I wanted to do on a Saturday afternoon so I kept putting off getting an appointment. My hair had gotten pretty wild and woolly in the meantime. When it gets that long it's like having a tumbleweed on your head. Now it's short enough on the sides and back that it will lay flat and the only curly part is on top. It's much easier to deal with when it's this short.

I'm the only person in my immediate family with curly hair. Everyone else's locks are straight as an arrow. I'm not the milkman's kid, though. My maternal grandfather and both uncles on my mom's side had/have curly hair. I used to try and fight it and brush it out straight, but the best I could ever do was get it to be bushy and wavy. Eventually I just gave up and let it be curly.

I started life out as a blond before I wised up and my hair started turning brown :P It's been getting steadily darker ever since about the second grade and now it's damn near black. I never tried dying my hair any funky colors, although I did toy around with the notion of putting a white streak down the side when I was in high school. Then one of my sisters pointed out that if I did I'd look like a skunk, so that put the kibosh on that idea.

For most of the time that I was in the Navy I kept my hair cut in a "high and tight," which means it was shaved on the side and back and there was a patch about the size of a paperback book that was short enough to lay flat on top. That was the easiest haircut in the world to deal with. Didn't even have to comb it. I could just run my hand over the top and I was good to go. After I got out of the Navy, I let my hair grow out and didn't get the back of it cut for over a year just because I could.

Generally I hate having to mess with my hair and from time to time I've mulled over the idea of shaving it off. Problem is, I had it shaved off when I entered boot camp and it turns out that when it is bereft of cover, my head is not very aesthetically pleasing. It sorta bulges out over my ears and there's a dip in the top of it. Basically, it looks like a big fat kidney bean laying on its back. Not the best look in the world.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Day 324/365 - Jack of Many Trades

A complaint from JW on her Twitter feed about grocery baggers last week gave me the idea of doing a shot that would provide me with an excuse to ramble on about all the jobs I've ever held in my life. And so here it is...

1. Grocery bagger at Safeway - My first job ever and I hated it. Does anyone enjoy their first job? They called us "courtesy clerks" and in addition to bagging groceries, we had to wrangle grocery carts, run price checks, and redeem aluminum cans brought in by recyclers. I worked there for about six months and then quit.

2. Game attendant at an amusement park - This job was fairly cool. When you weren't working you got free admission to the park. It was a seasonal, summertime job and I worked there four years, partly during high school and partly during undergrad. The first year I worked a section of skill games that involved things like shooting baskets or throwing softballs at milkbottles to try and win prizes. The next three years I worked a remote control boat stand. That was great. I worked on my own without much in the way of supervision and I mostly just made change for people. When things were slow I would just turn one of the machines on and drive a boat around the little lagoon.

3. Busboy at a semi-fancy restaurant - Well, fancy for suburban Missouri anyhow. Hated this job too. I had it one winter in high school in between gigs at the amusement park. Cleaning up after people at a restaurant sucks. Even worse was having to occasionally act as 'muffin boy' and walk through the dining rooms with a muffin pan asking diners "would you care for a muffin?" Man I hated that part. On the plus side, I learned how to walk on a slippery/greasy restaurant kitchen floor, a skill that has proven useful on icy winter days.

4. Temp worker for an employment agency - I did this for a few months after graduating college before my Navy enlistment kicked in. I worked in an ice plant, an archery company, and a plastics factory. My mom was actually temping at the plastics factory at the same time, but we worked different shifts.

5. Operations Specialist, U.S. Navy - Had this hitch for four years. I operated radar, communications, and data network equipment, did some navigation, and spent a whole lot of time cleaning and painting (which is why I now refuse to help friends paint when they move to a new place. I'll help with anything but that.). Being in the Navy was okay. I mostly enjoyed it the first three years, but by the fourth year I was more than ready to go. On the plus side, I got to go through the Panama Canal, cross the equator, and make more than a few trips to the Caribbean.

6. Receiving clerk at a Dollar Store - I did this for about nine months after I got out of the Navy while I was building up my Virginia residency so I could get in-state tuition for law school. I unloaded trucks, tracked shipments, and stocked shelves. It wasn't a bad gig. My bosses were pretty cool. They even taught me how to rebuild the alternator on my Jeep during lunch one day.

7. Temp worker for an employment agency, part deux - The summer before entering law school I quit the Dollar Store and headed home to spend some time with my family after not seeing them much the previous few years. This time I just helped set up a Harry and David store at an outlet mall and then stayed on for a bit as a stock boy.

8. Research assistant for a law school professor - Did this the summer of my 1L year. It wasn't a bad gig. Mostly I just did a lot of cite-checking and footnoting for an article a friend of the professor's wrote on ceasefire agreements. Spent a ton of time in the library, but I got to set my own hours.

9. Judicial clerk for a state circuit court judge - During my second and third years at law school, I clerked part-time for a local judge. He was a great guy and I learned a lot. One of the opinions I drafted for him wound up being the single-most read state court opinion that year, so that was pretty exciting (it was about whether an accident report prepared after a hand dryer fell off the wall in a Ponderosa bathroom and landed on a woman's foot could be withheld under the work product privilege. Or was it a paper towel dispenser? I can't remember.).

10. Summer associate at Alcoa - I worked for Alcoa's Office of General Counsel in Pittsburgh during my 2L summer. One time I got to fly to upstate NY and back on the corporate jet to go to a meeting about a deal to sell excess electricity generated by an aluminum factory power plant. The fridge on the plane was stocked with beer and I had one on the flight back. It was an all right job, even though the bastards didn't offer me a permanent gig after graduation. That's why I now take especial delight whenever I hear some bad news about Alcoa earnings and why I was thrilled that former Alcoa CEO Paul O'Neil crashed and burned as Treasury Secretary. Not that I hold grudges or anything.

11. Attorney for a government agency - My current gig. It's not bad. Mostly I practice grants law, but I also do a bit of work with government contracting programs, personal and real property, and employee travel. I also did appropriations law for a few years but thankfully I don't do that anymore. Having to answer the same question about whether federal funds can be used to buy food over and over and over again gets really old. (And no, 99 times out of a 100 they can't, in case you were curious. But that doesn't stop people from trying to scam a free meal.)

So there you have my list of employment, some more gainful than others. Hmm, I didn't realize I've only held eleven jobs in my life. I also babysat a couple of my cousins one year when I was in high school, but that doesn't really count.

(Taken with my Nikon D90)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day 323/365 - Handcrafted Flesh

Tonight was another "Phillips After Five" session at the Phillips Collection. This time the bill of fare included a dj playing chilled out and funky international lounge music, Peroni beer, pitas, hummus, crackers, cheese, sundry dips, crudités, and a screening of the 1935 classic film, "The Bride of Frankenstein." I was curious as to why they'd selected that particular film to show, but the curator lady who introduced it did a good job of tying it to the museum's current exhibit Paint Made Flesh.

Basically, the common thread between the artists featured in the exhibit and Dr. Frankenstein is that both fashioned a semblance of life from base materials -- oil paints in one case and bits of cadavers in the other. I'd forgotten how good "The Bride of Frankenstein" is. It's one of those rare instances where the sequel is better than the original.

After the credits rolled, I stopped by Kramerbooks and Afterwords for a bowl of mac & cheese and a Toasted Almond (Baileys, Amaretto, and coffee). Yum on both counts. I also picked up a couple of new pirate books. Too bad I couldn't study pirateology in undergrad.

(Taken with my iPhone)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day 322/365 - Kilroy Was Here

For this week's self-portrait we have me sitting in my office behind the sixty-two grant files currently piled on my desk awaiting legal review. To be honest, I had to hunker down a little to get the "Kilroy" effect. When I sat up straight my chin rested on the stack. Hmm, it's looking like I should've put my camera in the 'backlighting' mode.

This is my busiest time of year at work. The government's fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. The bulk of the money Congress appropriates to each agency (it's sort of like our allowance) is categorized as one-year money. That means you only have until the end of the fiscal year to spend it or it all goes back into the Treasury. Congress can also appropriate multi-year money, which is good for a fixed period of years, and no-year money, which is good forever. Everybody wants no-year money. It's the holy grail of appropriated funds. The only no-year money my agency gets is for our loan programs.

Because the bulk of our money expires at the end of the fiscal year, there is always a mad rush in August and September to hurry up and spend it before we lose it. Each file stacked in front of me in the photo above represents one earmark grant and each is funded with one-year money. These are special grants mandated by Congress that are added to our appropriations bill every year. They are the "pork" projects you hear people complaining about. They funnel federal funds to various congressperson's districts for a host of projects, some of which have some relationship to my agency's mission and some of which have nothing to do with nothing.

In the past, we have been directed to provide grants for such diverse projects as an aquarium on Long Island, a museum of jazz in New York City, a fiber optic cabling project in the Pacific Northwest, a storefront and on-line catalog featuring products made by local craftspeople in West Virginia, and an effort to promote sites related to the feud between Hatfields and McCoys to potential tourists. When I first started practicing grants law, my agency would only get 30-40 earmark grants a year, but the number has steadily increased. This year we received over 240 grants totalling in excess of $80 million.

We hate these things. They're a pain in the ass and Congress doesn't give us any extra money to administer them, so we just keep getting stretched thinner and thinner. There was a moratorium on them in 2007 and we were soooooo happy. Most of the organizations that receive these earmarks have no idea what they are doing when it comes to the federal grant process, so getting them to the point where they are legally sufficient can be pretty labor intensive. In addition to the ones currently piled up on my desk, there are still about 130 more that I'm going to have to clear by September 30th that haven't made their way over to my office yet. This is why I can never take vacation in August or September. I'm the only grants law attorney we've got. Oh well, it keeps me employed anyhow.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Day 321/365 - Inglourious Basterds

Went to the movies to see the new Quentin Tarantino flick "Inglourious Basterds" with my buddy Chris tonight. We were originally going to go yesterday, but he had a domestic scheduling conflict so we had to push it back a day. We like going to the movies on Mondays because it tends to be less crowded.

I had done all I could to avoid seeing/hearing/reading anything about the movie. Whenever the commercial came on tv I'd change the channel or close my eyes and put my fingers in my ears. I really hate most movie trailers/commercials they release now because they tend to blow the entire plot point by point and spoil any sort of surprise. Most times after you see the preview you don't need to see the movie, because you already know what happens. I don't know who is in charge of assembling most movie trailers, but they suck.

Okay, rant over. So I avoided knowing much about this movie. Chris didn't and he already knew how it ended. Despite coming at the film from two different perspectives, we both liked it. It wasn't what I was expecting. It's not a new Dirty Dozen. It's a love letter to the movies twined about a revenge fantasy. I guess I could best describe it as a mix of the "Dirty Dozen," "Cinema Paradiso," and "I Spit on Your Grave." Also unexpected, Brad Pitt wasn't really the star. Both the guy playing the SS colonel and the woman playing the refugee theater owner had larger parts and took up a bigger share of the storyline.

It's a long movie, 2.5 hours, but it moves well. I think the fact that it is broken up into several acts and subplots makes it seem like several smaller movies than one long one. That's pretty much standard Tarantino, though. I think this is probably his best work since "Pulp Fiction." His signature touches are there -- it's brutal, bloody, bizarre and funny with dueling dialogue and quirky and absorbing characters. He seems to have gotten quite a bit better at cinematography. A lot of the shots are sumptious and lush.

It's certainly a movie worth seeing and I'm anxious to find out what the DVD version will be like. The extras should be good. My friend Chris pointed out that there were likely a lot more character-establishing scenes that were cut to pare the movie down to its current running length. But don't wait until the DVD comes out. Go and see it now and then you can compare it later.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day 320/365 - The Big Catch

This is "The Big Catch" sandwich and fries combo at Nationals Park. It's a footlong, overstuffed crab salad sandwich and a whole heap of fries for $18. Basically, it's a two-foot length of food. This was only the third one of these I've had. It's something you don't get unless you're exceptionally hungry, and given that I worked through lunch so I could leave the office early enough to catch the Nats 4:35 p.m. game against the Brewers, today qualified on that score. I was still stuffed afterward though.

Considering that the carrying case it comes in is two feet long, it's not really the sort of thing you can take back to your seat with you. Well, not unless the person siting next to you doesn't mind lending you his/her lap. That's why I ate mine sitting at one of the picnic tables near the left field foul pole on the 300 level. It was so nice sitting there in the sun with the breeze blowing that I stayed there for the whole first half of the game.

Hmm, now that I think about it the Nats didn't start losing until I left the picnic table and went and reclaimed my seat from the squatter that had parked his butt in it. Maybe it's my fault they got whupped 7-1. Nah, that was solely attributable to crappy pitching and the inability to hit with runners on base.

Oh well, at least the weather was beautiful... even if the baseball was ugly.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Twice on Sunday Bonus Photo - Rainbow Staircase

For this week's extra shot from my archives, we have this photo I took of the illuminated staircase at the Signature Theatre in the Shirlington section of Arlington, Virginia. The stairs change colors and display the entire spectrum.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Day 319/365 - All the Fun of the Fair

Or almost all the fun anyhow. Arlington is a decidely more urban than rural type of county, and that shows in its county fair. There are no livestock competitions, no greased pig wrestling contests, and no sheep rodeos for kids. However, the Arlington County Fair does have funnel cakes, corn dogs, midway games, rides, and arts and crafts, cooking, and gardening competitions. In short, it has fun.

As you may have deduced by now, I went to the Arlington County Fair today. It had been years since I'd been to a county fair (and I've still never been to a state fair yet) so I was looking forward to this. I started out my Fair experience today with a footlong corn dog and a chocolate dipped frozen banana, before moving on to the ferris wheel, a strawberry funnel cake, and the giant slide. And, of course, I took lots of photos. I'd thought about going to the Montgomery County Fair which was also going on this week and which does have livestock competitions, but it would have been a mass transit ordeal to get there, so I decided to stay closer to home instead.

I had a blast!

(Taken with my Nikon D90)