Case of the Chocolate Brownies

I have never been one of those stereotypical girls who craves chocolate — in fact, the way chocolate is culturally fetishized and turned into some sort of shorthand for feminine sexual desire has always made me eye-rollingly weary. As far as desserts go, I almost always prefer fruit-, vanilla-, or caramel-type flavors. This is why it always surprises me when I find myself perusing the aisle of brownie mixes at the grocery store, as I did earlier this evening.

Normally this case would be on the agency’s back burner, as there are almost always more pressing mysteries — For example, The Case of the Missing Sock, The Case of the Whiny Dog, and The Case of the As-Yet-Unwritten Conference Paper are all currently under investigation.  The Case of the Chocolate Brownies would usually go unsolved, but today it wound up reaching an unhoped-for resolution:

When I found myself in the baking aisle, I was still groggy and tear stained after a rather pointless afternoon of grumpy napping and sulking.  It was one of those afternoons when I came home a little early and, for no apparent reason, decided to turn out all the lights and take a nap.  And then, in the middle of my relatively sleepless nap, I happened to remember something sad and, for no apparent reason, instead of acknowledging the sad thing and moving on, I decided to more fully remember the sad thing, reliving that whole black stupid day and wallowing in it on purpose.  Why? FOR NO APPARENT REASON.

Except that in retrospect, the reason for today’s bad behavior seems glaringly apparent. When was the last time I felt like this? Last month? And then before that in December? It does not take a rocket scientist or even a lady doctor to figure this one out, does it?

And now, with this case happily resolved, I must go listen to my boyfriend Barack Obama on TV while I whip up those goddamned brownies.

Case Status: Closed. Also chocolatey.

IMPORTANT BROWNIE UPDATE: These brownies are fucking delicious.

Case of the Secret Sweaty Balls

In college, one of my favorite professors once commended me on having a “strong, masculine prose style.”  Go ahead, take a moment to unfasten all of the weird cultural assumptions underpinning that statement — I’ll wait.

Now, whether or not you have an English Grammar professor on hand to evaluate the relative femininity or masculinity of your prose, you can still find out if you write like a girl:

Yes, thank dog, the internet has everything! Here are the results of their analysis of this very blog:

Judges’ scores are in. Clearly I do have a strong masculine prose style! So strong, in fact, that they are 95% certain I am a dude.  That is even more sure than they were the first time I tried their site, back when Blandwagon posted about it a few days ago.  Then they were only 87% sure they knew how it was hanging.

I’m just dying to know what it is that makes them so confident that I am secretly in possession of a big, hairy nut sac.  Is it the active verbs? The cussing? My love of pants? My love of whiskey?  “We have strong indicators,” they claim, but what are those indicators?  They will not say.  Maybe they have just been talking to my old grammar prof.

Case Status: Manly

Case of the Parallel Universe Career

In response to my plea for topics to write about, my friend Golightly comes through with this question: What is the job you would want if you did not do anything literary and why?

“EASY,” I thought to myself, after not really reading her question adequately, “novelist, of course.”  But then I looked at the question again and realized I am not allowed to choose anything literary. That is very tricky of you, Golightly!

At the moment I’m not sure I can pick just one non-literary job, so I’m going to back it up for just a minute and give you the list of what I call “parallel universe jobs” — the jobs other Vagues have in universes parallel, but not identical, to this one.  Some of these are literary, but most aren’t. Please note that this list includes my parallel-universe-job ideas reaching back to around high school, so take them with a grain of something.

Baker / Pastry Chef

Novelist

Poet

Rock Critic

U.N. Translator

Private Detective

Spy

Greeting Card Designer

“Artist” of Undifferentiated Type

Photographer

“Head” of a Hip Magazine (I was never exactly sure what this entailed and still might not be)

Saxophonist

But which of these would I choose today?  Let’s see…I’ll have to scratch off Novelist, Poet, and “Head” of Hip Magazine because they violate the non-literary requirement. I suppose Rock Critic is also at least semi-literary, and we all also already know that I can’t actually write about music for shit, so that goes too.

“Artist” of Undifferentiated Type has to be eliminated, since that’s obviously more of a concept than a job. U.N. Translator is unrealistic — I didn’t realize way back in high school how difficult translation/interpretation is in general, let alone on-the-fly speaking translation. No way.

Spy is a no-go (or at least that’s what I’d have to tell you guys, right?), because I have a deep suspicion that the actual spy business is not what shows like Alias and Chuck would have us believe, what with the sexy disguises and handler-on-asset action.  Heh.  HANDLER on ASSET.  Get it? Ahem.

So that leaves: Baker / Pastry Chef, Greeting Card Designer, Photographer, and Private Detective.  All four of these are things I already do, to some extent, at home.  I take pictures, as you may have seen on flickr.  I make a mean greeting card and an even meaner batch of yuzu-ginger wafer cookies. But what do I do most often? INVESTIGATE, bitches, that’s what!

I am always investigating shit!  Where are my keys? Investigate. What is the source of that unpleasant smell? Investigate. Could this paper be plagiarized? Investigate.  There is a neighborhood commotion? Investigate. (Well, fine, in that case I did more lurking and peeking than actual investigating, but I think you see what I am saying here.)

Thus, your answer: Private Detective

Case Status: Closed

Now I have a question for you: What jobs would you have in any parallel universes?  Inquiring minds must know.

Case of the Saturday-Night Violence

I was on the phone earlier tonight with my associate Clarabella when I made the half-wry, half-childish exclamation, “Damnit all, I am just trying to have a Saturday night, here!”

To understand what led to this you’ll need to know that I spent most of the day in my office grading papers working old case files, and that immediately before this outburst I had discovered — by accidental touching — a hidden pile of turds left behind in my office closet by one obnoxious, stealth-pooping cat.  That’s not all, though, oh no. Get this:

I had walked to school to work and then walked back, trying to get a little exercise and possibly enjoy the now cool, Fall-like weather. (70 degrees. “Fall-like,” my ass. But I digress.)  I’d stayed in the office a bit longer than planned and wound up walking home in the dark. I live only a few blocks from campus and downtown, in an area where small houses, condos, and apartments are filled by a typical mix of residents: students, singletons, seniors, young families.  This is a town where the sidewalks are generally filled with joggers, football fans, and dog walkers. As boring and middle-American as it is, I still managed to feel creeped out on the dark streets of my neighborhood.

In the daytime, it’s all very boring and usual, but at night it seems more sinister.  Very few streetlights break up the gloom, and the sidewalks are treacherously overtaken by kudzu vines and broken glass.  The vacant house on the corner of my block used to annoy me so much when it was occupied by several frat boys and their loud, untrained pit bulls (five of them!),  but now it just sits empty behind overgrown shrubs and vines.

I minded my business and kept my eyes open and felt very silly indeed for my wariness on the walk home.  A couple of hours after I’d gotten back, though, the quiet neighborhood erupted in a huge chaotic mess.  I heard what seemed like a minor kerfluffle in the parking lot out front (just 30 or so feet from my door) and looked out the window to see a couple of guys jump the small fence and run away across the street.  Moments later, I was disturbed again, this time by the lights of a police cruiser pulling into my lot.  As I looked out the window, three more cruisers pulled up. Before long, they had a couple of young guys up against the cars being frisked while chaotic shouts rained down from the balcony above me.

“You better take care of them before I do,” someone yelled. “WORD IS BOND.”

I’ll spare you the long recount of what I saw as I peeked sneakily out between my front window blinds and instead tell you what I found out later: one of the neighbors upstairs had been in his car headed to work when about 6 guys came up to him and told him to get out.  When he didn’t, they shot up his car and ran away.  No one was hurt, but when my neighbor (the victim) told me about it, he was clearly still in shock.  He was waiting to talk to the police, perched on the stairs outside my front door.

“Are you OK,” I asked him, and he just kind of looked at me, wide eyed, and shook his head slightly.

“I’m just shocked,” he said.

While we were talking, the police were busy taping off the area with yellow caution tape.  Later the crime scene unit (consisting of one dowdy, middle aged, very un-Gil-Grissom-like man) showed up with a small digital camera to snap some pictures.  At some point I saw one cruiser leave with a man in the backseat, but I have no idea if he was one of the “perps” or not.

Clarabella and I, who both get our legal and police procedural information mainly from Law & Order, speculated that the police might want to “canvass the neighborhood” for witnesses, and might knock on my door to ask if I’d seen anything, but they didn’t.  Even if they had, I couldn’t have helped in any way.  In the dark, I’d only seen silhouettes jumping the parking lot fence — there’s no way I could identify anyone.

From what I gathered, though, it was a random, opportunistic occurrence.  My neighbor didn’t seem to know them, and I doubt they’ll be back.  Nonetheless, it was extremely disturbing.  By the time I figured out what was going on, there were already four police cruisers in the parking lot and everything felt safe enough — though still chaotic and uneasy.

Needless to say, I’m a bit shaken up, but mostly just glad nobody got hurt.  My assistant Jameson and I are on the case.  We’ll be tuning in to the local news tomorrow to see what additional facts we can ascertain, but for tonight, Jameson and I are keeping close to home, away from windows, and are making full use of our supplies of club soda, lemons, and ice.

Case Status: Pending

Case of the Scintillating Acid Flashback

Saturday morning, while puttering around the internet, I thought I was suddenly either going blind or experiencing my first real acid flashback.  What was in store for me? Either tragedy and woe or mind-bending hallucinations and fun, but who could say?

I felt like I had stared at a bright light for too long and was being afflicted by those spots you sometimes see afterward, like, say, when a camera flash causes momentary bright spots in your vision.  The only problem was that I hadn’t been looking at any bright lights.  Nonetheless, there was a bright spot directly in front of everything I looked at, and no matter how I blinked or rubbed my eyes it wouldn’t go away.  It stopped me from being able to read, watch TV, or even properly look at anything at all, so I resigned myself to lying down on the couch with a blanket over my face for a while to see what happened.

As I lay there with my eyes closed, I could get a better look at the spot that was afflicting me as it sat there against the black backdrop of the insides of my eyelids.  Upon closer inspection, it turned out not to be just a spot, after all.  It was boomerang shaped and made up of a thousand tiny diamond facets, each one twinkling in a different color.  The two facets at the central point of the boomerang were fluttering like tiny diamond wings and changing color.  What the fuck was going on?

At this point, part of my mind was sort of academically interested but emotionally disengaged, all “Oh, how fascinating; I wonder what this portends,” but the other, much bigger, part was screaming “No, seriously, WHAT the FUCK?”

I was a little worried about the state of my rods and cones, to say the least, and thoughts of strange brain malfunctions began to creep in as well.  Was it a tumor? Nerve damage? Was I finally answering the Cylon song that only I (or only my eyes) could hear?

I waited and waited, keeping my eyes tightly closed for at least an hour, watching the sparkling boomerang, and trying to find some corner of my mind in which the experience of an unplanned-for hallucination would be at least somewhat amusing.  Finally, I noticed the sparking, kaleidoscopic boomerang shape slowly drifting toward the right side of my vision, and, after another ten or so minutes, it finally disappeared beyond the bounds of what I could see.  I spent a while nervously working up the courage to open my eyes again, and when I did, I could see just fine.  (I decided, nonetheless, that I’d better rest my eyes some more, so I then took a nap for the remainder of the afternoon.)

Now, Reader, if you are familiar with these symptoms, you may have already solved the Case of the Scintillating Acid Flashback, but I still had not.  That night at the movies (Burn After Reading, which I almost skipped due to the eye issues, but which I am glad I did see and which we all loved), I told my strange story to all of my friends, and one of them eventually had a possible answer for me — her ophthalmologist had recently described these symptoms to her and had called it an “ocular migraine”: a migraine without any headache pain.  Well, huh.

I came home and looked it up and was shocked to find this article on scintillating scotoma, with a picture of almost exactly what I had seen earlier that day (mine was prettier, though).  I think I might have actually screamed out loud a little when I saw the illustration.  That was it!  That was exactly what I had experienced, and the knowledge that this was associated with a migraine helped to explain the mild headache and nausea I’d felt for the rest of the day (but had basically disregarded at the time, as I feel that way a lot).  Migraines!

Well, as you can imagine, I spent a while reading up on migraines themselves, too — not just the “ocular” kind — and it eventually occurred to me that what I had thought of as just “my usual headaches” were probably migraines, but without the aura: pain on one side of my head that is intense and pulsating and gets worse with movement or activity and lasts for several hours or up to 2-3 days.  Yes indeed, that describes my headaches!  At times I had thought the headaches were brought on by too much indulgence in alcohol or cigarettes, but how could I explain having them when I hadn’t indulged at all?  “Why do I feel hungover if I haven’t been drinking,” I would ask myself.  Suddenly, shit was beginning to become clear.  I have probably been having migraines for YEARS now.  Like TEN years. WHAT THE FUCK.

(The weirdest thing, though, is why I have been, up to now, having the headaches without the aura (the visual/perceptual symptoms preceding it), and why I’ve now had the aura with only mild headache pain to follow? This remains unclear!)

As you’ll predict, I also learned a bit about possible migraine triggers, and in addition to such triggers as being a Lady and experiencing the Special Ladies’ Time for Ladies, triggers may include: alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, chocolate, and cheese.  So, basically my entire way of life is a long series of migraine triggers.  That news did not please me, but, realistically, I think that I can just try to moderate the things on that list that I already know are triggers (cigarettes, red wine, maaaaaaybe coffee?) and go from there. (Yes, I do plan to ask my doctor for advice, too, just haven’t yet.)

At any rate, it doesn’t seem like I am going blind or having an acid flashback, to which I say “YAY” and “BOO,” respectively.  I mean, when are all those years of hallucinogenic drug experimentation finally going to start paying some fucking dividends, I ASK YOU?

Nonetheless, I am quite pleased to have this (possible/probable) explanation for what I experienced on Saturday.  What a lucky coincidence that my friend had just learned about these ocular migraines from her doctor, or I might not have figured it out at all.  The knowledge of what was (possibly/probably) going on in my brain made it a lot less stressful for me when this happened again yesterday afternoon.  In fact, I saw the twinkling spot of light start to grown and scintillate in front of my eyes and I felt the weird tingly dissociation of my limbs, and just decided to lie down and close my eyes again — this time I fell asleep and had quite the pleasant nap.  Again, only a mild headache followed the visual effects. Maybe one day they will become fun?  Recreational? Scintillating, in more than the literal sense?

Case Status: Pending, also Sparkly

Case of the Worst Salad Ever

I was out in the country seeing local music and eating barbeque when I was confronted with a compelling mystery. The mystery sat unassumingly in a bowl beside my plate of ribs, and it appeared to be garnished with bacon bits.

This shady character had assumed the alias of “Five-Layer Vegetable Salad.” Ignoring the apparent redundancy at the end of that phrase, I decided to try it. From the bottom of the bowl to the top, here are what the five layers seemed to be: iceberg lettuce (and we all know no good salad begins with iceberg); obviously canned peas; onions; a thick, puddingy layer of white stuff that didn’t have any distinct flavor but might have been mayonnaise; chopped hardboiled eggs; and the aforementioned bacon bits.

This detective was baffled. Where were the five vegetables promised? What was the white goo, and why was there so much of it? Why was flavor conspicuously absent from every corner of the bowl? And seriously, what was that, mayonnaise?

I needed to consult my assistant Jameson for, you know, assistance. For one thing, I had never been faced with a case this impenetrable, and for another thing, the pain and torture I underwent as I tried to investigate the salad through repeated mixings, pokings, jigglings, sniffings, and (unfortunately) tastings had been unbearable. In my weakened state, I could not rely on my own judgment to scrute this inscrutable dish.

It turned out that my assistant was of little help, cringing and producing only the sounds of gagging when faced with my bowl of mystery. At least with Jameson at my side and in my glass, though, I would be able to wash away the gooey residue it had left behind.

Case Status: Suspended, also Repugnant

case of the missing chowderheads

Mysteriously, several of my bright young whippersnappers seemed this morning to have disappeared without a trace.  Sad, empty chairs sat where students used to be; rooms normally filled with off-topic chatter were eerily silent; even the usual stench of old beer and B.O. had faded to a ghost of its former self.

Looking out into the boundless emptiness, I was lost in contemplation.  “Where have all the students gone,” I sang to myself in the tune of that old folk trio, “long time pa-aa-ssing.”

As usual, though, it wasn’t long before I and my assistant, Starbuck*, were able to suss out an explanation.  One glance at my email inbox at the dozen or so messages received without subject lines between the hours of nine and eleven this morning: this told us all we needed to know.

“Hey Mrs. Vague,” they addressed me — erroneously, but with breezy and casual insouciance, “I am sorry to tell you but i have been very sick with flu like symptoms and will not be able to atend yr class to turn in my essay….”

“Of course,” I cried to Starbuck.  “‘Flu like’ symptoms!  That solves it, all right.” And it did.  The only mystery remaining was why anyone thinks it is a better use of one’s time to sit in the school clinic’s waiting room for hours on end just to obtain a medical excuse note, when that time could be spent writing an effing English paper.

Case Status: Closed

*Long-time readers will be pleased to know that my assistant Jameson is still in my employ, however, he has been greatly over-worked of late and thus I have had to hire Starbuck as additional help.

don't say i didn't warn you

I am still alive, though only barely, after some hopped-up chowderhead hit my car on the highway the other day and then fled the scene. I am, healthwise, in the finest of fettles (or…something), though my car is pretty banged up and my bank account is steeling itself for the forthcoming death-blows. This event was, let’s say, not exactly what I had planned in the weeks before my cross-country trip.

Apparently, the “detective” “skills” I so often write about are purely fictional: I did not even get the bastard’s license number and no witnesses stopped to help. The world is all a bunch of low-down no-‘counts, yadda yadda, insurance insufficient, they are all BLACKLISTED!, moving on now. Anyway, most importantly, I am fine: not hurt at all.

I have been significantly distracted over the last few days as a result, though, and have neglected a few of my current duties, including, of course, this blog. Other things I had planned to complete by tonight:

1. Current dissertation chapter

2. Purge of Unnecessary Personal Belongings (those items not worth the cost of moving them)

3. A post here explaining the dissertation & etc. for all you not already cursed with that knowledge (in response to reader John’s question)

Yeah, so, I did not complete those things, although with a few more squeezes (imagine my brain as a near-empty tube of toothpaste, brainpaste, maybe) the dissertation chapter will be over and done with, and then I can move to the last Nabokov chapter with glee and good spirits. Tomorrow night, maybe, if the book I need (which I had checked out and which was recalled from me by another student and which I decided to buy from Amazon) arrives on my doorstep.

I did manage to drop a car load of Unnecessary Personal Belongings at the local Goodwill donations center, and I have packed another load for tomorrow. (That all sounds like horrible euphemisms for biological functions, doesn’t it?) People, that’s not all: I will still likely have (at least?) one more load after that. You would not believe the amount of clothing I have managed to keep and to move with me nearly every year over the past, oh, dozen years. Seriously. One sweater I packed up for Goodwill tonight was originally purchased at the Goodwill in my hometown in 1994. Gentle people of Zembla, I bequeath it to you, rabbit-chewed holes and all.

(I swear I am not a hoarder!)

(But my parents seem to be, so who knows what could happen by the time I am fifty…)

(Oh dear dog.)

(And I seem to be saying dog in place of god now; I think it’s a solid move.)

As you can see, I am a bit scattered these days, and I likely will be until I get settled in in the new place in the new town and new school, and have a minute to gather my senses. Seeing that I’ll be finishing the Damned Dissertation as well as teaching four classes, though, I do not expect my senses to be fully gathered until approximately 2019. I assume the quality of writing here can only decline: consider this your warning.

Case of the Broken Noodle

Case of the "Work"