Sunday, December 20, 2015

47 texts

Tonight I was included in a group text asking a few people if they wanted to do dinner later this week. Forty-seven texts later I think we are finally done discussing dinner. Someone is going to pick up their phone later tonight and wonder why they have 47 texts, and then be really annoyed when they find out that all 47 texts are about the point of a progressive dinner (which, it turns out, involves progressing from house to house for each course and not, as my more politically-minded friends would assume, inviting a bunch of liberals around to discuss feminism and gay marriage over vegan entrĂ©es).

No matter which group of friends you're texting, in each group text you tend to have a typical breakdown. There's the person who sent the text. There's the people who respond with a simple "I'm in" or "Sounds good." There is the person who decides it's a good idea to have an entire conversation with the original sender via the group thread instead of switching to a private thread. There are the people who get pulled into that conversation against their better judgment. There is the person who lurks, reading the entire conversation without ever actually responding so everyone has no idea if they ever saw the message and plan on attending or have actually been eaten by wolves. There is the person who at some point sends a random text in the middle of the conversation that no one is entirely sure what they meant but at this point no one wants to ask and add another text to the growing number of notifications everyone is receiving. And then there is the person who eventually puts a halt to the conversation with an annoyed text about how their phone is almost out of batteries and they're in a meeting and NOT EVERYONE CARES ABOUT THIS CONVERSATION (but you know I love you guys, smiley face emoji).

That's technology for you: With every new advance in technological communication comes new and inventive ways of annoying each other. When Facebook became popular you may have thought you stopped Aunt Bertha from sending you so many chain emails when you showed her how to post memes to her wall. But then she started sending you Farmville requests and that was somehow even worse. And when email was invented you may have thought that you had found a way to cut down on the number of times your coworker called a 30-minute meeting to come up with a schedule for more meetings. But instead those co-workers just switched to hitting "Reply all" and writing "Thank you for sending this" in response to every email, guilting half the office into doing the same thing so they don't look like ungrateful swine for not being thankful enough for getting the agenda for tomorrow's meeting.

Yay technology.

I'm not sure what the equivalent was back in the olden days.

"Sorry guys, we don't have enough wood to get through the rest of the winter because Dave had to send me 13 different smoke signals last week describing what he had for lunch."

"Dang it Dave, I don't have any more room in this cage for one more carrier pigeon about how the liberal media has been unfair to Napoleon!"

"Dave, I hope it was worth another Pony Express pony dying of exhaustion so you could write me a letter saying "Haha same."

"Dear Dave STOP that's not a period at the end of the sentence STOP I actually mean STOP STOP"

I'm sure 100 years from now there will still be Daves in the world, sending one too many holograms to his friend about what he had for breakfast. And since his friends know they have all been guilty of similar technology annoyances at one point or another in their lives, they will forgive Dave after sending him a hologram saying "Some of us are in a meeting right now, Dave!"

Saturday, August 15, 2015

I don't know what you're talking about

This week was fair week, which is one of our biggest coverage weeks of the year, minus general elections and the Pendleton Round-Up, which is so important in our neck of the woods that the other day someone asked a colleague how long he had worked for the paper and he answered "three Round-Ups."

There are good things and bad things about being a reporter during fair week. On the plus side, I got to wear jeans to work all week. On the downside, it was 102 degrees in the afternoons.

Like most weeks on the job, it also means I end up writing authoritatively about things that I really don't know much about. Having spent nine years of my life in Iowa and most of the rest in Eastern Oregon I am farther ahead than one of our sports reporters, who is facing the daunting task of reporting the rodeo all week while having never actually been to a rodeo before. But that doesn't mean that it's easy coming up with intelligent-sounding follow-up questions for professional rodeo stock contractors (or even seven-year-old rabbit owners) on the fly.

Being a reporter is actually kind of crazy if you think about it. Imagine you're in college and you get to your English class and the professor says "I'm giving you an assignment to write a three-page paper explaining the optimum conditions for growing asparagus and comparing the quality of this year's asparagus crop in Europe to the one in the United States. You have three hours, after which I will post your paper online and start handing out copies around campus with your name at the top so that everyone can critique your writing skills." Now repeat that every day with a new topic.

It's a lot easier to get away with faking knowledge on a topic when you're in school. When I was in AP Biology someone told me that for the essay portion the test scorers just look for specific words and phrases to check off rather than actually fact-checking your essay. Which explains why I got a 4 on my AP Bio test despite the fact that one of my three essays literally went something like this: "Plasmid DNA is involved in the process. Endonuclease is also important. And don't forget about vectors."

Unfortunately you can't write a news article this way.

Instead you have to research. And not be afraid to ask dumb questions. Sometimes it's embarrassing to admit to someone you have no idea what that word they keep using actually means. But in the long run it's a lot better to look like an idiot to one source than to 10,000 readers. And you can always preface the question with, "For my readers who don't know what that means ..."

The good news is the longer you're a reporter, the closer you come to knowing everything. Eventually you do, indeed, become knowledgeable on certain topics, like the city's general fund or the difference between Common Core and Smarter Balanced.

Of course, no matter how smart you are and how hard you try, in this line of work you will inevitably end up looking like an idiot sooner or later. You just can't publish thousands of words every day on a deadline without something going wrong eventually. Already in my career I've made mistakes ranging from misspelling heroin all the way through an article about drugs to giving someone a completely different last name halfway through an article.

Someday I'm sure I'll make the kind of mistake that becomes legendary in a community. Here it was the infamous "Amphibious pitcher" versus "Ambidextrous pitcher" headline mix-up. When I was at the Daily Universe someone labeled a front-page photo of the LDS church's leadership with the caption "Quorum of the 12 Apostates" instead of "Quorum of the 12 Apostles" after she stopped paying attention to what the spell check was actually correcting words to. And not long before I joined the staff of the Chronicle, someone accidentally undid the shrinking of a photo to fit inside the box, resulting in a front page article accompanied by a picture of just the city's planner's eyebrow labeled with his name.

Most mistakes are much more run-of-the-mill, however. Like one of my mentors used to say, even the best goalies sometimes let in the ball. If we got information wrong, let us know, but don't be snarky about what was clearly just an accidental typo. When people comment on our Facebook page pointing out a typo and ask, "Doesn't anyone there know how to spell?" the only result is that I  have to resist the very strong urge to reply "Thank you so much for setting us straight! Despite all of our college degrees and years of professional writing experience, we just couldn't agree on whether "they" has an e in it or not. Glad you cleared that up for us."

I would rather spend my energy learning about asparagus in case I ever have to write about it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

I Hate My Car, Part 12

This week my car was in the shop.

It happens. Quite frequently, in fact. I believe this is the eighth time so far this year that I've dropped it off at a mechanic. Don't ask me why I haven't bought a new car yet. I don't know. Probably for the same reasons abused women stay with their boyfriends. This time he's really sorry and he won't ever do it again, I'm sure of it.

I met my car four years ago, two months out of college and a fresh job offer in my hand. I was ready to be a Real Adult, and Real Adults drive themselves places instead of hitching a ride with nine other people in their friend's mother's old minivan. I went car shopping and came back with what my friends would eventually come to call the Truthmobile (the journalist version of the Batmobile), a 2007 Ford Taurus (Insert Ford joke here. I've heard them all by now.)

The next morning it wouldn't start. If my life were a movie, Taylor Swift would have been singing "I Knew You Were Trouble" in the background while I blithely ignored the warning signs. There was no music, however, because my life is not a movie. Also the battery was dead so the radio didn't work.

After the dealership apologized and gave me a new battery for free, life was good for a while. And by a while I mean for two months, until some lady came into work one day and told me she had hit my car in the parking lot. I went out expecting a small dent and instead found out my entire front passenger door was smashed inward. To this day I cannot fathom how she worked up that much speed in that small of a parking lot. Or how the state of Oregon granted her a driver's license when she was so blind she could not see AN ENTIRE PARKED CAR.

She had insurance though, so it was all good. And by all good I mean my car worked fine for about three more months before I had the quintessential car repair experience for every American who doesn't know anything about cars: I told a mechanic that my car was making a funny noise, they told me a part was broken, and the name of the part sounded plausible so I gave them a bunch of money and the grindy squeaky noise went away.

Life was good again, at least until about six months later when my air conditioner would only work on the highest setting. I probably would have just lived with that one, but my mom did some research online figured out how to fix it.

Next came the infamous Cardboard Box Incident of 2013, in which I backed over an empty cardboard box in the alley behind my office and it somehow ripped off the exhaust pipe that runs the length of my car.

2014, however, was the golden year for my relationship with the Truthmobile. My car worked the entire year, minus that one time the engine randomly shut off while I was driving down the road. Cars will be cars, however, so I let that one slide.

The whole random engine shut-off thing came back with a vengeance in 2015, however, at the same time the passenger side of my car started flooding every time it rained. The mechanics at the dealership were baffled by the stalling, but they did order me a new rain cowel to stop the leaking and I brought my car back I to have it installed. Then my car flooded again. Then they took an entire day to decide that the part they had installed was faulty. Then the new part came in. Then my car flooded again. Then they told me the same part but on the other side was broken. Then that part came in. Then I decided maybe it was time to get a new mechanic.

The new mechanic told me I had water in my gas tank and I just needed to use a combination of HEET and premium gas for the next month or so. The stalling got worse, though, until this week when I took it to yet another mechanic who cleaned out the throttle body and it has been working fine for two whole days now so I'm optimistic.

I should probably get a new car, but breaking up is hard to do. We have the same friends. It would be awkward if we ran into each other around town. Plus, how do people even meet new cars these days? Tinder? I'm not sure I'm ready for that type of thing.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

You're not an adult

This weekend, all over the country, teenagers are graduating from high school. They've been told they're adults now, and they probably believe it, but we all know that's not true.

What they're about to be is college students, followed by a life stage called twentysomething that those of us who didn't get married at 21 experience. It's that period in life where you have all of the responsibilities of adulthood without any of the sense of responsibility of actual adulthood. That awkward transition where one minute you're sitting in an important business meeting and the next you're shooting your friend in the face with a Nerf gun.

The difference between an adult and a twentysomething are pretty clear.

Child: Your mom makes doctor and dentist appointments for you.
Adult: You make doctor and dentist appointments for yourself.
Twentysomething: You don't go to the doctor or dentist for several years and figure you probably won't die.

Child: You don't know what a 401(k) is.
Adult: You know how much you're contributing to your 401(k) each month, how much interest you earned in the last quarter and what your company match is.
Twentysomething: You have a 401(k) because you were feeling more responsible than usual when you were signing papers for your new job so you checked a box that said you wanted one, but now when you look at your paycheck each month you just think about how much pizza that money would buy instead.

Child: Your mom tells you that you can't get new glasses for another month because something about health insurance.
Adult: You wait to get new glasses for another month because you know your insurance won't pay for an eye exam until the new calendar year.
Twentysomething: "Health insurance? Yeah I think I have some of that. Do you think it'll pay for this?"

Child: Your mom does the dishes every day and sometimes you help.
Adult: You do the dishes every day.
Twentysomething: You pick up fast food on the way home because every plate in your house is dirty and ain't nobody got time to do a week's worth of dishes on a Friday night.

Child: Your parents take care of all things car-related.
Adult: You keep your car well-maintained, understand the details of your car insurance coverage and know what to do when a tail light goes out.
Twentysomething: You suspect you should probably get your oil changed but you have no idea when the last time you went in is and you're not even really sure how often it's supposed to be changed in the first place.

Child: You get excited if your parents tell you a piece of mail is addressed to you.
Adult: You promptly open all mail and then properly discard the junk mail and take care of the bills.
Twentysomething: You get pulled over for letting your tags expire and realize you probably should have opened that letter from the DMV that you vaguely remember throwing in your mail pile a month ago.

Child: Your mom drops you off for playdates then spends the whole time talking to your friend's mom while you play.
Adult: You answer the door, graciously welcome your guests to your dinner party, offer to take their coats for them and accept the gift they brought.
Twentysomething: You yell "Come in!" when someone knocks on your door and then go back to watching your movie, figuring one of your friends got bored and decided to come hang out.

Child: Your talk to your friend about her "boyfriend" who asked her through a note in class yesterday if she wanted to go out and hasn't actually talked to her since.
Adult: You're settled down with a spouse and kids.
Twentysomething: The person you like starts texting you every day and then asks if you want to hang out and you start to panic because it occurs to you that the only two options are that it doesn't work out or you stay with that person for the rest of your life and both ideas seem equally terrifying.

Child: Your mom does your laundry for you.
Adult: You do several loads of laundry each week.
Twentysomething: You bring two suitcases full of dirty clothes home when you visit your parents for the weekend because you know your mom will not only offer to do your laundry but also bleach all of the whites you keep throwing in with your colored clothes because you don't want to pay for an extra load to separate out a shirt and three pairs of socks.

Child: You beg your mom to buy sugared cereal when you go with her to the grocery store.
Adult: You buy Raisin Bran because it's healthy and you're down to only three extra boxes of cereal in the pantry.
Twentysomething: You grab some Captain Crunch because you remember you ate Oreos for breakfast the last two mornings because you were out of cereal.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The terrorist list

Last week I took a vacation to Washington, D.C. to visit a friend.

It was a fantastic trip, although the actual traveling part is never that fun. First you have to give them your luggage, which when you've had one suitcase broken and another end up in the wrong city is never comforting. Then you have to go through the security line and pass the test of taking off just the right amount of clothing and accessories (shoes and belt yes, shirt and pants no) to successfully convince the TSA you're neither crazy nor a terrorist.

I passed the test well enough not to get an extra pat-down, but when I got to D.C. I did discover that they had searched my luggage in Portland. They say it was "random" but I'm pretty sure it's because two years ago when I went to pick up my brother's best man at the airport I drove through the wrong exit and ended up in a restricted area. Giant metal tire-shredding spikes came up behind me so I couldn't just sneak back out, I had to wait for someone to come escort me. So I'm definitely on some sort of terrorist watch list at PDX now.

Once we got on the plane we sat on the tarmac for an extra half hour. The captain came out and apologized for the delay, but when they were running the pre-flight tests something hadn't worked right so they had to run some more tests to see if the plane was still safe to fly. Considering my Twitter feed on my phone was full of articles about the Germanwings crash, this wasn't very comforting. Especially after we took off and hit some serious turbulence. But we ended up not dying after all.

When I arrived at D.C. on the other end of the trip, I set my watch ahead three hours. I didn't realize how much of a problem this would be until Bethany, who had to be up for work very early the next morning, tried to go to bed at 9 p.m. Considering that's 6 p.m. on the west coast, which is when I normally get off work, I wasn't at all tired -- until I got up at the equivalent of 4:30 a.m. Pacific time the next morning and seriously regretted the amount of Netflix I had watched the night before. The time difference also messed with my eating habits, because I would eat at all the normal times -- lunch at noon, for example -- and then be hungry three hours later when it was lunchtime on the west coast. So I basically ate six meals a day, which is fine if you're a hobbit or a pregnant woman but not so good if you're just a normal human being who still wants to fit in all of your pants by the end of the week.

The next morning I dragged myself out of bed and headed out to explore the city. I had downloaded a D.C. Metro app in preparation for trip but it turns out riding the subway is like riding a bike and I managed to ride the metro all week without using the app once. Like a boss. If only I were so good at navigating aboveground, I wouldn't be on that terrorist watchlist.

In addition to my subway-riding skills, I also recalled a host of other skills from my days as an intern in New York City. Skills like having no idea where you're going while still looking like you are Definitely Not Lost. And using a single finger on the pole to keep your balance on a moving train while looking like you are Totally Not Going to Fall Over. And keeping careful track of your phone and wallet while looking like you are Really Unconcerned About Pickpockets. And then looking at the people who haven't mastered those skills and giving your neighbor the "Tourists, amiright?" eye roll.

It turns out that the metro in D.C. is a lot safer and cleaner than in New York, however, so I didn't get to use an array of other looks, including the Seriously Not Freaked Out By That Rat, the Literally Didn't Hear That Catcall, and the Honestly Don't Have Any Spare Change.

I did make one critical mistake in blending in, however. The first morning I was there it rained, and I had forgotten that people outside of Oregon use these weird contraptions called umbrellas.

 Once I got into D.C. proper every day, however, it was O.K. to look like a tourist because not many natives end up in the Smithsonian or the Lincoln Memorial on a regular basis. All of that stuff was fantastic and reminded me that even though much of what goes on in our nation's capital is absolutely ridiculous, I still wouldn't trade our Constitution and Bill of Rights for anything. Even a more intelligent Congress.

On the final day I was so sore I could barely move, and so tired I could barely stay awake. But since you don't need to do either during a cross-country flight I made it home alright.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

New Moon: Paperback edition

Last week I visited my parents. When I came home I had to clear the pictures off of a new book shelf, because between the signed books that I got for my birthday, and a number of used books I picked up when my mom and I went to Goodwill, I came back with about 12 new books.

Some mothers and daughters go purse or shoe shopping together. My mom and I shop for books.

My family was always a fixture at the public library growing up. Due to our habit of passing books between family members before returning them, we paid so many late fees that the new mezzanine probably should have had our name on it. The librarians loved us anyways, to the point that when they created the waiting lists for certain new books they would automatically add our name to the top spot. If small-town municipal libraries were the sort of places to have super exclusive parties, we would have been the ones sweeping past the velvet rope with a "Don't worry about it, he's with me."

Reading out loud in the car was a family tradition growing up, one that kept my siblings and I from killing each other in the back seat after 10 hours on the road. We actually planned a couple of vacations around the release of the newest Harry Potter book, stopping at the nearest store the day it was released before setting off. After a cross-country drive to a family reunion one summer we actually pulled off to the side of the road for twenty minutes to finish the book before we drove into town.

Once when we went on a week-long camping trip to the beach my mom started reading Twilight in the car, I think in some sort of attempt to expose my brothers to the type of girliness that I, their only sister, had completely failed to introduce them to during my tomboy stage. The boys complained uproariously, but as everyone who has ever read those books knows, they're sort of addictive once you get past the obligatory reference to the smoothness of Edward's chest on every page.

Pretty soon when we retired to our tent at night one of the boys would say "You're not going to make us read that stupid book some more, are you?" in a slightly hopeful tone of voice. By the time we finished the first book they had to swallow all pride and drop their pretenses if they wanted to indulge their curiosity by reading the second book. To do so they temporarily gave up their man cards as the burly male checker at Wal-Mart held up their purchase with a grin.

"New Moon. Paperback edition. Nice choice," he said with a wink.

I don't know why they were embarrassed. When they slunk into the movie theater with my parents and I later that year, hoods pulled low over their eyes, I quickly realized I recognized quite a few of the hoodie-clad bodies ducking down furtively in their seats as my brothers' friends. It didn't seem to occur to any of them that any guy who saw them at the movie was also watching Twilight too.

Of course, the books were better. The book is always better, with the possible exception of Lord of the Rings (Which makes what Peter Jackson did to The Hobbit even more tragic. One of the great mysteries of life will always what type of brain tumor caused the same man who made The Fellowship of the Rings to decide that it would be a good idea to add a love triangle between Legolas and a female elf and a dwarf to The Hobbit. I TRUSTED YOU PETER! I TRUSTED YOU!!!).

Not that I'm mad about that or anything.

In some cases, the book should just never be made into a movie ever. Case in point: The other day I noticed Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame on Netflix and thought "Hmm ... I haven't seen that since I saw it in theaters as a small child. I don't even really remember it." I watched it and immediately realized why my parents never added it to our collection of Disney movies.

Worst. Disney. Movie. Ever.

I can't decide which was worse, the part where the evil priest sings rather pointedly about being sexually attracted to Esmerelda, or the part where he tries to drown a baby, or the part where he quizzes Quasimodo on vocabulary words like "damnation," or the message the movie sends when the beautiful girl chooses the conventionally handsome guy in the end over the guy with the good personality and we're all supposed to consider it a happy ending because really, did anyone actually think that the ugly person would not die alone?

I looked up a plot synopsis of Victor Hugo's book, having never read it, and realize the plot is basically death and sex and torture and more death. Esmerelda and Quasimodo both die. How the heck did someone read that and think "We should really adapt that into an animated movie for five year olds." That's like watching Sweeney Todd on Broadway and thinking "My kindergartener would love this!" and then making a Disney version that's basically the same except only one person dies a gruesome death at the end (oops ... spoiler alert: That's not what happens in the play.)

And then the next generation of children would be in college one day watching the movie with their little nephew and start singing along to "A Little Priest" and suddenly think "Oh my gosh how did I never notice when I was a kid that this song is about CUTTING PEOPLE UP AND BAKING THEM INTO PIES AND EATING THEM???"

Just read to your kids instead. It's so much better.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Who are you wearing?

The Oscars happened tonight. Or maybe they're still going on. Not sure. Don't really care, to be honest. I haven't seen any of this year's Best Picture nominations, so I'm not exactly invested.

Really, with so much talk this year about how the winners are selected by a bunch of out-of-touch old white guys who couldn't even tell The LEGO Movie (and everything) is awesome, why give their nomination choices so much importance? While they do sometimes hit the nail on the head, let's just all admit, Facebook friends, like the peasants we are, that we are all being pretentious when we pretend that we liked The Life of Pi better than The Avengers in 2012. Or that we actually saw The Artist.

(Random side note: I just typed "Everything is Awesome" into YouTube and the first result that came up was "Everything is Awesome 1 Hour Version." WHY???)

The thing I look forward to during awards season are the red carpets before the shows. I'm not very fashion-obsessed, but there is something petty yet satisfying about thinking "I may not be as rich or as pretty as Julianne Moore but at least my dress doesn't remind anyone of moldy bread."

Of course, sometimes I think, "I may not be as rich or as pretty or as talented or as fantastically dressed as Reese Witherspoon is tonight but at least ... Nope. I've got nothing."

The Golden Globes last week contained a lot of bad looks (it's like all the designers forgot what shape women's bodies actually are and were like "Hopefully this random pattern of fabric will cover all the right bits, but who knows?") but this year's Oscars fashions were pretty tame. Everyone is making fun of Lady Gaga's gloves, which look like she just got done cleaning a toilet and forgot to take them off before heading out the door. But this is Lady Gaga we're talking about. Shouldn't we just be congratulating her on not wearing a dress made out of meat?

(Random side note: I've always thought is was weird that instead of asking "Who designed your dress?" reporters ask "Who are you wearing?" like everyone made a dress of someone's skin, Hannibal Lector style. With Lady Gaga's infamous meat dress, that question seems infinitely more sinister.)

And of course, let's not forget that men walk the red carpet too. There just isn't as much anticipation tied to those photos. Oh look! He wore ... a black tuxedo! How groundbreaking! And it looks ... good on him! What a surprise! Just kidding. No man's appearance was ever not improved by a classic black tux.

If I ever became a celebrity or a celebrity's wife, I would buy a classy, flattering dress off the rack at the mall for fifty bucks so that when someone asked who I'm wearing I could tell them "I don't know, I bought this at Macy's and I forgot to check the label before I put it on" and watch Twitter explode. Then take the $15,000 most Oscar dresses cost and donate it to charity.

But since the chances of me marrying Chris Evans are nil, I'll have to stick to being sadly lacking in designer clothing for less heroic and statement-making reasons. I don't mind, minus the occasional moment like this weekend when I found myself sitting knee to knee in a boutique dressing room (it was the only place to sit down) with a rising star in the handbag design world, interviewing him about his rise from eastern Oregon obscurity to designing one of Oprah's top 10 must-have totes for this winter. Then I may have felt slightly self-conscious about my faux leather definitely-did-not-come-from-a-New-York-City-showroom purse stuffed full of pens and notebooks. Which he very graciously did not mention.

(Random side note: At least I'm a step ahead of one of the men in my family who, while Christmas shopping, wanted to know what size of purse Mom wears because he thought purses came in sizes like clothing.)

Well, according to social media the Oscars are indeed over and nobody even tripped on their dress and everyone who judged women on their red carpet look instead of the quality of their acting is a sexist jerk.

Sorry, Internet.

At least I'm not one of the 1,458,283 people who listened to "Everything is Awesome" on repeat for an hour.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Stranger danger

I almost gave myself a heart attack tonight. I was leaving work late and made the mistake of letting my imagination run a little too free while I was walking across the dark, deserted alley to my car. Which meant when I accidentally set my car alarm off while pulling out my keys it scared me half to death.

I jumped pretty high, but I've definitely been scared worse. Once, when I was about 14, I was with some other girls from church delivering cookies to girls who hadn't come in a while when we decided to doorbell ditch and just leave the cookies on the porch. At the final house we made our way through the cluttered yard to the front door, rang the doorbell and scattered. I ended up crouched in the dark among the weeds that had grown up around an old van with painted-over windows, the kind that screamed, "My life's ambition is to kidnap someone," that was up on blocks in the yard. I was just thinking that if I saw that van on the road I definitely wouldn't take any candy from the driver, when all of the sudden the van window above my head flew open and I found myself staring up at a very angry man yelling at me to get out of his yard. I've never run so fast in my entire life.

I've also never been brave enough to look up "stranger danger" in the dictionary because I'm pretty sure I'd see this dude's picture staring up at me giving me nightmares all over again.

Normally I don't freak myself out when I'm walking to my car, though. I've outgrown the phase I went through when I was a very little girl, when my parents would put me to bed and come back later to find me crying over whatever the week's fear was. Everything made me scared, and I mean everything. My parents had to stop showing me the Shirley Temple movie collection they had just inherited because I was freaking out that my parents were going to die or get kidnapped like poor little Shirley Temple's always seemed to be doing so she could go on a proper adventure without them hovering.

They finally bought me a Little Mermaid night light in the hopes that it would provide some comfort, but they found me crying a few days later, keeping myself awake because I was worried if I fell asleep the light would overheat and catch the wooden dresser on fire.

Parents with kids as neurotic as I was back then, just know there's hope that they will turn out relatively normal.

After all, who would have thought that about 15 years later I would intern for the New York Daily News? On my first day on the job when I was filling out paperwork they literally asked me to write down my eye color and any identifying markings in case they ended up having to identify my body at the morgue.

I should have known then what I was getting myself into. My days on the job consisted of assignments like "Go to this super sketchy Bronx neighborhood where there was a gang shootout last night and ask the guys hanging around if they know anything." My nights weren't always any better. Once three friends and I ended up walking through a pretty bad part of Harlem at about 1:30 in the morning (the only explanation I can offer for this life choice is that at age 21 my brain wasn't fully developed yet). A few blocks into our walk we were accosted by a drunk guy who we were sure was going to mug us, but fortunately the only thing he demanded was Ben's secret to getting "three womans."

When I went back to school in the fall I immediately signed up for a women-only self defense class. I'm not sure how much I would actually remember if I got attacked, and my then-boyfriend complained people were going to think he was abusing me based on the bruise patterns I occasionally sported that semester, but it was a really fun class.

Too bad it's kind of hard to beat up a car alarm.