Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday Delay and Business Trip

I probably could have written a post yesterday, on my regularly scheduled day. But I got home from spending the holiday weekend uptown, sat down on the couch, took my pants off, and that was basically the end of everything I had planned for my Sunday. I think we all know how that goes.

There's a new book review over at Big Island Rachel's Books. I read "This Side of Paradise" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Short version: no short version! Don't be lazy! You can go over to the other website and read the whole review if you're curious.

My next post pay be late, too. I'll be away this Wednesday for a conference in Pennsylvania. That's right, I'm gonna put on my big girl panties and go on a business trip! I'll wear a suit, and carry a briefcase, and save my receipts for reimbursement, and I'm going to be so fucking grown-up I can't goddamn stand it! Woooooo! BUSINESS TRIP!
Where's the business beers and business water-park? I'm here on business!
How far I have come from the early days of working in New York when I couldn't even wear a pair of black trousers without wanted to punch my face full of holes and stick safety pins through them.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

No parade, just pork sausage

Two years ago, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade went right past the BF's bedroom window. The balloons floated past at eye level while we had our morning tea and my mom in Hawaii watched from my laptop on Skype.

I can confidently say that I will never again watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The route has changed and the BF has moved apartments, so I'd have to either watch it on television or stand out in the cold sandwiched between Midwesterners and their sticky, screaming children. Both choices would sully that one perfect Thanksgiving morning when I got to laze around in a comfy bed, waving to Hello Kitty and Spider-Man as they floated past me.
No, Thanksgiving 2012 begins with me sitting in an apartment that has smelled overwhelmingly of pork sausage for the last three days. I don't know what to do about it. I've windexed the stove, the counter, the floor in front of the stove, the top of the fridge and microwave and kitchen cabinets, and the outside of the toaster. I even opened the window one evening and turned on the ceiling fan, 45 degree windchill be buggered, but I woke up this morning, took a whiff, and sure enough--stale pork.

This is why I hate cooking meat.

People sometimes ask me if I'm a vegetarian, especially at work when I warm up my lunch in the microwave. They see the brown rice and steamed broccoli and assume I'm on some sort of moral and nutritional high ground, looking down on the peasants with their take-out meatballs and shredded beef.

But the truth is that I'm just cheap and lazy. I cook all of my own meals because it's cost-effective, and I cook mostly vegetables because clean-up is easier when you don't have to deal with hot grease and bits of animal flesh. If I don't cook meat, I can put off taking out the trash for days before the fruit and vegetable rinds start to stink.

That's not to say that I don't know how to cook. Every time I went home to the Big Island for a summer break in college, I would cook up a storm. I was finally a big enough Big Island Rachel to be trusted with all food gathering and preparation, and since I never had a kitchen the whole time I lived in Honolulu, I tended to go a little nuts in my mother's kitchen.

I experimented. Many batches of hummus and falafel with varying degrees of success; lots of butternut squash soup and fish-and-bacon chowder, I perfected those recipes early on (the secret is half a pound of butter); creme brulee, scones, and a sort of tropical fruit tart that I drizzled with 151 rum and set on fire to impress the neighbors; cold pasta salad loaded with olives and palm hearts; eggs Benedict and Florentine; omelets.

That was just summertime cooking. Coming home for winter breaks meant cooking for the holidays, and say what will you about the New York party scene, nobody parties like the Big Island at Christmas. I cooked a picture-perfect turkey with the lightly browned stuffing spilling out of its ass; lamb roast with rosemary-red wine marinade; filet mignon with wasabi-sesame sauce; deep fried coconut shrimp; dressing with smoked oysters, celery and craisans; deviled eggs; stuffed mushrooms.

All of this to say that I can cook like a 1950s housewife whose only worth is measured in how well she can stuff the cake-holes of her womb-worms. I just choose not to.

When I started working full-time, cooking became more of a chore than a hobby. It has to be done every day without fail, and then I have to clean up without the help of party guests or family members. Because I'm using my own money, or lack thereof, I can't experiment or cook anything I'm not certain will come out perfectly edible. And after being let off the hook from holiday party cooking for four years, I've grown accustomed to sleeping in on Thanksgiving and not walking around with blisters on my fingers, stains down my front, and the smell of cooking oil in my hair.

Which is not to say that my cooking phase was wasted. Although my meals have gotten a lot less elaborate since college, the skills I picked up serve me well in my daily life. Cooking can be very intimidating if you don't know what you're doing. Even a simple meal like baked chicken with green beans and potatoes will undo you if you can't tell when the food is finished cooking but not over-cooked, and you'll quickly lose interest in the few things you know how to prepare if you don't know how to mix it up a little. Mix the leftover chicken with penne pasta and Parmesan cheese; chill the green beans and eat them with salad dressing; put a fried egg on the potatoes.

Once or twice a year, however, the time does come when I'm called on to bring a dish to a party. For this occasion, I have one recipe stashed away in my memory bank that never fails to impress: stuffed mushrooms. I like this recipe because it combines many of my favorite things: not measuring ingredients, doing most of the cooking the night before, easy vegetarian and carnivore versions, and the illusion of something difficult and expensive that is actually neither.

I'm about to give away my secret recipe! Nations will crumble under the weight of these revelations.

Stuffed mushrooms require largish mushrooms; cream cheese; onions; red bell peppers; and hot Italian sausage. (I used to put bleu cheese in the mixture, too, but I don't actually like bleu cheese, and why would I cook something I don't like?) I mince the onion and pepper, saute them over low heat until they soften, mix them with cream cheese, and put a spoonful of that mixture into a mushroom cap. That's my veggie version. For the meat version, I take the sausage meat out of the casings, brown it until it's cooked through, and mix that into cream cheese with more of the onion and pepper. This is all done the night before. The morning of, I put them in the oven for about half an hour to cook the water off the mushrooms, and there you have it. Big Island Rachel's stuffed mushrooms, perfect for the office Thanksgiving party.

And that is why my apartment currently smells of spicy pork.

From all of us at Big Island Rachel and the Rodent Hour, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Silence! The Musical

Autumn is the only season worth having. If you have to have seasons, I mean, and not just live in the bliss of eternal summer where the year cycles through in a blur of seasonal fruit and flowers. Hawaii has no spring or winter, just coffee blossoms and coffee cherries, Ka'u oranges and ripe mangoes, waves on the south shore or waves on the north shore.

I don't much care for winter, but autumn almost makes up for it. Leather coats, soft scarves, leaves shruffing underfoot like a brochure for a small New England liberal arts college. I visit a lot of bookstores in autumn, stocking up for the winter, and make vague plans to visit museums with friends. Museums look tempting in the cold weather, big and warm and slow-moving like hibernating bears.

But enough with the metaphors and similes! Onto the weekend round-up.

I went to see "Silence! The Musical" with friends on Saturday. This was supposed to be our Halloween activity, but we all know how that turned out. "Silence!" is a musical based on "Silence of the Lambs," and yes, it's fully aware on the inappropriateness of its subject matter. When the male lead reprises "If I could smell her cunt" twice, it's safe to say that the camp is intentional. The music was done by Jon and Al Kaplan, who you may recognize as the people behind the Arnold Schwarzenegger musicals if you spend as much time on the Internet as I do.

How does it compare to say, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"? That greatly depends on your tastes in musical theater and how funny you find tongue-in-cheek re-imaginings of movies from 20 years ago. I almost wrote that the Internet invented this genre, but then went away from this page to watch a live-streaming video of a litter of kittens jumping around their pen, and realized that the Internet didn't invent this genre at all. Mel Brooks did it back 1974 with "Young Frankenstein," a tongue-in-cheek re-imagining of
James Whale's classic 1931 "Frankenstein" with Boris Karloff.
Because when I think kittens...
So if you liked "Young Frankenstein" and you're okay with seeing a man tucking his penis between his legs while singing "Would you fuck me?" then I think you'll like "Silence!" The songs are catchy and the actors are all professional and having a good time. I'd recommend watching the movie again before you go, especially if you haven't seen it in a few years; the jokes and songs are very specific to the movie. And seriously, prepare yourself for that penis-tuck, because it's a shocking thing to see in real life, no matter how many pictures of naked people you look at on the Internet.

I'm not ending with a picture of a naked person. Shame on you.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Death of a vacuum

I get a day off work today. A friend asked me what I was going to do with my free day, and before I could answer, she said, "Don't say something like laundry." Which was exactly what I was thinking of doing. I promised her I wouldn't do laundry, but damned if I didn't wake up today after a delicious extra hour of sleeping and decide that not only was I going to do my laundry, I was going to vacuum, too!

My life is such a strange mixture of the enviably hip and the excruciatingly boring. Just goes to show that one can live in Brooklyn, work at an art school, host an indie radio show, and still have to deal with mundane shit like dirty clothes and broken vacuum cleaners.

To be fair, this particular vacuum cleaner was the walking undead to begin with. I was walking R to subway station one night a year or two back, and found the vacuum in a pile trash in front of a brownstone. Without breaking stride, I swept it up and hoisted it over my shoulder. "This is mine now," I informed her. She was slightly horrified but appreciative, I think, of my scavenging skills. It was in fine shape on the outside and started right up when I plugged it in. Sure, it smoked a bit after it had been running for a while and smelled like burning hair, which is probably why its previous owner had thrown in away. But my apartment is tiny and doesn't take long to clean, so zombie vacuum smoked and smelled, whatevs, it was free.

This afternoon, I plugged it in and started on the bathroom, and my poor vacuum promptly shrieked, had a seizure, sprayed dirt everywhere, and died for good. Of course, my cleaning appliance couldn't just quietly stop working when my apartment was clean. It had to puke a mess EVERYWHERE before it went. I'm cleaning dirt off the top of my medicine cabinet and bathroom counter, and I'm trying to clean up piles of dirt and hair with my little handheld broom and bent, useless dustpan.

The worst part of this is that I hate, hate, HATE cleaning floors. It's my least favorite chore and I only do once every six weeks or so. So now that I can excuse myself from my duties by saying, "I don't have a vacuum cleaner," it is going to be months before my floor is clean again. The dust bunnies will be biting my ankles as I wash dishes.

Fortunately, I live so far away from the subway that no one ever comes to visit me, so I don't have to worry about the filth scaring away my friends. Well, the BF comes to see me pretty regularly, but he's the one person who is obligated not to judge me and the living conditions in my squalorous pit. That's why they call it love.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Special Day! Blobs!

Today is a very special day for me, so there will be no regular blog post. Instead, enjoy a slide show of the band Grace McLean and Them Apples, who were our guests on my radio show last night. The Rodent Hour is on Tuesday nights from 8 to 10PM EST. Locally sourced music from Pratt Radio online.

The Rodent Hour's social media empire marches across the land like a ravenous gelatinous blob, absorbing all coolness and lesser independent online college radio stations in the nuBrooklyn area! You cannot resist our blob! We ooze over all and absorb nutrients through our plasma sac. So sexy.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tea, Chocolate, Gasoline

New York City is slowly grinding towards normality after the hurricane. Yesterday, R and I went walking around the East Village and the Lower East Side, and despite a somewhat higher-than-usual amount of blocked sidewalks and backhoes, I think we're going to be okay.

Except for the gasoline situation, which remains terrifying. One of our student workers said there was a line of cars outside her apartment waiting for a gas station two miles down the road.
Helicopter attacks have skyrocketed on the Long Island Expressway.
As of Friday, we're on Jimmy Carter solutions: odd and even numbered license plates get gas on different days. (Incidentally, I saw the movie "Argo," so I may be throwing in a lot of Jimmy Carter references until I see "Wreck-It Ralph.") Of all the things I imagined going wrong in my Hurricane Sandy worst case scenarios, a gas shortage didn't even crack my top ten worries list, one because I don't drive a car, two because NYC has the best public transportation system in the country, and three because nobody drives in New York, there's too much traffic.

I'd like to believe that a car-related clusterfuck of this magnitude, in a region of the country that is supposed to have the public transportation infrastructure that would prevent this from happening, will lead to an honest conversation about our dependence on fossil fuels and solutions to combat said dependence. But I don't think it will. Too much money on the other side of the argument.

With that fun thought, onto the weekend round-up!

R and I visited St. Mark's Comics in the East Village and said hello to my friend there, who used to work at the St. Mark's Brooklyn location, but got a bit of a promotion to Manhattan, so good on her. We also checked out Forbidden Planet's new location, which is right next door to their old location but has a hard-wood floor and higher ceilings. Anything that makes a comic book store feel like a legitimate place of business and not a front for the one unpopular mob family that nobody ever invites to parties is an improvement.

We walked down to Allen Street to Bluestockings Bookstore, a fair trade cafe and radical activist center that sells menstrual cups and Marxist literature. My kind of place. I've been meaning to go there for a while, because why live in New York City if you aren't going to avail yourself of the awesomely specific sub-genre bookstores? It was everything I ever dreamed of, down to the guy with dreadlocks who served me my fair trade Ceylon tea au lait. I was actually scoping it out for a location for my upcoming birthday party, but not everyone I invited menstruates or is a Communist, so party favors would be a little difficult.

Instead, I'm going to celebrate my birthday at The Chocolate Room, right here in Brooklyn. Everybody likes chocolate! R and I went there after lunch to sample truffles and order a chocolate pecan pie, to be served in-house at my birthday party.

I was hoping I'd come out of there smelling delightfully of chocolate. But the BF hugged me and said I smelled like hamburgers. I had to remind him that when there's a gas shortage, death is listening and will take the first man that screams.
Just another Saturday night on the East River.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Homesick Hounddogs on the Rodent Hour

Last night was Election Night. Fortunately, my radio show is on Tuesdays and it gave me something a lot more pleasant to think about. Politics hurt my stomach. It's too much like listening to your parents fight: people holding your fate in their hands that don't even have enough on the ball to hold a civilized conversation, let alone guide a civilization.

There, I was topical. Now, the music!
ROCK-pical. And next week's guest is Rock Pickle. Weird.
Homesick Hounddogs are a Brooklyn-based Americana/bluegrass band. Two thirds of them came into the studio last night and played a great set for the Rodent Hour. They're actually the second vaguely folk-ish alterna-rock band that's been on the show this season, the first being The Tres Amigos, who were so good they made me want to be a better person. I'll give them another plug. Here's a slideshow of their appearance set to their song "Fiddleheads."
I had to put this up because we haven't made the video for Homesick Hounddogs yet. As soon as that one is up, I'll post it here. I also wanted to mention The Tres Amigos in this post about Homesick Hounddogs because I see them both as part of a movement taking place in music right now. I think it may have started with "O Brother, Where Art Thou," which came out in 2000 and seemed to revive interest in folksy Americana, especially among my generation.

I see it as part of the same fashion and cultural movement that's appropriated the aesthetic of the pre-war years. For brevity's sake I'll use the term "hipster," though I hate to pull out that word unless I'm referencing Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." Hipsters dress in outdated clothing, adopt the hairstyles of their grandparents, and fetishize the objects and technologies of a bygone era, like typewriters, fixed gear bikes, and Mason jar drinking glasses in order to project an image of authenticity (which is kind of an oxymoron, but I think they know that). The appropriation of this folksy aesthetic among the young and educated urbanite could be behind the resurgence of bluegrass/folk/roots inspired music.

And I am loving it!

That's right, you sit on the floor and jam with your mandolins and your harmonicas, you angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.
This fall season, we've had three bands who fall into this old Americana sub-category of music: The Tres Amigos, lushTongue (they do Indigenous-inspired a capella, not vaguely folkish alterna-rock, which is why I didn't mention them earlier), and Homesick Hounddogs. Not coincidentally, they're all my new favorite bands. I would actually go out to see any of them play live, and if you read this blog, you know I literally have to get paid to go out and see live music in this town. I've set up my life quite nicely so that the live music comes directly to me. But The Tres Amigos are playing a gig at Columbia University on November 30th, so the BF should be prepared to get his ass dragged to a social event, because I want in on that sweet, toe-tappin' all-American action.

It's easy to be down on hipsters because they're mostly young, which means they're somewhat powerless (no one claiming the hipster label got elected last night) and therefore a safe target to mock. And I won't lie, they are so eminently mockable.
Wonder Woman sneers at your mainstream fashion sense.
But I think there's real value in attempting to preserve and perpetuate our own cultural history. Using a typewriter or knowing how to can your own vegetables serves as a tactical bridge to the past, to say nothing of the heritage explored and experienced when musicians mine America's past for inspiration. Is it fashionable? Of the moment? Yes, but it's also of the past, and therefore timeless.

And for my money, it makes for a way better evening than a political rally.
Chelsea is looking at the election results as of 9PM last night. Don't be sad, Chels, Obama wins in the end!
Are you a fan of my radio show? The Rodent Hour is on Tuesdays from 8 to 10PM EST, on Pratt Institute's online radio station, The links to our various social media sites are below. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Tumblr, and listen to past guests on YouTube and Soundcloud. All free, all awesome, and all for one and one for all! (Wait, I think I got off topic...)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Storm

I stuffed plastic bags and duct tape into the cracks of my window frames, turned the fridge down as cold as it would go, packed my little blue suitcase, and left my apartment on Sunday afternoon at the same time as my upstairs neighbor S and her cat. It all felt very familiar. Didn't we just evacuate for a hurricane last year? S said that she was taking her cat to her sister's place in Brooklyn Heights, but that she might come back herself and weather the storm in our building because Irene hadn't been that bad. On the one hand, that is specious reasoning and I did not agree with her with her logic--on the other hand, I left my laptop computer and all my jewelry in my own apartment, so I guess the specious was going around. 

I stood at the bus stop and watched the restaurant put tarps and sandbags down over their cellar doors. Two bulldozers were parked on top of the giant pile of salt across the street. The East River is right on the other side of that pile. Clearly the dock workers thought that shit was about to get real.

Won't the salt just dissolve in a flood?
A guy with a thick beard and horn-rimmed glasses came up next to me evacuating with nothing except a Scrabble box under his arm. He didn't even bother to pack a change of underoos. Hipsters and hurricanes, I thought. He's either the smartest or the dumbest person at this bus stop right now, but there's no way to tell until the storm actually hits. The bus pulled up and away we all went, leaving Flood Zone A and heading for the hills.

In hurricane preparedness, you learn that the most important aspect of surviving a hurricane (after you get to high ground, of course) is to keep yourself occupied. Panic is your biggest enemy. So for all of Sunday and Monday, while the BF and I were crammed into his little uptown studio, I read my books, did yoga, took baths, and groomed like a nervous cat until I'd shed my long hair in every corner of the apartment. And then it was time for a walk.

This was before the storm had made landfall. No one really knew what was coming, so attitudes ranged from the blase to the barely-sane. Vans full of police officers cruised the streets, looking very official and prepared. A crowd of them (what do you call a group of police officers? A pod? A pack? A pride?) came into a pizza place and the BF looked at me with his I-didn't-do-nuttin' face, but they were just getting their lunches. As if they'd be coming for him. They're coming for me if they're coming for anybody. I come from interesting stock. Parents have been warning their children not to play with my family for generations.

After lunch, we went to a grocery store thinking we might pick up a sack of clementines, but the lines were crazy-long and the shelves were almost cleaned out. Almost. Apparently when the end is nigh and civilization totters to the brink, people look at turnips, pineapples and cranberries and say, "Fuck that noise, leave it for the looters."

We got our first hint that this whole storm thing was serious business when the crane blew over backwards in midtown and the BF's family had to evacuate their building.

That was Monday afternoon. On Monday night, the tide came in, the hurricane hit, and our troubles began. We didn't know it at the time, though. The BF closed the curtains, turned on the white noise machine, and we had a quiet evening at home ignoring each other while we read our respective books. The lights flickered once or twice and he filled up the bathtub just in case, but we woke the next morning to heat, power, and Internet as if nothing had happened. Our biggest concern was if we'd get the day off or not.

Then we turned on the television.

Breezy Point, Queens. Anyone who makes a Call of Duty or a Mad Max joke is going to hell.
And checked the New York Times online.
Subway station in the Financial District.
 And Googled images of my area of Brooklyn.
Red Hook, the neighborhood just south of my own.
I tried to adhere to my Girl Scout training. We turned off the news and read our books some more. We watched Golden Girls and a re-run of Beetlejuice on television. We even went outside for a walk. Damage was minimal on the Upper West Side, a few downed trees and a lot of untidy leaves in the gutters. But the air pressure was still all weird from the storm and it felt like someone was jamming chopsticks into my eardrums. We went back inside and tried to stay busy, but I was starting to worry about what had happened to my building.

I live in a funny little neighborhood that no one really knows about. Google searches for my street just kept pulling up images of flooded Red Hook, the neighborhood immediately south of my own, and with all public transit shut down and all the bridges and tunnels closed, there was no way for me to get home and check my apartment. Important lessons were learned that day about getting my neighbor's phone numbers and not being so anti-social.

Wednesday was worse. My office was open, but there was no way I could get off the island of Manhattan. The BF got to go back to his normal life because he can walk to his school, but I was stuck in his apartment watching re-runs of X-Files and another round of Beetlejuice when I wasn't watching the news. It was Halloween and I had my costume with me, but I knew there was no way I was going to celebrate. My heart wasn't in it. I couldn't read, do yoga, or even groom. I just sat on the bed and wailed to no one in particular that I wanted to go home.

Fortunately, that was when R called me. "Are you coming over?" Fuck and yes, I was coming over. She lives across the park from the BF, and buses were running again, so I peeled myself off the mattress and hit the road. Traffic was Independence Day gridlock. I hopped a crosstown to the east side, but around Frederick Douglass Blvd my patience ran out and I just decided to walk. I got as far as 96th and 5th Ave. before my patience for walking ran out and I decided to get back on a bus. And it was the exact same bus I'd gotten off of half an hour before. (I recognized the driver and the Halloween costumes.)

When R heard my wailing about not knowing what was happening at my building, she stuffed me full of cookies and tea and we played Scrabble for a few hours. I think that hipster at the bus stop was on to something, because I felt a lot better afterwards. The BF joined us, we ordered take-out, and watched Spirited Away with her neighbor's cats, which is almost like Halloween.
He's dressed as Charlie Chaplin!
Thursday. My fourth day of evacuation. I was determined to make it my last. The night before I'd called the restaurant in my building and asked them what had happened on my street, and the hostess said they were dry, powered, and open for business. That was as much information as I was going to get without being there in person, and public transit was slowly coming back to life, so I put my books and teddy bear back in my little blue suitcase, kissed my BF good-bye, and started off across Manhattan.

I figured I could take the subway south, take a cross-town bus east, another bus south again, and catch one of the shuttle buses that was taking people between Brooklyn and the blacked-out parts of Manhattan. Even in daylight, it was eerie to go below 34th Street and see block after block of dark traffic lights and shuttered stores. It felt like a movie set before the director yells "Action!"
A city divided.

The bus spit me out at Jay Street and I began my walk home because I have never been able to find the start of my bus route in Downtown Brooklyn and the aftermath of a hurricane was a bad time to fight that battle again. Atlantic Avenue looked all right, streets clear, no windows broken or awnings down. I decided to be optimistic and stopped at the grocery store, and then I got pessimistic and stopped at the liquor store.

The bulldozers were still parked on the giant pile of salt, just where I'd left them on Sunday. The bookstore and the restaurant were both open for business, and the super of my building had put away the sandbags. The front door pushed away drifts of leaves when I opened it, but I didn't smell any sewage or mold and there was no mud on the floor. Apparently--impossibly, miraculously--my neighborhood hadn't flooded at all.

My own apartment was toasty as a hippie at Burning Man and everything in my fridge was frozen solid. The bonsai had shed some leaves but was otherwise fine. Every light turned on and the Internet fired right up when I plugged my router back in. I can't be certain, but I think that the heat and power and water was on the whole time I was gone. Would you believe I had more clean-up to do after Irene than I did after Sandy? I had nothing worse to deal with on Thursday than a carton of half-and-half that froze while I was gone and got all grainy when it thawed.

Considering the devastation in other parts of the city--and the lack of power, water, and heat to tens of thousands of people across the state--and the billions of dollars of damage we'll need to repair the damage--and considering that I live a block away from the East River and less than a mile away from a neighborhood that was under 6 feet of water on Monday night--I am one absurdly lucky Big Island Rachel. 

I made my triumphant return to work on Friday and immediately got in a fight with a customer over the phone. It felt good to be back to normal.