October 25, 2002
The 3rd Annual Happy Voodoo Panda Toaster Awards

This year brought to you by Gatorade Ice ... the official  *Oh My God I'm Going To Die Now [And I'm Taking YOU With Me]* Sports Drink of The 2,002 in 2002 Project.

Maybe it's the changing of the seasons.

Something about summer morphing into autumn every year, especially the downshift from September into October, always seems to bring out The Big Warm & Fuzzy in me. wear it proudly October makes me want to say *I love you* to the whole world, basically.

Or maybe it's the new meds, which are now officially the not-so-new meds, but which have contributed greatly towards my kinder/ gentler/ less-likely-to-run-after-you-with-scissors-if-you-spell-my-name-wrong frame of mind in recent months.

On the other hand, maybe it's signing onto the Internet every morning and finding another batch of freshly-squeezed Spam in my e-mailbox, urging me to enlarge my penis or spy on my husband or watch teenagers engage in coital activity with farm animals. Maybe it's the moron who rode our bumper all the way down 880 this morning, or the idiot woman who smokes in the bathroom at work (and doesn't think we KNOW that she smokes in the bathroom at work), or the telemarketer who calls and leaves the same fudking canned message on our answering machine, every single day. ("Wow, I'm really surprised I haven't heard from you yet!")

Maybe it's all of the impending-war talk ... or all of the sniper talk, or all of the sagging economy talk, or all of the unspeakable-horrors-lurking-just-around-the-corner talk  ... reminding us that life and happiness don't come with a guarantee.

Whatever the reason -- whether it's the season or the meds or the daily dose of crap and fear and uncertainty waiting for us all when we wake up in the morning -- lately I've been in the mood to spread around a little positive karmic energy. And what better way to spread some of that energy than by handing out the Third Annual Happy Voodoo Panda Toaster Awards?

Obviously I'm a little tardy with the awards this year. Like everything else in my life -- the website, the job, e-mail, laundry, regular personal hygiene -- The HVPTAs have had to take a back seat to our goal of riding 2,002 in 2002. But that's OK: the delay has given me more time to think about who I want to acknowledge this year ... and why. The first year I gave out the awards, two summers ago, I just sort of pulled some random names out of thin air and called them "winners." Last year , it was mostly about thanking people for helping out with the wedding. 

This year, I wanted to actually put some thought into the selection process. 

My criteria was simple: if you've contributed some sort of general cosmic grooviness to the world in general (and to the Secra/Ю僱êrvØ¡ household in particular) -- AND if you don't owe us a big bunch of money, with no visible intention of paying it back in this lifetime -- then you were probably in the running for an award. In the interest of conserving time and bandwidth, I've narrowed it down to the most deserving handful.

Therefore, without any further delay ... the incredibly groovy, incredibly deserving recipients of the 2002 Happy Voodoo Panda Toaster Awards:

  • The New Girl.

    Any brown-nosing/power-hungry/corporate-ladder-climbing Administrative Ass worth her steno pad would be giving the workplace edition of this award to her BOSS ... whether her boss deserved it or not. And there is no question that JoAnne would totally deserve the award. She has single-handedly rekindled my faith in employer/employee relationships this past year. She has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is Life After Franz. She trusted me to take care of the office last month while she went away on vacation, even after I fudked it up so spectacularly the first time.

    She buys those little fruit sponge things that nobody else likes, simply because she knows *I* like them.

    But I'm not a brown-nosing/power-hungry/corporate-ladder-climbing Administrative Ass. I don't want a promotion. I don't even own a steno pad. And the HVPT Awards are purely *my* invention, so I pretty much get to hand them out to anyone I want to.

    The New Girl gets the award this year for two reasons: one, I figure it's probably good *Office Karma* to give her the award: after all, you never know who you might end up trapped in an elevator with, someday (and who might be carrying the very last bag of little fruit sponge things when that happens) ...

    ... and two: her mere presence in The Dirt Company office every day is forcing me to be a kinder, gentler, more helpful, more tolerant human being.

    Whether I like it or not. 

  • Bruce Springsteen.

    Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band got me through the one-year anniversary of  911 in one piece, last month ... and they did it without fanfare or hoopla or screechy, off-key R&B renditions of The Star Spangled Banner. While my co-workers had a pizza party in the conference room that afternoon, clustered around a portable TV watching the local "remembrance ceremonies" ...

    ... I sat alone in the empty CAD cubicle (it was Media Deprivation Week, remember?) with a pair of headphones strapped to my head, listening to my brand-new copy of "The Rising" from start to finish.

    Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)
    Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)
    Sky of glory and sadness (a dream of life)
    Sky of mercy, sky of fear (a dream of life)
    Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)
    Your burnin' wind fills my arms tonight
    Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)
    Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life

    It was as close to a church service as I'm ever likely to get these days, especially now that God and I have officially called it quits.  And Mr. Springsteen and his band were the gospel choir, singing about love and loss and hope and redemption.

    To me, it seemed like an entirely fitting remembrance ceremony.

  • Alameda Pizza.

    They recognize us when we call them now.

    Every Saturday night, David and I call the little hole-in-the-wall pizza joint down the street and order our usual: a jumbo Alameda Special with extra feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. At first I tried to disguise my voice,  the first seven or eight or sixteen times I called, mainly because I was embarrassed to be calling and ordering the exact same thing, week after week. (Not to mention the fact that I was ordering a pizza the size of an Indiana crop circle, and that it was obviously going to be consumed by just two people.)

    But after a while I said "The hell with it" and admitted Yes, hi, it's me Secra again. We'll have the usual.

    Now it's sort of nice to be known as a 'regular customer.' Our pizza is always boxed and ready when we come to pick it up. The nice little counter guy actually smiled at me last week, for the first time ever, and he didn't charge me full price even though I forgot my $2 coupon again. ("Is OK, is OK! You bring next week, OK?") And the pizza itself is the BEST DAMN PIZZA I've ever had in my life ... especially after fifty miles on the Iron Horse Trail and a rousing Saturday night game of Yahtzee.

    (Or eaten cold the next day, after our Sunday morning ride.)

  • Team Estrogen.

    Any woman who has ever shopped on the Internet -- especially any woman who has shopped on the Internet for something stoopidly difficult to find, like comfortable shoes or flattering second-time-around wedding gowns or bike clothes that don't make a lavishly proportioned forty-four year old woman look like a pot roast stuffed into a Day-Glo tube sock -- will appreciate the value of a website that not only makes you feel like a valued customer ...

    ... but makes you feel like a member of the family.

    Thank you, Susan and Gayle!

  • Marianne Faithfull.

    This has been The Year of the Memoir: at least, as far as my side of the headboard bookcase is concerned. (Not to mention my Amazon.com Wish List, my Barnes & Noble Preferred Customer Card and the Alameda Public Library System.)

    For the past few months I've been voraciously reading every memoir, autobiography and first-person narrative I can get my hands on. I am especially drawn to memoirs written by smart, gutsy, tragically-flawed but inherently self-aware women who have overcome enormous personal obstacles and lived to tell the tale.

    Let's just call it 'research,' OK?

    Some of my favorites so far have included Betsy Clark's "Nothing To Fall Back On: The Life & Times of a Perpetual Optimist," Haven Kimmel's "A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small In Moreland, Indiana," Jo Ann Beard's "The Boys of My Youth" and Adair Lara's "Hold Me Close, Let Me Go: A Mother, A Daughter & An Adolescence Survived." Some of the authors I'm reading were famous before their memoirs were published -- Betsy Clark, for instance, was founding editor of New York Woman, and Adair Lara is a well-known newspaper columnist right here in the Bay Area -- but otherwise I've been mostly avoiding the big splashy celebrity autobio. The kind of women I want to read about right now don't have Oscars on their mantlepiece or lunch with Ray Romano in the CBS commissary every day.

    There have been a couple of exceptions to this rule, however: Bebe Buell's "Rebel Heart," which I read earlier this year, and Marianne Faithfull's "Faithfull," which I'm going to finish tonight before bed.

    I fell into the Bebe Buell book by accident: fresh from renting "Almost Famous," misled by early reviews that compared Bebe Buell's memoir to Pamela des Barres' riotously smart and spunky "I'm With The Band." I realized two pages into "Rebel Heart," however, that not only is it nothing like "I'm With The Band" ... but it's easily the most vapid, self-indulgent, idiotically pointless book I've ever read in my life.

    (Trust me. It makes *FootNotes* look like the official *Altruists R Us* website.)

    Marianne Faithfull, on the other hand, is like The Anti-Bebe: her memoir is elegant, intelligent, thought-provoking, honest ... gossipy without being smug ... confessional without being icky. She actually seems to have learned something from her experiences (unlike Bebe Buell, who still seems to be operating under the delusion that Prince is writing songs about her). Plus her descriptions of addiction and recovery are as vivid, as lyrical and as haunting as anything I've ever read, anywhere. This is how she describes that moment when she knew she was finished with drugs:

    "Little did I know I was about to crash through the abyss and come out on the other side. You fall and fall and fall and fall. It just keeps getting worse, until you are in the lowest circle of hell and you know you are still going down and there are other circles beneath that. But eventually you fall through the lowest circle, and then you fall into the light."

    It's not only the kind of stuff I want to read more of ... it's the kind of stuff I want to WRITE more of.

  • Whoever invented toe clips.

    I know what you're thinking.

    You're thinking "Jesus H. Christ on a pair of CyclePro ATB 100's, Secra! You spend ten months yammering on and on about how much you hate your toe clips ... and now all of a sudden you're giving a Happy Voodoo Panda Toaster Award to whoever invented them??" And the answer to that is ... well ...

    ... yes.

    Shut up.

    Toe clips were just one of those things I had to learn to love, like Bruce Springsteen CDs, or feta cheese and sundried tomatoes on a pizza, or Jackie Chan movies. (Oh wait. I still don't love Jackie Chan movies.)  I had to figure out how toe clips work. I had to learn how to use them properly. I had to fall down a few times ... if only to convince myself that falling off a bike isn't fatal. (Painful, yes. Embarrassing, yes. But fatal? Probably not, unless you fall down in front of a thundering herd of Power Rangers.)  But once I got the hang of them -- once I realized that toe clips actually make bike-riding easier, not harder -- that was all it took. I was sold.

    In fact, when I kicked the single remaining screw out of my left toe clip on the trail last weekend, and David had to remove the entire clip from my pedal for the duration of our ride,  I felt positively bereft. My foot felt naked and exposed. My ride was slower and less powerful. And I fell off my bike -- twice -- because I'd forgotten how to come to a stop without toe clips.

    (Next year: a Happy Voodoo Panda Toaster Award to whoever invented clipless pedals!)

  • Matt Lauer.

    I know what you're thinking.

    You're thinking, There she goes again, giving an award to that big overpaid/underqualified/overexposed network doofus, Matt Lauer. And yes, it's true that Matt Lauer wins a Happy Voodoo Panda Toaster Award every year, regardless of whether or not he's actually done anything HVPTA-worthy.

    This year, though,  you've got to admit the guy has earned it.

    Not only did he have the nerve to shave off all of that lovely, lustrous dark hair of his and go Totally Buzz Cut in front of the whole world, but he didn't try to bullshidt us about it. None of this "My stylist was drunk" or "I lost a bet" or "It's for a movie role" nonsense. He did it, he says, because he's a balding, middle-aged guy who doesn't want to look like a balding, middle-aged guy in denial of the fact that he's a balding, middle-aged guy. There is something to be said for growing older with grace and dignity.

    (Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to rinse out the Miss Clairol, start the glycolic acid peel and schedule my next Botox appointment.)

  • Jennifer & Karen.

    Any good Internet journaler worth her referrer logs needs four things:

    1. A working computer.
    2. A little piece of *cyber real estate* to call her own.
    3. A fundamental understanding of the way words fit together.
    4. An audience.
    It's nice if she also has a private office with a door that locks, a decent thesaurus, a limitless supply of Peet's Dark Roast and something more interesting to talk about than her teeth or her menstrual cycle. But that might be nitpicking.)

    Over the years I've had occasional difficulty with items #1-3 ... but right from the beginning I've had marvelous luck with #4.

    This year, two of my very most favorite readers of all time, Jennifer and Karen, volunteered to help me plug in some of the holes in the archives: specifically, they volunteered to transcribe the long-lost/late-lamented/much-ballyhooed Missing Journals. Granted, I'm the one who lost them in the first place -- they were at the bottom of a box of Christmas decorations I hadn't bother to unpack since I moved to California four years ago -- and I'm probably the only one who has ever 'lamented' or 'ballyhooed' them much at all. But still. Jennifer and Karen did what I simply don't have the time/the opportunity/the carpal tunnel strength to do, anymore: they took these old handwritten journals of mine, spent weeks wading through page after page of smeary chicken scratches and faded dot matrix print-outs and turned the whole mess into nice tidy convenient HTML, ready for airlifting into the archives.

    AND they're both still speaking to me. I think.

    If you're interested -- or if you're very, very bored -- you can find The Missing Journals here and here and here.  (No. 25 is still out there, undergoing transcription: it should be landing in the archives sometime soon.)  A word of warning: these journals are not an especially happy read. As a matter of fact, they're pretty darned depressing in places. Written between 1993 and 1995 -- the final journal ends just as I'm discovering the online world: it's the last handwritten journal I would keep for several years -- this is The Bad Time just before The Very, Very, Oh-So-Very-Bad Time. My family is falling apart at the seams. I hate my job, I hate my marriage, I hate my life. I use the *F* word lots more than I've ever used it here on *FootNotes* ... and I don't spell it with the added "d" for comic relief.

    It's a train wreck, in other words.

    Still, as historical documents go, The Missing Journals are as integral a part of our family history as any of the other journals in the archives, I guess ... particularly since *FootNotes* originally began as a means of archiving all the old journals so the Tots could cringe over them someday. I'm glad to have them restored, finally. And I couldn't have done it without the help of Jennifer and Karen.

    (Now I wonder if I can get them to type the high school diaries?)

  • James Lileks.

    He doesn't use the *F* word gratuitously.

    He never apologizes for having an opinion.

    He never makes you feel stoopid if you don't get a reference right away. (David knew who George Monbiot is, but I had to look it up.)

    There is enough interesting stuff on his website -- in addition to his lovely and engaging daily journal -- to keep the average lollygagging SecraTerri busy and entertained and distracted from her Concrete Cylinder Test Data reports for most of a Wednesday afternoon. (Especially on a Wednesday afternoon when her boss is at the dentist and the rest of her co-workers are playing hooky to watch the World Series.)

    He updates regularly, and when he doesn't update he tells you why he hasn't updated.

    He doesn't have a "Clix" banner on his front page.

    He doesn't talk about his menstrual cycle much.

    He has probably NEVER indulged in the RANDOM use of CAPITALS for EMPHASIS in his life.

    He writes about his little daughter the way I imagine my father would have written about me, had there been personal computers in 1958. Or Internet journals. Or an Internet.

    He is wickedly funny, relentlessly honest and unfailingly human.

    Best of all: he inspires The Good Writer in me, without intimidating The Lazy/Unmotivated/Eternally-Procrastinating Writer in me. I read him, and I think I want to write like that! I CAN write like that!  I WILL write like that!

    (First thing tomorrow morning!)

  • Intelligent Web Hosting.

    When the sprawling, unwieldy behemoth that is *FootNotes* threatened to spill over its dedicated server boundaries, earlier this year, I received this day-brightening notice from my web host:

    Hi, Secra ... it looks like you are about to exceed your allotted disk space (this is probably due to the fact that you have a popular site and your log files are filling up). What I have done is give you an extra 50 MB of disk space; there will be no charge for this, it's a "thank you" for being a great customer.

    What I can also do in the future if you need more space is to delete your log files. Doing this will not affect your website statistics.

    Please let me know if you have any questions.

    ~ Chris Calabrese

    Isn't it nice to know that there are still companies like Intelligent Web Hosting who actually live up to their name?

    Thanks, Chris.

  • Carolyn Dopps.

    Imagine that you wrote a journal entry about your husband's high school reunion, a couple of years back -- a silly, slapdash entry designed mainly to showcase his groovy new black silk shirt with the flames climbing up the front -- but that the entry spun off, as journal entries are wont to do, into a raging diatribe all about your own miserable high school experiences,  and about why you've never gone to any of your own high school reunions, and about how you would rather juggle flaming cans of Aqua Net Super Hold, nude and blindfolded, than to walk into a room filled with your former high school classmates. Imagine that you tossed a couple of those former classmates' names into the journal entry, just for the sake of realism: that you said you hoped that the entire yearbook staff was audited by the IRS, and that you hoped the handsome football hero went bald...

    ... and that you hoped that Carolyn Dopps "got fat."

    You don't really hope that Carolyn Dopps got fat, of course. You just plucked her name out of the dim recesses of twenty-five-year-old memory, when you were writing the journal entry, because she was one of The Pretty Girls ... one of those lovely, lissome creatures with perfect hair and perfect clothes and perfect figures, laughing in the hallways and dancing at parties and always looking like they were having a much, much better time than *you* were. You could just have easily have picked Lorri Sahlinger or Cherie Elmer or any of the other seriously beautiful girls in your graduating class, but you went with Carolyn Dopps because hers was the first name that sprang to mind when you were trying to remember who The Pretty Girls were. You didn't know Carolyn Dopps very well, then or now. You certainly wish her no ill will ... particularly as you've heard a rumor, over the years, that she went into law enforcement, and it has long been your policy never to deliberately rankle a member of the law enforcement community. But you toss her name into the journal entry anyway, and you post it without a second thought, and you move on with your life/your career/your website.

    Imagine that two or three years go by, and one day you get up in the morning and you open up your e-mailbox and you find that there is a message waiting for you.

    It is a message from Carolyn Dopps.

    Why in the world is Carolyn Dopps writing to me??, you ask yourself in panic ... but deep in your heart you know exactly why Carolyn Dopps is writing to you: because she is mentioned by name, somewhere within the vast rambling expanse of your Internet journal, and she has somehow managed to stumble across it, just like Ron McClamrock and The Martian Hop Guy and Penelope Houston and the drummer from Translator and the nephew of Earl Peterson, Michigan's Singing Cowboy have stumbled across their names in your journal, while they were ego-surfing, and have written to ask you about it. And now Carolyn Dopps is writing to yell at you.  Or to arrest you, maybe.

    Imagine that you cautiously open Carolyn Dopps' e-mail, after first fortifying yourself with two and a half cups of Peet's Dark Roast and an Everything Bagel, and you begin to read.

    Dear Terri, she says. Tonight, for some reason, I decided to put my name in a search engine when guess what happened? I found my name in your journal.

    Uh oh.

    And no, I'm not upset in the least, in fact I was very flattered. Maybe I shouldn't be, but I was.

    Oh. OK. Whew.

    You mentioned something about how you hope Carolyn Dopps gets fat, her e-mail goes on to say. I didn't know you in high school ... I don't think I ever even had a conversation with you and just always thought you were this gorgeous girl I didn't know in my class, so I was very surprised to read about your low self esteem, depression, etc. You are probably sitting there thinking, "why is this person writing me and why does she think I care what she thinks". But I'll tell you what I think anyway.

    Uh oh redux.

    I am VERY impressed with your writing, she says. The courage it took for you to post your life long journal with all your ups and downs on the internet is amazing. Of course I've only read a couple hours worth but you should be very proud of yourself. I wish you the best in your life and in your sobriety. Here's to wishing I could have known you.


    Imagine that you just sit there in front of your computer for a few minutes, after you've finished reading Carolyn Dopps' e-mail,  feeling pleased and flattered and RELIEVED (time to go back into the archives and start applying pseudonyms again) and nostalgic and weirdly sad, in a way you can't really put your finger on ... as though maybe you, too, missed out on knowing a really great person in high school.

  • The Gutless Shidthead Bicycle Thief.

    I'm pretty sure that when the Gutless Shidthead Bicycle Thief was sneaking into our "security" apartment complex last spring, getting ready to walk off with my brand-new bazillion-dollar bike, he wasn't saying to himself, 'Gosh, wouldn't it be great if this actually turns out to be a POSITIVE GROWTH EXPERIENCE for everyone concerned?'

    But it did.

    As he sliced through my steel cable combination lock with his twelve-inch bolt cutters, he probably wasn't thinking, 'Wouldn't it be nice if the woman I'm ripping off has this vast worldwide support system of friends and family and readers, and they all rallied together and chip in to buy her a replacement bike ... restoring her faith in people, enabling her to continue on her quest to ride 2,002 miles in 2002, and providing her with lots of groovy new material for her Internet journal?'

    But I do, and they did, and it did.

    As he removed the sliced cable from the concrete stairwell, two feet from our front door, I'll bet he wasn't asking himself, ' I wonder if -- by committing this gutless act of thievery -- I'm inadvertently spawning the creation of The BOOBS ... which, in turn, will inspire women around the world to change their lives, and to take charge of their health and their thigh muscles, and to park their big flabby sedentary butts on a bicycle for the first time in three decades?'

    But he did.

    And as The Gutless Shidthead Bicycle Thief wheeled my brand-new bazillion dollar bike out the front door of our "security" apartment complex, I'm pretty sure he wasn't thinking, 'Gosh ... I hope this gets me a Happy Voodoo Panda Toaster Award!'

    But it did.

  • And there you have them: this year's crop of Happy Voodoo Panda Toaster Award recipients. Some of them may seem more deserving than others, but all of them have, in some way -- deliberately or not-so-deliberately -- contributed positive karmic energy to the SecraTerri/Ю僱êrvØ¡ household this past year.

    And for that ... I thank them.

    Have a great weekend, everybody!

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