Monday, November 30, 2009

My dog, my self

posted Sun, 02 Jan 2005

A colleague was telling me about her weekend a while ago. “Max and I went to a birthday party. And then we did this. And then we did that. And then Max and I blah blah blah.”

I was thinking, “Does she have a new boyfriend I haven’t heard about? Who’s Max?”

I was very confused.

Then I realized Max was her dog.

Don’t you think that’s weird? To talk about your dog the way you’d talk about another human? I can see taking your dog to the park or wherever, but I can’t see including him that way in your description of the day.

I would maybe say – if I were a dog person, which I am not – “I took my dog to the park.”

But I wouldn’t say, “Max and I went to the park.”

Cat people never talk like that. Cat people never say, “O’Malley and I went to the movies, then out for a bite.”

First of all, you’d never get a cat to go out socially with you. They are snobs and agoraphobics, so they aren’t going to leave the house with you and risk having one of their cat friends see them out in public with an inferior human.

But second, cat people understand the difference between cats and people. They don’t talk about their cats as if they are people. They might talk about their cats as if they are their children, but that’s its own brand of weirdness.

The day of living dangerously

My married life isn't much different from my single life except now I have company while I do these things.

posted Sat, 01 Jan 2005

I am on my third diet Coke of the day.

Yes, I am living on the edge. Party girl, that’s me.

This is the price I pay for staying up so late last night. I didn’t get to bed until 11:30 because I watched Harpo’s band perform for a while. (They are so good.) I took a nap yesterday afternoon, but it wasn’t enough to overcome my complete inability to stay up late.

Actually, it’s not the staying up so much that bothers me, it’s the fact that no matter what time I get to bed, I wake when the sun comes up, which, at this time of the year, is about 6:45. I need nine hours of sleep and I need most of it between 9:00 p.m and 5:00 a.m.

As you might imagine, New Year’s Eve is not one of my favorite holidays. It involves so many things I don’t like: staying up late, crowds, and drinking. This is actually the first New Year’s Eve in years that I have done anything to celebrate. If Harpo’s band hadn’t been playing, I suspect we would have rented some movies and ordered a pizza. And not stayed up late.

It’s been a nice, quiet day today, though. I ran/walked eight miles, then did laundry, cleaned the bathroom (I never realized that washing temporary hair dye out of the hair leaves a shower looking as if someone has been stabbed in it), made vichyssoise from the leeks I got earlier in the week thinking I needed them for the minestrone I made the other night, made an eggplant parmagiana for Stephen and Leigh, who just had a baby two weeks ago, and sorted through my Christmas cards.

I am going to listen to Prairie Home Companion while I fold my clean clothes, then go to bed. My married friends with children think I lead such a glamorous life.

Corporate finance

posted Sat, 01 Jan 2005

I saw in the paper this morning that my company’s stock price had dropped 2.6% over the year.

So much for my stock options.

I do not work in a glamorous high-growth, high-profit industry. My stock options are worth little more than the paper they are printed on. (That’s a great inside joke.) [I worked for International Paper.] Must be why the top executives get stock grants. And why they have decided to stop giving options to people at my level.

The first time I got options, a few years ago, my mother was puzzled. “Why would you buy stock from the company at that price when you could get it cheaper on the open market?”

I explained that the whole point of options was that stock price was supposed to go up, thus making options valuable. But they are rendered moot if the price never changes, or, heaven forbid, drops.

I have options on about 8,000 shares. About 1,200 of those are priced 50% higher than the current stock price. It has been six years since the stock price has been at that level. Those will never be exercised, for sure.

The rest are priced within a dollar or two of the current price. Maybe when I’m vested and can exercise them, they might be worth something.

Maybe. If I don’t leave the company before then.

If it gets really cold, maybe I’ll just use them as fireplace tinder.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Did I break one of the ten commandments?

posted Sat, 01 Jan 2005

I cheated on my hairdresser today.

That’s almost worse than cheating on a boyfriend (who would be Harpo).

Women and their hairdressers have this intimacy that you don’t find in other relationships. You have to trust your hairdresser almost more than you would trust anyone else.

True, the gynecologist is a more – personal – relationship, but that’s usually only once a year. What he does doesn’t affect the rest of your everyday life.

But a hairdresser – if she messes up – that’s a disaster.

I still remember one haircut I got when I was 12 that was so short that everyone thought I was a boy. No, the rest of my body did not give them any indication otherwise.

When I moved from Houston to Austin, I was more upset about having to find a new hairdresser than about leaving my then-boyfriend behind. He was not happy when I explained this to him, either. We broke up. Oh well.

When you finally find a hairdresser you like and trust, it is such a relief. At last, someone who won’t make you look awful. I went through four hairdressers in M’town before I found Geri. She is a gem. I trust her so much that I have even told her she can do whatever she wants with my hair color.

Not with the cut, though. I am not that brave.

So how did I betray her?

Well, I have told her to do what she wants with the color – but have shown her photos of my sister with auburn hair, saying I want to go in that direction. I was born blonde, but my hair has gotten darker as I have gotten older, especially as I no longer spend my summers at the pool. (I used to be absolutely white blonde in high school when I was on the swim team and at the end of every summer in college. I looked great.)

She hasn’t taken the hint. Yes, she has put subtle auburn tones in my hair, but I want to quit messing around. If I pay $75 to have my hair colored, I want people to notice.

In Geri’s defense, her strategy is for them to notice me, not my hair.

Well, if a little bit of auburn is good, a lot is better, I say.

So this morning, I dyed it myself.

It looks fabulous.

Yes, I was scared I would completely mess it up. After all, every other time I have done something to my hair myself, it has been a complete disaster. No, I do not learn from these lessons.

Well, maybe I learn a little bit. I got temporary hair dye. It is supposed to wash out in 28 days. We’ll see. The last time I used temporary dye was when my friend Terri and I were drinking tequila out of an 8-oz tumbler. We decided it would be a really, really good idea to dye our hair purple. Temporary purple, of course.

But guess what? If your hair is sunbleached (or people-bleached), as mine was, temporary dye becomes permanent. I had lavender streaks in my hair for months. I liked it. I thought it was edgy and non-corporate, but I don’t think my corporate boss appreciated it.

At least this time, the results are safe for work.

But will it wash out before I see Geri again? Will it really be temporary? Will I be caught? How will I explain myself?

Tune in next month…

One size does not fit anyone

posted Fri, 31 Dec 2004

I have a bone to pick with women’s clothing makers. I can’t tell you if it’s a big bone or a little bone, though. How about if I say it’s a size 5 bone? Does that mean anything to you?

I didn’t think so.

When they say Marilyn Monroe was a size 14, they mean a size 14 in 1950 measurements.

I went to Target for my semi-annual new underpants splurge today. New underwear twice a year is one of the three indulgences I promised myself if I ever became financially stable. The other two are fresh flowers in my house (beauty for its own sake) and a cleaning lady. (She only comes once a month, but that is enough to be a huge luxury for me.)

As usual (I always forget), I was tricked. What was my underpants size? How would I know? Underpants sizing has nothing to do with other clothing sizing and has nothing to do with hip measurements. Was I a five? A six? A seven? I DIDN’T KNOW!

Far be it from the manufacturer to put a measurement on the tag itself. “Size 7” takes up so much more room than “39 inches.” Wouldn’t want to waste the ink printing that on the label. You can’t try on underpants, so it’s a gamble to buy them.

Men, you have no idea how good you have it when it comes to clothing sizes. It is so easy for you. It’s all by measurements. What a concept. If you know your measurements, you know what size shirt, pants, briefs, whatever to buy. Someone else can even buy clothes for you.

But for us women – forget it. Clothing sizes are a game – a way of playing with women’s minds. The numbers are inconsistent – they vary from one manufacturer to the next – and change from year to year.

The only item of women’s clothing where the body’s dimension is a part of the measurement is in brassieres. Coincidence? I think not. Breasts are the only part of a woman’s body that are allowed to be big. Everything else has to be small, small, small, even though that is not how nature intended most of our bodies to be.

I weigh now what I weighed in high school, but wear clothes four sizes smaller than I did then. (I have expanded and shrunk many times between then and now.)

My mom and I used to sew all our own clothes. (This was before we learned about the Junior League thrift shop.) My mom, at whose house you want to be if there is ever famine or any other disaster, still has a lot of the patterns we used in the late 1970s.

I asked her to give me the measurements for a size 12 from one of those patterns.

They correspond to an eight now.

That’s in cheap clothes. If you go to the expensive designer garments, you might find a size four with those measurements.

The clothes in my closet range over four sizes, but all fit the current me. I got rid of my fat clothes the last time I lost a bunch of weight.

I was so pleased to be wearing some “small” jeans the other day – and then I took a close look at the label. They were “relaxed fit,” which is Levi’s code for “not really this size, but if we put your real size, you won’t buy them.”

Yes. I would. I would buy them. I have gotten over the trauma of being my size and now all I want is clothes that fit properly. I don’t want to have to make five trips to the dressing room trying to figure out which size fits me. Make it easy for me, please. And let me buy underwear without gambling.

Sometimes the good die old

posted Fri, 31 Dec 2004

Bernie Staab died a few days ago. Bernie and my grandfather grew up on neighboring farms. He was my grandfather’s friend, and later, mine. My grampa stayed in the family business, but Bernie, after serving as a SeaBee in WWII, became a carpenter.

“Carpenter” doesn’t do justice to his work. Bernie was an artist. He made the most beautiful things out of wood. The cedar chest he built for me does not have a single piece of metal in it. Every joint is dovetailed and all the nails are wooden. It is exquisite.

Bernie gave me a wooden vise he made similar to this one, only far better looking. I have it in my office. No one can ever guess what it is. I tell them it’s my vise/vice. When I get a blank stare, I explain that I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, so I have to have something. They still usually don’t get it.

Bernie was so modest, though. “I was never much for book learning,” he said, explaining that he had gone only as far as eighth grade. That wasn’t unusual for central Wisconsin in the early 1900s. None of my grandparents went past eighth grade, either. Yet he and his wife raised a large family and he supported them all with his carpentry.

When he retired, he moved a lot of his machine tools to his basement and kept building, making cuckoo clocks, cedar chests, and other fine furniture. I would visit him every time I was in Dorchester visiting my grandparents.

A few years ago, Harpo was with me on a trip to Dorchester. I took him to meet Bernie, knowing he would appreciate Bernie’s craftsmanship.

“Shouldn’t we call first?” Harpo asked as we walked to Bernie and Irene’s back door.

“No,” I answered. “If they’re not home, we’ll just come back later.” City folk. Honestly. Dorchester is small. It doesn’t even have a stoplight. If you want to visit someone, you knock on his door. If he doesn’t answer, he’s either not at home or he’s not At Home.

I wish I could go to Bernie’s funeral. It would be sad, because Bernie will be missed, but he led a full, happy life for over 90 years, and I think he was relatively healthy in his last years.

It would also be fun, if my dad’s funeral is anything to judge by. Not the funeral and burial itself, but the lunch afterwards in the church basement.

That lunch was a party with friends and relatives we hadn’t seen in years. We kept saying how much my dad would have enjoyed being there. My uncle Larry, a butcher who makes the best bratwurst in the world, provided the brats. (This after bringing his divine venison summer sausage to the wake.)

For the rest of the meal, we had what the ladies’ altar society had made. They provide food for funeral lunches. We had an abundance of delicious Wisconsin food, including any kind of hotdish you would want and lots and lots of desserts.

Back to Bernie: Here is what you do when someone dies.

You acknowledge the death. I know it can be hard. It is difficult to talk about death. And our culture certainly doesn’t encourage it. But you acknowledge it to the family of the person who has died. You offer your sympathies, either over the phone or in a note.

You do not say

• “It’s better this way”
• “It could be worse”
• “Don’t think about it”
• “At least you have closure”
• Or anything else that would imply that the death is a good thing.

All you need to say is, “I’m sorry.”

If you are in the same town with the family of the person who has died, you take food to the house. Trust me. It is the right thing to do and a good thing to do.

I can’t take food and I can’t go to the funeral, but I am going to send a note to Bernie’s youngest daughter, Jane, with whom I used to play when we were in Dorchester when I was a kid. It will be an easy note to write because I have so many fond memories of her wonderful father.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Can we really have peace in the Middle East?

posted Thu, 30 Dec 2004

Here is my dilemma: Do I tattle on my across-the-street neighbors? They are really starting to get on my nerves.

Here is their transgression: they never take their trash can in from the sidewalk.

It looks bad. I am the one who has to see it every time I walk out of my house and whenever I sit on my front porch.

It is only a matter of time. The big, noisy dogs are next, and then the mullets.

Admittedly, much of the time, the view is blocked by one of the five, yes five vehicles they own. There are two of them – neighbors, I mean. And five big old vehicles.

No, I don’t know why they have so many cars and trucks. They are just ugly. Not antique. Not particularly valuable in any way.

I don’t really care that they own five big, ugly vehicles except it means that there is never any room to park by their house, so when their many friends come over, they all park in front of my house.

That means there is nowhere for my friends to park. (If you want to get Harpo going, ask him about parking at my house.)

They are a young couple – they must be the only ones who actually own a house and everyone hangs out there. Maybe they rent, though – that would explain their apparent indifference to property values.

Back to the trash can. It is city ordinance that trash cans not be put out on the sidewalk until after 5:00 p.m. the night before the trash is collected. They must be removed from the sidewalk by the next day after the trash is collected.

My neighbors’ trash can has been out for, oh, nine months now.

I have played nice. Twice, I have asked the neighborhood association to write them a gentle letter explaining how the property values of our lovely homes are diminished by trash cans left on the sidewalks all the time. (It is also against city ordinance to have major appliances on the front porch or in the yard and to park your car in the yard. Fortunately, they have not violated these rules. Yet.)

But I think it’s time to take off the gloves. It’s time to report them to the city and let them be fined. That might get their attention.

Yes, I realize there might be an intermediate step here – that I might actually talk to them about this issue.

Right. Would you do it?

I didn’t think so.

I`ll put ten on Goliath!

posted Thu, 30 Dec 2004

I left the house late enough this morning that I heard the daily bible quiz on the country music radio station. The question was who was talking to Jesus when the cloud enveloped them. (BTW – Catholics almost never win these contests. Baptists know this stuff inside and out.)

First caller: “Moses and Abraham?”

DJ: “Nope, that’s not right!”

Second caller: “Abraham and Moses?”

DJ: “Sorry! That’s not right! They all want it to be Moses and Abraham!”

Third caller: “Moses and Elijah.”

DJ: “Yes! How did you know that?”

Caller: “Just remembered it from when I was a kid, I guess.”

DJ: “Yes, that’s from Matthew 17. Our winner gets dinner for two at Fitzgerald’s Casino!”

Isn’t there a certain – inappropriateness – about a casino sponsoring a bible quiz? There’s nothing in the ten commandments against gambling, but gambling is not held in high regard in the bible or by any organized religion as far as I know. The only mention I can think of about it in the bible is when the Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ garments after the crucifixion, which is not usually held up as a model of exemplary behavior.

My boss went on vacation and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

posted Wed, 29 Dec 2004

What IS it with some people? This is the dead week in corporate America. This is the week you don’t waste vacation days on because you arrive to work late, leave early and take a long lunch in the middle. And because most people are on vacation and no one is bothering you or making you go to stupid, stupid meetings, you still get more done in the few hours you are at work than you do at any other time.

But if you do take vacation, stay on vacation!

You would not think that this is a concept that needs explaining – the meaning of vacation. Vacation means you don’t come to work. Simple, right?


As I was trying to finish up some things this morning so I could leave early today, guess who shows up in my office? My boss. Who is on vacation.

He got bored at home, he explained. He just had to get out of the house.

Get a hobby!

I can think of about a gajillion things to do when I am bored. Not one of them is to go to work.

Good grief.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Desperate pedophiles

posted Wed, 29 Dec 2004

I saw an interview with Kevin Bacon last week about his role in a new movie about a pedophile. It reminded me of something that happened to a friend of mine, “Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth is pretty, funny, smart, kind, sophisticated, athletic, interesting. She has a master’s degree – spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire where she worked with Belgian medical missionaries to improve drug distribution in her area – speaks fluent French, decent Spanish – has traveled – does 150-mile bike rides for charity.

You get the picture. She’s not someone who has any trouble attracting men. She has no reason to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to men. She has a lot to offer. There is no reason for her to settle for anything less than wonderful.

One day at work, a colleague approached her. He and his wife had a friend, he said. This guy had never been married, was a college graduate, had a job, was studying to be a minister. Would Elizabeth be interested in going out with him?

Well, maybe, Elizabeth answered cautiously.

There’s just one thing, the colleague said. Just one little, tiny thing.

Yes? Elizabeth asked.

The friend was a convicted child molester. But only when he’s under stress! And he was praying about it!

Elizabeth politely declined.

What I want to know is how could that colleague look at Elizabeth and think she would EVER date a child molester? Good grief. No woman would be that desperate, I think, and Elizabeth was not desperate at all and had no need to be desperate. How insulting.

My interpretation is that the colleague was thinking that Elizabeth would be good for his friend rather than thinking about whether the friend would be good for Elizabeth.

I am also curious to know – and yes, I know my church has had many problems with this issue and I am not happy about the way it has been addressed – what church is going to ordain a convicted child molester? I know we are all sinners and the church is a hospital for sinners and not a museum for saints, but still. I don’t think the ministry is an appropriate place for convicted pedophiles.

Important baby advice

posted Wed, 29 Dec 2004

So if you're visiting your friend who just had a baby and you are both sitting upstairs in the baby's room talking, if you are going to gossip about hubby's relatives and the sister-in-law who has come to help out for a few days and who happens to be downstairs in the kitchen -- where the OTHER baby monitor is, you should probably turn off the baby monitor in the room where YOU are.

Let them eat snow

posted Tue, 28 Dec 2004

And already the whining has begun. What is wrong with the people who run this city, anyhow, that there is STILL ice on the roads? Why, it’s already been five days since the sleet and ice storm left the equivalent of 15 inches of snow on the streets, only we went straight to ice, which, if you have ever observed solid ice versus snow, melts a lot slower than snow. A lot slower. Why haven’t they FIXED this?

I am the first one to complain about the elected officials who govern the fair city of M’town, but this is an area where they do not deserve the criticism they are getting.

If we lived in a city where snow and ice storms occurred frequently – like, more frequently than maybe once a year, I would be right there with the whiners. But for crying out loud. This is only the fourth time in five years we have had icy roads. I really don’t think it’s a good use of our already strained tax monies to buy snow and ice removal equipment.

So two or three days a year, we can’t drive or, if we do, we have to drive very slowly and very carefully. Big deal. Even under these conditions, traffic in M’town moves faster than normal traffic in Miami.

I have yet to miss a day of work here because of weather. I have, however, gladly used the bad roads as an excuse to leave early – “Oh, I don’t want to get caught on these icy roads after dark” – but even that’s a big fat lie because I drive to the gym on those very same icy roads at 5:30 a.m. Course, I am almost alone on the road at that time, so don’t have to worry about other drivers, but my jefe doesn’t need to know that.

What bugs me about the snow and ice here is that I can’t walk on it. I don’t have the right equipment. I can drive OK as long as I go very, very slowly, but walking on ice is a different matter. It’s hard enough in flat shoes, but high heels? Forget it! The only way it worked today was that the ice had started to melt a little bit, so I was able to use my spiked heel as a crampon. Thank goodness those chunky heels aren’t in style any more or I would have been slipping and sliding all over the place.

I could buy some swanky snow boots, but really, would it be worth the investment? Already today it got up to 58. Most of the roads are clear. The parking lots should be clear by tomorrow afternoon. I would get to use said boots maybe once a year. Not a good investment. Better just to walk very carefully the few days I need to.

Same thing with the city and snow and ice removal. We’re not in Canada. This is not normal weather for us. If we were to buy snow removal equipment to handle storms of this magnitude, it would cost at least hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions. This is a city that already has big budget shortfalls. Our schools stink. The roads are already bad. And people think we need to waste money on snowplows?

As long as it cuts chocolate

posted Tue, 28 Dec 2004

When Harpo told me about the Swiss Army knife (SAK) that was awaiting me back at home, we started to talk about the different kinds of knives they make. They have done a good job of segmenting their markets. I’d like to have the job of figuring out what different knives they should make.

We decided that even though there are already a lot of great specialized Swiss Army knives, there are still some market segments left unaddressed.

The vegan market, for example. What sort of knife would a vegan need? I guess it wouldn’t have to cut meat, but then, I am an omnivore and I have never been compelled to cut meat with mine, although that’s because I have never been lost in the forest with only my SAK to keep me safe and fed. My version has a fish scaler – a vegan wouldn’t need that. Unless he would have to scale the fish to get to the bones to make say, a corset. Or a needle to sew the organically-grown and kindly-woven hemp garment.

What about the NOW feminist knife? No tweezers, but something to hack off hair and anything pertaining to femininity and to separate men from their – uh – masculinity. Call it the Lorena Bobbitt model.

An organic, crunchy-granola, tree-hugger version? An attachment to frighten away all those bugs and squirrels that want to eat the tomatoes in your garden – maybe a little scarecrow?

The anti-war SAK: nothing except a compass that has no direction. Certainly no knife, because that would imply that in some cases, force might be appropriate. Better to let yourself be killed than to defend yourself.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I’m sure you guys have some great ideas. Let me know.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The domino theory

Mon, 27 Dec 2004

Where two or more Cubans are gathered, there will be dominoes. Dominoes has the ability to transcend national differences, pulling Anglos and Cubans together even when they don’t speak the same language.

Such was the case at Nicky and Mac’s Noche Buena party on Friday. Nicky’s dad, Diego, led the dominoes tournament with Marsha (Mac’s sister and Harpo’s sister in law), Harpo and Luke (Marsha and Tom’s son).

In my google search, I saw photos of people from all over the world playing dominoes. Maybe we should replace the UN with a big dominoes tournament.

Diego had cleverly stacked the deck in his favor by making a batch of very strong mojitos an hour before the game. When Luke had suggested adding more syrup, Diego waved him away. No water, but more rum.

Marsha and Luke had been imbibing, so they were not as alert as usual. Harpo, however, is a teetotaler, so Diego made sure that he and Harpo were partners against Marsha and Luke.

I have seen Diego in action before. He plays to win, showing no mercy, especially if he is playing with his Cuban compadres. “Blanquito!” he bellows, as he slams a blank tile on the table. Getting to slam tiles and bellow is a really good reason to play this game.

The game started when Nicky brought the dominoes to her dad as he, Luke, Harpo, Tom and I were swapping fishing stories. Well, the only swapping I was doing was the interpreting among the real fishermen – Diego, Luke and Tom.

Diego was a commercial fisherman in Havana back in the 50s before he got married. He and nine or ten other fishermen would spend a month at sea. They fished with lines 30 or 40 abrazas long. An abraza is the distance spanned by your open arms, about five feet. An abrazo is a hug. What a great etymology.

These lines were as thick as my little finger. They had three hooks and a sinker the size of a coke bottle. They were secured by the rocks used as ballast in the hold. The fishermen pulled them out of the water hand over hand. Some of the fish weighed 400 pounds. “Without gloves?” I asked.

“Sí,” Diego answered. “The capitan was watching. If you cannot get the line out that way, he does not need you.”

The fishermen split 30% of the catch after the expenses of the boat were covered – fuel, ice, and food. The captain took 10% and the owner took the rest.

It takes a lot to make fishermen stop talking about fishing, but dominoes did the trick. Nicky handed the box to her dad and the game began. The bystanders gathered immediately. They watched with great concentration, discussing the strategy among themselves and applauding particularly good moves. It was clear they had all played before.

When Luke had to step away to make another pitcher of mojitos, Kevin, Nicky’s eight-year-old son, stepped in. “Abuelo,” Kevin scolded Diego, “no quiero que me hables.” This after Diego told Kevin to quit cheating.

The two teams made it through three games before they were forced to quit. It was 9:30 – time to eat. Even then, they insisted on finishing their game before filling their plates with roasted pork, moros (black beans and rice), yuca with garlic sauce, turkey, sweet potatoes, salad, and about seven desserts, including cakes into which some small boys had stuck their fingers to sample the frosting.

If you ever have a chance to go to a Cuban Noche Buena party, go. You don’t need to take your own dominoes with you, but be ready to play. And be ready to eat. It’s the most fun you will ever have on Christmas Eve.

William Tell wouldn`t put up with this nonsense

posted Sun, 26 Dec 2004

I just opened about 20 pounds worth of Swiss Army knife.

Well. Maybe not that much.

My new knife has almost as many cool things on it as this one does!

But it’s pretty heavy. For Christmas, Harpo got me the super-duper one, with all the cool attachments. His intention was that I would open the box last week, before going to Florida, so I would think the knife was my only present and maybe be a little dismayed at getting something so utilitarian and unromantic.

Then he was going to surprise me with some gorgeous jewelry.

But his plan went awry when I didn’t open the box when it arrived – I didn’t know he was the one who had it sent to me and I assumed I was supposed to wait until Christmas to open it.

Then when he told me what he had sent me, I wasn’t dismayed. Instead, I was thrilled. Remember, I am the chick who was delighted to get her own belt sander for her birthday a few years ago. I really don’t care for frou-frou stuff. I want things I can use.

And Swiss Army knives are definitely something I can use.

Notice I wrote “knives,” not “knife.”

That is because I have an unfortunate tendency to forget that I have a knife, Swiss or otherwise, in my purse, when I am preparing to fly somewhere. If airport security actually finds said knife, they confiscate it.

I have lost about four knives this way. They have all been cheap imitation Swiss Army knives, so it has not been a big loss, but it is still a pain in the neck to replace.

But this morning, in Miami, I forgot to throw my real Swiss Army basic version (not Harpo’s gift, but the $14.99 knife from Walgreen’s) into my checked bag. The knife had made it through Security in M’town undetected, so I had forgotten about it. But when the TSA guy asked if my belt, which had silver conchas on it (a very cool belt to wear with my black suede jeans that I got for five dollars at the Junior League thrift shop), was going to set off the metal detector, I realized that the Miami TSA crew were a little more on the ball than the M’town TSA. I remembered the knife in my purse. Rats!

I told the TSA guy about it and he suggested I mail it to myself, telling me where I could find stamps and an envelope. I stomped off to do so, fuming.

Here is what is so ridiculous about the TSA’s rules about what you cannot carry aboard an airplane.

I am not a trained killer. I am not even a hobbyist killer. Yet I myself – a woman of 41 years, 5’5” tall, 133 lbs, slow and not very strong – have jammed a soda straw through a raw potato. (It is possible. Try it. If you can’t figure it out, write something in the comments and I’ll tell you the secret.)

My point is that almost anything can be turned into a weapon in the right hands. Hasn’t anyone in the TSA read any of Robert Ludlum’s books? Don’t they know that a trained killer can turn a ballpoint pen into a lethal weapon? Why are they worrying about li’l ole me and my Swiss Army knife?

I cannot believe I have to go through all this hassle when it is pointless. Anything can be a weapon in the right hands. And almost all the rules change when someone is willing to die himself to bring a plane down. I just want my knife!

Daddy`s little girl

posted Sun, 26 Dec 2004

So I’m standing in line behind a FedEx pilot at the Fawlty Airlines gate in Atlanta, where I am hoping to be moved from the 2:45 flight to M’town to the 12:25 one. The FedEx pilot is hoping to get the jumpseat – he commutes from St Petersburg, where he lives, to M’town, where he works.

He told me that he had just had his first Christmas off in four years. I told him that Harpo and I were talking about which businesses were open last night and who had to work on Christmas as we drove from Miami back to the Keys. We saw open gas stations, drugstores – and a strip joint. “All the essential industries,” I said dryly.

The pilot said, “I don’t tell this to many people, but my daughter is an exotic dancer in California.”

Just exactly how is one supposed to respond to such a statement?

Harpo assures me it is not the way I did, which was to say, “I’ll bet that’s not what you wanted for her when she was a little girl.”

“Why didn’t you just say, ‘Yeah, you probably didn’t want your daughter to grow up to be a slut?’” Harpo asked when I told him.

I think if he opened the subject, it was fair game.

But all the pilot did when I made the comment was shrug and say that kids go their own way when they are grown.


Later, I saw him playing solitaire on his laptop. He didn’t have the game opened full screen, so a lot of his screen saver was visible. It was three photos of the same very busty, very scantily-clad young woman. I really hope it wasn’t his daughter.

And to all a good night

posted Sat, 25 Dec 2004

I am having way too much fun hanging out with Harpo and his family to write much today, but let me say two things.

First. Harpo’s nephew Luke has the best idea I’ve ever heard for dealing with line-cutters who happen to be French, if they are being obnoxious about being French (which my friend Claire never is, so I hope you don’t take this personally, Claire!).

“Instead of arguing with him about cutting line,” Luke suggests, “just say that he can have that place in line. Say you can understand why he would be upset, what with his country no longer being a world power and having to be bailed out in not one but two world wars, and that you are glad to be able to let him have this small condolence prize.”

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Second. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Un dia de Nochebuena

posted Fri, 24 Dec 2004

Oh man. Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve.

Not my shopping. Harpo’s. I accompanied him because he asked me so nicely.

This travail entailed driving from the Keys back to Miami. Not on the turnpike, of course, because Harpo is mad at the toll takers. We took the back roads. Which were not highways. And have stoplights every ten feet. And lots and lots of traffic. Miami traffic, which is not the same as normal traffic. Miami traffic is insane traffic full of idiotic drivers.

But that’s another story. We made it to Best Buy, which was destination #1. As it turned out, Harpo had arranged the perfect Christmas gift for me.

I got a chance to show off.

A Haitian woman was asking the Cuban clerk about a certain cellphone. I was eavesdropping. Their conversation was not going well – I could tell that the clerk did not understand her questions and she did not understand his answers.

I took the liberty of jumping in at one point, and ended up translating. The woman decided not to buy the phone, but the clerk was OK with that. Turns out it wouldn’t work in Haiti (not AT&T as he’d originally thought) without programming changes, etc, etc.

Then the woman gave me this huge compliment. Huge. She asked where I was from! Not that I don’t want to be an American – thank GOD I am an American – but when a native speaker of French hears you speak French and doesn’t assume you are American, it’s a HUGE compliment to your French.

Harpo gave up on any further shopping, deciding to do it online. We headed back for the Keys, but stopped at a Cuban sandwich shop on the way. There was no menu, but Cuban sandwich joints don’t need a menu. They have Cuban food. That’s all you need to know. If you don’t know what kind of food they have in a Cuban sandwich shop, then you shouldn’t be eating there.

While I was waiting for my medianoche, I sought the ladies’ room. It was occupied, but the men’s room was open. It was a onesie and very clean, so I decided to use it instead. I think that’s morally OK, don’t you? Why should I wait and wait when there is a perfectly good bathroom available right now?

But when I got inside, I discovered that the door did not lock. Hmm. This could be a problem. By the time I came up with a solution – drag the big trash can from outside the bathroom inside to block the door, the ladies’ room was available.

So here’s the interesting part: there was a lock on the ladies’ room. It was one of those slide locks that had been installed separately, so you know someone had thought about this.

Why didn’t they put one in the men’s room at the same time? Male readers, I need your input. Is this a big deal? Do you just not care if someone barges in while you’re in the bathroom? Are you more trusting that a closed door will guarantee that someone will wait? I always test the door. What’s going on?

Nous allons au cinema

posted Fri, 24 Dec 2004

Run, do not walk, to your video store to rent “The Thing with Two Heads.” It will only take an hour to watch, because you can skip the chase scene, which is just the same ten minutes looped over and over from different camera angles.

Here is the plot: Dr Kirshner has pioneered a transplant technique by which he can transplant a head. He has tried this only on a gorilla, but is forced to use it on himself when his chest cancer spreads from his lungs to his rib cage. “Genius,” he roars to his staff, “must be preserved.”

The problem, of course, is finding a donor body. Fortunately, one of his docs has connections with the governor and gets him to ask death row inmates if they will donate their body to science. One inmate, who is in the chair at the moment that he makes the decision, says he will do so. This will give him more time to prove his innocence, he claims. The operation will not result in his death until a month after it takes place.

Right before the inmate makes this decision, one of the guards, in one of the best lines in the movie (not that there is a lot of competition), murmurs, “Power to you, brother.”

Now to one of the key plot elements: the inmate, Jackie, is black. Earlier in the movie, it was established that Dr K, who is white, is a bigot. Now his head is about to be grafted onto the body of a black man. Hilarity ensues when Dr K awakes from the operation and discovers what has happened and he and Jackie start to bicker. (Both heads need to be on the body for a month while the operation takes, then Jackie’s head will be removed.)

The part of Jackie is played by Rosie Grier, who Harpo tells me used to be a pro football player (he’s a BIG guy) who went on to have a successful career in – Harpo says he is not making this up – needlepoint.

This is one of those movies to watch with friends and mock aloud. The hairstyles are really awful, the music is dark and foreboding even though nothing bad is happening, and the dialogue is plain pitiful. Truly a party film.

Todo con carne

posted Thu, 23 Dec 2004

The big challenge in Miami is finding food for Harpo. It’s not a problem when we are at Tom and Marsha’s, of course, but when we are out, it is very difficult. Miami is not a place for vegetarians.

Latinos do not understand the concept of deliberately not eating meat. When I lived in Chile, I had a Chilean roommate for a while. I made a big pot of vegetable soup one night and invited Alejandra to share it with me. She ate, but after dinner, she asked, reluctantly, politely, curiously, “Did you know that soup had no meat in it?” Well, yes, I answered. That’s why it’s called vegetable soup. “No, but there was no meat in it!” she said. I tried to explain the concept of a meatless dish, but I could tell it just didn’t register with her.

When Harpo and I go out to eat in Miami, it’s an adventure. I am an omnivore – eating is my hobby – so satisfying me is not a problem, but our transactions at any Cuban sandwich shop go something like this. It’s actually funnier in Spanish, so Leigh and Internet Person, translate among yourselves.

Harpo: I’d like a sandwich without meat, please.

Clerk: OK, not meat, but ham, yes?

Harpo. No. No meat. No ham. Just bread and cheese.

Clerk: OK, not meat, but beef, yes?

Harpo: No. No meat. No ham. No beef. Just bread and cheese.

Clerk: OK, not meat, but pork, yes?

Harpo: NO. No meat. No ham. No beef. No pork. Just bread and cheese.

Clerk, very confused: Just bread and cheese? That’s all?

Harpo, exhausted: Yes. Just bread and cheese.

Harpo doesn’t like eating in Miami as much as I do.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fly me to the moon

posted Wed, 22 Dec 2004

“I’m at the airport,” is the most commonly-used phrase spoken on cellphones in the world, according to research done by the FCC.

Well, not really, but if you spend any time at all at an airport, you would come to that conclusion.

It was amateur hour at the airport today. I got on the plane in Atlanta and discovered someone sitting in my window seat. Now, I prefer the aisle seat to the window seat, so I didn’t mind switching so this girl, who was obviously on her first ever, ever flight could have the window, but don’t you think she should have been sitting in her own seat and then asked me to change seats rather than claim my seat and have her mother say, “You don’t mind if she stays in that seat, do you?”

To add insult to injury, both mother and daughter had already removed their shoes – and socks.

Would you take your shoes and socks off at the movies? At a restaurant? At church? At any other public place with strangers where it is expected that you will remain dressed?

No! Then why do people think it is OK to take off their socks in airplanes? Shoes, OK. I can see that, as long as your socks are clean and your feet are not stinky, but come on. No one wants to see your naked feet.

The good thing about the flight was that we were in the exit row. If you don’t fly much, you probably don’t recognize the significance of the exit row. The exit row gives you twice as much leg room as any other row. It is a highly desirable place to sit. Money has probably changed hands before so people could sit in the exit row. On most flights, only platinum fliers get exit-row seats.

But when I looked at the girl, she looked suspiciously young to me. You have to be over 15 years old to sit in the exit row. Federal law. “How old are you?” I asked.

“Fourteen,” she answered.

“You can’t sit here,” I told her. “It’s against the law. You’re going to have to move.”

Her mother turned to me and said, “Maybe nothing will happen. We’ll be OK.”

Right, lady, I wanted to say. So if we have a crash and the only thing that stands between us and death is your daughter and her ability to handle herself in an emergency, you’re OK with that?

When the flight attendant explained that we were in the exit row and asked if we were all willing to assume that responsibility, she did not seem bothered by the girl. I decided that if we crashed, the likelihood that we would actually survive to go out through that door was almost impossible, so worrying about this girl was pointless.

As it turned out, the daughter was far more responsible than the mother. The mother was videotaping the entire flight experience, including sitting there waiting for the plane to pull back from the gate. It was the daughter who told the mother she needed to turn off the video camera after the flight attendant gave instructions for all electronic devices to be turned off. When the mother said that the flight attendant didn’t mean video cameras, the daughter told her that yes, she did.

Anyhow. Harpo finally found me at the airport. We are in the Keys and have been fed well. More news later.

A baby for Christmas

posted Tue, 21 Dec 2004

The lovely Sophia Elizabeth has arrived. Leigh didn’t need to be induced. Instead, Sophia arrived only a day after her due date because, I think, of her mother’s great determination. Never underestimate an Alabama steel magnolia.

Leigh really didn’t want to be induced, so she decided she would encourage this baby to keep to its schedule. On Friday, she took the dog out for a long, long walk, which apparently did the trick, because she went into labor and had Sophia on Saturday. This kid knows who’s boss.

Leigh left me a message Sunday morning that she had had the baby, but all she said was that she had a baby girl! No more information! No name, no weight, no drug details. I had to wait until later for all of that.

I couldn’t post this news until Leigh told Ilene, the bodacious red-headed doc, and Megan and Steve, our Peace Corps friends in Uzbekistan. Baby news rightfully comes from the parents. Both Ilene and Megan are great readers of this blog and I didn’t want them to get the news from me.

Well, at least Ilene is a great reader of this site. Megan has a harder time getting to it, I think. At least that is the excuse I am giving her. It’s certainly not the content or the quality of my writing that would be keeping her away.

Ilene, my favorite pediatrician, claims to be a Democrat, but she and I agree on foreign policy, on personal accountability, and pretty much on every issue we discuss except abortion and physician-assisted suicide.

Even so, Doc Ilene would never have an abortion herself. I am inferring her opinion on physician-assisted suicide based on something she wrote. Maybe she just meant that if the pain from cancer was bad enough, that would mean lots of painkillers that would have death as a side effect but that death would not be the intention.

There is a conservative trying to get out of you, I.

You`re a card -- you should be dealt with

posted Tue, 21 Dec 2004

I love getting Christmas cards. Even better, I love getting Christmas letters – even if they are form letters. Getting any bit of personal mail these days is such a treat that I will take whatever I can get.

This is the time of year when people start whining about Christmas letters. Oh, how can people be so mean and braggy by writing those horrible letters! They are just trying to make me feel bad! All they do is talk about the great things they have accomplished!

If you want to recycle your Christmas cards, you can turn them into ornaments. I am too lazy to do this. But perhaps you are not.

Get over it! Good grief. I would assume that if someone is actually sending you a card and a letter that she is a friend. If so, aren’t you happy that things are going well in her life? And if the letter is a pack of lies, well, don’t you appreciate the fiction?

Do you really want a letter with the complete truth, anyhow? Do you want to know about the late nights at work or the sick kids or the fights with the husband or the trauma of dealing with the death of a parent?

I like – no, I love – getting letters. I relish the experience of finding the envelope waiting when I get home, opening it, and reading words that someone has written just for me. Or for me and 30 other friends. Even so, I feel privileged to get it.

I love having a piece of paper with happy words from a friend. I can put it in my purse and re-read it while I am standing in line at the grocery store (if I have already finished reading People magazine, that is) or while I am waiting at the doctor’s office (he doesn’t have People) or anywhere.

I love getting the photos of my friends’ children. They are all, without exception, gorgeous.

I even like getting emailed Christmas letters, although in the order of things, I like them not as much as I like paper letters.

There should be a big batch of letters and cards when I get home tonight, if everyone else did as I did and mailed theirs this weekend. I will take them on the plane with me tomorrow as I fly to Miami to meet Harpo and spend Christmas with his family. More news from the Keys once I arrive.

Keeping kosher

posted Tue, 21 Dec 2004

I don't know why this just occurred to me -- but anyhow --

We occasionally have work meetings at a hotel near here. These are all-day events, with breakfast and lunch provided at the meeting. They are not being nice, they just don't want us to whine about having to be there so early.

Last year, at a meeting on Yom Kippur, the hotel served its breakfast specialty. They have served this before.

Melted cheese and pork sausage.

On a bagel.

Monday, November 23, 2009

We should all have this disease

posted Mon, 20 Dec 2004

Overheard in the gym:

"He has that congenial heart disease."

I also like this one, heard at work:

"That's a mute point."

If only it were.

The fine art of the thank-you note

posted Mon, 20 Dec 2004

Last week, Fatchick wrote about how to impress women.

Here’s how to impress everyone.

Write thank-you notes.

See how nice letter writing can be? And you don’t even have to have a bad hairstyle. We have ways to fix that now.

I’m not talking about email.

I mean a real, old-fashioned, set-pen-to-paper note.

It’s not that hard. Really.

And it impresses the heck out of the recipient.

If someone goes through the trouble and expense to figure out something you would like, buy it, wrap it, and stand in line at the post office to mail it – or to have an internet retailer send it – then it is really not too much for you to write a brief note on nice stationary thanking him (in the universal sense) for his thoughtfulness.

I know I am preaching to the choir with all of you, but feel free to email this post to anyone who needs this information.

An email does not count as a proper thank-you note. Email is appropriate for informing someone that a package has arrived, but not for thanking someone. After I ordered books from Amazon, wrapped them, and brought them to the office to give to a colleague whose wife had just had their first child, I got an email thank-you note that was sent to everyone in our group.

“Team,” it said, “Thanks to everyone for your baby gifts.” (Although at least there was some kind of note. I have had wedding presents go completely unacknowledged.)

If there is a second baby, there will not be another present.

Here are the situations when you write thank-you notes:

1. Someone gives you a present
2. You stay at someone’s house
3. You have a job interview

You are not limited to these situations, of course. You are free to write thank-you notes for other occasions, such as dinner at someone’s house or when someone does you a favor.

A thank-you note is simple: You thank the giver for the gift, you say something nice about the gift (this part may be a stretch if you hate it, but think of the thought that went into it and find something), and thank the giver again. It is not necessary to point out that you already have four purple scarves or that you are allergic to cashmere. “Thank you for your thoughtfulness!” is sufficient.

My friends Ilene, Lenore, Leigh, Heather, Lauren and Julie are masters – mistresses? – of the thank-you note. When I was in college, a group of about six of us went to my mom and dad’s for Labor Day weekend. Heather was the only one who wrote a thank-you note. My mother still remembers that about Heather.

When I worked at Prudential, we interviewed two candidates for a job. We all already knew Janet and liked her and were interviewing Cheryl just to make it look good. But Cheryl did great in her interview – and then followed up with a handwritten thank-you note to each of us.

Cheryl got the job.

My right hand and left hand talk to each other all the time

posted Sun, 19 Dec 2004

What do you do when there is a beggar in your church? I mean, during church services? It is not an unusual sight in my parish – we are right across the street from the Catholic Charities headquarters and just down the street from St Vincent de Paul, so we get a lot of street people who wander in for a spell. I don’t mind their presence, as long as they are not disruptive and don’t smell bad.

I do, however, get uncomfortable being asked for money in church. By someone besides the church, I mean. Although it’s an excellent marketing strategy – get people while they are or should be thinking about what it means to be a Christian. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and all that.

But I don’t think Jesus ever told us to enable the alcoholics and drug addicts. Knowing that these people can get food, shelter and clothing across the street makes me less uncomfortable with turning them down.

Which brings me to my next point: I know the right hand is not supposed to know what the left hand is doing, but I don’t like what I think the ushers must think of me as I smile, shake my head and don’t put anything in the basket every Sunday as they are taking the collection.

I know what I thought the few times I helped count the money when I went to the Gucci mass downtown.

[NB: I don’t understand when I read about churches where they discover someone has been skimming from the collection – we had three people count the money together and everyone had to sign. There was a clear chain of accountability and oversight.]

Back to the Gucci mass. It was a very affluent parish, yet the collection was miniscule. I finally mentioned something to one of my friends there – that I couldn’t believe people who were driving Mercedes and Jaguars were contributing less than a dollar apiece each week to the church. Mary Ann laughed and said, “Most members here make stock grants or write one big check a year. This is just the change they give their kids to put in the plate.”

Oh. That made me feel better. It also gave me the very sensible idea of – yes – writing a check once a year. Makes it a lot easier to track things for taxes (which is not why I do it, but as long as it’s there and legal, I’ll take that deduction, thank you) and it makes it easier to plan my charitable giving. My company pays bonus in February, so that’s when I write all my charity checks. Then I don’t worry about it the rest of the year, except for the occasional project that piques my interest.

Back to my current parish – it’s poor. Harpo made some comment last Sunday when he went to mass with me about ‘yuppie chicks keeping it real,’ but I go there because 1) it’s closer to my house than the downtown church (aka “Gucci” mass) I used to attend, 2) I can get away with wearing jeans if I feel like it, 3) I like the mix of people there – Vietnamese refugees and latin American immigrants, and 4) I really like the two Vietnamese priests who run the place. They are staunch anti-communist pro-Americans, not prone to any of this liberation theology or leftist nonsense that some of the Catholic clergy has embraced in the past few decades.

But every Sunday, when the ushers, along with their little girls, walk down the aisle toward me, I want to shrink into the pew. “I promise I am not a miser!” I want to tell them. Well, at least not with respect to charity.

That’s why I was so thrilled that there was a second collection last Sunday. Harpo looked at me with suspicion. “Didn’t they already charge us?” he asked. I explained that this was a special collection for retired religious. (Harpo is not Catholic.) I happily threw a twenty in the plate, grinning at the usher as I did so. I know I was violating that whole hand thing, but really, don’t you think God came out ahead on that one?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More important laundry news

posted Sat, 18 Dec 2004

There does not exist a mathematical equation sufficiently complex to describe the knotted state into which brassieres become entangled after going through the delicate cycle of the washing machine.

Weirdo du jour

posted Sat, 18 Dec 2004

As I was walking this morning, a woman stopped me in front of Walgreen’s. She looked perfectly normal – she was clean and well groomed. She asked me if there were a bank nearby that was open.

First, though, she commented on my very white face. “Are you giving yourself a facial while you walk?” she gasped.

I explained it was sunblock – zinc oxide. [I tan very well everywhere except on my face, where the sun gives me huge brown blotches. There is a bleaching agent one can get to diminish the blotches, but my company’s insurance will not cover it. This insurance does, however, cover Viagra. Pretty easy to figure out who made the rules on that one, huh?]

Her question should have been my first clue that she wasn’t quite normal, because most Southerners would rather die than ask what would appear to be a rude personal question. You could be covered with purple buboes, but as long as you treat it as something normal, a Southerner will do the same.

A few years ago, I had a horrible black eye that was the result of slipping and falling in the middle of the night on the way to the bathroom. No one, but no one, would say anything to me about it. They would look, flinch, then look away.

The day after it happened, I was at an open house talking to a realtor. We spoke for 15 minutes before I finally took pity on her and said, “I fell.”

“Oh honey,” she said sympathetically as she reached forward and touched my arm. “My ex used to beat me, too.”

Back to the crazy Walgreen’s lady. I answered her bank question – I did not know if it was open, but there was a bank a quarter mile away.

“I need cognitive information that it’s open,” she huffed.

This is where it gets weird. She looked at me, in my zinc-oxide faced, running/walking clothes glory, and told me to read Revelations, that the fornicators will burn in a fiery lake. Did I look like a fornicator? I was not exactly at the height of attractiveness, unless you consider a 41-year-old woman in running tights and a baseball hat the epitome of beauty. But then, what does a fornicator look like?

We’ll save that question for another day. Off to the movies

From each according to ability, to each according to need

posted Fri, 17 Dec 2004

What a great day! Lovely weather – I got lots of chores done, then rewarded myself with a visit to the Junior League thrift shop, my favorite place to shop. Why pay retail when you can get a Michael Kors suit for $10 at the Repeat Boutique?

When I was browsing through the baby clothes, picking up some onesies ($3 each – and some still have the original store tags!) for Leigh’s about-to-be-born baby (she will be induced on Wednesday), I overheard the store manager, his assistant, Dorothy, and a customer talking about the thieves who run our fair city. They were not happy with the mayor’s latest brainstorm (more of a light mist, really).

Last week, the mayor of M’town proposed that the power company consider an "income-based rate structure.” In an interview that I didn’t hear but did read about, the writer of this proposal, after explaining that those who could not afford larger utility bills would have theirs adjusted to a lower rate, was asked who would make up the difference. She answered: "The people who can afford it."

Well. I had to jump in this conversation with both feet, especially when I noticed that Race, The Issue in M’town, did not seem to be a dividing factor here: the store manager and I are white, Dorothy and the other customer are black. But we all agreed that charging some people more money for their electricity just because they had more money was grossly unjust.

The other customer, Miss Sally, said, “I’m 70 years old. I work for my money. Umm hmm. How come they have gold teeth and $400 necklaces but cain’t pay their electric bills?”

Dorothy nodded in agreement.

Miss Sally continued. “I see they got their cellphone – and they go to the casino. And they cain’t pay their electric bill? They want me to pay more because they are too lazy to get a job? Nuh uh.”

You know, this system has not worked in any country it has been tried since the Russian Revolution. Why on earth would it work here now?

Support for the dance-challenged

posted Fri, 17 Dec 2004

I’m listening to this great CD that my friend Lenore sent me for Christmas. I didn’t know it was a Christmas present or I wouldn’t have opened it, but it came straight from Amazon, so I didn’t have any warning. It’s a Tito Puente collection and it is great. I love latin music and I especially like salsa.

[Note about Lenore: She is the only friend I have who has visited me everywhere I have lived my adult life, including twice when I was in Chile. She also stood in line for an hour once at a Chicago bookstore to get me a signed copy of the newest Maeve Binchy book to cheer me up during a bleak period in my life. She is a True Friend.]

What’s not to like about a dance where you dance better if you wear gorgeous high-heeled shoes and swishy dresses?

I especially like salsa dancing. I took classes when I lived in Miami. Every Wednesday night, I tell myself I am going to go to the salsa class near my house here, but when I get home after work, something happens and I am unable to leave my house again. Some sort of agoraphobia, I expect. Is there someone I can sue over this?

I like salsa dancing because there is structure. I know this will come as a great surprise to those of you who know me well, but I don’t like regular rock dancing where you just go as the music moves you. I prefer rules, structure, patterns. Yes. I do. That is so out of character, I know.

I also like it because it does not require as much hip movement as other latin dances, like merengue (my spellcheck keeps trying to turn this word into “meringue”). When I was in Chile, my Chilean friends tried to teach me those sexy latin dances that require all that hip swiveling.

I tried, but I am genetically incapable of hip movement and sexiness. I had to explain to them that I am Norwegian and that we are a stiff, uncharmismatic people who just do not move in that way. They never really understood, but they did pity me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Eppur si muove"

posted Fri, 17 Dec 2004

I am at the UPS website checking the shipping status of something I sent to my brother. I like the way UPS does their list. When you select your country, the US is listed first. First in the list of all the countries to which it delivers. Only makes sense, doesn’t it? UPS is a US company, headquartered in the US. The first country on the list should be the US.

But when I go to my company’s website, the list of countries is alphabetical. So if I am updating a database with factory addresses, every single time I look one up, I have to scroll all the way past Gambia, Nepal and Uganda to get to the United States. It’s a pain in the neck.

I’m not saying the US is the center of the universe, but it’s OK for us to be the center – or the top – for a US-owned, headquartered and operated company.

I called the company’s web administrator to ask that the US be moved to the top of the list.

“We can’t do that,” he told me in a shocked voice. He told me it would be discriminatory or something. I don’t remember his exact words, but his sense was that it would be un-PC to list the US at the top.

“But we are a US company that does business in other countries,” I tried to reason. “The company is headquartered in the US. Most of our employees are here.”

No luck. I couldn’t get him to change it.

It’s insane. If I went to a French company’s website, I would not be offended to see France at the top of the list. I’m not offended that the site is in French. If I went to a Gambian company’s website, I would not be offended to see Gambia at the top of the list or to see Gambian as the language on the site. (Is Gambian a language? I have a friend who was a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia, but I can’t remember what language she learned.)

These people have read too much Howard Zinn.

Nine to Five doesn`t sound half bad

posted Thu, 16 Dec 2004

Agotada. That’s Spanish for “wrung out.” Or that’s the idiomatic translation.

And that’s what I am. I can go weeks without much to do at work, but then hit a spell where I am drowning. Those are the times when my boss, whom I can go days without seeing, will decide he wants to drop into my office to chat. It’s not easy to get rid of him. I value being employed.

I had all this stuff I wanted to get done yesterday and today before I take tomorrow off and then go on vacation next Wednesday. There is a woman at work – “Dina” – who has been inviting me to go to lunch for weeks now.

I don’t like to go out to lunch at work. I like to go to the gym at lunch. Going to the gym gives me a great break in the middle of the day and actually gives me more energy for the afternoon. Really! It does! My gym is two blocks from my office, so getting there and doing a quick round with the weights is not a problem.

I especially don’t like to go to lunch with co-workers. I like to keep my work life and my real life separate. I don’t talk much about my life and myself at work (hard to believe, I know) and I don’t want to spend time outside of work with the people at work. Not that there is anything wrong with the people I work with – I just like to keep things neat.

Dina has been wanting to eat lunch with me for a while. I had convinced her that breakfast would be acceptable instead (so I could at least still get to the gym) and we had settled on today, but when I got to work this morning, I knew there was no way. The work I had planned to do today was enough to keep me busy for three days, then I discovered that a big project I had spent about 20 hours completing had bad data (not my fault – the factories had input bad numbers and not corrected them) and would have to be re-done. The re-doer will be me, of course. I should have discovered the bad numbers at the start, but when you are working with thousands of sales records pulled directly from the factory, you have to have some faith.

I called Dina and told her I wouldn’t be able to make it today but how about the week after Christmas? I tried to explain that I wanted to be able to have a nice conversation without looking at the clock every two minutes, but she got very miffed. “Well,” she huffed. “I guess I’ll just go to the cafeteria anyhow and get something because I haven’t eaten anything yet.”

Well. Yes. That is something grownup people do sometimes – they eat meals alone. They also understand when work takes precedence over socializing at work. I am paid to get the job done, not have lunch or breakfast, as the case may be.

And I have just discovered that the company’s browser is blocking all images as porn. No clever photos for a while until this passes.

How to break an English major`s heart

posted Thu, 16 Dec 2004

This was in an email I got at work:

"....And status me on your progress."

I checked in Webster's just to be sure.

"Status" is a noun. It had not been verbed. (Did I just do it???)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Get a piece of the rock for the little woman, too

posted Wed, 15 Dec 2004

When I asked a colleague if he had life insurance for himself, he looked shocked and answered, “Of course!” He has three boys: one about four and twins aged two.

But then he mused, “But we don’t have that much on Liz. Enough to bury her, but if she died, I’d have to hire a nanny.”
It worked for Maria. Was Captain von Trapp a hunk or what?

A nanny for three little boys would not come cheap. And would she stay? Little boys and nannies do not have a good history in children’s stories.

My grandmother has given up on me now, I think, but when I was in my twenties and early thirties, she was always giving me helpful advice on how to land a man.

She scolded me about speaking too fast. “You talk faster than a Philadelphia lawyer,” she said. “No man wants to marry a woman who talks fifty miles a minute.”

“Have you considered marrying a widower who needs help raising his young children?” she wrote to me when I was in Chile. “A woman who was in your mother’s class in high school did that. She was very tall and lives in Milwaukee now.”

I laughed, but the irony is that my sister – is dating a widower with a young child. And my cousin Mary Liz – married a widower with young children. At least I think he’s a widower.

If you think about it, a widower has certain advantages over a divorcé. He did not choose to end his marriage. There would be no ex hanging around (live and in person, that is). It is entirely possible that they had a great relationship and that he is capable of having another one. (Caveat: Remember that I am someone who has made it to 41 without ever marrying, so there are significant doubts about my abilities in the relationship department.)

Maybe instead of looking in personal ads for men, women should look in the obits – kind of like New Yorkers look there for apartments. Hmm. Maybe I could write a book about this.

Only in America

posted Wed, 15 Dec 2004

In the spirit of ecumenism, the statue of Buddha outside the temple on my way to work is draped with Christmas lights.

No bunnies, either! Or kittens! Or puppies!

posted Tue, 14 Dec 2004

It takes so little to make me happy. Hearing Waylon and Willie sing about a good-hearted woman on my new car speakers while I drive through a crisp, clear autumn day, finding some good chocolate in my refrigerator that I had forgotten about, and now, being able to mail a package after work!

Usually, the only time I can get to the post office to mail a package is on Saturday from 10:00 to 2:00, the Saturday hours for the post office by my house. It’s pretty hard for me to get there during the week – I get to work by 7:30, which is before the PO opens, and usually don’t leave before 5:00 or 5:30 (unless my boss is out of town and I think I can get away with it – and, of course, I have everything done I need to have done), which is after the PO closes.

If you must mail Zippy, at least send him FedEx next morning delivery.

Going during the work day takes way too much time – there is not a PO close to my office, so it’s not a quick, easy trip.

So imagine my delight when I discovered a few Fridays ago that my PO has installed an automated package mailing system! I had taken a vacation day just so I could do a bunch of those chores that the world thinks that everyone has a stay-at-home wife to do. One of them was to mail Christmas presents. When I got to the PO, there was a postal worker standing at the machine teaching customers how to use it.

I used it all by myself tonight and I am right proud.

I was fascinated by the questions I was required to answer before I could get my stamp for $4.19 to mail a box of truffles to my grandmother in Medford, Wisconsin.

Was I mailing bleach?

No. It has never occurred to me to spend $0.37 an ounce to mail something that weighs nine pounds a gallon and can be purchased for little more than a dollar a gallon. (That would be 9 lbs x 16 oz/lb = 144 oz, which is $53 at first class rates. Of course, parcel post would be cheaper.) Why on earth would anyone mail bleach?

The more intriguing question was this: was I mailing turtles?

You know they aren’t sitting around at the PO thinking of weird questions to ask. (If they are sitting around, they are sitting around for other reasons.) You know they are asking about things that have actually been mailed before and that they have decided should not be sent through the mail.

What I want to know is why it would occur to the average postal patron to send a turtle through the mail to begin with? Or a snake? That was another question. Was I mailing a snake? I don’t put turtles and snakes in the same class of pets as kittens, but wouldn’t the owner of said animal perhaps have different feelings? If so, wouldn’t you think that maybe putting your pet in a box where it might be stuck for several days – or more – might not be a good idea?

Even if you didn’t have an emotional attachment to the turtle or snake, wouldn’t the whole point of mailing it be that it arrive at its destination alive?

I am intrigued by what is forbidden. In the US, when we are told not to do what seems completely obvious – don’t use a hairdryer while you are standing in a tub of water – is usually because someone has done it, hurt himself, sued the manufacturer and won. Which makes me think that universal suffrage is not such a good way to run a country, but that’s another subject.

In other countries, I have seen signs saying, “Do not urinate here” (on walls in very public places), which means there is a big problem with people (usually men, because it is a little harder for women to urinate in public) urinating here. The “Don’t spit here” signs on the bus in Quito made me very nervous about sitting on the bus seats.

But it is pretty pathetic if we have to get to the point of forbidding people to put turtles in the mail.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Recipes for a big family

posted Tue, 14 Dec 2004

My cousin Robbie, who has a master’s degree in journalism, I think, put together an incredible cookbook of family recipes. She emailed it to everyone this morning. She collected recipes from my grandmother, my aunts and uncles (my mom comes from a family of seven) and other cousins.

Apple strudel is an important part of my family’s history.

The book has 148 pages.

One hundred of them are desserts.

We don’t mess around with stuff that doesn’t taste good in my family.

This is the ratio of desserts to non-desserts that I have noticed in my grandmother’s church cookbooks, too. If you want to eat well, go to a church dinner or a party or a wedding in central Wisconsin. These people will not let you go hungry.

There are not a lot of therapists in that part of the country, I don’t think. Is there a connection? I wonder. Good food = happy people?

Say it ain`t so, Bill!

posted Mon, 13 Dec 2004

Harpo and I saw a movie yesterday that prompted me to wonder when the rules had changed about wearing a hat indoors. The movie was “Lightning in a Bottle,” a filmed blues concert, although I don’t count Steve Tyler as a blues musician, but then I am not a music scholar, so who am I to say?

We saw the movie because it was the only one we could agree on – I wanted to rent something and watch it at Harpo’s house, but he wanted to go to a movie theater. (Actually, he said his house was too messy. I was willing to give it a pass because I have been making a list of movies I have been wanting to see, but I was unable to convince him.)

Back to the hat. Bill Cosby shows up when Ruth Brown and Natalie Cole are singing. He is wearing a baseball hat. He is indoors. He removes the hat, then puts it back on. That is what confused me.

I thought gentlemen did not wear hats when they were indoors. Did someone change the rules on this?

I also thought that gentlemen removed their hats outdoors when the national anthem was played. I have been to baseball games here and seen people not only keep their hats on but also remain seated and keep talking during the national anthem.

That bugs me.

At my neighborhood Fourth of July parade last year, I was standing next to a boy who was about 12. When the national anthem started, he kept his hat on. I leaned over and whispered to him that I thought it was customary to remove one’s hat for the national anthem. He whipped it off immediately. I wasn’t trying to shame him – I felt bad for the poor kid that no one had ever taught him the right thing to do.

I just googled to see if there has been a rule change. Here’s what I learned about hats and the national anthem from Straight Dope:

“Emily Post, in her 1922 book Etiquette, says, ‘It is not necessary to add that every American male citizen stands with his hat off at the passing of the 'colors' and when the national anthem is played. If he didn't, some other more loyal citizen would take it off for him.’”

Next time I go to a ball game, I might be a “more loyal citizen.”

What would you do?

posted Mon, 13 Dec 2004

The mother of a good friend of mine had cancer about nine years ago. She went through a bunch of chemo and radiation therapy and the cancer went away.

It's come back. Mrs R. has decided not to have any more chemo. My friend is, understandably, very upset. But the sad reality is that the chemo would extend Mrs. R's life only about six months.

One of the doctors who treated my dad had a friend who had survived testicular cancer. Years after he had gone through chemo and recovered, the doc asked the friend, "If you had known before the chemo what it would be like but had also known you would survive the cancer, would you still have gone through the chemo?"

The friend told the doc no.

He would rather have died than gone through chemo.

I watched my dad suffer through chemo. And die anyhow. The irony with my dad was that if he hadn't been in such good shape -- except for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma -- the chemo would have killed him long before the cancer did.

As it was, he lost over 30% of his body weight (he didn't have extra to lose), all his hair, and control of his bodily functions. He was in constant pain -- except, I hope, when he was semi-comatose. I hope he at least had some relief then.

When his cancer returned, my dad refused chemo again, too. I don't blame him.

I don't know that I would even go through chemo one time based on what I have seen. The odds for recovery would have to be really, really good for me to do it, I think. I sure wouldn't do it for a cancer that kills over 80% or even 70% or maybe even 60% of its victims.

What would you do?

I worry that I haven`t reached my potential -- and then I worry that I have

posted Sun, 12 Dec 2004

It was 20 years ago today that I finished college by turning in my last paper – on Ulysses, I think it was. I am actually class of ’85, but finished a semester early to save money.

To save about $2,000. That’s all. Tuition was about $4,000 a year at that time. My living expenses were almost nothing, because I was living rent-free in the Weingarten’s garage apartment and eating at the faculty club where I waited tables at lunch.

My life has not turned out as I thought it would – not that I ever had a grand plan. I always envied my friends who knew exactly what they wanted to do. When I was in second grade, I wanted to be a doctor, a pilot, an astronaut, a writer and a comedian. I am not making my living as any of those now.

But when I look back, I don’t see many things I would change. Some things, definitely. Some things (mostly men), I want to slap my younger self and yell, “Stop! Stop right now! This is a BIG mistake!”

But other things – graduate school, Peace Corps – I don’t regret at all. So I wonder where the turning points would have been that would have made my life turn out differently? And should I have chosen them?

I was going to marry my college sweetheart, Bobby. I didn’t. We broke up and he married one of my sophomore year suitemates in 1992, which was well after the statute of limitations had expired on dating a friend’s boyfriend. Or ex-fiancé, even.

I started working on an MA in English at the University of Texas right after I finished my BA at Rice. This was mostly to kill time before Bobby was to graduate in 1986 – he took five years to complete his degrees in physics and electrical engineering. But I dropped out of that program after half a semester when I realized there was almost no writing involved, just some tests and a final. This was graduate school – and there were no papers! I had done four papers a semester per class at least at Rice – shouldn’t I have done at least that in grad school?

I fell into a job with Prudential Health Insurance because they were the only company that made me an offer. I actually chose to quit that job to get an MBA – and chose to join the Peace Corps after grad school.

I took the job with Ryder in Miami after the Peace Corps because again, they were the only ones that made me an offer. I escaped that sweatshop (don’t let anyone ever try to convince you that corporate finance is glamorous) to my current job – because they made me an offer. Little did I realize we were in the middle of a booming economy and I could have gone to work almost anywhere – a woman with an MBA who is fluent in Spanish? Diversity candidate dream. I blew it.

When I read back over this, I realize that I am not someone with a lot of direction. Instead, I have been buffeted about by the waves of chance (on the sea of life, yada yada yada).

Or, more to the point, my career goals have never been conventional. I don’t care about job title or prestige. I want to do interesting, challenging work and of course, I want a decent income, but I have never cared if I become CEO or VP. My job exists to get me the money to do the other things I want to do. If the job itself happens to engage me, that’s just icing on the cake – but I do not define and have never defined myself by my work.

My personal goals haven’t been conventional, either, I guess. Several boyfriends have wanted to marry me, but I’ve never wanted marriage and children enough to marry any of them. Maybe it was them – maybe it was marriage and children – I don’t know. Now that I am 41 and so very used to living alone, I don’t know that I could live with someone else. It would have to be a huge house.

Maybe I’ll have more of a clue in the next 20 years.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Too much nonsense

posted Sat, 11 Dec 2004

As part of my new initiative not to be a miser, I was in TJ Maxx last night buying nice pantyhose. I have decided it’s worth it to spend a little more to get the nice stuff as opposed to the cheap stuff from Walgreen’s. Not five dollars a pair more, but a dollar or two more at TJ Maxx prices.

So what color would Beyonce wear? Even I don’t wear “nude.”

Don’t worry. I’m not going crazy on this spending money thing. A friend at work looked at my ten year old Corolla once and asked curiously why I didn’t have a BMW or a Lexus as my peers do. “Because my car is paid for and it runs!” I answered. Sheesh. Like I would buy a new car just to have a particular brand? Nope. I’ve heard of people getting 250,000 miles out of Corollas. That means I still have 142,000 to go, which is about ten years. That’s fine with me. I have a mortgage to pay off.

Back to TJ Maxx. I am looking at the pantyhose, seeking my size and a color that will look good on my skin. Now, if you have been reading my site for more than about say, two days, you can probably guess that I am not someone who has a lot of patience for most PC thinking. But I have to agree with what I expect would be the PC position on this issue.

I pull out a package labeled “nude.” The hose are way lighter than my skin. I am Caucasian, of Norwegian-Flemish-French-German-Prussian-Slovak heritage (or so I am told). It takes about two seconds for me to tan to a very dark color and the tan does not fade quickly. So even I, a white chick, cannot really wear the “nude” hose.

There is a seventh-grade girl chatting with me. She is so cute. She has to sing a solo in her school performance and needs pantyhose. She is black. The nude hose won’t work for her, either.

When I was a kid, Crayola had a color called “flesh,” a peachy-pink color. It was a pretty big deal when they renamed that color, but they did the right thing. I never had the flesh crayon, I don’t think. I think that came in the 64-color pack, which we didn’t get. I’m over it now, of course. Completely over it.

[I just checked the Crayola website. They say they changed the color “flesh” to “peach” in 1962, which was before I was born, but I could have sworn I remembered seeing that crayon. Maybe the crayons we had in Spain in the late 60s were old stock.]

You’d think that someone in the pantyhose company marketing departments would figure out that there might be a better positioning strategy than naming a certain color “nude.” If I were black, I would be pretty annoyed – I don’t want to call it racism but it’s definite cluelessness. I sure wouldn’t buy pantyhose from that company.

White woman speak with forked tongue

posted Sat, 11 Dec 2004

Here’s why I have mixed feelings about illegal immigrants (and why I feel hypocritical about the issue): they are a boon to our economy. Most of them have an incredible work ethic. On holidays, after hours and on Sundays, it is the Hispanic construction guys I see working on the houses down the street. They work hard, they live ten to an apartment, they send their money back home. We benefit from their work. I wish the rest of the people living in my city worked that hard. Contractors beg for Mexicans. They don’t want locals.

I used to have an American cleaning lady. She didn’t do windows. She didn’t wash clothes. She didn’t iron. She didn’t clean the inside of the refrigerator.

One day, I patched the plaster in the bathroom and sanded it down. Right before I went to bed, I realized I hadn’t cleaned the plaster dust off the floor, but then remembered that my cleaning lady was coming the next day. She was supposed to wash the floor anyhow, so I left the dust for her to clean.

When I got home the next night, I discovered the dust was still there.

She hadn’t washed the floor. She hadn’t even swept the floor. I fired her, deciding that for $60, I could not clean my house just as easily as she could.

When Esperanza, my current cleaning lady, and I had our interview, she asked me what I wanted her to use to wash the windows: newspaper or rags. “What did you say?” I asked her. We were speaking in Spanish and I thought I must have mis-heard her. She repeated her question. “You wash windows?” I asked in amazement.

“Isn’t that part of cleaning a house?” she replied.

Esperanza washes, folds and puts away my clothes. She would iron if I had clothes that needed to be ironed. She washes the windows. She will do anything I ask. She is amazing.

She is also, I think, illegal. I have never asked her, but I will politely decline if George wants to appoint me to a Cabinet-level position. I really wouldn’t want to put the Administration through that sort of embarrassment. And I wouldn’t want to have to find a new cleaning lady.