Wednesday, September 30, 2009

To sleep, perchance not to dream

posted Sun, 29 Aug 2004

I love to sleep but I hate to dream. Yesterday, I woke up in the middle of a dream where Harpo and I were at Coral Gables High School in Miami trying to round up all the frogs and snakes we had brought in buckets. The building was Coral Gables High, where I took French and Portuguese and tutored math in the evening program, but it was really a Catholic elementary school. It was morning and all the kids were arriving in their blue plaid uniforms.

I don’t know why we were there and I especially don’t know why we had all those buckets of frogs. But somehow the frogs got loose and we had to gather them again. But when we got a bunch of them, Harpo threw them in a bucket that had a little shark in it. It was quite stressful.

Yes. On The List.
Source: http://209.197.21.119/r3x8i5i4/cds/cdn/uploads/2009/07/Denzel-Washington-Philly_l.jpg?dopvhost=cdn.atomicpopcorn.net&doppl=45a2398a0f6167540f3167544a21df79&dopsig=fbcdf370cc784be2891378365ed72a64

Then we had to go to some work meeting (my work) at the VP’s beach house. The VP wasn’t there but a lot of other people from work were. I was shopping with Leigh and we were looking for little souvenirs to give to people, but I was not going to spend $40 on a little box just because it had a photo of Elvis on it.

Then my group had to arrange to meet on Christmas because we had to get this project done and I was really ticked off that I would have to do such a thing. Yes, I have noticed that two of the seven persons in my group are not Christian: one is Hindu and I don’t know what the ethnic Chinese guy from Singapore is, but I do know that you can’t make reference to Daniel being thrown into the fiery furnace around the cute Indian and expect him to know what you are talking about. He also claims never to have heard the term “sticky wicket,” which makes me suspicious. He claims to play cricket, but has never heard of a sticky wicket? Really.

Last night I dreamed I was in medical school at one of those shady Caribbean schools. I don’t remember which island, but I do know that you were not allowed to drive on the highway except for special occasions. Not that that mattered much as I didn’t have a car.

The school and the dorms were in the same building. We had lectures all day, then everyone went to his room. The stairway for the even floors was on the left and the odd floors on the right. I kept getting mixed up. There was this one obnoxious woman who wanted to identify the top student in our class so we could show those US schools what’s what. The rest of us thought she was nuts.

We had to go through this obstacle course to get to class. The course including scaling a three-story building. My friend Patricia was in the dream with me. She was dating about six of the other students, but no one asked me out, so I went to the animal shelter and looked at the cats and dogs. They wanted me to take a cat home, but long-haired cats seem to give me sinus headaches and there were no Siamese cats.

I know these don’t sound so bad in the light of day, but trust me, I do not enjoy them. Why can’t I dream about sex or something interesting? Actually, the dream I had last week with Denzel Washington should have been erotic, but it wasn’t. As soon as he reached to kiss me, I told him to stop because I heard my boss coming and I didn’t want him to know I was involved with a married man. Then I said I had to do laundry and asked if he had any whites he wanted washed.

I also have the standard dreams of getting to school and not knowing where my locker is. Or having someone tell me that I have to take high school math again. I protest and say that I have a master’s degree so it shouldn’t matter what I got in high school math. (All “A’s”, by the way, so they shouldn’t be bugging me about this now.) Or I realize that I never did drop that class at the beginning of the semester and the final is tomorrow – and I never attended class, either.

This sort of happened to one of my college roommates. Dee realized the night before it was due that she had to write a 20-page paper on pig iron. For you youngsters who don’t remember the days before the internet and word processors, this was a huge deal. That was when you had to go to the library to do research using ACTUAL BOOKS. And then you have to TYPE the paper without making ANY mistakes. In the snow. Without shoes.

Patron Saint of Real Estate

posted Sat, 28 Aug 2004

We had a little going-away party for Stephanie, the secretary to the VP. Stephanie’s husband has a new job in another state; she is quitting after seven years with this VP, who will be mourning for a long time.

Stephanie always leaves at 4:30 sharp, which has created some resentment with the other secretaries in the group. It bothered me as well, because I saw how the other women had to take up the slack.

But then I started to applaud Stephanie. The company wasn’t going to pay her any overtime, but it’s not like she was going to get the huge salary or bonus that her boss gets. (There may be overtime now, but for a while, they weren’t authorizing any.) Another VP’s secretary doesn’t file for overtime, yet will stay late into the night finishing up. Most support staff positions have been eliminated, even though the work has not gone away. And the senior execs don’t seem to have a problem asking secretaries to do strictly personal chores for them, like making travel arrangements for their (the execs’) grown children.

When I worked at Ryder, the secretary for my group made the VP’s doctor and hair appointments and took his car to get the oil changed. She never had time to do anything for the rest of the group. I didn’t think this was an appropriate use of shareholder money.

We talked about the four-month period one woman was having and all that she had been through trying to figure out what was wrong, then we talked about the thyroid problems that three of the women had. We talked about packing stuff for moving – what to keep, what to throw away.

We talked about selling Stephanie’s house. Her husband’s new employer won’t buy the house if it doesn’t sell, as is common with large companies. He is a Lutheran pastor – I guess that’s not part of what happens when you get called to a new congregation.

“Have you buried a St Joseph statue in your front yard?” I asked.


Source: http://www.saintlyhelp.com/

She didn’t know what I was talking about. It’s not just that she is Lutheran but also that M’town is not a Catholic town. Only about four percent Catholic, which is probably higher than in Atlanta. We have six Catholic high schools here – apparently, there is only one in Atlanta. Catholics are not too common in the south, but M’town is a river town more than a southern town.

But the two other Catholics in the group knew exactly what I was talking about. The Baptists were fascinated. Course, they didn’t get the idea of a pastor changing congregations, either. I said that in the military, at least, they on purpose move people around so they don’t build empires. The military needs to be about the process, not the person. It also helps diminish problems with embezzling and other things that can happen when you don’t worry about someone looking at what you are doing.

Back to St Joseph. I told Stephanie I didn’t know if it would work for Lutherans but it was worth a shot.

Social anxiety disorder of the bladder

posted Fri, 27 Aug 2004

Has this happened to you? You’re in a meeting. You’re supposed to give a presentation at 9:00, but the person before you is still speaking at 9:20. You have another meeting that you are in charge of at 10:00.


Source: http://stonybrookfilmfestival.com/fest99/analyze.html


But you can’t say anything to the person who has run over into your time because he is a VP. And even though you have to pee really bad, you can’t leave the room because, well, a VP is talking. And you don’t know when he is going to stop – you need to be ready to give your presentation.

But when it is finally time for you to talk, you realize that everyone else in the room has been trapped since 8:00 and they might need a bio break, too. The last thing you want to do is compete with their bladders for attention.

So you suggest a two-minute break before your presentation and run to the ladies’ room.

Another woman in the group follows you. You don’t know her that well and are not very comfortable with her.

The ladies’ room is deathly quiet. You sit. Your bladder is so full that it aches.

But you know this other woman is listening! Bladder lock! She graciously flushes her toilet, but that doesn’t help.

You give up, wash your hands, and return to the conference room, where you suffer in silence (well, not in silence, but you are not talking about your suffering, you are talking about SAP).

It's another hour before you get to a safe bathroom.

The philosophy of weeds

posted Fri, 27 Aug 2004

Do we hate nutgrass simply because it is “other?” Because it is not Bermuda or zoysia or fescue?

Or do we hate it because, as the government of New Zealand puts it, “It has been described as the 'world’s worst weed’ due to its aggressive nature, persistent growth and resistance to control?”

I think the latter.

Sure, it looks OK. I mean, it's green.

But it kills everything else in the yard!

I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out how I even got nutgrass in the first place, considering it is (again, according to the kiwis) a native of India. How did it get here?

I didn’t have nutgrass until after I had the back yard tilled. Ironically, the whole reason I had it tilled was to get a nicer yard. Ha. Little did I know that I was opening the door for pestilence, plague and destruction.

The kiwis know all. Here, they imply that it is transported on equipment (tilling equipment???): “To prevent the further spread of nutgrass, it is essential that all cropping equipment is thoroughly cleaned down on site before being transported elsewhere. Ensure that you and your neighbours are aware of the problems this plant pest presents and insist that harvesters coming onto your properties have been cleaned down.”

So what do you do when the person who opened Pandora’s box in your yard is a friend? And you can’t prove it anyhow? And even if you did prove it, so what? The problem is there. It wasn't on purpose. It might not even be from the friend's tiller.

I mowed my back yard last night. There are patches of brown where I had zapped the first bunches of nutgrass. I thought I had gotten it all, but apparently I was wrong, because now it looks like the lawn consists of nothing but nutgrass. All the other grass has gotten scared and disappeared.

At first I thought that maybe if I just scatter some other grass seed this fall – maybe some rye – that it would thrive and the nutgrass would disappear. But this morning I thought maybe I should do a little nutgrass research. As you can read, the news was not good. Now I am thinking that the only solution will be to poison the entire back yard to kill the beast and then start all over again from scratch.

Or maybe sell my house in the winter so no one knows what bad shape the yard is in.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Save a horse

posted Wed, 25 Aug 2004

I saw another reference to George W Bush being a “cowboy” the other day. I don’t remember where – my brain has too many other things to worry about to track sources like that, but I know I saw it.

It took me a while to realize when this whole “cowboy” thing started that it was meant pejoratively.

See, I’m as close to Texan as you can be without having the privilege of being born there. I went to grades 5, 6, 7, and 12 and college and grad school in Texas. The only reason I don’t live in Texas right now is that my paycheck is not delivered to me there.

But Texas holds a dear place in my heart, so it confuses me that something I – and I think most Americans, actually – consider to be such a positive icon can be written and spoken with such venom.

What’s not to like about this guy?
http://duby.com/okeechobee_rodeo%20fans.htm

The cowboy is the quintessential image of America – gutsy, independent, self reliant, free. He doesn’t fight unless he has to, but sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, which is to stand up for what’s right.

I think that’s one of the reasons the critics hated the movie “Open Range” – because it so clearly took a position on the existence of good and evil (leftists hate the idea of an objective morality) and because its characters were willing to fight evil.

I take personal offence at the concept of cowboy being used negatively. My uncle is a cowboy. When he was ten years old, he fled his home in advance of the Russian Army and found safety with the American soldiers who took him in and had him care for their horses. He came to this country with less than nothing – in debt for $438 (I think for his passage here). Through hard work and determination, he has built a life here and even has something to leave his children. He has made a huge contribution to this country with his cowboy ethic. Anyone who tries to use “cowboy” as an insult must not know any cowboys. He definitely does not know my uncle.

Perhaps it’s jealously. Those effete east coasters who think they know more than the rest of us and who think of the middle of the country as “flyover.” Ha. They wouldn’t survive for a second on my uncle’s ranch. I think these people who curse “cowboy” are all a bunch of sissies.

Which would YOU rather be called? Cowboy or sissy?

Take pride in being a cowboy, George. I would.

Ancient Chinese Secret

posted Wed, 25 Aug 2004

Here’s a customer service suggestion for the dry-cleaning industry: if the stain is still in the garment, keep cleaning until it is gone.

The approach my former dry cleaner used was that I would drop off the jacket and point out the stain. We would put little stickies on the jacket that said “stain.” The clerk wrote “remove stain” on the ticket.

Then I would return the next day, look at the jacket and say, “The stain is still there.”

We would repeat the process, from putting on little stickies to my saying, “The stain is still there” until the putative stain-removal people would put a note on the jacket saying they had done all they could and any further work would damage the fabric.

I have since changed to a different dry cleaner – one that charges $2 instead of $6 an item. I figure the new ones can not get my clothes clean for a lot less money.

They made me go through the same charade – only I only had to say, “The stain is still there” once to the attendant. And that was right before she said, “I know. I was going to send it back to them, but I was holding it in case you came this afternoon so I could show you.”

I had my doubts, of course. They also promise everything but deliver nothing. But when I went back today, the stain was GONE. And there was a little girl, maybe fourth grade, working back there, still dressed in her school uniform. She couldn’t wait to take my ticket, find my jacket, and then hand it to me with a cheery “Have a nice day!”

Nice.

Another laundry challenge I have faced recently is the discovery (and I did suspect this) that bleach will not remove ground-in dirt. (That is the technical term for dirt that gets transferred from your flowerbeds to your white towels by means of your hands.)

I had some education in this, having discovered the same thing about rust stains and discussed the issue in an interview I had years ago at Whirlpool. Apparently, bleach works best on organic stains, like blood and chocolate. Stuff that has been alive or was created by something alive at some point.

Rust and dirt don’t really fit that category. I don’t think. In organic chemistry, they don’t talk about rust and dirt, they talk about hydrocarbons, right? And isn’t carbon the basic building block for life as we know it?

Anyhow. I never have been able to figure out how to remove rust stains. (You get those on your white linen shirt when the inside of your dryer rusts, which is what happens when it is kept outside of your duplex in Miami because that’s where the attachments are.)

And now I don’t know what to do about the ground-in dirt. I am sending an appeal to all moms reading this. Help.

Welcome to my ashram

posted Tue, 24 Aug 2004

I didn’t realize until I started looking for a photo to go with this story that I am actually a practitioner of the ancient art of yoga. Yes. This is true. To quote, “The practice of nasal cleansing - known as Neti - has been used by practitioners of Ayurveda and Yoga in India for thousands of years. Neti is one of the 6 purification techniques performed prior to practicing yoga as a way of preparing the body for the yoga practice.” (From HealingDaily)

This is what it is: your pour salt water up your nose. Who knew this counted as exercise?
Source: http://household-tips.thefuntimesguide.com/images/blogs/using-neti-pot-by-mybloodyself.jpg

My quest began with the desire to rid myself of chronic sinus congestion and pressure, earache, headache and general malaise.

Oh, don’t cry for me. Really. It’ll be OK. There is redemption in suffering. And I am stronger than most so can bear it.

But there does come a time when one says, “!Ya basta!”

So onto the internet I went. My college roommate Anita had told me about neti pots. I thought they were named in honor me. Yes, “Nettie” is the nickname for “Class Factotum.” See how much useful stuff you learn here? Bookmark this site before you forget. Right now.

Anyhow, Anita had told me about neti pots. She should know – she has had sinus problems since I don’t know when. In college, she would sniff loudly for half an hour every morning after she woke up. No need for an alarm clock in that suite. (I feel the blonde glare coming at me as I write – OK, yes, I was the one who snored. Now you are even.)

She has done everything for her sinuses, including surgery. She also has taken steroids, which are not fun drugs, as they give you all the disadvantages of eating donuts, ice cream and chocolate with none of the advantages.

So I knew I was hearing from an expert.

I got a neti pot and tried it, but then my sinus problems went away for a while and I stopped using it.

But for about the past month, I have been miserable. The drugs really haven’t helped – they might solve the sinus problem but they create issues of their own. My doctor refuses to give me the miracle cure he keeps in the back of the office, so I decided I had nothing to lose by practicing neti again.

Look at the photo again. Looks like fun, doesn’t it? Of course, being the Factotum, I followed the instructions. I made sure the neti pot was right for MY nostrils: “Your neti pot should be right for YOUR nostrils: Choose a neti pot with a smoothly tapered conical tip at the spout end. This facilitates support on the nostril walls of varying sizes. More importantly, this minimizes spillage as it 'plugs' the inlet nostril.”

It looks and sounds totally gross, but it’s really not that bad. It’s kind of like when you swim in the ocean and get a little bit of water up your nose. It actually brings back some happy childhood memories of the beaches in Spain and Florida, where I spent my formative beach years, which was why Galveston beach was such a horrible disappointment.

But here’s the amazing part: it seems to make a difference. Yeah, sure, my nose drips salt water for an hour after I do it and I am gaining weight from all the extra salt being put into my body (I am SURE that is the reason the scale is inching higher). But if it prevents sinus headache (aka the headache you have to take migraine drugs to eliminate), I am willing to do it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

La gente unida nunca sera vencida

posted Tue, 24 Aug 2004

I’ve been thinking some more about the organic food co-op that closed a few weeks ago – the one with the Zapatista coffee and the sincere employees. There was a story in the paper about the closing. The manager said that there were 500 members of the store and that if each member had spent just $10 a week at the store, they could have stayed in business.

Yes. But. People do not have a moral obligation to shop in a certain place. The prices in this store were higher than you would pay elsewhere, especially for produce. And the best greengrocer in town has a store just one block away from the erstwhile co-op.

The fact is the store was not a good business. Stores like that can thrive if done properly. There is a Wild Oats in town and there is another organic-type store about a mile from the closed co-op. But Square Foods gives customers a reason to come into the store. You can actually do all your grocery shopping there if you want. The co-op’s selection was limited and pricey. Most people, when it comes right down to it, are not going to spend more money than they have to, no matter what their politics.

I tried to play on that liberal guilt aspect when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Chile. My project was working with a group of indigenous women (the indigenous group is called Mapuche) who had a small store where they sold the rugs and blankets they had woven.

Problem was that there were lots of Mapuche women not in the Casa de la Mujer Mapuche – our co-op – who also wove and sold textiles. And they would compete on price. They wanted cash. The wool for the textiles came from their sheep. Some of the dyes were natural (the synthetics were actually prettier, but required cash expenditure). The rest of the value was in the labor. Basically, any amount of cash the vendor could get was a win for her.

So I set up the store to target tourists. Chileans weren’t interested in this stuff. To be honest, it was not as nice as the stuff that comes from Bolivia or Ecuador. The sheep in my area had short, coarse hair so the wool wasn’t very nice. The Aymara have much nicer textiles than the Mapuche.

But I digress. I played up the fact that our group was a co-op of women dedicated to non-patriarchal, non-Western, non-imperialist, non-capitalist, non-hierarchal decision making and organization. Of course, I was silently rolling my eyes as I did this. Rosa, the director of the organization, talked the talk about all this cooperative decision making, but she would tell the receptionist. “Get so and so on the phone for me.” She loved the trappings of power. And as much as she disdained capitalism, she sure didn’t mind taking money from the Inter-American Foundation, the US-funded group that financed Casa de la Mujer Mapuche. (By “US-funded,” I mean by your tax dollars.) Actually, she probably thought the money was her due because the US had somehow oppressed her people.

Whatever. I got so much of that baloney: “Before you white people were here, Mapuches didn’t even know to make a fist. The men never beat their wives.”

Right. Then why did the Spaniards never conquer the Mapuche (one of the few indigenous groups in the world with that claim to fame)? The Mapuche were such vicious warriors that no one could beat them. The Incas never beat them, either.

Rosa would proclaim that the Chileans would have to give the land back to the Mapuches. I would tell her that the Mapuches needed to get their act together: with about 7% of the population, they could be a formidable voting bloc if they would organize. Hardly anyone in the world even knows where Chile is, much less that the Mapuches exist, I told her. No one cares. You want to get something in this country? Organize. Educate your children. Turn them into teachers, doctors, lawyers – and elect them to the legislature.

In Rosa’s defense, the idea of representative democracy was slightly foreign, given that she had been only a baby when Pinochet came into power and didn’t know anything but a fascist dictatorship. Yes, Pinochet had been officially out of power for a few years when I got there, but he still pulled some strings.

But I thought if I could get the tree-hugger backpacker tourists to buy into the mission of the Casa – to empower women – they would be willing to pay 50% more for the products than they would cost elsewhere.

Sometimes it worked. We did increase profits 26% while I was there, but it was an uphill battle every day. We have to make money to stay in business, I would remind my colleagues. It doesn't do the women in the group (about 135 members) any good if we go out of business. I would remind my counterpart of this every time she bought a poorly-made rug from one of the women. We won't be able to sell that, I'd say.

But that argument doesn’t hold much sway when the salaries of those making the decisions are paid from a grant, so the income from the business does not have to cover the expenses. In this case, they got to be 'idealistic' because someone else is paying the bills – which is how it usually works, even in this country. Witness the protesters against “globalization” – if they actually had to work, they wouldn’t have time to protest all day. It’s pretty nice to have a trust fund. But that’s another subject.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Private Benjamin

posted Mon, 23 Aug 2004

Here are some random things that crossed my mind at lunch.

There is a story in the latest issue of Latina magazine about a young woman who joined the Army and was sent to Iraq, where she was injured.

I am not even going to go into the pros and cons of having 90-lb 20-year-old women in the Army, except to say that the mission of the military is to defend the US and I don’t see a petite girl as having a role to play in any sort of combat. I will also say that I do not believe the military should serve as a testing lab for social experiments.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. This poor girl was injured and still might lose her foot, which is sad no matter what.

But in the story, she says that she didn’t think she would be sent to war – that she joined so she could go to college.

Excuse me. Since when has it been a big secret that the ARMY SENDS PEOPLE TO WAR? The fact that you might have to be shot at as part of your job description if you are in the military should not be a surprise to anyone above the age of, oh, say TEN, in this country.

A completely different subject. My neighbor had hip replacement surgery two years ago. He has since recovered completely and is biking and skating and doing all sorts of other things that require a pretty high level of physical agility.

Yet he still keeps his ‘handicapped’ placard hanging from his rear-view mirror.

I find that just a little bit unethical.

OK, I find it a lot unethical.

Back to work.

The law of the sea

posted Mon, 23 Aug 2004

Silent Whispers (and probably others, but she actually sent me a note) had not heard of the German cannibalism case. Here is a link to the CNN story for those of you who do not spend inordinate amounts of time at work goofing off on the net.

If you want to read a novel where this issue is addressed, get "Ahab's Wife." Also, the books about the Donner party are fascinating.

I'm really not into gruesome stuff -- I am just a voracious reader.

Here's a quick story -- my friend Joanne took the bus from Chile to Argentina. The busses in South America show movies to entertain the passengers. (The also have bingo games, which is annoying.) On this trip, they showed "Alive," which would not have been my first choice for the crossing of the Andes.

PS I looked for some photos of cannibals, but they were all too gross -- except for the German guy, who looked perfectly ordinary -- someone you would see at work or in the post office. The banality of evil.

Pawnshop excursion

posted Sun, 22 Aug 2004

I don’t have many opportunities to go into pawn shops. If I ever do see one, it’s usually because I am driving in a neighborhood where I double check to make sure my car doors are locked. But yesterday, I had to go to the only shoe repair place I could find near me that was actually open on Saturday, a journey that took me downtown near the courthouse, the jail, bail bondsmen and of course, pawnshops.

Now why on earth the shoe repair place two blocks from my house can’t be open any other time than 9:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday I do not know. I cannot be the only person in this neighborhood who is not home during those hours and who would find it a little inconvenient, not to mention a career inhibitor, to leave work at 4:00 – not once but twice per shoe repair incident because of course he won’t fix them while you wait – just to get to my shoes fixed. But maybe in my neighborhood I am the only shoe-wearing person who 1) works those hours and 2) does not have someone at home to run my errands for me.

So anyhow I had to go downtown to where all the stores have bars on the windows. When I lived in Miami, all the stores had bars on the windows just because that is Latin fashion. The window bar, however, did not have bars, in a nice little twist. The window bar is where you buy your shots of Cuban coffee and hang out with the guys.

But in M’town, window bars are not considered an accessory in good taste, so I was a bit wary to even be driving in that neighborhood, much less be contemplating leaving my car unoccupied in it. I drove around the block twice before realizing that there were no decent parking options and that the best thing to do would be to make sure the car was in full view of the street so that a would-be thief would be maybe put off by the idea of witnesses. The parking lot – unpaved – reeked of urine, which I usually find is another indicator of not a desirable neighborhood.

I do feel fortunate, however, that I live in a society where it is not considered necessary to post signs ordering people NOT to urinate in a particular area. Such signs were posted on many walls in the ancient city in Cuzco. In Ecuador, the signs in the busses ordered passengers not to spit there. It’s like the way Germany didn’t know how to charge that guy who ate the guy he’d met over the internet. There is no law against cannibalism in Germany because it just didn’t occur to them that anyone would do such a thing. The reason signs like “No urinating here” or “No spitting here” exist because the authorities in exasperation have decided to take action against a recurring problem. So there is some comfort in the fact that in this country, one doesn’t see signs forbidding public urination. It happens, but people know that they are not supposed to do it and it doesn’t happen enough that we need to post signs forbidding it.

Back to the shoes. I dropped them off in the shoe shop, which happened to be next door to a pawn shop, which was also open on Saturday. What is it about that neighborhood that the merchants recognize the need to provide services on Saturday that eludes the merchants in my neighborhood?

Walking back to my car, I thought “Here’s my chance to see the inside of a pawnshop.” I had never been in one before, having led a rather sheltered life. I’m fortunate that my mother never handed her great-grandmother’s locket to me and ordered me to take it to the pawnshop where I would get enough money to buy gruel and potatoes for our next meal. Good thing, too, because I think the next thing that happens in that story, with the daddy done run off and the baby sick, is that mama buys me a fancy dress and tells me to be nice to the gentlemen. Unfortunately, I was not one of those knockout teenagers who could have made a living by being nice to the gentlemen.

Having never been in a pawnshop before, I don’t know if the contents of this one were standard or if this guy just had a particularly bad business strategy. It appeared that either his stock hadn’t turned over in years or that he was accepting goods indiscriminately. Either way, he had things for sale that don’t get demanded much any more, in M’town in particular or in the year 2004 in general.

Ice skates. He had several pairs of ice skates! So it wasn’t just a bad decision one time, but one he had repeated. Why is this so bad, you ask? Well – we might get snow once a winter here, but the river does not freeze and no other body of water around here does, either, as far as I know. And there is not an ice rink here. Ice skating is not a big sport in the south.

Manual typewriters. Maybe there is a market for manual typewriters still. Maybe. Slide projectors. When is the last time you had to watch slides?

There were lots of tools, both hand and power. There were baby seats. I hope the baby was too old to need the seat any more by the time it was hocked. A Craftsman scroll saw was $135. Is that a good price? I don’t know, but I would rather buy something like that directly from Sears. Is the warranty still good if you buy it from a pawnshop?

The only household appliances I saw were a few old upright vacuum cleaners. My assessment, based on the merchandise I saw, is that the majority of pawn shopping is done by men. Lots more hand drills, fishing reels, extension cords and ladders than vacuum cleaners. Although there was a pair of red suede shorts. I can’t see a man wearing those.

There were lots of musical instruments and equipment – guitars, cymbals, drums, amps – which doesn’t surprise me. You know the joke about the difference between a musician and a pizza delivery man, right?

I had suggested to my friend Rebecca once that she and her husband look for a lawn mower at a pawn shop. This was not a complete non sequiter – they needed to buy a lawn mower. Rebecca mused, “I would wonder what the tragic circumstances were that led some poor couple to pawn their lawn mower.” We speculated about Gift of the Magi situations. He pawns the lawnmower to buy her some black patent leather shoes; she pawns the red suede shorts that lacked the shoes to complete the outfit to buy him grass seed.

The same question crossed my mind when I saw the M’town salt and pepper shaker set. And the menorah. And the walker. And the wheelchair. What circumstances prompted the owner to pawn such a precious item? And why didn’t he ever return? Did the need for the wheelchair end? Did the owner regain the use of his legs?

I can see that this pawnshop issue will require a lot more research. I’ll get to the bottom of it and let you know.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Death be not expensive

posted Sat, 21 Aug 2004

Apparently, Costco’s decision to sell coffins is being met with some controversy. This controversy starts, as one might imagine, with the funeral homes, who are the usual sellers of coffins. In an article in the London Free Press, Costco explains that the markups on coffins are high: “In the U.S., Costco is selling caskets for $800 US that retail elsewhere for $2,800 US,” the article states.

A funeral home owner interviewed for the story says he isn’t worried about Costco. "I don't see many people comfortable buying a casket at a big box store," he said. "I think people will realize they are better served buying a casket at a funeral home."

The gravestone store in Fez, next to the shoe store.

I have an opinion about this. Coffins ARE expensive. What’s really ridiculous is that you are buying something that is for someone who is dead. A coffin will not keep a body from decomposing. Neither will embalming. I don’t want to be embalmed and if I can get away with it, I sure don’t want an expensive coffin. Even if there were a way to keep a body from rotting, I wouldn’t want to keep the one I have. If there is a rapture and we all are restored to our bodies for the second coming (I don’t know a lot of the details of how this is supposed to work – millennialism is not really a Catholic thing), I want Cindy Crawford’s body. I want to trade up.

A coffin is just a fancy way of putting a body in the ground. Why should you spend any more than you have to? When my dad died, we were fortunate that the funeral director lived in the same small town where my dad was raised. He knows everyone there and knows he can’t cheat people or word will get around. He didn’t put any pressure on us as we were choosing a coffin, but even so, I realize in retrospect that we should have asked to see the cheaper stuff in the back. You choose from the coffins in the showroom – but maybe there are better bargains elsewhere.

My dad had it in his will that he wanted to be buried in a plain pine box. Despite that, my mom started to worry that maybe we should get the nicer, more expensive coffin. I told her that if dad were alive, he would have told her not to waste the money on a coffin but to take a trip to Paris instead. Of course, if he had been alive, we wouldn’t have been shopping for a coffin, but we didn’t get that lucky.

The one we got cost about $3,000, I think, and it was the least expensive one. Then we had to buy a vault, which was a surprise to me. A vault costs another $3,000 or so. Yeah, if we could have gone to Costco and saved $4,000, that would have been great.

A few years after my dad died, I read “The American Way of Death,” by Jessica Mitford. It is a fascinating book. Even though it was written in the early 60s I believe, a lot of what she had to say is applicable today. The book is an expose of the funeral industry. Morticians have managed to get laws passed requiring people to buy vaults and coffins, etc. It used to be, I think, that you could get a coffin only through a funeral home.

The thing is that when you are in the situation that you actually do need to buy a coffin, you are not in a position to comparison shop or to take your time or to ask questions about what you have to do. Embalming may or may not be required by law. But why should the law even mess with such a thing? And why should the law tell you that you have to buy a coffin? In some states, even if you are going to be cremated, you have to buy a coffin. How ridiculous is that?

When I am dead, I don’t want to be embalmed and I want the cheapest coffin available if I must have one. The corrugated coffin below should cost about $30, based on what I know about corrugated manufacturing costs. Spending money on burial extras is a waste. And you know how my people are about wasting things.

Something that I think bothers people about coffins in Costco is that our culture in general does not deal well with death. We are obsessed with youth. We put our old people in warehouses so we won’t have to see them and be reminded of our own mortality. My dad always thought that was a big disadvantage of raising his children on military bases – that we never saw anyone who was old or sick. We certainly never went to any funerals. “Death is a part of life,” he told me. “When I was a kid, people would die and we would go to the funeral.” I didn’t go to my first funeral until after I was out of college. My dad’s funeral was only the second one I ever attended.

I think death is accepted more in other countries. In Latin America, All Souls’ Day is celebrated by everyone going to the cemetery to tidy the graves of their loved ones. They take flowers and picnics and spend the day together. It’s like a big party in remembrance of the ones who have died.

And coffins aren’t hidden in the back room of the funeral home. They are in stores, in the windows, right there where you can see them. The coffin store might be next to the stationary store or the greengrocer.

I wish things were different here. I wish it were OK to get old and to look old and that dying of cancer was not viewed as a personal failing. I think that Costco is doing the right thing. Get my coffin there but make sure it’s the cheapest one! Spend the rest of the money on the wake and on the post-funeral lunch. That’s how I want to be remembered – by people gathering and eating good food and telling stories about me. Not by an expensive box that gets put into the dirt.

Ask Miss Class Factotum

posted Thu, 19 Aug 2004

The subject of today’s lesson is manners. I will address two specific areas: forms of address and the weight room at the gym.

Let me start with the gym.

NOW HEAR THIS! NO ONE WANTS TO SIT IN YOUR SWEAT!

There are guys in my gym who sweat profusely while they work out. Yes, this is out of their control and we must not snicker at them behind their wet backs. But they have an obligation to clean up after themselves. You know those little towels the attendant gives you when you check in? It’s not a bath towel! It is a wipe off your equipment towel. Use it.

I saw one guy who wasn’t even going through the charade of carrying a towel with him. These guys will carry water bottles and portable CD players and cellphones, but no towels. He was so sweaty and nasty that the seats of the sit-down machines were completely soaked when he finished. That’s just gross. I employed every tactic I could think of, including disapproving stares, to get him to clean up, but all to no avail. Finally, I had to be blunt. I got a clean towel from the attendant and handed it to Mr Sweaty. “You need this,” I told him. Sheesh.

Do you want to touch his sweat? I don’t.

The other thing about the gym – re-rack your weights. For crying out loud – you are there to work out anyhow. How hard is it to put the weights back when you are through? I am so tired of trying to take those heavy weights off the barbells and worrying about dropping them on my fragile, manicured toes because someone just wasn’t man enough or considerate enough to do it. We are not in a swanky, full-service gym where there are maids to clean up after you. Get some manners.

The other thing I want to talk about is forms of address – specifically, when it is appropriate to use a first name and when it is not.

It is not appropriate for the 19-yr-old receptionist at the doctor’s office to yell “Class!” at the waiting room when she wants me (and without even looking up to make eye contact). It is appropriate for her to say, “Miss Factotum.” (And in the defense of almost every worker in M’town doctors’ offices, most of them do maintain that polite formality.)

It is not appropriate for a child to call me by my first name unless I so invite and the parents wish their child to do so. Most parents around here employ the southern practice of having their children preface an adult’s first name with “Miss” or “Mr.” Hence, I am “Miss Class,” which I think is a charming way to handle the situation.

When I was a kid, my parents required us to call adults “Mr” or “Mrs,” even if the adult in question said first name was fine. For some very close family friends, we used “Aunt” and “Uncle” in front of the first name.

This habit was so ingrained in me that when I started my first job out of college, I still called all my colleagues – the ancient ones, anyhow – you know, in their 40s or older – Mr or Mrs. After I had been there for a few months, the VP finally told me that we were on a first-name basis. It was still very strange to me to call someone my dad’s age by his first name.

Even now, I call my friends’ parents Mr and Mrs, for both the friends I have had for a long time and the ones I have met more recently. If they would ask me to use first names, I would (it would be weird!), but my college roommates’ parents are Mr and Mrs L and Mr and Mrs G, etc.

But I don’t like the bag boy at the grocery store calling me “ma’am.” They only do that for women they consider to be old and past their sell-by dates.

Tall, dark and handy

posted Thu, 19 Aug 2004

This is the form my fantasies take: Last night, I dreamed that a tall, dark and handsome stranger appeared – and put in a new back yard for me. He tilled the dirt and laid new grass and then showed up to water as appropriate.

My friend Lauren has a similar fantasy: She is lying in the living room when two big, sweaty men burst through the front door, stride confidently toward her, reach out – and lift the sofa and move it to the other side of the room

Chippendales are boring. I know. I had to go once because a friend wanted to celebrate her birthday that way. But if all I wanted was to look at something handsome, I could open a magazine. I want a man who is useful.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Trip in vain

posted Tue, 17 Aug 2004

Oh man. I am such an idiot! My orbitz.com travails had me so discombobulated yesterday that I didn’t think to go directly to the airline for the ticket. That is my usual strategy – to search for prices via orbitz.com or travelocity.com (they are no good) and then go to the airline site, but the airline sites didn’t want to do the codeshares necessary for me to get to Catania. By the time I resigned myself to flying only to Rome and then getting the Rome-Catania ticket elsewhere, I forgot my strategy.

So now Harpo reminds me that the airlines can’t do much with a ticket purchased from an agent – and it’s not that easy to get the agent when you are abroad, especially if the agent is an internet site. My whole flight is on Northwest, so I could have bought it from them. Man oh man. I sure hope everything goes smoothly. But I don’t know. The last big trip I tried to take on NW was to Kathmandu. There were a series of disasters, including Bangkok-Kathmandu tickets sent to me from Kathmandu via a 72-hour courier service that actually took six weeks and arrived two weeks after I was supposed to have returned.

Kathamandu. One of the many places I did not get to visit Steve and Megan.
Source: http://anamazingworld.com/files/Kathmandu_.jpg

But those disasters turned out to be irrelevant as my plane from M’town to Bangkok couldn’t take off because it had a – flat tire.

When is the last time you heard of a plane getting a flat?

It’s not an easy thing to fix. The passengers had already boarded the plane when they announced the delay. Two twentysomethings were sitting next to me, both of them impossibly blonde and beautiful, speaking with strong Minnesota accents and reading a Harvard alumni magazine. At the announcement, the guy whipped out his cellphone and called his travel agent. Or someone. When he finished the call, he turned to me and said, “I’ve got good news! I just saved a bundle on my car insurance!”

I smiled back at him as one does with crazy people who might turn on you without provocation. I thought it a very odd thing to tell a total stranger in a situation like that. It would be an odd thing to tell a total stranger under any circumstance, actually.

You are smiling because you know what he was talking about. But I, I do not have a television. I did not know that he was referring to a Geico ad. So he worried me.

When they announced we needed to deplane, I started to worry. I had only a two-hour layover in Minneapolis, where I was supposed to meet the bodacious pediatrician Ilene and give her the special salad dressing she craved that can be gotten only at Easy Way in M’town.

We got off the plane. After half an hour, I found a gate agent and began to explore my options.

I really had none. No matter what, I was now going to miss my connection in Tokyo to Bangkok. This might not have been such an issue except that meant I would also miss my connection in Bangkok to Kathmandu. That flight was a different airline – I was supposed to pick up the replacement tickets at a hotel in Bangkok that the Peace Corps uses.

I had no confidence that my tickets would be honored except on the date for which they were issued. Some colleagues traveling in China once didn’t get out on their scheduled flight because the airline canceled the flight. When they told the agent just to put them on the next flight, the agent said they needed tickets for that flight. My colleagues pointed out that the airline had canceled the flight for which they had tickets. Agent said so what? In his mind, the ticket was a contract for that flight and that flight only, not an agreement between the passenger and the airline for the airline to get said passenger from point A to point B, ideally at the time on the ticket but subject to change at the whims of the airline.

My colleagues surrendered, having tired of eating authentic Chinese food, and agreed to buy new tickets. No, no American Express. Cash.

I have my suspicions about the gate agent, but sometimes you are just stuck.

I had the same worried about Bangkok. What if the Bangkok-Kathmandu airline said I had to buy a new ticket? By now, I was so frustrated by the whole process of trying to travel to Nepal that I asked the gate agent to refund my money. I just wouldn’t go. She did, classifying the refund as for a “trip in vain,” which I thought was the perfect way to describe my experience.

I am hoping that someone checks the air in the tires before I leave for Rome, because I don’t think anyone at Northwest will be able to help me with an orbitz.com ticket.

Volare -- caminare -- ferrocarril

posted Mon, 16 Aug 2004

What is this bait and switch that Orbitz is practicing? My sister and I are going to a cooking school in Italy in September. (Check it out: Mami Camilla) Jenny has just completed a master’s degree in whatever you need a master’s degree in to be a nurse practitioner (almost a doctah, my sistah!) She has never taken the grand tour of Europe, preferring to toil away her youth by working in places like, oh, Alaska and Hawaii. So now she is going to quit her job as a neo-natal nurse, take the boards, then travel. Or travel and then take the boards. Get a new job (she has already had many offers – I so picked the wrong field) when she returns.

Not the view from our B&B.
Source: http://www.dailyventure.com/300x400/sorrento_boat_05.jpg

So we are going to this cooking school in Sorrento. But we also want to spend a few days in Sicily. Our parents lived there for a very very short while when my dad was teaching math and science at the junior high school on Sigonella Naval Base. When he got sick and had to be in the hospital, they put him in one of the big corner rooms because they saw he was a retired captain. He wasn’t about to tell him he was an Air Force captain as opposed to a Navy Captain. (For those of you who don’t know the ranking system in the military, a captain in the Navy is much higher than a captain in the Air Force.)

We want to spend a few days in Sicily, go to Sorrento for the school, spend a day or so in Naples, and then fly out of Rome. She’ll go to Poland and I will return to M’town. She has the better deal if you ask me.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Fly from M’town to Catania, then from Rome back to M’town.

Well. Every time I priced that trip in Orbitz and actually selected one of the options – you know, when it says “book now!” – Orbitz would with great regret and sorrow inform me that because of rapidly-changing demand, that flight was no longer available. But one for $50 more was!

I went through many different combinations. What if I looked just out of Atlanta to Italy? I can get myself to Atlanta without Orbitz. Oh, no – that confused Orbitz. “An error has occurred while processing your request.”

I actually managed to get as far as paying for one trip, even agreeing to pay an extra $21.95 for the mandatory paper ticket. And they still wouldn’t let me have that ticket! “Please try again,” Orbitz implored. I did. To no avail. Why are you even showing these flights as options if they are not available? I refuse to believe that there are 50 other passengers in the US right now on Orbitz trying to get the exact same flights as I am.

After two hours of playing with Orbitz and talking to a customer service rep at Continental and calling my sister several times, I finally have a ticket to Rome. We decided we would fly from Rome to Catania on Volare Air, a local carrier that does not show on Orbitz. Advantage: the Volare tickets are much cheaper than Alitalia. We have found the Italian equivalent of Southwest Airlines.

Ha. Another bait and switch. Rome-Catania is 29.99 euros. Without taxes. The taxes are another 24.99 euros. Total price 54.98. Just in case you’re curious, 45% of that total is TAX! If salaries are taxed at that same rate, no wonder no one bothers to start businesses and get rich in Europe. What’s the point of earning anything if you are going to have to give it all up in taxes?

But as Jen pointed out, if we get stuck in Rome for a few days, so what?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Headnodder

posted Sun, 15 Aug 2004

The Metallica movie is actually pretty good. It might have been even better if I had known anything about the band before I saw the movie. I had heard the name, but couldn’t have named a single one of their songs. I don’t know if I’ve even ever heard them before.

But if I had known more about the band, I might not have seen all the Spinal Tap-esque elements of the movie. It’s actually pretty funny to watch a bunch of heavy metal musicians go through group therapy together, talking about “respecting boundaries” and playing with their toddlers in one frame and then whipping their long hair around in a frenzy on stage in the next.

The drummer’s dad couldn’t have been scripted. Mr Ulrich is an old Danish guy with an accent a cross between “Hogan’s Heroes” and the Norwegian guys on “Prairie Home Companion.” He had long grey hair and a long, straggly beard. He and Lars (the drummer) are out in the country. The dad is wearing old khaki shorts and a gray t-shirt. He is doing weird stretches in the background while Lars talks to Phil, the therapist the band is paying $40,000 a month to work with them. The next scene, the dad is listening to one of Lars’ new songs. When he tells Lars that he would “delete” that song, you can see Lars’ face fall. Here he is, this big macho heavy metal drummer, but his dad’s opinion still matters to him. It’s kind of sweet – and kind of sad that the dad is so blunt.

It’s also really interesting to watch the creative process – the movie was filmed during the making of their most recent album – even though all their songs sounded alike to me. I wasn’t converted to being a fan, but I enjoyed the flick nonetheless.

I read the wedding announcements in the Sunday paper every week. I don’t expect to read about anyone I know, as I have lived in M’town less than five years and didn’t go to school here, but occasionally, I’ll be surprised and recognize a name. The psychologist whose dogs peed on Leigh’s presents at the shower she gave for Leigh got married a few weeks ago. Apparently, she did not have her dogs pee on her own wedding shower presents.

This morning, I saw that Beauregard M. got married. I had a blind date with him a few years ago. There was never a second date, but well, that’s how things go. Didn’t flatter me, but didn’t break my heart, either.

Sometimes, I realize that I’ve dodged a bullet when I learn about an ex-beau (ha! No pun intended, but it worked, didn’t it?) gets married. I ran into one such guy – Bubba – in the grocery store last year. Maybe two years ago? Anyhow, we started chatting. What have you been up to, yada yada. We had gone out only a few times before he discovered I was 1) Catholic (his family didn’t like Catholics, he told me) and 2) smarter than he was (apparently, that bothered him). But I hadn’t been that interested, so it didn’t faze me when he stopped calling. I did, however, wonder my friend Lex hadn’t told me that he knew Bubba was a hound dog BEFORE I went out with him.

Anyhow. He tells me that he is now married with a new baby! I was astonished. It must have been a quick romance and true love, I said, because he and I had gone out for the last time only about ten months before that.

“She got pregnant and we had to get married,” he explained.

Well. That’s certainly an interesting bit of information to give to someone outside your family. He went on to say that he now had a little stepdaughter, too – that his wife already had a child when they met.

That’s when I guessed that this new baby was no accident. Bubba’s family is quite well off. This chick saw gold and went for it. You don’t get ‘accidentally’ pregnant once you have already become an unwed mother. I wonder if his family likes having a gold-digger any better than having a Catholic.

Groupie therapy

posted Sun, 15 Aug 2004

Here’s another good thing I learned yesterday. If you are going to take fresh squid home with you on there plane from Miami to New York, put it in your carry-on luggage, not in the checked bags. If the airline misplaces your bags, the squid might have gone bad by the time it gets to you. And the airline is not obligated to pay to replace the squid. These are the interesting things you learn when your boyfriend works for an airline.

Harpo’s band played Friday night for the first time in two months. I had every intention of going, but despite the imitrex and the shoes, at 7:30 pm, I was still too headachy to go out. I knew that cigarette smoke would not help the situation, either.

It’s kind of weird being a groupie. I don’t have the right clothes. Yes, I have the black leather miniskirt, but it’s too warm for that yet and it’s a lot of work to wear it. I am not one to hang out at bars, and neither is Harpo. Neither of us drink. He smokes, although not around me (and I wish he would quit). I don’t like staying up late. This is something that causes some friction between us as Harpo doesn’t go to bed until the wee hours – sometimes, right before I get up. If I don’t have the alarm set for earlier, I awake when the sun rises. I don’t like it – I wish I could sleep later – but that’s just the way my body works now. Must be those farming genes. Point is that for me to get enough sleep, I need to be in bed nine hours before sunrise.

When I do go to hear them play, I sit by myself at the bar. No drink. No cigarettes. Nothing to occupy my hands or to make it clear that I am not there to pick up men (not that I am so worried about having to beat them away with a stick). The hardest part is that it is – sorry, Harpo – kind of boring to sit and listen to music alone for hours, even when it is the really good music that the Snake Doctors play (don’t even ask about the name – it was not my idea!).

My solution was to take a book and read between songs or while they were getting set up. But Harpo didn’t like that at all, which I can understand. Even my hairdresser, Geri, whose husband is a musician, was appalled. “Oh honey, no!!! You cannot sit there with a book!” She did go on to say, though, that it is not necessary to attend every gig. “Do the girlfriends and wives of the other band members go every time?” she asked. When I told her no, she nodded her head sagely. “After a while, you stop going to every one. After I’ve spent all day on my feet, the only thing I want to do is go home and sit on the couch and play with the dogs.”

I guess what I need to do is to go infrequently enough that my attending is cause for rejoicing as opposed to an absence being cause for dismay. I don’t think I will ever get my groupie badge -- unless I become a groupie for a band that doesn't have Harpo in it because then he could sit with me and I wouldn't be bored. (To hear some of their tunes, go to Snake Doctors)

On another subject – I have been seething about Buck and this confiscated computer. It finally struck me that I could have my boss’s boss (not my boss, who would not stand up for me if the Inquisition were coming) tell Buck’s boss to give me the computer. But then, as I was about to fall asleep last night (this is when all my best ideas come), I realized that I am friends with the VP of IT for the entire company! If anyone has the power to make Buck give that computer back to me, Bob does. I sent him an email outlining the business case for letting me have the computer. Cross your fingers.

The Pharisees are alive and well and they work in my company`s IT department

posted Sat, 14 Aug 2004

I am still livid about that jerk Buck confiscating my computer. He was so sanctimonious: “This is a corporate asset that must be deployed appropriately.” When I said the company had intended to discard that computer, he told me there was a company that bought all our old computers. I went online and did some research. Amazingly, there is not a huge resale market for IBM thinkpads that are six years old. What a surprise.

Indeed, I found that Dell Computer offers a service where they will discard a company’s old computers. The company PAYS Dell to get rid of them. According to the Dell website, “in general, used computer equipment over three years old has little or no resale value.”

So my company will have to pay to get rid of this computer. If I had been able to keep it, the company would pay nothing and my productivity would be enhanced.

Now I am trying to figure out if Buck is just stupid and doesn’t understand the spirit of the company plan to replace all the IBMs with Dells (to get everyone on a common platform with the latest technology TO ENHANCE PRODUCTIVITY) or if he is mean. On Monday, I plan to find him and ask him those questions.

In the meantime, I will tote my new work Dell home occasionally, but if I don’t post on a weekend or some evening, you will know it’s not that I have abandoned you, dear reader, but that I didn’t want to go through the hassle of closing down and disconnecting everything at work and then setting everything up again at home.

Oh – I forgot to mention the worst thing about all of this. I realized last night that the reason I wasn’t able to connect with the IBM was that I had forgotten to switch the dialup connector from LAN to modem. It wasn’t even really sick. I was just an idiot.

I did learn something useful last night. Another advantage to gas stoves is that when you are boiling milk to make yogurt, if you forget you are doing so and the milk boils over, it douses the flame, so the milk doesn’t burn. What alerts you to the situation is the smell of gas.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shoes – chocolate for the feet*

posted Fri, 13 Aug 2004

This day started out crummy and is getting worse. I put on my new swimsuit this morning. The place I had been buying from for almost seven years went out of business, so I had to find a new store. But every time I searched on ‘swimsuit’ on the net, my company’s site police blocked me out. I finally found a swimsuit place that didn’t have the word “swimsuit” in the URL and where I could get grab bag suits, which are past season suits that you use just for practice. The big attraction of grab bag is that you pay about $20 a suit rather than $70. You order by size and take whatever color they send.

Well. The color of the suits I got was fine, but the cut – oh honey. The back is really open, with a sharp angled corner that cuts well into my hipbones. Why is this a problem you ask? Because it squeezes all my back fat out! The suit is like a mini-extruder, pushing back fat off my body. Instead of a smooth, lean silhouette, I am now lumpy. It is not a good look.

Then I got to work and realized that I had a nasty sinus headache. I have only myself to blame, though. I ran out of histavent, my sinus medicine, on Wednesday but didn’t bother to pick up the refill until today at lunch. I have had to take 100 mg of imitrex this morning in 25 mg bits (that’s $20 of drugs, in case you are wondering) and the headache is just now going away.

Another thing that is making me cranky is that I have now gone 41 hours without white refined flour or sugar. Sometimes I can convince myself that the scale is creeping up because I am working so hard at weight training, but even I am not that gullible. I have decided that perhaps some diet modifications might help loosen those skirts.

But the worse thing to happen today is that my home laptop computer got confiscated. A few years ago, the company replaced all the IBMs with Dells. I managed to keep an old IBM so I would have something at home to do email, etc, on the weekends. Mostly etc. Well, I got a virus and the only way to have it fixed was to bring the computer to work. My friend KC was going to pick it up and fix it, but someone else – and intern – got it instead. When he saw it was an IBM, he called Buck, the IT monster for my division, and tattled. Buck called me and with obvious glee told me that he would not be able to return the computer to me.

“This is a company asset that we no longer support. You can ask your manager to buy you a new one.”

Yeah, right. I have a perfectly good laptop here at my desk – I just don’t like going through the hassle of lugging it from office to home. I can’t see asking my boss to spend $2,000 just because I am lazy.

Buck is getting his revenge. When they installed some new version of something on all the computers this winter, I had asked that they take my computer while I was gone on vacation and that they have it back on my desk when I returned.

Well, Buck took the computer but didn’t bring it back. He didn’t have all the information he needed from me, he explained. I was so livid to return to work after a week with no way to work that I called his boss. I had made it perfectly clear what I wanted done and when they reviewed the notes, they found I was telling the truth.

Buck has been waiting for this. Jerk. I’ll never make any brownies for him.

To console myself, I did what women have done for time immemorial. I went out at lunch and bought some new shoes. They are high-heeled slides – two pink straps each with pink beads on them. I have no idea where I will ever wear such beauties, but it makes me feel better just to own them and dream about the possibilities.

*Thanks to Cathy Guiswhite for the great line. It's the title of one of her books.

Trouble that starts with “T” that rhymes with “P”

posted Thu, 12 Aug 2004

Thursday morning is the worst morning to swim. It’s the day of the masters’ swim team workout, which means it is the day that all the triathletes and the dilettantes show up. Which means that the pool is too crowded for those of us who have the legitimate first dibs on the lanes – those of us who have been swimming at this pool EVERY weekday morning for the past four and a half years.

Why should I have to put up with these amateurs? They start coming in February or March to prepare for triathlon season. Or maybe they just want to get into shape. Usually, they don’t last. Most people don’t have the discipline (or the sheer stubbornness) to get up at 5:15 a.m. just to get into a pool at 6:00 a.m.

I myself think it is a form of mental illness – just one that is not viewed as pejoratively as others are. Walking around without making eye contact while talking to yourself is a sign of psychosis or of a cellphone with an earplug – either way, it’s nature’s way of warning you to stay away from this particular person. Getting up early to exercise should be equally alarming to normal folks, but we wierdos have done a much better job of marketing and have everyone convinced that we are morally superior because of our workout habits.

Really, though, it’s a pathetic excuse for a sad life if the best thing someone can do that early in the morning is exercise. Better to stay up late carousing the night before and sleep in – which is why most people don’t last at it. But enough have endured this season to be quite annoying. I don’t want to share my lane with anyone. But on Thursdays, I sometimes have to share with more than one person.

Yes. I have to circle swim. That is hell for a lazy swimmer like me. These guys get into the lane with me and they are going to show how tough they are, Mr Machos getting up to swim at 6:00 a.m. in their little Speedos. (It’s bad enough being up that early but then to have to see middle-aged men in Speedos under fluorescent light – ugh.)

Circle swimming, in theory, means that swimmers of approximately equal speed swim the same stroke and set counterclockwise in the lane, going up the right side and returning on the opposite side. This theory works just fine in theory, but in practice, I am always stuck with swimmers who are faster than I am and who want to pass me. But they don’t pass the way you are supposed to pass when you circle swim, which is to stop about ten feet short of the pool wall and turn there. No, they swim really fast right as we are both approaching the wall and then try to beat me to the wall. Of course, I have no idea another swimmer is that close to me because I don’t have a rear-view mirror in my goggles, so what happens is that we collide.

One guy in particular – I’ll call him Bubba #1 – likes to swim backstroke. Let me preface this part by saying Bubba #1 is the lifeguard. He is at this pool 35 hours a week. Most of the time, there is no one in it. But the one morning he swims laps is – you guessed it – Thursday. Why he can’t do it in any of the other 34 hours I do not know.

Bubba #1 also gets on my nerves because he always wants to talk to me in the morning. Honey. It’s 6:00 a.m. I don’t even talk to my friends and family at that hour, and I love them. The only thing that makes exercising bearable at such a horrible hour is I can stay sort of asleep until I am out of the pool getting dressed. I certainly do not want to engage in any human interaction of any sort, especially with a lifeguard who always says the same things – cheerfully. “Got your lane right here!” and “Way to go! Great workout!”

He has even had the nerve to direct people to my lane when all the lanes are full. I say let people choose their own lane – maybe they’ll choose someone else’s. Usually, though, women for sure get in the lane with me and usually men do, too. I think men do it because they see a woman swimmer as less of a threat – they think they can hog up all the space and not get challenged on it – but that another male swimmer wouldn’t put up with that baloney. And women would rather share a lane with another woman (and there are about two of us who swim regularly) than with a man they don’t know.

So Bubba #1 gets in the lane I’m in and swims backstroke. This guy is about 6’4” and lumbering. His backstroke is not precise and neat – instead, his arms go WAY to the side (waste of energy – bad stroke). Because he is on his back, he cannot see the other swimmers, so he ends up clobbering someone with his wide stroke.

Bubba #2 is this short, overly-muscular guy who always wears scrubs over his Speedo (not in the pool, of course). I guess we are supposed to know he is a doctor because of this. He thinks he owns all the space in the lane. His rule appears to be that I will swim the sides while he swims on the line (the black line painted on the bottom of the pool down the middle of the lane). He has almost hit me head-on before. He has actually clobbered me with his arm before. Jerk.

I want these people to go away. Why don’t they just take up bowling or heroin instead of swimming? I can’t wait for triathlon season to be over.

The fall of the capitalist socialist food co-op

posted Wed, 11 Aug 2004

According to what I heard on the gym TV, Amber Frye let Scott Peterson pick her daughter up from school before their third date. At first, I was bothered, thinking Amber hardly knew the guy. But then I heard that she had slept with him the same night she met him at a bar. I realized that after that, they were definitely on close enough terms for her to let her daughter get alone into a car with a man she had never seen before.

Next issue. Just because it takes me forever to figure out how to post photos on this site (and I had the help of three other journalspacers) does not mean I am complete technical or mechanical idiot. To wit: the last time I had my oil changed, the mechanic said I should get a tuneup. I asked what a tuneup cost and what it entailed. $59.99 and they replace the spark plugs.

At autozone.com, depending on the brand and the type, sparkplugs for a 1994 Toyota Corolla cost between $1.95 and about $5.00. I would need four of them. I think. Six at the most. That’s at the most $30 in materials and I bet this place doesn’t use the $5 plugs.

What else? I asked.

We inspect other things.

Is that it?

No – we set the timing.

Forgive me if I sound like a complete idiot, but isn’t setting the timing part of replacing the spark plugs? Isn’t that sort of like saying you would put new tires on a car and oh, as part of that service, you would also put air in them?

I think this is something I need to ask Harpo to teach me how to do. I’ll make him a few key lime pies in compensation.

Next point. The Sincere Leftist Food Co-op near my house has gone out of business, which is really a shame because I liked having a place nearby where I could buy bulk goods, like flour and nuts and spices. Apparently, good intentions were not enough – no meat, only organic dairy and produce – especially when you consider that they were right around the corner from the greengrocer who has the best prices and the best produce in town and that this is not a vegetarian-friendly city (a BBQ parlor on every corner). I guess not many people were willing to pay extra for items that they could get elsewhere, no matter what their politics. In the end, rational people vote their own self interest. Adam Smith got that right.

They took down all the political posters in the window, including the “No blood for oil” and “Zapatista coffee” ones. There is one sign left, though: a bold, daring statement articulating an extreme position that is sure to cause great debate.

“Stop rape.”

Yep, those pro-rape forces are going to get mighty peeved by that one. Are the Sincere Leftists just trying to cause trouble? Don’t they know how controversial an issue that is? Every day I hear angry arguments between the pro-rape and the anti-rape factions. Isn’t that one of those etiquette rules – that you don’t discuss politics, religion or rape at dinner parties?

In 20 years, they will all have started their own companies, gone public and become hugely rich, just like the ‘60s tie-dye to silk guys.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Banker`s hours

posted Tue, 10 Aug 2004

I am recovering from sticker shock. The furnace guy just told me it will cost $738 to replace the motor and the inpeller (whatever the heck that is) in my radiator heating system. I also have central heat that was installed right before I moved in (along with the central air, which I never use because the attic fan keeps the house cool enough for me), but I don’t like it. The quality of the heat is different. The central heat is dry and patchy – there are spots where it just doesn’t go, which makes sense when you realize that the central heat is dropping from the attic – and heat rises. Whose great idea was that, I wonder. Someone who never had physics or chemistry, I guess.

The radiator heat – the original heating system for the house, I suspect – is far better. Even though it is 82 years old, it runs circles around the younger central heat. Radiator heat is cozy and warm. It wraps itself around you like a soft, fluffy blanket. (Now you understand why I usually don’t use metaphors or similes, whichever that one was.)

Point is that radiator heat is just plain better.

But $738? Man! Barry, the repair guy, said that $500 of that is for the part. I will have to call Tim, the parts guy, tomorrow to check. Harpo had diagnosed the initial problem – the bearings were bad (and that’s what Barry said, too) – and had found a replacement part on the internet. I suspect his idea might have been that he would replace it, but I really don’t want to spend an entire weekend watching while he does all that work.

So I found the local distributor for the part and asked if they could recommend someone to install it. Apparently, the ability to work on old boiler systems is becoming a lost art, much like plastering and masonry. Sad, really – new houses are slapped together with lousy workmanship. Drywall instead of plaster, mismatched edges and cornering, cheap materials. I could go on but I won’t. Instead I will just make a smug reference to my 1922 brick bungalow with plaster walls and hardwood floors. We won’t talk about the tiny closets or the lack of other storage space. Accentuate the positive.

Tim the parts guy came to look at the boiler. I asked if Harpo could install the new motor if his heart was so set, but Tim said that the work would require draining the entire system and that it really required someone who had done this sort of thing before. Even he himself was not qualified, Tim hastened to add. “But you don’t want to pay a plumber $80 an hour to drain this system, either,” he said. “I know some guys who do this nine to five but who pick up extra work in the evenings on their own. That should be cheaper for you.”

That idea hit me in the right place, as the next biggest issue after finding someone who could do the repair at all was finding someone who could do it at a time other than between 8:00 and 5:00, Monday through Friday.

Let me ask you: am I the only person in the US who is not home during regular business hours to let in a repairman? Because it sure doesn’t seem like the service industry has figured out that there might be a market for folks who would rather have repairs done in the evenings or on the weekends so they wouldn’t have to take time off from work to let in the repairman.

If I need anything done at home, I have to cajole the vendor to call me half an hour before they set out for my place instead of giving me the usual, “Sometime between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.” Right. Like I really want to take an entire vacation day to sit at home for a repairman who may or may not show up. At least if I can get him to call me, I can spend some time at work (not that that is a great end in itself, but my vacation days are precious and few).

If I need something done to my car, I have to figure out a way to get to work from the car place and then get back there when the car is ready. I asked a mechanic why his garage wasn’t open on Saturdays. He told me that the parts places are closed on Saturdays. (Even though I know for a fact that Autozone is open on the weekends. Liar.)

I have to believe that somewhere there are mechanics and plumbers and electricians who would rather work evenings and weekends for whatever reason. At the least, shouldn’t there be a business smart enough to figure out that if they would offer their services at REGULAR PRICES in the evening and on Saturdays that they just might differentiate themselves from the competition and get more business?

Perhaps not. When I was still in my marketing job, I had to go to a couple of trade shows every year. We always were issued some hideous polo shirt with the company logo to wear while we were on duty in the booth. (More on booth bimbos at the Poultry Show in a later installment. But here’s a teaser: what on earth do Hooter’s girls have to do with the equipment used for transporting headless, eviscerated, plucked chicken corpses across the factory floor? I’ve never been able to figure it out either, but that’s who the vendor had dancing in front of the booth.)

Invariably, my shirt – a men’s small – would be so big that I would have to cut off the bottom half. I am not a tiny person. This is not like when my friend Leigh, the steel magnolia who is about 5’0” and 90 pounds, put on her company-issued shirt and it fell past her knees. I am 5’5” and 135 pounds. Average size. Even so, if I had stuffed all that extra fabric inside my (yuk) khaki pants, my butt would have looked even bigger than the pants were already making it look. I asked the guy who ordered the shirts why he wouldn’t get me a woman’s shirt. “The vendor doesn’t make women’s sizes,” he told me.

Of course not. We’re in the 21st century. It’s really not that common for women to be in the workplace yet. Indeed, we are such a rarity that there is no need to accommodate us, much less market to us.

Who are these people????? Not everyone has the luxury of not working! Not every house has a stay-at-home mom to go to the post office or to let in the plumber or to sign for a package. No wonder stay-at-home wives are the new trophies in corporate America. If you have one, you never have to worry about this stuff. And the shirt will fit.

Just say `non`

posted Mon, 09 Aug 2004

I had grand intentions of removing all my light fixtures, shaking out the dead bugs (how they get in there I don’t know), washing them and replacing them tonight, but when I got home from work, I still had a headache despite 75 mg of imitrex. Imitrex is a painkiller for migraines. I don’t get migraines, but I get migraine-like headaches when there is a change in the barometric pressure, which seems to be about twice a week here in the summer. This morning I thought the pressure I was feeling behind my eyeballs was from all the extra water from the pickles (you laugh, but it happens), but I finally realized it was more than that.

So I have this migraine medication, which is good because it works. I have been through Claratin and Allegra and Zyrtec and the d-versions of all three and I have had the $1,200 CT scan of my sinuses and I have taken the mega antibiotics, all in a quest to rid myself of these headaches. No allergies. Nothing structurally wrong with my sinuses (rats – I was sort of hoping to get a nose job and perhaps a face job out of that one). Antibiotics did what antibiotics do. Women, you know what I am talking about.

Then I tried various painkillers. I don’t care what’s causing the headache as long as I can get rid of it, I told my doctor. The only thing that for sure dulled the pain were the codeine tablets I got in France a few years ago. Some pharmacies there will sell them to you without a prescription (try the drugstore in the Lyons train station), so I always stock up when I go. Sure, I am slightly troubled by the fact that this might be a tiny bit illegal, but if the French don’t demand a prescription, then it must be OK. Right?

The drawback of the codeine is that it puts me to sleep. And that I am almost out of them and can get them only in France. (I have asked my doctor and he won’t prescribe it for me.) As much as I have enjoyed all my trips to France, I am not going to travel there right now because I am so annoyed at the way they have acted about Iraq. The only reason they didn’t want to go to war was because they had a sweetheart deal with Saddam. Chirac and the German guy never asked for proof of WMD because they had the purchase orders!

But I digress. I can’t take codeine during the day at work because 1) I will fall asleep at my desk and not get anything done and 2) I do not want to drive after I have taken it for the reason stated in #1.

So I tried Fioricet. Didn’t work. I tried Ultracet. Not only didn’t work, but made me sleepy and then WOULDN’T LET ME SLEEP! I had a bunch of vicodin left over from some oral surgery a few years ago, but I would have to be in pain close to death to use that stuff. It makes me so nauseated that I would rather be in pain. I cannot believe people take that stuff for fun. They must be nuts.

And of course I already knew that aspirin, ibuprofen, acetomin – Tylenol, didn’t work.

It took a woman at the gym telling me about imitrex for me to find relief. Here’s the drawback. Those things cost almost $30 apiece. I don’t have to pay for that directly – my insurance copay is $35 for an RX – there are nine pills in a one-month pack – but sooner or later, that comes out of my pocket. Higher premiums eventually. I don’t have a problem with drug companies making money (it’s how they stay in business, you lefties), but selfishly, I wish this drug had already gone off patent.

So here’s how you handle it: when you have an expensive drug that’s not a time-release sort, you have the doc (not the “health-care provider – I am convinced that is a way for the health insurers to de-professionalize doctors in the eyes of the public so they can get away with cutting their reimbursements) write the RX for the largest pill possible, then you cut the pill into pieces.

I checked on imitrex. The retail price is the same for the 100-mg pack as it is for the 50-mg pack – but you get twice as much medication in the 100-mg pack. I have a stash of imitrex in my refrigerator, right on top of the chocolate, in the emergency medicines section.

So I took another ¼ tablet when I got home. I still was going to clean the light fixtures, but I discovered that I can’t reach them just standing on a chair. I decided to use my headache and massive medication consumption as a reason not to use the ladder to reach. What if the imitrex made me sleepy right when I was at the top of the ladder? If I fell off the ladder, I could hurt myself and no one would know. Safety first is what I always say, so I decided it would be better if I just read my new Bon Apetit, Men’s Health and Esquire and had a little bit of medicinal chocolate.

Put me on an ice floe and push me out to sea

posted Mon, 09 Aug 2004

Mother Nature is not subtle. Once you turn 40, she doesn’t care. In her mind, I am just taking up space on the planet. She makes no effort to keep me attractive. By her reckoning, I should already have reproduced (which is the sole reason I exist) and raised my offspring to adulthood, so there is no more use for me.

How do I know this? Eating pickles didn’t used to make me look awful. Now, if I eat just a handful of dill pickles late in the evening, I put on five pounds by the next day. I wake up with huge bags under my eyes (this is not something that has ever happened to me before) and my shoes are tight from the water weight. All over, my flesh is puffy and keeps the shape of the wrinkles in my sheets until mid day.

Other things that went downhill at 40:

• I had to get glasses just for working on the computer. Not farsighted glasses, but astigmatism-only glasses. My regular myopia glasses also correct for astigmatism, but my eye muscles got too tired overcoming the distance correction for close work. Age related, the young doc said.
• My hair is no longer glossy and blonde. It is mousy with shots of gray and rather dull.
• It takes forever for anything to heal. If I whack my ankle with the weedwhacker, I had a scab for a couple of weeks, then a red spot for a couple of months, then a scar. My skin looks like an old whale’s hide, with all the scars of a lifetime.
• I’ve always needed a good night’s sleep, but now staying out late almost kills me.
• The flesh on my face is starting to migrate south.
• Those little old lady whiskers that show up on the chin and neck? Now is when they start.
• Arch supports. I have had to get arch supports, which means cute, strappy sandals are completely off limits unless I want to have feet that feel like someone hit them with an anvil.
• Gum disease. This one is so unfair. I have always taken good care of my teeth and this is how they repay me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Food for thought

posted Sun, 08 Aug 2004

Harpo and I saw “Collateral” last night. I usually avoid Tom Cruise movies – he has become so cocky that I don’t like him anymore and I’m not keen on men who ditch their wives – but he did a good job of playing a self-important arrogant guy trying to convince the world he is a deep thinker intellectual.

I know people like that. They are really annoying. Pseudo-intellectuals. Or maybe true intellectuals. But the important thing to them seems to be convincing other people they are intellectuals, not actually BEING intellectuals.

Jamie Foxx did a good job as the cab driver who doesn’t dare eat a peach. Except for the Symbolic Moment when the coyote crosses the road, it’s actually a decent movie. I’m not used to actually sort of liking the bad guy.

But I spent most of the day traumatized by the poor state of the English language, which is to say the state of the English language when it is in the hands of the good people of M’town. Before the movie, we went to the little park they have at the river. It’s actually pretty cool – a half-mile scale model of the Mississippi river with all the elevations to scale and water flowing through. The Ohio, the Missouri and the Tennessee rivers and the dams on the Tennessee are modeled as well. At the end, there is a big pool that is the Gulf of Mexico. You can rent a paddleboat and play in the Gulf, only without sharks and red tide.

The trauma came when I read one of the placards explaining how something worked – a riverboat, I think. It said “…thats how the engine…” (Even Microsoft Word knew better and kept trying to put an apostrophe in the “thats.”)

Well. I cannot bear to see the language so mistreated, so with a smooth and practiced gesture (I have done this before), I whipped out my pen and drew an apostrophe in the appropriate place. Harpo asked if I was willing to get arrested for defacing public property. I told him that my cause was just and that no jury would convict me. No jury of English teachers, that is.

Then, when we were buying our movie tickets at the kiosk, I had to choose between “child” and “matine” tickets. After Harpo gave our tickets to the attendant, I told him to go ahead without me. He looked puzzled – you don’t want to hear this, I said. When he was out of earshot, I told the attendant that the word “matinee” on the kiosk was missing the last “e.” To his credit, he knew exactly why that was wrong. “You mean it says ‘may-tine?’” he laughed.

Harpo had come back and overheard. “You are such the factotum,” he scolded. “‘Oh! Oh! Teacher! Don’t we have homework over the weekend?’”

Someone has to defend the integrity of our language and culture, I replied loftily. Have you seen how they misspelled “apocalypse?” I had noticed that one my first time at this cinema, where the names of famous movies are painted on the walls. I even sent an email to the corporate headquarters about “Apocalyps Now,” but they still haven’t corrected it. It’s been two years.

In the interests of scientific research, I have been seeking the Elvis ice cream. But both times I have checked in the past week, my grocery store has not had it. They have had other flavors of Edy’s ice cream, but not the Elvis. Elvis week started yesterday. There are huge billboards advertising this ice cream. Yet they have stockouts. This is not good inventory management.

My cousin Suzanne and I have been comparing notes on regional foods. Until Prairie Home Companion, I never knew that I had an ethnic identity. I thought everyone put macaroni in their chili, that everyone kept a jar of bacon grease in the fridge just for when you need a little bit of extra flavor, and that everyone knew what rhubarb was.

But now I know that the whole world does not necessarily eat the right way and that indeed they need to be educated – kindly – as to the error of their ways. But because I am so magnanimous and generous, I have decided not to lecture and to teach through example instead. Also, rhubarb is hard to come by in M’town, so I really don’t want anyone else buying it.

Suzanne just returned from a week in Wisconsin, where she had Blue Moon ice cream, which I had never heard of, but then I only actually lived in Wisconsin for a year when I was in kindergarten and my dad was in Vietnam. Still, if it is part of my cultural heritage, I will make an effort to find some. Never let it be said that I shirked my duty.

Another amazing Wisconsin food is bratwurst, especially the brats my uncle Larry makes. Not to be ghoulish, but that’s what we had for my dad’s funeral lunch. It was delicious.

I am right now marinating turkey breast in mojo sauce, a taste I acquired while I was in Miami. Another delicious Cuban food – something I make a beeline for the second I land in Miami – is fried plantains. Yum. And pastelitos de guayaba. And batido de guayaba. I could get happily fat in Miami.

The food in M’town is pretty good if you stick with the basics – meat and three places are the best. Barbeque is good here – they do pork. I heard that the reason Texans barbeque beef is that it is easier to steal a cow from horseback than to steal a pig. I love Texas, but pork barbeque really is good.

It took me two years before I tried one of the local specialties. It sounded so awful I refused to touch it, but after I actually ate a fried dill pickle, I realized that they are delicious.

There are no decent bagels to be found here, which is ironic considering that M’town has one of largest orthodox Jewish communities outside of New York. Or maybe not. Maybe bagels aren’t a traditional orthodox food. Even though I belong to the JCC, I don’t know all the secrets.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chocolate is the highest form of manners

posted Fri, 06 Aug 2004

It was a sign from God, I’m sure. I walked into the Godiva Chocolatier and they were having a sale. A sale! On chocolate! How lucky could I get? I filled a bag with chocolate bars and heaved it onto the counter. I use them as bribes for the customer service reps in the factories I work with. I have no authority over them – three to four reps per factory, 70 factories – so I rely on the carrot rather than the stick when I need them to do things for me.

Why was I in the Godiva store in the first place, you ask? I had a mission. I can’t reveal the details, but suffice it to say that I usually take a hostess gift with me when I visit someone. In this case, the gift will have to be sent post visit because I didn’t have my act together pre visit.

There are certain things that are nice and polite to do when you visit someone. One of them is to take a small gift. Flowers or candy are usually appropriate – or perhaps an Elvis clock with swinging legs. It really depends on the recipient.

Another nice thing is to write a thank-you note. I am quite relieved that in my circle of friends, the art of thank-you note is still alive, although I hear that in the general public, it is deader than a doornail. My friend Heather earned my mother’s immediate respect and appreciation at the beginning of my sophomore year of college after a group of us went to San Antonio for Labor Day weekend. My mom made pancakes for breakfast and chalupas for supper and in general, put up with the hassle of having six college students camped out in her house for two days. Heather was the only one who wrote a thank-you note. (You didn’t think I remembered that, did you, Heather?)

Harpo impressed me when I learned he had sent a thank-you note to Steve and Mary Ann after we had Thanksgiving dinner at their house. He didn’t even ask me for their mailing address – figured it all out for himself.

When I didn’t get a note from my cousin Eve after I had a wedding present sent to her (order online!), I knew that either she had not received the present or something had gone wrong with the thank-you note. Eve was raised right. I asked my aunt if Eve had gotten anything – I was going to raise Cain with HomeDepot.com if they had taken my money but not sent the gift card (hey! It’s what she wanted!). Turns out Eve had put the wrong address on the thank-you note. It went to Florida then back to Colorado before it got to me.

But I’m afraid I have some harsh words for some other people. One person in particular is not a relative or a close friend, but I still got a baby present for him when he and his wife had their first child. Now, I think if you bother to go out and spend money and wrap something in pretty paper and take it to the recipient, either in person or by standing in line at the Post Office in the four hours a week you can actually get to the PO because of course they are not open during the hours I am not at work, then that recipient should write a little thank-you note.

It’s not hard. My friend Lauren writes lovely thank-you notes. She thanks the giver, then mentions something she particularly likes about the gift, and then says something wonderful about the giver. They are the sort of notes that make you want to give her another present for her very cute baby.

Ilene writes great notes, too. Lenore always finds a cute card and has taught Jill and Brad, her very cool kids, to draw and then to write thank-you notes as well. People – this is NOT HARD!!!

But this person sent an email thank you (which is appropriate in some circumstances but not in this one). To everyone on our team. At once. It was sort of a thank-you spam. He did not mention any specific gifts. He didn’t even use our names, except in the address field.

This is not someone I am going to be buying anything for in the future.

Yes, yes, I know that the gift should be given freely with no expectation of any sort of recognition, but it is just good manners to say thank you in a nice way. I say that as someone who was tied to my chair after birthdays and Christmas – under orders to write thank-you notes to grandparents and any other parties before I actually played with any toys – but now I am glad that my parents had the good sense to give me good home training.