Friday, December 31, 2010

Existential crisis

On the bus, my husband overheard a woman on her cellphone:

"I don't know, I feel so lost and confused.  Sometimes I wonder -- does God really want me to be an accountant?"

Good grief!  What kind of God would want that?!  

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Susan's moment of glory

Once upon a time, in the 1980s, there was a kid named Susan.  She was goofy-looking and a total spaz.  Also, she was tiny for her 10 years:  Grown-ups often mistook her for a first grader.  She stunk at sports and was always picked last, or nearly last, for every team at recess.  

One day at school, Susan's class was playing softball.  Susan and her nerdy pals, banished to far right field, were ignoring the game.  They stood in a circle, gossiping and telling jokes to pass the time.

It was Charlie's turn at bat.  Charlie was an oversized meathead who always hit a home run and then performed an elaborate victory dance.  Time for Susan's team to take one up the ass! 

Susan heard the crack of the bat.  With one eye, she followed the ball as it sailed high across the field, arcing into the sky.  It disappeared into the glare of the sun.

Then Susan saw the ball falling above her.  Paralyzed with fear, she watched it grow larger and larger.  At the last possible moment, she extended a single, bare hand.  (Mitts were in short supply, so only good players received them.)  The ball thudded into her palm. 

For several moments, the class stared in silent disbelief.  Then Susan's team exploded into cheers.  Charlie was out! Susan grinned uncontrollably, clutching the ball like a prize.  Her heart swelled with the pure joy of sports-related social acceptance.   

Ecstatic, Susan hurled the ball toward the pitcher.  It flew high up in the air, like the bird of happiness in her heart.  Then it thudded back to earth, not three feet away from her dorky clogs. 

After that, Susan was still picked last, or nearly last, for team sports.  But she never forgot that glorious moment of triumph.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Squeaky wheel

In last month's post, my husband explained my strategy for securing a good hotel room.  Unfortunately, things can still go awry and threaten to ruin your hotel experience.  You should never be afraid to point out problems to the hotel staff - usually, they will welcome honest feedback and strive to put things right.  But, sadly, there are hotels that just aren't run well, and all your helpful criticisms may come to naught.

In these cases, you might want to write a follow-up letter to the hotel, explaining what went wrong and why you are entitled to your money back.  Below is one such letter that I wrote (which resulted in a refund) - feel free to use it as a template:
To:  The Management at the Hotel FancyPants
From:  Susan
In re: Appalling Recent Visit
Last week, I stayed at the Hotel FancyPants. I travel frequently and usually have very pleasant experiences. However, a number of problems during this stay prompted me to write this letter.

The first offense occurred upon my arrival. As I entered the lobby of the hotel, I was confronted by a life-size statue of Marilyn Monroe, with her dress lifted up to expose her underpants. The statue is so tasteless and ghastly that I was hardly able to continue to the front desk.
Why does the Hotel FancyPants, an otherwise respectable establishment, possess this tawdry item?  Why is it so prominently displayed in the lobby, where patrons are forced to see it each time they enter or leave the hotel?  Besides being of questionable artistic merit, the statue trivializes the objectification of women. Research documents how images like these perpetuate a climate of insensitivity toward sexual harassment, rape, and other forms of misogyny. I would urge whoever is responsible for this objectionable d├ęcor to reconsider how this choice of “art” affects patrons, women and girls, and society as a whole.
The second problem occurred during check-in. I had reserved a king-size bed, but I was given a room with two double beds.  The explanation I received was that the reservation system can take requests for bed sizes, but it cannot guarantee such requests. Given the state of technology today, it should be possible for the Hotel FancyPants to accurately inform customers about the kinds of beds that are available.  More, the hotel should not promise amenities it cannot deliver. I am appalled that the management of the Hotel FancyPants operates in such a disorganized and discourteous fashion.

I was also upset by the hotel’s failure to provide advertised services, as when I attempted to utilize the complimentary shoe-shine service. As instructed, I placed my shoes in a bag and hung them outside my door. In the morning, I discovered that my shoes had not been shined as promised. Instead, they had remained outside my door all night, where they were vulnerable to theft. 

I also encountered problems at the FancyPants Bar & Grill. I was told upon check-in that the hotel's bar offers $3 martinis. I was even given a flyer announcing “Rail Brand Martini’s [sic] are always $3” and a calendar advertising “$3 House Martinis and Live Jazz beginning @ 6:30 pm."  These enticements, however, proved false:  When two colleagues and I met at the bar that evening, we were charged $9 per martini, and our waitress informed us that the $3 martinis are available from 5 pm to 8 pm only.  I am shocked that the FancyPants establishment would be so brazen in its deceptive marketing practices. To make matters worse, the glass I received had lipstick on it from a previous patron.
I am seldom moved to write letters of complaint, but the problems I experienced reveal an alarming state of disarray and mismanagement.  The result is a hotel teetering on the precipice of total chaos. 
In light of my disappointing experience, I am requesting a full refund from the Hotel FancyPants and the FancyPants Bar & Grill. Enclosed you will find receipts totaling $194.22. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require further information.
Sincerely,  Susan

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Learning from the Master: Susan and the Hotel Industry

My husband, E, is blogging for me today:
When it comes to staying at hotels, Susan is a seasoned pro, and I’m a clumsy amateur. Before I met her, I would check into a hotel, go to my assigned room, and that would be that. After traveling with Susan, I realized that I have been played for a sucker for years. Here’s how:

As the wise Susan has taught me, every hotel has awful rooms – the ones next to the elevator, the ones with that weird moldy smell, the ones with the loud rattling fan that goes on and off at random times. The hotel must unload these terrible rooms on someone, and that someone is typically not the wealthy businessman who travels a lot and is a valued repeat customer. In other words, those rooms have to be dumped on people like me.

Did I ever wonder why I could always hear every ice cube falling from the ancient ice machine three feet from my door, or why there was loud drip from the faucet, a noisy running toilet, or a large urine stain on the carpet of every hotel room I’ve ever stayed in? Of course not! But with Susan’s guidance, I now experience the hotel world in a completely new way.

When we travel together, here’s what happens. We check into a hotel, and they give us a room. But not just any room. Susan requests a “quiet” room on a "high floor," with a "good view." Who would ever think to make such requests? The audacity! Who knew you could even ask for a quiet room, or that it even existed? No more sub-basement dungeon chambers for me!

Then we go to our room. In the early days of traveling with Susan, I would do what many men do – immediately take off most of my clothes, spread them all over the place, crack open a frosty beverage, and hop onto the bed. But then, as I lay half-naked, scratching myself, Susan would slowly scrutinize every aspect of the room, sniffing carefully like a bloodhound, listening intently like a bat. She would smell the molecule of foul odor that I couldn’t detect. She would hear the distant ring of the elevator two miles down the hall. And then she would say “Get up, honey, we’re changing rooms.” That’s a terrible thing to hear when you’re sprawled comfortably on the bed, all your stuff is unpacked, and you’ve already spilled your milkshake. Even after I tell her that I’ve used the bathroom twice, it doesn’t matter – we’re moving.

Reader, believe me when I tell you that we have looked at as many as four rooms before getting the right one. First the dumpy room, then the thin mattress room, followed by the tiny bathroom and the dog smell. These amenities are for those unfortunate enough to be ignorant of Susan’s teachings. And finally – yes, it can happen, and with Susan it often does - the upgrade to the penthouse suite. Rule #1 from Susan is that persistence matters.

Now, as an experienced Susan disciple, I know how it works. When we check into a hotel and go up to our room, I don’t even go in. I stay in the hallway, bags in hand, ready to go back down and get another room. Seriously. Only after Susan has used all five finely tuned senses to examine the room and gives the all-clear OK sign will I go in and make my customary mess. And now, when I check into a hotel room alone, I always think, “What would Susan do?”

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coffee Nazis

In need of caffeine, E was in line at Cafe Grumpy in Chelsea.  He overhead this exchange:
Customer:  I'd like three espressos to go, please.
Barista:  How far are you going with them?
Customer:  Huh?
Barista:   The espressos might get cold on the way.  How far are you going?
Customer:  Uh, I dunno - maybe 4 or 5 blocks?  They're for people at my office. 
Barista:  Sorry, too far.  They won't be any good when you arrive.  I refuse your order.
Customer:  Is this a joke?
Barista:  You heard me.  
Bewildered, the man man left Grumpy's empty-handed.  E meekly ordered his coffee -- to stay -- and received a mind-blowingly delicious cup of joe. 

Cafe Grumpy:  Have it their way, or take your f*ing business elsewhere.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

What happens in Provincetown...

My in-laws spent a 3-day weekend in Provincetown, MA.  They window-shopped, walked on the beach, and sipped hot cocoa at their cozy B&B.  It was a charming, relaxing retreat for two suburbanites of a certain age. 

On the last day, Mom popped into the local beauty parlor for a trim.  The cut was the same style she has had for years - perhaps an Angstrom shorter than usual.  Then Mom met Dad for lunch before heading back to Philadelphia.

During lunch, Mom and Dad began to notice same-sex couples all over Provincetown:  Dining in the restaurant, browsing in the quaint antique shops, strolling down the streets.  Dad did some quick research on his iPhone and learned that Provincetown is a gay mecca.  This might be hard to believe, but THEY HAD NO IDEA.  "Well," they said to each other, "that's interesting.  We had no idea!"  They shrugged, got into the minivan, and headed home.

Along the way, they stopped in New York City to say hello to me and E.  Mom was having doubts about her haircut:
Mom:  Susan, look how short it is!  Don't you think it's too short?
Me:  It looks exactly like it always does.  You look nice!
Mom:  It's NOT the same.  It's too short!  Way, way too short. 
Me:  You're crazy.  It's just the same as always.
Mom (gasping):  Oh my god - it's a butch haircut!  I look like a dyke!
Mom panicked while Dad, E, and I tried to assure her that her head was sufficiently heterosexual.  When this failed, I tried another tack:
Mom:  What am I going to do?  I have to go to work tomorrow!  People will see!
Me:  Jesus Christ, Mom.  Just tell them you're bicurious.  
The room fell silent.  E and Dad stared intently at their feet while Mom affixed me with a venomous glare.  She stood, smoothed her pantsuit, and marched to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.  E, Dad, and I waited in wordless suspense, wondering what would happen next.

Finally Mom reappeared.  "It's getting late," she announced.  "We need to hit the road.  Dad, take me home."

E and I watched the minivan pull away.  "I'm sorry," I told E, "but I needed that to end."  "I know," E replied, "It's ok."

It was ok.  And Mom never mentioned her gay hair again.   

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sister for a day

I received an automated email from my company's Human Resources department:  
"Please click the link below and verify that we have accurate personal information for you.  If there are errors, please correct them.  Do not reply to this email."
I dutifully clicked the link and was transported to a page with my home address, telephone number, marital status, and ethnic category.  I noticed that I was identified as Black.  Which I am not.  For better or worse, I am unambiguously white.

There was no apparent way for me to correct this mistake.  The address and phone number had clickable "Update" buttons next to them, but ethnic category did not. 

I pondered my dilemma.  On the one hand, fixing this error would likely involve hours on the phone with the notoriously surly women at Human Resources.  There could be reams of paperwork.  And I really didn't care what race the system thought I was.  Why should I make the effort?  On the other hand, I supposed, employers should have accurate records for affirmative action purposes.  Why should my company get credit for hiring a Black person, when they hadn't?

I resolved to make one attempt to fix things.  If that didn't work, I was out.

Defiantly, I replied to the "Do not reply to this email" message:
"Hello.  I recently verified my personal information as instructed.  I noticed that your system thinks I am Black.  In truth, I am white, or Caucasian, or whatever the correct term is.  I am not sure how to fix this.  Also, it doesn't really matter to me.  Please do whatever you like with this information.  Yours, Susan"
I hit "Send" and left for a meeting.

When I returned, there was a frantic message on my voicemail from C at Human Resources.  I was shocked!  Nobody from Human Resources has ever returned a call from me -- or anyone else -- before.  C begged me to call as soon as possible and gave me her direct line.  She repeated the number twice.

I dialed C.  A grouchy voice picked up on the fourteenth ring.  "Hello," I began, "I'm calling for C.  I'm the one who's not Black."

"You!  I have your file right here."  C's voice was deadly serious.  "You need to tell me what's going on here."

"I don't know what to tell you," I said.  "I have worked here for almost seven years.  I have never been Black in all that time."

"Well, this is a big problem.  You need to come to our offices downtown and fill out a raft of forms.  Your departmental administrator will need to certify them, and then you must have them notarized.  When that's done, bring everything back here, and we'll see if you need to do anything else."

"Look," I said, "I don't think that's going to happen.  I don't really care what race the system thinks I am.  And I have enough to do without running around with a bunch of forms, all to fix somebody else's mistake."

C was quiet.  I started to feel bad about leaving her in the lurch.  I offered to fax her a photocopy of my white ass. After a stunned pause, C whispered "Let me get back to you" and hung up. 

A few minutes later, C called back.  She explained that she had been authorized to fix the error immediately.  I heard the clicking of her fingers on the keyboard.  Then silence.  C barked, "It's done!"  She slammed down the phone, and I was white again.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Welcome to the family

When E and I decided to get married, his mother kicked into high gear:
Mom:  I'm so happy!  When is this going to happen?
Me:  Well, my health insurance runs out in three months, so we'll do it soon.  We'll just go to City Hall.  We'd love to have you there!
Mom:  Absolutely not!   For years, I've been going to my friends' children's weddings.  Now it's my turn.  I'm throwing a big party and inviting everyone! 
E:  Uhhh...let's not fall victim to the wedding-industrial complex, okay?  Maybe we can have a small, simple celebration at home with family and close friends.  But nothing extravagant.  And no gifts - we hate that whole thing.
Mom:  What?  But that's the whole point!  Do you know how much money I've shelled out on other people's wedding gifts?  This is payback time!
E:  Look, no gifts!  And no meat [E and I are vegetarians].  People can skip meat for one meal. 
Mom:  But people need to see shrimp!  That's the only reason they go to weddings.
E:  Well, too bad for them.  They can go to Red Lobster on the way home.  
Mom:  Alright, alright.  As long as I get to have a party.   Don't worry, I'll take care of everything.

You can probably guess what happened next:  Mom's plans grew increasingly elaborate.  What started as an informal gathering in the backyard became a complex, catered affair with rented tents and a string quartet.  Things were rapidly spiraling out of control (our control, at least).

Then Mom announced that there would be an entire, roast suckling pig at the wedding.  The poor thing would be spinning on a spit in the yard, apple in mouth.  E and I were aghast.  After E threatened to boycott the wedding, Mom agreed (again) to our vegetarian terms.  The pig was canceled

Two weeks before the wedding, Mom reviewed the final plan with us.  She quickly changed the subject when E asked about the menu.  Something was up.  E asked about the menu again.  She confessed having ordered veal parmigiana.

Veal!  We were furious.  Is this not the cruelest of meats? Mom begged us to be reasonable:
Mom:  But people love veal.  And you already took their shrimp away!
E:  No veal!  How could you do this?  
Mom (annoyed):  But you won't even see it.  It's covered in sauce!
This battle of wits finally ended when Mom and E agreed to exchange veal for shrimp, which E reasoned was the lesser of two evils. 

The fateful day arrived.  E and I drove to the house, dreading what undisclosed horrors we might find.  The only surprise was a wedding singer, sporting a mullet and a Casio keyboard. He appeared to be clinically depressed.  His haunting vocals gave such wedding classics as Kool & the Gang's "Celebration!" a new, ironic twist.  It was great!

Best of all, it was finally over.  E and I tied the knot, no pigs died, and everyone - especially Mom - had a good time.  You can't argue with success.  As E's brother declared on the wedding video:  "Mom's happy, and that's what this is all about!" 

Friday, April 30, 2010

Susan Takes on the Movie Theater Industry

My husband is blogging for me today:
Going to the movies with Susan is an “interesting” experience -- and yes, for you intellectuals out there, I use quotes to signify something other than merely interesting. In New York City, movies cost over $10, so we always choose carefully. We sneak in our own snacks, and Susan usually gets stuck behind some tall guy with huge hair and a top hat.
So one time we settled on a French film, “Va Savoir," which means “you won’t understand this film.” Susan and I have enjoyed our share of French films, but something went wrong with this one. About 20 minutes in, I started to realize that I didn’t know what was going on, and, worse, I didn’t care. That’s a bad place to be at the start of a film. Then I realized that, if I felt that way at 20 minutes, Susan felt that way at 10. Soon enough, I got a nudge in my side and a loud whisper: “Let’s go.”
Let’s go? What does that mean? The movie was far from over, and I’m the kind of guy that tends to see unpleasant things through to the end. Whether it’s bad dates, long meetings, lame parties, or dull films, I've always felt the need to stick it out. I like to think it’s because I have the cautious optimism that it might get better, and maybe I can find something of value in it.
But when Susan is determined to leave, she can’t be stopped. We left the theater and entered the lobby. As I naively headed for the door, Susan asked an employee to summon the theater's manager. "Why would she do that?" I wondered. The manager appeared, poor guy. What follows is the actual conversation:
Susan:      This movie was terrible, we’d like our money back.
Manager:      I can’t do that.
Susan:      You are showing a bad movie and should take responsibility for it.
Manager:      It’s not my fault you didn’t like it. Who told you to go see it?
Susan:      You did!  You have a rave review posted outside.
And with that, the manager was defeated. He gave us two vouchers for any movie of our choosing in the future. I didn’t know such a thing was possible, but with Susan, most things are.

Friday, March 26, 2010

All aboard the Sucker Express

Early one morning in New York City, I was waiting for the subway. Like everyone else on the platform, I was headed to work. We were all tired. In silence, we waited for the train to take us to work.

Then a man appeared. He was dirty, and his clothes were rags. He strode down the platform, grinning ear to ear and shouting gleefully: "You're all a bunch of suckers! A bunch of fucking suckers! You're all a bunch of FUCKING SUCKERS!!!"

People ignored him. But I was listening! I wanted to call out: "People, he's right! This man is a prophet! We ARE a bunch of fucking suckers!"

But I said nothing. I just went to work, and I'm still a fucking sucker.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 The bargains are insane has over 2 million products online, many at deep discounts.  A model of capitalist enterprise, Overstock will sell ANYTHING, including The Communist Manifesto ($5.65) and The End of Capitalism ($14.94).  Overstock even sells books about NOT buying things, like The Frugal Life ($8.45) and The Everyday Cheapskate's Greatest Tips ($10.04).  I love irony, but this is madness!  Three words for aspiring tightwads and communists:  Public library card.

But sometimes you do need to buy something, and that's where Overstock comes in handy.  For example, their selection of coffins starts at $1,099.99.  This is a real bargain, as the average casket in the U.S. costs over $2000.  The "Mom Remembered" casket gets top ratings (5 out of 5 stars) from Overstock customers, one of whom is very glad to have buried her mother-in-law in it.  She raves: "I WILL PURCHASE FROM OVERSTOCK AGAIN IN THE FUTURE." 

And thrifty horndogs will find that Overstock carries nearly 1500 sex toys, 276 of which are priced under $15.  Their cheapest thrill:
Dr. Joel Kaplan's Erection Lasso
$16.65  $7.99 (You Save 52%!)
It's not clear how this item works, but Overstock delicately informs me that this "intimacy device is fully adjustable" and "sized to fit all."  So no worries there.  But buyer beware:  "Due to the personal nature of this product we do not accept returns."

I called Overstock to ask what their most unusual item is.  My helpful customer service agent replied:
"Gosh, I don't know, we sell so many weird things.  And some of the customers are really strange too.  I get calls from people who can't figure out how the sex toys work, and I have to talk them through it.  'Strap it on this way, stick it in that hole,' I have to tell them.  It's so awkward!  I'm not paid enough for this."
Overstock - a great place for confused shoppers of all kinds. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Go with the flow

My husband and I were strolling down Broadway, enjoying the glorious weather, when we passed a man on his cellphone:
"...I get home, and right away she's yelling at me for leaving shit stains in the toilet.  So I say, 'How could it be me?  I just walked in the door!'  But she won't drop it, she won't lay off about the shit stains..."
My husband smiled, the sun glinting in his hair.  "Ahhhh," he said, "These are the days of our lives."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The culture wars: Netflix version

Today's New York Times has a fascinating story about popular Netflix rentals in different cities and neighborhoods. The graphics are spectacular. Here, for example, you'll see that Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn are nuts for "Man on a Wire," an Oscar-winning documentary about a tightrope-walking Frenchman:

Now, compare with the map for "Paul Blart, Mall Cop":

Maps like these are also available for Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, L.A., San Francisco, D.C., Minneapolis, Miama, Seattle, Denver, and Dallas.  Check it out!