Wednesday, August 31, 2011


The whole idea behind air travel is that it’s supposed to be faster and easier than other modes of transportation.  In the early days of the industry, it was even considered glamorous.  People dressed up to take a flight….men wore suits and ties, women wore hats, gloves and heels.  You were allowed to take more than one suitcase without having to auction off your eldest child.  An all-female crew of stewardesses offered you a choice of lunch or dinner menus in addition to beverages.  Those times are long gone.  People dress one level above just rolled out of bed.  If your flight is delayed, you could starve if you unwisely chose an airline other than Jet Blue or Southwest, who still sling mini-packets of peanuts and chips to the masses.  You can expect to be felt up/patted down by people who are paid to do it.  Male and female flight attendants stalk the aisles, ordering you to turn off your phone/computer/ipod, close your tray table and bring your seat into an upright position.  Seating space is small, and I always manage to snag a seat assignment next to a man with an intestinal gas problem.   

Until recently, my travel experiences haven’t been too bad, and the only horror stories I knew were the ones I’d read about happening to other people.   I knew my turn would come one day, but I never thought my trip would rival the slave galleys of centuries past.  It’s an outrageous comparison, but I was impressed that I’d actually paid for the privilege. 

Welcome to FML Airlines.  If you aren’t familiar with the abbreviation, I invite you to google it.  I’d rather not start using the “F” word in my blog.  How silly of me to think that just because I’d forked over a couple of hundred dollars for a “confirmed” ticket and seat, that I’d actually get to the destination I’d booked. 

Has anyone noticed that there are still people working at the terminal counters even though we go online and make our own reservations, print our own boarding passes and haul our own small bags on and off the plane?  What do they do?  I can tell you…..they pick up little microphones and announce in garbled fast food drive-through lexicon that your flight no longer exists.  They have a stash of fortune cookies behind their desk from which they pull an assortment of reasons:  maintenance ‘issues’, weather delays, bird strikes, etc.  I fully expect to see a YouTube spoof to rival the wedding party rendition of Chris Brown’s “Forever”.  Instead of bridesmaids and groomsmen, I envision TSA and Airline workers singing, Lily Allen’s  ”Never Gonna Happen” as they waive bouquets of boarding passes for nonexistent flights.

My first brush with air slavery was a 4:30 p.m. nonstop flight from Birmingham, AL to Baltimore, MD that was supposed to take 2 hour flight.  To summarize it briefly, after sequential imprisonment at the gate and on the tarmac, I landed after 11:00 that night due to maintenance issues and plane substitutions.  I thought it was a fluke.  Ah, but this past Monday was a payback for years of trouble-free travel.  After leaving my home at 9:30 in the morning for a 12:15 flight (also to Birmingham),  I learned soon after that the flight was delayed due to the ubiquitous maintenance issues, which meant I would miss my connecting flight in Charlotte, NC.  The airways were clogged with passengers whose flights had been cancelled over the weekend due to Hurricane Irene, so I knew it wouldn’t be easy for the agent to find a substitution.  The only thing he could arrange was to fly from Baltimore to Chicago……six hours later……and then from Chicago to Birmingham.  I took it, but worried that I’d be stranded in Chicago if the rest of the day went the way it had begun.

As I waited in Chicago for the connection, I raged inwardly when I saw the gate agent pick up the P.A. microphone to announce that there would be a delay because the plane had hit a bird.  We did take off an hour later and I landed in Birmingham a little after 10:00 that evening….over 12 hours after leaving my house that morning.

That’s how long it takes to DRIVE to Birmingham from Baltimore, and if I had car newer than the 13 year old Honda that sits in my driveway, I would have done that…and saved about $300.  Just think, I’m only about 100 trips away from paying for a brand new Prius.  


Thursday, August 25, 2011


In 2006 I moved, returning to my home state of Maryland after spending 36 years in New Jersey, Florida, California, Virginia, Puerto Rico and Louisiana.  If you guessed ex-Navy  I repatriated to Maryland for two reasons:  family and New Orleans' weather.  For six months out of every year, I was a nervous wreck, watching weather forecasts over my shoulder from June through the first of December.

I'd been relatively lucky, and experienced just two partial house floodings that weren't related to hurricanes.  Both were related to excessive rainfall.  I'd lived in that house for years with no problems, but a combination of poor landscaping, fencing and a neighbor who installed an inground pool sounded the death knell.  After the first flooding, I put in new carpeting and decided to purchase flood insurance.  If you're familiar with flood insurance, you'll know that there is a 30 day period before the policy takes effect.  So, about 22 days after I purchased it, we had 21 inches of rain in 24 hours.  My kids still laugh at my futile attenpt to help the yard drain.....pushing water out of the gate with a broom.  I also knelt on the kitchen floor and cried, praying that the inevitable wouldn't happen.  God probably had too many other people to listen to that night.

Ever since then, my nerve endings would fire up whenever I heard anything approaching torrential rain.  I kept a list of things to pile into the car after having to evacuate twice in the path of hurricanes that missed us:  family photo albums, silver flatware and jewelry(looters), two dogs and a cat.  As August of 2005 came around with its stank heat and humidity, I watched the usual reports of yet another storm forming with an uncertain destination.  As the storm grew in size and intensity, heading toward the bullseye of New Orleans in the form of Hurricane Katrina, I joined the caravan of evacuees and headed toward Natchez, Mississippi to one of the few hotels that allowed animals.  Due to the scarcity of rooms, we were only able to secure a room with two twin beds.  You can only imagine being in that room for four days with the following:  me, my daughter, her then-husband, a 7 year old, 5 year old, 1 year old, two black labs, two cats, a Siberian Husky and a Malamute. 

When my daughter announced she would rather kill herself than stay another night, an old boyfriend of hers invited us to stay with him in Nashville, Tennessee.  I'm inclined to nominate him for sainthood as we stayed there for nearly two weeks before the authorities in Louisiana would allow us to return.   

As anxious as I was to return home, nothing could have prepared me for what I found.  Just a mile from my house, I asked my daughter where we were.  The devastation as we drew closer was unimaginable.  My own home fared far better than most to the south and east of me.  As I opened the front door, the smell of the refrigerator-freezer was stunning.  We bungied it up and hauled the entire unit to the curb.  There was no savlation for that appliance.  There was black mold piled several inches atop my favorite oriental carpet in the family room and forming on the baseboards.  We pulled up the carpeting and padding to join the refrigerator.  I'd had a new roof put on the house the month before (darn it!) which held up well, but lost several sections of the 6 foot privacy fence.  A possum had taken up residence in the garage.

Adding insult to injury, my insurance company denied my flood claim, but having worked in insurance previously, I knew they were wrong.  I argued policy wording with them for nearly two months before I wrote to the White House.  Within a week, the regional superintendant of FEMA came out to the house and decided that my insurance representative must be smoking crack.....of course, it was a covered loss.

So, I finally had the repairs completed, sold the house and moved back home.  Now, I sit at my laptop writing this blog while I keep checking the weather reports for the projected paths of Hurricane Irene.  I've raided my bathroom cabinet for sleep aids and leftover painkillers to suppress the anxiety which swells with each passing hour.  If I didn't have to babysit this weekend, I'd be cozying up to multiple bottles of rum on Sunday.  As far as I'm concerned, Katrina and Irene are both nasty bitches.  I hope God hears me this time.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Usuallty I read a book before I will see the movie based on that book, but I made an exception when I went to see "The Help".  As I sat in the theater, alternating between laughter and tears, I wondered what it is that makes people cry.  Well, I can't speak with any authority about anyone other than me, but I've come to realize that it is the human face and the written or spoken word.

When I was much younger, I didn't cry about much, other than tears of extreme frustration when I couldn't figure out how to do something...usually math.  To this day, I still think algebra sucks.  Once I reached adulthood and had a baby, something happened.  Some sort of biological switch was flipped.  After that and even today I cry over too many things and not all of them deserve the salty exudate.

I can't stand in a crowd and sing "The Star Spangled Banner" without feeling the moisture brim in my eyes.  This makes no sense to me as I'm not a USA-chanting zealot.  When I took a trip to Italy a few years ago with my sister-in-law to her ancestral home of Boiano, we visited a nearby cemetery and I was overcome, hurriedly wiping away tears.  There wasn't a soul there that I knew or loved, but the Italian custom of embedding photographs on the grave markers was heart-rending.  If the grave's occupant hadn't lived long enough to have a formal photograph taken, as was often the case with children, the photos were taken after death, with their little bodies surrounded by floral tributes.  All I could think of was the broken lives of the parents and families left behind.

Yesterday I drove to Gettysburg, PA to visit some old friends who were traveling the country in an RV.  We saw a film and visited a magnificent museum dedicated to the tens of thousands of soldiers who died there during the civil war.  The faces of the young soldiers, so many in their teens, whose bodies lay with diaries and pictures of wives, girlfriends or children in their uniform pockets tore my heart to pieces.

Sometimes the mind creates a visual, prompted by reading something sad.  You may think it ridiculous, but I can't read E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web" to myself or aloud to a child without my voice breaking when I come to the part where the spider dies.  The first time I ever heard of this classic story was when my then three-year-old son watched the movie on television.  When Charlotte expired, he turned to me and asked in an unsteady little voice, "Did Charlotte die?"  I nodded numbly as tears rolled down my cheeks and he ran from the room, crying "I'm never watching television again!".  Even White, the author, wasn't immune to the power of his own writing.  When he narrated the audiobook of "Charlotte's Web", he struggled through seventeen takes before he could get through it without betraying his own emotions.  White paced in agitation, berating himself and mumbling, "This is ridiculous.  I'm a grown man, crying over an imaginary insect."  And yes, spiders aren't insects, but that's what he reportedly said.

Things don't even have to be sad to make me cry.  If something is funny enough, I'll laugh until I cry.  If you've seen or read "The Help", and recall the chocolate pie scene, you'll know a prime example of that.

So go something strange or unexpected that makes you cry.  Just don't expect me to sit here dry-eyed while I read it.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Until just recently, I kind of prided myself on keeping up with the news and current events in general, listening to national and local news broadcasts, reading the Baltimore Sun daily, and several weekly/monthly magazines. After all, the downfall of civilization begins when its citizens leave government to the crazies.

On a recent 1-1/2 week trip, I left my laptop at home to devote my attention to family and was rewarded with inboxes filled with 1500 emails that I’ve only recently recovered from. Now I’m getting ready to take 6 year old Emma to the beach for a few days and don’t know if I can stand going through that ordeal again.

It’s been a brutal week with the wild gyrations of the financial markets, the report of over half a million children on the brink of starvation in Somalia, and the devastating loss of so many Special Forces troops. The cup of human kindness is looking pretty empty, and I need a break.

There’s not much I can do about the Dow. I spent so much money raising kids and grandkids that the only assets I have now are my 401K, half of my townhouse and a 13 year old car. The first two are only worth about two-thirds of what they were just a couple of years ago, and the car....well, everyday that it runs is one more day that I don’t have to worry about replacing it. Several months ago, it used to cause me enough anxiety that I actually secured a job at a local department store, but I freaked out while trying to learn how to use the computerized cash register. The sales goals seemed so unreachable that my hair started falling out, so I quit after the one-day training session and bought a box of Little Debbie Zebra cakes..

Now I write novels and hope that someday I’ll actually see some of them in bookstores. Oh, that’s right, all the bookstores are closing.

When I saw the empty eyes of the Somalian children, I felt ashamed of my pettiness, and rethought my plan to re-enter the world in another body after death. I lucked out landing here this time around. Shirley MacLaine better be careful.

Newscasts of tearful parents pleading for the return of their missing and/or murdered children plunge me into temporary depression and make me pick up the phone to call my own.

So, I’ve decided to declare a moratorium on news, concentrating on packing for the beach. It would take me about five minutes to pack for myself alone, but with the six year old, I actually have to make a list, making sure to bring bread for the seagulls, a stuffed sleeping buddy (other than me), and a fully-charged iPod.

I think I’ll pack some of those for me too.    

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

ARREST ME......Please!

How many times can I be arrested?

It’s pretty hard to read or watch the news without being alternately horrified and laugh-out-loud amused at the things that human beings do.

The blurb about the man who let his 8 y.o. son drive his truck on the interstate while the guy slept, intoxicated, in the back beside his 4 y.o. daughter left me shaking my head, but when you think about just the everyday things we do, it really isn’t all that difficult to be ticketed or even arrested. I wondered how many things I could do to bring it on purposely.

When I woke up, I turned my iPod/Bose unit up loud enough for my neighbors to call the police. I walked the unleashed dog and left his bag of poo on the sidewalk. I hate carrying that stuff! Since I only had one bag with me, when he poo’d again, I didn’t clean it up. After dressing for the day, I left the house to go to the post office, leaving my purse and driver’s license in the house while I exceeded the 25 mile an hour speed limit with an unrestrained child and a dog in the back seat. The package that I mailed contained a bottle of wine. I took the clerk’s pen.

I stopped by a local nursery and bought two tomato plants with a check from an old closed bank account. When I got home, I selected a spot in the common area of my townhouse development. Since we’re not allowed to raise vegetables on our own property, I planted one there too. The framing around my front door was looking a bit worse for wear, so I painted it orange….not an “approved” color., and hung my laundry out to dry (also not allowed).

After dumping some old paint down the street drain, I left the can in the paper-only recycle bin and decided that I liked my library book too much to bother returning it.

My errands left me feeling hungry, so I had lunch at a nearby restaurant and walked out without paying the check. After all, a crowd was gathering around the kid and dog who looked a little sweaty while waiting in the car. When I returned home, I could hear the garbage collection truck’s motor rounding the corner. I couldn’t miss it again, so I dashed out of the shower and placed the trash can by the curb. Why should it be such a big deal that I didn‘t have any clothing on?

Before heading home, I decided to cool off by tubing on the nearby Gunpowder River. After parking the car on some guy's front lawn (not my fault that there weren't any spaces left on the street) and renting a tube, I secured my cooler of beer, flopped onto the rubber surface and drained a can of beer. There weren’t any trash cans nearby, so I tossed the empty into the woods. Deer will eat anything, won't they?

It had been a trying day, so I decided that I needed a sleep aid. The stuff had expired, so I flushed the capsules down the toilet.

Ridiculous? Yes, for the most part, but for better or worse I did it as a small illustration of how closely our lives and activities are governed by those we vote into office. Let’s face it, the majority of laws are created in order to protect us from the criminal and thoughtlessly harmful acts of others. I’m thankful that I live in a country where citizens and lawmakers care enough to at least try to keep my food sanitary, my water clean and my neighborhood safe. It helps to remind myself when I send those quarterly tax payments….from the bank account that actually has enough money in it.