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31 posts from February 2009

February 19, 2009

Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review

by Nancy

Now that our nest is empty, my husband and I tend to eat a lot of dinners in restaurants. Especially now that I'm bearing down to finish my manuscript, cooking a healthy evening meal isn't always one of my daily activities, so we eat out. Not necessarily in the kind of establishments with white tablecloths and extensive wine lists, mind you.  In fact,  lest you think you're reading the words of an epicurean snob with unlimited disposable income, the restaurant we tend to most frequent features a long-legged teenager who walks around in a chicken suit.  I like their Asian chicken salad, so shoot me.   

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Since we eat out so frequently, we've reached a few opinions about restaurant service.  So much so that I've even thought about creating an anonymous blog in my city to lambaste the most offensive restaurant behavior, but now that I've outed myself, I guess that idea's over before it started. And when my local newspaper ran an article this week listing the top pet peeves of diners and servers both, I sat up and took notice.

My first pet peeve?  The restaurant manager who barges in on our dinner to ask, "How's everything tonight?"   Not just once, but multiple times.  Does the man not have napkins to fold somewhere? Why must he inflict his idea of infectious humor on people who'd rather be left in peace? (I recall one evening we accompanied my husband's immediate family to dinner after the funeral of my sister-in-law's husband, and the manager tried to jolly us up while we waited for our meal. He took it as a challenge to make us each take a turn and smile. It was painful.  In fact, it was agonizing. I wanted to kick him. I should have. We should have sent him away with the truth, but we didn't want to embarass him.  Which is ridiculous, because he deserved to be embarassed.) And it's usually a man, isn't it? A woman restaurant manager would find something useful to do besides pestering people, but maybe I'm over-generalizing in a sexist pig sort of way.

Other diners quoted in the newspaper article said their biggest complaint was being touched by the server.  Me, I'm a toucher, so that doesn't bother me.  I once had dinner with a Klezmer band and didn't understand why they all kept edging their chairs farther and farther away from me.  Now, I know you're wondering why I had dinner with a Klezmer band, but since I've got to finish this book ASAP, I have limited time to write this blog, and I'm really curious.--Is there some Orthodox Jewish thing about not touching blonde Presbyterian married women? Touching people is a thing I have, and if that's a bad thing, I'd rather know now.  Am I breaking some law of the Torah? Does it creep you out to be touched?  I mean, I touch a person's arm, not his--oh, never mind.

Clearing one diner's plate before everyone at the table is finished eating is apparently a big gross-out for most people.  Now, I grew up with a younger sister who ate (and still eats) extremely slowly.  She's also quite thin, so maybe she's onto something diet-wise, but I've always assumed it was passive-aggresive sibling behavior subconsciously intended to punish us all for being born before she was. The rest of us get a little nauseated sitting in front of dirty, congealing plates for half an hour while she finishes eating her peas one by one. So I'd just as soon have my plate removed, thank you very much, despite what the etiquette books have to say on the subject. You?

Another beef among diners is when they pay in cash and the server asks, "Do you need change?"  To me, this question might be a little gauche, but for crying out loud it saves time, and every minute counts when you're finishing a book. But then, maybe I'd feel differently if the kid in the chicken suit wasn't around, and the restaurant was full of gourmets who tsk-tsk when the yokels misbehave. Does this practice bother you?  I mean, really, do you think it's rude, or just a time-saver?

Now, when I was on the other side of this equation--and I think everybody needs to spend at least a summer waiting tables because it's a very educational, socio-economic and humbling experience--I was bugged by people who pretended I was invisible.  They could bark their order at me, but they refused to acknowledge I'm a human being?  That's the kind of behavior that earns some diners a little spittle in their soup, although honestly, I never did it myself and I would probably testify that my friend Wayne didn't do it either.  Probably. 

So tell me, refined ladies and gentlemen of The Lipstick Chronicles.  What's your restaurant service complaint? And if you tell me it's employees in chicken suits and/or Klezmer bands, I'll deny I wrote this blog.

February 18, 2009

A Guide to Women's Shoes for Men


A Guide to Women’s Shoes for Men

By Elaine Viets

The Lipstick Chronicles works hard to promote understanding between the sexes. Today, I’ve volunteered to help men translate this sentence:

"I need a pair of black shoes."

These simple words have different meanings for men and women.

When a man says, "I need a pair of black shoes," he means his shoes are falling off his feet. You might even see the guy’s toes poking through the holes. Sometimes, his wife or lover will order him to get a new pair of shoes. He’s happy with the old pair, believing they are broken in, instead of just broken. But the man has to buy a new pair – or else.

Most men hate to shop for shoes. The poor souls are content to own a mere three or four pairs. They believe if they have a brown pair and a black pair for dress, some loafers and running shoes, they’ve covered the fashion spectrum.

When women say, "I need a pair of black shoes," we mean something entirely different. Here is a sample male-female dialogue on that subject. Imagine a couple standing in front of the shoes in her closet.

SHE: I need a pair of black shoes.

HE: But you have six pairs of black shoes right here, and they look fine.

SHE: None of them go with my new pantsuit for work.

HE: What’s wrong with those black satin ankle straps? Those are hot.

SHE: They’re evening shoes. If I wore them during the day, I’d look like a cheap hooker.

HE: That’s not true. You look very expensive. Wait! I mean that as a compliment. I’m just trying to understand.

SHE: (taking a deep breath) You can’t wear evening shoes during the day.

HE: Is it like a state law or something?

SHE: Would you wear a tie with a sweatshirt?

HE: No, that would look stupid.

SHE: That’s why I can’t wear evening shoes with a business suit.

HE: I think I get it. How about those black shoes you bought last month?

SHE: Those are tennis shoes. They’re too casual for a business suit.

HE: You’ve got those black patent leather sandals. They look nice.

SHE: Those are summer shoes. My feet will freeze.

HE: What about your black boots? They’re suede.

SHE: The heel is too high. It makes the suit pants look too short.

HE: There. That black heel. It’s nice. Not too high.

SHE: It’s ten years out of style.

HE: So why do you still have it?

SHE: It may come back.

HE: Has that ever happened?

SHE: Not exactly.

HE: What’s wrong with those black flats with the gold buckles?

SHE: The Ferragamos? They hurt my feet.

HE: Can’t you take them back?

SHE: No, I wore them.

HE: Can you throw them out?

SHE: No, they cost too much.

HE: Okay, I understand you need shoes. There’s a new shoe store at the mall with racks of shoes for five dollars each.

SHE: I couldn’t buy cheap shoes.

HE: Why not?

SHE: They don’t last.

February 17, 2009

You Want My Advice...?

 Want My Advice...?

By Sarah

Well, I don't know how it happened. I was in my office all last week doing post-book stuff, promotions, thinking about the next novel and the like and while I was pretty sure my phone bill was paid, I did NOT receive a call from members of Congress asking my advice on how to fix the economy.Batphone

Can you believe that? Because, honestly, I really do have all the answers. In fact, I'm pretty sure anyone outside the Washington, D.C. 50-mile radius can figure out what we need to do to jump start this economy. But do they call? Do they write? No. They just take our money and have their secretaries get back to us later.

(The one exception would be the mayor of Philadelphia who actually invited citizens to offer their suggestions since he was out of ideas. Though, to be fair, I'm pretty sure Philly's about 50 miles away from that cesspool in D.C.)

ANYWAY, here are my easy fixes to the economy and how to spend that frickin' $732 billion or whatever. (After a while, doesn't it just seem like fairy money?) Feel free to chime in on your own and then we'll send the whole thing to the White House.

# 1 Sit down, Wall Street. And shut up.

I don't give a fig about the enormously wealthy who bought insurance against losing money in the stock market. Guess what, you lose, as did the rest of us. If you have enough money to do that, you can pay for the roof over your head. And, if not, get a smaller roof. Also, since we gave you guys on Wall Street almost as much we're giving the entire country - and you've spent like half of it - tell your friends in the Republican Party (Rush Limbaugh) to quit complaining about this latest stimulus package. We, too, like to eat. Not just Oxycontin addicts holed up in sound-proof chambers down in Miami.

#2 Defaulted mortgages. Rip 'em up.

That's right. I don't care who owes what. I'm tired of balloons and over extensions. Blah, blah, blah. Just like credit default swaps are moot, so are foreclosed mortgages. Look, it makes no sense to have families on the street while, in the same neighborhood, homes sit vacant. Exhibit A: Cleveland, Ohio, as illustrated in this excellent photo by Anthony Suau of a Cuyahoga County sheriff searching a foreclosed home looking Cleveland foreclosurefor guns. What happened to the family who lived here? Am I the only one who sees how stupid this is? (FYI, this Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Suau, is himself currently out of work.)

If taxpayers can subsidize Bank of America's takeover of Merrill Lynch (goodbye Anna's college savings, BTW) and still Merrill Lynch can pay out over a billion dollars in bonuses, and still the ex CEO can buy $35,000 antique toilets, then you damn well better believe that we can stop children from living in homeless shelters because their parents owe three grand on a $150,000 house.

My faith is with small community banks who know their customers and will sit down with them to rewrite the mortgages and work out arrangements. Use the stimulus money to cover part of the mortgages for a certain number of months. After all, the $732 billion works out, roughly, to $10,000 per man, woman and child in this country. I think we can scrape it together.

#3 Credit cards. We just lost interest.

I don't know if Obama's aware of this, but most people aren't going to spend a dime if they've got a credit card balance. And most people with credit card balances know that the way the laws are written, the terms of agreement can change at any point. Did you know credit card debt cannot be erased in bankruptcy? It can't. So while the hospital that saved your ill mother might go without payment, Visa will surely get theirs. Hello, Snidely Whiplash.

Therefore, credit card companies should be forced to lower their interest rates to that of mortgages, Acredit card roughly 5-7 percent. What? You think this is outrageous? Banks are lending to banks for FREE! Visa will still make money, especially since credit card companies charge the consumer, the retailer and everyone else. That they have the nerve to jack up that interest rate to 18 percent and still demand full payback when a family can't eat, to me smacks of Mafioso tactics. And I mean that with all due respect to the Mafia.

#4 Jobs. Let's actually make stuff.

Enough with paying dorks billions of dollars to shuffle money from one box to another. Time to pay people who make things and who provide crucial services - managing your investment portfolio not among them. We've stopped making stuff in this country and we need to do that again. Better, we need to invent things for people to make. Old stuff needs to be improved. Trains, roads, cars, bridges, computers, books, buildings, furniture. Let's make it here, not overseas.

I say, provide a tax credit to every company that "makes stuff" if they increase their workforce by ten percent over the next year. Along with making stuff, we should offer similar incentives to research and development facilities and medical centers.

#5 Take advantage of this crisis to cure health care once and for all.

In my small, tired state of Vermont, the average annual income is $48,000 and slipping. We used to make milk, cheese, maple syrup, but now it's catch as catch can. The result? Vermont might be a nice place to ski, but you wouldn't want to break a leg here. A self-employed couple I know with one child has to pay $20,000 a year for their health insurance and they're actually leaning on their elderly parents to help foot the bill. No one wants to go without insurance, and yet...$20,000 a year! I think I might be tempted to wing it.

Considering so many families are drowning under the burden of health insurance, not to mention health care costs, revamping - socializing? - the health care system needs to be a cornerstone of our recovery.

It reminds me of a car game we used to play as kids called How Bad Can It Get? It started with, wouldn't you hate to be poor. Then the next person would add something else and have to remember what had been said previously. Wouldn't you hate to be poor and terminally ill. Wouldn't you hate to be poor and terminally ill and homeless. Wouldn't you hate to be....You get it, right?

An awful game, granted, but one that doesn't have to be played. Now, to rephrase the Saturday Night Live's Oscar Rogers...Fix It!

Sarah - who's never gonna stop working if she can help it.

February 16, 2009

Birth Order

Birth Order

By Harley

 Something I used to hear a lot was, “Gee, you’re so  . . . down-to-earth. Unassuming.” For a Hollywood actress, they meant.

 I rarely hear this anymore, because I’m a mom now and moms are by definition down-to-earth. Writers, too, are presumed to wear old sweaters with elbow patches, sit in garrets, stare at typewriters/computers/yellow legal pads and munch on apples/chocolate/martini olives.

 Whereas Hollywood actresses are flighty, wear sunglasses indoors, sport toy poodles and feather boas and spend their days plotting a spot on Dancing With The Stars.

 So back in the day, when civilians expecting Anna Nicole Smith would get me, and start in with the “you’re so down-to-earth and unassuming” I’d explain that most actors/actresses are pretty normal. But people who read PEOPLE don’t want to hear that, so then I learned to say, “I’m from Nebraska.” Because everyone believes that Nebraska = 4H, chewing tobacco, and apple brown betty. (Everyone except Nebraskans, who actually do have culture, sophistication, bikini waxes, and plastic surgery.)

 But recently I figured out what’s behind my unassuming down-to-earthiness: Birth order.

 I’m the baby of my family. My closest sibling, Pete, is 3 years older. The oldest, Andrew, is 14 years older, and there are 5 more in between. What does this mean? Aside from the fact that there were 4 baby pictures of me and 9,748 of Andrew, it means I was the last to hear family news (e.g., “we’re moving to Nebraska tomorrow”), rarely understood the jokes, and never got to finish my sentences, let alone my stories, because it was considered unlikely that I had anything worthwhile to say. I don’t mean to suggest that these were bad people. They’re lovely people. But they were siblings; it was their job to destroy any feelings of self-importance I may have accidentally developed.

 In compensation, I got more presents at Christmas, fewer chores, and avoided being supplanted by someone smaller and cuter (until I reached my full height, making my sister Dory smaller and cuter.)

 Nevertheless, I’ve stumbled through life with an inner Village Idiot. Part of me is pretty sure I don’t know what I’m talking about. Even with my children. There’s often a moment of looking around, wondering, “who’s in charge here?” and then realizing, “Oh, yeah. I am.”

 You think I’m overstating it?

 Research shows that 43% of all CEOs are firstborns, 33% are middle-borns and only 23% are last-borns. Eldest siblings are disproportionately represented among surgeons and M.B.A.s and the U.S. Congress.

 What are the babies doing? Getting arrested. According to a study of picketers at labor demonstrations, when events lead to arrests, the arrestees are overwhelmingly later- or last-borns. (Which begs the question, who thinks up these studies?)

 I can’t speak for middle children because in our family there were too many to keep track of, let alone find common characteristics. And among my own children, it’s all skewed because the little ones are twins.

 I’m currently devising a Youngest Child self-help program. At parties, I mumble to myself, “Some of these people are not very smart. I can probably hold my own here.” Assuming I can override my Youngest Child tendency to find a quiet corner and nap.

 BTW, I was hoping to give you a link to a fun Birth Order Quiz, but they’re mostly stupid. Except for one that required Excel, which I couldn’t open. And anyhow, rather than guess the birth order of Britney Spears or Chairman Mao, I’d rather guess us at TLC. My first guess is that Me, Margie is an only child.

Care to share? Come on, we're family.

Happy Monday.


p.s. Happy President's Day, Mr. President! I hope everyone treats you nicely today.

February 15, 2009

Dancing With the (Cough) Stars 2009

Dancing With the (cough) Stars 2009

Blog DWTS Calendar Cover By Kathy Sweeney

Okay, I have to confess -  I watch this show.  It's the closest thing to Reality TV I can handle, except maybe I'm halfway hooked on "Top Chef" (thanks, Susan) and I never miss a "Food Network Challenge". Of course, there was that period where I was loving "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" but it's not on any more, except the repeats on FLN, and I've seen them all.

But back to Dancing With The (cough) Stars.  This week, they announced the 2009 Line Up:

  •  Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson
  •   Country singer Chuck Wicks (who is dating and will dance with pro Julianne Hough)
  •   Model/actor Gilles Marini (Samantha's hot neighbor from the Sex and the City Movie) 
  •   Denise Richards (were I her partner, I'd wear gloves just saying - I mean, does anyone REALLYwant to share, uh, space with Charlie Sheen?)
  •   Apple Co-Founder Steve (the "Woz") Wozniak (my pick for the first one out, unless Lil'Kim's implants cause her to fall repeatedly, she violates parole, or LT blows a gasket) 
  •   80s pop star Belinda Carlisle, 
  •   Rodeo star (and Man of the Square Table) Ty Murray and his wife, 
  •   Jewel (she's a singer)
  •   Comedian David Alan Grier (LOVE him and Chocolate News)
  •   Rapper Lil Kim (the first ex-con to compete, perhaps?  Will the officials be checking her implants for the new musical iTit technology?)
  •   Lawrence ("L.T.") Taylor, former linebacker for the New York Giants
  •  Jackass star Steve-O (that's their description, not mine, and he may be the second felon to make the show) and 
  •   Access Hollywood correspondent Nancy O’Dell.  
Blog karina-and-maksim-engaged Plus, two of the pros - Karina and Maxim - are engaged!! For real!  It happened on New Years' Eve already - try to keep up, people.  Guess she's over Mario, NTS.  That wedding is going to be better than a Bollywood musical.  Wonder if they will tango down the aisle?

Sooo - lots of intrigue with the couples competing against or with eachother.

Some questions are obvious:
What the devil happened to Donny Osmond?  I was promised Donny Osmond, and ever since Michael Jackson started jumping from car to car on the crazy train, Donny is really the only childhood crush we have left.   Does Marie know?
After the fiasco with Misty May, one would think the USA Olympic Committee would make this show a banned substance.  What's up with that? Does Bela know?
Someone from the 'Jackass' show?  Does Joe Lieberman know?

I, for one, am disappointed with the lineup. How about you? Who would YOU like to see dancing?

How about a Saturday Night Live Alumni show? Who wouldn't love to see Will Farrell and Cheri Oteri share a stage again? (Side note - forget the Cheerleaders bits - it's the Morning Latte skits that slay me).

An all-Ice line-up. Can we get Dick "That sit-spin was simply Luscious" Button? Tonya ("If I can't skate, I'll box") Harding and Nancy Kerrigan rematch? Then add Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemiuex. Really desperate? I'll bet Vanilla Ice has got a pretty open schedule. (See what I did there?)

Blog Dance Gere Or, you can suggest any individual. How about Ray Romano or Brad Garrett - you know DWTS loves a goofball. Richard Gere (hel-loh? That scene in "Shall We Dance" is enfuego.) Sally ("Sr. Bertrille") Fields?

Put on your dancin' shoes, TLC, and tell us which "stars" you'd like to dance with.

February 14, 2009

The 2009 VDCD

The 2009 VDCD

by Kathy Sweeney

Yeah, it's Valentine's Day.  Some people hate this holiday with a passion normally reserved for discussions on Prop 8.  It does tend to set up unattainable expectations, and if you are single, it can make you feel bad. Which is odd, since the overwhelming majority of couples spend much of their time wishing they were single.

I started making VDCDs several years ago.  Now, with iTunes, I don't even have to burn them any more.  I just create a new Playlist.

This year, I really tried to mix it up - as you will see (or if you care) in terms of styles and vintage.  Take a look, and please share a song you think belongs in this year's collection. 

Lucky (feat. Colbie Caillat) byJason Mraz: We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.
1, 2, 3, 4 by Plain White T's: Big Bad World (Bonus Track Version)
Come On Get Higher by Matt Nathanson: Some Mad Hope
This Time by John Legend: Evolver
No One by Alicia Keys: As I Am
Love Song by Sara Bareilles: Little Voice
What Love Can Do by Bruce Springsteen: Working On a Dream
A Love Song by Loggins & Messina: The Best: Loggins & Messina Sittin' In Again
Have I Told You Lately by Van Morrison: Best Of Van Morrison
It Only Takes a Moment by Various Artists: Hello, Dolly! (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture and featured in the movie Wall-E)
Love Remains the Same by Gavin Rossdale: Wanderlust (Bonus Track Version)
I Will Be by Leona Lewis: Spirit (Deluxe Version)
By Your Side by Sade: Lovers Rock
Let Me by Pat Green: What I'm For
Feels Like Love by Vince Gill: Let's Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye
Take Me There by Rascal Flatts: Still Feels Good
Amen Kind of Love by Daryle Singletary: All Because of You
Make You Feel My Love by ADELE: 19
Giving Myself by Jennifer Hudson: Jennifer Hudson (Bonus Track Version)
At Last by Beyoncé: Cadillac Records (Music from the Motion Picture) 

A word about "At Last" - a fabulous song, and up to this point, I would have only included the Etta James version (it is, in fact, on the 2007 VDCD).  But Ms. James announced that: (a) Beyonce was going to get her ass whupped for singing "Etta's Song"; and (b) Our President is "the one with the big ears - not MY president."  Fair enough.  She's entitled to her opinion.  I am entitled to delete her from my iTunes.  And by the way, the song really belongs to a couple of songwriters named Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, who wrote it for a 1941 musical called "Orchestra Wives".  Before Ms. James recorded it twenty years later, it was a hit for both Glenn Miller and his orchestra and Nat King Cole.  Just sayin'.

Happy Valentines Day!  Eat some chocolate.

And if you'd like to take a look back at a TLC Blog on Anti-Valentine's Day songs, here it is: http://thelipstickchronicles.typepad.com/the_lipstick_chronicles/2007/02/the_fu_cd.html

February 13, 2009

This. Is. TLC. Jeopardy!

This. Is. TLC. Jeopardy!

By Kathy Sweeney

Blog Jeopardy Teen I hardly ever watch Jeopardy any more - unless someone clues me in that it's the Teen Tournament, which I love.  Makes me feel smart.  Online tryouts, by the way, are February 24th, if you know a teen.  And no, the fact that you ACT like a 13-year-old does not mean you qualify.  Gentlemen, I think you know who I'm talking to here.

Got to thinking - what would be my perfect Jeopardy categories?  I think there was an episode of "Cheers" like this - where Cliff Claven hit the motherload of Jeopardy choices.

My Jeopardy Categories would look something like this:

Blog caddyshack Oreos
Christmas Music 
Mystery Novels With No KidJep
Your 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates (no drugs, just studs)
Katie Scarlett O'Hara

Then, there's Double Jeopardy, where the scores can really change:

Romance Novels of the early 21st Century
Weird Stuff they taught in 1970s RC Catechism (P.S.  Did you know Indulgences are making a come-back?)
Potent Potables in Copper Mugs
Halloween Music
Substitutes for Curse Words (P.S.  Lent starts next week and I plan to make my annual attempt to quit swearing)
Would That Be Murder? (Based on a game developed in my first BusLaw 1 Class)

And what if we had a TLC Jeopardy Game?  The Categories might include:

Bumper Stickers
Blog Topics that Got Sarah in Trouble, and Why We Love Her
Josh's Favorite Search Terms
Best Bond

Get the idea?  Let's turn our luck around this Friday the 13th - please share your personal Jeopardy dream list and help add to our TLC Topic List.

And for those of you having winter doldrums, take heart!  Ladies and Gentlemen, today pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training!  Yippee!

This weekend on TLC:
The 2009 VDCD
Dancing With the (cough) Stars 2009

February 12, 2009

Don't Call, Don't Write. I'm in The Hole.

Don't Call, Don't Write. I'm in The Hole and Hanging onto My Sanity By a Thread.

by Nancy

The most impressive, inspirational and humbling thing I’ve heard in a long time is the audio recording of the pilot and the air traffic controllers during the recent ditching of a USAirways flight in the Hudson River. If you haven’t heard this, check it out here with subtitles.  (If you’re totally sick of the Miracle on the Hudson reporting, well, just ask yourself if it isn’t at least better than breathless and endless coverage of the misbehavior of some ignoramus of a celebrity.) 

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My dad was a bit of a pilot—an officer in the Army Air Corps (later re-named the Air Force) who designed aircraft at Wright-Patterson in Ohio and flew experimental planes in Alaska. After the war and law school, he became a private pilot. (He used to take me back and forth to college in a four-seat Cessna--hilarious, because the airfield was nothing but a grassy strip in the middle of nowhere, and we had to call a cab from a nearby city to take me from the airfield to my dorm—at a cost of about $75, which was an astronomical sum in those days. Add the cost of aviation fuel, and you can see why my parents finally shelled out $800 for a used VW Bug for me.)  Before his retirement as an executive with a company that also owned a UsAirways commuter airline and purchased planes for commercial use, my dad got the fly a plane from Ireland across the Atlantic to Pennsylvania, which was a big thrill for him. 

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As kids, my brother and sister and I were forced---er, were often offered the opportunity to fly with him when he was training for his various ratings.  Later, my mother confessed that she wanted us to go along because she didn’t think he should be flying without somebody who could actually hear the radio, since my dad’s hearing wasn’t great.


Uh…sorry to spoil things for you, Mom, but no civilian can actually understand what’s said on those radios.  Unless you’re a real pro and know what you’re hearing, it’s just a lot of mumbling jargon that can make an imaginative teenager's hair stand on end.


Which makes that audio recording of the Hudson River

splash landing all the more impressive to me. Those guys are matter-of-factly saving the lives of 150 people.  In my family we laughingly call it, “appropriate emergency behavior.”  In other words, doing your job even when things are very, very dicey.

If you’ve read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff (or seen the movie, which is also good but perhaps doesn’t capture the laidback Oklahoma cowpoke demeanor that all pilots kinda put on even if they’re from Nowheresville, PA) maybe you also get a lump in your throat when you listen to that recording. They sound like a bunch of guys hanging out, munching on their ham sandwiches with their feet up on the desks while they calmly mutter runway coordinates to each other. No fuss. Just guys doing their everyday jobs.


Makes me a little ashamed.  I’m trying to finish a book in the next three weeks, and I’m hanging onto my self-control by a very thin thread. I try not to answer the phone or respond to emails unless there's a dire emergency.  (And there have been a few!)  Heart palpitations at the computer? Check. Panicky breathing when I sit down with the manuscript? Oh, yeah.  Lying awake, staring at the ceiling for hours while my characters shout unintelligible nonsense at each other?  Every single night.  My hands tremble on the keyboard when I contemplate how much work I must accomplish in the next—gulp--17 days.


I need to pull myself together.  I’m a professional, right?  Just doing my job, as that pilot, those air traffic controllers, those tugboat guys and everybody else who participated in the---yeah, I’m gonna say it—miracle on the Hudson did their jobs.  Except there’s no life-and-death in my work. Except fictional.


Okay, I’ll get back to writing.


Meanwhile, you can tell me about the time you acted with a cool head during an emergency.  As a lifeguard, I leaped into the water countless times to grab toddlers who had fallen face down while Mummy wasn’t looking.  I once gave mouth-to-mouth to a guy (with loose dentures) who’d had a heart attack in a snack bar.  I broke up a knife fight in a junior high without thinking of my own personal safety. Hardly hero stuff, but I take some pride in knowing I acted appropriately without having a meltdown. But I must admit I get the shakes when I look at my manuscript these days—covered in Post-It notes and looking awfully muddled.  Tell us about your appropriate emergency behavior while I get back to work.

February 11, 2009

Get Me a Live Human


Get Me a Live Human

By Elaine Viets

"Get me a live human, you idiot!" I screamed into the phone.

My husband, Don, in the other room, asked, "Did you say something?"

Yes, dear. I was arguing with a computer-generated voice. I used to hate these robot voices, but now I find them therapeutic. Yelling at a computer is better than Valium.

This session started when I called my bank to find out why I was paying a mysterious $15 fee.

"Welcome!" the robot said. This was a plummy male voice and I was in the mood to argue with a man, any man. Even one that wasn’t human. Robo Man talked to me in that condescending, soothing way every self-respecting woman hates. He had the sort of voice used when a pitbull has a man backed against the wall. I could imagine him saying, "Don’t do anything foolish there, Chauncey, old buddy. This state has a dangerous dog law."

"Go for the gonads, Chauncey," I’d urge from the sidelines. "Slice off his motherboard."

Robo Man was still talking to me in those smooth tones. "Would you like to open a new account? Apply for a loan? Find an ATM machine? Lost your card or checkbook? For all other assistance say, ‘Representative.’ "

"Representative," I said.

"I’m sorry. I didn’t hear that."

How could a computer be deaf? I ask you. I can’t ask Robo Man. He can’t hear me. He was in his endless mechanical loop, asking, "Do you want to open a new account? Apply for a loan? Find an ATM machine . . . "

I interrupted him with "Representative!" This time, I said it louder.

It didn’t work. Robo Man was still asking me if I wanted to open a new account, apply for a loan . . . I hate men who repeat themselves.

"Get me a live human, you idiot!" I shrieked. Magically, some poor soul from the subcontinent was on the line, asking how he could help me. He sounded like Apu in "The Simpsons."

The fun was over. I could not verbally abuse this meek-sounding man, no matter how angry I was at the bank’s unjust and unheralded $15 fee. I was speaking to a cyberslavey, someone who took abuse from angry customers half a world away. Screaming at the man would be like kicking a puppy. I would derive no satisfaction. Worse, I might make him into a future terrorist and American hater, if he didn’t dislike our nation already.

I took a deep breath and put on my most calm and reasonable voice. Either that worked, or the bank was desperate. The charge was removed. My $15 was restored to the bank account, where I could fritter it away on something I wanted.

There are ways to get a live human quickly when speaking to a computer.

I could have immediately used my own robot voice. All I had to do was answer in a zombie-like tone: "My Account. Is. One. Zero. Four." And so on. I’d have a live human on the line in no time.

But I was under a lot of pressure with my work and I felt like screaming. Yelling at a real person was too dangerous. I’d had too many customer service jobs. I knew what happened to people who abused clerks. My account would suddenly disappear. Or I’d start getting emails from the Barnyard Love Web Site. Or my phone number would be posted in the men’s room of a biker bar with this message: "I’m horny and lonesome. Call me after midnight."

Shouting at a computer hurt no one and helped me. I could scream abuse at Robo Man until I turned blue.

I was deprived of only one pleasure: I couldn’t reach through the landline and hit him.

February 10, 2009

Mysterious Smells

Mysterious Smells

By Sarah

One of the hardest senses to capture in a scene, I've found as a writer, is that of smell. I often describe what a setting looks like, how it sounds or even, depending on the masculine love interest, how he feels.Smell But the odor? Forget it. I have to make a mental note to write how stuff smells and even then I rarely pull it off accurately.

And, yet, what is more basic, more pre-lingual than the ability of our noses to sniff into the air and go ewww? Like this monkey, for example, who didn't exactly sniff the air, but still....

Take New York City. For me, the city always smells like roasted chestnuts. I don't know if there's a lot of Roasted chestnutschestnut roasting going on or if that's the smell of a steamy subway, but there you have it. However, for years there's been another odor infiltrating the air, a sweet maple syrup smell that would come and go. No one knew why until, lo and behold, the city discovered the culprit - a factory across the Hudson that used fenugreek, an herb used in curry. So much for the Willy Wonka touch.

Then there's the issue of Susan Foster's house. Susan Foster was a girl I knew growing up whose mother had been a home ec teacher back in the day. I loved her house, not because it was so much fun (she had guppies, though, that gave birth) or because she had loads of colorful telephone wire that could be bent into jewelry, but because there was a clean smell to the place. Think Tide detergent meets gasoline spilled on the concrete floor of a suburban garage. I found it to be so wholesome and Brady Bunch, such a contrast to my complicated family. I began to crave it.

When I got a home of my own decades later, miles away from my tidy Pennsylvania neighborhood, I tried to replicate the Foster smell. I bought Tide and Downy and all I got were skin rashes. Maybe the secret  Tide squeaky clean Tide formula had changed over the years or perhaps my house in Vermont was too rustic, but it was nowhere near the Fosters'. My daughter says her friends say our house smells like soap (the Foster influence) and wood stove (the reality). Since getting Fred, I'm sure you could throw in the musky Basset hound in there, too. I have no idea since I live here 24/7 and have rather lost perspective.

HOWEVER, I am happy to report that the pigs next door are gone, slaughtered this fall. If you haven't caught a whiff of eau d' porcine on a humid August day, you do Pigsnot know what it's like to pass out from olfactory overload. Never did I step outside and go green (and not in an Obama way) at their fragrant odors without being reminded of the classic question posed by Jerry Seinfeld: can a smell kill?

One smell we can't figure out in our house is that of rotten eggs in our basement after someone takes a bath and lets the water run out. It's not the septic, that we've ruled out. It's something in the ventilation system and it needs to go.

Worst and most frustrating mysterious house smell? Dead mouse. It's gross and you cannot pinpoint the source. One day,= you're going into the basement to do laundry and there it is: dead mouse smell. But where? In the walls? Behind the paint cans? I once knew someone who sprinkled rat poisoning throughout her house and had to live with the dead mouse smell for days, perhaps weeks, as the critters rotted around her. Yuck.

Supposedly, smell triggers our memories quicker than any other sense and is much more intertwined in our thought processes than we realize. My mother's "church perfume" was Estee Lauder, for example, andEstee lauder to this day if I happen to run into someone wearing it, I am immediately thrown back in time to Sunday mornings at The Cathedral of the Nativity in Bethlehem, my mother next to me  in her tweed coat and red lips whispering the Nicene Creed and leaving out the part about Christ spending time in hell.

Naturally, this brings me back to Amazon's Kindle and Kindle 2. Sure, they might hold thousands of books that can be bought and downloaded within  minutes. But can they do scratch 'n sniff? Hah! Let's see you tackle that one, Jeff Bezos.

So what do smells mean to you? And if Joss Whedon has the "horrible sing along blog," can we have a horrible stink along blog?

Man, talk about a set up.....