Monday, May 31, 2010

Private Ryan

When my son was a teenager, he loved playing video games, like most young boys do. He especially liked playing rather violent shoot-em-up games, which I despised. This was ten years ago; I cannot imagine the graphics of today, which must be much more life-like than those of ten years ago. Some, if not most, of those violent video games Sean played were war games. I was concerned that Sean was taking the subject of war way too lightly and that war was far too glamorized in movies and video games. So, when the movie "Saving Private Ryan" came out the summer that Sean was 15, I knew I wanted him to see it.

We were in Connecticut for a few weeks that summer, staying with my parents for a few days. I thought it was important that even though we were only back east for two weeks each year, that Sean spend time with his grandparents while we were there. One rainy day, we all went out to see "Saving Private Ryan". I've seen my dad cry, but this was the only time I had ever seen my dad cry at a movie. My dad rarely spoke about World War II, of which he was an active participant. This movie just really hit home for my dad, and I think it changed my son's view of war. War is bloody ugly and real people die. Some friends and family members never return. One does just not "go on to the next level", unless you are referring to heaven. War is not a game.

Today is Memorial Day, a day to remember those who lost their lives so that the rest of us could enjoy picnics and barbecues on May 31st. Let us not forget those brave men and women in the armed service who lost their lives so that we could continue to enjoy ours in peace and freedom.


When I was a kid, Memorial Day meant that we kids got to wave small American flags all day, and that we were going to see a PARADE. This was pretty big excitment in my small five year old world. When we were really small, sometimes my dad would hoist my sister or myself on his shoulders to watch the parade go by. We watched uniformed men (and sometimes women) march by, bands would play, a few lovely ladies would wave from the backs of convertibles, and a baton twirler or two, in a shimmering, sparkling bathing suit and wearing tall white boots would strut their stuff in time to the band music and throw their twirling batons high into the air and then most amazingly catch them as the batons came twirling back down. Sometimes my dad bought us balloons from a street vendor on the sidewalk. Seeing the parade was fun, we kids were excited, and we all went home feeling proud of our country.

At the time, I am sure that I did not understand what Memorial Day was really all about, but even at five years old, I understood that we were honoring the men and women who went off to fight for our country. I did not then understand the horrors of war, or wars fought over oil, or the draft, or war protestors, or getting mired in Vietnam, Afganistan or Iraq. But, all of that does not really matter on Memorial Day. Memorial Day should be about one thing only - honoring those who fought and died for the rest of "us" Americans, no matter what war, no matter how just or unjust.

Jimmy was a childhood friend who lived across the street from me from the time I was two until we moved away when I was 14. Jimmy was a few years older than me, but I played with his younger sister Susie all the time. Jimmy came back from Vietnam and one day, shortly after he got back, shot himself in the head. His experience in Vietnam took his life from him. He might as well have died in Vietnam. Jimmy, Memorial Day is for you, for you and all of your buddies who served and died in Vietnam.

Vietnam was an unpopular war, a draft war, a war collective America would like to forget, a war whose wounded came home to glares instead of parades. Let us hope that we treat our returning war veterans from Iraq and Afganistan, two more unpopular wars, with the honor and respect which they deserve.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Road Rage Revisited

I am a pretty calm driver. I may get frustrated by traffic jams, but my response is usually to get off the freeway and try a different route, rather than taking my frustration out on my fellow drivers.

However, there is something else that frustrates me to no end, for which I have zero patience. And that "something" is trying to get information over the phone.

It used to be easy. Pick up the phone, "dial" a number for assistance, and someone with a lovely calm voice, in unaccented Amerian English would patiently help you. Well, as everyone knows, those days are long gone.

I try to accomplish what I need to do online. If I run into a problem online, as I inevitably do, I end up hunting for a phone number to call for assistance. This phone number is usually so cleverly hidden that it takes a good five minutes to find it. Once I find the number and call, there is the usual five minutes of recorded message, followed by five minutes of waiting on hold. (I think that the on-hold wait is mandatory just to discourage callers, even if there are customer service support people twiddling their thumbs at the other end of the line.)

A customer service person finally answers, and their accent is so thick I have to ask them to repeat everything they say, and to please talk more S-L-O-W-L-Y. We know where your customer support staff are located, Corporate Business Company; it is so obvious, please do not even try to hide the fact that they are all located in India, where they can be paid dirt cheap wages. Having already given my name, zip code and numerous other details to a recording, the human being asks me for the same information, which I patiently provide. But, of course, I am not speaking to the person who can help me, so I am transferred. THREE TIMES, and each time I have to repeat all the information I gave to the first person. Do you think I am getting frustrated yet?

I finally lose it when the United Mileage Plus customer service support person on the other end of the phone repeatedly (ie, three times) asks me why I have not yet updated Mileage Plus with my current address (I moved a month ago; believe me, it was not on the top of my list of things to do). Why do they even need this information, when Mileage Plus has not mailed me anything through the postal service in years? Why is my email address (and my birthdate and phone number if they want to be super careful) enough information to identify me? And why were they so concerned about WHY I have not updated my address with Mileage Plus? The folks at Mileage Plus asked me for so much information, it was ridiculous. (Past addresses, past phone numbers, past zip codes....note the PLURAL on all of these items, some of which I do not recall by the way.)

Paying with frequent flyer miles is a payment method, like using a credit card. Frequent Flyer organizations do not exist to identify terrorists; that is for the airline personnel and airport security to worry about. When you pay online with a credit card, you are asked for far less information.

I should issue a formal complaint to Mileage Plus. I am just not sure that I have the energy to do this. I expended it all on the customer service personnel, including the manager I spoke with (and repeated all my information to yet a fourth time). By the way, I have noticed that customer service representatives never apologize when you complain that you were on hold for 15 minutes, or that they are the fourth person to whom you have been transferred. An apology for the wait would go a long way in diffusing some of the frustration building up before one even gets to talk to the correct person. But I guess no one really cares about the customer these days.

Why do they even bother to call it a customer "service" organization these day? They should just rename it to match the actual experience. "Hello, I am your customer frustration representative". Then perhaps they would be able to accomplish their goal - receiving far fewer customer calls.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Toenails are highly overrated. Perhaps they served more of a function back when we were tree climbing apes, back when our toes were longer and grabbed a branch for a "foothold" as we contemplated which branch to grab and swing out on high over the jungle floor. Our fingers and toes are very sensitive, for good reason. We process information through our fingertips, more today than ever before. Touch is our very sensitive fifth sense. Protecting our senstive toes and fingers as they explored the world made a lot of "sense" during the days of early evolution. But once we stood upright, did it make as much sense?

Elephants have toenails too, as do many other animals. Animal "nails" serve different functions for different species. Dogs use their nails to dig. Cats nails have evolved into claws, useful for climbing trees to escape predators. I am not sure of the purpose of the elephants' nails, as they certainly don't have predators (a simple stomp of the foot can squash a stalking lioness that gets too close to junior ), or a need for digging holes to bury prey. Perhaps toenails served some functional purpose back in the Ice Ages, who knows.

As for humans, if we wear sandals, toenails certainly provide some protection for the heavy of foot, if say, you are ballroom dancing with clod who is wearing hiking boots. But besides that, I cannot think of a useful purpose for the troublesome toenail. (Do you know how long it takes to get an appointment with a podistrist?) And so, when confronted with toenail "issues", I sided with the Queen of Hearts. "Off with their heads!" said I to my doctor. And, with the simple snip of a knife (and, I have to admit, six shots of anesthetic), she cut off my nail.

Not only do I not miss my toenail, but I am much happier without it. If there were a painless, FDA approved, insurance-paying method for removing toenails, toes without toenails could even become a trend, similar to the trend of partially bald men who shave their heads. But somehow, I do not think that the nail polish industry would be in favor of such a fashion statement.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Yo, Momma

A twenty-something friend of mine has a blog, which probably comes as no surprise to anyone at all familiar with cyberspace. Her particular blog is about being a new mom. She is not only a good writer, but hilariously funny. She writes about all those embarassing moments the rest of us would rather bury deep in our subconscious and forget forever.

None of this surprises me. What does surprise me is one of the things my friend has written about in several of her recent posts -- the seeming current societal acceptance of public criticism of one's parenting techniques by other parents. And these people are not family members or friends; these are people you meet casually, people you meet in the coffee shop or in the line at the grocery store. These are folks whose names you don't know and who you will most likely never run into again, at least if you change the time of your daily Starbucks run.

I admit, its been many years since I was the parent of a young child, but I do not remember other parents criticizing my parenting skills openly and directly. Perhaps talking to me indirectly (ie, hinting that a different approach might be worth my looking into) or talking to another parent behind my back about my less-than-perfect parenting techniques, but never giving me direct criticism to my face.

Is my memory faulty? Were the parents of my generation just as bad, just as smug, just as arrogant? Perhaps, but I don't recall that the superior knowledge of the all-knowing parents spilled over into bad manners back then. Has the ability to write anything you please in MySpace and Facebook and Blogger spilled over into actual conversation? Have these social networking sites thrown Miss Manners off the island? Has the twenty-something generation ever heard of Miss Manners? If so, do they even care?

Its a Brave New World out there.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Ever notice how when you are trying to get pregnant, you notice all the pregnant ladies with their big baketball bellies sticking out in front of them? Not every woman in the world is pregnant at any given time, but it can sure seem that way.

I now see Lipotor ads on every TV channel during prime time, dramatizations urging men to take care of their heart health.

If only Lipitor could work its miracle by bringing my good friend Tim back to life -- that would surely save some of us from the searing pain we are suffering right now.

Friday, May 21, 2010


When did flowering plants invade our grocery stores, like invasive weeds?

I do not recall grocery stores selling flowers when I was young. The grocery store where I worked as a teenager did not sell flowers, it sold food. Food. You know, things you can eat.

It is now May, allergy season, in just about every state in the union. So why, pray tell, do some grocery stores, not only sell flowers of every sort of pollinating variety, but put those flowers right next to the cash registers, the only way out of the store? I am mystified.

When I complained about this at one of my favorite stores (Trader Joe's in Palo Alto), the clerk at the cash register, who was also apparantly some sort of manager of the store, did not apologize to me, but instead told me that the flower display would be gone "by next week". He told me that many people have allergies, including himself, inferring that I should just suck it up, or go get allergy shots, like he does.

Thanks. Thanks a bunch. I don't think I will be coming back to this store anytime soon.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Allergy Season

I have been laid low by seasonal allergies and the asthmatic symptoms which these allergic reactions provoke. I will be getting my back pin-pricked by the allergist tomorrow morning, otherwise known as the fortune-teller with the crystal ball, the wizard who has ablities to fortell my future, at least as far as it relates to my breathing capability. Until I can get my physical health back to normal and catch up on my sleep, I may not be writing much in cyberspace.

But, I shall return, in good time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Aunt Mary Jean

My Aunt Mary Jean was my mother's sister, now deceased more than 15 years. But my birth mother died 44 years ago; I had barely turned 13. I had two sisters and two brothers at the time of her death, all younger than me. My mother died of breast cancer in 1966, a sure death sentence back then.

My dad was left with five children, ages five to thirteen. He was 42 years old, relatively young, when his wife died. He remarried a little more than a year later. He and my step-mother were married for 34 years, until she died of a heart attack at age 73. Today, my dad is alive and well at age 84, almost nine years after my step-mother died.

Back to my Aunt Mary Jean. Mary Jean was at least ten years older than her younger sister, Connie (my mother). I remember a photo of my mother seated on Mary Jean's lap when baby Connie was about a year old; Mary Jean is at least ten years old in the photo.

After my mother died, even after my father had re-married, my Aunt Mary Jean used to come and visit us once or twice a year, usually on Easter, sometimes on Christmas. She would only stay for about an hour, often never taking off her hat and gloves. Aunt Mary Jean was proper lady. I don't think I ever saw her wear anything but a skirt and blouse and nylon stockings, except for the few occasions when my year younger sister and I were small and she took us to the beach.

Aunt Mary Jean used to send us cards on our birthdays, enclosing a ten dollar bill, all she could afford on her secretary's salary. She never married. But she remembered our birthdays for as long as I can remember. Every year when I would travel back East to visit my family, I would visit my aunt, if only for an hour or two. She never seemed to change. She could be, and often was, critical of everything and anything, and never shy to voice her opinion. I can still remember her shrill laugh.

I have to wonder what she promised her sister when Connie lay dying in the hospital. What would I have done if I was the 37 year old mother of five children, ages 13 and under? I would have asked my sister to watch over my children, make sure that they were well taken care of, follow their lives even into adulthood. I think perhaps that is why my Aunt Mary Jean came to visit us at least once a year, even after my father remarried. She made a promise to her dying sister, and she kept it.

Held in Check

Children have no inhibitions. They don't mind running around naked through the sprinklers on a hot summer day. They will pick their noses in public, much to the chagrin of their parents. They will happily show their family rabbi their mother's vibrator, as if it were just another toy, having somehow opened the nightstand drawer that was not childproofed well enough. Yes, children reveal all.

Somehow, as we get older, the parental messages are drilled into us. We learn not to talk to strangers, and not to ask Aunt Dorothy about the wart on the end of her nose. We learn not to reveal family secrets to our teachers, how much money daddy makes to the neighbors, or that Johnny still wets the bed at age five. We learn about "social cues" and how to pick up on them. This line in the sand is invisible and taken-for-granted, a " line in the sand" across which we must not step, lest others become upset. The problem is, we all have different lines in the sand, depending on our culture, family history, and country of origin, which can make for a few disagreements among family and friends.

In today's world, it is easier than ever to just walk away from friends with whom we disagree without confronting them-face to-face. I suppose this has been true since the development of the written word; "Dear John" letters spring to mind. But in today's world of electronic marvels, it is easier than ever to sever ties. One does not even have to leave a post it note. One merely "blocks" a "friend" on Facebook; that person is then simply erased from one's life by clicking on the "Block This Person" box.

Somehow, I do not think it should be so easy to "unfriend" someone, or, as they used to say back in my day, to end a friendship.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Parting Gift

Friends come into our lives, throughout our lives. Sometimes friends stay with us for a while, and sometimes they leave us. Sometimes they leave us permanently, through death, (although some may argue that death is just a different state of being.) Sometimes they leave us "for good", as in divorce. Sometimes friends move away and sometimes they just drift away. Sometimes they change, or we change and perhaps we both wonder why we were ever friends in the first place. We marry and have children and our friends become the parents of our children's friends. We divorce and lose half of our couple friends in the process. We lend our friends money, and never see the money or the friend ever again. And sometimes, years later, we find each other on Facebook, and become "friends" all over again. Well, at least in cyberspace.

I lost my good friend Tim Shannon about a month ago, rather permanenly, to the bony curled index finger of the Grim Reaper, beckoning Tim to follow. But in the wake of his dying, Tim left me something to remember him by. He left me his many wonderful friends, who have rallied around each other in his absence, trying to fill the giant hole he left in all of our lives, some of whom will become friends of my own. Of course, I would much prefer that Tim have his own life back, a breathing, heart-beating Tim, with a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face, back here on our spinning, little blue planet Earth.

If he did have to leave us all behind, I cannot think of a better parting gift.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Blessing

I do not have the writen story available to me right now, but it is an old story, a tale re-told many times over generations, I am sure. I will try to paraphrase as best I can.

A man who has had many troubles in his life goes to see the elder of the village, a wise old man, to receive words of wisdom and a blessing. He tells the wise old man his story of woes, and the wise old man says the following, in the form of a blessing over the younger man's bowed head.

"Grandfather dies, father dies, son dies."

And the younger man looks up and says, incredulous, "What, that's it? That's the best you can do for me?"

And the wise old man says, "You would want it any other way?"

It does not matter how old our children are when they are taken from us "before their time". If our children die before their parents die, it seems out of order. In our society, we feel that parents should die before their children. Sons and daughters should bury their parents, not the other way around. And yet, this is not always the case.

And when it does happen that a son or daughter (who could be a child or an adult) dies before his/her parents die, it feels not right to us in these United States, where we have top notch medical care and modern science to "fix" so many illnesses and damaged bodies. It just does not seem right.

Friday, May 7, 2010

My Three Men

There are three photographs on my glass dresser top, photographs of "My Three Men".

On the right is a black and white photo of the man who has been in my life the longest, my Dad. It is his yearbook photo taken when my Dad was a senior in high school. My Dad was quite the handsome guy back in 1943. My Dad is alive and well in Connecticut, now 84 years old, active in his church, volunteering in his community and playing golf when the variable East Coast weather cooperates.

On the left side of my dresser top is a photo of Tim Shannon, who died about a month ago, on April 6th, of an apparant heart attack, in his own home, at the relatively young age of 49. I still cannot believe that my good friend Tim is no longer part of my life, that I won't get a response to my email to "tjshannon", that Tim won't suddenly emerge from the double doors and stride down the auditorium aisle to the stage where he taught drama for 24 years.

In the middle of these two photos is a photo of my son, Sean, at age 17, his senior yearbook photo. Sean was killed in an accident nearly ten years ago, in October of his senior year in high school. I will always love my son and will feel the loss of his presence every day of my life. I would gladly give up my own life if Sean could have his life back. I think any parent, anywhere in the entire world, would do the same.

These are "My Three Men". Each of them will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Way to a Man's Heart

It has often been said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. This may be true for some, however, I have found that for most of the men in my life, the way to a man's heart lies a short distance below his stomach.

For most of my women friends, having a relationship with a guy, a emotional and intellectual connection, is far more critical than performance in bed. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes all any of us are looking for is a short, temporary physical relationship. We are physical beings, animals with physical needs. We need physical comfort and touch. We need validation that we are physically attractive and desirable to others. We need a way to release the stress in our lives. We need to feel good physically. A good old romp in the hay now and then provides us with that.

But, most of the women I know want more than an occasional physical fling. We want the emotional and intellectual connection. We want to be romanced, to be treated like the most special woman in the world, to be brought flowers, to dress up and go out, to be treated to a nice dinner or evening of dancing. We want to be romanced, we want conversation, we want to share laughter. We want to feel a special connection with a man who genuinely likes us for our personalitiy. Only then do we want to head to the bedroom.

Do guys understand this? I think they "know" that this is what most women want, but I am not sure they understand us. If it was up to the guys, I think most would like to eat dessert first.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Shields Down

Since my good friend Tim Shannon dropped dead on April 6th, my inhibitions have not been inhibiting me. To borrow a phrase from Star Trek, my "shields are down". I am likely to "let out" just about anything, i.e. to say or do anything, without nervousness or embarassment, my normal social restraints temporarily lifted. But the flip side is also true; I "let in" almost anything these days. I find that I am much more empathetic to others, the flow of emotions passing freely from others into myself upon any physical contact. This invisible flow feels like a flow of free electrons from one body into another. I feel part Betazoid, like the Starship Enterprise's Ship Counselor, Deanna Troi, who is an "empath".

However, my ability to "read" other people's thoughts and ulterior motives is no better than it ever was, which I admit is poor at best. Suffice it to say that I am generally naieve and slow to pick up on social cues that appear crystal clear to others. It is as if I am colorblind, seeing only shades of gray in the colorful world of social cues apparant to everyone else.

On the other hand, when my shields are down, I seem to be more susceptible to feelings of paranoia. With my shields down, and my ability to pick up on the feelings of others heightened, are my feelings of paranoia justified? Or am I being unreasonably paranoid?

As Deanna Troi said to Lieutenant Data on tonight's episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation": "Sometimes a cake is just a cake."

Trust Your Gut

That is what my good friend Tim Shannon used to tell me when I discussed a problem I was having in my life -- "Trust your gut". I have to admit, I failed to do this on many occasions, and I was usually sorry I didn't follow my friend's advice.

I am by nature a planner, a list maker, a think-about-the-decision-overnight person. No rash decisions for me! Perhaps this quality makes me a good auditor, a level-headed manager, and a diligent accountant. In many aspects of my life, it serves me well. But not this time.

This time I am dealing with emotions, and emotions are not logical or rational. We are human, and we have emotions for a reason. Emotions separate us from lower animals. Emotions evoke empathy and caring, and that is the reason (along with opposable thumbs) that we humans evolved from apes in the first place.

Its taken me years, but I think the lesson has finally "sunk in". This time, I am following Tim's advice.

Different Approaches

It has long been said that men and women do not understand each other on some basic level. Think "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus". We think differently. We handle emotions differently. Our approach and solution to any particular problem is often very different from each other. Neither one of us is "right" or "wrong", just different.

I face an issue that the women in my life, who I trust, have suggested a certain approach in order to resolve the issue. And the men are suggesting a different way to handle it. When I stopped to think about the situation and the advice presented to me, it was clear to me that the "solutions" being offered were splitting right down the familiar male/female dividing line, like a bright yellow line. Its kind of like the elecronically created "10 yard line" that is shown in football games on TV that shows viewers how far the offensive team has to drive the ball in order to make a first down.

Different strategies from different coaches, one stategy clearly "male", the other strategy clearly "female". It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

3 am

Its 6 am and I am wide awake.....not preferable, since I was unable to go to bed until 3 am. But I guess three hours sleep is better than none.

I was up due to a most terribly painful case of acid reflux. It was so painful, I thought I was having a heart attack. The Zantac I took barely took off the edge. I just had to wait it out...remaining uprigtht....until it passed. When I think back on my recent diet, I can clearly see why this event occurred....but sometimes you do not see it when you are in the midst of living your life.

Of course, I did not want to go back to the Hopsital-With An-Attitude. If I had gone to this particular hospital to get checked out at 1 am, surely they would have mocked me. You are here for what? A little indigestion? Pleasee.......go home, and when you find yourself so short of breath you cannot talk, call 911 and come back to the Emergency Room. We only deal with the most serious of medical issues in this ER.

Yup, that is exactly what kept me from calling 911 while the most searing pain radiated from the middle of my chest. I kept thinking how the nursing staff at the local hospital would mock me if I arrived with an illness that was less than deadly serious. If it had been a heart attack last night, I could have died. I could have easily died. But, I would have rather collapsed here in my home with no one around to notice than risk being mocked by the ER staff for being foolish.

O'Connor Hospital has made a lasting impression on me. Unfortunately, the impression they made on me has scarred me into doubting my own judgement. I can only hope that the impression they made on me does not last for very long.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


The world is full of irony. If it were not, the word "irony" itself would not exist. I had my own ironic experience just yesterday.

My experience involved the world of medicine. It was right out of that well known TV show, "ER". Almost.

Late Wednesday night I ended up in the Emergency Room at a local hospital due to an allergic reaction I had that especially scared me. Hives breaking out at midnight, when even Urgent Care is closed. The Emergency Room staff was quite dismissive. Hives? You jest, of course. The Emergency Room is for serious stuff.....come back when your throat closes up and you find you cannot breathe. Go home and if you wake up at 3 am unable to breathe, call 911. Seriously, this is exactly what they told me. No sympathy here. Lady, you are just wasting our time. We have more important stuff to do in the ER.

So my case was not particularly dramatic. I was scared. I had an allergic reaction in the middle of the night when my friends are asleep. My family lives on the East Coast. I live alone and 3,000 miles away from my siblings. The ER staff was not very sympathic. Maybe they have watched too many cases of the television show by the same name, and were expecting someone with a metal rod sticking out of his chest that night. I left, not feeling much better, and stayed up for two more hours at home to make sure the allergic reaction did not get any worse. Fortunately I did not need to call 911.

Then, the following day mail I received a patient satisfaction survey in the mail from my family physician. I laughed. I usually do not fill surveys out, but toss them in the recycle paper bin instead. My family physician received the highest marks from me, all "fives".

If I get a patient satisfaction survey from the ER where I was treated, they will get all zeroes for their most callous attitude. But, now that I think of it, I doubt they will even bother to send out a patient satisfaction survey in the first place.