Friday, March 27, 2009

Applying Miss Manners' Advice

Mil - li - sec - ond [mil - uh - sek - uhnd]
(1) one thousandth of a second
(2) the amount of time between when the light turns green and the person in the car behind you honks her horn
Abbreviation: msec.

When I was in college, I used to carpool to work during the summer with an older fellow, Bob, who worked upstairs in the same building and was friends with my step-mom. And by carpool, I mean that he happily drove me to work every day so that he could park in the parking lot close to the door that was reserved for carpoolers instead of having to hike half a mile or more from the remote parking lot for the masses.

He drove a VW Beetle. It was a well-kept early 1970's model (this was in the mid-1980's, so it wasn’t all *that* old yet), with a stick shift transmission, and the engine in the back of the car. It looked sort of like this one:

Photo by Dr. Keats on flikr. Used under a creative commons attribution license. Use of the photo does not imply that Dr. Keats endorses this blog or even knows it exists. See the creative commons license here.

Bob liked to take the back roads to work, to avoid the traffic on the freeways; he said he couldn’t stand all the rude and aggressive drivers on the big roads.

One day, we were first in line at a (rather long) red light, waiting to turn left. The light changed to green. Bob was ready - clutch in, gear engaged - but apparently took an entire millisecond to get the car moving. The gentle lady in the car behind us honked her horn -- urgently and loudly.

Bob, being an ardent follower of “Miss Manners,” of course took no offense but instead was immediately concerned that the gentle lady behind us might be in some distress. So, he engaged the parking brake so that, as Miss Manners once recommended in a column, he could get out of his car and ask her whether he might be of assistance to her in her distress. But he forgot to disengage the gear before letting out the clutch, so the engine coughed and then stalled. Oops.

But Bob, ever the gentleman, put the gentle lady’s problems ahead of his own problems, and he hurried on back to the car behind him and said to the lady, “Were you trying to get my attention? Is there something I can help you with?”

She glared at him and said in a steely tone, “The. Light. Is. Green. WHY DON’T YOU GO?!?”

Bob said cheerily, “Oh, is that all? Well, I can certainly help with that, now can’t I? But – oh, bummer – I was going, but then when I stopped to get out of the car to talk to you, it stalled out. I’ll have to check on what the problem is. We’ll be on our way shortly!”

So Bob jogged back around to the front of the Beetle, popped open the front cover (that’s the trunk, for those of you unfamiliar with the Beetle), and peered inside while tugging at his beard, with a look of genuine worry and puzzlement on his face. He shouted to me, “DID SOMEONE STEAL THE ENGINE WHILE I WAS TALKING TO THAT NICE LADY BEHIND ME?”

Meanwhile, the light turned red again.

Then he shut the front cover and as he walked back toward the driver’s door looking surprised and puzzled, the woman yelled at him, “The engine is in the BACK of your car, you idiot!!!”

He pretended he couldn’t hear her: “What’s that?” he asked, as he walked closer to her car.


Bob stammered, in an apologetic and surprised tone as he approached her window again, “Really?!? It’s new... I didn’t realize.... I wondered why the engine compartment was empty.... Thank you!” So he dutifully walked to the back of his car and opened the rear cover and peered inside while tugging at his beard.

Meanwhile, the light had changed to green again.

As Bob stood there looking at his engine, the gentle lady was becoming noticeably more distressed. “WILL YOU GO, YOU ASSHOLE?!?” she shouted, and she began backing up her car (there was no one behind her) and checking her mirror as if to go around him. But traffic was heavy in the non-turn lane, so she couldn’t pull around him.

Bob cheerily chirped, “Oh, Madam, I'm so sorry I've been unable to determine the cause of the problem. Well, let’s just try her again, then!”

Then he shut the back cover, jogged back to the driver’s door, hopped back into his car, cranked the engine, put it in gear and began to move..... and then popped the clutch and stalled the car again. Then, he restarted the engine again just as the light changed to yellow, and continued through the intersection.

The gentle lady behind him had to wait for the third red light.

Do you think the short "time out" helped her feel better?

* * *

Moral of this story: Don’t honk rudely at Bob. He’s very polite.

* * *

Disclaimer, aka, the fine print (because I'm a lawyer, that's why): Miss Manners apparently gave that particular advice (to consult with the honking driver regarding the cause of his/her distress) back when the roads were not filled with raging, gun-toting maniacs; she probably would not advise approaching another driver's window these days. Certainly, you should not try this at home in your big city, or with any "gentle driver" who looks even remotely homicidal. Although you should also keep in mind that the neighbors of homicidal maniacs almost universally state that he "seemed like a nice guy," so if I were you, I wouldn't trust my ability to judge whether someone is a homicidal maniac merely by looking at them in the rearview mirror. In short, this could be a dangerous activity if your "victim" keeps a gun in her glove box, so I don't recommend that you try it. Even though it *was* fun.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reading Miss Manners

Have you ever read “Miss Manners”? She has an advice column in the Washington Post about

... wait for it ...


That seems like it would be awfully dry, but she has such great style and wit, and sprinkles her columns with such fascinating insights into human nature, that in the end you enjoy reading useless (for most of us) information such as the proper way to address letters to foreign heads of state and what to wear if you are invited to a Presidential inauguration.

She also sometimes imparts useful (for most of us) information such as how to politely tell someone "no" and/or “eff-off” and/or "mind your own business," or how to politely respond to boorish jerks in the ... wait for it ... "manner" best designed to bug the crap out of the boorish jerk.

And I find her column particularly entertaining when someone writes in asking her how to tell someone else that they’ve been an ignorant boor, and she carefully and cheerfully and somewhat indirectly (and without ever calling anyone rude names) explains that the writer is, in fact, the ignorant boor in the situation.

I love the fact that she makes very clear that "being polite" does not require sheepishly acquiescing to dumb corporate policies, irritating requests for private information by gossip mongers, or outrageous demands by friends or family to allow them to use your beach house for the entire summer or your car for the afternoon. In fact, she makes it clear that one can and should stand up for oneself when necessary, particularly in the face of rude questions and outrageous demands.

Being polite does, however, require refraining from using rude words and an unkind tone.

Thus, it requires a lot more creativity and resourcefulness to politely stand your ground than it does to jump every time someone demands it or (other extreme) to curse and scream at them to get them to back off.

I've read her column off and on for years. I may not be a better person for it, but I'm definitely more polite.

Check her out.* You might learn something. My friend “Bob” certainly did... I’ll share that story tomorrow.


* I'd provide a link, but you have to log in to read that section of the online paper so the link probably would not work. It's free though, so go ahead and sign up. Just go to and sign up / sign in. Then find Miss Manners in the "Style" section, under columnists, along with my other favorite advice columnist from the Post, Carolyn Hax.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tova Darling's Totally Awkward Tuesdays II (aka "My real name is Simon Cowell")

Once again, I'm participating in Tova Darling's Totally Awkward Tuesdays event.* If you want to participate, too, click on the link and follow the instructions on her blog. Come on! Play along! It's fun!

At one of my prior jobs, we used to have a big potluck "holiday party" once a year. We'd all bring a dish to share, and some folks would put together a program to entertain us -- people singing and playing instruments and such. Some years, the performers were pretty decent. Other years... not so much.

I was sitting in my colleague's office talking with her about the upcoming holiday party and her plans to skip it that year. She said she didn't usually enjoy it, because she didn't like having to pretend to like the entertainment when in fact she found it tolerable at best and painfully bad at worst, and the food generally was merely so-so and high-calorie / diet-busting besides.

She stopped talking sort of abruptly, but did I pick up on the clue? Heck no. I just jumped right in, enthusiastically replying, "Oh, come on, the entertainment can't be as bad as last year's, can it?... (no response)... I mean, there's nowhere to go but "up" from there, right?..... (still no response, but her eyes got a little wider).... I mean, that was rock bottom, this year is bound to be better, right?".... (still no response, just a sort of quick head shake and that wide-eyed stare)....

... and then the dawning realization that there was a reason for my co-worker's lack of response.... and then I turned around to find last year's "star" performer standing in the doorway behind me.

* * * * *

There's really nothing I could have done to make that better, was there?

* * * * *

* Don't start thinking I will do this every week. Because even though I probably do enough awkward things to post these every day, I do have an image of urbane sophistication to maintain, so I can't go posting about *every* doofusy thing I do....

Ok, I admit, it's not about my image. It's just that my memory isn't all that great to begin with (I subscribe to Homer Simpson's theory of memory -- "Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?"), and also because I tend to suppress most of my bad memories of me being awkward, so that I don't crumble into a ball of blubbering self-pity at how horribly socially inept I am.

So the point is, enjoy my awkward stories while they last. Because they might not last!


Monday, March 23, 2009

It's All My Fault. I Never Should Have Used That Turn Signal...

I was driving home from a spring training baseball game the other day and needed to get into the left lane so I could turn left at the next light. There was quite a bit of space between the cars in the left lane, so I put on my blinker, as all good citizens are taught to do in driver's ed.

(I'm not sure why they teach that. It generally causes the opposite of the intended response. And in this case it caused a chain-reaction of events that will lead, directly if not immediately, to my receiving a speeding ticket sometime in the future. It was a bad plan, really.)

Predictably, the fellow who was driving the car I intended to be in front of didn't want me there, so he sped up, as folks often do in response to a blinker on the car in the lane next to them, looking to "close the gap" so there wouldn't be one more car in front of him at the light.

There was a line of cars behind him, all packed pretty close together. I either had to get in the lane in front of him, or I would miss my turn at the light by the time the line of cars passed me.

I took another quick look in my mirror, calculating the odds that he would actually hit me if I went ahead and cut in front of him, despite his obvious opposition to the idea. Since his car was both much nicer (Mercedes sports car) and much smaller than mine, I figured the odds were about 100,000 to 1. So I sped up a little and got in front of him.

But then I remembered the photo radar camera that was approximately 1/10 of a mile ahead. So I slowed down to go the speed limit.

I sympathize with the guy behind me, I really do. I absolutely hate it when people pull in front of me and then slow down.

Then again, we were approaching the traffic light, which was red, so slowing down a bit was actually a pretty good plan. Not to mention the photo radar.

But the fellow behind me was determined to be in front of me at the light, so he hit the accelerator, passed me quickly on the right, cut back in front of me while, for some unknown reason, showing me his middle finger (apparently he was proud of it?), and kept speeding on down the road.... and *flash*!!!

(Did you see it coming?) He got a photo radar ticket. He hit the brakes, but it was too late to avoid the ticket.

Just in time to stop for the (still) red light, though.

One could say that it was Karma theory in action. The Universe was exacting its retribution for his unnecessarily aggressive driving maneuver. Or one could say he got what he deserved.

Either way, I found it terribly amusing that he sped up to at least 55 miles per hour in the 40 mph zone just to pass me so he could slam on his brakes and wait at the red light... and get a photo radar speeding ticket in the interim .... possibly while still showing his (above-average looking?) middle finger to the world.

So I laughed heartily. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

* * *

I have come to realize that was a major error in judgment. Under that same Karma theory, surely, someday soon, I too will get a photo radar speeding ticket....

Will I never learn?


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ranting and Reflecting

As I mentioned yesterday, the airport security folks at BWI have earned an official LegalMist Rant. (But tempered somewhat by an official LegalMist Life Lesson.)

Apparently, a five-year-old with a splint on his arm in an airport is a potential terrorist. As we went through the metal detectors on the way to catch our wonderful flight on Southwest Airlines, they pulled my little guy aside.

The security guy barked orders at me and at my little guy as if we were convicted felons. (Whatever happened to talking to kids with a kind tone, and explaining things to folks in general?)

He barked, with no explanation as to why, "Over there (gesturing)!" "NO, THERE!!" "Wait there!" "DON'T MOVE!" and then after processing a couple more folks through the metal detector, he barked into his walkie-talkie, "NEED A SWAB!"

He processed a couple more folks, then realized we were still waiting, so he barked into his walkie-talkie again, "NEED A SWAB! NOW!")

The gal came over with the swab and asked, "Who?"

He barked "THAT ONE!"

She said, "Him?" (incredulously).

He barked "YES, THAT ONE! SWAB HIM!!"

She said, "Okie-dokie..." And although she seemed somewhat sympathetic, she still did not directly address my little guy or tell him what she was doing, just grabbed his arm and wiped the swab all over the splint. He looked a little scared. I told him not to worry, they just had to check his splint to make sure it was ok.

After a couple more minutes to -- to what? wait for a chemical reaction, I guess? -- to make sure his splint wasn't made of explosives, the security guy said something unintelligible to me.

I said, "Oh, can we go now?"

He said "NO. STAY THERE!!"

Ay yi yi.

A couple more minutes passed, and then the gal came back over with her special light and looked at the splint and went away, all without a word spoken to my little guy.

After processing a couple more folks through the metal detector, the security guy looked at my little guy and barked, "YOU CAN GO NOW!" And so we went.

Now, I am all for safety. And I am not suggesting that the security folks should profile folks or that they should have let us through without the swab just because the kid with the splint was 5 instead of 25. But really, couldn't the guy have taken just a couple of seconds to address me and/or my kid and state in plain language and with a reasonably kind, or a least not unkind, voice, "We need to swab the splint, please just have a seat right there."?

I started to ask for a supervisor so I could complain.

But then I thought of all the times when I get stressed out and bark orders at my kids. In fact, I had barked orders at them earlier that very morning ("GET IN THE CAR! NOW!!), as I tried to hustle everyone out the door to get to the airport on time. It is all too easy to do, when we are focused on getting the job done instead of focused on respecting the rights and feelings of our fellow human beings.

So instead of complaining, I decided to treat this as another one of those life lessons, courtesy of the Karma theory. I had spent the morning barking at my kids, and now I was watching as someone else barked at my kid, and at me. I really got to see how that felt, and how it affected my little guy. He looked scared. And confused. And a little sad.

Wow, I thought. I hope he doesn't feel that way when I'm barking at him.

So instead of complaining, I decided to consider, and attempt to remedy, my own tendency to bark orders when I am stressed. I will try harder to speak to my kids in a respectful tone, even when I am stressed out. My focus really should be on treating my fellow humans with kindness, even while getting the job done. It does not take any longer to say (and even to say loudly, to make sure you are heard, but in a kind tone), "Please get in the car," instead of "GET IN THE CAR! NOW!!).

I also decided to feel sympathy for, rather than anger at, the security guy. He did, actually, look quite stressed. And as I watched, I realized he had a lot of things to think about:

* Crowd control -- i.e., one person at a time through the detector, and making sure folks waited until he was through with one person before they started through.

* Making sure folks (who had ignored the 108 instructional signs posted all over the place in the line before the metal detectors) actually removed their jackets and shoes and placed their watches and cell phones in the bins to go through the x-ray machine before walking through the metal detector. Whatever your feelings about the necessity and/or effectiveness of these rules, the fact is they are the rules and it is this guy's job to enforce them. And the 50% of folks who ignore the signs simply are not helping things move smoothly at the security gate.

* Figuring out what was causing the machine to light up and beep for about every 5th person through the machine. Redirecting them back through to remove the offending item and try again. Explaining that they needed to put the offending item in a bin and send it through the x-ray machine or hand it to the person tending to the x-ray machine.

* Checking each person's boarding pass.

* Pulling aside anyone with "special" conditions that needed further checking, such as my little guy with the splint.

* Trying to answer questions from clueless persons who apparently could not tell that this guy had way too much going on to have time to tell them where the restrooms are.

* Dealing with the language barrier for the 1/5 to 1/4 of travelers who seemed not to speak English.

* Trying to do all this efficiently so that the line through the security station wouldn't take folks an hour to navigate.

* * *

It's a tall order for anyone. I'd probably feel stressed out, too.

I hope the security guy finds a less stressful job. Or that he gets more comfortable with his job so that he doesn't feel as stressed by it. Perhaps then he will stop barking orders and start speaking kindly to people. Perhaps then he will feel happier, too.

* * *

Meanwhile, if you're going through BWI Airport, be warned: the security folks are like Pit Bulls.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

That'll Teach 'Em

Alright, this is hilarious, so I have to share:

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

You can see more ridiculous, hilarious, and just plain awful stuff over at

Movie-Star Look-alike Blogger, LegalMist, Deems Southwest the "Best Airline Ever"

I almost forgot, in all the exictement and busy-ness of returning to work, getting a cast put on my little guy's arm, remembering awkward moments, and reminiscing about wonderful books I've read, that I owe you an update on my opinion of Southwest Airlines after my return trip across the country. So, here's the recap:

The return flight boarded promptly and departed on time, despite rainy weather at BWI.

As we boarded the plane, the pilots invited my kids to take a peek into the cockpit, and cheerfully responded to my little guy's questions about how they could know "which one of all those buttons to push?!?"

The flight attendants were cheerful and kind. They joked around a little, showing that they are human and have a sense of humor.

They listened sympathetically while my little guy told them how he fell off the rope swing and fractured his arm.

They brought us ample snacks (cookies, cheesy crackers, and honey-roasted peanuts -- the usual Southwest fare) and drinks soon after departure, and then offered more several times throughout the flight. (I have to say, though, it's a good thing I brought along some real food, or that might have seemed pretty lame for a 5 hour flight.)

They collected "service items" frequently, but never demanded the return of anything.

And -- here's the best part! -- one of the flight attendants told me I look like Sandra Bullock.


It's not the first time I've heard it, but it's the first time in about two years, so I was starting to think I was getting too old to look like her any longer. But apparently either Sandra is looking older, too, or I don't look as old as I was thinking I might. Either way, it's good for the ego to be told that one looks like a movie star.

So it's official. (Flattery works!) Southwest is now LegalMist's favorite airline EVER!

You should all fly Southwest from now on.

Trust me, it's worth the discount price. :)

* * *

The airport security folks, however, don't get such high marks. Check back tomorrow for my rant about that.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tova Darling's Totally Awkward Tuesdays

I've decided to participate in Tova Darling's "Totally Awkward Tuesdays" event this week. For the rules, as well as Tova Darling's story of the week, go here.

First, a little background:

When I was in high school, I had a paper route. I delivered the Washington Post to about 100 houses in my neighborhood. It was a short route -- around my block and the next block, plus all the little courts and half streets and cul-de-sacs off of both blocks. Just about everyone took the Post, and I found it easier to remember which houses didn't take the paper than to think about which ones did. It was easy work, folks tipped well, and I made a decent amount of money working just about one hour per day.

In college, "registration day" was a big event. This was before the internet revolution, and we had to go to the University's big arena and stand in lines to register for each class we wanted; it took several hours, and there were lots of vendors set up outside the arena.

* * *

So in 1984, I attended the University's big registration day event. Political candidates were giving away buttons and bumper stickers ("Geraldine Ferraro" button, anyone?); vendors were demonstrating their newest boom boxes with am/fm radio and cassette decks (dang I feel old); other vendors were giving free samples of various products and coupons; and the Wall Street Journal had a booth, giving out free papers and hawking subscriptions.

So, being the enterprising young woman that I was, I wandered over to the Wall Street Journal table and asked if they needed a paper carrier.

The man running the booth, "Bob," said he'd consider hiring me if I could show that I could not only deliver, but also sell papers, and asked if I'd consider a fifteen minute "interview" by selling a few papers while he went to get a soda and hit the restroom. I said ok.

So he showed me how to have folks fill out the forms and where to put them in case I sold any, and then he left and I began my sales pitch to the passers-by: "Try the Wall Street Journal for free today, and subscribe now for only $x.xx per month!"

Several minutes later, I hadn't had any takers, and I could see Bob returning across the plaza. I was determined to make at least one sale by the time he returned, so I stepped up my sales pitch: "Free paper! Yes that's right, free today! And only $x.xx per month if you'd like to continue to receive the best paper in the country! You won't beat that deal anywhere!"

So a college kid stopped and asked, "How much did you say it costs?" And I told him, and explained that he didn't have to pay anything today, he just had to sign up, and then they'd send him a bill, and he could cancel anytime within the first month without owing a dime. He looked through the paper and then said he'd prefer to get the local news, so he could have tv listings and such.

I said, "Oh, come on, it's the best newspaper available, and it's only $x.xx per month! Plus, you know you want to get the comics every day!" The kid said, "Well, maybe you're right..." and signed up.

I began my pitch again, and just as the next sucker ... er, I mean, potential subscriber ... was hesitating, Bob returned. I repeated my new-found, very effective "closing line," "Oh, come on, it's the best newspaper available, and it's only $x.xx per month! Plus, you know you want to get the comics every day!"

Bob said, "Uh yeah ... there are no comics in the Wall Street Journal."

* * *

And thus ended my career as a Wall Street Journal saleswoman.

(Bob did, however, hire me to deliver the Journal and the New York Times on campus. I guess he figured I didn't need to know anything about the papers just to deliver them...)

Monday, March 16, 2009

BBC's Top 100 Books

The BBC recently did a list of the 100 best loved books in the U.K. I found the list on Nan's blog at "All the Good Names Were Taken." She notes that the list is on several other blogs, as well, with folks noting which ones they've read. I decided to join the game.

The list is quite eclectic, with children's stories, adult popular fiction, and "classics" that often are assigned in high school or college. Anyway, here's the list, with the ones I've read in bold and italics:

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

I count 39 that I've read. Not too impressive...

Many on the list I haven't read because I have no interest. For others, I've read other books by the same author, just not the listed one (see Roald Dahl). And for still others (such as "The Godfather"), I've seen the movies, just never read the book. Some of them ("Lord of the Flies" -- can't believe I still haven't managed to read it!), I will make a point of reading soon... right after I finish that "Pulitzer Project"! ... which reminds me, I'll have another review posted for that, soon.

How many have you read?

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Superhero Breaks His Arm

A few days ago, my little guy (also known as "Spider-Bat-Super-PowerRanger-Man") fell off the rope swing here at Grandpa's house, possibly while battling the overwhelming forces of evil (or maybe because his sister tried to push him too high on the swing). He cried for a few minutes, and I looked at his arm. It was tender -- possibly bruised? -- but then he went back to playing and seemed to feel fine.

Certainly SpiderBatSuperPowerRanger Man would not admit that his arm bothered him. He had evil dudes to fight!

The next day, he complained a few times about it hurting, and even cried once, when he bumped it or leaned on it, but mostly seemed fine -- again, running and playing and using his arm.

Day after that, same thing.

Yesterday, the arm was still bothering him, so I took him to the urgent care center. Turns out SpiderBatSuperPowerRanger Man has a "buckle fracture" of his arm. The doctor described it as being "like if you bent a chicken bone back and forth, but it didn't break."


Long story short, he'll need a cast, which we'll get after we return to the location of our insurer's "in-network providers" --i.e., Arizona -- on Monday, after school.

They put a splint on it for now, which he has to wear until they remove it to put on the cast.

Wish him luck for a quick and complete arm recovery. He is worried he won't be a very effective superhero with a cast on his arm. ("But Mom! How will I shoot my spider-webs?!")


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Karma Theory for Parents

I am not an expert on Buddhist theory. I took a few classes in college, things like "Tibetan Buddhist Psychology," and "Zen 101." OK, OK, so I majored in religious studies. With a second major in Psychology. But let's not forget that I graduated over 20 years ago, so I've forgotten most of what I learned. (Yikes I feel old). But one thing that stuck with me from Buddhism 101 was the theory of Karma.

It is a more complicated theory than the following (my more knowlegeable Buddhist readers will probably cringe at my explanation), but in layman's terms, the idea is that we live our lives and we die and then we are reborn into this world in a continuing cycle unless / until we are able to attain the state of Enlightenment or "Nirvana," and escape from the cycle of life on Earth.

Additionally, every volitional action ("Karma") we do while we live our lives causes a good or bad effect, reaction, or "shadow" known as "Vipaka" (like good energy or bad energy) in the universe and, once created, this good or bad energy has to be used up before you can achieve the state of Nirvana and escape from the cycle of life on Earth. Or something like that.

I probably mangled it, but that's what I remember reading in my text book. Also there was a lot of stuff about how, as with Christianity and Islam and Hinduism and any other religion you can think of, there are lots of variations on the basic theme and different levels of understanding -- and also that there is much more to Buddhist theory than just Karma and Vipaka.

This "layman's theory" actually explains a lot that Christianity leaves unexplained, though, if you think about it. For example, a real "sticking point" that requires a lot of faith to overcome for a lot of Christians, is the question "How can God be considered good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, and still allow good things to happen to bad people and extremely bad things to happen to good people?" Well, the Karma theory explains this apparent unfairness in life quite well:

If you are a good person in this life, but horrible things are continually happening to you, you are simply using up your "bad energy" or the "bad effects" of your "bad Karma" that you manifested either earlier in this life or possibly in a prior lifetime. This is a good thing, because it will (potentially) allow you to reach the state of Enlightenment.

If you are a bad person in this life, but good things happen to you, it is simply due to the good actions that you engaged in previously, in a prior life. Since you are doing all those bad things now, you are creating bad energy and eventually, in this lifetime or some other one, you will "get what's coming to you."

Also, if you do something bad and immediately experience something bad, you should be glad you are using up that bad energy right away. If you do something good, and then something terrible happens to you, you get to be glad that you are using up that old bad energy, and rest assured that sometime, in this life or a future one, you will get something good that you don't seem to "deserve."

The theory has been popularly interpreted as "what goes around comes around" (either in this lifetime or in another) and is somewhat similar to the Christian idea that "as we sow, so shall we reap." This is a very simplistic explanation of Karma theory, but sufficient for my purposes today.

For parents, here is what this means:

Suppose you are at the park with your little angels and you see some other child (you'd be tempted to say "brat" but be careful...) throwing a total hissy fit over something stupid. For example, his mom said he could not have a lollipop while he climbs on the monkey bars, and he immediately starts jumping up and down screaming "MOMMY I WANT THE LOLLIPOP!!" and then when she says no again he flings himself on the ground flailing his arms and screaming at the top of his lungs, "I WANT IT I WANT IT I WANT IT I WANT IT I WANT IT I WANT IT...... NOOOO FAIIRRRR!!!!! YOU'RE THE WORST MOMMY EVER AND I HATE YOU!!!!! WAAAAAH AHHHHHHHHHH WAAAHHH...." get the idea... you are shocked -- appalled, even -- that any child would act that way in public, and secretly smirking because your kids are playing nicely on the other side of the playground...

BUT YOU MUST NOT... I repeat, because this is important ... ABSOLUTELY DO NOT turn to your friend / relative / neighbor / fellow bench warming parent and say something like, "Wow, I would never put up with that from my kids." This judgmental (bad) action, undertaken with an attitude of superiority (i.e., engaging in bad Karma) will immediately create that bad Vipaka which will come back to bite you in the butt -- and probably sooner rather than later -- so that soon (possibly sooner than you can imagine) you will be the horrified and embarassed person standing near a screaming, flailing, bratty kid who you are trying really hard to pretend is not yours while at the same time trying really hard to usher him out of the park / restaurant / store / museum and to your car.

One more thing:

If you fail to heed my advice, then, when the inevitable happens, just remember to be thankful that you are using up that bad energy right away so that, with proper Buddhist training, you can learn to stop engaging in volitional actions (Karma) and creating bad energy (Vipaka), so that you can achieve Enlightenment or "Nirvana" and escape the cycle of suffering that we call life here on Earth.

* * * * *
The fine print (because I'm a lawyer, that's why):

I do hope that if you are a Buddhist you have not been offended, either by my probably inadequate explanation or by my use of the Karma theory to illustrate a common parenting mistake. Although I am not a practicing Buddhist, I do often find myself thinking of Karma theory and how it might apply in my own life, and trying to correct my own impulse for bad Karma. I also hope that if you are a Christian, you have not been offended by my probably inadequate phrasing of the fundamental question of God's goodness as that relates to suffering in this world. Although I do not attend Christian churches often, I do often find myself thinking of Christian teachings and how they might apply in my own life, and trying to correct my own impulse toward "sin." I am not very good at any of this.

If you are an athiest, well, I hope you had a good laugh and I assume you are not offended at all.

In summary, no offense to any religion, philosophy, or world view was intended, and I hope none was taken.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Southwest Airlines Redeems Itself, Becomes LegalMist's New Favorite Airline

Let's start the week's entertainment with a big shout-out for Southwest Airlines. This is a rather long post, so go get yourself a fresh cuppa coffee and a good snack, and settle in a comfy chair.

Ok, are you ready?

Great. Because first, I have to give you a rather long back story about how awful Southwest was 6 years ago. I had a terrible experience with them -- it was so bad I swore I'd never fly them again.

My daughter and I were flying and I wanted to use frequent flyer miles. At the time, Southwest used only a voucher system for the free tickets -- you had to go to the airport with your paper voucher and get your boarding card. They could not send an e-ticket. So they said they would mail the tickets.

A few days before the flight, the tickets had not arrived. So I called the reservations line and they transferred me to customer service, and customer service said, essentially, "oops, we forgot to mail them." To their credit, they agreed to FedEx them overnight at that point. But they wouldn't send the vouchers to my home address because they required a signature for the FedEx and no one would be home to sign for them. They said they would send to my office address so that I could sign for them. But the tickets didn't arrive in Thursday's 3 p.m. FedEx delivery.

The flight was Saturday morning. If the tickets did not arrive by Friday afternoon in the FedEx delivery, I would not get them in time for my flight. I wanted to be sure they had been sent.

So I called the customer service department to ask what happened. At about 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon, Phoenix time. And I got a recording that said, essentially, "We are closed. Please call back during business hours, which are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time."

For my overseas readers, Eastern Standard Time is either 2 hours or 3 hours ahead of Arizona time. (It varies depending on the time of year because Arizona doesn't participate in the ridiculous twice-yearly clock-changing ritual due to daylight savings time -- we have enough daylight in Arizona, thank you very much...). Either way, by 3:30 p.m. in Phoenix, they were definitely closed for the day.

Uh, what was the name of that airline again?

Oh, yeah. SOUTHWEST. As in, "Southwestern United States," presumably.

The last time I checked, the Southwestern United States does not use Eastern Standard Time. They use Pacific Standard Time. Or perhaps Mountain Standard Time. Depending on which state and what time of year it is.

Shouldn't the customer service department at an Airline named "Southwest" be open until 5 p.m. Pacific time?!? At least? (Or maybe they should have named the airline "SouthEAST"?) I was peeved.

I tried calling the corporate office. It was closed, too.

I called the reservations system. They said they didn't know anything and couldn't help with the original tickets, but they could sell me some new tickets -- e-tickets -- at $500-plus per ticket and then I could ask for a refund when my other tickets came. I asked, will they definitely give me a refund? They said they didn't know. Great, thanks, very helpful.

So the next day, Friday, I called the customer service department.

Let me tell you, it is a good thing I have a sense of humor because I was able to laugh at the fact that I was on hold for twenty-five minutes waiting to talk to someone, while listening to their muzak and announcement loop.

What made me laugh about that, you ask?

Their recorded announcement at the time consisted of a soft woman's voice interrupting the muzak occasionally to say things in a "soothing" tone -- things like "Are you stressed out? Annoyed? Angry? Did you know that deep breathing exercises have been scientifically shown to reduce stress and anger? Please... try it with me now.... Breeeathe in ...... thaaat's right, now, hoooold for five seconds..... goooood.... now, breeeathe out sloooowly." I swear I am not making this up.

(Tip O' the Day for you, corporate America: A better method of reducing your customers' stress levels would be to have plenty of good customer service representatives who answer the telephone quickly, during reasonable business hours, and actually help the customers, rather than trying to teach us "deep breathing exercises" with muzak playing in the background.)

I did not do the deep breathing exercises. I was too busy laughing. So I guess, in its own way, the technique worked to calm me down.

But then they answered the phone, and I quickly lost my sense of humor again. I asked what happened to the tickets they promised to send me. They said, "Oh, well we sent the the tickets to [my home address (which was the billing address I had given them for the credit card, not the shipping address)], but they couldn't deliver them because no one was there to sign for them."

I said, "I know no one was home. That is why you promised to send them to my office address!"

They checked their computer notes and said, essentially, "oops."

But, not to worry, they said, surely FedEx will deliver the tickets today, right?

I said, well perhaps, but no one is home today either. And I don't know what time they deliver things at my home address. So, suppose I go home right now and wait around until 5 p.m., and then it turns out they already tried to deliver the package today, or that they don't re-deliver until Saturday? By then, your office will be closed, and then how will I fix the problem of having no tickets?

They said, essentially, "Well, we can't help you."

I asked, can't you email me something, or call your representatives in Phoenix, or fax something to your Phoenix office or to the Phoenix airport and have them issue some tickets, or something?

They said, "No, because those free tickets might still be delivered, and then you would have two free sets of tickets. You can buy new tickets, and then when your free tickets arrive, you can send those in to [corporate address] along with your receipt for the tickets you bought and request a refund." I asked, "If I request a refund, will they give me one?" They said, "I dunno. I think so."

"You 'think' they will? So I'm supposed to spend $1100 and then hope you'll give me a refund?!? When it was your mistake? What if they don't give me a refund? Am I just "out" the $1100?"

They promised to make sure I would get a refund. They would not, however, tell me their name so I could say, later, "but so-and-so promised a refund." I was suspicious, but didn't have much choice, so I bought new tickets at the expensive last-minute price.

Big mistake. The flight was awful.

I was traveling with my daughter who was four at the time.

The flight was delayed, and they did the typical late-flight-routine at the airport, telling us the flight would be delayed "fifteen minutes," and then fifteen minutes later telling us it would be delayed another "fifteen minutes," and then another "fifteen minutes" and then another... If they had said "one hour delay" the first time, we could have gone to the restaurant and had breakfast and come back. Instead, we had to hang around the gate with my daughter getting bored and hungry and thirsty and whiny.

Just when I was starting to think it would have been faster to drive to our destination, they let us board the plane.

The flight attendants were apparently feeling tired and/or they were just mean. My request for a blanket was met with a cold stare and a "We're out of them." (Not even a perfunctory "sorry.")

On our relatively short, one and a half hour flight, they waited until an hour into the flight to take drink orders. To be fair to them, the flight was rather bumpy, so perhaps they were waiting until we got past the turbulence so we wouldn't all spill our drinks in our lap. But meanwhile we were mighty thirsty, having already sat around at the airport gate, far from the water fountains and restaurants, unable to go get a drink of water for an hour past the scheduled boarding time. And they refused to provide more than one "Dixie Cup" sized drink. Usually airlines will let you have the whole can or bottle of whatever they are serving. Not on this flight. One Dixie Cup per person. No more.

And by the time they handed out the drinks, they were starting the descent. So they came around collecting cups less than five minutes after they handed them out. My daughter had barely had any of her water, and I wanted her to keep it so she would have something to sip on during the descent, to help with the air-pressure / inner-ear pressure problem that she always has on airplanes. So the flight attendant said, "May I take your cup?" And I said, "No, thank you."

One would think that would have been the end of the exchange, but not on this flight from H***.

The flight bi... I mean, attendant, said, "Ma'am, I need you to give that to me now."

I asked, nicely, "Can't I keep it so my daughter will have something to sip on, to help her ears during the landing?"

She said, "No, you CAN'T keep it. I HAVE TO collect it NOW!"

I said (trying to address all the possible objections I could think of), "It's just water. It's not going to be sticky if it spills. I promise to throw away the cup after the flight. It's a tiny plastic cup and it won't hurt anyone if the landing is bumpy and it goes flying."

She said, "Ma'am, that doesn't matter. It is a SERVICE ITEM and I HAVE TO COLLECT IT!"

I am not proud of the fact that I took out all my frustration of the past two days on that flight attendant. Nor am I proud that I set such a bad example for my daughter, arguing over something so trivial with a person who was just trying to do her job as she apparently understood it. It would probably have been the right thing to do, to just hand over the cup and say, "fine" after the first time she said, essentially, "no you can't keep it." But something about the flight attendant's snotty tone, combined with the ridiculousness of what she was demanding and the complete lack of customer service over the past couple of days just rubbed me the wrong way. I tried one more time to be nice, but I had already decided that she would get that cup of water back only if she pried it from my cold, dead hands.

So, I said, as nicely as I could muster, "Um, I'd really like to keep it."

She said (face turning red, very angrily), "You HAVE TO give it to me now! It is FEDERAL LAW! YOU CAN BE ARRESTED FOR DISOBEYING A FLIGHT ATTENDANT'S INSTRUCTIONS."

I got angry back and asked, loudly enough to be sure other passengers heard this one, but softly enough so I couldn't be accused of yelling at a flight attendant "Are you really saying you're going to have me arrested for keeping a small cup of water so my kid has something to drink so her ears won't hurt during the landing?!? Please, tell me you're joking."

She said, "Ma'am, I am NOT joking. I need you to GIVE ME THE CUP NOW or I WILL HAVE TO REPORT YOU TO THE AUTHORITIES."

I smiled condescendingly and shook my head and sighed and said, "Knock yourself out, lady. Call the FBI and have me arrested when we land if you like -- I'm sure the press will have a field day with that one! -- but you are NOT getting this cup of water!!" And I turned my back to her and simply ignored her as she repeated, "Ma'am, excuse me, Ma'am, you HAVE TO give me the cup...." (I know, I know. Petty and childish. As I said, I'm not proud of all this.)

Instead of responding further to the flight attendant, I talked to my daughter in a soft tone (so the flight attendant couldn't hear what I was saying) and I told her that I knew I was being silly and obnoxious and that she (my daughter) should *not* act this way, that she should be a better person than her mom was being, currently, but that I felt strongly that the flight attendant was being unreasonable and I was just fed up with this airline after the past couple of days of frustration, and that, truly, I was quite sure they would not actually arrest me for this (she was pretty worried about that), and that I was sorry that she had to see the whole exchange.... (Gosh I set a pretty bad example sometimes. I wonder if she remembers it?)

I half expected an "Airplane" type incident, in which the flight attendants would line up and slap/hit me repeatedly until I complied and/or until they could pry the cup from my cold, dead hands, but thankfully *that* didn't happen!

Instead, the pilot announced that the flight attendants should be seated for landing. The snotty flight attendant left.

As we walked off the plane, the flight attendants ignored us and talked to each other, chatting about their weekend plans. I tried to place the cup in the trash can, but they all ignored me and stood blocking the trash can, so I carried it off the plane and tossed it in a wastebasket in the airport.

The highlight of that flight was that I did not get arrested when we landed.

The return flight was delayed, too, and also had surly flight attendants. I swore I would never fly on that airline again.

But a couple of years later I was looking for flights and the tickets on Southwest were half the cost of the closest competitor, so I broke down and bought tickets and prepared for the worst. But that flight was fine, and the flight attendants were reasonably nice, and so I've continued to fly with them on occasion, and I've had no other major problems -- a couple of late flights, maybe, but nothing major.

And I have to say, Saturday's flight was fantastic (well, as good as a coach-class flight can be, anyway).

They do everything, even free tickets, on the internet and by email these days, so there were no problems getting the tickets.

You can log in online 24 hours ahead of time and get your boarding passes so you don't have to wait in the super-long line at the airport to get your boarding passes.

They have streamlined their "festival seating" process so you don't have to stand in the line for an hour to try to be near the front of your boarding group in order to get a seat in the same row with your kids/husband.

The flight started boarding exactly on time. The staff was friendly.

The plane was full, as airplanes always seem to be these days (remember the "good old days" when you had a hope of having the entire row to yourself, or at least an empty middle seat? Those days are long gone...). But the flight attendants were cheerful and brought everyone drinks quickly, and let you keep the entire can / bottle of whatever you ordered -- and then they came around later and offered more!

They have never offered full meals on Southwest, but these days, for longer flights, you do get crackers and/or cookies in addition to the pack of peanuts, and they cheerfully let you bring aboard whatever other food you want to bring.

They gave me a deck of cards so I could play with the kids on the flight. It's been years since any airline has given me a deck of cards!

The flight attendants had a sense of humor and were friendly, even talking and joking around with me and my son as we waited in line so he could use the bathroom on board.

They didn't demand a return of all "service items" on the descent, so I was cheerfully allowed to keep my little cup of water in case my son needed it.

And they seem to have fixed that air pressure issue anyway, so we didn't even need the water; my ears barely even "popped" on the way down, and my kids had no problems either.

The plane arrived half an hour early at our destination, and they were organized enough to have found an open gate so we didn't waste that "extra" time we had gained in the air by waiting on the tarmac for a gate to open.

They smiled and said "goodbye" and "thanks for flying with us" as we departed. The one flight attendant we had talked to while waiting in line for the bathroom even remembered the conversation and said, "Have a great time at grandpa's house!" to my little guy.

They unloaded the luggage quickly so that we were driving away from the airport less than twenty minutes after landing.

I didn't need to call their customer service department, so I don't know whether they still try to teach their customers deep breathing exercises while they wait on hold... but that was so funny I almost hope they kept that feature!

All I can say is, wow, what a change from 6 years ago. I'm even looking forward to the return flight.

So, kudos to Southwest for solving many of their customer service problems. If the return flight is as nice as Saturday's flight was, it truly will be my new favorite airline. In fact, I'm so confident that it will be a great flight that I'm telling you all right now, you should definitely fly Southwest any chance you get. They are practically always the least expensive airline, and now they actually have friendly flight attendants and good service!

On the other hand, if the return flight is as bad as the one 6 years ago, I'll be sure to let all 21 of you know about it so you can avoid them in the future.

(That'll teach 'em!!)

Monday, March 9, 2009

I'm back, with yet another smarty pants kid story...

Wow. I was gone a while, wasn't I?

I even lost a "follower" while I was gone.

Bummer. I hate to disappoint people so badly.

I'm sorry I was AWOL for so long. It was a busy week. My sister in law had surgery and needed some assistance, then my brother in law was visiting from California, plus it was the week before Spring Break which means we had to attend parent-teacher conferences for the kids, and my husband, who is a teacher, had to stay late at school to conduct parent-teacher conferences for the kids in his class, leaving me in charge of the entire evening routine with our kids. And the kids and I are spending Spring Break in Virginia with the grandparents, so there were loads of laundry to do and lots of packing happening to get ready for the trip.

And I do mean lots of packing.

The average temperature in Virginia in March is, by Phoenix standards, very cold. Which means we had to bring our sweaters and heavy jackets and long pants. But this weekend, it is in the 70's (low 80's today, I think), so we also had to bring some warm-weather clothes. And enough of both to get through the week so we don't have to spend our time here doing laundry.

But hey, I'm back now, and I'll try to provide a little entertainment this week. So if you un-followed me (you know who you are!), I hope you'll come back. I miss you already....

I'm going to start the week off with yet another annoying smart-alec kid story.

(Depending on the level of your interest in these stories, you may feel free to interpret that as "annoying story about a smart-alec kid" or "(amusing) story about an annoying smart-alec kid" Your choice.)

Why another smart-alec kid story? Because my kids have been in rare smarty-pants form these past few weeks. I hope it's not because they are reading my blog and thinking I am amused by their sarcastic and completely disrespectful remarks. (Because I am, but I don't want them to know that!)

And tomorrow I'll move on to other topics for the rest of the week, I promise!

My daughter, despite being a master smarty-pants, has her teachers pretty well fooled. They always seem to think she is a polite, well-behaved child.

So last week, on the way home from yet another parent-teacher conference in which the teacher pronounced my daughter a "delight" to have in class, my husband was teasing my daughter, saying that she really ought to do something bad at school (you know, like she does at home) so we'd have something to talk about at these parent-teacher conferences, because he was bored and a little annoyed with always hearing about her great attitude and great behavior.

She said, "You are so nefarious."

Husband said, "What do you mean, I'm 'nefarious'? I don't sleep late!"

She said, in a tone that implied that she thought, but simply could not believe, that her father wasn't kidding and really did not know what such a "simple" word meant: "No, it's not about sleeping! It means 'wicked' or 'villainous.' It was our 'word of the day' at school last week."

Husband replied, "Ooooh, so now you think you're better than me, with your big twenty-five cent vocabulary words!"

She said, "No, I thought I was better than you even before I started using big twenty-five cent vocabulary words!"


See what I mean? Smarty pants. I can hardly wait until she's a teenager.


And honestly, I have no idea where she learned to be so sarcastic... no idea at all...