Monday, June 27, 2005

Another Florida Swimmer Becomes Fish Food

What do I have to do to persuade people to stop swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, two of Florida's biggest sources of water tragedies? (I don't feel personally responsible for the Pacific or Indian Oceans. I believe other busybodies have been assigned to worry about those.) There is no question that large bodies of water are beautiful. I love looking at them! And boating upon them. And walking along their shores, admiring the pounding surf. But must we actually wade in and advertise ourselves as Fish Food? Especially when Florida has no shortage of nice clean swimming pools to swim in? The most recent case was the 14-year-old who was "boogie boarding" at a Panhandle Beach. (Boogie Boarding is like "snowboarding" only wetter.) The teen was attacked by an approximately 6-8 foot long shark, who persisted in following her bleeding body 100 yards to the shore as another surfer tried to rescue her. (And he was more than a little concerned for his own limbs as he attempted this heroic maneuver.) I realize you can't "catch a wave" in a pool, but neither will you be bitten by a shark. A local Lakeland woman had her arm gnawed on about a month ago as she was wading near Clearwater Beach. I guess that shark only wanted an appetizer! Sharks aren't the only reason to avoid the ocean or gulf as your footbath. There's also jellyfish! Stingrays! Hurricane debris! Fish poop! Residue from the Exxon Valdez spill! Pollution from cruise lines! I could go on, but I think I'm developing a fungus. I was on a relaxing tour boat in the gulf a few weeks ago. (Note: There was a whole boat between me and the water.) The tour guide mentioned that you have a greater chance of dying from being hit by a falling coconut than from a shark attack. Well pardon me! I think I'd rather go mano a mano with the coconut! At least I could wear a bike helmet if I was really having anxiety about it. A bike helmet would do you absolutely no good in the midst of a shark attack, other than causing the shark indigestion. Of course all the spokespersons are chiming in about how rare shark attacks are, and "this isn't a trend," and the fatality rate is ONLY 2.4 percent if you do get attacked by the shark. Well I'm sure the 14-year-old's family is relieved to know their daughter is not Part of a Trend. And I don't care about the fatality rate -- I STILL don't want stitches anywhere on my body due to non-fatal shark attacks. So I think Florida's oceans and gulfs are there to be enjoyed. From a distance. ** Update** Today's news tells us a teenage boy was bitten and critically wounded in yet another shark attack near the Florida panhandle beaches. This kid was also "boogie boarding" or in shark parlance, "The Human Au Jus Jitterbug." Well my blog is here as a public service. Anyone who values their limbs and other important body parts would do well to stop by and heed my free safety advice. UPDATE of the UPDATE: Most recent reports now say an Austrian tourist was wading in chest-deep water near Ft. Meyers, Florida, and sustained a shark bite on the ankle. It was not life-threatening...doctors think the tendon and ligament damage can be repaired. Buddy, you're lucky the shark didn't bite you in the chest and cause Nipple Damage! Perhaps he can be forgiven since English probably isn't his native tongue. Still, you have to be a bit dazed to miss the daily reports on these attacks, along with the file footage of what Shark Feeding Frenzies look like. (basically like toddlers tearing into a birthday cake at a party. The cakes never survive the attacks, I assure you.) So forget the warnings! If you WANT to be fish food, go ahead, wade right in! Just be sure to sprinkle a little tenderizing sunscreen on yourself before entering the water so the shark doesn't have to floss when he's done with you. This warning has been brought to you by SHarks for the Unpopular Treatment of Us People. (SHUT UP)

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Lack of Juice Kills Lakeland Man

On the front page of my local paper was one of those administrative tragedies. Ultimately "administrative" is a nice way to say "preventable." A man brought his terminally ill father home to live with him so he would not have to spend his remaining time on this earth in a nursing home. (He had recently been transferred from hospice care at home to a nursing home due to his wife's ill health.) The 86-year-old patient had emphysema. But not for long. The very next day the local utility cut off electricity to the house because the owner was behind on his bills. That rendered the man's oxygen machine useless. He soon died, courtesy of the local electric company. Well that's one way to show 'em! I"ll be the man's son ran right out and paid his electric bill as soon as he got off the phone with the undertaker. After all, you can't have people back to the house after a wake if you've got no electricity. The finger foods won't hold up! Now it's true the man was terminally ill, thus wouldn't have lived all that much longer anyway. But at the same time, the action of the electric company seemed, well, abrupt. Wouldn't you rather die at God's discretion rather than the electric company's? I'd sooner take my chances with St. Peter as the bouncer checking identification at the Pearly Gates. I wouldn't want to wait for the electric company to buzz me in. Now I don't want to be too hard on the electric company. (To the point of not naming them publicly even though everyone in town knows who the culprit is.) Namely because they supply MY electricity, and I'd hate for an administrative "whoopsie" to leave me without air conditioning during the hottest part of the summer. The utility company is a monopoly. Sort of like the sun. You can complain about it, but you are also completely dependent on it. So no matter how much moaning we do about the rates or the weather, we still want our energy-producing entity to be there the next day doing its job. Still, I can't help but play Utility Lineman's Advocate in this situation. And for all I know the electric company may have tried all these avenues and cut off the electricity as a last resort. (It was certainly the 86-year-old man's Last Resort, anyway.) Here are some non-fatal ideas on how to handle the billing problem: 1) Send a registered letter. Put in PLAIN ENGLISH (not Bureaucratese) the fact that if a payment is not made, then by such and such a date the electric will be turned off. Offer instructions on how a payment plan may be worked out. Emphasize that making SOME payment may forestall drastic measures. 2) Call up the owner. Explain that workers will be coming out THIS WEEK to turn off the electricity if a payment is not made. Mention the payment plan idea. If you get an answering machine, label the message as being EXTREMELY URGENT. 3) Have the workers knock on the door before turning off the electricity. Explain to the homeowner or door answerer that the electricity is about to be shut off. Tell them the job will begin in half an hour so they may have time to put their food in coolers, or call 911 if they happen to have medical issues. Simple! After three major hurricanes last year, surely no one can claim to be ignorant of the fact that people with plug-in medical devices had to make arrangements in case of a power outage. Isn't this taught in Turning Off the Electricity 101? But sometimes utilities can be impervious to bad publicity, since it isn't like they can be fired, jailed or ostracized. You can badmouth the sun or the electric company all you want, and it doesn't really have an effect. Perhaps they will be sending a sympathy card with their next bill. Who knows, maybe they will even spring for flowers. There's never enough time to knock on the customer's door. But plenty of time to attend a funeral service.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Making the Playroom Safe for Democracy

Competition has always been a hallmark of my family when I was growing up. It has been said that it isn't a Fun Reilly Vacation unless a winner is declared at the end. So it shouldn't have surprised me that my brother Geeto introduced a competitive element to my sons' lives when he visited recently on a trip to Florida with his brother-in-law Dave Baran. They were dropping off a car at a condo in Venice and then would be returning to Chicago. We told the kids they could call Uncle Geeto's brother-in-law "Mr. Dave." (We decided to go with the southern custom of Honorific First Name rather than the northern tradition of Honorific Last Name.) The children didn't take to this name, possibly because they already know "Mr. Dave" from up the street who is their friends' father. So instead the 3-year-old refers to them as "Uncle Geeto and his partner." Haha! Back in the good old days this would've given a connotation of doubles tennis. Now, however, it sounds like they are only a piece of paper away from a Civil Union and a nice blurb in the Society Section. Uncle Geeto was admiring my kids' extensive Rescue Heroe collection. They have chuckleworthy names like Holden Breath, Marshall Artz, Maureen Biologist and Will E. Stop. They are joined by an elite (and growing) band of Ninja Turtles who seem to go by the same four names, but have hundreds of different plastic microscopically-sized accessories. Geeto wanted to know what the kids DID with the heroes and turtles. Basically they posed them, sent them around on rescue missions and used them to defend the household against assorted strangers, invaders and fully-imagined monsters. Well. That wasn't nearly exciting enough for my brother. Worse, it was not competitive. There was no way to tell who was winning! Geeto shook his head with dismay. "Have you guys ever played...WAR?" My 5-year-old mentioned the card game, but Uncle Geeto was having none of that. War is a game played with action figures, inlcuding Rescue Heroes, Ninja Turtles and Biblical Action Warriors we had gotten them for Easter. Uncle Geeto helped the kids stand all the action figures on opposing sides of the playroom, with a carpeted No Man's Land separating them. "Now," Geeto explained triumphantly, "You KILL all the guys!" He handed my five-year-old a rubber ball about the size of a grapefruit, instructing him to knock down as many of the 3-year-old's army as possible. The kids loved this idea. There would be throwing! Killing! Knocking down! Debris flying into adjacent rooms! Having such juicy targets at close range, and so many of them, seemed to affect their aim. The 5-year-old finally succeeded in knocking down multiple warriors with each toss, but the three-year-old somehow bounced the ball between all the guys. Finally in frustration he hurled the ball straight down on his own men. Egads! We redirected him across the No Man's Land. The adults (and I use that term loosely) cheered each kill, so this only increased the bloodlust. They took turns until only the 5-year-old had a man or two left standing. (Maureen Biologist may have been a conscientious objector.) He was declared the winner. Thank you, Uncle Geeto, for introducing competition, war and killing into the household! I have to's more fun than watching them rescue stuffed animals.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Note About Your Privacy...

Oh dear. It seems that hackers have accessed more than 40 million credit card numbers. These numbers are now at risk of being used for crimes ranging from fraudulent transactions, bogus account set-up and outright identity theft. The company involved now admits it was keeping the numbers for research purposes. And in case you were wondering, you, the consumer, cannot call up the card company to ask if yours is one of the stolen numbers. They won’t tell you. And obviously they are not going to take the initiative to inform you if your number was on the list. So you are stuck waiting for some thief to start buying plasma screen TVs, overpriced exercise equipment and male enhancement products in your name. Yup! All those fancy crosscut shredders are doing us no good, as banks, credit information clearinghouses and various government entities are leaking our precious personal information and financial data faster than the Hindenburg lost hydrogen. The economic result could be equally explosive. Let’s see, 40 million cards. That’s about one of every seven Americans. Of course some consumers could have more than one card, so they could have double or triple the fun of trying to track their credit histories and hoping that if anyone is taking a mortgage in their name, that at least it’s beachfront. For years we’ve been advised to shred our receipts and statements before consigning them to the trash. Hold onto those social security numbers for dear life, only yielding them reluctantly when ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY, like whey you’re interacting with any of zillions of health care providers, dealing with a utility, registering for school or signing up for tee ball. You don’t want to disclose the number? Fine. Then go downtown to the main office with your driver’s license during abbreviated business hours and wait in a VERY long line so some clerk can roll her eyes at you. I figure thousands of people have seen my social security number. Its confidentiality is based solely on the personal integrity of each and every one of those thousands of people, and any friends or relatives they may have. The people who collect these numbers generally aren’t in the highest level jobs to begin with. It’s usually a person who may very well be in a different job, with a different company or in an entirely unrelated industry by this time next year. So there is little incentive to protect your personal information in the interest of career longevity, or out of company loyalty. It all hinges on whether it's an honest person handling your sensitive information. If that person doesn’t personally know how to get away with identity theft or credit card fraud, well, there’s a black market out there for hot consumer credit and identity information. You can just sell the lists, and no one will be the wiser. Frank Abingdale, Jr., a pioneering identity thief from the 1960s whose life and escapades have been immortalized in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Catch Me If You Can, is himself afraid of identity theft. He estimates a crook can come up with anyone’s social security number using internet tools in about 20 minutes, including his own. When these crimes occur, why does it seem like the consumers are the ones who are punished, left on their own to repair credit histories, restore reputations, clear up any misunderstandings about criminal wrongdoing, make zillions of phone calls, send zillions of registered letters, and even then not be guaranteed things will be fixed in a few years, if ever? Why should it be easier for someone else to pretend to be you, than for you to get everything straightened out? After all, I carry my fingerprints everywhere I go (at the ends of my hands), and sometimes I can even reproduce my signature on command. Can’t we at least blame the credit card companies for being so free with their credit that a toddler could sign up for a gold card? For being so careless with information that Nigerians are running ponzi schemes and purchasing yellowcake uranium in our names? For charging interest rates so high that anyone who carries a balance basically gives up and decides the only way out of debt is to contract a life-threatening disease? Why should WE have to track down the information thieves and attempt to fix everything? Why can’t businesses be responsible for ascertaining that the person obtaining credit or buying the big-ticket item is absolutely who they say they are? No picture I.D., no transaction. Then make the penalties for using fraudulent IDs so stiff than an offender would rather burn a Koran in Tehran than face the music at home. One news anchor started agitating for "iris scans" right in the middle of a live interview! So I assume this topic has touched a nerve, at least among people who have credit cards. That excludes possibly the Amish and certain categories of great-grandparents. However don't confuse my concern with willingness to have a theft-proof biometric chip inserted anywhere on my person. I'd sooner pay cash, or barter my Pizza Hut coupons. There was a recent accident where we saw live coverage of a downed helicopter in New York City’s East River. The helicopter was filled with credit card company executives! As a humanitarian aside, I am glad everyone survived the crash. But perhaps a bunch of credit card company executives going underwater in the East River is symbolic of where this country is headed with its credit and identity theft problems. Upside down and gasping for breath.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Buffalo's Summer Meltdown

No, no. I'm not talking about the tax problem. Or the local government problem. Or the budget deficit problem. Anyway those things aren't PROBLEMS. They are just pervasive "issues" kind of like normal back strain, only recently Buffalo and Western New York have been laid out on the couch, not quite sure who is going to fetch nourishment from the fridge. We'll get through this too, maybe with some help if they send some friendly governmental chiropractors from Albany to work us over. No, the meltdown was weather-related. An honest-to-goodness heat wave was generated by Mother Nature, and this after two consecutive summers that resembled Portland on a dreary day. Last week's mid-June weather gave WNY a 5-day period in which the average temperature was 86.5 degrees, with a high of 90, and I'm sure it felt a whole lot hotter than that. Let's face it, there are many summers in which it NEVER reaches that magic 90 degree mark in Buffalo. (And technically it isn't even "summer" yet.) So I'm sure the weather anomaly took Western New Yorkers by surprise. When I was growing up in Buffalo, we awaited heat. Longed for it. Begged for it. Prayed for it. Celebrated it if it arrived, even if for a few hours. The hotter the better. We would wish it would someday top 100 degrees, just to know what that felt like without sticking your face in an oven. (Now that I am in Florida I know what 100 feels like. It's like sticking your face in an oven.) As kids we even had these weird outfits called "sunsuits." These were for girls, not boys. They sort of resembled a bathing suit, but were puffier and had elastic at the legs and oftentimes a tie at the neck. Which you had to be careful not to let boys untie. The purpose, I think, was to develop tan lines without running around in your bathing suit all day. Because if you stayed in your bathing suit too long, mom was sure to snap, "I hope you're not going to RUN AROUND in that bathing suit all day." Like it was the decadent equivalent of Hugh Hefner's bathrobe, or something, with the implication that we would never clean our rooms or set the table ever again. The thing about Buffalo is that its summer weather is pretty fantastic. It doesn't often get hot enough to make you uncomfortable. So no one ever had air conditioning, and heat waves prompted emergency measures. My parents are extremely fond of a geothermal concept called The Crossbreeze. This involves opening every window in the house until you get an effect where the curtains will start waving in the breeze. This means you have generated the coveted "Crossbreeze." A Crossbreeze is a full substitute for air conditioning. You just sit there letting the hot, humid air blow over you, and you will never need emergency services to cart you off for heat stroke. I have no idea if crossbreeze is a Western New York term, a South Buffalo one, or something peculiar to my parents. Probably I should look it up in the dictionary and see if it's even a word. I have caught my parents making a few up. My parents never had a car with air conditioning until they bought a used one that was my uncle's when I was well into my highschool years. Even though the car was older and would stall out if it went through puddles, it was like owning a luxury vehicle! It felt like we were Mr. and Mrs. Howell only they had six kids. I myself never owned a car with air conditioning until I moved to Florida. In fact I had to give up my beloved Saturn for that very reason. It seems odd to me now, but the schools weren't air conditioned either. (I'm not sure if they are now.) So when we'd get some hotter days in May or June, the heavy windows would be opened. For some reason, the windows did NOT have screens. So this usually resulted in students taking surreptitious looks at a winged, stinging insect until it became obvious to the teacher that the six-legged thing was more interesting than the lecture on Iroquois Indians. At which point a shooing or exterminating operation was mounted. I rarely used sunscreen when I lived in Buffalo. Figure, at THAT distance from the sun, would it even make a difference? Note: Buffalo is further south than the French Riviera. So perhaps sunscreen is not a bad idea after all. If we could fix up the waterfront a little, we could maybe capitalize on this Riviera thing. Could we not mount a film festival? In conjunction with some fabulous local foods and a trip to one of the world's natural wonders? Just asking! Another thing I remember about the occasional Buffalo heat wave is melting into the lawn furniture. Whether you had the plastic furniture or the vinyl kind, you inevitably became one with the chair. So when you got up you'd sort of peel off like a bandage from a knee, with an unsticking noise, and then you'd have the design of the chair tattooed onto your body. In Buffalo, hot temps = Body Art! But this is my advice for Buffalonians. Don't be afraid to complain about the heat! One of the joys of extreme weather is experiencing it, analyzing it, putting your own spin on it, and kvetching about it. I know for a fact that many Western New Yorkers are afraid to do this because they'll jinx it! They fear it will make the hot weather go away and never come back. Well this is a ridiculous fear. Think about it. We've been complaining about high taxes for years. Did all that moaning ever make THOSE go away? NO! They're still there. And getting higher. So maybe if we feel uninhibited enough to complain about the rare heat wave, heck, we may get more of THOSE too! Let's try it. There is absolutely nothing to lose. Part of the Hot Weather Package is the license to complain about it. So if you're not utilizing the full package, you have only yourself to blame. I should note, though, that the high yesterday in Buffalo was, ahem, 65 degrees. And my mother wasn't quite done enjoying her Cross Breeze!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

"Ms. Round Soapy Things"

I became angry with a product today. Well not just today. Actually every time I've used this product it's been an annoyance. So at first I wanted to tell the whole world about this product and how everyone should avoid it. Then I thought the better of it. One reason is that I'm a former advertising person myself. And while I may have developed a visceral hatred for a particular product, I know that some person out there is doing their darndest to promote this product. It would be very depressing for that person to learn that a customer wants to single out the product by name and complain to all who will listen. The second reason is that there may be families out there, nay, even whole towns of families, whose livelihoods depend on the sales of this product. And I don't want to be the one to burst their bubble. So in order to avoid that kind of unpleasantness, (or worse, lawsuits) I am simply going to refer to this product by a pseudonym. We shall just refer to it by the fictitious name of "Ms. Round Soapy Things." The product in question is the brand of bubble bath I'm stuck buying for my children. The reason I am stuck buying this brand is that somehow all the other brands have vanished from my local supermarkets and drugstores. Who knows where they went? The clerks don't seem to care. Even when they ask, "Did you find everything!" and I crabbily say, "No!" they still cannot explain the shrinking choices of bubble bath. Most of them aren't AWARE of the bubble bath, and act surprised that the store even carries any. So I checked in other areas, away from kiddie shampoos. I looked in adult hair care. Kiddie accessories. Kiddie laundry products. General soaps. It was no good. So I was stuck with this one brand. Here is the importance of bath bubbles in our life: It is a reward! "If you two are good we can have a BUBBLE BATH tonight." Or a punishment! "If you two don't stop fighting, there will be NO bubble bath!" And of course, a distraction! (Scene: the 3-year-old has seized both of the 5-year-old's ears and is twisting his head in an effort to wrest a ninja turtle from his grasp.) "Hey, anyone in the mood for a BUBBLE bath?" So "bubble bath" is either two magic words, or one compound magic word. But either way the emphasis is on "magic." Well the magic isn't there if the product doesn't do what it's supposed to do. Yes, it makes the bath longer. It also soothes the savage beasts! They come out of the tub much cleaner and happier than they went in. Bubbles are used in a variety of important ways. 1) Alter Appearances. You can create beards, mustaches and crazy hairdos. 2) Camouflage. Who knows what's going on under the bubbles. As long as the water stays in the tub I don't care. If the pirates want to be invisible, I'm willing to pretend they're not there. 3) Decoration. You can create all kinds of designs on the tile, toys, and edges of the tub. Then the mess just disappears down the drain! 4) Stuff. You can pass it around, throw it at each other, stick it on each other's's just stuff to play with. Part of the joy is in pouring the bubble bath into the tub in the area where the faucet is gushing its water. The bubbles gurgle up like magic foam. The tub's occupants squeal with delight! Unless, that is, the bubbles are LIMP and LAME. Like they are with this stupid brand "Ms. Soapy Round Things." Tiny weak bubbles that disappear in two minutes are not my idea of a good time. And from the kids' perspective, it is not THEIR idea of a fun bubble bath. At the 2-minute mark they are asking for more bubbles. At the 10-minute mark, after I've emptied half of the bottle into the tub, they are frowning at me, asking where all the bubbles went. Into thin air, obviously! Along with the hard-earned cash spent on them! Let's just be clear on this. When the bubbles start underperforming, then they lose all their magic potency as a reward, punishment or distraction. THUS! No parent is going to continue spending their hard-earned cash on this stupid product. Which I realize must be loved by someone, but definitely not by us. Tonight Hubby had to buy some other products in a special trip to an unnamed supercenter. I reminded him of our bubble problem. The Organization of Bubble Operational Entities (also known to economists as OBOE) clearly was having issues on the supply side of the equation. I instructed him to come home with a bubble producing product, but NOT "Ms. Round Soapy Things." Meanwhile I gave the kids a bath using the last of the "Ms. Round Soapy Things." They were happy for all of 120 seconds. Then wanted to know what happened to their bubbles. I told them that Hubby was getting them new bubbles. Tomorrow, I promised them, they could have a REAL bubble bath. If they were good. Well Hubby returns from the humongous supercenter with his products. He claimed he bought bubbles, but his expression was not a happy one. "Is there a problem with the bubbles?" I asked him. "Well..." he hesitated. "Let's just say the supercenter wasn't the best source of bubbles." "But you DID get them?" I insisted. "Yes." He didn't sound confident. He pulled out a jug. A fairly large jug. The product was indeed called Bubble Bath. But there were no cutesy kiddie pictures on the label. Instead there was a rather adult-style dessert featured on the front. A dish of ice cream and some subtle berries. The bubble bath was called "Blackberry Cream" and was described as being "gently infused with essence of black raspberry and vanilla, to invigorate." Haha. Yes, my kids want a Gently Infused product! Well guess what, I do NOT want to invigorate them at bed-time. I want them to play a few bubble games and then go to bed. And while I don't object to them smelling like black raspberry and vanilla, there is the risk I may try to eat the children. So yes, Hubby had purchased them a product intended for ladies. This, the very same man who objected to them wearing pink pull-ups when he bought them by mistake! On the other hand, I don't want to insult the Blackberry Cream bubble bath. For all I know it may outperform the "Ms. Soapy Round Things!" So I don't want to speak too soon. And I hope I do not have to start buying bubble bath on the internet.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Great Vacation Photos! Not.

As I read the news each day, the sheer volume of creative atrocities can be mind-numbing. If you can imagine it, somebody's planning it, done it, trying it as we speak, or covering up evidence of it. Maybe even documenting it photographically. I must have a high capacity for outrage, though, because each day I find myself outraged by something, someone, somewhere, somehow. Hubby knows this, and he is wise enough to accommodate my expressions of disbelief by nodding at me in a soothing manner and agreeing that whatever article I'm shaking at him with the newspaper is, indeed, outrageous. I suppose he has to agree, or he risks a million papercuts and smears of newsprint on his forehead. I understand now why my father has spent so much of his life yelling at the TV. That's how he vents his rage at the state of the world. And of course when you're young you just experience the world. You don't get enraged at it unless you're the victim of some terrible injustice. Which probably means I'm older than I care to admit, even though I don't yell at the cable news anchors. I figure they can't hear me, whereas Hubby can. (However my father routinely hurls some of the most creative insults I have ever heard in the direction of the television. The next time I hear one I'll write it down and share so you can get the idea.) Anyway, the story that has gotten my dander up THIS time (and no, I'm not old enough to have the word "dander" in my everyday vocabulary, but I felt the word is underused) is the grandfather who has been charged with taking pornographic pictures of his 2-year-old granddaughter. It is hard to type those words above without wanting to set someone's boxer shorts afire. With owner in them. Grandfathers are supposed to be nice people. They read stories, celebrate birthdays, teach games, talk about the Good Old Days, make certain foods that are "treats," go places with the kids. That is an abbreviated list, but nowhere do I see room for "take pornographic photos of the grandkids." That is something so heinous it is never even discussed. Like what to do if a fire breaks out in the home. THAT you should discuss. What to do when grandpa starts selling pics of the kids on the internet is just something you don't imagine having to deal with. Note: This guy got caught shortly after getting his photos downloaded at a CVS drugstore in Manchester, New Hampshire, so we can't assume he sold them on the internet. Maybe they were only for (YECH!) "personal use." Of course the guy realized he couldn't just get them developed by his regular Photo Guy. So he did them on the "self-serve" photo kiosk. An alert clerk noticed the images, and the police soon put out photos of the kid in the media in the hopes of catching the perpetrator and ensuring the safety of the child. He admitted to taking the sexually explicit photos during a spring visit to the granddaughter in Florida. The father notified police when he saw pictures of his daughter on TV. Which really makes me wonder what Thanksgiving dinner is going to be like at that household this year. I just can't even imagine how a subject like this is discussed by a family. Hopefully the guy will be convicted by then, and unable to violate anyone's Thanksgiving side dishes with his loathesome presence. Maybe they will serve a Holiday Spam in jail! I can only hope so. Because if I hear about this guy going free (I was gonna say getting off on a technicality but thought the better of it), I will have to take up yelling at the TV in addition to rattling my newspapers. I may even start spraying the TV with holy water and cause the TV to smoke. Which would probably do a lot to ease the burdens on my mental health placed on it by the News System as we know it.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Final Stop: Aruba

We are about 10 days into the coverage of the missing U.S. teen in Aruba. It probably doesn't need to be stated, but I am feeling a terrible sympathy for the parents, and a fervent desire to never be anywhere close to trembling in their shoes. Stories like this set me off into paroxysms of Safety Rage. It was a celebratory trip by an Alabama high school class. On the last night before they were to leave Aruba, 18-year-old honor student Natalee Holloway never returned to her hotel room. Her disapperance prompted an island-wide search and a cavalcade of media coverage. Personal aside: Were these rich kids? Has U.S. society gotten so wealthy that a senior trip to an exotic location like Aruba is now the norm? Just wondering! Because my first trip to Florida came when I was 25. We spent our childhoods vacationing at Letchworth State Park in unheated cabins with no showers or hot water. My senior trip in high school consisted of a short drive to a friend's house in South Buffalo. My senior trip in college was to the Jersey Shore. I'm certainly not laying claim to a deprived childhood, just a normal one. And I am truly thankful that I was deprived of the opportunity to be kidnapped and possibly murdered while on a Caribbean island vacation. It seems breathtakingly horrible that a trip designed to reward four years of hard adademic work and an imminent diploma instead became a tragedy. Natalee Holloway was headed to the University of Alabama on a full scholarship with a major in pre-med. Instead she may be the victim of a premeditated crime. While the media coverage has maintained its laserlike focus on "the suspects," I of course am obsessed with how she got herself into such a dangerous situation in the first place. Somehow in the wee hours of the morning of May 3oth Natalee Holloway's senior class trip may have instead become her Farewell Tour. Five men are being held in connection with her disappearance. Three claimed to have given her a ride home from Carlos 'n Charlie's Bar, in the island nation's capital of Oranjestad. They said they dropped her off at her hotel. LIARS. Holiday Inn hotel cameras don't show any evidence of her returning on the night in question. Two other men, security guards for a nearby hotel undergoing renovation, have had their houses and cars searched by authorities for reasons not yet explained to the public. WHAT was this high school senior doing with a bunch of local men the night before she was to leave Aruba? Would anyone with even a dusting of common sense accept a ride from strange men, much less THREE of them in a foreign country? Unless she was drugged and carried out bodily, it makes no sense to me. There have been a lot of reports from her friends about what a great person she was. Fine! Doesn't being "a great person" qualify you for having at least one friend who won't leave you at a bar by yourself with strange local men? Haven't any of these American kids heard of The Buddy System? The rules for safety don't change just because you've grown up and your playground now includes palm trees and frosty drinks. Apparently there were adult chaperones along on the trip, although the kids flew to Aruba on a commercial airline, and the adults apparently winged it on a private jet. Which begs the question, were they acting as chaperones? Let's just say that at a minimum there was no chaperonage occurring on the flight. Did any of the adults go to the bar just to ensure all the kids made it back safely? Were the adults there for the kids' sake? Why am I asking ridiculous questions when I suspect the answers are No, No and No! Where was the chaperoning occurring -- at the beach? Waiting for someone to choke on lunch? Ensuring no one endangered the plants in the hotel lobby? ATTENTION CHAPERONES! We need you to report to the dangerous bar area. Please. Right now. It seems the final head count for the kids was done the following morning when Natalee Holloway didn't show up for her flight. Timely. You can't protect your kids from every danger. Inevitably some of them will hang from balconies by their toes or sustain life-altering sunburns. But after a couple of decades of horrible stories like this, you'd think parents would at a minimum be telling their kids not to accept rides from strangers. (Stranger: Someone you've known less than a month and know nothing about.) It's like getting into a car with someone wearing a vest packed with explosives. You should be surprised if you exit the vehicle with all your body parts intact. These days you have to regard human strangers as little more than a coterie of exotic animals. You don't know if the person you're sitting next to will turn out to be a toucan, monkey or man-eating tiger. So how do you arm your children to know which animal they may be encountering on any given day? Simple. You assume the man-eating tiger and act accordingly. Would you get in a car with a tiger peering out of the back seat? Apparently Natalee Holloway accepted a ride from three tigers. She didn't stand a chance.

Monday, June 06, 2005

"Put the Penis Away, Please"

The AAA is the closest I've ever come to having a personal servant. All I have to do is ring Jeeves, er, the Triple A, and usually within half an hour I'm getting a tow, a jump or a ride to the car repair place of my choice. I think they are starting to know my voice. We've had four calls for emergency road service within four weeks. I'm having bad automotive karma lately. I was parked in front of Grace Lutheran Church where the 5-year-old has his piano lessons in the church school. Our van is out of commission with Electrical Reflux Disease, so I had my inlaws' Olds Delta 88. Normally I would wait in the air conditioned church building, but I did not want the 3-year-old to whoop and holler, or shred the sanctuary flowers. While we waited in the car, the 3-year-old jammed his Old MacDonald tape into the vehicle's tape player such that it cannot be extracted. So anyone's future listening pleasure in this car depends entirely on their enjoyment of the E-I-E-I-O refrain. I had the keys in the ignition. When the 5-year-old finished his lesson I buckled them into their car seats. THEN the 5-year-old needs the bathroom. So I unbuckle. Usher kids out. Feel for keys in my pocket. Lock the automatic doors. And...oops. The keys to the car were still in the ignition. The ones in my pocket were the keys to my house and our ailing van. My purse was on the front seat. Sigh. Now we had to catch the music teacher before she left the building. I explained our emergency. Fortunately the classroom had a phone which she said I was welcome to use, but once we left the room the heavy door would automatically lock us out. The 5-year-old was holding his crotch and moaning. But I had to make the calls first! Or we couldn't get back in! Meanwhile the 3-year-old handed me a sticky, half-eaten piece of chocolate. (Where did THAT come from? The KitKat Fairy?) The only lucky part was that I had taken it with my left hand. Of course the room had NO garbage can, no tissues or blank paper of any kind, no place to put the gob of chocolate. Using my right hand only I called Hubby at work. He informed me I had the only set of keys to that car. He offered to call Triple A for me. Two problems: I didn't know the address of this church. I didn't know the phone number I was calling from. And of course I didn't have my Triple A card. "I'll read you our membership number," he offered. "And give you the Triple A's Emergency Road Service number..." "Wait!" I wailed. "I have nothing to write with." With one hand I searched all over some teacher's desk. All her writing implements were apparently vacationing in Cape Cod for the summer. Would I have to smear the number on my chest in chocolate? Finally I located a nub of chalk. I scribbled the numbers onto the chalkboard. The 5-year-old was jumping from foot to foot and pointing at his crotch. "I have to make another call!" I hissed at him. "Or we will NEVER be able to leave." Fumbled through more papers on this woman's desk and located an address of where we were. Told my sad story to the Triple A as hurriedly as possible. To the bathroom at last! Relief for the 5-year-old. I ditched the oozing chocolate. We took up positions near the Olds Delta 88. I scanned the road for a rescue vehicle. The 5-year-old was giggling. The 3-year-old had dropped his shorts and was entertaining traffic with a Penis Display. "Put the penis back, please," I commanded. "It isn't for showing in public." A minute later more giggling. He was now mooning traffic. "Pants up!" I ordered. "If I see any more bare butts or penises someone's going to get a time out." More giggling, but the pants were in place. The 5-year-old and the 3-year-old passed the time singing, "Old MacDonald had a penis...with a butt, butt here and a butt, butt there." Sigh. Finally my AAA savior arrived, using his magic tool to open the door in less than 15 seconds. This did not involve him dropping his pants. We have only two more emergency road service calls allotted to us for the remainder of the year. Then I think we get blacklisted.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

911: Policeman "Hand Tossed" by Granny

Sometimes it's a little too easy to dial 911. That's what dispatchers in Charlotte, North Carolina must think after fielding repeated calls relating to a pizza delivery dispute. Perhaps Charlotte needs it's very own Carbohydrate Ombudsman. An 86-year-old woman recently dialed the emergency service more than 20 times in half an hour. Her complaint? A local pizzeria refused to deliver to her apartment. To add insult to lack of delivery, an employee allegedly called her "a crazy old coot." The woman demanded that 911 dispatchers send someone to make an immediate arrest. Finally, a 911 operator complied with her request. A member of the local police force made his way to the woman's South Charlotte apartment and proceeded to arrest her. But not without a fight! Apparently the increasingly hungry Crazy Old Coot attacked the arresting officer with all the strength contained in her 5-foot tall, 98-pound body. She succeeded in kicking, scratching and biting him. When my toddler does this I hold him upside down -- perhaps a rush of blood to this woman's brain would have improved matters. A rabies shot may not be a bad idea, either. Question: As long as the arresting officer was busy wasting taxpayer money by making a personal visit to this woman's pizza-deprived residence, could he not have swung by the pizzeria and picked up the darned order? Then instead of flesh wounds he might have earned a tip! A little rage goes a long way -- you can hardly blame a pizza aficionado with this much devotion from getting a little testy. Once tempers have cooled I think the pizzeria should hire this woman as a spokesperson in its Crazy Old Coot Campaign. If she wants this joint's pizza badly enough to tie up the 911 system and engage in hand-to-hand combat with a police officer, well, that's the kind of enthusiasm you can't conjure up with any ordinary pizza. "Even 911 Isn't Fast Enough When You're In the Mood for Joe's Pizza!" It's an idea I had to toss out there and see if it stuck to the ceiling.