Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Looting of New Orleans: HO HO HO and a Bottle of Dumb

I'm watching the Looting of New Orleans lately. First Mother Nature barreled in uninvited, looting the city of her infrastructure. Now the survivors of Hurricane Katrina are relieving stores, shops, homes of any remaining valuables. It is making me laugh. It is making me cry. It is making me pray. In the first category is the Young Hoodlum crowd running away with TVs, appliances, sneakers and plastic stuff from Walmart. Are we going to find a nice usable outlet to plug your new entertainment systems into, hmmm? Or are you going to sell the items to refugees with no food and no money? Perhaps set up shop on Ebay as soon as someone restores internet service to your soon-to-be condemned house? Or are you just going to try to take it all the the Houston Astrodome with you when you get evacuated? hahahaha. All these normally "stealable" items are now worthless crap! Except those of you who got away with diamond jewelry. Well good luck setting up the new life, anyway! The other categories are the people I see in the food stores. For some reason a lot of the news anchors are also referring to THESE people as looters. Give me a break! Can't you new experts distinguish between lawlessness and survival? I'm watching men grabbing loaves of bread and bottled water. Women making off with formula and baby diapers. Do you think these people are taking the Huggies to sell on the black market? For Katrina's sake, let's understand that there is NO RUNNING WATER AND NO FRESH FOOD COMING. Do you honestly believe the store owners are going to show up next month and try to sell the bread and canned goods remaining on the shelves. I'm sorry, but that's not looting if you are only taking what you need to survive. I have suggested that this event is going to be bigger in impact than the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It looks like it has already reached that dimension. The whole country is going to feel the impact of this. They are talking about a million plus refugees. How many citizens does the U.S. have? Isn't that 1 out of every 320 people in the country? Initial reports suggested Katrina would NOT be as expensive, damage-wise, as Hurricane Andrew. Hahahahaha. I knew right away that estimate was off. Hurricane Andrew's damage was limited to a small area of South Florida, and was mostly wind damage. Water damage is extremely insidious and costly to clean up. And New Orleans is just a huge metropolitan area by comparison. Add to that the tremendous devastation in Alabama and Mississippi. At this point I'd say $100 billion in damage is conservative. And that's not even counting the economic loss of all the businesses not operating for months. (Andrew was about a $25 billion event.) Personally I would've evacuated in the face of an oncoming Category Five hurricane. But one of the main reasons for that is that we had three hurricanes fly over the house last year, all of which were Category I or less by the time they passed over. It was still scary sitting there wondering if it could get any louder, and hoping the roof wouldn't blow off. I've watched and read stories of people who barely survived Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and Ivan last year. The stories are sobering. If more people knew of those stories, fewer might have stayed behind to try to "ride out" Katrina. It is weird watching the reporting from the Superdome. It felt like ABC's top football analyst Al Michaels ought to be giving us the play-by-play. Especially now that all those refugees are going to be bused to the Houston Astrodome. (Macabre aside: what happens if a hurricane takes aim at Houston? On to Seattle's King Dome!) Now it's time to send money to the Red Cross. To give blood. To pray. And to pack up our most valuable memories and put them in a safe place in case we are ever called upon to evacuate due to a natural disaster. They are still talking of rebuilding New Orleans. I don't know if they say that because they don't know what else to say, or if they really believe it is possible. Is there any other place in the U.S. where we are looking for real estate 6-12 feet below water where we can build a city for 1.3 million people? Even so, New Orleans probably STILL wouldn't be the best place to build it. I know it is a city full of charm and history. It is also now drenched in debris and a toxic witch's brew of water. Perhaps it is best preserved as a fable, like Atlantis, as a memory, like the World Trade Center, or as a piece of history, like Pompeii. New Orleans can never be the same. Why pretend otherwise?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Katrina: Mother of All Hurricanes

Hurricane Katrina caught our attention early in Central Florida, certainly before she blew her way into the rest of the nation's consciousness. Although even for us she was a bit of a Stealth Storm, seemingly nothing more than an atmospheric postnatal depression until she decided to go all threatening on us. Her approach was confusing for the 5- and 6-year old sons of my friend Katrena, who lives down the street. (She spells her name with an 'e' as distinct from the Hurricane Spelling.) Her sons kept saying, "Mom, how come everyone's talking about Katrena coming when you're right here?" So she had to explain they were all worried about a hurricane, not her. I was thinking maybe they should just start calling the storm Hurricane Mom. Well, little did we know this thing would explode into a Category 5 storm after it passed through South Florida last week. We watched its progress closely, even canceling a neighborhood party for Saturday evening in case Katrina made a Charley-like right hook, as that storm did last year, in a path across Central Florida. In fact, one of the TV forecasts showed us all the "projected paths" of Katrina. Well I have to point out that this forecast model looked like a gigantic tangled ball of string! HELLO. I can forecast "anytime, anywhere, any speed, any direction" quite capably on my own. Katrina was "only" a Category I as it swept over South Florida, hitting south of Fort Lauderdale with 80 mph winds, raking the Miami area and leaving up to 12 inches of rain. Nine people died, and at the height of the storm about 2.5 million were without power. Many are still living electricity-free lives, and may be for weeks. Damage estimates range from one to four billion. DOLLARS. So trying to extrapolate that information to a city the size of New Orleans (1.3 million in the immediate vicinity), and a storm with Category 5 winds (155+ mph) is almost impossible. All day Sunday I heard cable news anchors talk about "catastrophic" damage. It's probably appropriate that many of them seemed at a loss to calculate exactly what that might mean, in terms of lives, dollars or the future of a city that may never be the same. I feel confident no damage estimates were given because they have NO IDEA how expensive this thing can be. The mind starts shutting down after a figure like ten billion is reached. There are only so many zeroes I can contemplate in the face of a monster storm that threatens to take possibly more lives than were lost on 9/11. Is this looming event as big as that? Quite possibly. Economically the effect could very well be larger than the 9/11 terrorist strikes. I can imagine insurance companies going under. Who can afford to re-build a city like New Orleans if, as many fear, it is not only leveled, but then flooded with water that cannot get pumped out for weeks, if not months? What will happen to our oil drilling and shipping capacities in the region? Nobody knows. The coverage on Sunday was interesting, to say the least. One tourist from New York City was interviewed. He looked like he had stepped right off one of the subway trains after seeing a Yankee game in the Bronx. Cap on. New Yawk accent. Gold chain. Gold tooth. Eerily big smile. No one should be smiling from the French Quarter with a Category 5 hurricane scheduled to visit. Anyway, they asked this guy why he didn't leave downtown New Orleans. He said, "I just GOT here!" And anyway, he'd come by bus. He didn't have a ride back. But he seemed strangely cheerful in the face of possibilities including discomfort, injury, even death. They asked if he was afraid. "Naw," he said, still smiling. "They had the Titanic here in 1969. People survived that, so they can survive this!" Eh. Well I can appreciate the comparison with the Titanic. Probably they should have a really great jazz band playing some upbeat tunes as this thing roars into the French Quarter. But it was Hurricane Camille that grazed the area in 1969 with Category 5 winds. And don't forget that Bubonic Plague outbreak from 1985! Oh, that wasn't the U.S. Wrong century too. But people survived! Somehow I think this fellow was impervious to facts, so it's probably just as well that he seemed blissfully unaware of them. Another guy said he was not evacuating because it would be difficult to transport his ill mother-in-law, so he, his wife and his wife's mother were going to take shelter in a downtown hotel "at least three floors up." That was to avoid the flooding, but don't forget the higher you go, the windier it gets! Almost certainly everyone will be without power after the storm, so I can't imagine how comfortable it will be in that hotel with no electricity, water or food. And cable. You might not even know if help is coming or when it's expected. This fellow had left his house keys with a neighbor whose house is only one story, figuring if "for some reason there was flooding, she could go to our two-story house." For some reason? I think we've got a good handle on the reason. Then I saw THOUSANDS of people lined up to spend the night in the Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints. I'm thinking boy, I REALLY wouldn't want to ride out a hurricane there. Are they sure the roof will hold up? Supposedly it's been tested in 130 mph winds, but Katrena's got a pair of scalpers tickets and will likely hit at windspeeds higher than that. What a way to test the roof. They're saying tens of thousands of people will take shelter there. And it was taking HOURS to process them because they had to go through every bag looking for contraband like weapons or alcohol, People were lugging coolers, suitcases, giant green trash bags, even dragging their stuff in laundry baskets. Many of the people were poor, and "for some reason didn't choose to evacuate," according to one anchor. Would that reason be lack of transportation, or a shortage of money for a hotel? I'm thinking YES! I feel sorry for everyone who could not evacuate. Particularly kids, who are going to be frightened when they hear this freight train-like storm rattling outside. I hope everyone is in a solid structure, because the wooden ones may not hold up. They're speculating it may take months, if not years, for life to get back to normal in New Orleans. No. Kidding. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if they surveyed the devastation and decided to start over, rebuilding New Orleans on higher ground. The ultimate impact on the oil industry and economy is unknown. All I can tell you is we gassed up our cars this weekend. This can't be good for gas prices. The storm is only hours from hitting the Louisiana coast with Category 5 winds. As I've described these things in previous posts, "bearing down on the area like a fully-dilated pregnant woman." You know it's coming. You know it's going to be painful. You hope you're going to survive it. There's no way you're getting out of this experience. Truly, this is the Mother of All Hurricanes.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Death Wish 2005: Prices At The Pump

I've been noticing a few things at the gas pump lately. No, not the prices! Specifically NOT the price of gas. I am studiously avoiding that little monstrosity. I am noticing everything else in an attempt to take my mind off the LED digits that are blinking so rapidly I feel like I'm in one of those sci-fi movie moments before the gas-guzzling white van, the 4-year-old and myself are hurled back in time, specifically to 1998 when gas was 89 cents a gallon. In that year we did not yet own the van, nor the 4-year-old, come to think of it. (Okay, proceed to disappear. It's just me, the gas, my credit card and Michael J. Fox in the DeLorean.) Anyway, one of the things I noticed in my fume-induced reverie is that there is a name on the gas pumps. Well there's the one for the inspector who makes sure the pumps are "honest." Honestly, do we care how "honest" they are when we have to consider taking out a home equity loan to afford to gas up for the rest of the year? It's Highway Robbery when it costs more to gas up your car than to buy a couple cartons of smokes! People may have to start kicking the cigarette habit just to keep their cars running. Which will have a negative impact on social security with all these cranky ex-smokers living longer, but that's news for another blog. The OTHER name that appears on gas pumps throughout the state of Florida is that of Charles Bronson. He is the commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. I am not quite sure why his name is on the pump. After all, who would want to be associated with the outrageous price of gas these days? Apparently there is a reason for his Official Presence, name-wise, on every single legal gas pump in the state of Florida. For one, he is the Florida Czar of Price-Gouging, sending out stern memos and press releases every time a hurricane blows through the state, resulting in an influx of Out-Of-State Price Gougers, who flock to join the Experienced In-State Price Gougers, and the Young Price-Gouging Apprentices. Price-gouging is sort of a profession here in Florida, and apparently Mr. Bronson is the state official who is in charge of regulating it so it doesn't get out of hand. If you look at the prices of food items that are sold from the snack carts of Florida's theme parks, you must realize that state disapproval of price gouging is, ahem, on a par of our disapproval of hurricanes. We can grimace at them, issue memoranda, complain to the media and threaten to get our navels pierced (all several billion of them), but neither hurricanes nor price gougers are going away any time soon. We'll be lucky if they don't linger long enough to leave us homeless AND broke. The original Death Wish was a 1974 movie starring Charles Bronson (the actor). Ironically debuting smack in the middle of our FIRST energy crisis. It was about a middle aged architect who becomes a vigilante after his wife is murdered. Jeff Goldblum (The Big Chill, The Fly, Jurassic Park) is also in it, playing Freak #1! I've never seen the movie, but I assume that means Jeff's character does not survive to the credits. Now that the latest news has a gas station owner being run over by a fleeing motorist who was trying to escape paying 50 bucks for gas, it's only a matter of time before the local gas station with attached convenience store becomes like a scene from the Wild West, complete with armed and dangerous grandmas trying to make sure their Caddys get the premium gas! And if we could get "our" Charles Bronson to slap on a badge and start patrolling the pumps, I, for one, would feel the teensiest bit safer! I paid a record price filling up my van today. The total was $64.90. The only reason the total was THAT low was that I filled up before the quarter tank mark. I might as well just steam up there with my rolling ocean liner for how much it is costing me to pollute the atmosphere like every good American! If prices keep going up we might start looking into alternatives that will start the dangerous trend of reversing global warming. Thus causing climates worldwide to start catching a cold in the confusion of not knowing whether to wear a sweater or not. (Follow mom's advice. WEAR the sweater!) People are starting to get chatty at the pump, too, like we're all getting ready to have major surgery together. They make little comments like, "Well, I guess we won't be EATING this week." (Uncertain chuckle.) "I'm thinking of trading this in for a BIKE!" (Pregnant pause.) "I might give up driving ALTOGETHER." (Click click click as the pump keeps whirring.) "Didja ever think we might be paying three bucks a gallon for GAS?" (Ambulance noises as guy's heart seizes up.) I'm not suggesting hybrid electric cars are the answer. I think walking is the answer, but you see we'd have to completely retool every aspect of American life in order to do that. It seems a lot easier to just pay high gas prices until we die, and then not worry about it anymore. However the next generation might want to think about putting together some planned communities that don't involve commuting fifty miles each way to work. I don't believe in rationing, either. (Imagine us wasting tankfuls of gas idling at the pump as we await our turns!) I think they should just charge what the market will bear and let the drips fall where they may. Europeans ALREADY pay the record-setting prices that we're complaining about, and have been for years. That's why they all drive soup cans with wheels and park on the sidewalks. Personally I'd be okay driving a 6-person golf cart with really great side view mirrors. Maybe the golf cart makers can become this century's new General Motors. Golf Motors! Hopefully Motorist Rage will not spill over into other areas of society. We should really not take out our gas rage on gas station attendants and convenience store clerks, no matter how snippy they are. We can blame ourselves for buying gas guzzlers and building suburbs so far out into the wilderness that the mountain lions eat the family pets. I heard there was a survey recently with an interesting premise. As reported on the radio, it was along the lines of, "Are you spending less money on other things because you're playing more for gas?" Heh. THINK about that for a moment. Well the vast majority of the people surveyed answered "yes" to that question. But you do want to ask the followup head-slappingly obvious question, "how could you NOT?" I'm anticipating the answers to that one too. Here are the ways we can avoid spending less on other things each time the price inches up a few pennies at the pump: 1) Interview for and obtain a new job that pays more. 2) Take a second job. Then a third, fourth, fifth and so forth, as needed. 3) Shoplift what you used to buy. (not quite right. Then you'd still be SPENDING less.) 4) Beg on streetcorners. ("Will accelerate for food.") 5) Demand that vendors REDUCE prices for non-gas items. Works best at farmers' markets after 5 p.m. with vegetables rotting under a hot sun. 6) Cash in IRAs and Savings Bonds. 7) Max out credit cards. There are other ways to cope with the pain at the pump, or GAStrointestinal distress. You could approach it strategically, as a baseball manager would. One option, of course, is the PUMP AND RUN. You do this only if you have a fast car with good acceleration, or a revoked driver's license that cannot get any more revoked than it already is. Second would be the SACRIFICE HUNT, where you drive around vainly from gas station to gas station, using up half a tank in the effort to find the cheapest price in the county. Next is the SUICIDE SQUEEZE, also known as carpooling. The DOUBLE STEAL requires three cars and a siphoning hose. If things are fairly close by you can utilize the INTENTIONAL WALK. If you are young, carefree, reasonably good-looking and don't value your life too much, you may consider throwing the HITCH-OUT, which involves use of the thumb. But in the meantime I'm calling on Mr. Bronson to do his civic duty and start monitoring the price gouging in the oil industry. Perhaps send the Saudi princes a note telling them Americans are developing increasingly ugly attitudes about their weekly fill-ups. As some internet pundit has said, "If the war in Iraq is about oil, imagine the price if we DIDN'T go to war over it." Some other wag has suggested it would've been cheaper to buy the oil reserves than wage the war. Funny idea, but not true. We can't AFFORD all the oil that lies under Iraq. We're barely affording the gas we're pumping now. We can only hope that engineers and scientists are busy inventing a car that runs on something else, hopefully a renewable resource such as wind, sun, water or used lotto tickets. Meanwhile, I'm practicing spending less on other things. I might start with Happy Meals.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Beef on WHAT?

I was a hunter/gatherer today, foraging for familiar foodstuffs. My natural habitat is Buffalo, New York. Buffalonians have unparalleled access to great restaurants, sprawling mega-grocerys, local delicacies, celestial quality pizza and the ubiquitous Friday Night fish fry. Fantastic foods are so readily available in Western New York that natives take them for granted, never realizing our hometown offers a veritable Smorgasbord of Eden when it comes to culinary choices. It isn't until we're elsewhere that the true nature of the situation reveals itself. By then it's usually too late to pack a cooler or rent a refrigerated truck. Our daily pleasures become occasional treats. Sure, we sample the local cuisine in the hope that we can suppress that midnight craving for Buffalo-style pizza and wings. Food is not the only thing missed by ex-patriate Buffalonians but it's one of the biggest. This weekend I had a big hunk of tender beef left over from a roast I'd cooked. It was ready for slicing, requiring only a familiar roll to transform it into that quintessential WNY delicacy preferred by coupon-clipping carnivores everywhere: The Beef on Weck! (For which this blog is named.) It's a hearty mouth-watering sandwich associated almost exclusively with the Buffalo area. Although the name "kimmelweck" (representing the "weck") is clearly of German origin, I have no idea if they do Beef on Weck in Germany, or simply call it something else. The problem is that the craving struck me while I was here in Florida, not in Buffalo where there'd be ready access to Eckl's Restaurant or Tops Bakery. Note: Typically kimmelweck rolls are made using the large kaiser buns. As an alumnus of the Tops Bakery Department I can assure you they are happy to take special orders for kimmelweck rolls in smaller sizes such as the vienna rolls, for those who don't like to open their jaws VERY WIDE in order to consume the sandwich. Turns out there is ONE grocery store in Lakeland that carries kimmelweck rolls! It is the Lake Miriam Publix on South Florida Avenue. I don't know how they know about them, or what prompts Publix to make them. They are produced sporadically, with no particular pattern as to day of week, time of day or how many will be available. (I am lobbying the local paper for a "kimmelweck forecast" to no avail.) It's almost as though the kimmelweck rolls appear in the bakery case as an Act of God! So I was pleased, nay, THRILLED, when I got to the store and saw they had not one, but THREE kimmelweck rolls available for purchase. I tried to ask for the rolls. The bakery clerk looked confused, as if I had just asked for the "dimwitted rolls." "You want WHAT?" she said. "Kimmelweck rolls," I said patiently. "I'll take all of them." Her brows furrowed further. "What are those?" "Right here." I tapped on the glass. "Between the onion rolls and the cheddar rolls." She bent over and peered disbelievingly into the case. Obviously they are not selling the things at the behest of the bakery staff. Sure enough! There were three rolls in there that could not be identified as any other common roll! She had to consult another bakery employee about the pricing. My hunting/gathering was a huge success! I had a small amount of residual guilt that the NEXT Buffalonian to stop by the Publix was going to have no luck with the kimmelweck rolls. ("The WHAT?!") They wouldn't even have any sample rolls to point at. But I got mine! Hubby was gratified at my Sandwich Coup. Now if we could only do something about our Pizza Problem.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

It's My Baby And I'll Cry If I Want To

The 3-year-old went off to school for the first time this month. He had spent most of the summer insisting he was going to be "three forever" and that "I'm going to stay home and play with you and never go to school."

But the Big Day rolled around. Lunches were packed. Uniforms were donned. We headed to S.C.H.O.O.L. As I drove, he assured me we would be dropping off the 6-year-old at his first grade class, and then we would go home and play games. I did not argue the point.

After dropping off the 6-year-old in front of his school, I drove to the opposite side of the parking lot where the Pre-Kindergarten building was located. "Look, there's your teacher!" I said. She was smiling through the van window at him. Pre-K children get personal escorts so they do not escape into the general population while trying to flee their introduction to education.

The 3-year-old looked startled, in the way a mouse must before it is eaten by a Great Horned Owl. I unbuckled him from his carseat, and his teacher took his hand as he descended from the van clutching his lunchbox to his chest. He gave me one last unhappy glance before leaving with his teacher, marching straight forward with his head down, as if going off to his own execution.

I knew it was not an easy moment for him because it was not easy for me. I wanted to cling to his leg until the teacher peeled me off and told me I'd be all right, I'd be seeing him again in a few hours. I worried about him all morning.

Would the teachers be nice to him, recognizing that he is my Precious Angel? Would they realize he might be afraid to use "their potty?" Would he eat his carefully packed lunch, peanut butter sandwich carved into perfectly symmetrical triangles? Would he get along with the other children and understand they were of the same species as himself? Would he REMEMBER ME when I picked him up?

I needn't have worried. He was all smiles when I came to get him. The teacher told me he had a wonderful day and was fitting in nicely with the group. He would be turning 4 soon, the youngest preschooler in his class.

After I buckled him and asked about his day, he told me "We did songs. We did activities. We did costumes. BUT NO CRAFTS!" The lack of crafts was to be a recurring theme, as each day the first week he described his day, ending the litany with "BUT NO CRAFTS!" Apparently the only reason he had agreed to be educated at all was for the crafts. So thank heavens by Friday he came home with a personally created turtle made out of a green snack container.

He also admitted to me, "I was cranky and sad today, because I thought I lost my Mom." He insisted that I wait for him right in the parking lot until he came out the next day. Of course I promised him I would. In the first week he tried to make it out to be a Temporary Experience. "I'm going until Friday," he explained to me. "I can't go next week." He must have checked his schedule and concluded he was too busy.

Of course the 6-year-old cannot listen to such conversations without butting in with The Truth. "NO!" he shouted. "You have to go until MAY!" The next day the 3-year-old said to me, "I'm just going to preschool. I can't go to second grade." "NO!" the 6-year-old shrieked. "You have to go until COLLEGE!" Egads. Did we have to start getting him all upset about graduate school in the first week?

But in the second week his reluctant demeanor changed. I sincerely feared he would try to make good his threat to end his education after one week. But Monday he woke up perky! Ate his breakfast in a timely fashion! Picked out his own clothes! Had his teeth brushed, was dressed and armed by the door with his lunchbox before the 6-year-old had even struggled out of his pajamas!

He is still missing me. As I miss the both of them. But he is proud of being a preschooler who dresses himself and remembers to bring his lunchbox home. He even reported to me that he had invited his entire preschool class (20 children) to sleep over at our house! Hopefully while Hubby is home and I am overseas. Now if we can only maintain this cheerful outlook until college. Maybe I'll tell him college students do LOTS of arts and crafts. And of course I'll be waiting for him in the parking lot.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Runaway Bride Story Keeps On Mowing

You've probably all seen pictures of Runaway Bride Jennifer Wilbanks mowing the White House lawn in her orange vest. Whoops! I forgot she has no security clearance to trim the turf at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Make that the Probation Department front yard. Ms. Wilbanks is the bride who in April hopped a bus for a cross-country trip in order to escape her lavish wedding. Reason: We still don't know! After concocting a tale of how she'd been kidnapped (by a hispanic male with bad teeth and Jennifer Hyatte -- whoops! She's ex-nurse prison breakout lady. Here we go again making up whoppers. I'm just the Burger King of Deceit today.) the authorities came down hard on her. They ordered her to pay restitution to the city of Duluth, Georgia, and to mow lawns for the summer. Presumably in the hope that the hot Georgia sun beating down on her head would set her thinking straight. Other exciting details have emerged in these past months of Post Non-Wedding Traumatic Stress that our nation has had to endure. Particularly as we sit around wondering what exactly Ms. Wilbanks SAYS to her allegedly Still-Fiance John Mason. She: How would you feel about eloping? He: Would that be with ME? Or the hispanic guy? She: He had terrible teeth. I can't believe you can be so cruel to keep bringing that up! He: So how many tickets did you want for the honeymoon? She: Shut up. What would you think about the Mediterranean? There's that cruise line that stops in Turkey... He: The one where the groom got murdered? Forget it! I'm not going. She: There the news media goes again jumping to conclusions. Maybe he had personal issues with the food! He: Never mind. Let's rent a video. I'll have it delivered with the pizza. Another thing I'm sure we're all still wondering about is her perpetually wide-eyed expression. Sure, she probably made a face like that when she first realized her "personal issue" had blossomed into a national media frenzy. But still. Why does she have that startled gaze in practically every photo? Well I lurched across a potential answer recently. I won't say where, other than to mention I discovered this fascinating information shortly before I paid for my groceries. Anyway, some alleged "journalists" are alleging that Jennifer Wilbanks' (former?) alleged friends and acquaintances are alleging that she has had a LOT of alleged plastic surgery. To the point where you might suspect that plastic surgery is one of her expensive hobbies. In addition to her alleged breast implants, she allegedly had her eyebrows lifted and they somehow got permanently stuck in that Gee Whiz expression. It is NOT an expression I would pay extra for. Especially if I had to look that way all the time. So I guess there was no thyroid disorder, which was my personal theory. Let's rummage through the Bridal Baggage and see what she's been toting in that extra-heavy suitcase: Possible Addiction to Plastic Surgery, Multiple Shoplifting Attempts, Fear of Large Weddings, Inability to have a Normal Conversation with Fiance, Grandiose Lying to Authorities. Some people say all this suggests mental problems. Well one person's "mental problems" are another person's tics. And I'm here to jump up and down, Tomcruiselike, on my pseudo-psychiatrist's couch, to tell you that Ms. Wilbanks simply has TICS, or Tremendously Imaginative Coping Skills. True, many of us, upon changing our minds about an imminent wedding, would simply communicate that fact to someone. Anyone. Preferably the spouse-to-be, but failing that we'd at least tell the best man, maid of honor or even the FlowerToddler. "Uncle John! Jennifer says she's gonna stay in the bathroom for FIFTY YEARS until you're dead!" Problem solved. But people with TICS react to stress in unexpected, often newsworthy ways. Michael Jackson dangles babies. Bobby Knight hurls chairs. Bill Clinton entertains friends in the Oval Office. George Bush exports democracy to nations that are allergic to it. Marie Osmond takes a sabbatical from her family. Russell Crowe shot puts phones into interviewers' faces. Ashley Simpson starts square dancing. And so forth. There is one other rumor that surfaced a couple weeks ago that I want to address. Supposedly Ms. Wilbanks' wedding is back on, and she has registered for gifts at Pottery Barn. Because even a horrifically halted wedding doesn't take away someone's Right To Register. I think you have to commit felony class bad taste for that. And because I am (to use personal ad terminology) a MWBB, or Married White Busy-Body, I naturally had to check out this rumor for myself. So I went to the Pottery Barn website and looked up Ms. Wilbanks' name in the Registry Section. Nothing! A dead end. But consider. After getting blistered under the hot glare of publicity, is she really going to register under her own name? Of course not! So I checked for her fiance's name, John Mason. Bingo! He is getting married on August 20th to a "Jennifer Riley." A pseudonym, perhaps? I will provide here a link to the registry so you can check this out for yourselves. I link, YOU DECIDE! Jennifer's Pottery Barn Wish List Okay, I just noticed the link only takes you to the Pottery Barn site. You can do what I did, which is go to the Registry and type in "John Mason." I do hope Ms. Wilbanks scores a lucrative book or movie deal, or both. Mainly because she has one of the most famous faces in America, and probably can't afford a 24-hour bodyguard named "Muscles." Can you imagine going to work every day at a normal job and have everyone wanting to see you due to your Famous Wedding Gaffe? She worked in a medical office -- I'll bet people will start coming in for non-existent ailments just to see her! I guess we'll find out in a couple a days if this is actually the wedding of Ms. Wilbanks and the long-suffering Mr. Mason. They are scheduled for August 20th nuptials. Either that, or a completely DIFFERENT John Mason, and his mortified bride, Jennifer Riley, will have the national press camped out in front of their completely unrelated wedding! If you DO check out the registry, I am thinking of sending the Sausalito Gravy Boat in merlot. Kidding! If I sent anything it would be a pair of sunglasses, since as a permanent celebrity she will probably have to wear them for the rest of her life.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

End of an Era: An "Incredible" Wedding

* Note* I have been advised by mother that although all the events contained in this story are "real," I should NOT use real names because you never know if true details will cause someone to get really strange looks at work. How true! So in the interest of preserving anonymity, I have thinly disguised any real names so that you can only figure out who I'm talking about if you're psychic. Now back to our original programming.... Hubby and I achieved separation from the kids last weekend by jetting out of Florida for a family wedding in Columbus, Ohio. Little did we know this is a favored vacation destination for gun-toting couples fleeing the law. I promised Hubby that three years from now for our tenth anniversary I would shoot him in the leg. It was a significant milestone for us. It was the first time in six years that BOTH of us had been away from the kids. I can't tell you how romantic it is to pack light and avoid the baggage claim! I felt so carefree I almost wanted to get a tattoo. I think toenails are really the best place for tattoos because you can eventually clip them off. Also baby teeth and possibly your appendix. Note to trendwatchers: INTERNAL body art is going to be the next big thing. Start stocking up on antibiotics and malpractice insurance now! However after about two hours of being away from the kids I started missing them terribly, and compensated by reminding Hubby periodically to "go peepee" and insisting he use his "indoor voice" in the airport. He proceeded to strike up a conversation with more normal passengers that he wasn't married to. So instead we contented ourselves with calling the kids every hour at my inlaws' and asking them if they missed us. "I think so," the 6-year-old said. The 3-year-old refused to speak with us. Naturally. He was busy taking over all Aunt Sue's and Uncle Rob's toys. We were attending an Incredible Wedding, which is the Ohio variation of the traditional Reilly Family weddings normally held in Buffalo to great effect. My cousin Jeff Incredible was to exchange vows with his bride of choice Sarah LEE. (Two very talented and creative individuals. He designs the insides of buildings. She works for an ad agency. Let's just say even their "save the date" card was a keeper!) Additional note, "Lee" is not her real name either. Sarah Lee is in fact a pastry. Then there is the tale of how he hid the surprise engagement ring in the chandelier of a restaurant he had just finished designing. I guess he was pretty confident of a "yes" because he had invited the parents of both families to this dinner! Fortunately there was no Phantom of the Opera-like romantic rival, or I'm sure the chandelier detail could've turned tragic. There are few people I know who are more cerebral than my cousin Jeff, so it was fascinating to watch that side of him create a number of special romantic and touching moments for both his bride and his family as the courtship and wedding played out. Which just goes to show if you are confident of who you are, you can pull off just about anything! Meanwhile I had the good fortune of having a good friend from college, Kathy Grauer, (who hopefully will send me an angry email if she doesn't like me using her real name) living precisely six miles from the Marriott where we were staying in Dublin Ohio. (Corporate home of Wendy's Non-Severed Fingertips Chili) Naturally we did lunch and plotted another reunion with our fellow Alpha Gamma Delta sorority sisters from Lehigh University. (Conclusion: We should have one.) As is our tradition whenever Kathy and I get together, we overate. The overeating could be viewed as strategic, however, as at the LAST Incredible Wedding in November, there were logistical problems vis a vis the food and the alcohol. Casualties: One aunt almost face down in her food and carted back to the hotel shortly after the dinner; One cousin upchucked into the decorative foliage in the hotel (other cousins applauded her ingenuity and dexterity); and I myself was guilty of some extemporaneous speaking that was not fully appreciated by the table next to us. And this was only the women! Oh well. I was fairly eloquent considering I couldn't feel my extremities. I don't get to drink much anymore and I forgot alcohol is toxic when consumed over the course of a day without enough food barriers. There are five stages of G.R.E.E.T. we normally go through at a family wedding. GATHERING STAGE. We arrive at the designated hotel and spot the first familiar face. Our family is large, and we start multiplying at a rapid pace. Soon we are the majority on our assigned floor, so we vote to secede from the hotel. Thus allowing us to skirt regulations concerning open containers, elevator capacity and proper attire for entering the pool from the diving board while armed with alcoholic beverages. REGALING. We hear the latest updates on family progeny, employment, parties or illnesses such as rashes that have lasted longer than six months. EUPHORIA. People have a few drinks. People wonder why we don't do this more often. EVENT. "I do's" are exchanged. Toasts are made. Embarrassing public displays are recorded for posterity. Injuries are tallied. Example: twisted ankles during ill-advised maneuvers; head injuries incurred while dancing; carbon monoxide poisoning for good measure. THANKS. For the memories. Take it easy on the drive home. Great to see you again. Come visit! We mean it! (and we do.) There were several reasons why I wanted Hubby to attend this particular wedding: 1) Jeff is my last unmarried Incredible cousin. Thus, this is the last opportunity to experience an Incredible Wedding in its classic form. 2) I needed someone to offer me sandwiches in case I turned pale. (see previous wedding details) 3) This is why I got married. So I'd have a date! 4) Crazy Neal was to be the Deejay Emeritus Now that the event is over I have to say it lived up to every expectation and then some! And although the food wasn't one of the big things I was focusing on, it was great. Fortunately buffet style, so I was able to grab seconds, which is not normally my habit at weddings. The prime rib melted in your mouth, veggies done to perfection, the pasta so good I wanted to lick the plate! Okay. Crazy Neal. Crazy Neal originally played my cousin Peter Incredible's wedding back in 1985. When we heard Peter's "accounting major friend" was going to be the deejay this did not raise any particularly thrilling expectations with us. Accounting, for Pete's sake! And Kimberly's sake, his bride. Two of the nicest people I know. But was he really going to let his accounting buddy try to entertain a wedding crowd? Heh. I do believe Crazy Neal missed his calling. As far as I know he is still an accountant back in eastern Ohio somewhere. Jeff and Sarah had to import him for their occasion. Fortunately he was able to tear himself away from balance sheets and income statements long enough to dust off his sound system, special trunkful of props, and assistant who looks like a cross between an Amish farmer and the lead singer for ZZ Top. When we arrived at the reception Hubby pointed to a guy with shaggy blonde hair and a big grin. "Is that him?" he asked. "Who, Kato?" I shook my head. "No, he's a friend of the family. He makes sure everyone has too much to drink and that no one ends up in the local news the next day." His name isn't actually Kato, but that's what my uncles call him, and now there's no further need to describe what he looks like. I pointed to the Quentin Tarantino-esque figure clad in black spandex pants, a beret, two black fingerless bowling gloves and a lilac-colored satin smoking jacket. "THAT'S Neal," I said reverentially. "He's just getting warmed up." Indeed, my father was trying to get his attention, and Neal had just blown him a theatrical kiss from across the room. Checks! Balances! Depreciation! Neal! (Just imagining his business card.) As the reception got underway, Neal boomed out the story of Jeff and Sarah's meeting back in "The Year 2K." It took on a baseball trajectory. Strike one. Strike two. Finally they strike up a captivating conversation! Neal likes to entertain the crowd with any particularly mortifying bits of a couple's history that might prove instructive. And the voice! Neal's voice is so distinctive that if you've heard it once, you will never forget it. He could easily do radio. All Accounting, All the Time! Brought to you by Crazy Neal! Maybe as a country we'd start cutting up those credit cards if Neal told us to. I have a particular fondness for Neal's use of language. He doesn't just introduce the bridal party. He UNLEASHES them! Really. Neal is like a Renaissance Deejay. I tried to keep track of Neal's costume changes, but it was impossible. He makes Cher look like the Church Lady. After the beret he sported: An Uncle Sam Getup, a fez, a KISS Gene Simmons outfit, a fright wig, a sombrero, a bandanna, and Egyptian Pharaoh headdress...there were more that I can't recall now, but every 10 minutes or so I was poking Hubby saying, "Look at Neal NOW!" Although I had prepared Hubby for the idea of Neal, the reality still stunned him. I wish the kids had been there to see the bubble machine. I should also mention that Joran Van Der Sloot crashed the wedding. And I can hardly blame him, he's getting so much bad publicity in his home island. Yes, he was there in his blue shirt, dancing with many girls (but I noticed the blondes studiously avoided him.) When I pointed Joran out to Hubby, he rolled his eyes at me, but did admit a strong resemblance. "No, I'm sure it's him," I insisted. "The bride and groom are honeymooning in ARUBA. Do you think that's a coincidence?" I started looking around for Beth Holloway Twitty. She couldn't be far behind. Maybe hiding out in the ladies' room until she saw her chance to buttonhole Joran and ask him pointed questions. Well they picked the right wedding to crash! By the end of the evening some of us had adjourned to a patio outside to take a break from the loud music. But we were shortly summoned back in. The younger Incredibles had overtaken the dance floor. Literally. Cousin Dan was on the floor, sliding through brother Pete's legs. And Peter? In his younger days he's been known to doff a few articles of clothing. All the better to Shake It Down, my dear, as the Wolf said to Little Red Riding Guest. But now he's a family man. With a daughter old enough to go to college. His Shaking It Down Days were long past. And anyway, he's an accountant. Whoops. Did I say...ACCOUNTANT? Now Peter is a large man. If you owned a football team you would want him on your offensive line. He is also one of the nicest people I know, certainly one of my favorite cousins of all time. I'm sure there was a side of him that said, "I'm too OLD for this!" I'm also certain there was another side that whispered, "This is THE LAST Classic Incredible Wedding. I have Neal. I have my fans. There are some expectations here!" And thus off came the shirt. On sprang Neal's sombrero. Boogeying commenced. To the delight of his fans. As Uncle Tom remarked, "The suspenders! They're slimming!" Heh. Pete is a gentle giant with a terrific sense of humor. He takes everything in stride and is the first to laugh at himself as all Reillys do. And Incredibles. Because life is a hoot, and then you die. Really, I love these weddings. And all these aunts, uncles and cousins who attend them. And I'm thrilled Hubby got to tag along this time and see just what it was I've been chuckling about to him all these years. I hope these women who marry into the Incredible family understand what they'll be facing in 5-10-20 years. Another Incredible wedding. Of their own kids. It's not too early to book Neal!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Peter Jennings Signs Off

ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings has been reassigned to the Celestial Bureau, a victim of lung cancer. He was yet another casaulty of 9/11. After kicking a 30-year smoking habit in the 1980s, he resumed his friendship with tobacco due to the pressures of reporting during the 9/11 crisis. News colleagues are praising him as "the best ever." Which probably makes Dan Rather wish he died first. Or at least prior to AirForceNationalGuardGate.

Friday, August 05, 2005

To Bee or Not to Bee

Since we returned from our family vacation to Buffalo in July, some of you may be awaiting an update on the situation with my parents' deck. For those of you not familiar with THE DECK, it has been declared a tourist hazard by the Buffalo Board of Ridiculous Injuries. I have previously mentioned how its many lurching and protruding layers have cut down friends, relatives and neighbors who were supposedly in their primes before they stepped foot (and torso, collar bone, head, etc.) onto my parents so-called deck. The deck was once a fabulous outdoor addition to my parents' home, but alas, years, the weather, and the shifting of several tectonic plates beneath the house and yard had caused the deck to basically "give up" as the earth pulled it in several directions at once, including, east, south, north and straight up. Yes, it was like a slow motion ride on the Wild Mouse. Of course the people who LIVED in the house got used to it, deftly negotiating the uneven terrain with the surefootedness of sherpa guides. Everyone else, however, was risking a sprained ankle, twisted knee or re-calibrated spine if they were not careful. With this sort of history, naturally my parents like to throw "Deck Parties." After all, what good is a deck if others can't enjoy the crazily careening backyard scenery with you? Why eat your delicious meal in the boring indoors when you can risk losing it on the lawn, having it slither from the plate onto your lap and then through the slats of the deck, or better yet shared with every winged insect on our side of the street? This year was no different. As soon as we committed to our Buffalo trip, my mother immediately began hatching plans for the Family Deck Party. There was a twist this year, though, one none of us was expecting. You see I haven't mentioned this before, but my sister's boyfriend Carl is EXTREMELY HANDY. I would even go so far as to say he is quite talented in a way that those of us who have trouble applying contact paper to anything can't understand. He doesn't run screaming from the sight of tools. He not only knows which tool is which, but also what they are used for. He can somehow force ordinary "objects" to take on the properties of "building materials" and "fix and create things." Really, it's like watching the Miracle of Life. None of us understands how he does it, but we remain in a state of awe. So Carl apparently volunteered to "fix the deck." Haha! Of course you can't just plunge into a job that way at my parents' house. First they must tell you of the zillion and one reasons why It Can't Be Done. Whether it's the shape of the house, the angle of the land, the position of the horizon in the sky relative to their property, the mysterious drain tile, a "crossbeam" that cannot be interfered with or the entire house will collapse into the cellar, there is always a reason why projects cannot be undertaken. But Carl is a patient man, he listened to all these reasons and more, including my parents' vow to simply cut the deck loose from the house to allow it to drift south to Orchard Park. He nodded at all these explanations and declarations. Then he told them he was going to do it anyway. He couldn't be stopped! They would have to get a restraining order against him if they wanted to prevent him from finally correcting the Cat In the Hat quality presented by the deck. My father could either leap on his back and try to wrest the tools from him, or simply get out of the way. There was no middle ground. Fast forward to our vacation. By the time we arrived in Buffalo the deck was finished. When I stepped outside to admire it, I almost twisted my knee. It no longer lurched up in all the wrong places! My body simply wasn't used to walking on a surface that was level and did not play visual tricks with your mind. I staggered around drunkenly, trying to retrain myself. The deck was now firmly attached to both the house and the ground with no hidden gaps. There was no longer a "trick railing" that caused people to fall directly to the lawn if they attempted to lean on it. I can only say that the experience was bizarre. So naturally this made the Deck Party weird for my relatives, too, who were used to having to wear protective gear to my parents' house. The party itself was held on a sunny afternoon during the middle of Buffalo's heatwave. My cousins' children (and there were many many many of them) were scattered all over the lawn playing games and running through sprinklers. There were shrieks of delight. My 6-year-old spent almost the entire time playing wiffle ball with interchangeable groups of cousins. We let them make up their own Yard Rules with no adult interference! I do believe it was the first time my son experienced Pure Childhood of the sort I remembered where kids made the rules and picked the teams, while adults basically ignored them unless someone started bleeding. Still. It was a DECK PARTY. Something had to go wrong. Perhaps some of you remember the story I told about all the neighborhood bees deciding to eat my father's famous shrimp cocktail sauce. Well those bees were just awaiting their party invitation. However due to the kiddie nature of this party, there WAS no shrimp cocktail. The bees were a little disgruntled at that. But still willing to come to the party. When the first ones arrived, my mother frowned at them. My mother had previously covered every available surface of the deck, plus fogged the yard with an extremely potent poison. (Note to cousins with children: This was poisonous to bugs only. Otherwise it can be used as a dessert topping.) She imagined this would be enough to deter the bees, but of course she was wrong. It was only enough to deter my father, who glared at her from inside the house. Don't ask me what happened to last year's Plastic Tower of Death. Perhaps it was too successful and my parents got rid of it. Anyway, I don't recall who made this year's suggestion. It must be one of those weird internet remedies or old wives' tales that sound interesting but have no basis in truth. The solution was DRYER SHEETS. You know, those fragrant squares you get in the laundry aisle and toss into your dryer? Well apparently bees hate them. Enough to avoid your party if there are enough dryer sheets in the vicinity. Does that sound even remotely plausible? I thought not. That's why all the adults in the backyard were seated on the deck with drink in one hand, and dryer sheet in the other. As bees circled overhead, deciding whose plate of food looked most delicious. And I have to be honest about one thing. The dryer sheets were NOT totally useless. You could WAVE at the bees with them, causing the bees to bother the next person rather than you. Everyone was waving their white dryer sheets. We looked like we were on a giant wooden ship and perhaps the neighbors were threatening to fire their backyard cannons at us. So we were trying to surrender en masse. It was a lovely party. Particularly if you were one of the kids gleefully enjoying the games in the backyard. But part of me misses the old deck. When things start appearing too normal I start wondering if I belong in that particular scenery. Carl is slowly transforming all the flaws in my parents' house. Once he finishes you know what will have to happen. FOR SALE.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Shuttle Dee Dee

NASA officials present a serene front to the media, sort of like celebrity publicists who insist their clients are "still friends" after a bruising divorce battle and angry revisions to flesh art at the pricey tattoo parlor. In spite of some problems so obvious that they can be seen with the naked eye standing out in your backyard, they assure us everything is under control. I don't believe it for a minute. In fact I think all the top guys (and gals) and their geek functionaries are locked in a soundproofed room screaming at each other. Scientist With Bad Haircut: Now all we have to do is send What's-His-Name out on a spacewalk with the soldering iron, and... Guy in Bowtie: You idiot! Why didn't you tell us the "Check Engine" light was blinking? SWBH: There is no danger. We're just undertaking this highly risky spacewalk as a precaution. Man Playing With His Pocket Protector: I TOLD you we shouldn't have lifted off. Now the whole world's gonna find out we think the space program is our own personal video game. Woman With No Makeup And Thick Glasses: Shut up, Roger. As I recall you were conveniently in the bathroom when we were voting on whether to launch. GIB: You're a bunch of BOOBS. (Aside to woman) That wasn't directed at you personally. (Gazing fiercely at men) We burned up the last crew and we're all gonna get fired if we don't get this crew down in one piece. Or nine easy pieces. (to SWBH) How many of them are there, again? SWBH: Now about the coefficients on the heat shield... I don't think they'd have attempted the risky spacewalk thing, much less TWO of them, unless they were really nervous. The first spacewalk took care of some "filler" sticking out from between the tiles like aeronautical cellulite because it may cause problems upon re-entry. "Problems upon re-entry" translates to "may catch fire and incinerate the shuttle," or "may rip off the whole bottom of the ship causing the crew to fall out" or "may go off in a series of explosions to commemorate the end of the space shuttle program." As a person who has watched the movie Apollo 13, I am more than qualified to advise them on how to best fix the various problems. First, send the Pocket Protector Guy to the dollar store with a giant green trash bag and a hundred bucks. Then have him randomly fill the bag as he wanders through the aisles, grabbing everything from pot scrubbers and gift wrap to extension cords and plastic party cups. And of course duct tape. Send all the stuff up there in an "unmanned space drone" and drop it off where the guy performing the next spacewalk can snag it. Then let them assemble a repair kit to be used any way they like! I also heard on TV, directly from the lips of a former shuttle spacewoman (who was also not wearing makeup) that the spacewalker needs to be careful so he doesn't accidentally bump the shuttle with his head, or scrape it with his shoulder, causing an incurable indentation. Ahem. The shuttle is THAT DELICATE? What about that stupid bird that they hit on the way up? Shouldn't someone pluck the beak out of the shuttle's underside? They may as well have made the thing out of fine porcelain, for Neil Armstrong's Sake! The shuttle would not be safe in a roomful of toddlers, who, I'm sure, would leave bite marks right on the expensive foam. If my van were made of delicate foam I would not expect to survive a trip to the mall, much less a flight into outer space. Whose brilliant idea was it to make the space shuttle out of foam? (Probably the Scientist With the Bad Haircut, who started assembling his models that way as a kid and never stopped.) Well I'm just going to offer my sturdy bridge made entirely out of NEWSPAPERS to the city of Tampa, which needs some new bridges because the current ones under constuction are cracking like, well, shuttle tiles! And the Peace Bridge to Canada can be made from old editions of the Toronto Sun and the Buffalo News. It worked for me in eighth grade, I'm sure it'll hold up in traffic. So our astronauts are basically orbiting our earth in a giant foam coffee cup, albeit with a few dents and rips. Sounds safe! Why couldn't they have chosen a more durable substance? Couldn't they have given the project to the people who package ordinary household batteries into plastic that is impervious to EVERYTHING? I once tried to open a package of batteries (with the help of some scissors and car keys) and gouged myself so deeply with the indestructible PLASTIC that I bled all over the car. (Which won't look so good for Hubby if I turn up murdered or missing, but oh well, he'll have to explain about the battery injury.) Now we're also being told that the shuttle had "lightweight fabric covers" on its steering thrusters that were supposed to "float off harmlessly" at liftoff. But one came off late, striking the ship and possibly causing a "bubble protrusion" near the captain's window. The closeup photos sort of make it look like it has the consistency of one of those cheap plastic cups that melt when they're in the dishwasher. On top of all this, some other space program know-it-all pointed out that one of the main reasons we're still blasting people out into space is that the shuttle has to "pick up the garbage from the space station." In other words, they're just a sanitation crew with a really expensive (and difficult to maintain) truck! At this point the astronauts are probably wishing this was simply a Publicity Flight manned by Michael "Moonwalk" Jackson and his chimp Bubbles. I have three words for the space program, once Discovery has returned intact, with crew safe. Grounded For Life.