The Number You Have Reached...

I remember about eight million years ago (give or take), my dad read an article in some magazine about the New York City phone system, which contained the fact that at 9 a.m. every weekday, the system would “run out” of dial tone. Dial tone, it seems, was not a boundless resource, but something of which there was a finite amount. All those people beginning their work day and picking up the phone to make that first call would suck it all up, and for an unspecified amount of time each day, it wasn’t possible to “get a dial tone” in New York City.

Something reminded me of that article the other day, and it occurred to me that this was not a phenomenon my children would ever know. In fact, I’m not sure they even know what a dial tone is. Their awareness of phones and phone calls doesn’t include a world without smart phones, much less without cell phones. We have a landline phone, and it rings from time to time, but we generally let it go to voice mail, because it’s almost always a telemarketer, or some asshole from India trying to recruit us to partner with him in hacking our own computers so he can mine our passwords and otherwise defraud us.

(Why, you may ask, do we then bother with a landline? The answer is we had it for emergencies when the kids were a bit smaller—before they could all read to manipulate a smart phone, they could have picked up the landline and dialed 9-1-1 in the event there was an emergency, and the grownup who was responsible for them was the victim. We keep it now because none of our children have cell phones—yet—and they do occasionally stay home alone, so they have a way to call for help, should they need it.)

Also a foreign concept: long distance. Back at Christmas, my brother in law called me (on my cell phone, of course). He and his girlfriend were coming for a visit in a couple of weeks, and he wanted to talk logistics and plans. Sometimes I think my husband married me (with my lifelong reputation for being an incessant chatterbox) to fill the blathering void left in his life by the absence of my brother in law. If I can talk the hind leg off a cat, my brother in law and I together would turn it into a biped (unfortunately, one with two front paws, but never mind about that). So, we chatted of this and that, swapped some stories, made some plans. After about a half an hour, my 80s-raised brain presented me with this thought:

“Jesus, this is going to cost him a fortune.”

Duh. He called my cell from his. It wasn’t costing him a dime. That idea would never have crossed the mind of any of my kids in a similar circumstance, because they know nothing of the concept of local calls versus long distance calls. Calls are calls to them.

And remember calling someone and getting a “busy signal”? This will never happen to kids of this generation. Every call goes right to a voice mail, or you get a cheerful, musical voice letting you know that you’ve somehow made a mistake and should promptly fuck off. I bet she’s the cousin of that bitch who’s constantly telling me I can enter my phone number if I’ve forgotten my Club Card, and urging me to scan my first item at the self-checkout (I despise self-checkout, a concept I know was designed by a man—but more on that another time).

Although we do have a landline, our phones are all cordless. We have them in three or four rooms, but we could (if we actually used them) roam from room to room, chatting all the while. When I was growing up there was a red wall phone in the kitchen. As with all wall phones in all kitchens, it had a 6’ cord on it (so you could…walk into the dining room to talk, because…a change of scenery is nice? I don’t know). Naturally that cord was pulled out all to hell and gone, because we did go into the dining room for a change of scenery, or to the far end of the kitchen for a drink of water. Never will I say the words every teenager dreads, “Get back in the kitchen or you’re going to pull that phone right off the wall!” Ugggghhh, OKAY MOM.

Related—I’ll never have to yell at them for trying to jump rope with the phone cord, which could also pull the phone right off the wall, for god’s sake.

On the plus side, they’re unlikely to suffer the pain of the twisted phone cord. The phone cord that has been knotted and kinked up to the point that the only remedy for it is to stand on a desk or table and hold the cord high above your head with the receiver dangling down, letting the weight of the receiver pull the snarls out of it. Of course, that method was only partially successful, because the cord was so stretched out in the first place that it would crimp back up in a weird way that only remotely resembled its original tidy corkscrew pattern.

I once heard an NPR story on how phone cords got so strangely tangled. The expert (from…AT&T, back when AT&T made actual telephones? From the North American Telephone Cord Association? I have no idea) said that the way phone cords got all twisted was that, “People twist ‘em.” He went on to explain that the user would take the receiver out of the cradle and bring it to their ear, then during the call, they’d switch ears, and return the receiver to the cradle from there. That was one full revolution of the cord. Multiply that by a couple of hundred phone calls, and you’re well on your way to a highly twisted phone cord. Probably information I’m passing along too late to be of any use to you with your cordless handsets and your smart phones, but for what it’s worth, that’s how it happens.

They’re never going to pine for cute phones, either. When I was a kid, I desperately wanted a Kermit the Frog phone from the AT&T Phone Center store. Kermit was sitting in a chair with his feet up and his legs crossed, and one of his feet and an outstretched hand made the cradle for the receiver.  I didn’t get it. I got a princess phone instead, which was fine, but not exactly what I wanted (yes, First World problems, but I’m still a tad bitter about it, when you consider that about ten years later my mother decided on a whim that she wanted a Mickey Mouse phone and went out and bought it for herself. So a character phone was reasonable if she wanted it but not if I did? Humph). Later I took matters into my own hands, and bought both a phone shaped like a rain cloud, with raindrops for buttons, and a rainbow for a handle (which was cute, but impossible to wedge between your shoulder and your ear when you were on a call because it really was just a half circle, not “receiver shaped”), and one of those clear plastic Trimline phones with multicolored components and wires (which, to be totally honest, I wish I still had).

Maybe I wish I still had both

Phones today are so characterless and dull. They’re all cordless of course, but they’re also just black plastic with boring LED displays. About the only “feature” they have that differentiates them from one another is whether the display is orange, green, or blue. It’s almost impossible to distinguish between your wireless phone handset and your television remote control. In fact, in the past I’ve tried to answer the TV remote. (Although to be fair, I’ve also tried to use my TV remote as a calculator, so I clearly have my issues with electronics in general, and with TV remotes in particular.)
While there are a lot of positives my kids will have by living in the smart phone era, there’s one really wonderful telephone related experience they will miss out on completely—slamming the phone down on someone who’s been a complete asshole during a call. I don’t care what you say, pushing the “end” button on a smart phone or cordless handset just doesn’t give you the same surge of satisfaction as taking that receiver and crashing it as hard as you can into the cradle. It also doesn’t translate the same way to the jackhole on the other end, who just hears the call go silent on a smart phone. There’s no reverberating bang! as the call ends, and the dial tone starts droning tunelessly in their ear. It was a well deserved punishment for someone who committed the crime of being a total dick. Smart phones have rendered this impossible. Such a sad loss.

A Piece of Work

Our story today is about strange coworkers. Not mine, although I have worked with my share of weirdos, jerks, and assholes. No, this is the tale of the coworker of a friend who was so bizarre that she became a celebrity among my group. We begged my friend for current news of her, and texted each other when there were “sightings.” When she finally vanished, we mourned her going with genuine sorrow. But I mustn’t get ahead of my story.
I first became aware of this woman in a hamburger place near my office. My friend and her peculiar colleague worked about a block away from where my building is located. One morning I stopped in at the hamburger place that was across the street from us for a sausage breakfast sandwich, to find a well-dressed, middle aged, African American woman in line ahead of me. She wore a fabric rain coat, and had with her an oversized suitcase. I gave her little consideration—my office is downtown, not far from where the train boards for the airport. I assumed she was taking an early morning flight, and had stopped for something to eat. She was quite heavily packed, with not only the suitcase, but a backpack, tote bag, and purse.
But I continued to see her from time to time. Always with the same burden, always in the same raincoat, always looking extremely well put together. After a half a dozen sightings, I chanced to mention her to my friend.
Friend: “Oh, that’s Luggage Linda,”
Me: “Luggage Linda? Do you know her?”
Friend: “She works in my office.”
My friend at that time worked for a government-run utility.
Me: “And she brings that stuff with her every day?”
Friend: “Oh it’s worse than that. She takes it with her everywhere she goes. Bathroom. File room. Lunch. Everywhere.”
Me: “What’s in it?”
Friend: “No idea. No one has ever seen.”  
It turned out that Luggage Linda (and yes, Linda is her real name) was the receptionist for this government office. No one was ever clear why she brought all this stuff with her every day, nor why she kept it with her at all times. Linda, it transpired, was probably not too tightly wrapped. (I’m guessing you didn’t need to be told that.)
She constantly accused people of messing with her stuff while she was away from her desk. My friend assured me that, to the best of her knowledge, no one actually touched her belongings, but she was constantly railing at no one for rearranging things, or resetting the preset dial buttons on her phone. I’ve always thought it’s a really good thing she didn’t work in my office, because I wouldn’t have been able to resist the urge to actually do that sort of thing.

She was also terrified of a guy named Brian who worked for the same organization in a different group. She wouldn’t get on the elevator if he was on it (he worked on a slightly higher floor). She was sure, she said, that Brian left the office during the day and went to her apartment, where he would “go through her aprons.” (Yes, aprons. No, no idea why aprons.) Also, one time he’d “spilled salad oil on the floor.” It had to have been him, she insisted. Who else would have done it? It’s worth noting that, by all the accounts I heard, Brian was a very nice man who never did anything to threaten her, or arouse her fears. She was simply irrationally afraid of him.

She was a religious woman, and went to church regularly. I don’t know which church, but at some point, they grew weary of whatever peculiarities she displayed regarding organized religion (one assumes she was similarly paranoid about someone in the congregation, or within the ministry, as she was with Brian, or otherwise exhibited bizarre behavior commensurate with that in her professional life). They asked her to leave the church. I can only assume they told her, “Jesus loves you, but we’re over you.” It’s pretty bad when your church asks you not to come anymore.
On a somewhat sad note, she evidently had a daughter who lived somewhere in California. By her own account, the daughter was a PhD, and would have nothing to do with her. One doesn’t have to spend much time pondering that choice. However, it has occurred to me in later years that it’s possible said daughter (and/or her educational achievements) were fabrications. We have no real way of knowing, and it doesn’t really matter, but if it is true, I think it’s unfortunate.

The story of Luggage Linda has an unhappy ending, and a happy ending (there are two) depending, I suppose, on your point of view.

Linda began arriving for work late (half an hour or an hour), with the reason stated being an unexplained fear. Brian? Someone else? It was never disclosed. Her manager insisted she would need to take vacation to account for the time. She wanted to take sick time. The manager was adamant that it be vacation. HR got involved. As with many government agencies, the HR department of this particular organization was not in the same building. The HR rep came down to meet with Linda and her manager. Since this was the first time the HR rep had met Linda, it was the first time s/he realized to just what degree Linda’s grip on reality was questionable.

The HR rep decreed that Linda would need to undergo an evaluation in order to continue her employment. She was placed on leave until such time as she would agree to this condition. The grape vine information immediately following that announcement was that she had declared she would undergo no such procedure, and there the matter appeared to end. Linda no longer had a job there.

However, in doing research for this, I texted my friend to find out just what the fear was that ultimately resulted in Linda’s termination. I was informed that, lo and behold, Linda is back. In the same job. In the same office. (My friend has moved on to a different position in another building.) She is, it seems, limited to a single suit case now, with all the other paraphernalia being deemed disruptive and inappropriate for the workplace, but she is back as the receptionist for the government run utility down the street from my office. How she managed to pass the evaluation that was required for her clearance to return is uncertain. I’m sure Brian greeted her return with open arms, from which she no doubt fled in terror.
This is Linda. She goes through a suitcase about every six months. Shortly after these pictures were taken, she got an animal print one.

You Must Read This

Maybe it’s just our school district—maybe we’re slackers—but I have noticed something that tortured me endlessly in my school days seems to have miraculously faded from popularity. I speak of the dreaded Summer Reading List and accompanying Book Reports.
Maybe it was just the fancy ass private school my parents insisted on sending me to (some drivel about a good education, I don’t know—I actually hadn’t turned down the volume on my Walkman the way I’d been instructed to when they started the conversation), but for years when classes would end in June, they would pass out a list of “Recommended Reading.” Maybe I misunderstood the definition of “recommended” but I was always under the impression that a recommendation wasn’t necessarily a direct order to execute. With a recommendation, you had the option not to participate. That was not the case here. On the first day of school you were to bring back with you some appalling number of reports on books you’d read over the summer.

I hate you, I hate you, I hate you
I love to read, do now and did then. It was probably my favorite thing to do as a kid (since sports clearly wasn’t high on the list). But to read books and then have to write book reports just plain sucked. In the first place, they seldom picked books that I wanted to read. They always picked all those coming of age books like “Up a Road Slowly” (and really, why did it seem that every heroine in the books on these lists wanted to be a writer? I get it—write what you know, but where does imagination come into play? Couldn’t these people imagine a little girl who wanted to be anything other than a writer, even though that was clearly what they wanted to be when they were kids?) and deep books like “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Where The Red Fern Grows.” Frankly, my problem with all these sorts of books is, they’re depressing. They never picked things like “Starring Sally J. Friedman As Herself” or “Hangin’ Out with Cici” (which is apparently out of print now, but was written by Francine Pascal, so those of you who were “Sweet Valley” high fans might want to see if you can find it at your library).
I had enough trouble with depression as a kid. It was not necessary for me to read about kids with dying moms, dying friends, dying dogs, or other unfortunate circumstances. I had enough trouble dealing with my own problems, I didn’t need to read about problems other kids had that I couldn’t do anything about. And if it was about animals suffering (lookin’ at you “Incredible Journey”) just forget it. Fuck that noise. I was a huge animal lover, and couldn’t stand the idea of an animal in any sort of pain. I didn’t even like “Socks” because of that.
But I had no choice. Every summer I would go through and pick the least depressing of the gloomy lot. Of course now I go look at my school’s website and not only have they changed the requirement (only one book is mandatory, and no reports on the others they have to read), but they’ve added all the good shit—Judy Blume, E.L. Konigsburg (loved “The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”—I just read it to my kids, and they loved it too), and J. K. Rowling. Not that J.K. Rowling was in print when I was a kid, but just to illustrate that they’ve really broadened their offerings.
Naturally I never did this exercise voluntarily, or ever particularly early on in the summer. Mid to late August always found my mother hounding me to figure out which books to read, and me spending multiple hours reading books I hated, and then having to write up some sort of stupid summary of them. Part of the reason I hated doing this is because I stink at it—there’s a reason I’m not writing reviews for the New York Review of Books. Although, ironically, I have an English degree, but an English degree is surprisingly easy to fake. If you can’t think of anything else to write, you can pick a pet theory, and apply it to every text.  Treatment of women? Even if you’re reading “Lord of the Flies” (which was one of the dogs I had to read in high school at one point—dear lord how I loathe that book, and I’m sorry to say it’s still required reading if you’re going into Grade 10 at my old high school) you can make it work. Postcolonialism? Sure. Freudian theory? No problem.
But these were “little kid” book reports, not a treatise on the application of a literary theory to a text. Most of the time they wanted the title and author, main characters, and a description of the conflict. Then they wanted you to say something you liked about the book. This was always a huge challenge for me, because, as I’ve said, I almost never did like the fucking book. I would have been glad to detail what I disliked about the books, but my school didn’t want to know (or perhaps my mother wouldn’t let me be honest). They were all “la la la what did you like about this book?” I would have said, “I thought it was depressing as shit and it brought me down for days to have to read about these dreary people in these cheerless, miserable circumstances with bleak prospects.” (Or, you know, the ten year old version of this.) Oh no, in spite of having made me read these lugubrious tomes, they wanted me to say what I liked.
Please don’t think I wanted to read nothing but Nancy Drew or V.C. Andrews or other similar literary junk food. I was willing to read decent books, I just didn’t want them to be such downers. I read and loved the Little House books, “The Secret Garden” (“A Little Princess” not so much), and the whole “Ramona” series. But they rammed “The Bluest Eye” and “The Once and Future King” down my throat (in high school, naturally—not when I was nine). And to be fair, “The Once and Future King” isn’t depressing, but holy hell is it long as shit and quite frankly not my genre.
Absolutely the only good thing that ever came out of this whole experience through which I suffered for more years than I care to count is that I learned to spell the word “character.” At one point I misspelled it on one of my reports, and my father made me write it over some absurd number of times to learn to spell it correctly. To this day, when I write that word, I think “char-act-er” because that was what my brain was saying the whole time I was writing it out to learn to spell it back in the day. But I’d say that’s a fairly small payoff for what I can assure you was hours of thankless work, between reading and writing up reports.
And now it seems the whole practice has either disappeared, or been reduced down to a more reasonable effort. To have been asked to read a single book and just be able to discuss it, without having to fabricate a positive response to it would have been heaven. Maybe that’s why I was actually successful in getting an English degree. I remember telling a professor once that I refused to read “Wuthering Heights” and asking if there would be a problem with that when it came time to write papers. I was reading it, I explained, when my mother died suddenly of an asthma attack two years earlier, and I couldn’t read it again without remembering the whole horrible experience. Her response was that reactions to books are very personal, and she wouldn’t force anyone to read something that would cause them to react in a way that would make them uncomfortable. I wish she’d been in charge of my summer reading program all those years ago. If nothing else, I might have been spared “Lord of the Flies.”

My Summer Vacation, Part 2

In Part One you got to hear about our visit to a super cool Las Vegas museum I recommend, plus an awesome swimming pool experience, and some barfing in the post-Mexican food/roller coaster/heat experience. Now we come to Part Two, where we see a show, go to the pool again, discover another problem with Las Vegas, and do some shopping. Not necessarily in that order. So please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle as we take off on the rest of our adventure. Again, in chronological order.

Friday Evening

We’ve seen probably half a dozen Cirque de Soleil shows over the years (all B.C.—Before Children), so we thought the kids might enjoy a show. I mean, they are cool (the shows, not necessarily the kids, although they’re OK too). We found one where the seats were all the same price and were reasonable (there are some where kid tickets are half price, and some where you pay full price for all the seats, with full price being $125+). The one we went to is called Zarkana, and like all Cirque de Soleil shows, I presume the theme is, “We’re Far More Cerebral Than You, You Unsophisticated Asshole.”

Clearly you are a fucking moron. You paid eighty bucks a ticket for this show and $20 for a beer, right?

Before the show we went to dinner at a Southern-ish restaurant (it’s hard to find a truly Southern restaurant in Nevada, I don’t care how authentic they think their grits are). It was a “two dollar sign” place on Yelp or whatever we used to find it. But here’s something I noticed about a number of the places we went that didn’t offer buffets: they didn’t have children’s menus.

Despite the fact that Vegas seems to be playing down, or at least compartmentalizing, its strip club-hooker-high roller reputation to attract families with kids, in many of the restaurants you’re forced to order food for your kids off the appetizer menu, or get them an eighteen dollar hamburger. One time we picked deep fried macaroni and cheese balls to share (I have an appointment with my cardiologist later this week) and my daughter (who demands macaroni and cheese on restaurant menus) ate them but ended up pretty much eating two tablespoons of Ranch dressing for her meal (taking her to the cardiologist next month). Every restaurant tab was at least two hundred bucks. The sticker shock partially wore off, but it was still a little jarring.

After ordering our kids a $22 bacon cheeseburger, and $15 macaroni and cheese sides off the Southernish menu, we walked to the Cirque de Soleil show. My husband took the kids to get seated while I bought snacks. Dear god the guys who were working the concession were total saints. Everyone was in a hurry and everyone was dithering. If I’d been them, I’d have gotten fired for slapping people for not knowing what they wanted when they stepped up to the counter after waiting in the ten minute line above which the fucking menu was constantly changing on an electronic display. Over and over and over.

I ordered my husband a large Stella Artois (and god bless Las Vegas for being a place you can take your booze with you everywhere, including into the theaters), and three Proseccos for myself (shut up). The guy started pouring Prosecco and asked if I wanted a carrier, since it would be hard for me to transport them otherwise. I said, “Dude, they’re all going to the same place—put them in whatever you want.” Which is why we now have two commemorative plastic Zarkana cups.

My boys loved the show. It was so spectacular, so interesting, and had the great clowns. My daughter slept through almost all of it. This made it a pretty expensive nap, but that’s how it goes, and she’s always nodding off after 8 p.m. so I wasn’t really expecting her to stay awake. What she saw she enjoyed, so that’s fine with me.

We drove back to our hotel and then on…

Saturday Morning

Know this if you go to Vegas—a lot of people come in on Friday and stay until Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. I presume these are mostly folks from California, but I guess they could be from any of the surrounding states. Either way, by 9:30 on Saturday morning, all the prime spots around the lazy river at Mandalay Bay were filled. We ended up on lounges over by one of the salt water pools in an apparently less desirable section of the resort (there’s still a bar over there, so it was all good to me).

Also, a cold front moved in. This meant that it was only 90 degrees in the heat of the day, instead of 112. However, it actually felt cool while I was in the pool because there was some cloud cover, and I ended up sitting in what little bleak sun there was, while my kids played in the lazy river and the wave pool. I went in a bit too, but really, it felt chilly. I was forced to drink two frozen margaritas while I sat by the pool. I’m a brave little soldier that way.

Saturday afternoon we went shopping. Vegas has its share of shopping, some of it enormously upscale, some of it on the Dollar General level. My kids mostly wanted to check out the M&Ms store, and Hershey’s World. If I had to pick a favorite in terms of merchandise diversity, it would be M&Ms hands down. Mostly what Hershey’s offered was either actual candy, or t-shirts with Hershey’s products logos on them. The M&Ms store had pens and mouse pads and slippers and robes and candy dispenses and stuffed animals and I don’t know what all. They were totally the winner.

We went to another store on the strip that was one of those cheapo souvenir places. I bought a tote bag for five bucks. While we were there, one of my kids noticed a display that was tucked way off to the side that had a series of mugs that had handles that were penises.

Him: “What’s that?"

Me: “Nothing. Let’s go this way.”

My oldest and one twin saw them, and neither of them registered what they were. Maybe because they were out of context, or they weren’t expecting coffee mugs to have male genitalia for handles. They’re a little sheltered.

Who wouldn't want to drink their coffee out of this? Besides everyone.

Saturday evening we had dinner with family. My husband’s cousin/godmother (wife of the man who presided at our wedding) lives outside Las Vegas and they met us for dinner.  For as long as we’ve known them, they have been the most frugal people…pretty much ever. She doesn’t cook, so they eat out for every meal, which sounds like it would be pricey, but the places they pick are all either buffets (they do live in Vegas, after all), have early bird specials, or they have buy one get one free coupons.

The place they picked was about 20 minutes away from the Strip, and looked like a very grand funeral home with a pool. They picked it because there was “steak” dinner special, with baked potato and vegetable, for $9.99. The steak was a T-bone, but it was about 1/4” thick. I just had French onion soup, and again, there was no kids menu (WTF?). We were back at our hotel and the kids tucked in by 9, since we were leaving the next morning.

Sunday Morning

On the way out of our hotel, two of my kids wanted to buy souvenirs. One had been dying for a toy slot machine, and the other found a toy roulette wheel he was taken with. We bought them, and headed off for the airport.

At some point the four of them came up with the idea that when they got home, they would play “Casino.” Up to that point they had on numerous occasions played something they call “Hotel.” They set up a footstool in the first floor hallway (and it sucks when I forget they were playing Hotel the day before, come downstairs in the dark first thing in the morning, and trip and fall ass over teacup on the footstool, but I endure these things for my kids, because that’s the kind of patient, long-suffering mother I am). They have a toy cash register (which is actually a McDonald’s-branded thing with buttons for Happy Meals, Chicken McNuggets, and fries, because we’re all about educational toys in our house) which they use as part of the “front desk.” Then they spend forty minutes yelling about checking in. That’s pretty much how the game goes.

Sometimes they’ll spend an hour arguing about who gets to be in what role. Their hotel has a rather limited service offering, it seems. You can check in, get something to eat (there’s a chef), and you’re fairly safe because there’s security. It should not perhaps surprise me that children who have to be hounded and driven to do their chores don’t think of including housekeeping in their service roster.

So given this history, “Casino” wasn’t such a stretch for them. Of course, one of the twins asked what happened when you “ran out of chips” when you were gambling. They’ve seen the History Channel show “Pawn Stars” so we explained that running out of chips was where the pawn shop might enter the picture. So the kids got the brilliant idea that their casino would have an on site pawn shop. So my children would now not only playing “gambling,” they would be playing, “usurer” as well. Excellent.

I guess it’s a good thing they weren’t more aware of the less wholesome side of Vegas. They don’t know what a “gentleman’s club” is, and they apparently didn’t register that “topless dancers” might be female and would be displaying quite a lot of skin, and make the connection that such a display might be considered inappropriate. I’m not sure how I’d explain to the neighbors that my kids invited theirs to an “exotic dance” club.

Overall it was a good trip. The kids enjoyed the pool, and got plenty in the way of treats, which is their criteria for a good vacation. We made it there and back without the planes crashing, which is my criteria for a good vacation. They’d like to go back to Vegas, because there was plenty we didn’t see, and they actually do have quite a few activities for kids. Next time I’ll just know to steel myself to pay $20 for cheeseburgers every time we eat out.

My Summer Vacation, Part 1

You heard about my thoughts on our flight down to Vegas, which we managed to accomplish without the plane crashing. (You’ll be glad to hear we got home without crashing too.) While we were there, we had a surprisingly nice time. The last time I was in Vegas was in about 1999. This was when Vegas was in the process of swinging back from their “We’re a family destination!” efforts of the 90s to the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” campaign. Now they’re going back the other way, and trying to attract families with kids again. There’s actually rather a lot to do with your children, if you don’t mind paying for it. No one has ever accused Las Vegas of being cheap. Here’s Part One of a chronological rundown of What I Did On My Summer Vacation.
Thursday Morning
The Mob Museum. Yes, the Mafia. It’s a museum that describes the start of the Mob, the opposition to it by government and law enforcement, and follows both almost to the present day. It’s in an old post office/courthouse down near Freemont Street, and I highly recommend it. There’s some pretty graphic stuff, so if you have sensitive or squeamish kids, you might want to skip it, but I think my kids didn’t really “get” the gore. They’re so used to the Hollywood version I think they might not really believe that’s real blood on that guy’s shirt in the photograph. That may not be a good thing in general, but in this particular circumstance, I was kind of glad it was the case, because I didn’t have to worry about trauma or nightmares.
There are a ton of interactive exhibits, and it’s really quite fascinating. Three of my kids were in “Come on, Mommy—let’s get back to the gift shop” mode (with good reason—it’s a cool gift shop), but one of them would have spent hours in the museum part with me. There was so much to read and learn. In fact, at one point later that weekend we were in some gift shop, and my studious child was standing in front of a rack of personalized dice you could buy. He remarked on the fact that they were transparent, not opaque.
Me: “Why do you think that is?"
Him: “Because if they’re clear, you can see if they’ve been loaded. Loaded dice are cheating. They’re illegal.”
Me: “Where did you learn that?”
Him: “The Mob Museum.”
That alone was worth the price of admission.
One of their favorite parts was the replica Tommy gun you could fire. It was on an adjustable pole and had one of those shooting range human target things in front of it that lit up showing your “hits” after you fired for a few seconds. While we were in there, another visitor who said he was a professional balloon animal maker (well it was Vegas) called my kids over and made them a balloon Tommy gun. They took turns carrying it around the rest of the afternoon, fighting over whose turn it was to carry it next.
Thursday Afternoon
The reason we went to Vegas at all was because my husband’s company was exhibiting in a trade show there at Mandalay Bay. He was working Thursday morning, but was supposed to get off around 2 on Thursday afternoon. The kids and I decided to head there for a late lunch. There’s allegedly a Johnny Rockets in Mandalay Bay, but I was damned if I could find it. We walked through one part of Mandalay Bay, then when we reached the exhibit hall, we turned back and walked through the casino, into the Shops in the Luxor, desperately trying to find the fucking Johnny Rockets.
I finally asked at an information booth, and the older gentleman I asked looked puzzled.
“People keep asking about this place, but I don’t know where it is,” he said.
The girl next to him knew—apparently it’s in a food court-type place on the other fucking side of Mandalay Bay not far from the goddamned exhibit hall where we’d just been. Fuck. Me.
And this is one of my major frustrations with Las Vegas. Everything is so fucking far away from everything else in the goddamned casinos. The day we arrived (Wednesday) I had to go back up to my hotel room from the “beach bar” at the pool to get my credit card out of my wallet (to pay eleven dollars for a glass of wine, thank you very fucking much). By the time I got back, my wine was warm and the pool was closing. It’s insane. A word of advice: a trip to Las Vegas is the perfect excuse to order a Fitbit if you were looking for one.
On a related note, my husband discovered we (read: they) could walk from our hotel, through Excalibur, over to the MGM Grand, through the Luxor, and all the way to the Mandalay Bay pool. Which brings us to…
Friday Morning
Because my husband had been staying at Mandalay Bay (as had a number of his coworkers, although my husband moved hotels when we arrived on Wednesday afternoon), he had room keys for the hotel. Getting into the pool there requires nothing more than showing your room key (if you’re over 14—under 14 they don’t have to have one), as opposed to scanning it somehow to prove its validity. We decided to drive over there and spend the morning. We couldn’t have made a better choice.
This? Not sucky.
There’s a lazy river that you can float around in without an inner tube, or you can buy them (paying, of course, up the ass for them, but you get to keep them, so whatever). We are now the proud owners of three large and one small Mandalay Bay inner tubes. (My husband is a total sucker.)
There’s a wave pool that has a big wave that’s generated about once every minute that my kids liked to body surf. We wandered back and forth between the lazy river and the wave pool for hours. The lazy river has a waterfall and you can take your drink in it. You can paddle around in the wave pool in between waves, and generally relax and wonder what the poor people are doing.
At about 10:30, my oldest was whining to leave. I figured if I bought him a Coke, he’d be good for another hour or two. We walked down to the Taco Bar at the far end of the wave pool. The guy asked if he could help us. I ordered a Coke for my son, and was then seized by the Spirit of Las Vegas.
Me: “And I’ll have a margarita.”
Him: “Frozen or rocks?”
Me: “Frozen.”
Him: “Souvenir cup?”
The Spirit reached over and punched me in the arm.
Me: “Yes.”
(Total bill: $35. For a Coke and a frozen margarita.)
And this is how I am now the proud owner of a pinky/purpley Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino souvenir cup that I’m using at my office for ice water. (The frozen margarita it came with would be infinitely preferred, but even my generous and lenient company has its limits).
Las Vegas: Brought to you by tequila. Apparently.
Friday Afternoon
At some point we were sufficiently water logged that we decided to leave. We headed back to our hotel to change before heading for Circus Circus. If you’re not familiar with this particular hotel and casino, it was built in 1968, and it feels all of its 45 years (me, too). It’s a bit worse for the wear, faded and dated. However, it has the Adventuredome, which is an indoor amusement park under an enormous glass dome.
I don't know that it was really this pink in there. But it was fucking hot.
We had quick service Mexican for lunch, which was fine, if not spectacular. I had a frozen margarita at lunch (clearly this was kind of becoming a trend for me), and my husband had a Negra Modelo. Then we headed across the hall to the Adventuredome to experience their special brand of torture.
The problem with anything under an enormous glass dome in Las Vegas is that when the temperature outside reaches 106 degrees (as it did that day), no amount of air conditioning short of the “Arctic” setting, which involves setting actual icebergs afloat on indoor pools in addition to lowering the thermostat, was going to make it bearable.
We got the kids wristbands to ride the rides, but decided not to ride ourselves (for economic reasons, not to mention that we really didn’t want to). We trailed around after them from one thrill ride to another. At one point we were waiting at the exit to some barf inducer or other, when my husband announced that he was going to go find a restroom while the kids were waiting. I hoped with all my heart that “I’m going to find a restroom” was code for, “I’m going to buy you another frozen margarita,” but alas that was not the case.
While the kids had a great time, the twin who is most inclined to car sickness succumbed to a combination of cheap Mexican food (he ate one of my chicken enchiladas in addition to his own lunch), the elevated heat within the Adventuredome, the stomach-churning motion of the various rides, and the heat within our car as we drove back to our hotel, and ended up depositing his lunch (and the part of mine he consumed) in the bushes of the parking lot.
But he’s a resilient little guy who’s had this happen before, and was more than ready for our next set of adventures, which you can find out about in Part Two of What I Did On My Summer Vacation! Coming soon!

I Do I Do

When my husband and I announced we were getting married, everyone was very pleased. We’d been dating for a couple of years, and I got along well with his family. I was much better than his last girlfriend, it was agreed by all (better than a cheating psycho who once faked a pregnancy and then a miscarriage to get out of attending her grandfather’s 80th birthday party—let’s be honest, I didn’t have to be that much better to be an improvement, but I like to think I was a lot better). Then his grandparents wanted to know which church we’d be getting married in. We struck a bit of a snag there.

My husband’s grandparents were Catholic. That didn’t stop them from getting married two months before my father in law was born, and then lying about the year of their marriage for the rest of their natural lives, because she’d gotten pregnant by accident in a set of circumstances that was never really clearly explained (I mean, some of it we can figure out from a basic knowledge of human biology, but there was a lot that was never divulged). But they claimed Catholicism as their religion, regardless of how loosely they may have adhered to its teachings at various times in their lives. My husband was raised Catholic, which, now that I think of it, I should revise to read “raised” Catholic, because I think the last time he was in church was Easter of 1972. I was not raised Catholic at all, and wasn’t about to convert to Catholicism and go through all that counselling and pre-marriage song and dance just to satisfy his grandparents (bless their hearts). They, however, declared that a wedding not in the church was invalid, and they would not recognize it. “If it’s not in the church, it’s not real,” I believe was their statement at the time.

I didn’t want to break it to them that I didn’t give a shit if they considered it “real” or not. It’s not like I was marrying David Rockefeller’s grandson, and he and Peggy disapproved of our ecclesiastical choice. There wasn’t a huge family fortune at stake here or anything like that. However, my husband was close to his grandparents and didn’t want to upset them. We spent a few weeks discussing options and finally decided that we didn’t want a religious ceremony at all. My husband’s godmother (who is also a cousin—a first cousin once removed, for those playing along at home) is married to a Federal Law judge. We wondered if a non-religious ceremony would satisfy them, or if they were going to scoff at that and insist on the Church.

Because they apparently had an unapologetically blatant double standard, they declared that, “If it was family, it was fine.” We asked the cousin’s husband if he would be willing to do this for us, and he agreed. He told us he needed to do some research, and would get back to us. About two weeks later, he called us and explained what he’d found out.

We were getting married in Virginia, in a county with the slightly dirty-sounding name of Fauquier (pronounced “Faw-KEER,” and if said quickly enough to someone unfamiliar with the name, sounds like something that might or might not be fightin' words). The judge called the Clerk of Courts in Richmond, and found out what Virginia’s policy was (at that time, anyway—I can’t speak to any changes in the last 18 years. This was our experience; your mileage may vary) for the performance of marriage ceremonies.

It's not all red in real life.

There is a body of individuals who are authorized to perform ceremonies carte blanche. This includes the clergy, and members of the judiciary within the state. There is also a group of a fixed number of laypersons who have been granted the right to marry people. Application is made to the state for these positions. Beyond that, it is possible to obtain permission to marry a specific couple on a specific day. This was what he was gunning for. Unfortunately, according to the Clerk of Courts, you had to be a resident of the county in which you were performing the ceremony. Since this man was not a resident of Fauquier county, we were screwed.
Except! Devious fellows, these legal types. If, he said, we got married before the “wedding,” he would put on his robes, stand in front of our guests, read our vows and “marry” us. But we had to be married before the wedding, he said.
We enlisted my future brother in law and his wife in our deceit. The day before our “wedding,” we went to the courthouse in the county in which we lived, bought a license (they didn’t even ask for ID—just typed our names as we dictated them. I like to think they’ve tightened up the restrictions on that since then), and went down the street to a judge’s office where we got married. My brother in law and his wife were witnesses. Given that it was a “civil” ceremony, I expected to have to promise not to bend, mutilate, or spindle or something, but no, they used love, honor, and cherish. Afterwards we went out for lunch, then went to our wedding rehearsal, and rehearsal dinner (which was, of course, really our wedding dinner).
The next day we got up and exchanged rings in front of 150 guests at what is now a spa and hotel (but was then a private house owned by the catering company we chose) in Fauquier county. Our rings have the two dates engraved in them. We celebrate our anniversary on whichever of the two dates is more convenient (some years, of course, neither is particularly, but when it’s Thursday/Friday, or Sunday/Monday, we pick the weekendier of the two days). Until a few years ago (when I started telling this story to anyone who cared—and probably a ton of people who didn’t) only six people knew we were married the day of our wedding—the cousin and her judge husband, my brother and law and his now-ex wife, and my husband and me.
In some ways, I recommend this approach. On the day of our actual wedding, I wasn’t the least bit nervous. I mean, I was already married to him. It was too fucking late, anyway. I was a little nervous on the Friday, but since there were only five of us in the judge’s office, I wasn’t a little nervous about getting married + a lot nervous that I was going to make an ass of myself in front of 150 of my closest friends. I might, on our wedding day, have been a little nervous about tripping over my dress and falling ass over teacup down the flight of stone steps we were standing at the top of. But the nerves of getting married didn’t push the making an ass of myself nerves over the edge (as they might have in other circumstances), and you’ll be relieved to know I managed to get down the steps and back up the aisle without mishap. And we’ve lived (mostly) happily ever after.

I'm So Over This

You know what’s worse than getting a phone call from a neighbor when you’re on vacation to let you know that his daughter noticed two days ago that yours had lice? Nothing. OK, maybe death or accidental dismemberment, but beyond that, I can’t think of too much. And to answer the obvious question, no, I don’t know why he waited two days to call (I’ll assume the kid didn’t mention it to her dad until then).

We’ve had lice before. We’ve actually had them about five different times. Five bouts of lice times four kids is 20 rounds of treat, comb, repeat. I’m so over the fucking lice that I don’t even know where to start.

I can’t figure out where my kids get them in the first place. I know why they’re prevalent in our community, and if you keep chickens or object to using poison on your kids, please understand that I’m not directing my wrath at you, specifically, but assholes with chickens (because chickens sometimes have lice, you understand, but they don’t bother the fucking chickens. They do, however, bother me and my kids) and those who also shun chemical poisons to kill lice are the reason I have spent what amounts to an entire work week (almost 40 hours by my calculation) over the past three years combing parasites and little tiny bits of parasite shit out of my kids’ hair. I attack these repulsive creatures the way God intended—with hard core poison. None of this tea tree or olive oil shit for me, thank you. It’s better living through chemistry for me all the way.

Where I live, there are many, many people who keep chickens. I have nothing against chickens (they’re delicious, as are their eggs). However, also where I live, there are many people who feel strongly about things like recycling, low carbon footprints, organic everything, and no chemicals. I’m not saying I don’t, I’m just not a fanatic. There’s a guy I know (a very nice guy) who takes his own silverware and napkin everywhere he goes. He eats at regular deli type places, or pizza places, but he doesn’t use plastic forks or paper napkins. For awhile I think he even carried a plate with him.

There are parents in my community who gasp in horror at the idea of their children consuming industrially produced food (such as takeout pizza, or birthday cake from the Safeway). Sometimes they’re the ones with the chickens, sometimes they’re the ones who just shun chemicals, and sometimes they’re both. In either case, I believe that they’re the ones who are perpetuating the lice problem we have. A kid goes out to play with the chickens (and there’s another issue: who plays with a fucking chicken? Get a dog) and his or her head comes in contact with the louse-y bird. Congratulations! Your child now has head lice! Now before they realize it, that kid spreads it to at least one or two other kids. And if the parent is one of these non-chemical types into the bargain, those lice are going to spread further before they can get it under control.

One year the lice problem was so bad that the kids were having to put their jackets and backpacks into individual garbage bags when they arrived at school each day. The bags were then hung on the hooks in the coat room, but they couldn’t touch and therefore spread lice between the contents. It was insane, and it went on until three weeks before school was out. Yes, the lice epidemic was so bad that it lasted from its usual late summer/fall timeframe until May. May. That’s fucking crazy talk.

What’s even more frustrating is that my daughter is the least girly girl to ever have two X chromosomes. She wears her brothers’ hand me downs. She refuses anything pink. She shuns dolls and Polly Pocket (Dear God, while I’m not thrilled with this plague of parasites, or whatever this is I’m dealing with, I want to thank you for not also sending me the Polly Pocket Curse, because I understand that’s pretty hellish as well, and can’t be remedied with a bottle of RID and some upholstery spray. Amen). So I know she’s not sharing brushes or anything like that. Shit, I can’t get her to let me brush her hair, much less have her voluntarily borrow someone else’s brush and do it herself. And my boys don’t wear other people’s hats or anything.

We don’t keep chickens, and I’m clearly pro-chemicals, so how the fuck have my kids gotten lice five times? I can’t answer that, and I’d like to stop thinking about it because every time I do my head starts itching and I think I have lice and freak out.

But I can’t stop because my kids keep getting them.

So we’re going through another round of treatment. I have started treating every three to four days in a two week period—initial, wait three days, treat, wait four days, treat, pray. When we’re combing out in the evenings, we watch The Brady Bunch on DVD. Because if I have to do this shitty job, I’m sure as hell not watching The Fairly Odd Parents, or Sam & Cat or some other asshole show with characters that have voices that would shatter glass and plot lines that are so stupid that they cause me to roll my eyes so far into my head that I can inspect my own frontal lobe. In fact, I’m not sure my kids ever watch The Brady Bunch unless they have lice. I suspect that when they grow up, hearing “Sunshine Day” or seeing Barry Williams will make their heads itch.
To their credit, my kids are pretty patient about all of this. The thing that they really dislike is that they’d prefer to watch their shows, and as I just said, that ain’t happening. They don’t love it, of course, but I don’t hear the same kind of whining that I get with, for instance, tooth brushing or underwear changing. Granted, lice isn’t a daily occurrence (YOU HEAR ME, GOD? PLEASE NO) whereas tooth brushing does have to get done twice a day, and underwear every day (in theory). But then, neither of those things requires them to sit still for an hour while I drag a comb repeatedly through their hair, muttering unkind words about chickens, chemicals, and the jerks who love one and not the other.

I know these bastards are responsible somehow.


I can’t understand how we can replace organs, travel in space, and  have the ability to watch cat videos for days on end, but we can’t make a product that will kill lice eggs before they hatch. This mystifies me. I’m also not clear how RID and products like it can legally claim to “kill lice and their eggs” when they do nothing of the sort. They kill the lice, sure, but the nits left on the hair are still viable, and hatch and then you have to deal with the whole thing all over again. Saying that they kill the eggs is flat out lying.
The last thing I can’t figure out is what I did in a previous life that was so horrible that karma is punishing me with this repeated outbreak of hellish infestations. The only thing I can figure out is that maybe in a former life I was a louse. This is my payback for being someone else’s scourge in the 1920s or 30s or something. Or maybe I was one of those assholes who refuses to use effective remedies for lice eradication. I suppose it could be payback for that, too. Which if that’s the case, I guess I deserve it.

The Choices We Made

I let my 11 year old get his ear pierced a couple of weeks ago. Now, before you judge me (or if you’ve already judged me, we’re still good and I’m just going to keep writing here) let me explain why I would do something that some people think is ridiculous, or even wrong (like, oh, you know, my husband).

My daughter, who was six at the time, had her ears pierced as a birthday present, at her request. For reasons that are long and somewhat involved (and may need to serve as another blog post someday if I’m short on material, so I don’t want to blow the whole wad now), she removed the studs and her holes healed over.  About a month ago (she’s seven now) she decided that maybe she’d take a chance on the whole ear piercing thing again.

I’d been discussing it with her for several months, letting her incubate the idea. At the time that the subject first came up (probably six or eight months ago), my oldest son asked me a couple of times if he could get his ear pierced too. Each time I said he could when he was 13. I felt like if he still wanted it done in two years, he’d really mean it.

A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday, my daughter and I dropped into the shop downtown where she’d had her piercing done before , just to find out when the woman who did it would be working. The woman who was in the store at the time turned out to be the woman who would do it, and she told us when she was available. She also delivered the news that the shop would no longer offer this service after August 31 of this year. Apparently new owners had come in and were ending the practice. Maybe for liability reasons, I’m not really sure, and the woman either didn’t know or didn’t say.

My daughter decided that she wasn’t quite brave enough to do it right then, but said maybe the next day. We’d go home and think about it. When we got home, I told my husband within my son’s hearing about the store ending the ear piercing service. My son immediately begged to have his ear pierced. My husband said no.

In a later conversation away from my son, I said I thought we should let him do it. My husband still disagreed. When I asked him why, all he could say was he didn’t think it was a good idea. He was vague like that for a few minutes, then he presented this argument:

“Did you tell him people might think he’s gay?”

Ah. Now I see.

My husband has no objection to homosexuality. He is not a homophobe, at least, not overtly—if he is one, I’ve never seen any indication of it, and early on in our marriage, one of our closest sets of friends was two gay men, with whom we spent many hours, and even went on vacation. I don’t mean that as a “some of my best friends are gay” kind of statement. All I mean is if he were truly homophobic, there were opportunities for it to have been revealed.

I suspect this question sprang from a bit of the very common syndrome that I think of as, “Not My Son.” I saw it when it was first suggested that our son had ADHD and should be evaluated and considered for medication.  He was resistant to the whole process, and insisted there was nothing wrong with the kid. The ADHD meds have radically changed my son’s school experience, to the point that when I sat down with his teacher for a conference at the beginning of 5th grade, and remarked on the comment on his report card that he was an “avid reader,” she was shocked to hear that he had ever been anything else. In fact, I was shocked to hear he was—he’d been so reluctant for so many years. But the meds give him the ability to focus, and quiet the noise in his head.  They were clearly the correct choice for this kid.

Now, I don’t intend to imply that an earring is in any way like medication. Obviously it’s not medically necessary or particularly life enhancing. But in this case, I felt like it was a small thing that was a huge emotional step. He was making a choice about his appearance (something he hasn’t cared much about up to this point). He was making a choice that I made clear would define him in people’s eyes, for better or for worse. He was making a choice that could have consequences, but they were consequences he could control, up to a point. If he got shit from people, and decided that the earring didn’t give him enough pleasure to balance the shit, he could remove it and there would be no significant trace. Most importantly to me, he was making a decision to do something simply because it was something he wanted, not because it was the “cool thing to do” or “what everyone else is doing.” He was thinking for himself. Call me crazy, but I’d like to encourage that.

We live in a fairly progressive area of a fairly progressive state. We have legalized gay marriage (and legalized pot). Plenty of kids that my kids know have “two mommies” or “two daddies” or are a different race than their parents because they were adopted. My kids gloss over these facts without questioning them. It’s simply the way things are, and quite frankly they don’t even pay attention to them, as far as I can tell. Over the years we’ve had conversations about what a “family” is, and that some people love people of their same gender, and that’s totally OK. Sometimes they’re interested, sometimes they appear to be completely bored by the topic. All of this is a very long way of saying I doubt he’s going to get any shit for having an earring when he goes back to school in a month.

While he was prepared to wash his hands of it and let me do what I thought was right, my husband was adamant that it was a mistake. He couldn’t articulate why it was OK for my daughter to have her ears pierced, but not our son. He just said something about conventionality. I pointed out that it’s been pretty mainstream for men to get their ears pierced for at least forty years now. He asked me if I was going to let him get a tattoo. I said of course not, because 1) it’s not legal for him to do so, and 2) it’s extremely permanent. Neither would I permit him to get the plug things that stretch out their earlobes, nor pierce anything other than his earlobe. An ear piercing, I argued, is not permanent. If he changes his mind, he takes it out and it heals up, and we’re out twenty bucks. Period.

Interestingly, my husband would have been on board if my son had wanted to dye his hair. Why it would be OK for the kid to dye his hair orange, but not have a very small hole made in his ear, was not clear either.

So in the name of encouraging individual thinking, and promoting responsibility (for two months they have to clean and turn the earrings every morning and every evening), I allowed my son to get his ear pierced. As far as I know, none of the other kids in his class has made this choice. I’m expecting to take some heat for my decision to allow this when school starts. There will be adults who disagree with my letting my 11 year old pierce his ear. There will be kids who will go home and ask their parents to let them do it, and will be pissed off when their parents don’t agree with my thinking about individuality and self-expression  and think that 11 is just too young for a pierced ear. He may face some ridicule for his decision. Either way, we both made a choice, and we’re prepared to deal with the consequences of that choice. As a parent that’s one of the most important lessons I can teach him.

Besides, I think the earring looks kind of cute.

The other one is in his left ear.

Leaving (and Going to) Las Vegas

We took a trip to Las Vegas recently. We flew. I hate flying. I’m afraid of flying. Actually, that’s not really accurate. I’m OK with the flying part; it’s crashing I’m afraid of. I’ve never been in a plane crash. I know one person who was, but it wasn’t a jet. It was just a small charter plane. Everyone lived in that accident. This does not make me feel even one tiny bit better. I’m related to a commercial airline pilot. I know the odds of a plane crash. The problem is, I flunked Statistics, and I suck at math, so as far as I’m concerned, every take off is just as likely to end in a blazing fireball of jet fuel as any other. I’ve had dozens of conversations with pilots about how seldom planes crash and how the pilot wants to get home too and blah blah whatever the fuck I don’t care I still hate to fly.

But I had a few thoughts on airplane travel, and since I’m kind of a, “think some shit and vomit it all back up at you lovely people” person, here we go.

I’m always afraid the guy who figured out our fuel for the flight forgot to carry the two.
On our way down to Vegas, our flight was diverted to a place called Ontario, California. The pilot explained that there were scattered storms around Las Vegas, and planes were being put into holding patterns until they could get clearance to land. Our fuel wasn’t sufficient to sustain that, so we were being diverted. We’d be refueled, and fly back to Vegas, which was about an hour long flight. So considering that here we are with clearly low fuel, and we have to take off and land one more time than I was counting on (I hate takeoff most, landing is a close second, and turbulence is third), I was pretty unhappy. Add to that the flight attendant said that because the flight between Ontario and Vegas was so short they wouldn’t be offering beverage service (I am forced to fly with significant levels of liquid courage), this wasn’t looking good for me.

Since I suck at math (see: Airplane Crashes, Probability Of, above) I just always assume that the calculations for these things are super complicated (because, you know, you have to burn fuel to carry fuel) and worry that the guy who did them for our flight just found out his wife is having an affair with another woman, or his 16 year old daughter is dating a known drug dealer, or dealing with some other personal crisis that might distract him from his calculations. I know, I know these things are all done by computers these days, but someone has to input the data to make the calculation happen at some point, and so I worry.

(Update: we did not crash.)

If I were a flight attendant, I would be fired for scolding people who wanted to use the restroom before takeoff for not going before they left home.
On our flight (make that flights, plural) down, one Asian gentleman got up to use the restroom no fewer than seven times. Two of them before we even left the gate. Since I didn’t use the restroom the whole time (ew, get me started someday on public restrooms—thank god my bladder capacity is “camel”), I have no idea if he had a significant problem, or if he just had a very small bladder (but if the latter, dude, lay off the selection of complimentary beverages, would you?), but his trips to the potty seemed excessive. If I’d been the flight attendant, I’d have probably said more than I should have, especially about the pre-flight visits when everyone was trying to store their steamer trunks in the overhead bins. Sit. The. Fuck. Down.

For whatever reason, I get more free booze from flight attendants than I probably deserve. Or need.
Maybe because I’m clearly a white knuckle flier, or maybe because I’m often flying with multiple small children, flight attendants seem to take pity on me and sometimes provide me with as much free booze as I can soak up. On the first flight of our most recent trip, over the space of three hours, I was given three free bottles of white wine (those little ones, you know). In the past, on cross country flights, I’ve been given up to five or six (I don’t drink them—once I reach my limit I start stashing them in my purse so that I don’t have to pay for overpriced wine at our destination). On many flights earlier in my life sympathetic flight attendants gave me multiple free mini bottles of vodka (when I was still a vodka drinker, in my carefree youth). It’s not always free—I’ve paid for it plenty of times. But lots of times they just give it to me.

On this particular flight, I was traveling alone with my four kids. They were giving me all kinds of trouble getting into their seats. Not that they were bad, but they were constantly saying, “Hey Mommy…hey Mommy…hey Mommy…” (and for those Moms with children who don’t yet talk, or don’t talk in full sentences, two words of advice: 1) Their first word will probably be “dada.” You want to encourage this, and 2) I know you’re thinking, “I can’t wait until the day they can speak in full sentences, and express their thoughts, and converse!” Take it from me: Yes you fucking can). Finally they were all in their seats and I looked back at the flight attendant in the galley who had been watching this whole seating process, smiled sweetly, and said, “What time does your beverage service start?” She laughed and said, “Fifteen minutes after takeoff.” And free wine was forthcoming, bless her heart.

When did a water landing stop being “unlikely”?
When I was flying back in the 80s, and even into the 90s, I recall that the wording of the safety demonstration was, “In the unlikely event of a water landing, your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device.” And they’d go on to explain about the straps and your arms and whatnot. But in the last ten or twenty years, I’ve noticed they’ve dropped that word, “unlikely” from their little speech. I have flown from landlocked destination to landlocked destination in my day, and still they don’t say “unlikely.” Particularly in those cases, I wonder what major body of water we’ll be flying over that would make a water landing not-unlikely in the event that we were to go down.

I mean, I get it—I remember the Air Florida crash in Washington, DC in February of 1982 or ‘83, when the plane flew into the 14th Street Bridge and everyone ended up in the icy Potomac River and a bunch of people died. I also remember the more recent incident when the pilot “ditched” into the Hudson River in New York City and I’m pretty sure everyone lived. And there is some water near us, sure, but there’s way more land than water, so I’m still a little curious. Also, it’s not like water landings have become sort of the norm since the 80s and all the cool pilots are doing them. They’re still incredibly rare, as far as I can tell.

Also, for panicky hyper-terrified freaks like me, when they omit that small but significant word they might just as well be saying, “Kiss it all goodbye, and prepare to go down to your watery grave, you goner. I hope your insurance premiums are current.”

I can never hear airport announcements without thinking of that “red zone/white zone” dialog over the loudspeaker in the movie “Airplane."

"Listen Betty, don't start up with your white zone shit again."

As a result of this, I spend most of my time in airports snickering quietly to myself, which I alternate by dreading the flight I’m about to get on. Laughter, terror, laughter. It’s sort of the story of my life, anyway.
So those were the thinks I thinked during our travels. Come back later when I’ll spew some mental vomit about my experiences with Las Vegas! With an offer like that, you should be counting the seconds, right?!?