L.A., Briefly

We arrived in Los Angeles without incident two days ago. The flight was an hour late leaving Miami, but it made up the time in the air. The boys behaved very well on the 5-hour flight. They have been good for the most part here, but a little wild. Wizard sees his job as testing the limits of my and WineGuy’s patience every chance he gets. We’ve done a little sightseeing and even got to Venice Beach. Boy, the Pacific Ocean is COLD! Not at all like the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico near my house.

Jeopardy! news: I called the Jeopardy office yesterday. They told me that 13 people are scheduled to appear on Monday, July 30, 2007. The receptionist told me that there is a guy, who has already won three games, who will be the returning champion next week. Yikes!!! I also gave the Jeopardy office my guest list. Malibu Mom and her two daughters will be attending along with WineGuy, Wizard, and Wild Thing. Malibu Mom’s nanny will watch Moose the two taping days. I am really grateful for her help; it ‘s the only way I could make all these arrangements work.

More later when I can. Keep those good thoughts and prayers coming!

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AA Argh!

A cautionary tale . . .

American Airlines nearly gave me a heart attack. I was sitting here gathering all my paperwork to pack for our trip to Los Angeles. I checked in and printed boarding passes for myself, Wizard, Wild Thing, and Moose. WineGuy had a separate record because we used travel credits left over from our aborted trip last Thanksgiving. I went to check WineGuy in and found that he does not have an electronic ticket. What?

I called American Airlines reservations and navigated my way through their hellish automated system. The agent told me WineGuy’s ticket was not paid for and that they were waiting for the travel vouchers. My blood pressure vaulted as I informed the agent that the ticket was, in-fact, paid for, but again she demurred. I asked to be transferred to a supervisor. Smartvisor (c.f., Stupidvisor) picked up the call. Smartvisor, who works for American Airlines not AA.com, looked at the record locators and couldn’t figure out what AA.com did to create and pay for the reservation. Smartvisor came back on the line twice to tell me she had the entire electronic trail: the original tickets; their cancellation; partial usage of the credit for some travel in the spring; and the remaining credit left after that. The AA.com agent — Shirley, whose name I have in contemporaneously written notes (date, time) from the night I made my reservations — tried to apply the travel vouchers electronically; there was a small overage, which I paid for by credit card. The problem is that American Airlines computer systems do not have that capability, and Shirley made a giant mistake. Shirley told me the ticket was paid for and that the travel vouchers were no longer valid.

NOT. American asked for the travel vouchers to be produced. I can’t. I destroyed them the night I made my reservations because Shirley assured me the vouchers were no good. I explained all this to Smartvisor. WineGuy’s ticket was never issued although the airline held his reservation and seat. AA.com or American Airlines was supposed to contact me to correct the problem, but they never did.

Finally, after more than 30 minutes on the phone, and being disconnected in the process, Smartvisor just called to say that she authorized the vouchers to be reissued at the airport and for the original fare to be honored. She then called the local ticket office to issue WineGuy’s e-ticket and processed the small additional charge to my credit card. I just checked WineGuy in online and printed his boarding pass.

Caveat emptor: Whenever you get on the phone with a service person, get out your pen and paper. Take notes of everything that was said or promised. Make note of the time and date of the call, and get the first and last names (and employee number) of the person with whom you spoke. If you’re using travel vouchers, do not destroy them until after the trip.

Today, I pack. Tomorrow we leave for L.A. for a week. I am the last luddite (no laptop), so I doubt I will post for the next week. The Jeopardy! taping is July 30-31. Wish me luck and say a prayer for me to win, win, win!

Finished!

It’s 4:15 a.m. in the The Zone. Not a creature is stirring but plenty are snoring. I have just finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. No spoilers or discussion other than to say that the book’s ending had far more Christian overtones than I would have expected. And, J.K. Rowling has clearly left herself room to expand upon this series if she so chooses.

‘Nuff said.

It’s 12:01 Somewhere

It’s half past midnight here in The Zone, and I’ve just returned home with my very own copy of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. There are no spoilers here. This is a tale of acquisition.

I decided not to pre-order HP7. Why? Because I’ve done so for the past two installments and have waited endlessly in line at the bookstore. And, because Are We There Yet shrewdly instructed me to go to my local WalMart at midnight to acquire the book as effortlessly as she did for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Brilliant strategy: simple, efficient. I should have been home by 12:10 a.m.

I left the house here at 11:40 p.m. and drove 5 minutes up the road to the closest WalMart. I parked right in front and walked right to the book section. There were a few friendly people waiting there, some of whom who’d been sitting there for hours.

The clock struck midnight, then 12:01, but no books appeared in the book section. We all looked at each other like, “WTF? Where are the books?” Then one smug bastard in a backwards baseball cap sauntered by and said, “Dudes, the books are all in the electronics section in the back of the store.” Four people stampeded and the rest of us race-walked to the electronics department to find 15 people already in line. There were 5 people behind the counter, and one cash register open. ONE CASH REGISTER! There are 15 cash registers in the front of the store, but the only one at which you could acquire and purchase HP7 was in the absolute rear of the store. To add insult to injury, two of the people standing behind the counter weren’t even WalMart employees; they worked for the book distributor, which I suspect is Source Interlink because they’re based in the area. So, there we were in line. The girls in front of me were pissed because they had been in the store for several hours, waiting by the book section because the functional illiterates in Customer No-Service told them that’s where the books would be. I was pissed because I expected the store to make an announcement directing customers to the right place. Really, I was more angry with myself because I should have realized that the INS rejects employees were too lazy to cart the books to the front of the store. I had contemplated wandering to the stockroom door but decided against it to stay near the books. [Note to self: always trust your first instincts.] As the line in front of me grew shorter, I became more vocal, insulting José (his real name) for not announcing where the books were and for being unintelligible over the intercom when he finally did. I finally bought my book and received some free bookmarks and four free “house bracelets” as a bonus. (The book rep. was clearly trying to appease me.)

I close with an open letter to the management of the WalMart SuperCenter (store 5391) in North Naples.

  • To José: you can’t help going through life being short, round, and bald. Being arrogant on top of it all just doesn’t work. You’re a WalMart manager, forchrissakes. Remember that your customer always comes first.
  • To Robert Talbot, manager of the store: you need to hire people who speak English fluently. It is unacceptable for your telephone operators, cashiers, and stock people not to be able to understand and communicate with your customers. Even if your employees have difficulty communicating in English, they should at least be courteous enough to smile when they do their jobs instead of lazily shrugging their shoulders or mouthing off when asked for help.
  • To the Book Manager of this store: you should have put signs up directing customers to the right area. You, yourself, should have been in the store at midnight making a clear announcement, in English and Spanish, welcoming the book buyers and inviting them to the electronics department.

[stepping off the soapbox] I’m headed for the couch and my new book. Good night!

Ticket To Ride

No, not The Beatles song . . . it’ s a board game and an online community. We love board games, but the boys continually abuse them and lose pieces. Todd received Ticket To Ride for Chanukah last winter, and we have really enjoyed playing it. The game board has a map of the USA and lower Canada and train routes connecting the various cities. Players use destination tickets and colored wagon cards to claim routes and connect cities to each other. Days of Wonder makes TTR and a host of other fascinating games.
Ticket To Ride has several different editions. Another popular board is Europe, and there is a USA 1910 expansion pack. We have our eyes on both. Included in the game’s instructions, which Todd promptly lost, is a web code you can use to log into the Ticket To Ride online community and start your own games. You can play TTR without a web code, but you are treated as a guest player who must join someone else’s game. Both Todd and I have created screen-names to play: I am Alto2, of course, and he is Laxstar (“lacrosse star” haha).

I highly recommend both the TTR board and online games. I’ve played against some interesting and fun people. Just this afternoon, I played online against Astrid from Holland. She was very chatty while she beat the pants off me! I had fun and learned some more strategy.

Summer 2007 Books

In spite of, or perhaps because of, all this studying, I have been reading a lot this summer. Last night, my book club met to discuss Marisa de los Santos’s Love Walked In. We were looking for a light, summer read that had some substance. This debut novel fit the bill. Cornelia Brown, an educated woman in her late twenties, has given up her academic career to work in a coffee shop in Philadelphia’s tony Rittenhouse Square. In walks Martin Grace, a suave businessman, and Cornelia’s life changes forever. Cornelia imagines — and creates — her life right out of old movies, “The Philadelphia Story”, to be specific. Martin is Cary Grant to Cornelia’s Katherine Hepburn. Martin, however, has a skeleton in his closet, his 11 year-old daughter, Clare. Clare’s mother suffers a psychotic break, and Clare is forced upon her father. When Martin walks Clare into Cornelia’s life, Cornelia’s movie bubble bursts: Martin is not the man she expected him to be; Cornelia finds herself inexorably drawn to parenting Clare. And, in the midst of everything, Cornelia’s brother-in-law, Teo, shows up to enervate and complicate things more.

Marisa de los Santos is an award-winning poet. I am not sure she has successfully morphed her wordcraft from poetry to prose. The novel alternates between Cornelia’s narrative in the first-person and Clare’s in the third person. This scheme confuses the reader for easily the first 25% of the book. Additionally, the author made each character a shade beyond believable: Cornelia is just a little too petite and perfect. Clare is just a little too mature and wise. Martin is too debonair and charming. Teo is too handsome and dedicated. The author’s characters are charicatures of themselves. Nevertheless, Love Walked In is a good book for summer reading. It is heartwarming, well-crafted, and literate.

The book I just finished is another debut novel, The Friday Night Knitting Club, by Kate Jacobs. While FNKC has received less acclaim than LWI, I liked it better. FNKC is the story of single mother, Georgia Walker, the proprietress of Walker and Daughter, a Manhattan yarn shop. Georgia and her pre-teen daughter, Dakota, live above the shop. Thanks to some recent publicity, business is good. Then, Dakota’s father, James, comes back into their lives and wants to get involved as he never had before. Georgia’s old high-school friend, Cat (a trim, toned socialite), shows up and commissions Georgia to knit a couture gown for her. Cat seemingly wants to re-establish the tie she, herself, broke as the girls were heading off to college. Finally, Georgia is drawn into the lives of those knitters who regularly participate in the weekly knitting club. Fellow knitters become Georgia’s true friends as the true crisis of the novel unfolds.

The Friday Night Knitting Club is really about friendship and love with a little knitting thrown in. Kate Jacobs created very “real” characters, not charicatures. The single mother is not just the put-upon woman who found herself pregnant: she is a former careerwoman whose hardworking farm background prepared her to meet the challenges of working and raising a child alone in the city. The widow, Anita, is not just another Jewish mother; she is a vibrant crafter who can tolerate her children and grandchildren for only so long. Darwin, the young Ph.D. candidate, is not the characteristically excellent Asian-American student; she can’t commit to a thesis topic, and she is easily distracted by everything. The author created pithy, complex characters who propel the story forward to the last sentence. FNKC does not have a happy ending like LWI, but it is a much more fulfilling read.

I’ll finish with a little Hollywood:

  • Sarah Jessica Parker will star in the movie version of Love Walked In. The Hollywood trades report that SJP will co-produce the movie with Paramount.
  • Julia Roberts will star in the movie version of The Friday Night Knitting Club. Roberts, a an avid knitter, will co-produce the film with Universal; it is scheduled for release in 2009.

The next book for book club is The World to Come, by Dara Horn. My friend, Violin, suggested it, although it has been on my to-read list for about a year. Come to think of it, I should suggest it for the synagogue’s reading group; then I could satisfy two book clubs with one book.

Did I mention that Brilliant Deb, a mom from Moose’s Pre-K class, asked me to participate in the book club she wants to start? I am anxious to join that group because Brilliant Deb teaches English at the private school’s high school. Brilliant Deb got her name for good reason: she has masters’ degrees in English and American Literature from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in English Language and Literature from Oxford University. I would gladly discuss books with her anytime!

Rule, Brittania

I’ve been brushing up on my Shakespeare [nod to Cole Porter], as it were. I’ve been trying to write very short synopses of all the plays and got through the comedies, the tragedies and a few of the histories before I burned out. I just listed the rest of the histories and the late romances on separate index cards.

In piecing together The Bard’s Henries and Richards, I realized I needed to get a handle on the British monarchy. So, I made index cards for each royal house and listed the members. It was a fascinating exercise that made me wish I had taken European History instead of Comparative Governments in college. Oh well. At any rate, my research led me to this mnemonic verse of monarchs in England:

Willie, Willie, Harry, Stee,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry three;
One, two, three Neds; Richard two;
Harrys four, five, six . . . then who?
Edwards four, five; Dick, the bad;
Harrys twain, Ned six (the lad);
Mary, Bessie, James you ken;
Then Charlie, Charlie, James (again);
William and Mary, Anna Gloria;
Georges four, Will four, Victoria;
Edward seven, next and then
Came George the fifth in 1910;
Ned the eighth soon abdicated,
Then George the sixth was coronated;
After which, Elizabeth.
And that’s all folks until her death.

Pretty cute, huh? FYI: Willie=William; Harry=Henry; Stee=Stephen; Ned=Edward; Dick=Richard; Bessie=Elizabeth; Charlie=Charles; Anna Gloria=Anne. If the Prince of Wales ever accedes to the throne, he’ll be Charles III. When Prince William takes the throne, he’ll be William V. If, by chance, Prince Harry becomes king, he will be Henry IX. I could even tell you whom the verse omitted, but then I’d have to shoot myself for knowing entirely too much detail.

All hail Brittania!