Thursday, May 31, 2007

Swedish fish

I’m somewhere above the Netherlands or Germany. On Norwegian flight forty-something something something, a 737-300. Just two-and-a-half hours of flight time to Stockholm Arlanda from Paris Orly. I’m comfortably seated in seat 12 E, claiming the truncated exit row as my own after being assigned a middle seat in the row behind me. The seat was given to me by the airport employee who I’m sure saw my US passport and decided to place me between two Swedish people with long legs: confine the Americain.

The French are nice folks. Even with my seat assignment, I still like them. And I still like their grande city. Six days in Paris, miles and miles of walking later, my vacation continues. I had a couple of good bites, but mostly mediocre meals with my friends Mark and Jesse, and Jesse’s mom Joanne, and her husband Randy. But with friends Caroline and Mike I had some better food. Fresh sardines on bread and some tuna, well cooked, the way I enjoy it. A cheesy pasta in quatre fromages. Several salads avec maïs et artichaud et fromage. And chocolate and a frangipane tarte. But I wasn’t feeling like much of a foodie on this trip for some reason. I didn’t consult the food guides or Gourmet magazine for recommendations in advance. I didn’t care if I explored the markets. I even got a bit bored at the Grand Epicerie de Paris, the massive store that claims to be the crème de la crème of grocers. Why was I in a food slump? Maybe it was Mike who said he was getting fat and old. He could pinch a millimeter and was nearly in tears. Perhaps it was Mark who was thrilled with his newly defined post-breakup torso. Or it was the surprise of bad cheese that Jesse and I selected at the local supermarket.

I also didn’t shop much. I tend to buy things when I’m on vacation, but this time I just bought some colorful underwear and some sweets. I didn’t feel like trying on clothes or shoes or looking at kitchen tools.

I went to a huge disco party which was overcrowded, oversaturated in secondhand smoke and overly loud, and then I got back to our apartment at three o’clock in the morning which seemed overly late. I caught the ‘all nighter’ a block from the club and was excited when I looked to the back of the crowded bus and saw a cluster of open seats. When I arrived to claim one as my own, it became clear why the bus riders were scattered: someone has vomited their mousse de canard, aubergines, cornichons, crème caramel, and plenty of vin blanc all over the floor. I said to myself, “I just won’t look down,” and claimed a seat, keeping my feet a few inches from the regurgitated stew of stomach acid and partly digested dinner.

I just wanted to rest in Paris. Maybe it’s old age? Brad tells me my voice in this e-journal sounds like an old man’s. This is where I announce that I think Brad is right.
I’m hopeful a few days in Stockholm will give me an injection of youth.

So back to the plane. Why does Norwegian fly nonstop between Paris and Stockholm? They list this flight in their magazine as one of their Warsaw-based flights. The menu is in English and Polish, with the note that if you pay for a snack item in euros, your change will be in zlotkys. To see if I’d get zlotkys, I just bought a bought a bag of potato chips for 1€50 - paprika flavored, make in Krakow – but got my change in Euros. Bummer. But even with all of this Polish, the pilot spoke Norwegian and English and the flight attendants conducted the safety demo in English only. It’s craziness.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Freaked out stress

Stress. I’m so stressed with work. Why can’t I just win the damn lottery and be done with it?

I wish I didn’t care about doing quality work. I think plenty of employees in the world around us don’t really care about the quality of their work or the effort they put into it. Bus drivers. People who work at Walgreen's. Public agency employees. We have a few duds around the office, but I guess that goes with any work environment.

I remember when I was in high school, near the end of my senior year, I attended an awards dinner hosted by an important organization to honor my grandfather, Leon Goldman, the so-called “Father of Laser Medicine.” Also receiving honors or doing a keynote or showing up for another reason was Admiral Hyman Rickover, “Father of the Nuclear Navy.” Maybe it was dinner to honor “Fathers of something scientific and important.” My grandfather was trying to score me a photo and autograph with the Admiral who asked me, “So, tell me, young man. How many hours per day do you study?”

I studied a lot in high school, but my answer was full of smack: “I’m all studied out, so I’m trying to cut down.”

Can you believe that fucking jerk admiral had no sense of humor whatsoever? He refused to sign an autograph! My grandfather was playing intermediary, telling him I was just joking and I had been accepted to a couple of good universities and was a very good student, and in the National Honor Society and all that crap that doesn’t matter when you’re 39, but that old Hymie would have none of it.

Nowadays, I wish I had really meant what I said to the old admiral. He croaked in 1986, about a year after I met him and I still have the photos (somewhere) to prove I was in his presence, not that I care so much.

I wish I could just say, “It doesn’t matter” or it’s “just a dumb job.” I’ll admit, I try to say these to myself every once in a while, but I don’t take myself seriously enough. I guess I know something about myself that I don’t want to admit. On the other hand, I’m not actually a workaholic. I try not to overload myself intentionally and I limit my work hours in a typical week to 45 hours, if possible. I don’t check my work email on the weekends and never even peek at it when I’m on a vacation.

I’m trying to deal with this stress. I finished some reports this week, so I’m feeling a bit calmer. A lot is still going on. Tomorrow, for instance, Brad and I are going to take a little drive – about four hours in duration – to drop off his kitty at her new home. I’m the evil allergified monster here who is forcing him to part with his dearest Gracie. She is one of my favorite cats of all time: she looks smart, she’s bold and playful, she doesn’t hide in the corner. I’d say she’s sort of puppy-like for a cat. She doesn’t have one of those ugly smooshed-in feline faces or weird puffy hair going in all directions. I think she’ll probably be happier in her new home once she adapts because she’ll have more attention and playmates, but still, I’m the sneezy and itchy meanie that’s sending her away to boarding school. Although that’s upsetting to Brad, it’s also one stressor to me. What if she had been a better companion?

Another is moving. I’m not moving, but two of us are going to be living here soon. I’m not worried about the living situation – it’s a good thing – but the schlepping and organizing will require a lot of work and planning. And if we move from here to another abode by the end of the year, which is a goal, then all of this moving and buying and selling continues for a while.

Another is my car. I don’t drive it enough so I should sell it and get something Japanese that I can keep for 40 years. Another is travel for work. It’s Indiana and Southern California next week. Another is the garden. It needs help and my neighbors don’t do anything in it. White girl problems.

Yesterday I came home from work, dropped into the sofa and clicked on the television, flipping between channels to maximize my entertainment experience. I never do that. I ran a bath for myself, dumping in a capful or two of invigorating bubble bath and lay there, swishing the water around my naked self, avoiding an exit from the clawfoot. I hopped into bed at half past nine and awoke this morning at half past seven. I need to do more of that. But where do you find the time?

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Blocking my door

I simply find it fascinating that an airplane was deposited in the middle of a Mumbai neighborhood. I know if it were left on Market Street I'd be pissed off.

The cows must be having a great time wandering up and down the aisles, chewing on the tray tables.

The way in Bombay falls mainly under the plane.

Read all about it on the BBC Website.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Bad people doing bad things

I’m on a flight from LA to San Francisco at the moment. It’s not the flight I was scheduled to take. That would have been a flight from Ontario, which was cancelled due to mechanical problems. The automated United Airlines cheery male voice called my cell phone to tell me I’d been rescheduled on a flight tomorrow morning.

Waiting until tomorrow morning to fly out of Ontario would have been absurd, so my colleague Jeff and I decided to return the Avis rental car (a shiny white Buick Lucerne) to LAX and fly from there. The friendly woman at a United Airlines call center with whom I was chatting offered us each $100 vouchers on a future United flight for all of the trouble. I would have preferred a $100 refund, but was happy to keep driving just to get out of there.

Anyway, United’s typically bad behavior is also making me think about how badly behaved so many passengers on the plane are. On this particular flight, I’m in Economy Plus, a window seat next to Jeff who was graciously willing to take the middle seat I always offer to take when I’m flying with someone else. Everyone seems tired and well behaved on this flight.

On a typical flight, especially if I’m upgraded to what passes for first class on this crackpot airline, I’m surrounded by aggressive business-types who are punching away at their Blackberries and chortling on their cell phones. Blackberry users are the worst. In fact, I think I hate everyone who has a Blackberry.

The flight attendant makes an announcement to please turn off all electronic equipment and that Blackberry user keeps going, fumbling gracelessly with those miniature keys. Then the flight attendant walks down the aisle checking seatbelts and that Blackberry user hides that sucker until the flight attendant has passed and then pulls it out again and starts scrolling and tapping. Then another flight attendant is walking toward the front of the plane and that Blackberry user doesn’t happen to notice her and is gently reprimanded to turn off the equipment. He reluctantly shoves it into the seat pocket, but doesn’t turn it off, pulling it out once again after the flight attendant has passed and taken a seat. With flight attendants safely prepared for takeoff in their jump seats and no longer patrolling the aisle, that Blackberry user is at it again, exchanging messages with some bleak middle manager as the plane ascends.

I am describing the man in front of me, in seat 2B on my flight to Denver, as I was en route to Fargo last week. Mr. Blackberry user. Mr. Salt and Pepper Hair. Mr. Petulant Frog. He was reading Licensed to Kill.

He finally put his Blackberry away once the flight attendants unbuckled themselves and started prancing around to begin their important drink-pouring rituals. One flirty female flight attendant who was servicing first class approached Mr. Salt and Pepper and asked for his order. I couldn’t quite hear what he ordered but it was abrupt. Flirty flight attendant tried to cozy up and said to him, “I bet you hear it all the time, but do people ever tell you that you look like George Clooney?”

“No.” That was all he said.

The flight attendant moved on and asked me what I wanted to drink. As I requested my sparkling water, I tried to sparkle with ebullient warmth to make up for the ill-behaved toad face in front of me. George Clooney he was not. She was being far too generous. I would say he bore a greater likeness to the recently deceased version of Don Knotts with salt-and-pepper hair.

Going down. Later in the flight, the announcement went out to put away all electronic equipment in preparation for landing in Denver. Mr. Blackberry Salt and Pepper Petulant Frog carried on the same antics as he did during takeoff. And several minutes later, the announcement was made to bring all tray tables and seatbacks to their upright position in preparation for landing. Of course his seat was totally reclined and he clearly had no intention of abiding by the flight attendant’s request. When the flirty friendly flight attendant did her final check, she gently assisted Mr. Petulant Frog to put his seat upright. As soon as she passed by his row, he put the seat back in the reclined position and left it reclined at the gate, even as he gathered his belongings to get off the plane.

On my return trip from Fargo, an aged dreary businessman shoved his way into the seat next to me and clacked away on his Blackberry, just as Mr. Salt and Pepper had done two days earlier. This guy was unpleasant in that fussy old man way, and requested seven small bags of the “Deluxe Snack Mix” from the frazzled flight attendant. He kept shredding paper throughout the flight. He kept scribbling on white paper with a No. 2 pencil and then would shred two or three sheets of paper at a time. He was visibly irritated with me when, upon his return from the lavatory with lingering fart residue in his khakis, I decided to take the opportunity to avail myself of the facilities before he reclaimed his seat. I suppose I was interfering with his ability to eat more Deluxe Snack Mix, scribble with his No. 2 pencil and shred paper. He was clearly an important person and had important things to do.

The flight attendant came by to offer old fartypants another drink. He replied, “Bring me a Seven-Up – I want the whole can. And also give me a vodka on the rocks. And give me a couple more bags of this snack mix.”

Meanwhile I played my role, warm and supportive, interacting with the flight attendant to let him know I wasn’t a Blackberry user: I was his polite gay brother. I would have a glass of water. I would not spit pretzels and sesame stix in my lap like Cookie Monster shredding paper for a pet guinea pig. I was a courteous human, happily unconnected from the email world around me.

I suppose I will never be able to get a Blackberry. It’s a shame, really.
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