Thursday, April 26, 2012

Angel on Flight #000

I had a singular experience on United Airlines.  It couldn’t be an official designation, but I wore an invisible tiara: Passenger of the Day.  Or something. 

I don’t want the lovely young flight attendant who made me feel special to get into trouble, so I’ll not mention the exact flight number or her name.  Suffice it to say it was going to be a long return flight home to the San Francisco Bay Area.

I’d already completed the first leg and was waiting out my 2-hour layover in the boarding area at Chicago O’Hare.  I nibbled on a biscuit and sipped a fake Jamba Juice, believing the four-and-a-half hour flight home would include a “meal” (the airline’s euphemism for cellophane-wrapped food-shaped facsimiles); but I had become preoccupied with food.  Like the chicken hawk in a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon, I converted all objects in my range of vision into drumsticks in the thought bubble over my head. 

That’s when the flight attendant swept past me with a white paper fast-food bag in her hand.  She sat not too far away and began to dig into the bag’s contents. 

“What did you get to eat?”  I called across to her. 

She looked up and smiled as though I were a normal person, not the greedy, salivating scavenger I’d become.  “Just wondered what the locals eat at the airport,” I went on as though any of this could be appropriate.

“Johnny Rockets is always good,” she said, friendly.  “Burger and a salad,” she continued, holding up a molded plastic container with a garden salad for my edification.

“They’ll feed us on this flight, right?”  Was I howling?

“Depends on where you’re sitting,” she smiled again, apologetically this time. 

I didn’t get it right away:  They feed folks in first class.  When I said 22D, right over the wing, she replied gently this time, “We’ll have snacks for purchase.”

I waved my thanks and turned back to my book so she wouldn’t feel obligated to keep me at bay.  But a few minutes later, she swept toward me again, this time leaving me a small bag of Garrett's popcorn, “A Chicago Tradition.”  What a nice person.  Who does that?

And let me just say, if you’re ever in Chicago, get some Garrett's popcorn!  I tried to make it last, but like our Lab with his kibble, I fear I snarfed it down. 

I’d been relegated to Seating Group 8, the last clutch in the boarding hierarchy, a “Z” in the alphabet of boarding castes.  Ahead of me were all the really cool passengers in first class, the mileage elite, grannies with walkers and mommies with strollers, and anyone else who didn’t have a lean and hungry look.

She greeted me again when I trundled onboard, then it wasn’t long at all before she stopped next to me in the aisle to ask if I’d like something to drink. 

“Diet Coke.”

“Right away,” she said, and sure enough in moments I had a cup of ice and chilled silver can.  I looked around to note that no one else around me had a drink.  Odd.  But no one glanced my way.  They didn’t seem to covet my bounty as I would have coveted theirs. 

Later, another flight attendant threaded his cart down the aisle, rolling and stopping, rolling and stopping.  He asked by rote if I wanted a drink when he saw the Coke.  He registered a query, but said only, “And you have that!” and moved on.

I watched her as she went about her duties, observing her open countenance and relaxed smile.  She liked the passengers.  Pretty much every one of them, as far as I could see.  She listened with genuine interest to each routine request, encouraged banter, smiled, and smiled again.

She brought me a cup of ice water about midway through “We Bought a Zoo,” and wondered if I needed anything else.  No, I couldn’t think of a thing.  Nevertheless, when she passed me again, she tucked a small brown envelope containing a warm chocolate chip cookie into my hand, contraband smuggled from the privileged ones.

What a little miracle she was that day.  How sweet her unexpected gifts.

I craned my neck but could not see her to wave and smile my final thanks and return the tiara.  She must have sat at the back for our landing.

That’s how a true angel does it – expecting nothing.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Opportunity v. Karma

To the untrained eye, these stories from Associated Press and Bay Area News Group may seem unrelated:

·        Woman, 96, confesses to 1946 murder

·        Bishops work to meet demand for exorcisms

·        Town shaken over freakish coincidence:  Man whose dad was killed by lightning, suffers the same fate

·        ‘Coexisting with ghosts:’ East Bay society investigates the unexplained 

Taken singly and over time these stories might draw at best a cool, disinterested, even careless review.  The casual reader could easily overlook the silent current, the subterranean significance. 

Not to worry.  That’s what I’m here for:  To divine the subtext and make the connections.  I’m on the job for you! 

To begin:  Why would a 96-year-old woman confess to a murder she committed, and got away with, 66 years ago?  It’s not like she was going to get caught.  Not now.  Cold case detectives won’t find any DNA today to unravel the mystery six decades old.  The witnesses are long gone.  Heck, after 66 years, the victim’s heirs are long gone! 

She must have passed up countless opportunities to step forward.  Did she just wake up this morning in a fit of enlightenment and call the mayor of her hometown to confess?  Seems more likely that she’d been stewing for a while.  Something must have been nagging her to come clean.  Or else.

Hold that thought.

Next:  Why would the demand for exorcisms have surged to an all-time high?  The Conference of Roman Catholic bishops says the tiny number of priests trained to perform the ritual have been overwhelmed by requests for it.   

Neal Lozano, Catholic author of “Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance,” says an exorcist he knows in the church receives about 400 inquiries a year, two or three of which require an exorcism.  Bishop Thomas Paprocki, of Springfield, Ill., speculates people “wonder if some untoward activity is taking place in their life and want some help [from the church] discerning that.”   

Therefore the bishops scheduled a workshop, open to clergy only, offering instruction on evaluating whether a person is truly possessed, and reviewing the prayers and rituals that comprise an exorcism.  Fifty bishops and 60 priests signed up for the two-day training. 


Next, a report that New Jersey resident George Rooney was struck by lightning while fishing from a boat 49 years ago when his son Stephen was 5.  Family members stated that often over the years since his dad’s death Stephen would say that lightning wouldn’t strike the family twice.  Then, at a family gathering with his cousins, he ducked under a tree during an electrical storm saying something like, “Don’t worry, you’re safe out here with me,” just before an electric fireball struck the tree, injuring his cousin and killing him. 

A person can’t help wondering who or what considered Stephen’s statements over the years a dare.  Who just took it and took it until that day, when all those circumstances converged too perfectly to ignore?  Did someone or something finally say, “Oh yeah?!”  Ba boom! 

And finally, more ghost hunters join the burgeoning preternatural industry responding to the plethora of unexplained mists and unearthly orbs populating the homes of the susceptible.  The East Bay Paranormal Society, perhaps the most recently formalized group of ghost hunters, takes a pragmatic approach to sightings of paranormal phenomena.  Their practitioners employ a range of equipment including infrared and night-vision cameras, a laser grid, an electromagnetic field detector, an ambient air thermometer, an ion generator, and a digital recorder, in an effort to confirm or deny the otherworldly experiences.  

An invisible internal force of conscience calls an elderly woman to confess to her decades-old crime; hundreds of seekers request exorcism of troubling demons from their everyday lives; man tempts fate with a repetitive challenge to a common sense saw – pays the ultimate price; and, ghost busters flourish in the ‘tween world of science and the  supernatural.  

The thread?  Unseen forces!  Unseen forces prompt the granny to come clean.  Unseen forces put fear in the hearts of the formerly fearless, prompting the church to respond.  Unseen forces take the dare.  And unseen forces float ectoplasm in the living rooms of the unsuspecting and spawn a cottage industry. 

For millennia humans have felt and acknowledged that added dimension.  We work with it or around it.  Some of us work hard pretending it isn’t there. 

Ignore it at your peril!  Opportunity knocks.  But karma will hunt you down.


Have you had an experience with unseen forces?  I'd love to hear about it!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Talking to the Terminator

Here come Google goggles.  “Wearable computing.”  Soon, we’ll be able to wear glasses that put internet access right in front of our eyes no matter where we go.  We’ll have online real time access to the World Wide Web and all its distracting, addicting content. Just like the Terminator. 

The Terminator had an agenda, as you may recall.  Even if he focused on you for a moment or two, you couldn’t flatter yourself that such a hunk of meat was interested in you.  It had nothing to do with you, unless of course you happened to be John Connor.  Or his mom.  His dispassionate computer eyeball was constantly gauging, measuring, calculating, and assessing.  If you didn’t have something he wanted, look out.  In fact, look out if you did. 

Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin’s picture is in the paper showing him wearing a pair of the “augmented reality” glasses.  Ostensibly, he’s in a conversation with a fellow attendee at a charity dinner in San Francisco.   

He’s looking at the other guy.  That is to say, his eyes seem to be pointed in the direction of the man who’s standing in front of him.  But we recognize his expression.  Like the Terminator, he’s glazed over, flat, expressionless.  He’s not involved in the topic at hand.  No, he’s engrossed in something else, maybe today’s Nasdaq, or a trailer for “Hunger Games.”  

He presents a portrait of that most maddening of situations, the one where you’ve been talking with someone about something you have in common, say your interest in the bags o’ dough you carry to the bank each day.  But gradually you realize mid-sentence that if ever he was attentive to you, he’s not anymore.   

He’s retreated into his own more appealing world.  He’s pretending, badly, that you matter.  Probably nodding on occasion and saying the requisite “uh huh.”  But don’t fool yourself, he’s gone.  No longer in the moment.  Now you’re the hunk of meat. 

Thanks a lot, Google.  Another web zombie in our midst. 

In truth, each of us has taken on degrees of web zombie-ism.  To a greater or lesser extent each day we join the ranks of the internet undead, arms and hands upraised, rocking in our chairs, staring expressionless at a point in cyberspace.   

Fewer and fewer of us display the badge of techno dinosaur.  It just doesn’t play.  We’ll dispatch a text from a phone with big buttons if we must, to stay in the game, to be cool.   

And therein lies the downside:  We’re not cool.  We’re not Terminators.  Not even old generation Terminators.  Humans can’t give adequate attention to two things at once.  Young folks aren’t that good either.  None of us are machines.  Not computers.  Not fast, not really.  Not mentally or physically able to multitask with the tiny powerhouses we hold in our hands and soon will wear on our faces, between ourselves and the world. 

I read recently that thumbing out an average text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for five seconds.  At fifty miles per hour, five seconds equals a football field.  Wow.  That’s dicey. 

Not that I text and drive anyway.  I gave it up early on when I confirmed I was a hazard using my cell phone while sitting at a stop light.  That’s right.  Feeling superior and responsible, I waited until I rolled to a full and complete stop in the line of cars at the light.  Only then did I pick up my cell phone to make a superficial and unimportant call, just like everyone else, only better.   

I pecked out the number of my voice mail, and while listening to my very own outgoing message, I unconsciously eased my foot off the brake and rolled ever so gently into the bumper of the car ahead of me.  

No real harm done.  The driver of the bumped bumper just waved me away.  The light had turned green and she seemed to take the bump as a nudge to get moving.  I think she had her iPhone in her waving hand.  That’s how we’ll interact in the virtual future.   

We’ll let our Google goggles slip down our noses and look over them at flesh and blood intrusions into our augmented reality.  Pause.  Assess.  Wave and move on.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Post-Retirement Bank Account Blues

When a person retires, she might feel a little guilty about her dearth of contributions to the joint bank account.  These days it’s essentially withdrawals. 

Therefore, always in search of a quick buck, I scan the papers for work - things I could do without exerting myself too much.  I’m guilty but not stupid.  I look for the easy money. 

In one such idle investigation I ran across a couple of opportunities that seem tailor made for a lay-about like me:   

I could be an overpaid actor.  Like Drew Barrymore, who has the dubious distinction of topping Forbes’ list, I could star in your multi-million dollar movie claiming my usual exorbitant salary, and return 40 cents for each dollar you invest in me. 

I like this option as I’ve always wanted to hang out with that funky film crowd.  Others on the overpaid list include Nicholas Cage, Vince Vaughn, even Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.  Now that’s a party. 

That in itself could assuage my guilt.  But option two is equally intriguing:  Celebrity tweets. 

At as much as $10,000 per tweet – which comes to $71 per character in the 140-character world of the Twitter-sphere – I could hold my head up quite nicely. 

That’s right; celebs sell their endorsements online the same as they do on air.  For example, charging only $8000, Khloe Kardashian tweeted about jeans that make “your butt look scary good.”  It’s an ad.  It’s a paid endorsement.  Doubtful that Khloe ever sailed into Old Navy.  She just lends her name to their product and collects the dough. 

Now I don’t shop at Old Navy either and my jeans do only half that job.  But it doesn’t matter.  I could tweet about my Calvin Klein’s and their 2% spandex.  “They give when your butt demands it!  #ad.”  

That last - the # symbol, known by tweeters as a hashtag - and the word “ad” are an addition suggested by the Federal Trade Commission to clarify that the tweet is sponsored by commercial interests.  How gentle of the FTC.  Folks on the internet are sure to follow a suggestion. 

Rapper Snoop Dogg gave his cool nod to the Toyota Sienna minivan, dispelling the myth that credibility presents an issue.  Of all the rides in all the rap joints in the hood, the Dogg’s props went to a minivan.  Here’s lookin’ at you, Snoop. 

Speaking of credibility, in the bargain basement of endorsers, Lindsay Lohan pulled in $3500 a pop for tweets indicating she participated in on-line challenges for college kids saying, “[they] are SO addictive!”  This on #CampusLIVE, a website dedicated to connecting advertisers with college students.  In other logic-bending agreements, Ms. Lohan endorses wind energy, “While saving the world, save money!  I love it!” as well as a gold mining company, of all things: “R ur savings safe?  Think again!” 

Now the Queen of Community Service has 2.6 million followers, many of whom could be high school aged with undeveloped skills in discriminatory thinking.  Perhaps they are likely targets for advertisers with money to blow.  But wind energy?  Really?  Lindsay Lohan.  And to whose ears were her insights about commodity investments directed? 

When Charlie Sheen tweeted for at the same time he was running amok and getting fired from his job on “Two and a Half Men,” 95,000 clicks went to that site within an hour.  What’s wrong in America? 

But hey, if they can do it, I can do it.  At $8K a peep, er tweet, my believability and trustworthiness are indeed for sale.    

And what products would I endorse?  I’d sign off on almost anything from peanut butter to Porsche.  But realistically, if credibility were an issue, I’d be lending the weight of my cache to Olay Regenerist Age Defying Eye Roller, and that “Lose 10 pounds in 10 minutes!” swimsuit into which I will never squeeze.   

All right.  I’m exaggerating.  I don’t really have any cache.  And my placement of prepositions doesn’t appeal to the average tweeter, though some might say that’s a point in my favor. 

Nor do I have millions of followers.  Only my husband hangs on my words and even his dedication is dubious.  That’s the snag in this scenario.  If I endorsed a minivan, it wouldn’t generate much more than a shrug.  Which is what I do when I balance our checking account. 

Sorry Honey.