IMMORTALITY AND THE DAILY PROMPT

Finite Creatures – At what age did you realize you were not immortal? How did you react to that discovery?


I am not sure I ever thought I was immortal — probably because I didn’t think about it at all. Until sometime in college, I did not ponder the nature of life and death.

College was a peak time for that kind of mental muck-raking. Was it the drugs? No, I’m inclined to think it was going to classes. You see, college presents no danger unless you actually attend lectures and stuff. If you just hang out on the quad, it’ll be okay. But I took courses like  “The Philosophy of Religion” and went to lectures on Phenomenology. And, I had a steady assignment of existential novels to read by Sartre, Camus, et al. Deep stuff. The kind of books I totally won’t look at any more.

96-Me Young in Maine

That this hyper-intellectual phase of my life coincided nicely with my first actual near-death experience was pure chance. It didn’t improve my personality, that’s for sure. There is nothing more aggravating than a teenage college student contemplating the philosophical meaning of life. And death. Had I not already been me, I would have had to expel myself as a punishment for being so annoying.

I’m pretty sure all of us thought we were very smart and had a solid grip on the life and death stuff. Even adding on my botched spine surgery — which nearly killed me for real and all — I was still an obnoxious wise-ass with an inflated sense of my intellectual prowess.

Things have really improved. Now I’m an aging senior citizen wise-ass. Oh, and I am pretty sure — not 100%, but maybe 90% — I am not immortal. Eventually, I’ll know for 100% certain.

I’ll get back to you on that.

Kalstar Aviation – Could This be the Worst Airline to Never Make the List?

Marilyn Armstrong:

We all know perils await us in our travels. But which ones?

This is the airline from Hell, stranding you somewhere in Indonesia. Are we there yet?

Originally posted on Beasley Green:

2014-09-23 18.08.38

No Go at Pangkalan Iskandar Airport

If you’ve travelled a lot over the years you are likely to have had a flight delay or cancellation. It’s inconvenient and frustrating at best, at worst it creates a domino effect of personal catastrophe destroying your carefully coordinated business, work or social plans. However, you’re better late than dead and sometimes delays and cancellations are inevitable for your own personal safety. But commercial air travel is a lucrative business and over the years most airlines have tried to take the edge off the pain for passengers who have to suffer schedule changes. They will provide refreshments, compensation and cover the cost of accommodation in the event of cancellation. With any service provider, some are better than others, but in the world of commercial aviation services, there are good, there are bad, then there’s Kalstar Aviation of Indonesia.

Kalimantan is the Indonesian half of…

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JUST SHOW UP IN A TUX

We just celebrated our 24th  wedding anniversary. As I ponder the upcoming 25th, I hear distant bells. I remember the wedding. The thrill of ultimate victory, the agony of getting there. How, by the time I got to the altar, I was a nervous wreck, but Garry was cool as the proverbial cucumber and looked dashing in his tuxedo.

72-Bette'sPix_05

Photo by Bette Stevens

After it was clearly established that we were definitely, unquestionably, without any doubt, getting married, it came down to details. Dates. Rings. Caterers. Bakers. Flowers. Music. Photography. Videography. And (trumpets) a ceremony.

I had been married twice before — okay, three times, because I’d been married in a registry office in London, then the whole Jewish medieval ceremony in Jerusalem. Having been there and done that. I wanted to elope or maximum, go to city hall, have the mayor marry us. He would have. We knew the guy. We could have been married at City Hall, I’d toss a bouquet, someone would throw some confetti, and voilà. Married. After that, us and our actual friends could all go out for Chinese.

Garry wanted a Real Wedding.

He was 48 years old. Never married. This would be his one and only wedding and by golly, he was going to Do It Right.

“I want a real wedding. In the church in which I grew up. In New York,” says Garry. “And I want my old pastor to officiate.”

“Pastor G. is retired … like fifteen years ago.”

“I’m sure we can work it out.” When he said we, I thought he meant he and I would do this thing together. Because where I come from, that’s what we means. I was deluded.

“Why can’t we just have something here in Boston? New York is 250 miles away. You haven’t lived there in nearly 30 years. Everyone you know except your parents are up here or in another part of the country entirely.”

Garry’s face is set. Stony. He wants a hometown wedding in the church he attended as a child. With the minister he had when he was a kid. Did I mention my husband is stubborn? He is very stubborn.

“This is going to be a lot of work. It’s hard to plan a wedding long distance,” I point out. “And I have a job too, in case you’ve forgotten.” Garry is unfazed.

“We can,” he repeats, “Work it out.” There was that we again.

“Fine,” I eventually agree. “We’ll have a wedding. In New York. At your church.”

There were caterers to hire. Music to be arranged. A bagpiper (don’t ask). Battles over the guest list. A cake to be designed. The cake was my favorite part. It went like this. Having settled on a vanilla cake with lemon filling, we needed to decide on decorations.

“Do you want the bride and groom in white or black?”

“Can we have one of each?” No, we could not. In 1990, they do not have a mixed couple cake topper. I offer to take a marker and paint the groom black, but inexplicably, Garry finds this objectionable. I suggest they take two sets and cut them in half, but it is deemed too complicated. In the end, I opt for wedding bells, the DMZ of wedding cake toppers.

So, Garry got his wedding. It was (for him) as simple as simple could be. Marilyn arranged the wedding. Garry showed up in a tux.

You see? We worked it out.

KILLING TRAVEL NOSTALGIA

I’ve read a lot of posts that wax nostalgic about the old days, of trips down country roads at a slower pace. Driving through little towns. Past farms, fields, woods, and streams. No super highways with their sterile rest stops and fast food outlets. Driving through the real America.

Leaving Jackman, Maine on Route 201

Leaving Jackman, Maine on Route 201

Those were the days, we say. The good old days which we remember from the back seat. Where we were pinching and pummeling our siblings while nagging our parents to stop for ice cream. Or asking the deathless question: “Are we there yet?”

Everyone who ever waxed poetic about the good old days of travel should take the drive from Jackman, Maine to Danville, Vermont.

It’s 231 miles from Jackman to Danville unless you travel through Canada, which we did not want to do. Just going through the customs checkpoints would have added hours to the journey. Unless you go through Canada, there’s only one route. Take 201 from Jackman to Skowhegan. Hook a right on route 2. Drive. Keep driving. Behind pickup trucks and aging SUVs veering erratically while never exceeding 28 miles per hour … the exact point at which the car changes gears. The engine lugging relentlessly as it tries to find the spot.

There is food to eat and gasoline to be pumped as you pass through all those little towns. There’s always someplace selling pizza, baked goods, sandwiches, and cold drinks. Usually a toilet, too. You will get a chance to visit every little town in the mountains between Maine and Vermont. I found myself staring at the map, hoping a faster road would magically appear.

Talk about ambivalence. It’s the middle of October. The trees look as if they are lit from within. The mountains are covered in Technicolor autumnal glory. It is so magnificent it doesn’t look real. Combine that with an overwhelming urge to find a high-powered weapon and blow one of those pokey drivers to kingdom come.

Route 2 through the mountains, heading west

Route 2 through the mountains, heading west

“Wow,” I say, “That’s incredibly beautiful” as we loop around an especially breathtaking curve in the road. I’m trying to control my peevish aggravation with the current slow driver riding his brakes in front of us. It’s as if they wait for us. As we are about to pass, they pull out in front of us and slow to a crawl. The beauty of the mountains, lakes, streams, trees, sky, clouds, villages, farms, towns morph into a seamless continuity as we endlessly follow bad drivers whose feet never leave the brake pedals.

It’s nearly a religious experience. Aggravation wars with appreciation for nature — and a passionate need to get where we are going before nightfall. Garry is exhausted, irritable, frustrated. I’m empathizing with Garry to the point of offering to drive. Whoa! It took most of a day to make the trip. A crow could have done it in an hour and a bit, but we don’t fly. We crawled through Maine, crept through New Hampshire, limped into Vermont. Maine is a large state.

Our most startling moment was looking up and seeing a sign — a huge, brightly painted sign — that said: “WELCOME TO MEXICO.” Mexico, Maine. There were no Mexican restaurants, or at least none we could find. Lots of Chinese, though. After we drove out of Mexico, we came upon another huge, bright sign. “WELCOME TO MEXICO,” it said.

“Didn’t we just leave Mexico?”

“Maybe,” says Garry, “this is the village and that was the town?”

“Or something.”

“Or something.” I wondered where the rest of North America had gone. Never mind. It was time to face the inevitable. Garry and I had to fill the gas tank. Ourselves. Without help. Oy.

Me, Garry, the road and an atlas

Me, Garry, the road and an atlas

Back home — a town which had seemed rural and quaint, but now seemed sophisticated and metropolitan — the stations provide service. This was not the case in wherever we were in very rural New England. Together, Garry and I pondered the problem. We had to remove the gas cap, which was stuck. Garry looked at me. He was doing the driving, so it fell to me to deal with the gas cap.

I pressed. Twisted. It was the child-proof lid from Hell. Eventually, it came off. Whooping in triumph, I fed our bank card into the pump’s reader and selected the grade of gasoline. Garry, feeling his moment had come, removed the pump from its hook, stuck it in the hole and pressed. Gasoline started feeding into the tank. When it snapped loose, Garry looked at me.

“Does this mean it’s full?”

“Yes,” I exalted. “We did it. We put gas in our  car!”

We gave each other a high-five and continued our journey.  We have developed a deep appreciation for the interstate highway system. And lost every trace of nostalgia for the old days of travel.


 Genre Blender

WINNING

SWEEPING MOTIONS: My desk and bedroom are fine. Even our car is tidy. I’m sure I have a messy closet somewhere. It’s my brain which could use a thorough tidying. Here’s a great memory moment from the clutter of my brain. One of my favorites.


In the mid 1980s in Israel, I worked at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot with the team developing DB1, the first relational database. Those familiar with databases and their history should go “Ooh, aah.” Feel free to be awed. These are my bona fides certifying my “original geekhood.”

I was never a developer, just a computer-savvy writer, but I worked extensively on Quix, the first real-English query language and documented DB-1. I was eventually put in charge of creating promotional materials to sell the project to IBM. They bought it and from it, DB2 and all other relational databases emerged. Cool beans, right?

Technical writing was new. In 1983, it didn’t have a name. I was a pioneer. I didn’t chop down forests or slaughter aboriginal inhabitants, but I went where no one had gone before. Breaking new ground was exciting and risky.

The president of the group was named Micah. He was the “money guy.” Micah knew less about computers than me, but wielded serious clout. His money was paying our salaries, rent, and keeping the lights on. The definition of clout.

As the day approached when the team from IBM was due, it was time for me to present the materials I had created with Ruth, a graphic artist who had been my art director at the failed newspaper I’d managed the previous year. (This was well before computers could generate graphics properly.) Ruth was amazing with an airbrush. I’ve never seen better work.

The presentation materials were as perfect as Ruth and I could make them. I had labored over that text and she had done a brilliant job creating graphics that illustrated the product, its unique capabilities and benefits. And so it came time for the pre-IBM all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Micah didn’t like me. His dislike wasn’t based on anything I did or even my disputable personality. He didn’t like women in the workplace. I was undeniably female. As was Ruth. Strike one, strike two. At the meeting, he looked at our materials and announced “We need better material. I’ve heard there’s a real hot-shot in Jerusalem. I’ve seen his work. It’s fantastic. We should hire him.” And he stared at me and sneered.

Onto the table he tossed booklets as well as other promotional and presentation materials for a product being developed in Haifa at the Technion. I looked at the stuff.

“That’s my work, ” I said.

“No it isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard it was created by the best technical writer in the country.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Me.”

He was not done with humiliating himself. He insisted a phone be brought to the table and he called his friend Moshe in Jerusalem. I’d worked for Moshe, quitting because although I liked the man, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I had a bad-tempered, jealous husband — something I didn’t feel obliged to reveal.

Moshe gave Micah the name of The Hot Shot. It was me.

“Oh,” said Micah. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. The deadpan faces around the table were elegant examples of people trying desperately to not laugh. Micah wasn’t a guy you laughed at, not if you wanted to keep your job.

It was a moment of triumph so sweet — so rare — nothing else in my working life came close. I won one for The Team, for professional women everywhere. Eat it, Micah.

HUBRIS?

Upturned Noses — Even the most laid back and egalitarian among us can be insufferable snobs when it comes to coffee, music, cars, beer, or any other pet obsession where things have to be just so. What are you snobbish about?


I’m all for equality — especially in the legal system — but.

I’m picky about computers though I’m not sure it qualifies as snobbery. My machines are big, bad, and fast. I’ve been told I’m using archaic technology. I’m not. My computers — 3 and 4 years old — are as fast and powerful as anything they are selling now. How come? Because I bought state-of-the-art, top quality computers in the first place.

Unlike the el cheapo glitzy stuff people buy, then complain it’s obsolete before they take it out of the box, mine keep up with the Joneses, Smiths, or Greenburgs. Why should I go through the hassle of transferring all my data and applications to a new, but not better, computer when the ones I own do exactly the same thing?

Who’s the snob?

75-GearNIK-CR-72

I’m snobbish about cameras. Absolutely. I don’t care how many megapixels you pack into your cell phone. It isn’t a camera. It’s a widget that can take pictures. If you take a horse and teach him to walk on a leash, is he a dog? If the dog can perform a dance on two legs, is he a person? You are welcome to your opinion, but on this one, you won’t get me to change mine.

And then … there’s coffee.

coffee

I have a single, unassailable standard. It has to taste really good. If I could find cheap coffee that tasted like expensive coffee, I would definitely buy it. And, in fact, the coffee I buy is mid-priced. It’s not the most expensive stuff … but it doesn’t come in giant cans from the supermarket either. And I buy it online because I get a better price.

If I’m snobbish about anything, it’s people. I need to be around people who think. Are creative. Have ideas. Read books. Can discuss stuff. Intelligently. Who don’t talk in slogans. Who have their own opinions and don’t mindlessly parrot somebody else’s lines.

I cannot abide people who believe what they believe because “that’s the way I was brought up” or “my minister says so.” To parrot words you’ve never questioned? It doesn’t work for me.

Hyannis downtown people

I know what Jesus said, but he wasn’t hanging with the hoi-polloi either. He talked about the meek, but he had his own tight group of pals and never left their company.

Intellectual snobbery is the Achille’s Heel of the intelligent and educated. If pride is the ultimate sin, then I’m guilty. Pride of intellect, pride of personal accomplishment, pride of knowledge. Can stupid, uneducated people have great ideas?  Maybe, but I’ve yet to see it. Hollywood loves the idea and it makes a great story.

In real life, is it true? You tell me.