Not Minding Your Own Business

I missed memo about not minding your own business.

Holy crap, I have just had a close encounter with crazy, ya’ll.  I was flying standby so I was lingering around the customer service counter here in the Southwest terminal and I couldn’t help but overhear an exchange between another customer and the gate agent.  I couldn’t help but overhear because the customer’s voice was getting louder and louder.  As she escalated the volume, she also intensified the vitriol.  She was so rude and insulting, while the Southwest agent, to my amazement and to her credit, remained pretty calm.

The customer wanted Southwest to guarantee that her completely capable teenage daughter would be escorted off the plane and delivered to a specific person at her destination.  Since the daughter (who was standing there dying a slow death of shame) was not booked as an unaccompanied minor, Southwest simply couldn’t make this guarantee nor could they assume the liability. 

After listening to this exchange for several minutes, I couldn’t help myself…I piped up and said, “Ma’am, you’re insulting this woman (the SW agent); if you’re so concerned about your daughter flying alone, you should book a ticket and go with her.” Well, that’s when all hell started breaking loose.  Of course, the first thing out of this lady’s mouth was:

 “Why don’t you just mind your business?” 

As a rule, I am not a minder of my own business.  When it comes to other people’s lives, I’m interested, curious, and I’ll admit it, a bit officious and annoying.  I suppose in the small transactions that make up daily life, it’s probably mostly unnecessary and maybe even inappropriate for me to butt in.  But in this instance, I felt justified.  By remaining silent, I felt like I would be kind of complicit with the abuse this lunatic was slinging at the gate agent.   In a small way, it was one of these situations…

The gate agent was limited by her role; she couldn’t haul off and tell this woman that she was bat-shit crazy and that she needed to settle down.  But I could, and I pretty much did.   I can’t say my interjection did anything to help resolve the situation, but at least I deflected the red-hot heat of crazy off that gate agent for a second, which was all the time she needed to call security. 

Once the security guards were on the scene, this woman started proclaiming that she worked for the queen and that the military would be getting involved in the situation.  Holy guacamole.  It was becoming increasingly clear that this was no mere anger-management problem, but perhaps something a bit more serious.  The security guards eventually cuffed her and led her out of the terminal; my guess is that she was whisked away to get 5150’d

Aye, yi, yi…what a scene.  Thinking back, it seems like the outcome was probably foregone.  This lady was probably a ticking time bomb, and perhaps it was good she was in an airport when she went nuclear–these folks are trained and equipped to deal with all sorts of emergencies.  I’m glad I spoke up for the gate agent, whose blotchy face later betrayed the angry tears she was trying to hold back while she was accused of being uneducated and brain-damaged.   It was just so out-of-bounds that I just had to speak up.  And for my trouble, I scored some free drink coupons, so there you go.

While arguing with a crazy person is usually fruitless…

…I will nonetheless continue to meddle in these situations.   Next time I might get my ass kicked, or I might get a free plane ticket.  Memo received.

Pretending To Be Tina Turner

I missed the memo about pretending to be Tina Turner.

A few years ago, Oprah did this thing where she lived out the dream of singing on stage with Tina Turner.  Oprah wore Tina Turner wigs and it was wonderfully goofy. I suppose when you’re Oprah, you can get away with this kind of stuff, but for an uptight white woman like me, pretending to be Tina Turner is a fairly ridiculous proposition.

But today in Zumba class, the instructor busted out “Proud Mary” for the grand finale.  And even though I was already an exhausted, sweaty heap, I enthusiastically shook what my mama gave me.   I channelled Tina and pretended that I was wearing some crazy sexy costume and that I had Tina’s wicked legs.  And for those few minutes, in my own mind at least,  I was a supernova of kinetic energy. 

So here’s what I think I’ve figured out…it’s not so ridiculous to pretend to be Tina Turner.  One of the reasons that we’ve made Tina Turner into Tina Turner is so we can put her in a white hot spotlight and then enjoy the glow.  The world needs accountants and electricians, doctors and street sweepers, and maybe even a few lawyers.  But as we go about doing all of our jobs which collectively keep the world humming along, we put aside that tiny part of ourselves that wants to be explosively creative, to be insanely fabulous and super sexy, to sing, to dance, to be adored and admired by everybody.  So Tina Turner exists so we can experience all of that vicariously for just a few minutes now and again.

Shaking a tail feather in Zumba class isn’t going to lengthen my legs or improve my dismal singing voice.  Reality is reality, after all.  Joan Cusack said it best:

But I can still pretend.  Memo received.

Luck, Skill & Porn Star Lip Gloss

I missed the memo about luck, skill, and porn star lip gloss.

If there was ever a day I should have played the lottery, it was back in November of 2004.  On one crazy afternoon, I scored a spot as a contestant on Jeopardy! and then a couple of hours later, I learned that I had passed the California Bar Exam.  Winning the lottery would have been a nice little hat trick. 

My first stroke of luck was being chosen at random invited to audition for the show.  I got dressed up in my best suit and headed on down to Sony Studios where about 100 of us were ushered onto the actual Jeopardy! set, which was Nerd Nirvana.  The producers gave us a little pep talk and quickly disabused us of any notion that we’d actually be meeting Alex Trebek that day. 

Next, came the pencil and paper test which featured Jeopardy! style answers and questions.  There ain’t no two ways about, folks, this test was hard.  Luck was not enough, but I had paid my dues as a quiz bowl geek in high school and college, so I did actually think the test was kind of fun.  Then the tests were collected and we hopefuls sat and fidgeted with our souvenir Jeopardy! pens and waited to hear who had made the cut.  Mine was one of two names called  (I told you the test was hard!) and when I heard my name, it was like I had been coronated Queen of the Geeks.  I was, how you say…stoked.

My fellow test-passer and I were then asked to do a quick screen test which consisted of overly enthusiastic small talk and wrangling of signaling devices.  The producers thanked us both for coming and congratulated us for making it  into the contestant pool, but that didn’t mean I was assured a spot on the show.  As we were sent on our way, the producers asked if we had any questions, and luckily, I had to pee, so I asked,”Where’s the bathroom?”  (Classy, n’est ce pas?)

When I emerged from the facilities, one of the producers intercepted me and told me that they’d had a last-minute opening in the taping schedule and asked if I could come back in a few weeks to tape my appearance on the show.  I skipped off the lot, thanking my nervous bladder for affording me the chance to win a gazillion dollars. 

I came back a few weeks later and it was as glamorous as I’d hoped.  A Green Room full of bagels, Alex Trebek in the flesh, and best of all, gobs and gobs of make-up skillfully applied by a professional make-up artist. 

When the make-up artist was done with me, I think I was wearing all the hot pink lip gloss then available in the state of California.  I like wearing make-up, but usually try to use a light hand, so I was a little taken aback by this look.  But under the bright studio lights, it looked fantastic.  Later, in the regular light of day, it looked like I had been eating a pork chop without a knife and fork.

Despite my fabulous lip gloss, I’m sad to report that I got my clock cleaned by a 23-year-old graduate student.  I was around for Final Jeopardy and even bet it all, like a boss, but alas, my dreams of extinguishing my student loan debt with a few clicks of a buzzer came to an uncermonious end.  It was an absolute blast, though, and I wouldn’t mind a rematch…

Sometimes it’s about luck.  Sometimes it’s about skill.  And sometimes it’s about having to a take a fortuitous pee.  Memo received.

Witnessing History

I missed the memo about witnessing history.

This is Emma Willard’s “Temple of Time”…where the hell was this when I was studying for ‘Jeopardy!’?)

While the news guys killed time tonight waiting for President Obama to swagger walk up to the podium in the East Room, one of them noted that we’ll all remember this night, this night that we learned that Public Enemy No. 1, Osama Bin Laden, was killed by American forces.   This made me take stock of the fact that I don’t really take stock of the events that constitute history in the making.   Maybe it’s because everything seems to have a political spin on it as it’s happening, so it’s really hard to appreciate the real significance of anything…

As of this writing, I’m 37 years old. I don’t remember Viet Nam or Watergate…I dimly recall gas lines and the hostages coming home from Iran.  I do remember the attempted assassination of President Reagan, but in my house, we were all much more upset about John Lennon being murdered, so that seemed a bit more important.  Then there’s a long stretch of malaise and Cold War and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation.  (Seriously, “Red Dawn” still gives me nightmares.) 

Then in 1989, I was 16 and the Berlin Wall came down.  For a minute there, it did seem like the world was going to be a much better place, at least, that’s what I thought when I heard this really irrepressible Jesus Jones song…

(and check out that fantastically spaztastic keyboard player…if the demise of communism didn’t bring a smile to your heart, then those choice dance moves must!)

Then a couple of years later, Saddam Hussein started his antics with the Kuwaitis and all of a sudden guys who had been my high school classmates five minutes ago were now signing up to go to war in a far away desert.  Has it seriously already been 20 years? Doesn’t seem that long ago…

Because the U.S.’s involvement in Iraq has been so protracted, it’s been hard for me to keep any sort of focus or perspective on it.  Then the events of September 11, 2001 occurred and I got even more confused.

On 9/11, I was a first year law student, and had been watching “Real Genius” on basic cable that morning before leaving home for class.  Val Kilmer is now forever associated in my mind with that fateful day.   I had no idea what was going on and as it gradually dawned on all of us what was happening, it really was pretty sickening.  Out here on the west coast, there was an eerie remoteness from the acute sense of terror that New Yorkers and Washingtonians must have felt, but the world definitely shifted in a perceptible way.   I grieved for the people, who not only lost their lives, but who must have been so very scared in their last moments.  It still haunts me to think about it.  And I selfishly grieved for myself, because I now had to live in a world where planes got flown into buildings and buildings fell down.  I thought crap like that only happened in Jerry Bruckheimer movies.

And now, here we are, nearly 10 years later and the 9/11 boogeyman is finally dead.  I don’t know exactly how to feel.   Maybe I need another catchy pop song about Bin Laden being killed during this Arab Spring in order to really appreciate what’s happening.   But I’ll be sure to tell my son that he had just eaten a dinner of chicken and carrots and he was wearing his favorite dinosaur jammies on the night we learned Bin Laden was dead.  Memo received.

Fear, Choice & Good Dental Health

I missed the memo about fear, choice and good dental health.

As per usual, the other day I was listening to NPR and heard this extraordinary story of the rescue of survivors of a plane crash in New Guinea back in 1945.  When recounting how she felt as they prepared for the complicated, daring, and dangerous rescue attempt, survivor Cpl. Margaret Hastings said something that stopped me in my tracks: 

“When you have no choice, you have no fear. “

Whoah.  This just really got to me for some reason.  I suppose it makes intuitive sense…in desperate situations, people tend not to over think or equivocate; they just do what they need to do to.  

Mercifully, I’ve never been in a plane crash.  While furiously knocking on wood, I’ll tell you that I’ve lived a quiet life that’s been relatively free of genuine peril. Given this good fortune, I think one of the closest things to a “no choice, no fear” situation that I’ve experienced may have occurred this week. 

Last Saturday, I started experiencing a bit of discomfort around one of my lower incisors.   I began swishing fervently with hydrogen peroxide and doing some extra flossing in the vain hope that I could cure my little issue and avoid an extra trip to the dentist.  Alas, as you might expect, my self-care efforts were pure folly.   As the week progressed, the discomfort escalated from just a bit of sensitivity to explosions of pain radiating through the entire right side of my lower jaw.  As pain goes, it seriously rivaled labor and childbirth, so I knew I was in real trouble. 

When it comes to going to the dentist, I’d say I have an average level of anxiety.  But since I had missed a few check-ups, the anxiety started to intensify as I imagined the horrible state of affairs in my mouth and I nearly had a panic attack at the prospect of how much all the dental rehabilitation was going to cost me. 

But when you feel like a baby is about to be born out of your face, you’ve really got no choice but to go to the dentist.  Seriously, I might have been willing to let Sir Laurence Olivier have a go at me with a drill and rusty pair of pliers…it was that bad.

So to the dentist I went.  And because I was pretty desperate for relief, I really had no fear.   My only other option would have been to cut my head off, so really, no choice, no fear. 

And it wasn’t that bad.  I did need a root canal, but I was otherwise in good shape.  I had a pretty gnarly infection, but with a week’s worth of antibiotics and 800 mg of Motrin, I’m already feeling a whole lot better. 

Having no fear is great, but having no choice is really no picnic.  When given the choice, I want choice, even if that means dealing with a bit of anxiety.   And from here on out, I promise I’ll get my check-ups every six months.  Memo received.

The Hollywood Bowl

I missed the memo about The Hollywood Bowl.

(Ahh…low res cell phone pictures…It’s 21st century Impressionism…)

I’ve missed so many memos about Los Angeles…Since moving here a decade ago, I have been delighted, dismayed, dazzled, discouraged, and lots of verbs that start with “d”.  But let’s talk about the Hollywood Bowl.  It’s that iconic amphitheatre nestled in the Hollywood Hills.  My first memorable glimpse of it was in “Some Kind of Wonderful“:

(Poor Watts…she stares forlornly down at the stage, where Keith and Amanda enjoy their “perfect” date…)

Despite living in the L.A. area since 2001, I didn’t get to the Hollywood Bowl until 2010.  It was The Flight of the Conchords which finally induced me to go.  We got a babysitter, packed a picnic dinner and hopped on a shuttle bus which dropped us right at the venue.  It was a beautiful night and as the sun began to set, we enjoyed the most gorgeous view as the Hollywood Hills went from green, to gold, to pink, to blue, to black. 

We were surrounded by a glorious assortment of hipsters and bon vivants, so the people watching was nearly as fun as the concert itself.  There is something about sitting in the open air with thousands of drunken strangers that just puts you in a good mood.  We had an absolute blast. 

The obvious lesson from this lovely evening is this:  When you live in a big city full of cool stuff, get out there and enjoy some it, for Pete’s sake.  This stuff ain’t just for tourists.  I think this applies no matter where you live…just about everywhere, there are wonderful places to explore and experiences to have…you just have to overcome your inertia and go.

Another obvious and important lesson is that sometimes fun is spontaneous, but sometimes it takes a little effort.  In this instance, we had to:

1.  Buy tickets
2.  Arrange for a babysitter
3.  Tidy up the house
4.  Plan and prepare a picnic dinner for us
5.  Plan and prepare a  dinner for our little guy and his date
6.  Get ourselves dressed and out the door on time

Doesn’t sound like much, but somehow it is.  But here’s the thing…all that planning and preparation can be part of the fun.   As I scrubbed the toilet to ensure that the babysitter had reasonably sanitary facilities at her disposal, I was happily looking forward to the enjoyable evening ahead.  That bit  of anticipation can actually transform drudgery into foreplay to fun. 

So this weekend, get out there and do something cool, and be undaunted by the effort.  Memo received. 

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball


I missed the memo about onsie-ectomies.

For the uninitiated, a onsie is a little bodysuit with a snaps at the crotch.  It’s what all the cool babies are wearing these days, either as an undergarment on chilly days or as an outfit onto itself when it’s warm.   If you ever get knocked up and have a baby shower, you’ll get approximately 576 onesies as gifts.   

I went back to work when my perfect baby was about 9 weeks old.  The stars had aligned to allow my husband to be a stay at home dad, but I missed my baby desperately, so one afternoon my husband brought our darling boy to my office for a visit.  My sweet son chose this auspicious occasion to show us a new trick…pooping so prodigiously that the byproducts of his digestion escaped his diaper and migrated up his onesie–front and back. 

Faced with this mess (and with no changing table in the ladies’ room…fancy office towers hate babies…) I laid down a changing pad on the plush carpet and assessed the situation.  Usually, a onesie goes on and off over the baby’s head.  In this instance, that maneuver would have resulted in extensive cross-contamination.  So, I’ve done what parents in this situation have done since time immemorial. I grabbed a pair of scissors, and with surgical precision, I cut that onesie up the front and extricated my son from his poopy situation. 

I gotta admit…it was kind of fun.  I’d seen doctors and nurses cutting the clothing off of accident victims on medical TV shows, and I felt like I was reenacting a very low-stakes version of one of those scenarios. I had a nearly uncontrollable urge to say “STAT”!  (Seriously, it was a Code Brown!)

The lessons from this experience were many.  First, and most importantly, never underestimate the productivity of  a 2 month old baby.  Second, sometimes you have to cut your losses.  Literally.  Third, disgusting and hilarious are often two sides of the same coin.  I find that laughter suppresses the urge to vomit, so I recommend it as a coping strategy whenever you have to clean up something gross.  And finally, and most obviously, shit happens, so you can’t let it get you down.   Memo received.

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball