Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Hallow(Springst)een ...

In addition to all the Halloween candy I've been noshing on — the empty-wrapper evidence in the wastebasket next to my desk makes me wince — mom arrived at my door this morning of All Hallow's Eve toting a little handle bag bedecked with orange ribbon. Tucked inside were two little pieces of one of my all-time favorite cakes (cocoa applesauce cake with coffee frosting) and a little bundle of instant lottery tickets, most of which were duds, but one of which yielded $20! Woot!

As if that weren't enough, Mr. Springsteen, my gravely-voiced beloved, released a video and free download as a Halloween treat.

Watch — try not to drool on your desk — and grab the tune here. (The link to download the tune is in the news column underneath the video.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

State Of Love And Trust ...

This is what happens when I fall asleep on the couch: I end up wide awake at an hour when I should be asleep.

But when I do get off the couch and shuffle into my office to shut down my computer for the night, I shouldn't check my e-mail. I read somewhere once that looking at the bright screen late at night interferes with sleep later.

Yup. I guess I've proved that theory.

But in my e-mail tonight was a note that's set me thinking about relationships, about their all-or-nothing nature.

Some people may date one or two people before finding their life's partner, some may date many, many more. But nobody knows their number in advance. By definition, most relationships aren't "the one." But we don't know that at the outset of each encounter.

Statistically, we may tell ourselves, this relationship will fail, because all others have failed. But we never know if the present relationship is the last stop on the line, so to speak, or if the journey will continue.

Young love is so idealistic. The older we get, the more guarded we get, because we've learned that love fades, that relationships fail, and up our guards go, metaphorical fists raised in front of our faces to prevent the blows of disappointment from landing.

The trouble is, a relationship can't succeed unless people are truly open to each other. Which means that we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and risk the possibility that we might be hurt, again or for the first time.

It's one hell of a system, isn't it? Get our hearts trampled time and again in order to not get our hearts trampled once?

Of course, no one demands that we open our arms and expose our hearts. We're all entitled to live life from the safety of the sidelines or from the chaos of the battlefield. But to the victor belong the spoils. That's the cosmic deal. There is no great reward without great risk. Physics really does apply. The pendulum of love swings widely in one direction but swings equally wide in the other. Yin and yang. Black and white. Tom and Jerry.

Me, I've taken myself out of the melee for the time being. If love comes knocking, I'll certainly answer the door, but I don't expect it will be that easy. Nothing worth having ever is. It's not a decision derived from fear for my heart's well-being. It's very much a decision made from my head. Now simply isn't the time for me to pursue Mr. Right. Then again, life has a way of delivering opportunities to our doors when we least expect them. Like when we've just gotten out of the shower.

In any event, I'm open to the possibility that love may come my way and I'm open to the possibility that it may not.

In the meantime, I'm grateful for the lessons I've learned and the person I've become. And I look forward to whatever experiences await, fresh paint for this life's portrait.

And with that, as the clock ticks its way into the wee hours, I'll end with the lovely thought with which my friend Rob signs each of his posts:

Peace to you and those you love.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hands Down ...

Tom, the guy who makes my hazelnut non-fat lattes better than anyone has move on to another Starbucks to manage it.

Sad. For me, I mean.

In theory, the taste of a latte should be standard. But they're not. Sometimes, they taste better. Sometimes, they taste less good.

When I was in London eleventymillion years ago with Tracy (but we are not old, dammit!), we popped into a McDonald's. It was at the height of the mad-cow scare and Tracy thought I might be a bit off my nut to want to eat beef in England in that shining moment of food safety in the U.K., but I suggested that McDonald's wouldn't be serving tainted meat (lest it change its restaurant signage to "billions of lawsuits defended") and that it might even import the all-beef patties from across the pond.

After all, the magic of McDonald's is that no matter where you go, it all tastes exactly the same, right? I wanted to find out for myself. So we went to the McDonald's across the street from our lovely hotel, the Renaissance Chancery Court. (Note to London-bound travelers: I can absolutely recommend the Renaissance. On my most-recent visit, though, I stayed at the Langham Hilton, which appears to now be, simply, The Langham, London. Perhaps a change in ownership has marked an improvement in the beds, but when I was there, the beds in that hotel were AWFUL. I've slept on sofabeds with better mattresses. You've been warned. I was complaining to Ciaran during that visit and he said, "All beds in London are like that." Au contraire, mon frere! The beds at the Renaissance were like sleeping on clouds.)

(Beth makes a u-turn back to her original topic): My cheeseburger, I'm happy to report, tasted exactly the same in London as the cheeseburgers do here. Tracy, however, refrained from throwing her pickle slices against the wall. Probably because we brought the food back to our hotel room. If we'd stayed in the McDonald's to dine, I can't promise that she would have been so refined. But probably. The last time I witnessed her flinging pickle slices at the wall (try it – they stick!), we were teenagers, I'm sure. Ah, those were the days.

But my point is – shut up, yes I have one – is that certain foods are supposed to taste certain ways. Some translate from country to country, and some do not. Some are specific to a person or place: Chicago-style pizza tastes best in Chicago and my mother makes the best sandwiches in the world. Not because of exotic ingredients, but because of her hands. I'm absolutely convinced that her hands make all of her food taste better.

She and her sister used to make some identical dishes, but I always liked mom's more. (I suspect most kids would say the same thing.)

And mom's lasagne, as I've blogged about before, is the best thing on the planet. My Serbian mother makes the world's best lasagne. Every year, she offers to make whatever I want for my birthday and every year, I want her lasagne.

Recently, mom bought an electric skillet, something she hasn't owned in years, but she used to use an electric skillet years ago to make her pot roast, and it just doesn't taste the same, made in a dutch oven. So now she can cook on her countertop again and with the weather turning wintry in a hurry, I've no doubt there will be pot roast on her menu very soon.

And, because she's the best mom ever, she'll invite me over for dinner. And she'll make sure she makes lots of carrots, which get extra caramelized and mushy under the roast and which were always my favorite part.

Monday, October 27, 2008

An Open Note To All Undecided Voters ...

As I've said in other posts, if you're unsure who to vote for, and don't want to learn the platforms of each candidate, just look at their comportment and let that be your guide as to who you want in the White House.

Put another way, if you were hiring someone to work on your house:

Would you want to hire someone who talked to you about your house's problem and then provided you with a thorough estimate for the work?

OR

Would you want to hire someone who spent all his time tell you that you'd better hire him because the other guy would do a crappy job and make your house fall down?

Me? I'd go with the first guy.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

'Maybe Baby: An Infertile Love Story' ...

At the beginning of the year, Mercurie challenged me to read one book of fiction per month in 2008 because he thinks we just don't read for pleasure enough anymore.

Earlier this afternoon, I finished reading Maybe Baby: An Infertile Love Story, written by my friend Matt Miller. Of course, Maybe Baby is not fiction, but I'm counting it as my monthly challenge selection because while it's non-fiction, it's a compelling story, the ending of which isn't really an ending because Matt continues to chronicle the journey on his blog.

You can read an excerpt and then buy it, of course, at Amazon.com or pick up a copy at Barnes & Noble. (That's where I bought my copy, one of three in stock, and the bookseller very kindly took the other two off the bottom shelf and put them on the top shelf of the next section, face out. I smiled and thanked her and said, "I would have done that if you didn't. A little guerilla marketing.")

Matt writes very honestly and very vividly about the trials and travails of attempting to conceive. There are moments that are funny and moments that are tender, but as he himself says about the book, "Mostly, it's a story about love."

While I don't read as many books as I should – my interest in reading waxes and wanes – I read this book quickly, eager to get to the last page yet sorry for it to end. And even though I knew how it would turn out, I was so drawn into the drama, so invested in their story and so rooting for their success, that when I came across the chapter heading, "Tourists, Birthdays, and the Red Blood of Failure," I actually said, softly, "Oh no."

No matter how many books I read or don't, though, it's the rare instance when a sentence or passage leaves me truly admiring a writer's talent. Matt is just a kid in my book – I have almost 10 years on him – but he has a very solid grasp on the meaning of life. The following excerpt, about the death of a friend, isn't representative of the book – the book overall is more witty and confessional – but it is representative of Matt's maturity and insight:

Church finally made sense to me in the presence of this baby and this acknowledgment of Joe's passing, and remembrance of his legacy became not about God or death or sadness, but about love.

Life in its purest form can never be contained, and the effect we have on others is immense and often unintended. Joe was laid to rest, Constance began her second round of Clomid, and that little girl probably went home to watch today's TiVoed episode of
Sesame Street and massage a bowl of cold cereal into her flaxen curls. Nothing ever really ends, nothing ever really stops — even when pieces of you die or you find yourself unable to get pregnant or live without your brother.

Somehow people keep on finding new ways to exist that honor the remnants and revisions of life, letting go of a vision that never really existed in the first place to embrace a world they didn't want.

Constance and my final picture wouldn't be a Van Gogh because that was an idealistic picture I painted in my head that had no basis in reality. After a string of anything's possible years, our plan for a perfect life of master's degrees, a stylish home, and two children felt attainable, but I now knew that not everything would be easy and not everything should be. As long as our picture rose above the insipid pandering of a Thomas Kincade landscape, I was willing to work harder for something I truly wanted. Losing two hundred and sixty pounds was proof that I could run a thousand circles for one chance at a straight line to the finish.

Joe's legacy, for me, was to remember that the straight line existed and that it was my responsibility to run as fast as possible until I found it.


As arduous as it was for them to conceive (yes, he and Constance are now expecting), as frustrating and heartbreaking as it was to measure the many months in negative pregnancy tests, his journey led him to this book, a book in which many couples, I'm sure, will find comfort and reassurance.

And, as they were both well aware through it all, no matter what happened, they had – they have – each other.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

What I Should Want To Be When I Grow Up ...

In the first half of September, I was chatting with my friend George about my future.

We met through work, and he suspected that what I was doing wasn't what I really wanted to be doing.

George is a very astute man.

As we chatted, I told him that I've asked other people how they see me, what they see me doing, and he asked me a very pointed question: Why do you value others' opinions of you more than you value your own?"

I don't, I told him. It's not that I value the opinions of others more than I value my own, it's more that I suspect that they might be able to see something about me as observers that I'm not able to see for myself, given that I'm the insider of my life. I went on to explain that I've just felt like someone might have some piece of data, the discovery of which would make me say, "That's what I've been missing!"

As the conversation wore on, he told me about The Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation, an organization that conducts aptitude testing. He and his wife had taken both of their sons to be tested (and will, I suspect, take their daughter someday, too) and as he told me about the testing, I thought, excitedly, "I want to do this!"

I've taken plenty of tests over the years: IQ tests, personality tests, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. But what he was describing was different. JOCRF offers tests that involve music and tests that involve puzzles and tests that involve memorization and tests that involve color.

I called up the web site to learn more. The testing isn't cheap (though "expensive" is a relative term), but I thought $600 wasn't too much to pay to help me figure out my future. And though I had vowed to stop taking on freelance stories, an editor contacted me with an assignment which will – when I get paid – nearly cover the expense of the testing.

So I said yes to the story and contacted the JOCRF Chicago office to set up an appointment for October 23 (testing) and 24 (results).

On October 1, I learned that I would no longer have a full-time job after the 15th of this month. I am, as I write this, not employed. I have a couple contracts in place with my "former" employer, but the reliability of a monthly paycheck is a memory, for the time being.

I had already told my then-colleagues that I'd be taking off October 23 and 24, but once I learned that I would no longer be full time, I realized that I didn't have to worry about taking time off. All my time can be time off if I so choose (except for that pesky need to earn money to pay my bills). My point being, I now have much more flexibility in my schedule.

Here's a bit of employment history for you: In the wake of my newspaper existence, I took a job with an IT consulting company. That job lasted 11 months. A healthy handful of us were laid off on a dark and stormy Monday. After freelancing for a spell (and realizing that freelancing is too unreliable for a single person who doesn't have someone else to rely on to help out through the dry spells), I got another job with another IT consulting company, an offshoot of the first IT consulting company. That job (the one that just ended), lasted about 3 years. Meanwhile, a friend I had worked with in my newspaper existence contacted me to mention that he'd be looking for an editor (another IT-related slot) in the new year. He was putting together his budget and the implication was that the job was mine for the taking. But the need soon arose for him to slash a large part of his budget, and the editor position was a casualty. I chuckle over the fact that I lost that IT gig before I even got it.

Clearly, the IT scene is not for me.

On Wednesday, as we chatted on IM about the testing, Angela asked, "What if they tell you that you should do something you never thought of before?"

"Oh, I don't expect that to happen," I said. "I think I know myself pretty well. I'm more concerned that they'll tell me I should do something I already know I should do but have been too afraid to pursue it."

On Thursday, I spent the day taking tests. A lot of tests. Rapid-fire tests, one after another. Kevin was my proctor for the morning, which flew by. I spent my "lunch hour" poking around Crate & Barrel and then noshing on the chicken pesto sandwich at Corner Bakery. The sandwich, sadly, not nearly as good as it used to be.

Thursday afternoon, with Mandy, I took another series of tests. Now, I'm smarter than the average bear. I'm not saying that to boast; it's just true. I have a high IQ, I passed the Mensa exam, I'm smart. But one test in particular seemed to put me in my place. "This is humbling," I said to Mandy, struggling. "Do you call 'time' at some point?"

"You have more time," she said. "And I can even start giving you hints if it comes to that."

I finished the test. She chuckled.

"What?" I asked.

"You completed that in three and a half minutes," she said. I nodded. She continued, "I would have started giving you hints at minute 18."

Gee, Beth, have high expectations for yourself much?

On the way home, I kept thinking about that test and thought I might have figured out a way that I could have completed it even faster.

Friday morning, I went back to the office to get the results of all my tests. Abbi, the woman with whom I had my conference, sat down and told me that she was at a bit of a loss when it came to my results, that they didn't jibe with my employment history or what I'd written down as my interests.

Keep in mind that I love to sing. I love to write. I love to bake. I love to wrap gifts. I love to decorate. I love to listen to music and (to a small degree) play music. I love to read books. I love to watch films. I am about as big a fan of the humanities as you can be.

But interests are not the same as aptitudes. Interests may change. Aptitudes are fixed.

She showed me the bar chart that provided the scores for all of my tests and drew little stars next to the three predominant categories that would inform the rest of our discussion. Those three areas – my pattern, as it's called – indicate the kinds of jobs for which I'm best suited.

Ready? My pattern indicates strong aptitudes for careers such as:

- Engineering (e.g., civil, electrical, chemical, mechanical, industrial)

- Architecture

- Urban/regional planning

- 3-D design (e.g., industrial design, interior design, set design, furniture design – apparently, I should be my brother Brian, who has a degree in industrial design and is a partner in a toy-design firm)

- Surveying

- Management in a 3-D area (e.g., construction, contractor/manager, industrial production manager)

- 3-D crafts (e.g., carpentry, plumbing, masonry, electrical work)

How do you like them apples?

Angela 1, Beth 0.

Turns out, I scored stupidly high in the test that had me so frustrated, the one I completed in 3 1/2 minutes. As Abbi said during the results conference, "The only kinds of people who score higher in that test are, like, astrophysicists."

So that one score skewed everything else, which was why she was having a bit of a hard time trying to make sense of my scores based on what I was telling her. My pattern put her in a position of trying to connect A to B to ZZ.

I asked her my question about the test, told her what I had been thinking about in the car on the way home. "Nobody's ever asked me that question before," she said. We looked at the materials for that test and I thought, "Yep, I probably could have done it faster."

I find it really amusing that there's this part of my brain that I haven't acknowledged all these years. As though Thursday, it finally said, "Where have you been?! I've been waiting forever!"

Abbi gave me a slew of information to review and consider. Happily, included in the testing fee is a follow-up conference, which I'll absolutely use.

When I got to my car, I texted George: "I blew up their test! Based on literal results, I should be a civil engineer or the like." To which he replied, "Holy shit!!! I wasn't expecting that!"

He had said, back in September, that sometimes advice is worth exactly what you pay for it. But when we chatted yesterday afternoon, as he walked through Sam's Club and I wandered around my kitchen, I told him that I'm really glad I did it, that I do feel as though I've received the piece of data I've long suspected I was missing, as though yesterday someone walked up behind me, put their hands on my shoulders, turned me, and said, "Look over there."

Which isn't to say I'm going back to school to become a civil engineer. God no. But I've been so focused on one area of my life for so long, trying to make the pieces fit together, that it makes total sense that I may have completely missed a component that would slot into place and complete the puzzle.

Much of what Abbi and I talked about yesterday was psychology. Sure, I have certain aptitudes in certain areas, but emotions create a hazy overlay that turns the black and white into many shades of grey.

I have a lot to sift through and ponder, but I did reap an immediate benefit out of the past two days: Abbi said, "Never apologize for your strengths." For most of my life, I've held back, afraid to fully assert myself, afraid of how others would respond. And I know, intellectually, that I shouldn't let fear define me. And yet, I have.

One of my favorite film quotes is, "Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Valuable, but small. And sometimes I wonder: do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave?"

I haven't been brave.

But I've also been confused.

So here's to clarity.

Of course, I'll let you know how things go. I've been doing that all along.

But it's about to get more interesting.

Friday, October 24, 2008

No Ulterior (Auto)motives: The Final Word ...

Houston, we have our resolution. You may know that I wrote this post about my car trouble.

Wednesday, I received a call from GM and learned that my complaint was being investigated and that I would be contacted today.

I missed the call, returned the call, and learned that since I had my car repaired by an independent mechanic and since he didn't use GM parts, GM will not reimburse any of my expenses.

So, there you have it:

- GM engineered and manufactured a faulty part that has caused thousands of engines to burn antifreeze.

- GM has never issued a recall.

- GM would not repair my car because it was out of warranty.

- GM never suggested that if I took my car to a GM-authorized repair facility that it might cover the expense.

- And now GM tells me that it won't reimburse me the nearly $700 I had to spend to fix my car as a result of GM's failed part.

Which means? When the time comes – though I hope it doesn't come for several years – my next car will be a Toyota.

Think It, Dream It ...

Mmm. Anthropomorphic veg!

***

For the past two nights, whatever I've been thinking about or chatting about before going to bed has shown up in my dreams each night, albeit it with typically dreamy twists. It's like there's a red phone on the desk of my subconscious, a direct line between my waking world and Sleepytown. An example? Wednesday night, as I was set up in my comfy bed in a larger-than-normal hotel room (that was "paid" for with points, not credit!), I was IMing with my pal Mike in York. (He's a terribly clever writer. You should read his blog. I mean, not right this minute, but when you're done here. I'm not gonna be ignored, Dan! [Lately, my brain thinks in movie quotes.])

Anyway, as I was saying, Mike and I were chatting – ah, laptops and wireless connections and overseas friends who stay up until insane hours – and I mentioned that hotels suit me. And he mentioned that they can be lonely places unless you're staying somewhere small and personal and the proprietors invite you into their kitchen to have a slice of freshly baked bread or something. (Methinks Mike has stayed somewhere small and personal where the proprietors have invited him into their kitchen for a slice of freshly baked bread or something.)

And that night, after I turned off the TV (flat screen) and lamp (compact florescent) and drifted off to dreamland, I found myself dreaming of Mike in a small kitchen with some people I'd never seen before but who are, no doubt, proprietors of a small and personal lodging situation, and Mike was cutting a slice of ... the most ginormous cucumber I'd ever seen. Or dreamt of. Or imagined. (Or is dreaming the same as imagining?)

Now, lest you start analyzing that part of the dream, it wasn't a whole cucumber. It was already cut in half (and you really don't want to analyze that), so that in my dream I was seeing the cut end of the cucumber and it was indeed astonishing, like five or six inches across.

Mike was cutting a thick slice, like a slice of bread. Like a cucumber discus.

Last night's dream was more literal (no giant cucumbers involved) and tinged with sadness actually, so I won't go into it here, lest I kill the happy vibe created by the description of supersized produce (and also because, sheesh, a girl's gotta have some secrets; most of my life is an open book here), but it'll be interesting to see if I can keep the streak alive for a third night.

Now, hmm ... I wonder what I should think about tonight. Puppies? Rainbows? Cheetos? Cheetos-eating puppies sliding down rainbows?

Or, perhaps, Liam Neeson. Cheetos optional.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

No Ulterior (Auto)motives Update ...

The other day, I wrote this post about my car trouble and included the letter that I sent to the CEO of GM.

I mentioned that I'd let everyone know how things turn out.

Well, I don't have resolution yet, but I did just get off the phone with a woman from GM who is investigating my complaint.

While I was looking up my VIN for her, I thanked her for calling, mentioning that I always presume that letters such as mine simply disappear into the ether.

She told me that she's part of a 10-person team that handles complaints that come into the executive offices.

We set up a time to talk on Friday, once she's researched my case.

So there's your consumer tip for the day, boys and girls: When you have a complaint, write a letter to the head of a company, be nice but be clear on what you want, and you just might get it.

I'll let you know – again – how things turn out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On This Day In Blog History IV ...

Two years ago today, I wrote about one of the best meals I've ever eaten. Maybe the best meal I've ever eaten. To date, anyway. I look forward to trying to top it.

Quoting: "The duck - and for the record, I've seldom eaten duck - was velvet. Velvet wrapped in silky, diaphanous fat, topped with perfectly crisped skin."

And last year, I wrote about seeing Annie Lennox.

Quoting: "It was an outstanding show. One of the best concerts I've ever been to. Even Greg Kot from the Chicago Tribune liked it, and he's a tough nut to crack."

Clearly, October 21 is a good day for me. October 21 is a "best of" day: one of the best meals of my life, one of the best concerts of my life. Let's hope history repeats itself again and this day contains another "best of" something.

Monday, October 20, 2008

'Deja Vu' ...

Ooh, those time-bendy movies. They kind of make my head hurt. But the possibilities are very cool to contemplate. And spending a couple of hours looking at Denzel Washington is never a bad thing.

Still, this movie's RottenTomatoes rating was a 57. Might that be because of the ending that makes you go, "Huh?" Yup, I think that might have something to do with the movie's ranking.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

'The Darjeeling Limited' ...

Is it just me or are all Wes Anderson movies inherently the same, each with a few different actors slotted in alongside Owen Wilson and set in a different location?

I really liked "The Royal Tenenbaums," but I haven't really liked an Anderson film since. Not that I've expressly disliked them, but they all just feel like I'm watching the same movie over and over again.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What Do You Know? ...

The thing that dismays me most about the upcoming election is not the relentless sniping among the candidates, it's the gullibility of voters, voters who will believe anything if it's printed on a piece of paper or forwarded in e-mail. It's absurd.

Like Gayle Quinnell, the red-shirted woman at McCain's rally, who pronounced that she's afraid of an Obama presidency because he's an Arab.

"No, ma'am," McCain said. "He's a decent family man."

Which is true, but what McCain needed to say – what he conspicuously did not say – is that Obama is not an Arab.

In a follow-up interview, Quinnell revealed that she'd been given a letter about Obama that contained "all kinds of bad things" and that she herself has gone to Kinko's and made 400 copies and had sent them to random people whose names she has gotten out of the phone book.

She asserted that Obama is Muslim. The reporter corrected her, telling her that Obama's father was Muslim, but that Obama is Christian. "Yeah," she said, "but he's still got Muslim in him. So that's still part of him."

Sigh. Gayle? Muslim is not a race. Muslims are followers of Islam, which is a religion. Religion is a choice. Obama has chosen Christianity.

Yesterday, L.A. Dave and I were talking about all things politics, which is pretty much all we talk about these days, because there is so much to talk about.

I told him that I wished that voters were required to pass a test before casting a ballot.

Dave, who is black, brought up voter-suppression tactics that were used in the '60s and asked if a test wouldn't be more of the same.

"No," I said. "I don't think it's too much to ask that a voter who is about to help decide the next leader of the free world know the basic facts about the candidates."

Think about it. When you turn 16, you don't automatically receive a driver's license in the mail. You have to take a driving test and you have to take a written test to prove that you know the basic rules of the road. And if you don't pass, you don't get a license. And that's a good thing. It makes the roads safer for the rest of us.

A more-germane example? When I was in middle school, I had to take a civics test. Me and my classmates had to demonstrate a working knowledge of our government. The test was mandatory, as was a passing grade.

So why is the only requirement to vote that someone be 18 or older? If you have a utility bill or a photo ID with your name on it, you can register to vote and become one of the millions who will collectively determine the direction of the country for the next four years, but none of us are required to demonstrate that we have any knowledge about any of the candidates.

Which leaves the door wide open for the Gayle Quinnells of the world to not only believe anything they read but to also pass along that misinformation, and then go to the polls and vote based on ignorance and fear.

That's what makes me afraid.

Update: For a bit of levity on this topic, I offer this video. Thanks, Tracy!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

No Ulterior (Auto)motives ...

All I want is for companies to do what's right.

I was having car trouble. My father correctly identified what was happening and a mechanic he trusts confirmed it.

It's a common problem in a slew of GM cars, yet GM has never issued a recall to correct it.

So yesterday, I picked up my newly repaired baby (repaired by the mechanic my dad trusts, because I sure as hell wasn't about to take the car back to the dealer that refused to correct the problem) and came home and penned this letter to the chairman and CEO of General Motors which I will mail today, along with a copy of the invoice.

I'll let you know how things turn out.

October 15, 2008

Mr. Rick Wagoner
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
General Motors Corporation
300 Renaissance Center
Detroit, MI 48265-3000

Mr. Wagoner:

In 2002, based on several recommendations, I purchased my first-ever Chevrolet. I went to Smith Chevrolet in Hammond, Indiana, a dealership with which my father has had a long-standing relationship, both as a customer and automotive businessman.

Larry Hill was an outstanding salesman and on the day of delivery, I drove off the lot in my 2003 Impala confident that I’d enjoy years of hassle-free driving. And I did indeed. Until recently.

My car was running hot. I lifted the hood and noticed that cap to the coolant reservoir had popped off. Assuming the antifreeze had evaporated, I filled the reservoir, replaced the cap, and resumed driving. But my car continued to run hot. My antifreeze was consistently low. I thought I had a leak in the reservoir. I mentioned the problem to my father and he said, “It might be leaking into the engine.”

So I started doing some research on the Internet. I was dismayed to learn that my problem was not unique. In fact, it was shockingly common. On message boards everywhere, people were discussing my exact problem, and mechanics were weighing in, offering that the intake manifold gasket on an engine used in many GM cars was made of plastic that was melting, allowing antifreeze to leak into the engine.

Moreover, I learned that GM never issued a recall for this problem, despite being aware of it.

On the “Experience GM” tab of the corporate web site, it states: “Quality, our top priority at GM, begins with understanding what you want and need from your vehicle – and then delivering above and beyond those expectations.”

Mr. Wagoner, I expect a GM car to be built with quality parts. In the event that those parts fail because of poor engineering or manufacturing, I expect the automaker to resolve the problem.

I took the car to a mechanic who confirmed my concerns and provided me with an estimate for repair. My father called the service department at Smith to ask if my car would be repaired out of warranty, given that the problem stemmed from a faulty GM part. He was told that there was no recall issued for the part in question and therefore the problem would not be resolved unless I paid for the repair.

I opted to have my car repaired by the mechanic who provided the estimate, someone my father knows and trusts. I am enclosing a copy of the invoice. For the sake of customer relations, I am requesting that GM reimburse me for this nearly $700 repair.

At a time when the value of General Motors stock has recently fallen to figures not seen since the 1950s, at a time when the company is considering a merger with Chrysler, and at a time when it is looking to the federal government for financial assistance, GM can ill-afford to alienate its customers.

But rest assured, if this situation is not resolved in a satisfactory manner, my next car will surely be a Toyota.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Beth Kujawski

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Out, Out, Brief Rodent ...

Ah, fall, the time when a young woman's thoughts turn to falling leaves and pumpkin pie and peering around the basement door hoping not to see any quarry in the mouse trap.

A couple of years ago, I wrote this mouse post. I've since had another mouse experience, though I was pretty sure I knew how that little bugger got in the house.

But this mouse? He was grey, not the usual brown. So either he was a geriatric or he was a different sort of mouse. Great. My basement is the epicenter of rodent integration.

I should have been expecting a mouse when I went downstairs to empty the dehumidifier this morning. Lately, I've noticed the earplugs (in case you're wondering, I wear them when I mow the lawn) I keep in the basket on the table by my front door in places where earplugs shouldn't be. Like on the floor by the door, several feet away.

But I wasn't thinking about that this morning. I looked at the trap because I always look at the trap, but the trap is almost always empty. Just the way I like it. But today, not only did I see the telltale tail and rear feet, I thought I saw a second tail. Oh man. Two mice?

I went downstairs with a garbage bag, two paper towels, and a plastic knife with a dab of peanut butter on the end. And then I went back upstairs. I just couldn't empty the trap. Ew. Ew, ew, ew.

But I put on my grown-up hat, went outside, got a pair of work gloves out of the garage, went back downstairs, put a paper towel over the trap (it's not the usual kind of mousetrap, it's a black box with a little mouse-sized opening so when the deed is done, we killers don't have to see the carnage), picked it up, depressed the little lever over the trash, and listened for the soft "thud."

Thud. Ew. (Just one mouse, by the way.)

And then I put the paper towel over the trash, put the peanut-butter bait in the trap, reset the lever, and gingerly placed the box back on the floor.

And then I took the trash outside. Far, far away from the house, just in case the mouse becomes zombified and goes all George Romero on me in the night.

I detest mouse disposal, but I do feel a weird little sense of triumph when I muster up the wherewithal to do something that gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Now let's hope the trap stays empty for the rest of the fall. And winter. And spring. And summer. Fingers crossed that I stay mouse-free.

W In The Double Digits ...

Bush has fewer than 100 days left in office.

In honor of this "milestone," I thought I'd dust off the ol' George W. Bush Out of Office Countdown page-a-day calendar (a Christmas gift from L.A. Dave), and rummage around for some shiny gems from the past few months because this is it, kids. There will be no more Bushism calendars. Once he leaves office, I'm sure he'll continue to say stupid things, but we'll pay less attention. Or maybe we won't pay any attention at all.

So we best get while the gettin's good. Here, then, is a smattering of Bushisms for your very much president-mocking pleasure:

"I own a timber company? That's news to me. Need some wood?"
— Second presidential debate, St. Louis, Missouri, October 2004

"Brie and cheese."
— Speculating about journalists' favorite foods, August 23, 2001

"I said I was looking for a book to read, Laura said you ought to try Camus. I also read three Shakespeares. . . . I've got a eck-a-lec-tic reading list."
— Interview with Brian Williams of NBC News, August 29, 2006

"One of the interesting initiatives we've taken in Washington, D.C., is we've got these vampire-busting devices. A vampire is a – cell deal you can plug into the wall to charge your cell phone."
— Denver, Colorado, August 2001

"This morning my administration released the budget numbers for fiscal 2006. These budget numbers are not just estimates; these are the actual results for the fiscal year that ended February the 30th."
— Washington, D.C., October 2006 (referencing the 2006 fiscal year, which ended on September 30th)

"You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."
— Interview with Katie Couric of CBS News, September 6, 2006

"We stand for things."
— Davenport, Iowa, August 4, 2004

And finally, from the "It was true then and it's true now" file:

"America better beware of a candidate who is willing to stretch reality in order to win points."
— Aboard the 2000 campaign plane, September 2000

Monday, October 13, 2008

Calling All Pet Lovers And Fitness Buffs ...

Hi, all:

I'm working on a story about people who exercise with their pets. If you're one such pet owner, and you'd like to be interviewed for the piece, please drop me a note (bethkujawski AT earthlink DOT net) with "Interview" in the subject line and let me know what kind of a pet you have and what you do together, and we'll take it from there. And/or feel free to pass on this post to any pet-loving/exercising friends.

Thanks!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Unsolicited Advice For John McCain ...

Senator McCain? Isn't that supposed to be your hat?

***

I just read an interesting piece in the New York Times about concern in the GOP over John McCain's candidacy.

No kidding.

Of course, I'm not concerned about John McCain. I hope John McCain stays the course at his tiller and steers his campaign right into the rocks.

But then again, McCain isn't really at the helm of his sinking ship. His advisors are charting the course.

Aren't they doing a heckuva job?

Mind you, I don't buy into the McCain mythology, especially having read these (heads up: lengthy) stories in Rolling Stone and The Nation Institute. McCain has spun his maverick mystique despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. For the life of me, I can't understand why the piece from The Nation hasn't gotten more play in the press, you know, considering it's nothing but a mouthpiece for we damn liberals.

(It's written by Sydney Schanberg, who's no hack. You have to have at least a little respect for anyone who has a Pulitzer Prize. If you know nothing of his Vietnam-era reporting, maybe you know him because Sam Waterston [a k a "that guy from 'Law & Order' "] portrayed him in the movie "The Killing Fields." Schanberg wonders in his piece why this story isn't more widely reported. I sent a link to ABC News. Maybe Charlie Gibson will put someone on it.)

This story would surely pulverize the POW cornerstone of the McCain campaign. Maybe the Obama camp will play this card right before the election.

Or maybe it won't. Is there a slaughter rule in politics?

This morning, in between reading stories about McCain's campaign and shaking my head in sadness and disbelief that his whole candidacy has devolved into such mudslinging and vitriol, I padded into the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee and decided what John McCain should do to revive his bid for the White House.

He should fire all his high-ranking advisors.

(Lest you think I'm writing a page for McCain's playbook, I'm sure others have thought of this before. And they probably live in Washington. And they probably wear shoes that cost as much as I pay monthly on my mortgage and they probably throw back high-end scotch like cupfuls of Gatorade at a marathon.)

I've read many stories about John being chagrined over the campaign he's running. Now, you might think, "That's ridiculous! He took Rev. Wright off the table. He can call the shots in his own presidential bid!"

But he's not. He wants to win at all costs, so he's surrounded himself with the people who got George Bush elected, nevermind that they're the same people who slandered McCain in 2000 and ruined his chances then.

McCain has sold his soul for this campaign. Mephistopheles must look a lot like Steve Schmidt.

Stories I've read discuss the need for McCain to settle on a unifying message for the the remainder of his campaign. But the election is 24 days away.

People are already voting.

If he stays on his current course, his fate is almost entirely sealed.

But what if he gave the heave-ho to everyone around him? What if he said, "I've listened to you and my campaign has tanked. You're all fired."

At this stage of the election, the trajectories are set, and McCain's bid is in a death spiral.

But what could restore his "maverick" brand more than firing everyone in his inner circle right before the election and saying, "I'm taking back the reins of this campaign"?

He doesn't need them at this point. They're not advising him well. If they were, he wouldn't have to be defending states that should be fiery red.

Some might argue that such a dramatic move would suggest that he was too much of a puppet all along, not strong enough, not presidential enough, to stand up to his advisors and put his foot down.

But as a staunch Obama supporter who has watched McCain's campaign sink further and further into the mud, I would have respect for him if he did something so sweeping and bold.

I would never vote for him, but I would view him as less pathetic.

Not that John McCain cares what I, individually, think of him. But it must bother him that the collective opinion of him has sunk so low. I have friends who vote primarily for Democrats who would have considered voting for McCain in 2000. Hell, I have friends who vote primarily for Democrats who would have considered voting for McCain in 2008 during the primaries.

And that's McCain's problem now. Those who were always going to vote for McCain are probably still going to vote for McCain. Oh, there may be a few defections or perhaps a few more people will just stay home on Election Day. But to that pool of voters in the middle, those who say they're still undecided, I suggest that all they have to do, if nothing else, is look at the campaigns each of the candidates are running. Learn the basics about each of them, please (no, Obama is not an Arab nor is he Muslim), but if you don't want to study their platforms in detail, just ask yourselves, purely on comportment, who do you want running the country?

Yes, each of them have run ads that distort the other's record or position. But watch the ads during commercial breaks (I know, it's hard to watch them, but please do; it's part of your civic duty) and note that Obama's ads, by and large, talk about what he's going to do for the country while McCain's ads, 100 percent of them now, slam Obama, and not even fairly at that.

Who do you want in office? The man who offers ideas and solutions, or the man who doesn't, who can only try to tear down the other candidate as a way to build up his own ever-dwindling chances?

Optimism or pessimism?

Hope or desperation?

Update, Monday, October 13: Interesting. William Kristol and I are basically on the same page. Whodathunkit?

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Building A Life ...

Friday, I mentioned to L.A. Dave that I was headed to The Goodman to see "Turn of the Century" and that I'd just bought tickets to see Steppenwolf's production of "The Seafarer." (I want to compare it to the Broadway version.)

L.A. Dave commented, "You're doing a lot of culture these days."

Maybe, if you count driving up and back to Columbus, Ohio, in one day to see Springsteen sing a handful of songs "culture."

I'm a season ticket holder with The Goodman, because for years and years, I thought, "I should go to more theater," but I never did. So when Doreen asked if I wanted to go to a play at The Goodman a few years ago and we went and I loved it and someone from the theater called to see if I'd be interested in a subscription for the following season, I bit, because subscriptions are kinda ridiculously cheap, considering.

The new season is underway and "Turn of the Century," a musical from the masterminds behind "Jersey Boys," is a really fun time. I highly recommend that you score some tickets before the show ends on November 2. Jeff Daniels (was he "Dumb" or "Dumber"?) stars, and – who knew? – he has a good singing voice. Mind you, Placido Domingo doesn't need to be looking over his shoulder, but I'd never heard Jeff Daniels sing before last night, and I was pleasantly surprised.

But his co-star, Rachel York, was the true treat. She's exceptional. I know some will think me blasphemous, but this woman can give Streisand a run for her money.

Culture, though – concerts and plays and movies and museums and the like – is actually something I lack in my life, if you ask me, which you didn't, but I'm the one writing, so I get to have both sides of the conversation at the moment.

I'm sure I take in more culture than many, maybe even most, but for my own tastes, I want to take in even more. Culture is fuel for creatives. And lately, I'm feeling a bit depleted.

Last year, as an American Express cardholder, I received a pre-sale offer for Genesis tickets. I called L.A. Dave and offered to get tickets for him as part of the pre-sale. He's not the concert-going type, but Genesis is his all-time favorite band. And the prices were very reasonable.

Until TicketBastard added its insane fees. Suddenly, $50 tickets were closer to $75. And suddenly, Dave was reconsidering.

But I said to him, "At the end of your life, you're not going to be lying on your deathbed saying, 'Whew! I'm really glad I didn't go to that Genesis concert!' "

So I bought (and he paid me back, in case everyone is thinking, "Hey, Beth, buy some concert tickets for me, too!"; I wish I could) and he went and he had a great time.

Life is made up of moments that become memories. And surely a memorable moment can happen at any place at any time, but culture ups the odds that a memory will be worth remembering.

Last Sunday was memorable because it was an atypical day. I don't often spend my a Sunday driving to another city in another state to help out on a presidential campaign before going to a rally headlined by a musical icon. Usually, I spend my Sundays running errands or doing chores.

And who really cares to remember a trip to Target to buy shampoo? Or a rousing afternoon of cleaning grout? (Note: I have never once expressly cleaned grout, mine or anyone else's, but "grout" is too fun a word to pass up.)

But culture, I remember culture. Like seeing James Taylor in Grant Park years ago on a perfect summer evening ("the temperature where there is no temperature," my friend Gemma noted), his voice wafting across the crowd, lulling me, the sun setting behind the Chicago skyline. A postcard moment, Gemma called it.

Completely. Exactly the kind that makes you want to write, "Wish you were here."

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Heart Disease, Now In Handy On-The-Go Nuggets! ...

Leafing through this morning's batch of junk mail, I spied a page of Arby's coupons. I don't eat Arby's, but I turned the page over and spied this:
















If you're wondering, "Is that fried macaroni and cheese?", let me assure you that it is.

That's right, kids, say "hello" to Arby's Mac & Cheezers. (Because who has time to worry about proper spelling when you're cramming your maw full of deep-fried fat?)

From the web site: "Your favorite childhood snack is back and better than ever. Creamy cheddar cheese and classic macaroni are battered and fried into golden brown triangles of flavor. Great for snacking when you're on the run or camped out watching cartoons on the family TV."

Atta boy, Arby's! That's some valuable advice: Hey, everybody! Eat this food product that's 41 percent fat while sitting on your bum in front of the TV! You're not engaging your body, so why engage your mind?

Sadly, this is not the first time I've written about deep-fried mac 'n' cheese.

Not surprisingly, my last exposure to this culinary atrocity was compliments of Paula Deen, every cardiologist's worst nightmare.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I Love Donna Brazile ...

This woman, flat out, rocks.

I've always loved her, but now I love her a million times more!

'I've Got A Special Purpose' ...

(Bonus points if you can name the movie from whence that quote came.)

I need your brains, friends.

I'm making a list of things I do for a top-secret project and I'm sitting here thinking, "Am I missing any?"

So drop a line in the comments and remind me of what I do.

As in, "You bake!"

Or "You write!"

Or "You blog!"

Or "You wrap really awesome packages!"

Any "You [verb]" entry is welcome.

And, for the smartasses out there, let me preempt you with this:

"You suck!"

Now then, back to my original request.

Please and thank you.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

On The Road To Change II: Through The Eyes Of Doreen ...

Hey, kids, let's hear it for a real camera!

Doreen sent over a slew of photos today. The girl can take some snaps!

Here's a sampling:

First up, totally self-serving of me, but with better lighting and actual resolution, my face doesn't look like something out of "The Twilight Zone":



Next up, that nice young man, Luke Perry, and the cute look on Doreen's face that says, "Holy crap, I'm touching Luke Perry!":



Next up, the legendary John Glenn:



Next up, Bruce at the mic:



And lastly, my favorite shot of the bunch (I didn't see anything this good in the AP slideshow; go, Doreen!):

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'That One' ...

McCain referred to Obama as "that one." Seriously.

Oops. McCain'll wish he could take that off-handed comment back.

Monday, October 06, 2008

902 ... 1 ... Ohhhh! ...

At the Vote for Change rally yesterday, I saw a guy in a baseball hat a few feet away and thought, "Wow, he's handsome. He kinda looks like Luke Perry. Oh, wait a minute. That is Luke Perry."

He spent most of the time at the rally in the press area right behind where Doreen and I had staked out space, doing the occasional interview, holding a very cute baby, putting his arm around people and leaning in for requested pictures.

Doreen saw him when she returned from buying Obama/Biden buttons.

"That's Luke Perry!" she said, excitedly. She snapped a shot of him. He waved. Later, he came by and posed for a picture with her (which I took with her camera, so I don't have it to share).

He seems like a very nice, very real guy.

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On The Road To Change ...

Doreen spent the night on Saturday so we could hit the road bright and early on Sunday morning.

Well, early. Not bright. Dark, actually. Completely dark.

But it was nice to watch the world come to life as we rolled down the highway.

Just as we had decided to stop for breakfast at Denny's over Cracker Barrel (motto: "If it can be killed or baked, we'll top it with sausage gravy"), we saw a billboard for Flap-Jacks. We decided to try it, unless it struck us as particularly scary. Which it did not. So Flap-Jacks it was.

Indiana almost always lands in the red-state column in presidential elections. This year, of course, Indiana is a swing state. Our booth in Flap-Jacks was located in somewhat-central Indiana, and Doreen and I were both sporting our Obama buttons. The menu featured, I kid you not, Freedom toast (not French toast), so, you know, it's that kind of place. But the people were nice anyway. Or so they seemed. Maybe they spit in our food. : o )

Of course, given that we were at a place called Flap-Jacks, we ordered eggs. Omelettes, actually. With "Swiss" cheese. Not real Swiss cheese. But the vague idea of Swiss cheese as reimagined as a plastic-wrapped cheese slice.

But pancakes were an option instead of toast, so I was Flap-Jacked that way. They were entirely ordinary. Which you might think is true of all pancakes, but no: some are better than others. These, however, were not part of that elevated pancake class. These were the C students of pancakes. The syrup, too, could have tried harder.

We made our way to the Obama office in suburban Columbus where Doreen's friend Shawn is the lone staffer (supported by volunteers).

Shawn is a force of nature. Quite the go-getter. Clearly the next generation of the James Carvilles of the world. But without the accent. And with hair. Fabulous hair, actually. He is also insanely young, but I have no question that he will be one of the reasons Obama carries Ohio next month.

Don't they make a cute couple? Note the fist bump:



In addition to the Obama standee, the campaign office is a very glamorous place:



Doreen and I took the obligatory shot with Flat Obama:



(Ignore the bags under my eyes that could hold a week's worth of groceries. For a family of 10.)

After volunteering for a spell and chatting with Shawn, we headed to The Ohio State University (what's with the "The"?) for the Vote for Change rally.

I thought that Barack and Bruce would be appearing together, but no. Barack was in North Carolina yesterday. But Barack draws a crowd and Bruce draws a crowd. So why not draw two crowds?

Those of us who could see behind the stage saw Bruce arrive. A "Bruuuuuuuuuce!" swell grew. Later, I saw Bruce talking with an older man backstage.

Turns out, that "older man" was John Glenn, who ended up introducing Bruce.

(Interestingly, I twice tried sending a photo of John from my phone to my computer and twice, it didn't show up. Poetic, isn't it? That my photos of John Glenn are out there in the atmosphere somewhere?)

There was a pretty good crowd on hand. My crowd-estimating skills are pretty much non-existent, but I'd say there were 10,000 of us there. Or 20,000. Or maybe more. Or maybe less. In any event, a lot of people:



Bruce was there on his own, just him and his guitars and his harmonicas (with a guitar tech to switch them out). He played an 8-song set, including "Youngstown," "The Ghost of Tom Joad," "No Surrender," "The Rising," "Thunder Road," and "This Land Is Your Land." (The other two tunes escape me and my tired brain at the moment.) But they were haunting arrangements. I marvel at Bruce's ability to reinvent his own music.

My shot of him is the smallest of the batch because of the use of my phone's zoom. We weren't super far from the stage, but the zoom on a camera phone isn't meant to minimize much distance:














After the event, Doreen and I grabbed a bite to eat (evidently, she was born with a Culver's tracking device in her brain) and I managed to drive us home without running off the road.

We rolled on about 700 miles up and back to Columbus. Kinda too much to do in one day, turns out. But such are the lengths I will go to for Barack and my beloved Boss.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Barack And The Boss! ...

Heading to Columbus, Ohio, very, very early Sunday morning to help out at a local Obama office before heading to Ohio State for a rally featuring Mr. Springsteen.

Doreen called Thursday and said, "What are you doing Sunday? Up for a road trip?"

To see Barack and The Boss? Hell yeah!

Damn, I love me some spontaneity! Carpe diem!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Beth Kujawski: Freelancer/Contractor For Hire ...

Excuse me while I hang up my shingle.

I'm back in the freelance/contractor game. Wednesday afternoon, moments after I learned that my employment status was changing from "reliable paycheck" to "not-so-reliable paycheck," I sent out an e-mail blitz to word people and non-word people and former colleagues and friends, alerting them to my "for hire" status. But I also thought, "Hey, you have a blog that receives upward of 100 hits a day. You never know who's reading. Why not let the whole planet know that you're available to consider projects?"

So that's exactly what I'm doing.

Here's the Reader's Digest version of my employment history and skills:

Various editorial positions at the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and Thomson Newspapers. Several years of experience as an editor for IT consulting companies. Freelance contributor to the Tribune, Zap2It.com, and Content That Works, a syndicator of content to newspapers and web sites across North America. Experience in voiceovers and radio and public speaking. Obsessively attentive to detail: I proofread everything I see. And I'll mention again, for those who aren't regular readers of this blog, that I was one of the editors of The Last Lecture, by the late Randy Pausch and Jeff Zaslow.

So if you know of any projects that need a writer/editor/proofreader, please do post a comment or drop me a line. My e-mail address is available through my profile.

Many thanks.

Oh, and I bake the best brownies in the world. For that reason alone, you want to know me.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Ray LaMontagne ...














Saw him tonight at the Chicago Theater.

If you don't know Ray's music, you must check him out. He has the most amazing, interesting voice. A bit like Joe Cocker's for its breathy rasp but entirely his own sound.

Yes, it's a horribly grainy photo. But our seats were in the loge and my camera phone doesn't have much of a zoom. Oh, and I was taking photos clandestinely, lest the ushers scold me.

Pretend it's an Impressionist painting!