Monthly Archives: May 2010

For the win

I love playing the license plate game, especially on long car rides. When we were younger, Jess and I played when the family went on trips. When we moved her from Denver, Colorado to Rochester, New York years ago, it was a four-day cavalcade of spotting license plates. Jess drew a crude map of the United States and we colored in the states that we saw.  Total we found 46 states (those not found: Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, and Delaware). Not too shabby.

My boyfriend Fred and I enjoy playing as well but we make it a competition, something Jess and I rarely did. Our first long trip together (we went to the Ikea in Cincinnati) we kept a running total. Even though I was driving, I pulled ahead quickly. On our return trip I wasn’t feeling well so Fred drove while I slept. Every once in a while he would wake me up to call out a state. When we got home, the game was over and I was the clear winner, despite being asleep for the last hour and a half.

On another trip to Cincinnati, I was driving again but this time Fred was way ahead. This trip we decided to count western states worth two points and Hawaii and Alaska worth five. At one point I had a golden opportunity to close the gap. Fred took off his glasses to clean them and his head was bent down. I spotted a van in the lane next to us and it had a yellow plate. I couldn’t read what state it was but I knew it was one we hadn’t gotten yet. I stepped on the gas to try to get closer before Fred noticed. Unfortunately, he looked up just as I was nearing the van and, with his glasses still off, yelled out, “Alaska!” for five points.

The license plate game has since evolved into a continual competition for us. There is no beginning or end, just call ’em when you see ’em. We’ll be in mid-conversation and one of us will slip in a state and then continue on with the original topic, like, “I was at work and – Virginia – this guy asked me the weirdest question.”  Sometimes if Fred is the first one to spot an out-of-state plate, I’ll hum and look away, pretending he didn’t just score.

The game goes on even if we’re not together. If one of us sees a rare plate, like Idaho or even Ontario, the other receives a notification text. Today, however, I spotted a plate so rarely seen in the Midwest that I had to call Fred right away. He answered his phone and I immediately said, “Hawaii.”. Knowing full well what I was talking about, he replied, “For the win!”

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Posted by on May 31, 2010 in About me, Everyday Life


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Here’s a penny – keep the change

My parents met in an accounting class at college.  My dad currently works as a VP of Finance for a non-profit group and my mom used to work in a bank.  Any financial questions I have I go directly to them.  At an early age, I was taught the importance of a decimal point in a price tag and how to spot incorrectly priced merchandise.

Mom and Pop Quiz: Which of the following is the cheapest?

A.  $.50 used paperback book
B.  $50 used paperback book
C.  .50¢ used paperback book
D.  $.50 used Nicholas Sparks book

Answer: C (although I will give credit if you answered D)

Wow!  Half a penny for a book!  What a great deal!

Sadly, I keep seeing this mistake more and more.  Every time, I die a little inside.  (Nashville, Indiana has a plethora of price tags marked for under a penny in many stores.  I nearly had a heart attack one Thanksgiving when I was down there with my grammar-Nazi roommate.  She shared my pain.)  Now, technically I could argue with the cashier and demand the price as marked but if the people putting up these price signs don’t know the importance of a decimal point, then something tells me that the cashier won’t either.

Imagine my pain every time I go into a Marsh and see this on the claw machine:

Words cannot express how sad I feel.  It is just so wrong on so many levels.

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Posted by on May 30, 2010 in Rants


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A bathroom stall is not a phone booth

Has bathroom etiquette gone down the toilet?  (I know it’s bad but I couldn’t resist.)  I’ve never understood the appeal of talking on the phone while using the crapper.  Who thinks, “I’m going to be in there awhile so I might as well do two things at once and call my good friend John”?  You’re having a private moment so keep it private.

Now, I understand that the urge to use the bathroom can come up while in the midst of a phone conversation.  I’ve been there plenty of times.  But, really, how hard is it to say, “Can I call you right back?  I have to run to the restroom”?  I’d much rather someone stop me mid-sentence than to hear the tell-tale sound of a toilet flushing.  Once I hear that flush, my mind flashes to the person to whom I’m speaking, sitting on the can.  I really don’t want to think about that when I’m trying to have a conversation.

Now with cell phones, talking while doing, er, personal business is no longer restricted to the home.  I spend a good chunk of my week in a retail store and, therefore, a public bathroom.  When I walk into the restroom (or if I’m in there already) and someone else walks in, it doesn’t take long to figure out if that person is on the phone.  For one, only half of the conversation can be overheard.  When this happens, not only am I empathetic to the poor, unsuspecting guy on the other end of the line, I’m also torn with a decision to make.  Should I flush the toilet (one of those loud, I’m-sucking-all-the-water-from-the-earth, flushes) and rudely interrupt their conversation.  Or do I quietly wait until she is either done with the call or done with the restroom?*  But then I tell myself that it was that other lady’s choice to walk in the bathroom before kindly ending her conversation so why should I have to go out of my way for her?  She willingly walked into the restroom where toilets have been known to flush and I have work to do so there’s no way I’m waiting around for her to finish up.  When I flush the toilet, knowing full well that the loud noise will be heard on the other end of the phone, I secretly hope that it will be louder and longer than normal, even though I know it’s not possible.

*Technically, I could just not flush and then go about my day, but several times I’ve been the one to come in after someone who hasn’t flushed and that’s just as disgusting to me as talking on the phone while on the toilet.


Posted by on May 29, 2010 in Rants


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Sporting signs sans bellbottoms

When I finally did get back to DC for another anti-war protest, I was a few years out of college and what good was it if just one person dressed up in a disco outfit?  It just wouldn’t make sense to anyone but me.

It was almost exactly four years later when my friend Judy and I made our way out east.  The day of the protest, we left our hotel early and walked toward the mall where the protest was to be held.  On the way, something caught our eye.  Something pink.  We decided to stray from our course to check out the commotion.  What we found was a group of protesters decked out in pink and holding pink protest signs.  This, we figured, must have been the Code Pink rally someone on our bus ride the previous day had told us about.  We didn’t hesitate to join in the festivities.

As we weaved our way up as close to the mike as we could get, we tried to take in everything. The signs spouted hilarious slogans like “Women Say Pull Out!” and “Augmentation Is For Boobs.”  We ended up standing behind a camera man, fairly close to the speakers and we were in for a treat.  Several celebrities were there to show their support, including Mimi Kennedy, Sean Penn, Jane Fonda, and (much to my delight), Eve Ensler.

As the rally wound down, Judy and I started making our way back to the mall but not before snapping a few pictures of the protesters across the street.  No, they were not protesters from our group.  They were protesting us.  There were about 25 of them (and that’s being generous), holding signs about how unpatriotic we were and had an effigy of Jane Fonda hanging from a noose.

They were really nice.

Once we were at the mall where, four years before, I stood and voiced my opinion, I was speechless at the sight before me.  There had to be tens of thousands of people.  Almost everyone had a sign, either hand-made or printed, and those without signs could get one from a group who had printed hundreds to pass out.  As before, there were booths to sign up for anti-war organizations and to buy anti-war paraphernalia.  But what amazed me the most was the amount of costumes and demonstrative art there was.  Everywhere we turned there was somebody dressed up (one had a devil costume on with a Bush mask) or a monument had been erected (the most memorable one was the wall of all the soldiers who’d lost his or her life in Iraq; sadly, it was quite big).

There were speakers for a few hours, though it was not very easy to hear, depending on to where we had wandered.  But it was fifty degrees and sunny in January and I was soon shedding my winter jacket.

Finally, the walk started.  I thought Judy and I were near the front of the line, but we weren’t even close.  I didn’t realize this until we turned a corner and could see a hill up ahead, filled with people.  There were so many people that the protesters completely bypassed the police barricades and spilled out onto the streets.  Even though the police were nearby, they did nothing to stop us.  They probably figured that the sooner the march was over, the better.

As we neared the top of the hill, the anti-anti-war protesters were back, shouting obscenities and telling us that we weren’t supporting our troops.*  I only hoped as the 25 of them stood there for fours hours yelling at the thousands upon thousands of us that they realized that in cases like these, size really does matter.

We marched past the Library of Congress and the Capitol, where some people, we later found out, had tried to rush the steps before being stopped by the police.  Then we circled around again and were closing in on the mall, my feet hurting but my heart soaring.  I was helping send a message to the bastards in DC that it is not a minority that want the war to end, but a majority of people who were willing to come from all over the United States, spend countless hours and money making costumes and signs, and shout their voices raw.  They had to listen to us.  We were too hard to ignore.

*What many short-sighted people don’t realize is that anti-war protesters are just that: anti-war.  Most, if not all, do support the troops and want to see them home safe and not dying for an unjust cause.

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Posted by on May 28, 2010 in About me


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Even frost bite wouldn’t stop me from protesting

The weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2003, a group of students my college piled into two vans late at night.  We were headed to DC where President Bush was considering going to war in Iraq.  We wanted to convince him otherwise.

I was in the back of the bigger fifteen passenger van with my friend Bethany.  We couldn’t hear the stereo and neither the conversation nor the heat flowed our way.  My feet were frozen before we had even made it out of the state.  We drove all night, stopping occasionally to fill up on gas and nicotine.  When we arrived in DC, the sun was just coming up so we headed to a quaint diner.  As we waited for our food (and, for some of us, the bathroom), two cops walked in and sat down.  I knew this was only the beginning and we would be seeing more of their kind later in a less friendly environment.

The protest was being held on the mall.  As we wound our way through the sea of protestors, my eyes tried to take it all in.  Vietnam vets were selling antique anti-war buttons.  People were handing out leftist papers.  Others were covering their faces with handkerchiefs.  One of the girls I was with did this and I asked why.  She said that the government took satellite photos of people at protests.  Back then I thought she was just crazy and paranoid but ever since the passing of the Patriot Act, I’m completely on her side.

My numb feet pounded on the frozen ground as we hoisted our hand-made signs: “Bush and Dick Make Love Not War”, “He tried to kill my daddy!”, and “Disco 4-ever, Imperialism Never!”  As other groups passed ours, we were congratulated on our disco slogan.  The group of drag queens seemed to like it especially.

The day consisted of spurts of speakers and anti-war cheers.  My group took time to warm ourselves by slipping into one of the many free museums.  At one point exhaustion took over and I fell asleep on a bench in front of an Ella Fitzgerald exhibit.

After the march and more protesting, our group climbed back into our vans, our feet still frozen but our hearts warmed and hopeful.  We promised that should America go to war, we would come back to DC to protest, decked out in disco gear.

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Posted by on May 27, 2010 in About me


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The real education of our youth

Author’s note: I wrote the bulk of this piece a few years ago so the commercials that I refer to are no longer in circulation.

There are a lot of big things in this world that trouble me: an ill-purposed war, oil gushing into the ocean for weeks on end, and the constant attack on reproductive rights, just to name a few.  But there are tiny things, everyday things that most people don’t notice but to me, they make me think that something just isn’t right.

We’ve all seen commercials on TV and heard spots on the radio to stop underage smoking.  The White Lies spots are great, but there is another one that, when I first saw it, raised my eyebrow.  The commercial starts out typical enough with scenes of parents doing things with kids (fishing, playing catch, etc.).  Then there is a voice-over along the lines of: “Talking to your kids about not smoking does not have to be as hard as it seems.”  Cut to Dad playing ball with Son.  “You know,” says Dad, “smoking will hurt your game, too.”  “I know, Dad,” says seven-year-old junior.  “I won’t smoke.  I promise.”

Pause the TiVo for a moment.  I probably said the same thing to my parents when I was little.  Even after losing two grandparents to smoking-related issues and being in countless anti-drug campaigns in junior high and high school, I still took up smoking for a few years.*  Now, I’m not saying that this will happen to every kid who promises not to smoke – it must certainly be effective to some extent, but let’s be realistic.  It will happen to some.

Again, the voice comes over the image of Dad and Son.  “To get help on how to talk to your kids about not smoking-”  At this point, the viewers at home are all nodding, thinking that this is a great commercial and whoever is sponsoring it must be great as well.  After all, they’re looking out for the next generation.  “-go to Phillip Morris dot com for conversation starters today.”

Stop.  Rewind.  Play that again.  Phillip?  Morris?  The Phillip Morris?  The tobacco industry is giving us advice on not smoking?  Here’s a piece of advice I’d like to give them: just stop making such a deadly product!  If they’re that concerned about the health of a nation (and something tells me that they aren’t) then they should get out of the business entirely.  Come to think of it, the whole commercial thing may be part of a settlement from being sued by all the people they made sick in the first place.  Or maybe they’re trying to re-image the company so that when Son turns 18, he’ll remember what a caring and thoughtful company Phillip Morris was and buy their brand of cigarettes instead of the competitions’.

What’s next?  Shall we turn to the makers of Jim Beam to teach us of alcoholism?  Will they now be sponsoring weekly AA meetings?  I know!  The D.A.R.E. programs at school could be lectured by crack dealers while abstinence-only sex education can be taught by prostitutes.

These thoughts ran through my head one night while trying to fall asleep.  When I woke the next morning to the radio, the DJ was promoting some event so my ears perked up.  “Come join us at the McDonald’s in Broad Ripple” (aka: where the college kids go to drink).  “We’re down here with the Diabetes Association-”  My ears stopped listening as I mentally slapped my forehead.

We wonder why the youth of America is so messed up but I know it’s because of things like this.  We’re sending mixed messages.  Verbal message: Eat healthy and avoid diabetes.  Image message: McDonald’s is healthy.

McDonald’s is anything but healthy and when I say this to most people, they say that McDonald’s is getting healthier options, like salad and milk.  Salad with deep fried chicken strips on top?  That kind of defeats the purpose.  And while milk is ten times healthier than soda, soy milk would be even better as it’s not chock-full of hormones.  The yogurt parfait?  Anyone who saw Super Size Me can tell you that the ice cream sundae has less calories than the yogurt parfait.  Something is definitely wrong here.

My overall feeling is this: if a company is doing something harmful to its consumers, then they should just stop doing it rather than trying to fix it after it’s way too late.  Phillip Morris, stop making cigarettes!  It’s not enough that you have a campaign to prevent youth from smoking.  If it’s such a bad thing, then you shouldn’t be in the industry in the first place.  And McDonald’s, if you are going to provide healthy options, then make damn sure they are truly healthy and drop everything that isn’t (as in, the whole menu).

We can’t just put a bandage over the wound and expect that to be good enough.  We must medicate and treat the would for it to heal, yes, but we must also prevent more wounds from ever occurring.  At the same time, we need to stop sending mixed messages to our youth now or before long they won’t be able to decipher what is right from wrong.  We need to stop screwing over the next generation and start helping them to become well educated, free thinking adults.

*This is one of my greatest regrets in my life.  It took a few tries but I did quit.  I haven’t had so much as a craving for a cigarette in over three years.


Posted by on May 26, 2010 in Rants


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Sitting with the bathtub

Dad never wanted to learn how to play euchre.  Whenever my sister, mom, and I wanted to play and needed a fourth partner, we’d ask him.  But his answer was always the same, “I think I’ll watch the game instead.”  I can’t say I blame him, or anyone else who doesn’t want to learn.  It’s a confusing game.  Sometimes a jack has more value than an ace and sometimes it’s just a jack.  Sometimes the jack of another suit that isn’t even trump has a high rank.  Sometimes dealers get screwed, sometimes players get dealt a farmer’s hand.  Reneging is the greatest disgrace but cloud nine is a good place to be.

Euchre is a Midwestern game but I never thought of it like that.  Grandma and Grandpa K. (Mom’s parents) taught me how to play and they lived in Florida so I didn’t associate the game with the Midwest.  When I started college it was the first time I heard euchre referred to in that way.  It clicked, though, because Grandma and Grandpa K. lived in Indiana and Ohio before retiring to Florida so of course they would know the game.

Grandma K. not only taught my sister and I how to play, but also all the “unwritten rules” of the game.  Really, they were just superstitions she had and I don’t know where they originated, but to this day, the family still lives by them.  For instance, the team that “sat with the bathtub” (was parallel to) would win.  Of course, I don’t know how that works if there is more than one bathtub in the house, or none.  The scoring cards always consist of a six and a four of the same suit.  Often, Grandma would “sprout” points by having the tips of the hearts (or spades or whatever) show.  She was also adamant about the four holding down the six.  “You don’t want anything big to hold down something small, Liz,” she would tell me.  Also, we were never, never to turn down a bower should it present itself when we dealt.  It was ingrained so much in me that now, if I do turn one down, I feel guilty.

Usually, Grandma and Grandpa K. were around when I played euchre, because my friends didn’t know how and I didn’t know how to explain it (it still baffles me a bit to this day when trying to teach someone else).  So, about twice a year, either when Grandma and Grandpa came up to Illinois to see us in the summer or when we went down to Florida for Christmas, I got to play euchre.  I was impatient about it, too.  Six months between game sessions was too long to wait!  So, when dinner was done and the table was cleared, I would be back in my seat, cards shuffled and ready to be dealt.  Impatiently, I would wait while Mom and Grandma did the dishes (“Why can’t they just leave them?” I thought to myself over and over).  When it was finally time to play, we had to figure out who was going to sit out.  Only four players are needed but there were five of us.  Mostly, we rotated or there was someone who was too tired to play or had something else to do so it all worked out.

In 1998, Grandma and Grandpa K. celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  They rented a house in the hills of Maggie Valley, North Carolina.  My family and my cousins’ family were invited to come celebrate with them in the early days of August.  It was a euchre-fest.  There were 11 of us but since Dad never played, only 10 were in the tournament (there was no actual tournament; it was just game after game after game).  We baffled at the bravado that Missy, the youngest at 11, showed when she made trump with only two cards of that suit in her hand.  More often than not, and to the delight of her partner, she would win the hand.

Now Grandma is gone and Missy’s a year out of college.  The family still plays when we get together but it’s not as often as I would like, as we’re spread across the country from the East to the Midwest to the South.  But when one or more of us makes it to someone’s house, the cards are taken from their storage space, the deck separated then shuffled, and we sit down at the table to play a game.  Every time I take my place at the start of the game, I mentally picture which way the bathtub lies to see if I’m sitting with it, and then I think of Grandma and how much I wish she were there.


Posted by on May 21, 2010 in About me, Everyday Life


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