Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I am not old!

Apparently, my youngest child seems to think announcing her mother's age in public is a good thing. First there was the incident at the zoo and last night there was this:

We were at our local yuppie pizza restaurant for our older daughter's birthday dinner. The waiter (who my younger daughter started calling "Hungry Guy" because he kept begging her for a bite of her pizza) was guessing how old A Girl was. He said, "I know! You're 45!" and M Girl says (loudly, of course and pointing right at me) "No, but my mom's almost 45!" Cue embarrassed laughter from everyone in the restaurant.

It's not that I'm embarrassed about my age. I'm not - if you ask me, I'll tell you that I'm 42 and that I earned every gray hair that I haven't managed to cover with highlights. But I don't necessarily want to call it to the attention of the patrons of random restaurants and food courts across the city. But that's just me.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Lowest common denominator

I was reading about this case (Brown v. Card Service Center). Since most of you would likely rather get hit by a truck than read judicial decisions, here's what it says in a nutshell:

If I owe on an account that has been referred to a debt collector (meaning it's way over due) the debt collector can't tell me "If you don't make arrangements to pay us within 7 days, we could sue you." It's not that the debt collector has no right to sue. It does. It's because the debt collector probably won't sue (since it's really expensive and doesn't make sense unless I owe a lot of money). And debt collectors aren't allowed to make false and misleading statements. This lawsuit was filed under a law that was meant to prevent debt collectors from threatening to break people's kneecaps and from doing stuff like bang on people's doors in the middle of the night or take their cars without notice. It wasn't (in my view) meant to prevent debt collectors from warning people about the potential consequences of failing to pay their debts.

Outside of the fact that it shouldn't be illegal to remind someone that they could get sued for failing to pay what they owe, what really bugs me about this case is that the court said that debt collectors can't assume that the debtor is a "reasonable" person. They have to assume that the debtor is the "least sophisticated" person. What this means is that, in addition to trying to figure out how to get deadbeats to pay their bills, debt collectors also have to figure out how stupid their stupidest debtor is and tailor their collection letters to that person.

So, in the interest of helping these debt collectors*, I've written a collection letter tailored to fit the court's decision:

See Jane. See the bank. See Jane borrow money from the bank. See Jane spend the money. Spend Jane! Spend!

See the bank ask Jane to pay the money back. Ask nicely bank! Jane did not pay the money back. Bad Jane. What will the bank do?

The bank will write a letter to Jane. The bank will remind Jane nicely. See Jane ignore the letter! Poor bank.

Bank will tell other banks that Jane is a bad person. Jane will not be able to buy a house. Jane will not be able to buy a car. Jane will not be able to buy a pot to piss in. Poor Jane.

*During one semester of law school, I worked for the U.S. Attorney's office and my main project was getting certain people (farmers and former medical students mostly) to pay back debts they owed to the government. These were not people who couldn't pay back their debt. These were people who didn't want to pay back their debt and did all kinds of crappy shit to avoid paying their debt. Lucky for the government, it has the resources of the U.S. Attorney to collect debts. Credit card companies and banks have to find other ways of collecting legitimate debts. Don't give me any "big business" crap - just because someone borrows money from a big company (or the "big" government) doesn't make failing to pay legitimate debts right. And it is plain stupid to make companies assume that everyone they're dealing with is a moron that can't understand the importance of paying back debt.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Thrursday Thirteen - Cincinnati version

1. I'm sitting in a conference room with a view. Thank God because there are few things worse than a windowless conference room. The bad thing about most business travel is that you don't get to see the places you travel. At least I feel like I'm able to enjoy something real about Cincinnati even if it is just a small view through a window.

2. The office building I'm in appears to have been dropped into the middle of a residential neighborhood. I'm used to views of high rises so this is a nice change of pace.

3. In the rain, most of the trees still look mostly green but there is one lone tree that is defiantly dark red.

4. If I was an architecture buff, I could tell you the style of the homes in the neighborhood across the street. On the right ride are older houses that look kind of like farm houses but without the farms.

5. On the left side the houses are all nearly identical brick rectangles. The only difference appears to be the color of the brick. Some are light brown, some are dark. I live in a high rise and those things tend to be the epitome of cookie cutter. And here I am wrinkling my nose at cookie cutter houses.

6. I'm clearly a hypocrite.

7. I can see a church steeple over the trees not too far in the distance. Beyond that are tree covered hills rising in the mist. It's very peaceful.

8. But I'm in a conference room listening to a relatively boring discussion about option trading strategies. I'm trying to look like in taking detailed notes of the meeting.

9. I wonder if anyone even imagines that I'm actually blogging. I also wonder if many of them even know what a blog is.

10. We had dinner last night in a private room at The Phoenix. It's actually called a "gentleman's club" which just generally cracks me up. If it wasn't so archaic, I'd be offended.

11. Just in case you were wondering, there were no lap dances. It's not that kind of a gentleman's club.

12. The meeting's almost over. Now they're talking about legal issues which is my thing. That just means I don't have to work as hard to listen while I try to think about what I'm writing.

13. Now that the meeting's over, I can eat lunch and look out the window. And I don't have to be surreptitious about it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I've been brought to tears but . . .

I'm in Cincinnati right now. I wish I wasn't here. Not that it isn't a nice town (it's actually much lovelier than I expected) but I would really rather be home. Anyway . . .

I have a question for you, Internet (and I don't mean to be blasphemous or anything, I'm being serious here) - what does it mean to bring someone "to the Lord"? I'm asking because I sat next to a perfectly lovely woman on the plane. She was telling me about her visit with her grand kids in Florida and then she said "And then I got to bring my two grandsons to the Lord. And it was just a double blessing." And then she sat back and smiled at me in a way that clearly indicated that she thought I would know what she was talking about. I've heard about people "going to the Lord" when they're dead. I'm certain that she didn't mean that she killed her grandsons. She said the two boys are 14 and 18 - does it mean they were baptized?

I'm not anti-religion, but I'm not religious. Spiritual, yes. Religious, no. You can tell from this post that there's not a lot of talk about God in our house. Maybe I'm sensitive about it, but religious people seem to talk about religion to perfect strangers as if they expect that person to be as religious as they are. This woman is from Arkansas so there's a good chance that many of the people she comes across near her home are Christian. So maybe it's not such a stretch for her to imagine that the person she's speaking to is Christian as well. To be honest, I was really worried that the next thing out of her mouth was going to be "Have you accepted the Lord, Jesus Christ into your life?" I don't know what I would have done except thank the Lord (no pun intended) that it was only a 45 minute flight.

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's contagious

Me to my six-year old: Your breath is a little oniony. Did you eat tuna salad today?

M Girl: No, but A Girl did.

Me: Um - onion breath isn't contagious.

M Girl: Let me smell your breath.

Me: Haaaa (exhaling in the general direction of her nose)

M Girl: Mmmm - broccoli.

Me: I didn't eat any broccoli today.

M Girl: But Daddy did.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

First grade ficshun

We went to the parent open-house at the kids' school last night and got to read our first grader's writing. I just had to share her first attempt at fiction (or ficshun, as she wrote it). I wish I could do it with her phonetic spelling but we couldn't take her journal home just yet and I can't really remember how she did it, so you'll just have to imagine it.

Once I was on an airplane. It was really windy out. When I opened the door I fell out but I had a parachute. Then the pilot fell out. He didn't have a parachute.

Maybe I'm just weird but I love that story. Even funnier - her older sister, upon hearing the story said "So what happened to the pilot?" (Apparently, she likes to have things tied up nicely.) M Girl said, matter of factly, "He hit the sidewalk and cracked his head." Her sister said "That's gross." So M Girl said "Ok, he fell on the sidewalk and broke his arm and got a cast." Talk about censorship!

In other writing news, our fourth grader's class had a project where they had to write the most important things about themselves. Our daughter wrote "The most important thing about me is that I have a great younger sister. She's really generous. Also, I have blue eyes and really white skin and I LOVE to sing." How sweet is it that she thinks the most important thing about her is her sister? I'm totally saving that to show her when she's a teenager and she wants to rip her sister's head off.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Shadow of a Girl - Blogging for Books

It's that time again folks. What time, you ask? Why, it's Blogging for Books time!

The Zero Boss says:

For this month’s Blogging for Books contest, create an entry on one of the following themes:

  • A tale of a Halloween past, either from your own childhood or from your experience as a parent;
  • A “ghost story”, either real or sprung from your imagination;
  • Any time in your life when you were frightened out of your skull.

So here's my entry and it's called Shadow of a Girl.

She’s been on the corner of Madison and LaSalle, slumped incongruously in front of the ornamental cornices of the bank for as long as I can remember. Even though I saw her everyday, I didn't really see her. I saw her the way you see the No Parking sign you walk by on the way to work. You don't take note of it or think about it. You just keep going where you're going.

Today I stopped and looked at her. I don't know why I did. There didn't appear to be anything different about her that made me take notice. The same ratty, brown coat was pulled up around her neck. Her head was bowed but her eyes were turned up, as if she was afraid she’d get punished for looking at other people. I pulled a few coins from my purse and tossed them in the old coffee cup forever gripped in her small hand. Despite the rush hour foot traffic, mine were the only coins in the cup. I stood, riveted. And then, without moving, she began to speak.

“I'm invisible,” she said, her voice surprisingly clear and light. “Sometimes I wonder if I'm real. Then someone puts a coin in my cup and I know I’m still here. Sometimes I want to shout, “Look at me!” but I don't. It’s not good to draw attention to yourself. Only the crazy ones do that and I'm not crazy. Mostly I just sit and watch people walk by.” I swallowed the guilt and fought the urge to walk away.

She continued to talk, still hunched over. “Sometimes I walk around. If I find a good fare card on the ground, I ride the bus. I just take the first bus that comes along and I ride it until they go back to the garage and chase me away. Or until I have to go to the bathroom, whichever comes first. I don’t like to ride the trains. I don't want to go underground. It's dark and it smells funny. It's not a good place for girls like me. The crazy ones ride the trains and I'm not crazy.”

She shifted slightly and lifted her head, just a bit, as if she was just realizing that I was still there but she didn’t want to scare me away. I nodded to let her know she could keep talking.

“The night I left my sister's house I rode the train. I had nowhere to go and it was cold so I just went down in the subway and got on a train. When I first got on, there were a lot of people. I rode for a long time. I don’t know how long.

“I fell asleep and woke up to the smell of piss and booze. This guy with a stringy beard was pushing on me and breathing heavy, grabbing at me. I could barely breathe; he was heavy and smelled like a toilet. I pushed him away and tried to run but there was nowhere to go and no one there to help me. I banged on the door to the next car. I screamed as loud as I could but no one paid attention. The train is real loud. He grabbed me and pulled me to the floor. I hit him as hard as I could, slapped him in the face. He was grunting and pulling on me trying to get on top of me. When the train finally stopped, I kicked him hard. He rolled off long enough for me to get to the open doors. I ran away, off the platform, down the stairs, through the gate and into the street. I ran as fast and as far as I could until I couldn’t breathe. I walked until I found a doorway to a store and I sat down.” She took a breath and looked away from me. “That's the first night I slept on the street.”

She continued to look away from me, breathing heavily, but I didn't move. After a minute, she looked back at me, unsure. “Go on,” I said. “I'm listening.”

“My older sister had an apartment uptown. I used to sleep there on her couch. She had a TV and I would watch cartoons with her kids. I like cartoons, especially Sponge Bob. He’s crazy, Sponge Bob.” She laughed quietly and I could make out the faint outline of the girl she used to be.

“But her boyfriend? He didn't like me much. Said I was mooching and I was trash. Hit me once right here on my face. Real hard. His ring cut me. See the scar?” She pushed the hair off of her face, turning her left check towards me. I had to squat down to get close enough. She smelled like the alleys she surely slept in and I fought back the wave of nausea that hit me. There was a two-inch raised scar running from her prominent cheek bone to the bottom of her jaw. I sat down next to her, trying not to notice the passersby looking at me, puzzled. It must have looked odd – a middle-aged woman in a pantsuit and heels sitting cross-legged next to a homeless girl. I felt conspicuous while I sat with someone who felt invisible.

“My sister didn't want to get in the middle of it, said she had enough problems of her own so I left. I didn’t go back anymore. I don’t want to cause trouble.” She studied my face for a moment before she went on.

“I lived with my Momma before I went to live at my sister's. We had an apartment and I had my own bedroom. It had pink walls. I had a lamp that was pink, too. I like pink. It's a happy color.” A small smile and then the shadow of the girl she was faded as quickly as it came.

“It was just me and Momma after my sister left. Daddy died when I was three. Shot by a guy robbing his store. Momma got the insurance money but it wasn't enough so she got work as a cashier at the grocery store. After my sister left, Momma got married. Momma said we needed someone to take care of us; she didn't want to work anymore. She married a mechanic who lived down the block from us. He was fat and smelled like grease and beer. He was always sweaty. His hands were dirty; he could never wash the grease off. Whenever I came home from school, he was sitting on the couch watching T.V. He made me nervous so I spent a lot of time in my room.

“I remember one night I woke up and he was touching me. I screamed for Momma and she made him get out of my room. But the next day she said she didn’t want me around anymore. Said I was trying to steal her husband. Said I was a slut and I should go live on the street with the other sluts. That’s when I went to my sister's. I was 15.” She turned to me, looking at my eyes.

“Thank you for listening,” she said softly.
“I can listen some more, if you'd like.”

She nodded, looking down again. “After I left my sister’s, I tried staying at the shelter but I didn’t like it. It was too crowded. I had to share a room with these people. They took my stuff all the time. No manners. They're all crazy. I'm not crazy and I don't want to live with crazy people. The workers at the shelter, they tried to get me to go back to Momma’s. Momma said she wanted me back but I figure she just said that ‘cause she would look bad if she didn’t. He was still there so I didn’t want to go back. I can’t go back. Anyway, it’s better to just stay out here. I’m no bother to anybody. I keep to myself mostly.”

“Where do you sleep?” The question popped into my head and out of my mouth before I could stop it.
“In the park, under a tree.”
“Where? Grant Park?” Why in the world was I asking?
“Yeah. Do you want to see? I’d like to show you.” She said this and looked at me, smiling for the first time. It was as if she was going to show me her pretty pink room with the pink lamp.

As we stood up and I brushed the dirt off my suit I wondered whether I had lost my mind. Why in the world was I about to follow a homeless girl into Grant Park in the middle of a work day morning? I wasn’t the least bit concerned about my safety which I knew was crazy. Somehow I was drawn to her and knew I needed to go.

We walked the three blocks to the entrance of the park in silence. I followed her off the sidewalk and onto the grass. We walked to a cluster of oak trees rising above a set of park benches just off a path down to the lake. She stopped in front of the benches and pointed beneath the trees. I walked past her, around the bench and looked at the pile of blankets and crumpled plastic bags. Suddenly I knew why I was there. I knew before I saw the fingers sticking out from under the pile. I turned to look at the girl and wasn’t surprised when she was nowhere in sight. I pulled back the blankets. She looked like she was sleeping. She would have looked peaceful but for the familiar, jagged scar on her left cheek. I lifted her small wrist and searched for a pulse I knew I wouldn’t find.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sorry John Lennon - sometimes, love isn't the answer

I was reading this post by Landismom over at Bumblebee Sweet Potato and it got me thinking about the idea of diplomacy vs. the use of force.

First let me say this - I'm not a fan of war. I think the loss of life and waste of resources is horrible and sad. I would love it if the concept of the United Nations actually worked. Representatives of every country sit in a room and talk out issues and war is prevented. Wouldn't that be nice? But I'm realistic enough to know that there are times when a show of force, or even a full-scale war, is necessary. Sometimes you're faced with an enemy who isn't interested in talking. You can't (and shouldn't) always turn the other cheek when you're attacked or threatened. Sometimes, force is necessary.

If your child was being bullied and the bully wasn't willing to resolve things peacefully, how would you tell your child to react? I used to agree with the phrase "Violence never solved anything." But when my little brother was being bullied at school, and all attempts at playground diplomacy failed, my brother (at my dad's suggestion) punched the bully in the mouth. Voila - no more bullying. Sometimes, violence is necessary to STOP violence. Or, said another way - violence begets violence. The bully started it, my brother responded.

Similarly, look at what happened with Israel and Lebanon. Lebanon allowed Hezbollah free reign inside the country (kind of like my brother's school allowed the bully to push other kids around on the playground). Hezbollah had its own army and was openly threatening Israel. Israel kept warning Lebanon but Lebanon (like my brother's teacher) pretty much said "Well, there's not really anything we can do about it." And then Hezbollah started sending it's army into Israel, taking hostages and killing innocent people. So - should Israel have continued to try to talk to Hezbollah while Israel's citizens and soldiers were being kidnapped and killed? Should Israel have begged the Lebanese government to do something about a problem that the government had been unable or unwilling to deal with? Most importantly, how can diplomacy work in that situation where Hezbollah and their ilk refuse to acknowledge that Israel even has a right to exist? The ONLY thing that stopped Hezbollah (at least for the time being) was war.

I'm not going to express an opinion one way or another about the Iraq war mostly because I simply don't have enough facts to argue with the all-knowing Internet on the topic. (I probably don't have enough facts to argue the Israel/Hezbollah issue, either. But that seemed to be a pretty clear cut issue to me.) In all honesty, I don't know whether we did the right thing in Iraq.

But I feel very strongly that you can't negotiate with terrorists. We can't play by one set of rules (talk nicely and don't hit) against a team that plays by a different set of rules (it's perfectly okay to kill someone who doesn't agree with you) and expect to come out of it alive and well.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Communication, or lack thereof

A note to my daughter’s first grade teacher:

We have been dropping our daughter off at school on time (admittedly, maybe a bit close to the wire sometimes, but still on time). Until you sent the school administration to talk to us, we had no idea that she had been late for class several times. Now that we think about it, we realize that she tends to be a bit slow in the morning and perhaps it’s taking her several minutes to put her backpack away and get herself situated. Now we know – we need to get her to school five minutes earlier. Problem solved.

But, in the future, if you have a problem with something we’re doing – or not doing – it would be really nice if you spoke to us first (or sent a note home or sent an email). Bringing this to the attention of the school administration and having them talk to us makes it seem like we haven’t been cooperating with you. That kind of escalation was totally unnecessary and really pissed me off.

If you had bothered to communicate with us directly, I think you would have found us to be very cooperative. Apologetic, even. Now we feel blindsided and a little defensive (although my husband did send you a nice email apologizing and assuring you that we would get her there on time from now on). I really, really wanted to come in and talk to you this morning. And ask you how you would feel if I went directly to the administration with a classroom issue instead of talking to you first. But my husband talked me off that particular ledge, pointing out that you’d probably interpret it as a threat. (Plus I'm PMSing and it would have come out all wrong and bitchy and would just have made the situation worse so thank god for my husband and his rational thinking.)

Instead, my husband went back to the administrator he spoke with yesterday. He explained that you had never spoken to us about this. He voiced our concerns that the administration would think of us as uncooperative “scofflaws” who don’t care to get our kids to school on time. She had no idea that you hadn't talked to us first and she told us that you gave her the impression that we were regularly getting our daughter to school very late. Thankfully, the administrator was very nice. She knows us and knows that we care very much about our daughters’ education. She knows that we make every effort to follow the rules and work with the school when there are issues.

It’s too bad that you didn't give us a chance to show you that.