"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Business Trip the Light Fantastic

Usually when someone tells a story that ends with, "... and there I was in the hotel lobby, wearing only my underpants" -- it's either the result of obliviousness brought on after having a few drinks or carelessness resulting in an irrevocable mis-step. My story embraces both.

This was years ago, my first real "business trip" -- heading out of town for several nights, many hours of travel, representing the office on my own. I was headed for Cedar Rapids, Iowa and booked into the Five Seasons hotel. Now, I'd heard of the Four Seasons before, a chain of luxury hotels found in some of the most desirable travel destinations around the world. For Cedar Rapids to have a FIVE Seasons... I figured I was really in for a treat. Did I mention I wasn't a very seasoned traveler at that time?

I flew in on a Sunday afternoon so I'd be in place and well-rested for a first-thing-Monday-morning start. Connecting through Detroit I had my first experience on a puddle-jumper, landing in Iowa a bit queasy but otherwise intact. I cabbed it to the hotel from the airport and entered into an immense lobby -- a multi-story atrium with full-grown trees; quite striking. I was relieving another co-worker on a long-term project; she told me she'd arrange to have some materials placed in my room. I entered and saw a stuffed manila envelope on the desk -- along with a copy of the Sunday New York Times and two bottles of beer. Wow! What a thoughtful gesture from my office mate. As I found out later, she had left only the packet; my lovely wife had called ahead to the hotel to request the newspaper and beer as a kind gesture to make this first trip something special and comforting. Once I unpacked my suitcase, washed my face, and filled the bucket with ice to chill the beer, I struck out to see what kind of adventures could be found in downtown Cedar Rapids on a Sunday evening.

We'll get back to those adventures in a moment (SPOILER ALERT: there were none; at least not outside the hotel), but the first thing that struck me was the odor of cereal. The *overpowering* odor of cereal... mixed with something like rotting meat. You may know (I certainly didn't) that Cedar Rapids is home to the world's largest cereal manufacturing plant. Also a sizable dog food factory. Sometimes you smelled Cap'n Crunch; sometimes you smelled Alpo; sometimes you were afforded the opportunity to take in a commingled lungful of both. Reeling from the choking atmosphere, I staggered along a few streets in the downtown area, crisscrossing the mighty Cedar River that bisects the city, in search of a nice restaurant or pub. At 6:00 P.M. on a Sunday evening there was nothing to be found. I even passed a 7-Eleven that was closed Sundays.

Giving up on stumbling across a food find, and now stumbling because of the onset of darkness along with the relentless olfactory assault, I returned to my hotel room resigned to settling for room service. I had those cold beers waiting for me and so felt some "comfort food" would make for the perfect meal. Fortunately the menu featured pizza and wings (and a patty melt -- of which I was suspicious due to the hotel kitchen's proximity to the dog food plant, and a fish fry -- of which I was suspicious because I had just seen the condition of the river), so I placed my order. Once it was delivered to the room I figured it made sense to strip down to my skivvies so I wouldn't get any pizza grease or wing sauce on my shirt and pants. I dug into my dinner, washing it down with both beers while flipping through the paper and watching sports on TV. I was now quite full and pleased to end my long day of travel to unfamiliar surroundings tired but with a pleasant buzz.

The dining platter came with a card indicating which extension to dial on the room phone to request the tray's removal. However, I'd noticed empty trays left on the floor next to other doors, and rather than cleaning up and getting re-dressed just to let someone into the room I decided to ditch my tray in the hall as others had done. I swung the door open and stepped into the hall to place the tray on the floor. My plan was to do this quickly and catch the door before it swung shut. Unfortunately my timing was a bit off, perhaps because as I bent down my head started to spin from the beer. Before I could stand back up I heard a click and now the door was locked. I was standing in the 14th floor hallway of the Five Seasons hotel, in my underpants (since I'd also removed my t-shirt after dripping sauce on it), with no key in my pocket (since I was pocket-less), locked out of my room. I think this is the kind of dilemma that Google now uses as a screening exercise when interviewing job candidates to see how they'd react: "You're standing in your underwear, locked out of your 14th floor hotel room. How would you extricate yourself from this situation? Also write a program to check if any room numbers on your floor have rotational symmetry."

The Five Seasons was a big hotel and at that moment the hallway looked about a mile long. I started to walk in search of a house phone, thinking I could dial for assistance but didn't find one in either direction. I was too embarrassed to knock on any doors where I saw trays, plus it was now late in the evening and I didn't want to disturb anyone. My only option was to head down to the lobby and ask for another room key. The elevator arrived in response to my summons with no one else on it, so that was a gift. I exited on the ground floor, walking around a corner into that massive lobby where, miraculously, no other guests were milling about. I dashed over to the lobby desk, which was set up so I was about chest-level with the counter top. There were two female clerks on the other side; neither looked up until I was directly in front of them and so they didn't see my barely-clad approach. However, the clerk who acknowledged me arched her eyebrows slightly before asking how she could help since she could see my bare shoulders. I explained that I'd locked myself out of my room and needed another key. Without missing a beat, the other clerk told me they were all out of keys and I'd have to spend the night in the lobby. She was kidding -- I think. I joked back that was fine with me; give me a pillow and blanket and I'd set myself up on a couch. We all laughed and then she provided me with the replacement key. Problem solved.

Except, of course -- even though I'd made it to the lobby desk unnoticed there was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to walk away from these two without them taking full notice of my almost-nakedness. I offered thanks for the key, turned around and returned to the elevators around the corner. As I pressed the up button I heard nothing... not a peep or a titter from behind. An elevator arrived; the doors opened and I stepped into an (again, fortunately) empty lift. I punched the button for my floor and just as the doors slid closed I heard the two women burst into laughter so raucous that it echoed throughout the entire lobby and likely awakened guests sleeping in the penthouse suite.

The rest of my week's visit was not nearly as calamitous. Well, other than when there was a tornado warning and I had to run for shelter into the basement of a neighboring abandoned department store until the all-clear sounded. 

While I haven't had an urge to actually return to Cedar Rapids, occasionally I'll reminisce as I've done here, and when I want to pull up memories of my visit I fix myself a bowl of Cap'n Crunch. And dump a can of Alpo on it.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Crass Action Suit

Have you ever been exposed to other people? Or do you know someone who has? If so, you may be entitled to compensation.

If you have experienced any of the following, you are a victim:
  • Sadness
  • Confusion
  • Disappointment
  • Loose stools
  • Any reality programming featuring a Kardashian
  • Skin rash
  • Unexpected flatulence
  • Heartbreak
  • Visits with in-laws
If you, a friend, family member or complete stranger have ever been around people, contact our firm to learn about your rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of entitlement. There are no fees or expenses for our services unless we claim you won.

DANGERS OF LIVING

Life is fraught with risks that you were not informed of. The manufacturer of human beings failed to adequately warn people about the dangers associated with becoming a member of society and exposure to the foibles of others. Studies indicate that every single day you remain alive you are statistically more likely to die in the future.

To reduce the risks associated with living amongst others, doctors recommend you take steps including healthy eating, regular exercise and accepting responsibility for the consequences of your actions. However, the long-term embrace of these routines increases the possibility of extending your lifespan and thereby your odds of consuming kale chips, twisting your ankle, or investing in a multi-level marketing "opportunity."

History has shown that an overwhelming majority of cases result in settling rather than holding out for a verdict of true happiness. But some cases result in a trial, where testimony from parents, siblings, life partners, employers and neighbors presents a picture of an individual so myopic and self-centered that we may choose to terminate representation without prior notice and just leave you to flounder on your own.

QUESTIONS ABOUT LIFE

Why do I have to put up with everyone else? You don't -- that's what we're here for. Our firm will represent you in all situations: grocery shopping, oil changes, responding to unsolicited emails. You can remain firmly ensconced in your cocoon and binge watch Pretty Little Liars until your eyes pop out of your head.

How did this happen to me? It's not your fault. Well, not entirely your fault. 

Where have all the flowers gone? This one *was* your fault; you planted annuals instead of perennials. You might get a few "volunteers" but after that early spring hail storm don't count on it.

When will I get what I deserve? Soon, my darling -- soon. Just a few more forms to sign.

SETTLEMENT PROCESS

The settlement process starts with putting you in touch with a so-called "therapist" who may or may not be subject to state or federal regulation. You could be offered interventions including but not limited to: mood inhibitors, chiropractic treatment, daily affirmations, requests for a small loan until payday, cupping or gummy vitamins. You may be encouraged to engage with additional therapists, either in sequence or simultaneously and not covered by insurance, depending upon the particulars of your situation. While therapy may result in improvement, there is no guarantee you will experience positive results. Nothing we suggest is intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any future disappointments with your mother.

FACTORS THAT AFFECT SETTLEMENT AMOUNTS

Aspects of a life-related lawsuit that influence a settlement range from personal hardships to rumors that others wish you would "just drop dead already." If evidence clearly shows that living negatively affected your quality of life, in addition to offering documentation such as report cards with snide comments from teachers or written warnings from your workplace spelling out behavioral consequences "up to and including termination," you will have a better chance of a higher settlement. Residents of AL, DC, ID, KY, OK, SC, WV or Weehawken, New Jersey may have lesser prospects. 

Call now -- lines are open but hearts and minds will close quickly.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

I'd Blather Not

I've been working on my elevator pitch. Unfortunately, I work in an office that's on the ground floor.

When you were young, did you play "Doctor" with the other kids? Today that game is known as "Hungry HIPAA."

Do you know why Esperanto never caught on as the "universal language?" Because in Esperanto that question would be: ─łu vi scias kial Esperanto neniam sukcesis kiel "universala lingvo?"

"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...." -- oh, I've lost interest already.

My wife said they were charging an arm and a leg at the supermarket for quartered chickens. I said that seemed like a fair trade.

I heard a cry in the wilderness, but it just turned out to be our friend who was complaining there was no Starbucks along the trail.

A guy in the Garment District tried to sell me a sharkskin suit off a rolling rack, but I thought there was something fishy about it.

Sex is like bacon -- you can't have it often enough.

One of those self-driving cars was recently responsible for an accident. I guess they'll suspend its license plate.

If they ever make another sequel to the movie Shaft, I hope they call it Shafter.

Have you heard of the offers where tax preparers give you a cash advance based on your W-2? That's like sleeping with someone tonight on the promise of seeing their blood test results tomorrow.

I thought about making a run for national office, but decided a leisurely shuffle for Sewer Commissioner was more my speed.

I didn't lose my virginity so much as misplace it.

A friend tried to sell me on a get-rich-quick scheme -- circulating counterfeit twenties and making off with the change. I said that didn't make cents.

How about if we put on a production of Euripedes' famous play about a vengeful woman and broadcast it over the internet? We could call it Streaming Medea.

I decided to go for broke and boy was that a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Hush Little Baby

I came downstairs the other morning to find a pile of laundry at the foot of the steps. Not washed and folded laundry neatly placed in a basket and ready to carry upstairs -- but a pile of disheveled clothes that needed to be relocated about twelve feet WNW in front of the washing machine.
I made a necessary but perhaps slightly exaggerated stride to step over the clutter and enter the kitchen. Carol looked in my direction; I nodded my head toward the mess on the floor and quizzically raised my eyebrows. "Oh, shut up..." she replied.

I think it's unfair for someone to call you out for thoughts not yet expressed; don't you? I mean, sure -- I may have been forming a coherent sentence questioning why the laundry had been left in that spot, but I also may have been giving consideration to extraneous factors and found myself willing to come down on the side of good intentions gone awry. This would be the difference between asking, "Why did you dump the laundry at the foot of the stairs?" and "I suppose you think you had a good reason for dumping the laundry at the foot of the stairs?" It's all in the context.

It turned out one of the cats cut across Carol's path as she came off that last step, so she dropped the clothes to grab the railing and keep from tripping. Fair enough -- but I was still puzzled as to why the pile remained there afterward, creating a hazard for other household members to avoid. Such as myself. Over the next few minutes I kept one eye on the pile and the other on Carol as she fixed breakfast for us before getting herself ready for work, making myself a little wall-eyed since she never approached the mess to complete its delivery to the laundry area. Finally I decided to take charge, scooping up the clothes and placing them in front of the washing machine. As soon as I did so, Carol called out to me: "As long as you're going to do laundry, would you also throw my yoga clothes in? And remember they do NOT go in the dryer -- you have to hang them up." Before I could even respond Carol added, "... and there's also a load of towels." Well, so much for *my* plans for the day.

I got through the multiple loads of laundry, shrinking only a couple pairs of Carol's yoga pants -- a solid 4 out of 5 for effort. I also put together a vegetarian dinner that neither one of us was really all that interested in eating, but at least it's now sitting in the fridge if we feel a need to partake of something "healthy" later in the week. I vacuumed, brushed the cats, vacuumed again and thought long and hard about mopping the kitchen floor, ultimately deciding against it since I didn't care to exude the aroma of Pine-Sol for the rest of the day.

When Carol came home that evening, she checked on the laundry and expressed her dismay about the yoga pants that were now better suited for a toddler to wear. I considered putting a positive spin on it, referencing my 80% success rate with the remaining clothing and also mentioning that if she felt she could do a better job she was welcome to handle the task her own self, and also had she noticed how nice the carpet looked after being vacuumed other than the swath under the dining room table where much of the cat hair had collected -- but I decided against giving her so much to sort through at one time.

That would just be piling it on.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Rude Awakening

This morning my sleep was ended not by the ringing of the alarm clock but by my wife Carol punching me in the nose. 

As I cried out in pain, she offered this: "Oh, I'm so sorry -- I didn't think you were still in bed."

"So -- you just struck out blindly, not checking to see if there was still a head nestled atop the other pillow? Because I can assure you there was, and now there is a throbbing and perhaps damaged nose affixed to that head."

"I said I was sorry," she replied in what I considered to be a tone devoid of contrition. At this point I got up and went downstairs into the bathroom to see if my nose was broken or bleeding. It wasn't, but from the force of the wayward blow Carol delivered it very well might have been.

The perpetrator then came downstairs and asked if I'd made coffee yet. I stood speechless for a few moments, incredulous that while I was still recovering from my injury, at her hand, her thoughts were only of breakfast. Then I placed a filter in the basket and started the coffee.

Carol emerged from the shower twenty minutes later, opening the bathroom door to let the steam escape. I said I needed to come in and use the toilet; she responded by asking if I could wait a minute or two. Well, perhaps a few years ago I could have, but these days I find it prudent to address the urge as quickly as possible. I informed her as such; she shot a quick but obviously annoyed glance my way and after a beat moved aside so I could get past. People offer many indications of how well matched they are as a couple -- shared interest in gardening, mutual love of travel, engaging in spirited political debate, sexual compatibility -- but I think the ultimate barometer of spousal longevity is willingness, however grudging, to share the bathroom when one of you requires time on the can.

After Carol left for work I still felt drained from the morning's events and decided to slip back under the covers to make up for the sleep I'd been robbed of due to the assault at dawn. As I settled into a comfortable position our cat Nate jumped up on the bed and demanded attention. I tried to shoo him away and he responded by poking me in the nose with a needle-sharp claw. I leapt out of bed and ran downstairs to, for the second time that morning, check for damage to my nose. While the puncture was small, it bled for some time and when it finally stopped it looked as though I'd just had my right nostril pierced.

Since the bedroom was no longer a safe haven, I poured myself the last of the coffee and went into the living room to watch the noontime news. No sooner had I settled into the couch than another of our cats, Miles, jumped into my lap and began to head-butt me. I tried to shoo him away and he responded by poking me in the scrotum with a needle-sharp claw. I leapt off the couch and ran into the bathroom to, for the third time that day, check for damage to my person; I feared he may have vasectomized me. Such a procedure may, at this stage of my life, be superfluous but you know what some people say: they feel safer sleeping with a loaded gun, even if they never intend to use it.

By now I'd given up on the idea of getting any further rest and decided to make a fresh start to the day with a shower. After stepping out of the tub I was greeted by the last of our cats, Sophie, who has a foot fetish and loves to rub her face all over my bare feet when they are freshly scrubbed. I tried to shoo her away and she responded by clinging to my ankle with all of her needle-sharp claws. Since I was already in the bathroom there really wasn't any place for me to escape to, so I stood there screeching until Sophie decided to let go and saunter back to her kibble. She'd left a series of red, raw scratches circling my lower leg, creating a dotted line that will be a helpful guide for the orthopedist when my foot eventually requires amputation once the infection sets in.

By the time I'd dried off, treated this most recent wound, gotten dressed and waited for the pain to subside, the day was more or less shot. I made myself a vodka tonic and tried, unsuccessfully, to work up any enthusiasm to prepare the evening meal. Thankfully, frozen pizza was invented for just this reason. Carol returned from work and walked through the door just as the oven timer rang. I reached in to remove the pizza and accidentally brushed the back of my hand against the upper rack, causing an immediate and painful singe.

"What's that smell?" Carol asked. "Did you burn the pizza?" I stood speechless for a few moments, incredulous that as I recovered from yet another injury her thoughts were only of dinner. Then I pulled the pizza from the oven and served her a slice.

After eating I pled exhaustion and announced I was going to bed. I stood, able to rise only to a crouch, with breath whistling through the extra hole in the side of my nose and, favoring my good leg, hobbled upstairs. Carol came in later, cradling me in her arms while whispering how sorry she was for my ailments and offering hope I'd feel better. I nodded my head and offered a slight grunt of acknowledgment.

Carol ended this very trying day for me on such a sweet note that, before drifting off to sleep, I nearly felt remorse for stuffing catnip in her pillow and resetting her alarm clock two hours early. Fortunately it's her turn to make the coffee tomorrow morning.