Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Son of Coincidence

So remember that whole ‘coincidence’ post from a couple of months ago? The one where weird names kept coming up in clumps after an absence of thirty-some years? Or an author I learn about for the first time then presents himself in an e-mail from a totally unrelated third party? And I recognize that an actress I see on tv must be the daughter of Meryl Streep, because of the uncanny resemblance, and almost simultaneously the girl is being quoted in a magazine article I was reading during the commercials… Yeah—those coincidences.

Get ready. It’s happened again. And again.

A few weeks ago, my husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) and I were watching an episode of American Pickers. If you’re not familiar with it, let me say that two guys from Iowa (Mike and Frank) drive around in a big van, looking for the ultimate yard sale. Actually, most of the time they find people who’ve been collecting stuff for years, and have buildings just chock full of old collectibles. Mike and Frank buy the stuff to sell in their shop, or to customers they’ve developed over the years. Back at the shop, Danielle finds them leads, and manages to hold the fort while the guys are on the road.

CoTU and I get a big charge out of seeing what they find, and watching them arrive at a deal with the sellers. CoTU didn’t want to watch it at first, probably because we are both such pack rats, and this hits a little close to home. Hey, at least we’re not on Hoarders. I had to persuade him that since the show is on The History Channel, it must be vaguely educational. Anyhoo…

On this particular day, Mike and Frank were on the road, and Danielle was actually taking a little vacation to New York. The guys had convinced her to take something with her that they bought on an earlier ‘pick’. It’s a papier-mâché model of a cat from the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in Central Park.  Ultimately, Dani (like we’re BFFs now) meets with the widow of the sculptor (he was Jose de Cleeft, she is Lorrie Goulet) and arranges to have the cat displayed in a New York museum, where there’s a current show of Goulet’s work. This was all so very cool. Dani meets artist, artist sees cat, cat vacations on display. Nice.

But back to my story. So I may be a little old Midwesterner, but I’ve been to New York numerous times, and have also been to Central Park many times. I have never, let me repeat that for emphasis (why else would I repeat it?), NEVER seen or heard of the Alice in Wonderland sculpture. Don’t know why. I’m sure that if my relatives really did love me they would have taken me to see it when I visited them in New York. But alas, I was quite surprised to learn of its existence.

The very next day (cue the Twilight Zone theme music) I was reading a book that I had heard about on (what else) NPR. Fresh Air, to be exact. It’s called “What Happened to Sophie Wilder”, by Christopher Beha. On page 118, Sophie and her husband are walking in Central Park, and stop at the Alice in Wonderland sculpture. They have a major heart-to-heart there. “Hmm,” I thought. “That’s funny, coming just a day after I first heard about the sculpture.”

Fast forward less than a week. Done with “Sophie Wilder”, on to “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. (Amazing, by the way.) Yep. Page nineteen! I’ve barely cracked the spine of the book, and Nick is growling about Amy expecting him to remember that it’s a favorite of hers since childhood.

This is all pretty ‘woo-woo’ if you ask me. Three slaps in the face with the same reference within a single week. I’m not sure I believe in coincidence, but I do believe in Alice. At least now I do. I keep dreaming of tea parties and going down the rabbit hole. Or maybe that was the political conventions…

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is It Stupid in Here, Or Is It Just Me?

Yes, I know it’s been hot, not just here, but all over the United States. So, indeed, it is hot in here and it’s not just me.

But I’m asking about ‘stupid’, not ‘hot’.

As in, how is it possible that a clerk at the deli counter of a prominent food-selling establishment doesn’t know what “three-quarters of a pound” means. You think I’m joking, or judging harshly, but I recently was waited on by a perfectly nice young woman who ably served up a pound of sliced turkey. She then politely asked if there was anything else she could get for me. “I’d like three-quarters of a pound of the roast beef,” I answered.

She hesitated. Just a touch, but I caught it. I thought maybe she hadn’t heard me, but she didn’t ask me to repeat it, she just reached her vinyl-gloved hand into the deli case and pulled out a wad of sliced beef. “Plunk!” it said as it hit the scale, weighing in at .38 lbs.

“How’s that?” she asked.

“No,” I replied, “three-quarters of a pound,” now convinced she had indeed not heard me the first time.

Then it came: “Oh, that’s more than a pound, right?”  Ruh-roh.  Now I get an Academy Award nomination for being kind and supportive and helpful, when I wanted to do a Johnny Carson spit take and ask her how she could have possibly graduated high school without knowing how much three-quarters of a pound is.

“It’s actually less than a pound. Your scale will read ‘point seven five’,” I told her.  “Okay, whatever,” she answered, and ultimately came up with the meat.

“Whatever?” My confidence in our education system dropped several points in that exchange.

The very next day I noticed on my Visa bill that a subscription I’ve carried for years suddenly went from $32 a month to $42 a month. Since my public school education took place in the 1960s, I saw right away that that was approximately a 30% jump. I called their customer service line to find out why.

The lad Michael, clearly unhappy with his career choice, sullenly told me that it was because my ‘special offer rate’ had expired. I informed him that I had been a subscriber for over 30 years, and didn’t have a special offer rate. I could bore you with the repetition of our respective positions which went on for a while, but I’ll spare you.

Finally, I believe I outwitted Michael, who, to be fair, seemed to be unarmed in a battle of wits. I asked him if there were any special offer rates currently in effect. “I’ll check,” he offered.

“Yes, I can give it to you for $3.77 a week, which would be $16.34 a month.” Again, thanks to the educational standards of the ’60s, I could see that this was preferable to spending $42 a month. “Sold,” I said.

And my third and final example (due only to the space limitations of this column) of the decline of intelligence and common sense in our civilization comes all the way from London.  According to an article in the Associated Press, a man there started a major fire in his apartment by attempting to dry two pairs of boxers and socks in his microwave. The appliance was destroyed, and the apartment suffered serious smoke damage.

Is this so hard a concept? Food in microwave, clothes in dryer.

In London, I guess it’s hot and stupid.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rock, Paper, Thunder?

So I woke up the other morning to hear that the Miami Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA playoffs. (For my husband, the Center of the Universe, a.k.a. CoTU, that’s basketball. A sports fan he is not.)

I began picturing headlines: Heat Beats Thunder, Heat Crushes Thunder, Heat Over Thunder and the like. And it occurred to me that this sounded like some kind of new version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Except that you would need a third element, like Rain.

Then the hierarchy would have to be something like Heat Beats Thunder, Thunder Over Rain, Rain Kills Heat.

This reminds me of an episode of The Big Bang Theory from a couple of years ago. Raj suggests settling a dispute over which nerdy tv show to watch by playing Rock, Paper, Scissors. Sheldon ridicules him, saying that studies have shown that good friends will tie in that game 75-80% of the time, due to the limited number of outcomes. As an alternative, Sheldon has come up with a new game, called Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock.

In his inimitable style, Sheldon explains how the game works. I’ll share this with you, in case you want to use it with your own family or friends.

“Scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock, rock crushes lizard, lizard poisons Spock, Spock smashes scissors, scissors decapitates lizard, lizard eats paper, paper disproves Spock, Spock vaporizes rock, and rock (as it always has) crushes scissors.”

After a blink, Raj says, “Okay, I got it.”

So feel free to play this simple (?) game amongst your peer group. But next year if the Utah Jazz are in the playoffs, I’m staying out of it.