Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Flight of the Phoenix

It’s been two weeks since my return from a fun-filled trip to Sacramento where I visited my two grandsons, ages 6 and almost three. (Oh, and their parents were there, too.) Parenthetically, if you will. Obviously I will, so why shouldn’t you?

Anyway, I boarded my flight to Phoenix (since I can’t fly direct to St. Louis from Sac,) set to take off at 4:10. Everyone was seated, all the carry-ons were stashed properly, and all the electronic devices had been turned off. I was turned off too, but that had more to do with the onion-breath on the person sitting next to me. Honestly, if you pay Southwest an extra $12.50 for early boarding, can’t you make it $15, and guarantee a non-stinky seatmate as part of the deal?

The flight attendant launched into her detailed explanation of how to buckle a seat belt, for those flyers who had just been hatched on the plane, and had never been in a car, van, Six Flags ride, or space shuttle. Hell, rickshaws probably have seat belts these days, but I digress. As usual.

Okay, we heard about seat belts, tray tables, electronic devices, flotation cushions and oxygen masks. We’re all set, and Miss Perky informs us that we are indeed fortunate to be flying today with two of Southwest’s top pilots. Really? They rank them? I wonder how the pilots feel about that… (I know, I touched on this in a recent post, but it’s obviously bugging me. My blog—I get to repeat myself repeat myself if I want to.)

So Fabulous Pilot comes on the air to welcome us aboard, tell us it’s 105° and sunny in Phoenix (multiple redundancies there) and that we’ll be on our way momentarily. Well, he was nearly right. Moments later he’s back on the p.a. to tell us that we’re on hold due to a delay in Phoenix.  “As soon as we have any information about what that is, I’ll let you know.” Fair enough.

Now it’s gotten to be 4:15, we should already be up in the air, but we’re still on the ground physically, and up in the air metaphorically.  Fabulous Pilot returns with the following news. The delay is caused by a sinkhole on the runway in Phoenix. We’re going to be on hold for at least an hour. The passengers are welcome to “de-plane”, and they will keep us advised.

People rush off the plane like lemmings to the cliff’s edge. I decide to go, too, as I’d rather pace than sit. Also, if I’m likely to miss my connection in Phoenix, perhaps I’ll buy a sandwich to take on the plane.

My phone blips with an incoming text message, repeating essentially what the pilot already told us: one hour delay in take-off. While I’m perusing the sandwich array, another text comes in: expected three-hour delay. I make a mad dash for the ticket counter, where approximately a hundred other people are swarming, hoping to make other arrangements.

Luck is on my side. When my turn comes, the agent says he can send me through Las Vegas on a plane leaving in ten minutes. That is, if I’m traveling alone; there’s only one seat left on the plane. I go back on the 4:10 to grab my carry-on while he prints my boarding passes. He tells me he won’t be able to move my luggage, which of course I already figured, but at least I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight, and not on the floor of the Phoenix airport.

Again a stroke of good luck—the gate for my Vegas departure is just two away, and as I board, they close the doors behind me. I get the middle seat in row 5, and neither of my seatmates reek of body odor or offending foods. The gods are truly smiling upon me. Of course, the people in seats 5A and 5C are probably wishing I’d been rerouted through Cleveland so they could have kept that middle seat empty, but such is life.

I missed the flight attendant’s monologue, but since the two top pilots of Southwest were heading to Phoenix, I assume she told everyone that they were being transported today by two average-to-substandard pilots. I’m just guessing here.

Meantime, I called my husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) to advise him of the change, and to tell him to take a nap, because now I was due in at 12:35 a.m. The flight actually arrived at 12:45, and by the time we waited for a Southwest employee to be satisfied that my luggage was NOT, in fact, coming in, and to fill out the report on my missing bag, it was 1:00 a.m. Which means we got home at 1:45. Which means it was well past 2:00 when we got to bed.

Well, I reasoned, this was an adventure. And that sinkhole on the Phoenix runway was probably a big story on the news. Nope. Never heard a word, nor saw a photo. I wondered if that whole story was bogus.

Today I searched and found only this: http://www.azcentral.com/community/phoenix/articles/20130514phoenix-sky-harbor-runway-concrete-flight-delays-abrk.html Looks pretty benign to me, but I’m all for overdoing safety, especially when it comes to flying.

Meanwhile, my bag took another day and a half to arrive home. I’m not sure where it went, but I hope it had a good time. Here’s a picture of the tag Southwest put on it. Scary, huh?




Monday, May 20, 2013

Poundstone Begets Sedaris, or Keeping a Straight Face at 10,000 Feet

 Yes, it was just a couple of weeks ago that I posted about laughing out loud in several random locations while I was reading Paula Poundstone’s book, I Heart Jokes. I feared being thrown out of the car dealer’s waiting area, and was visibly ostracized in the dermatologist’s office. I can’t help it if I have a sense of humor. Really.
So how weird was it when I was flying home from Sacramento last week reading David Sedaris’ hilarious new tome “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls”?

The flight began with the usual spiel from the flight attendants. This time, though, “Mandy” included a mention that we were being flown by ‘two of the best’ pilots Southwest has. Really? So is there an official ranking of the pilots? If so, does that imply that you sometimes start out telling your passengers that they are being commanded by ‘two of the most average’ pilots in the realm. Or even worse, “Ladies and gentlemen, today we are being piloted by the two very lowest-ranked captains working in the industry. Let me assure you, though, that they are still going to get us there. Or so they say.”

But I digress… Back to my reading material. After all, if we are in the hands of the best Southwest pilots around, why bother listening to what to do in the event of a water landing.  How much water is there between Sacramento and Vegas, anyway?

Again, I found myself chuckling lightly at first, then slammed with Sedaris’ crazy observations that would elicit a real belly laugh. Realizing, however, that any peculiar behavior on an airplane can lead to wildly undesirable consequences, I tried to put a lid on it. I can control this, I said to myself. I know he’s going to be extremely funny, and I can stifle the giggle response.

Well, that was easier said than done.

Every time I chortled, even softly, my seatmate wriggled uncomfortably. Geez, it’s not as if I was singing Whitney Houston songs, and disturbing the general calm of the passenger population. In fact, I heard every word of a conversation between a man and a woman in the row ahead of, and across the aisle from me, for the whole 2 ½ hour flight. I doubt seriously that anyone more than one seat away from me could hear me laugh. And no one tapped these people on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, but I don’t care to know about your workflow, your security procedures, or what your toddler will and will not eat. Keep it down over here.”

Still, I worried that someone could do more than look askance at me while I cracked up over David Sedaris’ observations of his father, his partner and himself. I worked a little harder at self-control.

Then I came to the section about learning foreign languages, and the phrases that he picked up. Self-control went out the proverbial window. I defy you to read about his learning German, hearing jokes in a bar, or his meeting readers at book signings without laughing out loud.

The flight attendant glanced over at me. I put Sedaris back in my carry-on. At least Time magazine could be read with a straight face. For now.

Monday, May 13, 2013



I can safely say that I know less about the Rolling Stones than anyone else of my baby-booming generation.  The sum total of my knowledge lies in these three statements: 1) There are four guys in the band; 2) Mick Jagger is their lead singer; 3) Their biggest hit of the ‘60’s was “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”.  And frankly, I’m not that sure about number one.


When my son encountered “satisfaction” as a third grade spelling word, his unforgettable teacher introduced the class to the Stones’ famous anthem. What she did not do, however, was introduce them to the true path to satisfaction:  memorizing poetry. 


As children we all started learning rhymes subconsciously. Usually it was the a-b-c song, or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”.  Eventually we learned the jump rope ditties required to be a part of the playground scene. Beyond the Pledge of Allegiance, most students balk at the notion of memorizing anything.  Ask your kids to commit a poem to memory, and prepare to hear a loud chorus of groans and moans.


High school students who know every lyric of the most obscure and absurd songs ever written still claim that being required to memorize poetry is brutal, punishing, and offensive in ways that defy description.  This is likely because it requires such exhausting tasks as reading and concentration.  They don’t know what they are missing. Words are powerful, and words that rhyme are magical. Poetry connects us in our marrow.  You never know whose cells share your poetic DNA until some serendipitous event occurs.


For example, take the night my husband and I were in a restaurant with our good friends Dave and Betty.  When my husband used the phrase, “There are strange things done…” Dave and I simultaneously, and without further prompting launched into a recitation of “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, given that my hubby had unwittingly offered up its opening line. Dave and I amused ourselves, and amazed ourselves at how automatically it spewed forth.  Our respective spouses’ jaws dropped. They could not have regarded us with more disbelief if we had picked up straw hats and canes, and done an old-fashioned buck-and-wing across the dining room floor in striped blazers and straw hats.  I couldn’t recall as many of its verses as Dave could, so I eventually looked up the old poem and set about memorizing it all over again.  If it ever comes up in the future, I want to be ready. The competitor in me wants to be able to match him, line for line. And I found once again, that for pure satisfaction, not much can beat memorizing poetry.


I originally learned that work of Robert W. Service in the tenth grade English class of a wonderfully earnest and enthusiastic teacher; she inspired students to learn. The poem came back readily, and I took pleasure in re-learning it.  That competitive side of me, (which certain small-minded people sometimes describe as cutthroat) can only hope that at some future trivia competition they ask for the name of the derelict boat in this poem.  (Look it up.) 


I confess that these days my personal preference is to read the work of our former poet-laureate Billy Collins.  He can make me laugh till I hurt my stomach muscles (who knew I had any?), and he can stop my heart with a simple poignant line.  Oh, to write like Billy Collins!


Now the famed former First Daughter of Camelot, Caroline Kennedy has published a book titled “Poems to Learn by Heart”. It’s filled with a hundred poems for children (and adults) to take in and enjoy. Huzzah!


So it’s not only baby-boomers who enjoy this secret pleasure.  Five or six years ago my first and oldest friend, then aged 101 years, mentioned in a letter that she always recited “The Day is Done” by Longfellow at bedtime.  She did so because her late husband had done so before going to sleep each night. This simple nightly ritual clearly made her feel closer to him, and somehow eased the pain of losing him.  Of course, that compelled me to seek out “The Day is Done” so that I, too, could recite it to myself at bedtime, spiritually connecting me to my dear friend.  She left this world a few years ago at age 102, but I recite it still, and keep her in my heart.


Poor Mick.  He was just memorizing the wrong stuff.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Paula Poundstone Made Me Do It

Here is a golden oldie from the early days of Funny Is the New Young... Walk back in time with me...
Paula Poundstone Made Me Do It

You know, some things that are just fine in the privacy of one’s own home should not be done in public places.  I’m usually pretty tuned in to the proprieties of basic good manners and common sense.  But in the past few days I’ve succumbed to some social pressure (I’ll explain in a moment) and I’ve been doing it in the customer lounge at my car dealer (just an oil change, thanks for asking), and in the waiting room at my dermatologist’s office.  (Just a check-up; thanks for your concern.)  What am I doing?  I’m reading Paula Poundstone’s very funny book, “There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say”.  The pressure?—it’s due back at the library tomorrow.  The problem?—I can’t control my laughter.

Now there was a time when I didn’t find Paula Poundstone funny at all.  But in the past few years, hearing her on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, ‘the NPR news quiz’, I have developed a full appreciation of her humor.  I look forward to her appearances, and she never fails to crack me up.  I’ve pretty much learned to time my coffee sips to avoid her input, so as to keep from squirting coffee out my nose.  Ouch.  Please don’t laugh—it’s happened more than once.  Okay, more than twice.

Now I’m reading this book, and I can’t renew it because it’s on hold by another (probably selfish) patron, so I’ve taken it with me to the oil change and the skin screening.  I can tell you that several customers of my car dealer moved to the other side of the room when I: 1. couldn’t control my laughter, and 2. I was continually doubled over, clutching my sides.  Now, I was able to keep silent, so maybe they thought I was sobbing to myself, but I guess it wasn’t pretty.  It rarely is.  Anyway, they were sure to establish distance. 

In the doctor’s office, there were only a couple of other people, both older-looking men, both dressed casually, and both successfully ignoring me.  Or perhaps they feared that I was some psychopath about to burst into a hellish rage, and felt that their best hope for safety was to feign ignorance.  Well, feign away, boys, I may be crazy, but I don’t act on it.  I’m just laughing with (not at) Paula.

I’m not sure where she gets these thoughts, but I’m pretty sure they’re not normal.  But then again, maybe ‘normal’ is just a setting on your dryer.  In any case, I’d love to know what makes her tick.  She finds a funny way to look at life’s ordinary events, and is able to ask questions we wouldn’t have thought of on our own.  With her to guide us, we learn about the Civil War, Helen Keller, Charles Dickens, the Wright Brothers, Joan of Arc and more.  Yes, she explores all of these topics (and more!) in her book, and you wouldn’t believe some of the great (and questionable) stuff you’ll learn. 

The real lesson, though, is to keep the hilarity at home.  It’s much safer there.  And then you won’t have to wonder why the dermatologist put you in restraints.