Friday, June 25, 2010

The Address Book

Every now and then, there's no avoiding it: I have to straighten out my e-mail address book. Otherwise, chaos ensues, and chaos is never a welcome partner before the 14th cup of coffee.

For instance, even though I have my e-mail controls set on "Die Spam Die!", some junk addresses do sneak through. Sometimes, I accidentally make duplicate entries (usually before that critical 14th cup of coffee). Names need to be straightened out, extra information added, and various private notes that I keep on the proclivities of my family and friends must be noted.

That last part is none of your business, so I don't know why I mentioned it.

Anyway, it's usually a tedious process during which my mind wanders to places like the Cafe 200 in Newport, where the pizza used to be really good. I haven't been there in a while, so I don't know if they've managed to find a way to ruin a perfectly good thing. That such a thing keeps happening is partial proof of the conspiracy that haunts me, people who are trying to drive me insane by making my favorite things disappear. Heaven forbid I should decide that I like a new brand of cookie; the next time I try to buy them, they've disappeared from every swutting store in town. Ah, yes.... a few slices of Cafe 200's best with a bottle of Chianti on the side.... much better to think about than what is essentially work.

Until I got to my friend Carol.

There is was, the entry that contained her e-mail address and other personal information. I stopped and considered it, returning from the cafe in Newport and giving my full attention to the name then highlighted. You see, Carol died very recently, and my thoughts turned to her. A bright, funny and interesting person whom I met at a local theatre, at which she was a volunteer and eventual Board member. Always positive, a great stage manager, capably taking care of things that nobody else wanted to do. She was a retiree who used to teach at a university on Guam. There were stories that we never got out of her about her adventures on Guam, possibly because we never bought her enough drinks to draw the tales out. Then again, I don't particularly remember seeing her with a drink in her hand. I guess she was always more interested in what was going on at the time, not being the type to spend a lot of time looking back. She was a kind person, who always had just a hint of a smirk on her face, suggesting that she knew more than she was telling you, a quality that I generally love as long as I personally am let in on the game. Which she never did.

I looked wistfully again at the name, and wished that I'd known her just a bit better. "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" wrote Joni Mitchell. Actually, we knew she was sick for some time before she passed away, so it's not like we didn't have warning. However, being a real trouper, she simply continued with what she liked to do for as long as she could. I hope I'm brave enough to do the same if I find myself in a similar circumstance. I suppose that she didn't want to be treated like glass by her friends in the remaining days that she had. I can understand that.

And there was her name, reminding me.

I thought about it for a few minutes, sifting through the many memories of good times with her, and briefly considered just leaving it there as a reminder that I might come across now and again to jog my memory. However, in the end, I changed my mind and deleted it. I couldn't write her again, and perhaps the room in the C section (pun intended) for something active like the Cafe 200.

More important than that, though, is the question posed thusly: What kind of trigger do you want to remind you of someone? I decided than an electronic entry on my computer was a trivial way to treat her. Rather, when I sift through my collection of theatre programs and come across plays at that theatre, especially the ones that we were both involved in, I'd be much better reminded of her, and the good times. Other than consciously remembering a person who has gone from our presence (which is the best way), I think that finding ways to remind yourself of the best of times is the way to go. I find that I miss people somewhat less that way. That may seem odd, since remembering the best of times can make you more melancholy, but I prefer to look at it as a comforting pathway to a feeling of having been fortunate to have the person in my life.

Call me old-fashioned, but in this age of electronics, there are simply some things that shouldn't be computerized. Never mind the fact that I'm writing this in an electronic medium.... it's a convenient way to pay a little tribute to a nifty person that you otherwise would never have known about. As for myself, I'll stick with older and more traditional methods of remembering Carol. So, out the file in my address book goes; dust in the wind compared to ties that bind more strongly.

So, goodbye for now, Carol. I hope to see you again some day. Thanks for everything, for all the thoughtfulness. Thanks for the pretty decent pots of coffee that you made. And blast you for never letting me in on what that little smirk was all about. Well, I suppose she has the last laugh there, leaving a bit of mystery behind her. Even now, as I remind myself of that, I laugh.

And that's a pretty good thing to have come to my mind first whenever I think of her.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Made in Hell

I don't know how many times Neil Young has been to Alabama; this is my first time. I do know that he managed to irritate Lynyrd Skynyrd with his songs "Alabama" and "Southern Man". Being a Neil Young fan for an uncomfortably long time, I don't care. Lynyrd Skynyrd can eat my shorts.

However, already I digress.

My adventure began with arising at 12:30 a.m. after a really early bedtime to drive to the Tampa airport (an hour's trip), allow time to be shuttled from the cheapie parking lot, to check in, get through security, and still make my 5:20 a.m. flight (book late in the game on Travelocity, this is the kind of thing you get). I'd like to complain about that whole process. Even if you do mind. Quit fussing and read on. That's too stinking early to have to begin a two-flight journey, and all the fun has long since gone out of flying, what with all the increased security and whatnot. I played the radio loud and sang along to keep myself awake, which is a good thing to do when you're doing things like driving at 65 mph and going over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. It's a monster of a thing and probably very well built, but one cannot help but remember that nearly 30 years ago, a freighter hit one of the two old spans and knocked down 1,500 feet of the center of the span, and 35 people died. You can still hear the ghosts, even when you're semi-conscious. Maybe that's a better time. Imagining it? Of course not; I never imagine anything except the stuff I make up. Fortunately, there weren't too many other people on the highway, so me and my somewhat wonky brakes proceeded apace. I followed the signs to the remote parking garage, and marveled that for once, they hadn't misdirected me or detoured me with the never-ending construction around this airport. I think they have no idea what they're actually doing, and are just trying to look busy. So, who am I to complain? A taxpayer, that's who.

Anyway, I managed to find a nice space by the elevators in the cleverly named purple section. In case people couldn't handle simple signs with a purple background, they painted the lower three feet of the walls and pillars purple, so it's really hard to miss the point. Not impossible, of course. Even so, they go so far in assuming that people don't know what they're doing as to provide little slips of paper at the elevators that tell you you're in the purple section. Maybe they're for people that are colorblind, but it still wouldn't help them, since they wouldn't be able to tell that all that paint is purple. Since the hour was so early, I didn't see people wandering around aimlessly, trying to find their cars. No doubt there are some that have been wandering around there for days, losing $9.00 per day when they realize that they don't even know their own license plate number. Geez, people can be thick. However, this situation is easily classified as an SEP (Somebody Else's Problem), always A Good Thing.

Now I have to catch the shuttle bus to the terminal, as it's much too far to walk, and I have no idea where I'm going because the previously mentioned signs have now all disappeared. Every seven to ten minutes, they say they run, 24/7. Suuuure. I see a couple going the other way, dropping some hapless people off to try to find their cars, but none coming my way. Why? Because only an idiot wants to get to the check-in counter and past security to get to their gate at such an unholy hour. Fortunately, one driver shows some enterprise, sees me, and goes and makes a U-turn. I am finally picked up and delivered to the terminal, still within the dreaded recommended advance time that they are currently saying you should allow. It's about 3:40 by now, I'm cranky, and I want a cup of coffee. No dice; all the coffee counters are closed, because only an idiot is flying at this hour. I get to the check-in counter, armed to get through quickly with my online-generated boarding passes and prepaid baggage fee. All I have to do is enter my code, it generates the routing tag and my receipt, a representative confirms and takes it, and off I go. This beats standing in line behind people who've forgotten little things like what freakin' airline they're supposed to be on and can't find their documents or tickets. Somehow, I always wind up directly behind someone with a Special Problem.

This plan would have worked quite smoothly except that nobody is manning the check-in counter. We are told that they open at 4:30, which, according to the airport's announcements, doesn't leave any of us taking the flight (for it is full, rife with a bunch of idiots flying at this obscene hour) to get the shuttle over to airside and get through security screening. No chairs in sight to wait in, so many of us wind up seated on the floor, the carpet smothered deeply in grunge from the feet of previous passengers urinating themselves because they, too, ain't gonna make their flight. Waiting, waiting. Miraculously, the workers begin trickling in at 4:00, and at the recommendation of another kindly passenger, I had my bag waiting on the scale to go, and I zipped up to the front of the line. I'm from New England, and I know how to bust a line. They announce my name, getting it wrong in a brand-new way. Look, how much easier can my last name get? Woodland. Wood. Land. Plain as day. Therefore, they call out "Woodlark", a name I've never heard before. I set them straight and off my bag goes.

Let me state unequivocally that this business of charging everyone for even one bag is a load of fetid dingo's kidneys. I can see charging for a second or third bag, or one that's too heavy, but for every bag? Robbery, that's what it is. Why don't they just make the ticket price a little higher, assuming that everyone is going to bring at least one bag? Sure, the ticket price would be more, but it would seem less heinous than picking my pocket for $23.00 for the privilege of sending one medium-sized bag on its merry way. As a result, I'm cursing under my breath as I head up to the shuttle level. Bad form, as I'm trying to cut down on my cussing, but I'm having a @*#&ing hard time doing it. I'm Irish and from Rhode Island, after all.

In order to serve us better, naturally, they're only running one of the two shuttle trains to airside, so there go a few more precious minutes. This makes me grind my teeth (something else I wish I wouldn't do), since I know I'm going to take longer than anybody to get through the security checkpoint. Why will become evident in just a moment. Finally, the train comes and carries the batch of us idiots flying so early to airside, in the process rendering my cleverly quick check-in moot. Son of a- no, I'm trying to stop that.

So here comes the security check. Now, I realize that there are problems in the world and dangers to worry about, but come on. I join the line of people who are taking off their shoes and disrobing in various ways to send their goodies through the X-ray machine. Here's where I run into a difficulty. I have a CPAP machine (standing for Continuous Positive Air Pressure) that I use for my sleep apnea (as if I need another defect to contend with). It's a nifty, nearly silent air pump with a mask that keeps my airways open while I sleep. It is also, apparently, a highly suspicious item that they're going to spend five minutes examining, while everyone behind me is cussing under their breath (whether or not they're trying to give it up) because of the delay. I have to follow all the other guidelines, including having all my teensy liquid or gel products in a baggie (because lip balm is so very dangerous). However, the CPAP, which is fragile piece of medical equipment, has to be taken out of its wisely padded bag and put in its own bin and sent through. "He has a CPAP!" they cry, having actually recognized what it is. If they're that well-informed, why do I have to endure what comes next? So they stop the line following me (endearing me to the crowd even further), and run it through the X-ray again. Then they take it over to hand-inspect it at a little table in the back before running it through the X-ray yet again.
Here's where I get worried, because the last time I flew, they manhandled my machine, dropped it onto their metal table in the process of their inspection, and managed to break my machine. TSA, you owe me and my insurance company (who were very good about it) $1,700.00. Careless. Not funny. Even I'm not that clumsy, and I can trip over an imaginary line (a required skill for actors). I plead with them to please handle it very carefully. This gains me an arched eyebrow, as if it makes a fancified air pump with a little humidifier inside even more suspicious. Fortunately, the woman was considerate this time and passed it through after the requisite ooohing and ahhhing before concluding "oh, it's a CPAP." Duh. Read the label. Plug it in if you want. However, I suppose I must concede that if it were full of C4, it could do a lot of damage. Still....

After which, I get the rare privilege of putting my shoes and belt back on (the buckle sets off the metal detector) and repacking the machine back into its case and back into my carry-on bag. Wouldn't it be easier just to put it on my checked bag and avoid all this? Zark, no, I'm not letting the bag with that machine and all my drugs (another thing they spend a couple of minutes checking out. Shut up, you guys, I can't help it if I'm not well and have eleven prescriptions) out of my sight.

Finally, we all get to the gate and soon board the plane for the flight to Charlotte, where I pick up my flight to Alabammy.

Thus comes my complaint as referred to in the title. "After all this verbiage?" you think incredulously? You bet, I'm reading your mind.

Who in the zarking fardwarks designed airplane seats?? I mean, it's not bad enough that I just spent four hours in the middle of the night to get this far, but now I have to steel myself for torture. I don't know who airplane seats are actually designed to "fit", but I suspect that it isn't human. Maybe ferrets, who are small and have no apparent spine. Not me, at six feet tall, certainly. Cramped in every respect, especially legroom. My knees are always in the back of the person ahead of me, garnering me the same dirty looks I get at security. Where the spine should be supported, they're concave. They're too narrow for even persons much smaller than I am (Say, Cadeaux of Humor Me Online, who's a lot shorter than I am and has wimpy little hands)(Why bring that up? Because I judge a couple of contests on the site, and you should come play. It's a sort of shameless plug, you see) and you're always brushing elbows with the people next to you. I don't know where those elbows have been, and when I've offered people some of my hand sanitizer for their elbows, they just stare at me. The head support juts too far out, putting an inevitable crick into your neck even on a short flight. The sides of the seat cushions are too high, attempting to bend your pelvis in (which it is not designed to do), but succeeds in putting pressure on your bladder (did I mention that on thus flight, my seat was right next to the lavatory door? Joy). And, inevitably, the whole place smells of recycled air and flatulence. That's right, I said it. We watched the plane arrive, too, and we all know that they haven't cleaned anything since the last people got off, people who were flying at an even more stupid hour than we were about to. Do I care that these people have just suffered sitting in the self-same uncomfortable seats that we're about to be strapped into? No, I do not. I'm more concerned that they've been breaking wind into the seat cushions and there's no time to air the plane out. The air inside the plane is ripe enough to suspect that they were serving bean burritos on the last flight, except for the small detail that they don't serve food on flights anymore, at least not for free. You're lucky to get a stinking drink these days. Well, not exactly true; the drinks, being fresh out of the can, do not in fact stink. Yet.

People are evil, that's all there is to it. They don't bring anything to do along with them on flights (personally, I prefer to listen to my iPod, which is not a shameless plug, since I offered one to Apple for mentioning them in this post and they told me where I could go), and so they just sit there, generating methane in their guts, carefully forcing it into the foam rubber of the seats under them, thereby contributing to global warming, and then have the nerve to be smug about it and smile as if nobody knows that they're doing it.

The end result of this (pun intended) is that as a result of this activity, you don't really have the inclination to sit down all the way in the seat; it would be better to keep an inch or so between you and that befouled cushion that you hope to high heaven that you don't have to use as a floatation device, because that would mean holding it right up to your face. I'll try treading water, thank you very much. However, with the fiendish ways that the seats are designed, and the flight attendants' admonishment to keep your seat belt buckled firmly at all times, you're pinned down with considerable force onto this throne of tribute to the gassier elements of the food pyramid. So glad I wore freshly laundered clothing.

Thus do I spend the next hour and twenty minutes of my life. The only saving grace in the process of going on my next flight is that I don't have to slog through security again. However, I do have a three hour layover. I drop in on a Starbucks, which is, unfortunately, the only coffee joint open. I don't like Starbucks because I don't drink sissy drinks like a triple frap half-mocha part-skim soy milk cappuccino with a cherry on top; I drink it black. And Starbucks (this is not a plug) burns their beans, making the coffee bitter. I have a scone, and linger as long as I can until I start getting the same dirty looks that I got at security, because I'm taking up one of the few seats. That's because I know what's coming next: two hours sitting in one of those horribly uncomfortable airport seats. These are designed by a wholly different group of chiropractic sadists than the plane seats. Don't even get me started on those things.

Look, don't get me wrong. I'm glad I made the trip and I'm happy to be here visiting my friend. The middle part of the sandwich is the best part, anyway. But flying anywhere these days is like stale bread on the outside.

Stale, like the air inside the airplane. But let's not start that all over again.