Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Things to Remember When Traveling Through an Airport:

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
So I flew to Denver today, and anyone who’s kept up with my adventures for any length of time can probably tell you that my trips through airports tend to qualify as misadventures. As a result, I compiled this short list of things to remember when traveling through an airport. Perhaps, somewhere down the line, this list will help someone smooth their way through their own travels; I certainly wish someone had given me this list, way back when I was but an untested youth.

Things to Remember When Traveling Through an Airport:
  1. Arrive early enough to have time to publicly strip down to your underclothes and unpack, do the shameful shuffle through your security checkpoint with  minimum of trouble, then dress and re-pack on the other side of the magical machines.
    1. Actively noticing a TSA agent laughing at you during this process will both lengthen said process and make it more uncomfortable—unless you think Agent Feelyhands is cute, of course.
  2. You can only check a bag through within four hours of your flight. Go through that line any earlier and you just have to carry your bag away with you and come back . . . and through that line . . . again. Ladies: stomping feet and copious weeping doesn’t do you a bit of good. Gentlemen: stomping feet and copious weeping might get you a visit from Agent Feelyhandsy’s friend, Agent Kindbutfirm. Agent Kindbutfirm will escort you off to a quiet corner of the airport where you can collect yourself—and Agent Feelyhands can give you the thrice-over (like the once-over, but—oh, you know what I mean), cute or not.
  3. There is free wifi in the airport, but it can be, at times (read: all of the time) balky and difficult to get to work. Apparently, Boingo, the name they have given this so-called “hot spot,” is apparently some form of pig-latin for “smile, you’re on Candid Camera.” Watching travelers lose their minds as they struggle to use the wifi featured on signs plastered all over the concourse (holding their phones high and shaking them with both hands as if throttling the thing, while shouting “Why won’t you @#$%ing work?” for example) is a major form of entertainment for airport staff.
    1. Regarding the consequences of being too obvious in noticing their mirth, please see points 2 and 1a.
  4. Parents traveling with small children can apparently buy a day pass from responsibility. Those in possession of these passes are easily identified by their tendency to read, talk on their phones, play Angry Birds on their phones, eat huge amounts of overpriced food, and talk loudly amongst themselves about the difficulties of traveling with children, while the toddlers in question are busily running about, screaming, crying, either hitting, flinging toys at, or vomiting on other travelers, or dropping trou and taking a quick, greasy dump beside the small device charging station.
    1. For information regarding the consequences of speaking to bearers of this Responsibility Vacation Pass and requesting they pay some attention to their child(ren), please see points 2 and  1a.
    2. For information regarding the consequences of getting right in the Pass bearer’s face and shouting for them to “control their @#$%ing hellspawn, and do it right @#$%ing now!” please message me privately. I . . . I don’t want the public to see me cry, but my therapist says it’ll be good to get it off my chest.
  5. Speaking of the charging stations, these are tall, narrow fixed counters scattered about the concourse with both regular outlets and USB outlets built into them “for your convenience.” If you are lucky enough to find a station without the aforementioned steaming pile of used food (see point 4, above), please remember to check and make sure any devices you plug in are actually charging. Just because the charging station is there and not marked Out of Order doesn’t mean it’s not out of order. Besides, apparently “for your convenience” is some sort of code meaning  “for their amusement,” and the airport staff will have loads of fun watching you realize the phone, tablet, and/or laptop you’ve had plugged in for the better part of an hour has been slowly draining, rather than charging.
    1. Making a stink about it so the other travelers will know the station is out of order is spoiling the fun, and will get you a visit from Agent Kindbutfirm (see point 2)
    2. Getting up in airport staff’s grill and asking “what kind of asshat @#$%weasel refuses to put up a @#$%ing Out of @#$%ing Order sign?” is a sure method to invoke a visit from Agents Upagainstthewall and Spreadum, and your cell phone will be dead so you can’t even call for help, or a lawyer, and from there it’s just . . . just . . . please message me privately.
To sum up: don’t count on anything and don’t bitch about anything. Just sit down, shut up, and let them fly the plane. And invest in some good earphones/earplugs. They’ll help filter out the screams. Of the children. Yeah . . . the children . . .

Talk to you later!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Naked Deliveries (Recycled)

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

Well, the name of this blog is While You're Making Other Plans, as in life is what happens while . . . you get the idea. Well, it happened. Life, I mean. And I even had other plans.

I had planned to write a blog post for this evening. I had planned to make it pithy and entertaining . . . and then Life stepped in and said "No, no, you have to spend time doing this over here instead." So I don't have a new post for you this evening. Instead, I decided to revive a post from this very same week, back in 2011.

It's pithy. It's entertaining. Screw you Life, I'm getting my way after all! Sort of.

Without further ado, I give you "Naked Deliveries"!


~ ~ * * ~ ~

There's a certain kind of person I have a hard time delivering the mail to. There are the rude ones, like Mr. Crabbypants, but I can generally deal with those. They make me mad at the time, but it usually passes. There are the super-uber-friendly people, and they tend to get on my nerves a little, sometimes more, depending on my mood, but they're not that bad either. I don't look upon their deliveries with dread. No, there's a special kind of customer for whom I look upon deliveries with dread, especially if I have something they're going to have to sign for.

Naked people.

Now, when I say naked people, I know what happens in your heads: you picture some hottie, either male or female depending on what you like, naked. Hard upon the heels of that thought is the Hey, that's not so bad thought. And I agree. If the person you reflexively imagined was the one to open the door naked, I wouldn't have such a problem with it. Less of a problem if you were imagining a woman, to be honest with you, but still, if it was a good-looking man I'd still have less of a problem with it than I do now. It would be less . . . shocking.

Old people. It's always old people. Why is it always old people?

I have nothing against old people. According to my son I am an old person, and it's getting to the point where I can't really say no. But I recognize that I'm older now, and I tend to cover up more. Sure, I'm naked in the privacy of my own home, in the shower, getting dressed, etc, but when someone knocks or rings the bell, I know that they are expecting whomever opens the door for them to be dressed. Or at least covered up decently. And I strive to meet that expectation. Pants are a must, and a shirt if I can get one in a relatively short time. But naked? Oh, hell no!

The people I'm talking about are substantially older than me, no matter what my son says, and they seem to be more relaxed about their clothed state. And when I say relaxed, I mean relaxed. There are parts on these people that are quite obviously relaxed that I didn't even know you could relax!

So here I have three examples of mail deliveries gone awry. Mail deliveries with a side order of yeesh!

Naked deliveries.

Judge for yourself.

Mrs. P.
Mrs. P. lived in an old-age housing community. Small, squat houses set out in a grid. I don't know why, but Mrs. P. got certified mail all the time, and I'd ringing her bell looking for a signature or two. Now, I also don't know why, but apparently whenever Mrs. P. was home, she took off all her clothes. Every week I would ring the bell, and every week she would call out “Who is it?”
“Mailman,” I would answer. “I have a certified letter here I need you to sign for!”
“Just a minute!” she would reply, and she would answer the door. It didn't matter if it was summer or winter, early in the day or late: she would answer the door holding a blanket up in front of her, blinking at me standing out there in the sunlight.
“I need to sign for this?”
“Yes, ma'am.”
“Okay, don't look.”
And she would turn around. Still holding the blanket in front of her. Not wrapped around her. In front of her. And her naked septuagenarian fanny would meander off across the room in search of a pen.
I had a pen. After that first time, when she said “Don't look” and I said “What, ma'am'?” and looked right at her, I always made sure I had a pen; right there, handy, and in full view. And I would tell her “I have a pen right here!” But usually I was telling it to a set of small, ancient, naked buttocks as they made their way across the room away from me.
Every week.
I don't know.
I'll never know!

Mr. M.
Okay, this one actually made me nervous. There's a house on my route with a very old fashioned outer door. It is made entirely of wood planking with no windows or screens. There's no way to see through to the inner door, and no way to see out without opening this outer door. The inner door is also solid wood, with no windows, but there is a mail slot in the center of the door. It's a medium-sized slot, and at the time the people who live there were getting an awful lot of mail. I couldn't usually get it all through the slot in one go. What I would do was take one magazine, usually the biggest they were getting, and I would stick it halfway through the slot and use it like a funnel. 3-4 big hunks of mail would go through this way, and then I'd shove the funnel piece through. Easy as pie.
Until . . .
One day I put the funnel piece in and started to push the rest of the mail through. Just as I was shoving the second handful in, that inner door opened. Mr. M. was standing behind the door, reaching around to take the mail from me directly, rather than letting me funnel it through the door slot.
“Whoops! Sorry, pal, you caught me without a stitch on!”
It was true, he did not have a stitch on. As he leaned around the door I saw bare skin from armpit to  knee. It was just a strip, the outer edge of him so to speak, but when he leaned further to take the mail, more of him was exposed-and that exposed portion of him was getting precariously close to his own personal danger zone.
What was not true, was that I “caught” him. I didn't open that inner door; he did! While I was in the act of pushing mail through the slot! Obviously someone was out there when he was opening the door! He was all smiles about it, but I was slightly creeped out.
It hasn't happened again, but I whenever I approach that solid outer door I can't help but wonder what might be waiting for me on the other side!

Mr. and Mrs J.
One day I had a certified for Mr. and Mrs. J.. I had never rung their bell before, never seen the inside of their house, I just knew that an elderly couple lived there. I rang the bell and heard a faint holler in response. I opened the door to find that the front room in the house was actually the porch; it had been enclosed and made into a kind of foyer room. There was another storm door setup to go through before you got into the house proper, and it had that big coming-in-from-the-porch step. I heard a television turned up loud coming in there, and someone yelled “Hello." I unlatched that second storm door and pushed the inner door open.
Inside was a sort of long, narrow room, almost like a hall. There was a door at my end and one at the far end. The television I'd heard was right next to the doorway I was standing in. A pair of easy chairs bracketed the far doorway, set so the occupants could watch the TV. The chair on my right was vacant, but the one on my left was occupied. Mr. J. was seated there, leaned back in the chair with one leg up, the ankle resting across the opposite thigh. Over his lap was spread the newspaper, and he was obviously using his own lap as a kind of desk as he read and watched the news. He was also stark naked, and saying “Hey there! Can I help you?”
Now, you may think that, spread out like that, the paper was essentially keeping him decent. He may have thought so. But remember that I was at the other end of a long room from him, and down a step. Down a tall step. The way he was sitting, kind of slouched back, both knees high, one ankle lying on the opposite knee, meant that the paper was held as high as the knees. From my position, in front of and slightly below him, I saw that he wasn't the only one sprawled in that chair. Between his thighs, beneath the paper, lying all spread out on the cushion in front of him and staring back at me with its one good eye, was his constant and lifelong companion, whom I'll call Johnson. Johnson was, as I said, spread out and taking the air, actually protruding a bit off the front of that cushion, a bit like a lion looming off the edge of a promontory and ready to pounce. An old, wrinkled, sagging lion, with not an ounce of pounce left.
And kind of . . . purpleish.
He asked again, shouting over the television, if he could help me. I'm pretty sure I stammered when I said they had a certified letter requiring a signature.
“Hold on” he said,  the called out loudly for his wife to being him a pen. It took a couple of tries for her to hear him over the television, but eventually she came through the door behind him with a pen.
A pen. And nothing else. Not. A. Single. Thing.
Apparently my mind was unable to cope with the very old, very naked Mrs. J. after having to deal with purple, non-pouncing Johnson.
My mind shut down.
The next thing I remember is being out of the house on the sidewalk again, blinking in the sunlight. I'm not sure how long I was in there, but I have the impression that they were a lovely couple. Just naked. It kind of freaks me out that I can't recall exactly what happened.
I hope I didn't eat any home-made cookies or anything. Who knows what could fall in the batter!

Well, that's it for me and my naked deliveries. Well, that's it so far. No pretty girl answering the door accidentally nude, no hunky guy just being buff in the buff and taking in the mail.

One old girl who would tell me not to look and then show me anyway, again and again.
One smiling old guy giving me the old “Whoops! You caught me naked!” while he practically flung the door open at me.
One old couple who seemed very comfortable with my discomfort, and actually caused a little blackout.

If it wasn't what you were expecting, hey, I'm sorry, but I wasn't expecting it either!

Talk to you later!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Your Lifeline Call!

Greetings, WYMOP fans!

It was late afternoon, and I was in the post office culling the little bit of outgoing mail I had collected over the course of the day. I tossed a small package into a waiting bin filled with other small packages . . . and something already in the bin suddenly began to chime. Loudly. I shuffled through the other small parcels, quickly identifying the padded manila envelope in question, the contents of which felt to be about twice the size of a pack of smokes. The identification was simple: it was the only thing in the bin still chiming like a doorbell on crack. I was holding the thing up, looking about for a supervisor to ask, and I quote, “What the hell?” when the package begin to speak, in a clear, extremely loud voice.
“Your Lifeline call is being routed! Your Lifeline call is being routed!”
I brought the shrieking package to the supervisor’s desk, where I managed to find a member of the overseer breed.
“This package is talking,” I said.
He remarked that yes he had heard it, speaking up as the packet in my hand continued to try to dominate the conversation.
“Your Lifeline call is being routed! Your Lifeline call is being routed!”
Without warning the thing went as silent as a package is supposed to be. I shook it, but nothing happened. My supervisor took it and also shook it. Tapped it. Poked it.
Apparently, it was done. I was just wondering how funny it would be if the Lifeline operator had picked up, and all they heard was the loud crinkling and crackling of the paper package being patted prodded. So I poked it again.
A new loud voice began shouting immediately, and I had to make the snap decision to either drop the package in surprise or poop my pants a little. The dropped parcel continued to talk.
“Hello this is Lifeline operator Sarah, how can I help you? Hello? Hello?”
I scooped the bellowing bundle from the floor and looked at it a minute, trying to decide which way was up for its contents, but all I could feel through the padding was an amorphous mass, as if a giant amoeba with a megaphone was trying to ship itself across the country.
“Hello? Lifeline operator Sarah speaking. Are you there? Hello?”
Oh, you have to be kidding me, I thought, raising the mess in manilla to my ear. Hoping I wasn’t holding the whatever-it-was either upside down or backwards, I pressed it to my head, feeling just a bit like I was talking into a small pizza take-out box—or a cell phone from the 80s.
The over-forty crowd knows what I’m talking about.
“Hello Sarah,” I said, trying to speak clearly and just ignore how silly I felt.
“Hello, this is Sarah,” she said. “Who am I speaking with?”
“Hello,” I said. “This is Rob Smales at the Marblehead post office in Massachusetts. I'm, uh, currently speaking to a package in transit.”
Sarah laughed. “Oh, my, someone must be shipping their unit back. They're supposed to disable the button before they pack it up, but sometimes they forget.”
“I understand that,” I said, forcibly stifling the juvenile someone shipping their unit joke that was now knocking vigorously on the inside of my skull and trying to get out. “Is there any way you can remotely shut this unit down? Because otherwise this is going to happen again and again as the package continues through the system.”
“No,” she said. “I’m sorry, I can't do that. But what I can do is put a notation in our system with this serial number on it so that the next time this unit goes off we know what it is.”
“Okay,” I said. “Just as long as you understand it's probably going to go off quite a bit.”
That's okay,” she said, “it happens. Thank you for talking to a package.”
“Hey, no problem! You have a good day.”
The package went silent. I looked at my supervisor. “So what do you want to do with it?”
He shrugged. “I guess we just send it on through the system.”
“If you say so.” I put the package back in the culling tub where this whole mess started. Five minutes later, as I was exiting the building on my way out for the evening, there was shouting going on over where the clerk was sorting the incoming mail.
“Your Lifeline call is being routed! Your Lifeline call is being routed!”
“Son of a bitch!” the clerk shouted back, then held a manila parcel high: apparently, she’d held on to it through snap decision time. I can not vouch for the state of her pants.
“What,” she yelled toward the supervisor’s desk.
“The hell,” she went on, gaining in volume to be heard over the still-shouting shipment.
“Is this?” she finished, starting toward the desk. She looked ruffled. She looked mad. She looked like maybe she was regretting her choice at snap decision time. The supervisor looked at me, raised eyebrows shouting a silent request for help.
“You got this, dude!” I shouted, shooting him with a forefinger as I backed, smiling, out the door. “This is all you!”

Talk to you later!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Goodbye, Grampy.

Greetings, WYMOP readers.
Some of you who follow me on Facebook are aware that my grandfather passed away recently. The following is a speech I gave at his funeral this past Tuesday, May 31, 2016.
My apologies, but some of this refers to a previous speech given by my aunt. Hopefully it still makes some sense.

~ ~ * * ~ ~

Grampy.jpgI walked around for a couple of days wondering just what I was going to write about. What was I going to say? My mind kept coming back to something I’d seen someone else write—in a Facebook post, of all things. I don’t mean to put her on the spot, but sorry, Auntie, I’m going to. The other day my aunt, Alison, wrote that her father had passed away, and that one of the titles she had in her life, that of daughter, was no longer there.
I disagree.
In my response to her post, I wrote that Daughter will be there until she is gone. As will father. Because relationships aren't titles, they're partnerships. You can't have one side without the other, and as long as she’s holding up her end, he's holding up his.

Part of this is self-serving: if, many years from now, my own son thinks he’s getting away with not being my son any more just because I’m gone, well, he has another think coming. He’s mine until he goes. And I am his.
And Grampy is mine, and I am his, until, many years from now, I am gone.
Because we aren’t just here. We aren’t just now. We are everything that got us to this point in time.
He is that stubborn little boy in the boat. He is that frightened young man with a gun. He is that older man who didn't understand why the world was changing, and he is that man who buried his wife and tried to figure out what the hell to do next. He is the man who never stopped being a husband even after his wife was gone, just as he hasn't stopped being a father just because he is gone. Or a grandfather, or a great grandfather, or a friend. We’re still here holding up our ends; he’s still holding up his.
I knew him my whole life. I heard stories about him my whole life. I've heard people talking about him over the past couple of days, and it seems no great stretch to say he was, for better or for worse, many different things to many different people—every partnership is different. Whatever he was to you, from friend to father, he still is. What I’d like to do now is tell you a little bit of what turned him from a grandfather into my grandfather.
First an old story. About forty years old, I think, which would make me around seven and my sister five. We were out behind my grandparents’ house in Topsfield and he was pushing her on the tire swing. Well, tire swings tend to spin, and though she was having fun for a while, that all stopped when her head swung around at the wrong time and glanced off the big old pine tree the tire was suspended from.
The screams were terrific.
Grampy didn’t panic, but worked her out of the tire, got her on the ground, and examined her head. He pronounced her fine, predicted she would have a goose-egg, and let her go—whereupon she ran weeping into the house to tell anyone who would listen that she was surely dying. Grampy and I followed along to make sure she was all right . . . and besides, at that moment I was afraid of the tire swing, so I was fine with missing my turn.
Now here’s the strange thing: as we walked after my screaming sister, my grandfather was chuckling. Chuckling. I know it sounds terrible, and to the seven-year-old me who heard it it was horrifying, but over time I came to understand it: he knew Ari was fine—and she was, if a bit lumpy—and thought she was being a little foolish. That borderline evil chuckle became known in our house as the Grampy Laugh, and I have to admit I heard it quite a few times over the years—usually preceded by the phrase “What did you do that for?” and after I’d done something he found foolish. I was a kid. I was foolish a lot.
Once I grew into adulthood, I didn’t hear that chuckle as often. As an adult it was time to put foolish things behind me. Rather than the Grampy Laugh when I did something he considered foolish or—heaven forbid—wrong, I was simply told what he thought. In no uncertain terms. At length. Possibly more than once. It was a little intimidating—more than a little, at times. If he felt strongly about something he let you know, and I think there was a lot he felt strongly about.
Which brings me to my most recent out-of-hospital visit with him.
I’m a writer, but I write horror stories, and not the kind of thing my grandfather would read. My grandmother was the artsy one, the one who would ask me about projects I was undertaking, while he stayed quiet on the subject. When she passed away I wrote about it. It wasn't anything like my other writing, but he approved. More than approved, he was proud of it, which I was pleasantly surprised by.
But still, it was very different from what I usually write. What I usually write has caused friends to question me: “Why do you write that stuff?” If my friends were questioning me, what would my grandfather think, should he ever get hold of any of my usual work? Would he think it a waste of time? Would he think it a waste of talent? I actually worried about that with all of my grandparents, but him most of all—he wasn’t the kind of man to smile and say “Oh, this is wonderful,” if he wasn’t feeling it, nor was he the kind of man to simply ignore something if he didn’t like it.
Well, I had a book come out recently—not a story in an anthology, or a magazine anywhere, but something with my name on the cover. It’s fairly obvious what it is, and what is in it . . . and it’s nothing like what I wrote about my grandmother. My mother told me that he’d read the local press release about it, and that he was proud of me for it . . . but she’s my mom, and they sometimes sugarcoat things. I knew that if he thought it foolish, or disapproved of it—thought it a waste of talent—I would hear about it the next time I saw him in person. In no uncertain terms. At length. And possibly more than once. The most I was hoping for was to not hear about it at all, because with the men in our family there seems to be a bit of an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude: if everything’s okay, why even bring it up?
The next time I saw him in person was the day he came back from Florida. I came to Groveland to go to dinner with him, preparing the whole way to take a bit of unsolicited criticism about something that’s fairly important to me. I picked him up at the house and we went to the dining room at Nichols Village. We went in and sat down with a couple of his friends . . . and that old man proceeded to brag on me. He wasn’t just quietly telling me I’d done a good job, but telling me publicly and making sure I got it. It was, hands down, the nicest time I can remember spending with the man, and it was a pleasant surprise.
Did he ever read any of my work, other than the words I wrote for my grandmother? I don’t think so, no. But after hearing Nancy’s words earlier—and I did get to see her speech yesterday—I’d like to give you a quote from John Irving, an author I think Grampy probably did read. In A Prayer for Owen Meany, the character Owen says “If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.” From what Nancy said about him, and his life, I think he tried very hard to do just that, but found it wasn’t possible for him. I kind of think that he saw my writing—no matter what it was, and whether he understood it or not—the way I do: as my own little way of doing just that.
And he approved.
And that’s a little bit of what got me here, and him here. That’s just a little bit of what made him not just a grandfather, but my grandfather. He may be gone, but I am here, and I still have those things that got us here. I’m holding up my end. Was he an easy man? Nope. But he’ll be my grandfather, and I’ll be his grandson, until, many years from now, I am gone.

~ ~ * * ~ ~

Talk to you later.