Saturday, June 30, 2012

Your daily dose of bullshit, from the wackos at the North Korea Central News Agency

As an online news junkie, I read the Drudge Report, Huffington Post, New York Post, Washington Post, Naples (Fla.) Daily News, U.K. Daily Mail and, of course, news from the North Korean Central News Agency.

I stumbled upon the official news site of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government several years ago and have been hooked ever since.

Each day, the service reports, in English, the same laughably happy news it disseminates within North Korea. Because the country is so isolated -- few first- or second-world countries have anything to do with it -- the news tends to be parochial. Kim Jong Un sends greetings to prime minister of Swaziland on occasion of his 10th anniversary ... Kim Jong Un places wreath at grave of Kim Jong Il ... King Jong Un scratches balls ... etc. 

It's no more slanted than the left-wing New York Times or right-wing Fox News, which, like most American news organizations these days, don't even pretend to be objective. But it's certainly wackier and more, well, "entertaining" isn't the right word. "Provocative," that's it. More provocative.

Below I'm reprinting in its entirety a story published Thursday about the return of a citizen who had crossed over into South Korea and, according to the Korea Central News Agency, returned on her own volition and was stunned at the cordial reception she claims she received. It is, of course, a complete load of crap. (If any North Korean officials are reading this blog and disagree with my assessment, I stand willing to fly over to interview her and will report on exactly what I find.  If I'm wrong, I will admit it. But you don't have the gonads to take me up on my offer because this story is a lie and you know it.)

For your daily dose of bullshit propaganda from North Korea, check out

DPRK Woman Interviewed Upon Her Return Home
Pyongyang, June 28 (KCNA) -- DPRK woman Pak Jong Suk was interviewed by Korean and foreign reporters at the People's Palace of Culture on Thursday.

She returned home after being taken away to south Korea.

Present there were media persons from the DPRK, the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, China, Russia and the U.S.

Pak told about how she was taken away to south Korea.

She said she was residing in Rapuk-dong No. 1, Ranam District of Chongjin City, North Hamgyong Province. "I illegally crossed the border on the night of March 29, 2006 in a foolish hope of meeting my father who went to south Korea due to the A-bomb scare made by the U.S. imperialists during the Korean War and getting money from him", she said.

"I was taken in by the luring tactics of south Korean Intelligence Service agents in an alien land and handed over by them according to their scenario. This was how I was taken to south Korea at around 9 a.m. of June 29 of the same year", she added.

She recalled that while living in south Korea for six years she led a life little short of a miserable slave's for want of money.

Referring to the living conditions of the "defectors from the north", she said the jobs they could find at best were nothing but waste cleaning, vessel washing and servicing and other most hateful and difficult jobs.

The suicidal rate among them is five times that among other south Koreans, she said. They ardently wish to return to the DPRK, cursing corrupt south Korean society and reproaching themselves.

She spoke of what she felt after coming back to the DPRK on May 25 after diverting the watch of IS agents.

"A single misstep made me fall into a bottomless pitfall, leaving disgrace to my children. But my motherland injected life-giving water to me who might have become a forlorn wandering spirit," she noted.

"When I deplaned, quieting my thumping heart, I was stunned by the cordial reception given by officials concerned," Pak said, adding, "I felt at that time how affectionate and great the motherland is to me. I would have no more to desire before I die.

"The dear respected Kim Jong Un did not blame me who did so many wrongs in the past but brought me under his warm care. He showed profound loving care for me. Kim Jong Un made sure that I, little different from an offender, reside in Pyongyang with my son who is a teacher of Pyongyang Kim Won Gyun Conservatory and daughter-in-law.

"I am neither a patriot nor a hero who made any tangible contribution to the country. I am an ingrate who had betrayed my motherland to seek better living while others devoted themselves to building a thriving nation, tightening their belts.

"I deserve punishment. But Kim Jong Un did not blame me but was so kind as to enable me to enjoy the greatest happiness. How can I forget this profound love and benevolence so long as l am alive.

"The world does not know such tender-hearted leader as the dear respected General Kim Jong Un.

"I was reborn thanks to Kim Jong Un identical to the great Generalissimos."

Pak, together with the son and daughter-in-law, sang a song "My Unforgettable Path," determined to remain intensely loyal to Kim Jong Un, the tender-hearted father of the great family of the country, generation after generation.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Additional Supreme Court rulings on provisions found buried deep within the Affordable Care Act

WASHINGTON, June 28 -- The Supreme Court today ruled that the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010 is constitutional, provided the mandate to purchase insurance is characterized as a "tax" rather than a "prize not unlike what one finds in a Cracker Jack box," which had been written into the bill by its Democratic authors in an attempt to help President Obama fulfill a campaign promise not to raise taxes. Democratic lawmakers were jubilant. Republicans expressed dismay.

Shortly before the bill was passed, (then) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi admitted that, "We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it," leading observers to conclude that Congress had not read the bill before voting on it. 

The Supreme Court, whose clerks were apparently the first government employees to read the entire bill that was passed and signed into law by the president, also announced the following decisions regarding some of the provisions that were discovered hidden within the Act:

Provision 44D --Any adult female who desires breast enlargement surgery is entitled to such surgery free of charge, provided she stops by Room 439-A of the Capitol to show them off after the scars have healed: Upheld.

Provision 966-3, subparagraph B: The following experts are appointed czars in charge of administering specific aspects of this bill: Dr. Ruth Westheimer, reproductive health; Dr. Oz, nutrition/fitness; Dr Phil, psychiatry; the cast of Grey's Anatomy, all other medical issues: Denied.

Provision 7625, section X: Insurance companies shall be required to pay in full the costs for Crest White Strips and that acne medicine Jessica Simpson is spokeswoman for -- the name escapes me but you see signs for it in malls and it apparently really works because there isn't a zit on her face: Denied. 

Provision 8722: Members of Congress and the Supreme Court shall receive the same healthcare coverage -- no more, no less -- as the general population whose welfare is provided for under this act: Denied.

Provision 8907, section XXI, paragraph 12: John Boehner is a dick: Upheld.

"We have done everything we can," Chief Justice John Roberts told, adding that he is looking forward to a fun summer at his family's vacation home. "I'm gonna eat and drink and sleep 'till noon and try not to think about work. Summer, here I come!"

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Insurance companies from hell (or, whatever the Supreme Court decides about Obamacare, it can't get any worse than it already is)

Man with Indian accent: Thank you for calling Smetna Insurance. My name is Rakeesh. It will be my pleasure to serve you today. May I ask to whom I am speaking?
TD: You don't know?
Rakeesh: No sir, I don't have that information.
TD: Then why was I asked to enter my ID number three times before I finally reached a human?
Rakeesh: I am sorry for the inconvenience.
TD: Thomas Dryden.
Rakeesh: May I have your Smetna ID number?
TD: 12345 6789.
Rakeesh: Alright Mr. Thomas, how can I help you today?
TD: I became a customer on January 1. Just received a letter that says Smetna needs proof I had insurance between April 15 and June 30 of 2011 -- before I became a customer -- in order to process a claim. This is the third time I've received that letter. I've sent you proof both other times. The first time I mailed it. The second time I faxed it.
Rakeesh: Please accept my apologies, Mr. Thomas. Who was your previous insurance provider?
TD: That's not the point. The point is, I've provided this twice already. Plus you already know from my application who my previous insurer was.
Rakeesh: I'm sorry, Mr. Thomas. We don't have access to information from
your application.
TD: What do you mean you "don't have access?"
Rakeesh: That's confidential information.
TD: Well someone at Smetna has it because someone at your company approved me. It should be right there in my records. I was required to provide proof of insurance with my application and I did. And I've done it twice since.
Rakeesh: As I explained, Mr. Thomas ....
TD: Fine, it was Banner Black Cross/Red Shield.
Rakeesh: Do you know your ID number?
TD: Yes, I still have my card. It's 63927 050302.
Rakeesh: Mr. Thomas, I'll read that back to you. 63927 050302.
TD: Correct. If you'll check your records, you will see I was insured by Banner for 10 years up until the day I became a Smetna customer.
Rakeesh: We need to verify that information. Do you have their phone number?
TD: The card says 800-555-6666.
Rakeesh: Do you mind if I place you on hold for no more than three minutes while I call them?
TD: Go right ahead.

(Three minutes of a Bach fugue.)

Rakeesh: I am sorry, Mr. Thomas. That appears to be a fax number. Is there another number on the card?
TD: No, it must have changed. I'll look up the number online. Give me a minute.
Rakeesh: Take your time, Mr. Thomas.
TD: Here's one -- 203-555-6666.
Rakeesh: I will be placing you on hold for no longer than three minutes while I call Banner Black Cross/Red Shield at 203-555-6666 to verify. Is that acceptable?
TD: Sure, I have nothing else to do other than wait while you verify information I've already supplied. Why not?
Rakeesh: I understand your frustration, Mr. Thomas.
TD:  My last name is Dryden, not Thomas.
Rakeesh: I'm sorry, Mr. Dryden.
TD: That's OK.
Rakeesh: Please hold, Mr. Thomas.

(Three minutes of Bach fugue)

Rakeesh: Are you still there, Mr. Thomas?
TD: Yes.
Rakeesh: Thank you for holding. That appears to be a number for government policyholders only. Do you have another number?
TD: I can't believe you don't have one. Surely Smetna gives you a directory of other insurance company numbers for cases like this.
Rakeesh: I apologize, Mr. Thomas. But I do not have a directory. Can you find another number?
TD: We just got a new phone book. Hold on, I'll look it up.
Rakeesh: Certainly, Mr. Thomas, take your time, I have all day.
TD: Well I don't.
Rakeesh: I do understand, Mr. Thomas, and am working hard to ease your frustration.
TD: OK, try 203-555-4321.
Rakeesh: Will it be alright if I conference you in on the call?
TD: Yes, if my being on the call will make this go faster, please do.
Rakeesh: Alright, I am calling 203-555-4321 right now.

(Ring ring, ring)

Recorded Message:  Thank you for calling Banner Black Cross/Red Shield. If you are a broker, press 1. If you are a physician, press 2. If you are a member requesting information about a pending claim, press 9. If you are calling for any other reason, please hang up and call our main number, 203-666-4561. Or visit us online 24 hours a day
Rakeesh: I am terribly sorry for the inconvenience Mr. Thomas. I know your time is valuable.
TD: No you don't.
Rakeesh: Kindly bear with me while I call that number.
TD:  Fine.
Rakesh: I am dialing 203-666-4561.

(Ring, ring, ring)

Banner Rep: Banner Black Cross/Red Shield, how may I direct your call?
TD: I was a Banner customer for 10 years but switched to Smetna January 1. There is a Smetna rep on this call. He needs to speak to you to verify I was covered by Banner between April 15 and June 30, 2011.
Banner Rep: Hello, my name is Rakeesh from Smetna. This call may be monitored for quality and training purposes. Is that acceptable to you?
Banner Rep: Do you have your Banner ID number?
TD: 63927 050302
Banner Rep: And your name?
TD: Thomas Dryden.
Banner Rep: Alright, I have your account in front of me.
TD: So will you tell this guy I was insured by Banner?
Banner Rep: You have the wrong department. Let me transfer you.
TD: You are kidding, right?
Rakeesh: Thank you kindly for your assistance.

(Ring, ring, ring)

Banner Rep 2: This is Sarah.
TD: Let me make this quick. I was a Banner customer but am with Smetna now. I have a guy from Smetna on the line.
Rakeesh: Hello, my name is Rakeesh. This call may be monitored for quality and training purposes. Is that acceptable to you?
TD: Would you verify for him that I was with Banner for 10 years, up to December 31, 2011? My ID number was 63927 050302.
Banner Rep 2: And your name, do you know that?
TD: I have fucking had it with you people. Of course I know my name, do you think I'm a complete moron?
Banner Rep 2: There's no need to use offensive language.
TD: Actually, there is.
Banner Rep 2: If you swear again, I am hanging up and reporting you.
TD: I am sorry, I really am, but you have no idea. My name is Thomas Dryden.
Banner Rep 2: Can you tell me your date of birth?
TD: Eleven seventeen fifty-one.
Banner Rep: Alright, I see your information. But you should have called another department.
TD: So why did they switch us over to you?
Banner Rep 2: You'll have to ask whoever you spoke to.
TD: And why did you ask my name and number and date of birth if you knew you couldn't help?
Rakeesh: Thomas, I understand your frustration, I see it every day.
TD: You cause it every day. You've both probably caused thousands of strokes that have cost Smetna and Banner millions of dollars. You two are the number one reason health care needs overhauling.
Banner Rep 2:  Let me transfer you to the correct department.
TD: God, smite me dead. Please.
Rakeesh: Mr. Thomas, may I have your phone number? I will stay on the line and get the required information and call you back within one hour. Would that be acceptable?
TD: My number is 203-555-4321.
Banner 2: I'm transferring you now.
Rakeesh: Thank you both. I will speak with you shortly Mr. Thomas.
TD: (Hangs up)

It was actually much worse than that, folks. There were several additional calls within Banner that were omitted.

And for the record, I'm still waiting for that callback from Rakeesh.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Just back from a week in Sweden

In case you've been wondering why I haven't posted for a week, I've been in Sweden with my good friends Mikael Blomkvist and Lisabeth Salander.

It was my second visit. My first was in 1972. I was about to enter my last year of college and I was there for, at most, 20 minutes. I was in Copenhagen, Denmark, and my Eurail pass entitled me to a free ride on the ferry to Malmo, where I had a slice of pizza and got to add one more stamp to my passport. But I digress.

OK, so I wasn't physically in Sweden last week. I was in Connecticut, my butt planted in the big green easy chair I share with my dachshunds, reading Stieg Larrson's Millennium trilogy of books, which are set in Sweden.

Though nearly 100 million copies have been sold worldwide, I hadn't read them, because a.) they are novels and I prefer non-fiction  b.) I was for some inexplicable reason under the impression they were chick lit and c.) the title of the first book in the trilogy is The Girl with the Dragon TattooI don't like tattoos on girls. So why, I reasoned, would I want to read books in which the heroine is a goth who is covered with them?

Sixteen hundred pages later, I'm here to tell you the books are fantastic. Among the best novels I've ever read.

Summer's here, folks. Beach time. Hammock time. Time to lose yourself in a good book or two or three.

If you haven't read 'em yet, do yourself a favor and buy the books or download them on your "device." (I love that word.)


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Obama: Mormon voters to receive free Corvettes

Washington, June 16, 2012    In what he described as a move to stimulate the nation's lagging economy and Republicans derided as a cynical ploy to woo one of the few minorities to whom he has not already pandered in an attempt to buy the upcoming election, President Obama today announced that every American member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints age 18 and over will receive a new Corvette, to be delivered no later than November 6, election day.

"Unlike rich Mormons like Mitt Romney who stashes his money in Swiss bank accounts, most Mormons are honest, hard-working men and women who share my dream of an economically just America,"  Obama announced at a campaign event outside the LDS Temple in Salt Lake City. "Giving them Corvettes is a way to reward them for their support of our nation's values while providing  thousands of jobs for American auto workers."

GOP leaders were quick to point out that, following Obama's announced support of same-sex marriage in May which, polls show, all but guarantees him the vote of GLBT community, and his "amnesty for illegal aliens" pronouncement on Friday, which immediately boosted his odds of winning the Hispanic vote, Obama is running out of minorities whose votes he may be able to buy.

Romney, his GOP opponent in the upcoming election, who, until today's announcement, was widely predicted to win the majority of votes from his fellow Mormons, expressed dismay. "President Obama has had four years to court gays, Hispanics and Mormons. The only reason he's doing so now is that he sees it's going to be a tight race."

Speaking to reporters accompanying the president back from Utah on Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the President remains open to further stimulus measures if the nation's economy doesn't improve. "All options are on the table," Carney said, adding that, if the unemployment rate isn't below eight percent by September 30, non-Mormon white straight males who, polls show, overwhelmingly indicate they plan to vote for Romney, should prepare themselves for a "pleasant October surprise."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Customer satisfaction surveys: Companies giving the illusion they care

Used to be that, when you bought something, the person you bought it from said "thanks" and that was that.

Not any more. Now that virtually every business in America is part of a chain, you get a follow-up survey asking you to rate your "experience." The folks who run these big companies seem to think that, by giving the illusion they actually care about your satisfaction, you will have warm fuzzy feelings and will want to return.

Take your car into the dealer for service and, a few days later, you get a call from someone asking questions about it. "Was the waiting area clean?" (No, it was covered with vomit.) "Were you greeted properly?" (The receptionist was lighting a fart when I walked in but she did manage to say "Hello, Mr. Dryden.") "Was the work done to your satisfaction?" (I came in for an oil change and they painted my car purple.)

Stay in a Sheraton, fly JetBlue, rent a car from Avis or make a deposit at Webster Bank and you get an email survey.

Call Comcast and before you are placed on hold for 47 minutes, you are asked if you are willing to take a brief survey at the end of the call.

Go to a doctor who is part of a group practice, and you get a call asking you to rate your office visit.

T.D.: Tom Dryden's not here. He died after the doctor misdiagnosed his strep throat as an ectopic pregnancy.

Survey Taker: Before he expired did he happen to mention if he was a) completely satisfied and would recommend the practice to a friend, b) moderately satisfied, c) neither satisfied nor dissatisfied or d) completely dissatisfied and unlikely to recommend our practice?

Email surveys are easy. You can simply delete them from your in-box. Phone surveys, that arrive in the middle of dinner or while you are otherwise occupied, are harder to ignore.

I always inform callers that I had been satisfied until their company, which obviously thinks so little of its customers that it interrupts them at home with idiotic surveys, called while I was taking a shower, causing me to slip when I ran for the phone and break my leg. Now I'm completely dissatisfied, will never return and, in fact, plan to sue.

If all of us did that, perhaps the calls would stop.

Can't hurt to try it.

Optional: Please rate your satisfaction with this blog.

( ) Love it
( ) Love it lots
( ) My only reason for getting up in the morning
( ) Should be nominated for Pulitzer Prize

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Obama couldn't. Romney can't. But I did.

I just returned from a solo 2,700-mile round trip drive from Wilton, Conn., to Columbia, Mo. It was a productive drive because, during it, I figured out how to eliminate the Federal budget deficit. Here goes:

Tax McDonald's Drive Thru users:  I'm addicted to Dunkin' Donuts coffee, but it's hard to find a DD west of New York. McDonald's serves up an acceptable alternative so, every few hours, I'd stop for a cuppa and to stretch my legs. Invariably, there would be a long line of cars (usually sagging on the driver's side) waiting in the drive-thru lane. I counted one line containing 14 cars. I'd impose a super-size tax on drivers who are too lazy to get out of their cars and waddle into the store to order their QP Cheese and fries.

Annoyance Tax on "Burn in Hell" billboards. They're everywhere -- billboards announcing you'll be a Krispy Kritter if you don't accept Christ as your personal savior A warm, compassionate message like that is enough to make any non-Christian know he made the right decision. If I were in charge, the loons who put 'em up would pay a $100,000 tax per billboard.

"Wooly Bully" surtax. I must have heard it two dozen times on XM Satellite Radio's "60s on 6" channel. Matty told Hattie to impose a $100,000 tax on XM every time they play it.

Tax Walmart trucks: Seems like every other semi is a Walmart truck, speeding plastic shit you don't need from warehouse to store. Each truck represents at least 50 small town merchants driven out of business, the loss of hundreds of American manufacturing jobs, the destruction of ten town squares. Walmart trucks represent everything wrong with a country that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Make 'em pull off at special inspection stations, and pay a $1 tax for every plastic item from China they're carrying.

Stupidity tax on "Busses Welcome" signs.  I saw dozens of signs for truck stops, restaurants, casinos and other tourist sites that announced, "Busses Welcome." It's "Buses," you idiots. If you're going to spend thousands on a sign, hire a sign painter who can spell or be prepared to pay up.

Fine car manufacturers for vague computer messages: I was driving along I-80 in Pennsylvania in the middle of a downpour, listening to Wooly Bully, when an ominous message flashed on my car's computer screen: MAINTENANCE TIRES. I knew it didn't mean a tire was low, that's an altogether different message. So I pulled into the breakdown lane and jumped out to check the tires. They looked fine. I got out the owner's manual. No reference at all to that message. I called the car's manufacturer. After being connected to several representatives, none of whom had any idea what the message meant, I was advised to call my dealer on Monday (it was late Saturday). I called anyway, hoping the service department would be open. It wasn't. The general manager, however, was able to tell me the message means, "Rotate Tires." Why didn't they say that in the first place? Tax 'em $1,000 per incident.

Presto, budget deficit solved.

On my next trip I will be concentrating on solving the Middle East crisis. Anyone want to come along for the ride?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The sharpest (tongued) 99-year-old west of the Mississippi

The Dryden family earlier this week as we leave for a
hard hat tour of the new building at mom's assisted living facility.
From left: Tom, Ruby and her walker, sister Judy and brother Jerry.
This week, as I've written in my last two posts, my brother, sister and I have been cleaning out our 99-year-old mother's house. Mom has sold it and moved to an assisted living facility.

Our mother, Ruby, is hyper-sensitive about her age. She says people who meet her assume she's a doddering idiot, which she most emphatically is not. She reads constantly (non-fiction only), keeps her TV tuned to CNBC all day to stay abreast of the market (and doesn't watch it otherwise), and, in the six months she has been in assisted living, has won all but one of the monthly duplicate bridge tournaments she has entered. She's been a Mac user since the mid-1990s, and stays in touch with her far-flung family by email and Facebook.

When it came to culling through her library, Mom designated me as her book editor. Specifically, she asked me to go through her 700 plus books to determine which she should take with her, which should be donated to the local library and which should be given to the library at the assisted living facility. After much consideration, I chose 70 or so biographies to give to the assisted living library, and they were delivered earlier this week.

Today I was visiting mom and suggested we take a stroll down the long hallway from her apartment to the library to visit some of her books. So we did.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a resident volunteer, a distinguished-looking lady of 80 or so who, you could just tell, had been a librarian in her previous life. She thanked mom for the books and said she and her fellow volunteers had already classified them and placed them on the shelves.

As they were talking, I spotted what appeared to be a computer monitor at a desk. "Do you have Internet here?" I asked the librarian. I had been under the impression that the facility doesn't have Internet access because few, if any, of the elderly residents, other than Ruby, have any idea what the Internet is.

"No," she said. "That's a microfiche reader. Nobody here has Internet, but I hear it will be available in the new building."  (Mom has reserved a larger apartment in a new building that will open this fall.) 

"I have it now," my mother told her. "My grandsons gave it to me for my birthday. It's a satellite link."

"You have Internet?" the librarian asked incredulously.

"Of course," mom replied. "I need it for email and to follow the market."

The librarian could hardly believe it.

"I don't suppose you read books on a Kindle?" the librarian asked, in an attempt to convince herself  this tiny old lady couldn't possibly understand the latest technology. "They say it's now possible to order books you want to read and have them delivered to an electronic reader almost instantly."

"I wouldn't have one," mom replied.

"I know," the librarian said, nodding her head in agreement. "There's something about holding a book in your hands. I can't imagine reading any other way."

"No," mom said. "When I move to the new building and have wireless, I'm getting an iPad. If you have one of those, you don't need a Kindle because you can read your books on the iPad. The Kindle's obsolete."

With that, mom turned her walker around, and strolled out.

"Did you see how condescending she was?" mom asked.

"Yeah. But you set her straight," I replied.

Mom flashed a wicked smile and, after making a stop at the movie theater to swipe some popcorn, we headed back to her apartment.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Who the hell are these people and why are they here?

My brother, sister and I have been cleaning out our 99-year-old mother's four-bedroom house. Now that she is moving into an assisted living facility, she only needs to take with her enough possessions to fill a one-bedroom apartment. We've had to make some tough decisions, especially about family mementos.

For example, after much discussion, we today agreed to consign a 150-year-old family Bible to a trash bag. The pages were moldy, the binding was rotten, the back cover had become detached. The last birth entered into it was that of our great aunt Sue in 1886.  Nobody wanted it. Even mom.

Hundreds of other mementos, including many photos, have met the same fate, but only after much back and forth.

Today, we decided to toss the photo of our second cousin, Debbie, and her husband, that has sat on a bookcase in mom's downstairs rec room for the last 30 years or so. "I say we should throw away the picture of Debbie," I announced.

"That's not Debbie," my sister said. "I don't know who the woman is, but the guy is (cousin) Bob. That's not his wife, though. She's someone he was dating after the divorce. They were on a trip to the Middle East. I think they were in Egypt."

"No, Tom's right," my brother said. "That's Debbie and her husband. Look at her. She's a dead ringer for Aunt Margaret (mom's sister) at the same age."

Whoever she and/or he is, we agreed to remove the photo, toss it in the trash, and place the frame with the dozens of other frames that will be sold at an upcoming sale.

When we took the picture out of the frame, we discovered it wasn't a photo at all. It was printed on thin paper, one of those sample photos that comes inside every inexpensive picture frame.

Someone -- maybe one of us -- had given mom a frame that for 30 years has shared a place of honor on the bookcase with photos of other family members.

We are fairly sure, however, that it wasn't given to mom by Debbie or Bob.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The ultimate stress reliever: Blasting Precious Moments figurines with a shotgun

I'm in Missouri where my brother, sister and I, under the supervision of our 99-year-old mother, are packing up mom's house.

After 79 years of what mom calls "housekeeping," she has sold her home and moved into an assisted living joint. By the end of this week, we need to make decisions about 79 years worth of accumulated stuff.  So, we're sifting through tens of thousands of items, conferring about what she wants to take to her new apartment, what will be passed on to her descendants, what will be sold at an upcoming estate sale, what will be given away, and what will be tossed.

My siblings and I are each only children. My brother was born in 1935. My sister, in 1942. I came along in late 1951. Child psychologists say that, if there are seven or more years between siblings, each child is basically raised as an only child. And we were. Each of us came of age in different decades. And each of us, naturally, has a different opinion about what to do with every item we run across. Sometimes we get into arguments. By this afternoon, mom had had enough of our bickering. "I want you children to quit arguing and settle down."

Between the three of us, we are 207 years old. But we straightened up.

Anyway, there is lots (and lots and lots) of stuff to go through. There's sentimental stuff like family photos. Fascinating stuff, including a book from 1855 entitled Cotton Is King And Other Pro-Slavery Arguments, which belonged to our great-grandfather. And, of course, stupid stuff like the Precious Moments figurine that has sat on the window shelf in mom's bathroom for as long as any of us can remember.

"Don't sell that," my sister announced when we began to pack up the bathroom. "I want to give it to my friend, Mary."

"She collects Precious Moments figurines?" I asked.

"No, she takes them out in her backyard, sits them on a fence post and shoots them with her shotgun. It's her way of handling stress."

"That's the most bizarre thing I ever heard," I said.

"She absolutely hates them," my sister replied. "Says they're so sickeningly sweet, they make her want to kill something every time she sees one. So, all her friends, whenever we run across them at garage sales, buy them and give them to her as gifts. If she has had a really bad day, sometimes she shoots two or three. Blasts them to smithereens."

And so, the one thing my brother, sister and I have agreed upon is this: The Precious Moments figurine doesn't have a happy future.

But we'll always remember it fondly.