Thursday, January 29, 2015

Civic lessons

Spring 200l. Ben and the Civic
en route to the Senior Prom.
It is said you should never love anything that can’t love you back but I love a 1997 red Honda Civic coupe that isn’t even mine. It belongs to my oldest son, Ben, who will turn – Oh God It Can’t Be – 32 next week.

It was purchased from a used car lot in Danbury, Conn., on a snowy Saturday 15 years ago. For months Ben had been claiming he was the only kid in his junior class who didn’t have his own car. I didn’t buy that story – surely at least one of his 200-plus classmates was equally deprived and had to take the school bus – but I did break down and buy him the car which was three years old and had only 11,000 miles on it. 

Ben immediately accessorized the car with four lighted valve stem covers that made the wheels appear to glow as they turned – perfect for an inner-city pimp but not for a boy in a town like Wilton, Conn. He kept them on the car for, maybe, a week. His second purchase, on which he spent every penny he earned working that summer, was a stereo system so elaborate it took up most of the car’s already limited trunk space.  

One Spring afternoon his senior year he was driving the car home from school. His friend Fred was in the passenger seat and our youngest son, Stuart, was in the back when an enormous buck ran out of the woods and onto the road ten feet in front of them. Realizing he was about to be hit, the buck decided to leap over the car but didn’t make it. He crashed through the windshield, his head landing on the console between Ben and Fred. None of the boys were hurt but the deer, who was still kicking, had to be dragged out of the car and shot by the police. My wife’s knees buckled when we went to see the car that night. The front end was smashed in, the windshield – thank you God for safety glass – had shattered into a million pieces but held, and both the exterior and interior were drenched in deer blood and covered with deer hair. The insurance adjuster said he could either declare the car a total loss and Safeco would write a check for its value, or we could see if the car could be repaired. Ben wanted it repaired. And it was.

Three months later an elderly driver sideswiped the car. Once again, the Civic was nearly totaled. Once again, Ben opted to have it repaired.

Ben started college at the University of Michigan in the fall of 2001. Michigan didn’t allow freshmen to bring cars, so the Civic sat in our driveway for a year until our youngest son got his license. Ben ultimately decided he didn’t need the car at all in Ann Arbor. He said it would be a hassle not to mention expensive to find parking, so Stuart drove it until he went off to a college that also didn’t allow freshmen to bring cars.

In 2005, Ben started law school in Philadelphia. It would have cost a fortune to park the Civic in Philly. He didn’t need it there anyway so it stayed in our driveway.

My wife and I bought a Florida vacation house the same year, so we commandeered the Civic for use as our Florida wheels. The car had lost its hubcaps, so I went to Wal-mart and paid $9.99 for a set of four plastic ones.

One night we met friends for drinks, then followed them to an upscale Naples restaurant that offered valet parking. Attendants rushed to open the doors of our friends’ Jaguar but ignored us. After waiting several minutes for someone to at least acknowledge us, I parked the car myself and saved $5 in tips.

In 2007, we sold our first Florida house and bought a new one in a country club community that required residents and guests to pass through not one but two sets of manned gates. When we showed up behind the moving van, the guards refused to believe that anyone driving a ’97 Civic with Wal-mart hubcaps – two were missing by then – could possibly afford to live there and treated us shabbily. We complained to the management company which instructed the snooty guards to let us in, but for months we were constantly being stopped by the “Privacy Patrol” whose members assumed that anyone driving a car like that didn't belong in the community.

Ben graduated from law school in 2008 and reclaimed the car, taking it with him to Washington, D.C., where he had accepted a job. He got married two years ago and last March, he and his wife, Heidi, became the parents of a baby boy. Ben drove Heidi in the Civic to the hospital, where their son, Teddy, was safely delivered five weeks early.

That night Ben and Stuart, who also lives in D.C., were at Ben’s house smoking celebratory cigars when Ben received a call that Teddy had been rushed cross-town to a children’s hospital with respiratory problems. The doctors weren't sure he was going to make it. Ben jumped in the Civic and headed for the hospital. Not being sure where it was, he got lost along the way – a story that brought a lump to my throat when I thought about my boy driving around a big city at midnight, lost and frantic with worry about his own boy.
Spring 2014: Ben brings
Teddy home from the hospital in the Civic.
Three weeks later Teddy came home from children’s hospital in the Civic.

Today, the Civic spends 99.9999 percent of its time outside Ben and Heidi's Washington townhouse in a parking lot it shares with two Mercedes, a Lexus, three BMWs, two Cadillacs and an Audi.  Only one hubcap remains and it’s pretty much disintegrated.  The “University of Pennsylvania Law School” sticker on the back window has faded. Nobody following the car would believe an Ivy-educated lawyer could possibly be behind the wheel but he or she would be wrong. Ben has always been practical and unconcerned about what anyone thinks. He says says it's perfect for the occasional trip to the supermarket or Home Depot, which is all they need a car for in the city.

Heidi picked my wife and me up at the D.C. airport yesterday in the Civic. Teddy was in his car seat in the back. There’s a “Baby On Board” sticker in the window just like the one we had on our Volvo station wagon when his daddy was a baby.

I drove Ben and Heidi to the airport in the car this morning. They're taking a weekend vacation for the first time since Teddy's arrival. We’re having a wonderful time with our grandson. He especially loves the little red car Santa brought him that lights up and plays songs.

I‘ve told Ben I hope the Civic will someday be Teddy’s and you know what? It just might. At 18, it only has 75,000 miles on the odometer; the body and interior are in decent shape (the upholstery was replaced after the collision with the deer), and the transmission shifts as smoothly as it did the day we drove it home from Danbury.

For 15 years that little red Civic has provided safe passage through the world for the people I love the most and I can't help but love it for that.

If that sounds strange, so be it. 

Teddy behind the wheel of his little red car.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Another day in Spamalot

This morning, as usual, I checked my email. Here are some highlights:

The Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria writes that, “John T. Kehoe of 122 Fitch Way, Sacramento, CA 95864 visited this bank yesterday with a power of attorney given by your good self, granting him the benefit to process and claim your inheritance of $7,000,000.00 (Seven Million United States Dollars) for personal reasons.”

I’m thrilled my Nigerian uncle remembered me in his will – he always promised he would – but write back that I have never trusted that bastard John Kehoe and that any power of attorney he is presenting was obtained by fraudulent means. I send him my bank information -- Swift code, routing number and account number -- and tell him to wire it directly to Wells Fargo.

My local Infiniti dealer writes, “Thomas, don't forget your Infiniti may be due for service!”

I reply, “Actually, it’s past due but I won’t be visiting your dealership again. Last time I took the car in for an oil change I received one of those email surveys asking me to rate the ‘experience.’ I gave you an ‘outstanding’ in every category – even snacks, which was a lie because offering Tostitos at 9 a.m. doesn’t rate as outstanding in my book; I would have preferred a Krispy Kreme or something more time-appropriate. Within an hour of sending the survey I received a vitriolic email from your service manager berating me for not assigning a ‘Truly Exceptional’ rating to every question. So from now on I’ll be taking the car to Valvoline which doesn’t send bogus surveys”. writes, "Prosze o mozliwosc przeslania informacji o kredytach dia firm, bez zaswiadczen z ZUS, US, Kredyt wyliczany na podstwaie dochodo, lub przyodua."

How gullible does he think I am? I reply, 請,能發送有關貸款業務信

A message from Ropes & Gray headlined “Court Notification” gets my attention:  “Please take notice that you have to come to the hearing of your case that will be held in the Arkansas court of Appeals on January 23th, 2015. The subject of the hearing – illegal use of software. Your attendance is required. You may download the detailed pretrial notice, you are highly recommended to study it thoroughly in advance.”

I call American and Southwest but there’s no way I can get to Arkansas today – all flights are sold out.  I call my Arkansas counsel, the Rose Law Firm, and learn that my regular attorney, Hillary Rodham, isn’t in. I write back that I plan to petition the court for a continuance. 

Rural King, the big box retailer that sells windmills, tractors and other farm-related stuff, recently and inexplicably opened a store in my suburban tropical neighborhood -- I was the only customer last time I stopped in for free popcorn. They've written to notify me about a "FLASH SALE: Titanium Drill Bits 50% Off Today Only!" 

I reply that I don’t know what a Titanium Drill Bit is but thanks for thinking of me.

Twitter -- I signed up for an account years ago but only used it once or twice because it’s even dumber than Facebook -- keeps trying to get me interested in using its service by sending email about Twitter messages that are “popular in your network” (whatever that means. I don’t have a network). Today’s is from the Rev. Al Sharpton who tweets, “Meeting in NYC with LA Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer (Microsoft confounder) on diversity in sports/tech industries.”

Al, if you tweeted you were meeting with Ballmer to see if he’ll lend you the money to pay the millions you reportedly owe in back taxes … that you are sorry your race-baiting led to the suicide of a white policeman you accused of raping Tawana Brawley who later admitted she made the whole story up … or that you have realized the cable news channel on which you appear every night is America’s version of Pravda … all of those insights might be newsworthy. Until then, you can delete me from your “network.” I would have said all of that and more but couldn’t say it in 140 characters or less which is why I don't use Twitter in the first place.

Larry Edelson of Money & Markets has written an urgent message inviting me to watch his latest video, “When the Dow hits 31,000+ in 2016, How Rich Will You Be?”

I write back that I have no idea how rich I’ll be when the Dow doubles. All I know for sure is that I’m about to be $7,000,000 (United States Dollars) richer thanks to my Nigerian uncle.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Top Secret!!! A Memo from John Kerry to President Obama

To: President Obama
From: John Kerry, Secretary of State

Yesterday was a kick-ass day in the history of American diplomacy – the day I brought James Taylor to Paris to sing “You’ve Got a Friend" as a means of showing the people of France how much we love and support them after that terrorist attack. Rolling Stone called it “Brilliant.” Billboard says it demonstrated “out of the box thinking.”

Anyway, it gave me a great idea. You know how Republicans are always bitching about the budget? Well, here’s a way to save billions. Let’s shutter our embassies worldwide ... fire the employees ... and, while we’re at it, convert the State Department building in D.C. to condos. All we really need to do when we want to communicate with other countries is send an e-song! I’m not kidding. You can send a song as a gift on iTunes for $1.29, which is certainly cheaper than maintaining an embassy and staff.  What a Wonderful World It Would Be (LOL) if EVERY country would follow our lead and take up musical diplomacy!!!!

Here’s a list of songs I had my assistant compile for special occasions. This is just the tip of the iceberg (a phrase that brings to mind the theme song from Titanic, "My Heart Will Go On and On," by Celine Dion). There are thousands of others we can choose on a case-by-case basis. When something happens or is about to happen that requires diplomacy, the one remaining staff member at State can simply email the song!

With or Without You (U-2): This would be a great song to send to a country that refuses to cooperate with us. For instance, we could have sent it to Pakistan when they weren’t helping us search for bin Laden.

I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) – Hall & Oates: When those stupid Israelis – we really should have a chat about them one of these days -- start shelling the West Bank again (and they will!!!!), this will let them know we are totally FED UP!

Tragedy – Bee Gees: The “go to” song to send to any of our allies that have experienced something bad. (Think South Korea when that ferryboat full of schoolkids sunk.) I actually thought about bringing the Bee Gees to Paris to perform this yesterday but then someone told me that two of them are DEAD!!

The Arms of an Angel – Sarah McLachlan: What a loving way to comfort the people of a country whose leader has died. (“Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson would be another good choice!) 

We Gotta Get Out of this Place –The Animals: You’ve been wanting to let Afghanistan know we don’t want to keep troops there anymore. Send this song!

Stand By Me – Various Artists: This'll do the trick when we are trying to enlist the help of a country to pass a UN resolution. I like Little Milton’s version best but Maurice White’s is pretty darn good too!!!

All Night Long (All Night) – Lionel Richie: When we are about to bomb ISIS, al Qaeda, Canada, etc.,  we can let them know it’d be easier if they’d simply surrender by sending this song as a clue about how long we plan to bombard their sorry asses!

Disco Duck – Rick Dees: I can’t think of an appropriate occasion for this one but I’m sure I will – it’s Teresa’s and my fave song!!! Maybe we can send it to Kim Jong-un of North Korea next time he conducts a nuclear test???? Whatever!!!!

Please give my love to Michelle My Belle (LOL) … and thanks for reading!!!! 

Kindest regards,


Friday, January 16, 2015

A personal apology to the people of France

Remember the outrage when, in 2003, the French government refused to endorse America’s invasion of Iraq? One on-the-ball member of Congress, Republican Bob Ney of Ohio (who later resigned and spent time in the slammer for corruption) even proposed that French fries, a staple of the American diet, should be renamed “Freedom Fries” in protest.

Well, after today, France has earned the right to put the "French" back into "Fries."

Last week's attack by Islamic terrorists on the Parisian satire magazine Charlie Hebdo resulted in the deaths of 10 staff members and two policemen. On Sunday a group of world leaders converged on Paris to show their solidarity and sympathy. But the US, instead of sending the president,VP or Secretary of State John Kerry, sent only its ambassador, which many French citizens considered a thumb of the nose. 

Today, Kerry came to Paris to make amends and demonstrate that the US stands firmly with the people of France against terrorism. What did he bring with him?  Guns? Tanks? Intelligence?  

No, he brought James Taylor to sing You’ve Got a Friend.

Sweet Baby James got up there on stage and sang his heart out:

When you’re down and troubled, and you need a helping hand.
And nothing, whoa, nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me,
And soon I will be there.
To brighten up even your darkest nights.

I've seen fries and I've seen rain but I never thought I'd see anything this stupid.

People of France, I know I'm speaking for millions -- tens of millions -- of my countrymen when I ask you to please accept my personal apology for the imbeciles representing my country who, apparently, have the judgement and mentality of junior high-aged girls.

Like this post? Share it with your friends by hitting one of the icons below.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Held hostage by technology

We moved into a new house last month. 

OK, it’s not new but it’s new to us. It was built in 1993 which, in this part of Florida where new homes are being slapped up on every square inch of buildable land, would qualify it for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places. But it’s as good as new. The previous owner, a German engineer, maintained the house like Air Force One. The roof is new. So are all the appliances, which are designed for use by people with PhDs in engineering and/or computer science and/or who were born after the first Bush administration.

Take the master thermostat. It supposedly controls the temperature and humidity. I say “supposedly” because the only way it would actually control them is if I could figure out how the hell to program it. It insists I tell it how hot/cold/humid I want the house to be when I wake up, leave for work (I’m home all day but that isn’t an option), return home and go to bed every single day of the week. (Hmm, on Mondays I like to drift off to dreamland at 73 degrees with 65 percent humidity. Tuesdays I prefer 317 degrees with 100 percent humidity. How stupid.)  These features ostensibly save energy and money, but having the ability to turn the damn thermostat on and off when I want would save even more, not to mention save money I have to spend on blood pressure medication when mine soars due to frustration. Here’s an idea for you, Honeywell. How about a thermostat with three settings – Cool, Heat and Off, and a dial I can turn to the temperature I want?

The washer and dryer sing ditties when their doors are opened. (If I wanted to listen to music, I’d turn on the radio.) The washer’s computer decides what type of fabrics have been loaded, how dirty they are and for how long and at what temperature the clothes need to be washed. Once the cycle starts, it locks the door so I can’t throw in socks I found under the bed. The dryer also analyzes the fabric type then determines the temperature and time needed to dry the clothes. Screw you, Maytag. How about a washer that washes clothes in my choice of hot, medium or cold water for the number of minutes I want and that lets me open and close the doors mid-cycle, along with a dryer that lets me decide how long I want the clothes to dry? I believe you last made what I’m describing sometime in the 1970s. Do you have any of those in a warehouse somewhere? I’ll trade you.

The refrigerator’s computer announces, when I use the water dispenser, how many ounces it is pouring into the glass. There is a button that tells me what percentage of the water filter’s life is remaining along with a keypad I’m supposed to use to enter what types of groceries are being placed in various compartments so it will know the precise temperature at which they should be kept. Kiss my ass, KitchenAid. I want a fridge/freezer with two settings – one for the fridge temp, one for the freezer temp. I don’t care how many ounces of water I’m putting in a glass, and don't want expensive water filters that need changing regularly. 

The dishwasher’s computer has more options than Baskin Robbins – steam, power wash, scrub, regular, pre-rinse, rinse, post-rinse, pots, pans, crystal, normal, super normal, abnormal, paranormal, etc. It runs so quietly it can’t be heard yet takes two hours to wash the dishes during which it flashes a laser beam as a warning not to open the door mid-cycle lest one be par-boiled by the steam cycle. Bite me, Bosch. How about a dishwasher that washes the dishes quickly? If you really want to provide useful technology, how about a dishwasher that sucks dirty dishes out of the sink, loads them into the proper slots, washes them, then puts the clean dishes away?

The security system is more complicated than anything they could possibly have at the Louvre. I have a code. My wife has a code. The dachshunds have codes and they can’t even reach the keypads. There is a code to enter if we are being held at gunpoint (as if I can tell my captor, “Excuse me, you'll have to untie me from this chair because I need to get up to enter a code that will let someone at a monitoring station in India know you’re holding me hostage”). There’s probably a code to enter if someone is using a bow and arrow instead of a gun. How about an alarm that has “off” and “on” buttons and that summons help if someone breaks in or if one of these sophisticated appliances shorts out and catches fire?

All of this technology is supposed to make life easier but it doesn’t.  These computer-controlled devices are toys just waiting to break at which point I’ll have to shell out money to repair features I never wanted, needed or understood in the first place.

Digital technology has resulted in better TVs, telephones and many other electronic devices but there is no point of putting it into things that performed just fine without it. Many of the appliances and household gizmos we use every day were easier to operate 40 years ago and worked just as well if not better than the ones they make today.

Don’t you agree?