Wednesday, March 28, 2012


When I was working as a customer service rep in 1985 at a downtown bank in Austin, Texas, automated teller machines were the new thing. At the time, we were encouraging all our customers to obtain an ATM card. It would be a convenience to them, and (more importantly) it would save the bank money. 

Being a large downtown bank near the capitol building, we saw our share of political officials come through our doors. One day, I offered an ATM card application to particularly colorful member of congress who responded in no uncertain terms that he was not about to use "one of those tit-less tellers.”

Oh, lovely. 

I won’t say who that was, because that would be indiscreet.

Okay, if you must know, it was Rep. Jake Pickle. 

He laughed, gave me one of his infamous pickle lapel pins, (see photo) and sauntered off to make a transaction with a (female) teller. Lucky her. 

Nowadays, it would seem unthinkable to conduct all of your monetary transactions only with bank tellers, breasts notwithstanding. 

But there are so many other do-it-yourself options these days that make our daily lives so very convenient. 

Checking incoming flight status? Hop online, check your smart phone, or if you’re really living back in the 20th century, call the automated toll-free number. Gone are the days of having to “wait for the next available representative” for an hour. 

Post offices: There’s always a line snaking out the door when all the postal workers take off for lunch. Bah! Look around for the automated postal thingie. It looks like a big ATM machine and that puppy does everything. People seldom use it. 

I love the self checker-outers at the grocery store. If you wait in line for one with an actual clerk, you know you’re going to end up in the slowest-moving line. And let’s face it: One doesn’t need a certificate to swipe a can of corn over a bar-code reader. 

Yes, we pass up on human interaction with all these do-it-yourself gizmos in our daily lives. For those of us on the slightly introverted side of the scale, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

For those like Congressman Pickle who demanded boobies to ogle, well, those days are long gone.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

'Copter Parents

Organizers at an annual Easter egg hunt in Colorado Springs have cancelled this year’s event due to hundreds of parents swarming the egg-laden playing field last year to ensure their kid got an egg. 

“Helicopter parents” spoiled it for everyone. You know the type: Parents who closely hover around their kid to make sure the little darlings do well in sports, school, and all other life-changing activities such as procuring a colored egg.
I remember attending an Easter egg hunt when I was about six years old. It was held at my friend, Judi’s, house. The activity, overseen by her mom, was your typical scene: Two dozen kidlets, baskets in hand, were released into the back yard onto which a few dozen eggs had been strategically hidden. 

Being a semi-aggressive athletic event, I was at a disadvantage but didn’t seem to mind. Somehow, my six-year-old mind saw little intrinsic value in snatching up more hard-boiled eggs than another kid. I wandered around a bit, feigned egg-searching motions and eventually sat under a tree.

Once the frantic egg-snatching died down, Judi’s mom declared the hunt concluded. She then divided up the eggs evenly among the participants, cake and ice cream was enjoyed, and all was well. No feelings were hurt and there was nary a helicopter parent in sight.   

I'm very happy to say that Judi and I are still close friends to this day.  

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Friday, March 23, 2012


Probably no other meal preferences have changed during one’s life more than lunch. Think about it. 

By the time you’re five years old, you pretty much have your breakfast selections made and they remain unchanged. I preferred my eggs over-easy with a glass of tomato juice; a Denny’s server will receive the same request from me now. Same goes for dinner. Steak: medium rare. Pizza: with anchovies; blue cheese dressing on the salad. Seafood has always been a favorite. 

But think about lunch during your lifetime. It’s all over the place.

Elementary school: We ate in the school cafeteria. Lunches were seldom brought from home. I remember on the first day of school, the little carton of milk appeared on my lunch tray and I started crying because I didn’t know how to open it. Opening the carton of milk was not yet part of my skills-set and I thought it was terribly unfair that everyone assumed it should be. I finally mangled it opened. 

Our favorite entrée in the school cafeteria was an item we called “moosey-cow”. It consisted simply of ground beef and potatoes in a thin, milky sauce. Even as a little kid, I knew that moosey-cow was highly overrated. 

Junior High: The 8th-graders were the big shots and were allowed “open campus” for lunch. That meant we had just enough time to scurry down to the lunch counter on the town square if we really hurried.  A hungry twelve year-old boy can wolf down three chili dogs amazingly fast. They were 25 cents each. 

High School: Junk food from the snack bar, sitting with your best friends. Once driver’s licenses were obtained at sixteen, we’d peel out with Led Zeppelin blaring from 8-track tape players. I have to admit that beer was consumed on occasion for the sole purpose of being naughty.

College: Dorm room cafeteria food was actually pretty good. Or, we’d hang out at our favorite burger joint, Grins, which is still there and where I still like to meet my best friend from college, Madeline, whenever I’m in Texas. We used to drink several pitchers of cheap beer and skip class. Now, we’ll have, maybe, a Dos Equis. We’ve both completed graduate studies in theology and she’s a hospital chaplain.  I remind the waitresses that we used to eat there thirty-four years ago. I’m sure they’re bored with it. 

During my twenties: I worked in a bank and would bring my lunch to eat with thirty women in the employee break room, glued to the TV, watching All My Children. I can still remember everyone crying when Jenny got blown up on the jet ski. Good times. 

In the monastery: Lunch was a simple affair, eaten in silence while one of the monks read aloud; usually passages from saints’ biographies. Once when I was reading, I came upon a passage about some saint who was mortifying himself by consuming a diseased person’s pus. I skipped that sentence (as if anyone was actually listening anyway). 

Now: I keep promising myself that I’m going to save money by bringing a healthy lunch from home. I never do. Sushi from the food court or lo mein from Panda Express are far too easy. I eat in my office and blog.  

Things have, indeed, changed from the days of moosey-cow and mangled milk cartons.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012


For the past four nights, citizens of Clintonville, Wisconsin (pop. 4,763) have been baffled by loud, trembling booming sounds that occur only during the night. Some of the exploding sounds have even caused cracks to appear in walls and basement foundations. Insurance companies refuse to cover the damage until a cause is identified.

The booming sounds are reportedly spreading to towns south of Clintonville.

I love mysteries like this!

I looked up Clintonville on the map and it would be an easy drive from Chicago. If I wasn’t so busy this weekend, I would be up there to spend a couple of nights. I’m thinking of cancelling a Friday night dinner engagement in order to go up there. 

So, what do you think it is?

My guess—it’s the military. It’s always the military. As obscenely large as our military is, they’re up to something. 

Remember the mysterious lights that appeared over Phoenix?

It was the military.

The UFO that crashed in the small town of Kecksburg, Pennsylvania back in the 1960s?

It was the military. 

The Loch Ness Monster is probably some military experiment on an eel that went awry.

But still, I want to spend the night in Clintonville, Wisconsin to be a part of this. If I go, I’ll be sure to report from behind the Cheddar Curtain.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I’m a coffee drinker; always have been. I probably starting drinking it regularly around thirteen years old and never looked back. But my coffee drinking habits have certainly changed over the years. 

My first taste of coffee was by mistake. My dear grandmother, Budgie, having lived through the Depression, hated to see anything go to waste. She would pour the cold, leftover coffee from the percolator over ice and enjoy a glass of iced coffee – and this was long before it became the popular Starbucks beverage it is today.

She drank it black, so it looked just like a glass of Coca Cola. If one of us grandchildren happened by, she’d sweetly offer, “Would you like a swig of my Coke?” Of course, we’d gulp it down and it was bitter and horrible and she’d just laugh and laugh. All six of us grandchildren have fun memories of Budgie’s “coke joke.”   

Do any of you remember the little glass cream servers that restaurants used many years ago?

They accompanied every cup of coffee for years. My parents drank their coffee black, so my younger brother and I just loved to gulp down that tiny glass of milk when we were kids. Best. Milk. Ever. 

By age thirteen, I was hooked on coffee, so Budgie would kindly include a cup of coffee with my breakfast every morning. Having remembered the horrible bitter stuff, I’ve always preferred my coffee with a little milk and sugar.  

Coffee was my friend all through college; from late-night studying to after-hours breakfasts when the discos closed at 2 a.m. 

I love a dark, strong brew. Before French and Italian dark roasts were available everywhere, I favored the French Market coffee with chicory. I still keep it on hand for a bit of nostalgia.
I really have an aversion to these flavored coffees, like hazelnut or vanilla. I like coffee. If I want hazelnut or vanilla-flavored stuff, I’ll get ice cream, thank you. 

Then, Starbucks entered our lives. Holy Mother of God, nothing else will do now. 

I lived in Toronto when Starbucks came onto the coffee scene. At every subway station in downtown Toronto, there’s a Starbucks. You come out of the station, boom, there’s your ‘Bucks. That’s brilliant marketing. Good Canadians. 

Have you noticed that we’ve easily become a bilingual nation now that Starbucks is here? Just listen to the customers in line giving their requests to the baristas.
It’s pretty amazing:  
“I’ll have a venti red-eye soy no-whip half-caf skinny frappè macchiato, please.”

Soon, immigrants will have to pass a Starbuckese proficiency exam in order gain citizenship. 

I really feel sorry for the elderly folks who just want a cup of coffee.  It’s so sad:

“I’ll have a medium coffee, please.”


“No. Coffee.”

“What size? Tall, Grandè, or Venti?”

“Um, a medium one.”

“Oh, that’s Grandè. Do you want blonde, Pike Place or bold roast?”

“Um, a medium one. Extra medium.”

“Oh. That's Pike Place. Do you want room?”


“For milk. Do you want room?”

Tears well up in their eyes. 
“I just want a cup of coffee. Please.”

I always have an urge to step in as a translator for our elderly friends. I feel sorry for them. 

I’ve learned to rattle off my order in fluent Starbuckese, though. 
“I’ll have a Grandè bold with a little room.”

The baristas almost seem disappointed with such a simple order.


Monday, March 19, 2012


Today, I made an offer on a condo I hope to purchase. Quite frankly, the whole process of finding and buying a condo is fraught with so many distressing twists and turns -- moving back into a monastery seems pretty appealing right now. 

The seller needed a pre-approval from my lender in order to move forward. No problem. I emailed Tom, my broker, who quickly PDF’d the pre-approval to me and my realtor. Then, my realtor PDF’d a purchase agreement to me to sign, which I did, and I PDF’d it back. It all happened within thirty minutes. 

I got to thinking how technology has made this process so much easier than it used to be. Let’s say it was 1962; a mere fifty years ago. Here’s how this morning’s process would have taken place:

I would have had my secretary dial the number to First National Bank. Being a Monday morning, the line would have been busy the first few tries. Finally, my secretary would reach the switchboard operator who would have patched my call to my loan officer’s secretary, Miss Smith. She would have taken down my information and arranged a time for me to speak to Mr. Anderson, my loan officer. 

At the appointed time, Miss Smith would have dialed my number and reached my secretary, Falkner (ha!). He would have connected me to Miss Smith who would have then announced my call to Mr. Anderson and connected our call. I would have told Mr. Anderson that I needed a pre-approval for a real estate purchase. He would happily oblige, but not before making some chic-chat, assuming I had a wife and kids and asking how they were doing at which time Falkner would have interrupted with the news that he and I would be late for our badminton game.  

Mr. Anderson would have buzzed Miss Smith on his intercom and requested that she go down to the bank’s file room and bring my file to him. An hour later, after having lunch with the other ladies in the secretarial pool, she would arrive with a manila folder after stopping by the accounting department to verify the balances in my checking and savings accounts. 

After verifying my credit worthiness from my file, Mr. Anderson would ask Miss Smith to “take a letter” which he would relay to her while she copied in shorthand. Miss Smith would then transcribe her shorthand, type the pre-approval letter in triplicate using carbon paper, placing one copy in my file, mailing the cc (carbon copy – “cc” -- see?) to me and placing the original in a stack for Mr. Anderson to sign at the end of the day. 

Once Mr. Anderson signed it, Miss Smith would type the envelope with the condo owner’s address and place the pre-approval letter in the outgoing mail after finishing her cigarette.

Meanwhile, my realtor was having his secretary, Miss Johnston, type up a purchase agreement. . .  

That’s how it all would have gone down fifty years ago. Can you imagine?? I don’t know how anyone got anything done at all. I have no business complaining about this process. 

The thing is, I actually learned how to type those business letters using carbon paper in my typing class. (Actually, I took Typing I and II and 10-key by touch in Office Education). 

If I had taken shorthand, I could have had Falkner’s job.