Too Soon

The calls started about three weeks ago.  They called my home number and my cell phone.  They were relentless.  Then I began getting the mailers and postcards.  Soon, it was the TV commercials.  Hateful commercials.  I just wasn’t ready for it to start up again so soon.

It’s an election.  Again.  Seriously, an election on March 7th.

Didn’t they think this could be just too much too soon?  Haven’t we had enough?  We’re a democracy of course, but couldn’t they have scheduled it for say, June?  They could have said the machines are down for repairs or something.

There’s a county measure on homelessness; city propositions on cannabis taxation, enforcement and permits; another city prop on harbor department leases and one on a building moratorium.  The mayor is up for reelection and there are the city attorney, controller and city council seats up for grabs.  Only in Los Angeles can you find people with names like Diane “Pinky” Harman or David “Zuma Dogg” Saltsburg running for mayor.  She’s a retired educator/actor (of course) and he’s a community activist (of course).

The most contentious is the member of the board of education for the Los Angeles Unified School District.  I don’t have kids, but will obviously vote because well, as they say, kids are our future.  And lately, the future has been looking a bit bleak.  Not four horsemen of the apocalypse bleak as I see written on Facebook daily, but ordinary, everyday bleak.  Like the other day when I went to the store and the cashier said I owed $7.36 cents.  I handed her a $10 bill but then I said “oh wait, I’ve got a penny.”  The look of horror from the cashier was, well, priceless.  I was truly rooting for her deep down inside and I knew she could figure out the change if she really wanted to.  The look of horror quickly changed though. I could now see the bubble over her head which read “you bitch!”  A moment passed and the lady behind me gave her the answer.

We live in a great country, but our education system is extremely flawed.  You see it every day.  Kids seem more interested in Snapchat than civics.  If they even teach civics at all anymore.  And basic math like providing change — is that taught? (obviously not) What about life skills you need when you get out into the world?  Wouldn’t it be great if they could teach a class on budgeting, filing your own taxes and how to negotiate buying a car or a house?

When I was in high school there was a class only open to seniors called Contemporary Problems.  Mr. Herman was the teacher and his classes were packed.  He would have interesting people come in to speak to the class on what they did, how they got into their profession and how they were making a difference in the community.  On days when he didn’t have guest speakers we talked about what was going on in the world.  He asked us questions, asked us our opinions and asked us to back those opinions up with facts.  Our only “tests” were things like – write an essay on your meaning of life…or death…or whatever.  It was engaging and interesting and yes it was before we could hold the information of the world on a little computer in our hands and find out everything in a split second.  We had to think.  We had to use the gray matter in our brains.

It was also before we were completely bombarded with information from more than just TV, radio or newspapers.  We could hear or read what was happening, but we could also turn it off or put it down.  Now we can’t.  As I sit here and type this, my cell phone chimes, my iPad beeps and my computer scrolls messages into sight.  We are distracted by nonsense.  We are distracted by shiny objects.  We are distracted by reality TV, cute kittens, and Instagram posts.

Full disclosure, I’m an Independent who voted for Hillary.  Like many, it wasn’t because I really wanted her to be president, but more so that I didn’t want Trump to become Commander-in-Chief.  And I liked her “Love Trumps Hate” thing.  Although I didn’t really hear what either candidates platforms were since they just spent a huge amount of time slinging shit at each other.

Then like most people, I was more than surprised with the outcome of the election.  I watched as the reporters and pollsters squirmed, refusing to call the results in many states until most precincts returns were counted. It was hard to watch, so I turned it off at 10:30pm Pacific time, hoping for some crazy turn of events while I slept.  I awoke to the realization that reality TV show host Donald J. Trump would become our next president.   For better or for worse, this could only happen in America.

I found that my biggest disappointment that day after the election results was with the press and the pollsters.  How could they have gotten it all SO wrong? Where were they conducting these polls? Of the over 231 million eligible voters, why did only about 138 million of them actually cast a vote?  Why did over 93 million people sit this one out?   On Monday it seemed like a fait accompli that Hillary would win.  By Wednesday, at least two close friends told me they had been sobbing all morning and voices of a coming armageddon cried across social media.  I went on with my day — my thought is that it’s not going to last forever, just the next four years.  The pendulum has to swing in the other direction now and again.  If it didn’t we’d be communists and nobody wants that.

Over the next few weeks with the holidays and New Year approaching I started hearing such hate speak for the “idiots,” “red states,” and “middle-American’s”  that voted for Trump.  It was nasty and vitriolic speech aimed at people they knew nothing about.  “Hillbillies” and “red-necks” they were called.  So much for “Love Trumps Hate.”  So I checked the internet and found the breakdown of counties on Politico for the state I’m originally from and the one I currently live in.

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New York State was a big surprise — mostly Republican with blue around the major cities, except part of New York City where Staten Island even voted Republican.  And Manhattan, Queens and two other counties in the state which are in light green only show partial results (I got this off Politico, so I’m not sure why it hasn’t been updated at this point).

California was less of a surprise, except for how many people actually voted.  A little over 7.3 million voted for Hillary while about 3.9 million voted for Trump.  But there are 17.9 million registered voters in California.    So where were the other 6.7 million voters that day?

The way folks were talking it sounded like only people in the middle of the country voted for him, but as you can see this is not the case.  I knew several people who voted for Trump and while I disagree with them, I don’t think they are idiots or crazy or racist people.  I realized that the extremes on the left and the right have become so polarized and are unable to understand that as American’s we are each allowed our individual beliefs.  The extremists have gone so far that they belittle, berate and boycott those who disagree with them.    But we can agree to disagree, can’t we?  We can still respect each others points of view even if we don’t agree with them.

What am I looking for in our next presidential election?  I’m looking for a strong MODERATE – Democrat or Republican – not the extremists who dig their heels in and refuse to compromise.  Not the politicians who stomp their feet like children because they point across the aisle and yell, ‘but you let them do it, why can’t we?’  They sound like they’re in kindergarten.   I want a candidate that is not told by the party it’s “his or her time” — give us the candidate that is the best for the job and has the best shot at winning.  Black, white, asian, latino, male, female, gay or straight — I DON’T CARE, as long as they are up to the task!  I’m looking for someone who won’t sling shit everywhere — I want someone to tell me what they CAN DO and NOT what their opponent CAN’T DO.  Is any of this too much to ask?  Can the moderates all get together to create a new party?  We can call it Moderates United Against Hate — MUAH!

I don’t know whether it’s just too soon from the last election or the fact that I’ve been binge watching Scandal, but I’m tired of politics.  I’m tired of elections. But I’m mostly tired of the hate.

In the meantime, I will vote on Tuesday, March 7th…it’s my civic duty as a citizen of these United States.

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YOUR ONLY RESOLUTION FOR 2017

If 2016 has taught you anything, it is to create a will.

2016 has been a tough year, especially for musicians and actors.  From David Bowie to Prince, George Michael and Carrie Fisher, they all passed away too soon.  The scary thing is that many of these notables who died were only in their 50s and 60s.  No one expects to die when you think there’s at least 30 or 40 years ahead of you.  The thing is, we all want to live to a ripe old age, preferably over 85.  But that’s not in the cards for everyone.

I don’t want to be Captain Obvious here but, WE ALL DIE.  Death is a natural part of Life.  We just don’t want to talk or think about our mortality.  We still feel it’s ghoulish and if you don’t talk or think about it, then it won’t happen. BUT IT DOES.  I’ve said this many times over, why is it that we plan for weddings, births and anniversaries, but pay no attention to our death?

Doesn’t it seem wrong to leave your funeral or memorial service to some grieving family members and friends to throw together in a few days?  Wouldn’t you feel better now, writing all of your wishes down so that others can have a sense of what you wanted?

Prince didn’t even have a will.  His net worth was over $300 Million.  $300 MILLION!  It’s irresponsible to his family and the fortune he amassed through hard work and creativity to not have had a will in place.  His estate is in probate and the State of Minnesota courts appoint a special administrator who will direct his business interests figuring out what Prince owned and value each property.  It will be the State which determines who receives those assets.  THE STATE WILL DETERMINE HIS WISHES!

We live in a society where people want to be in control of every aspect of their lives, yet no one seems to plan for their death.  According to a 2015 Harris Poll, 64% of American’s don’t have a will in place!  Do you really want the government to determine your wishes?  Even if you don’t have the means to hire an estate lawyer, you can log onto Legal Zoom and create a boilerplate will.  Have something in place!

This should be your #1 resolution for 2017. Stop putting it off…you’ll feel relief when you create your will.  You walk out of your estate lawyers office feeling a bit lighter and something you didn’t even think you were worrying about (which you were) is off your plate and done.  Why leave it to your loved ones to have to deal with?

So your only resolution for 2017 is to create a will.  Then add on for good measure how you would like to be remembered — whether it is describing your ideal memorial service or an ornate funeral, put it down in writing so people know.  Do you want to be cremated?  Do you want to be buried?  If so, where?  Did you buy a plot somewhere?  Put that down in writing so they know.  What are your favorite flowers, music, cocktails, poems, food…put it all in a document for your final celebration.

Take control of how your LIFE and DEATH should be remembered.  You are the only one that can control that, so get it together now!

A Happy, Healthy New Year to you all!

Hunting the S-A-L-E

 

SALE is my favorite four letter word.  My parents were raised during the Great Depression and teenagers during World War 2 so I often heard about rationing and how people made due with what they had.  They rarely bought something new, so my parents raised us with that mindset as well.  If it’s broken then you fix it…you don’t throw it away and buy a new one.  We were up-cycling before up-cycling became trendy!

I learned from a young age that yard sales, garage sales and estate sales were places to find incredible deals.  Antiques were the main objective for my mom, so I looked for things with markings like Made in Occupied Japan,  Limoges, 925 (the silver stamp), and other unusual symbols which could be worth more than the 25 cent sticker on them.  I remember my mom found a small table cart with sides that folded down.  It looked just like a mini version of our dining room table so mom bargained it down to $15.  When we got it home, I noticed a small drawer in the back of the cart and opened it to find 6 beautiful dipping bowls detailed with gold leaf and marked Made in Occupied Japan.  Jackpot!

My sister Caroline has been the most successful in finding amazing pieces.  She bought the most hideous $10 lamps I’ve ever seen, and found out later they were worth $150!  When I was moving into my first college apartment, Caroline gave me a box of glassware she picked up at a garage sale for $5 and a rug she found on the side of the road for free.  Later when I moved out of that apartment I sold the glassware for $15 and the free rug for $20.  A few years ago I bought an antique breakfront from a friend for $400.  When I moved and realized it was out of place in my new apartment I sold it on Craigslist for $600!

My friend Betsy likes to say that I’m thrifty, but I really hate that word.  It sounds like I’m cheap, which I’m not.  I just love finding a deal.  It’s like a game figuring out how much can be saved.  I learned early on that many things can be negotiated, and not just at yard sales.

Many stores markup items three or many more times from their wholesale prices.  So when you see a sale item, the store is still making a huge margin.  Did you know that mattresses are marked up almost 45% (Tempurpedic is the highest with a 60-70% markup!).  And furniture generally has an 80% markup?!  Seriously negotiate when buying these things!

My cable TV, telephone, internet and home security system are all bundled together.  A few months ago the bill had creeped up to $270 a month!  So I called the cable company and asked for their RETENTION DEPARTMENT — they are the people who want to keep their customers, and keep them happy.  I told the nice lady that I received an offer from one of their competitors for about $100 less a month (I really wasn’t planning on switching since it’s such a pain in the ass).  Within a few minutes of negotiating and looking into what I no longer needed, my bill had dropped to $212.  A few weeks later the cable company had merged to become another company, I contacted them again and found out my new pricing was now $187!  They’re still making money since cable TV programming is marked up about 600%.

The great thing about the internet is the transparency it provides in finding all of this stuff out.  Here are just a few items I found and their astronomical mark ups:

  • Airline Tickets 388%
  • Designer Jeans 260%
  • College Textbooks 200%
  • Eyeglass Frames 500-1000%
  • Restaurant Wine 400%
  • Text Messages 6000% (yes, six thousand percent!)
  • Printer Ink 300%
  • Movie Popcorn 900%
  • Bottled Water 2000%

They even get you when you’re dead.  Caskets are marked up a whopping 350% which could make anyone flatline!

I understand the need to markup items — rent, labor, utilities and other costs must be paid in order to cover your expenses.  But 6000% for text messages is truly fleecing the consumer.

Now when I shop, I truly see the high costs in everything.  This is why I LOVE shopping at The Dollar Tree and 99 Cent Only stores.  Yeah, I know, you’re thinking ‘oh it’s just leftover crap’…but it’s not.  Here’s what I buy at these stores:

  • Gift Bags — in a card store or Target they run from $3 and up. Sometimes the Dollar Tree Store even has 3 for $1 packaged together.  Great for the holidays!  And you can get a package of tissue paper for $1 to stuff into the bags. A package…not 2 sheets!
  • Paper Toweling – just bought a 6 pack for $2.99, that’s 50 cents a roll and it works just like the more expensive brands, cause it’s made of the same thing — uh, paper.
  • Holiday Decorations — seriously so cheap…and you’re using them only once a year…
  • Batteries — they’re not the best brands, but hey they work!
  • Baking goods — baking soda (usually 2 for $1), baking powder, graham cracker crust, etc…
  • Spices and Herbs — how many times have you gone out to buy an ingredient for a special meal you were cooking only to find that one spice cost $6 at the grocery store and you only used it once?
  • Envelopes — mailing and even padded ones…yeah $1…
  • Cards — not the greatest, but when you need a sympathy or get well card this is your store.
  • Cleaning Products — it may not be called Windex, but the Glassex works exactly the same and it’s made of water, alcohol and a few other chemicals that I can’t spell…

Finding bargains, sales and deals isn’t difficult, you just have to look for them.  When I was a kid my mom would say to look for the big S-A-L-E sign as soon as you walk into a store.  I do this everywhere I go…and it has saved me tons of money.  Once you do it enough, it becomes a habit.  You become the hunter and no longer are the prey.

 

The Great Time Suck

 

I was flipping through 200 channels with nothing to interest me when I decided to watch 30 ROCK on Netflix, mainly because it was the last smart and funny comedy on television.  After an episode or five, I started noticing old things like flip phones, tube TV’s and VHS tapes.  It was odd because I thought this was a recent show, then I checked the credits and was shocked to see 30 ROCK began in 2006.

WHERE DID THE LAST TEN YEARS GO?!

Over the past few months I’ve been feeling like time has been moving at warp speed.  Think Indy 500 fast.  I’m gobsmacked that we’re half way through October when New Years Eve feels like it was just a few weeks ago, and not approaching in just a few weeks!  I also feel good that I utilized the word gobsmacked…it’s terribly underused.  Back to the fleeting passage of time…

I never thought I would get to the age where I would say “time flies” but I am truly beginning to think that we’re on some interplanetary cocaine rocket.  When I was a kid, my mom told me that life was like an hourglass — at the beginning the sand slowly trickles down, but then somewhere in the middle the sand starts to zip through the glass.  I AM NOW AT THE HOUR WHERE THE SAND IS SPEEDING DOWN AND IT’S FREAKING ME OUT!

I’ve been trying to pinpoint the reason for this hasty movement and I keep coming back to one thing.  Technology.

We are constantly looking at our smart phones, tablets and computers waiting for the next email, text, blog post (yeah, I know it’s been a while), and cute cat video.  We keep looking forward and never stop to take in the moment we’re experiencing now.  Technology is the biggest time suck of our lives.  Though wasn’t it supposed to free time up for us?

Surely we can put down our phones, especially when we’re dining.  Nothing bothers me more than seeing a table full of people looking at their phones and not speaking with each other.  Let’s take a selfie of us having an awesome time then give me a few minutes while I post it on all of my social media platforms and ignore you.  What has happened to us as a society?  We’ve become glazed over anti-social imbeciles.

I went out for a walk today and saw several people staring at their phones.  So when I got home I Googled “how many people die while walking and texting.”  Here’s what it said in a recent USA TODAY article:  A 10-percent spike in pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of last year – the largest year-to-year increase in such deaths in four decades – may well be fueled by America’s increasing distraction with mobile devices.

Technology kills.  Stop and smell the roses before someone has to place them on top of your casket because you JUST HAD to read that emoji filled text while crossing 47th St!

Time is fleeting.  You especially realize this when someone you love has died.  You wish for more moments with them. If you’re lucky you can hold onto a lot of wonderful memories but even then you wonder why you couldn’t have had more.  Instead you were rushing from one place to another trying to cram as much in as possible to say I did this or did that on Facebook today.

Then there’s the time between now and Nov 8…Election Day.  Why does that time move at a glacial pace?  I can’t wait until it’s over.  It can’t come soon enough!  But I’ll save that rant for another time in a future blog post…

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Baggage, Labels and the Waste of a Small Personal Item

I realize as I exit the taxi that my large spinner bag has a flat.  I’m bummed that it’s come to the end of the road for the Samsonite but know that it’s been a tough friend to me as it travelled several times around the globe.  I drag it through Nassau International Airport and manage to get it to the check-in counter.  Now it’s someone else’s problem until I reach LA.

Sitting by the gate I peer out the window to see the conveyer belt take the bag up into the underbelly of the plane.  It gets on first, I assume because it needs some special assistance.  Poor baby…at least it’s being treated well and went on vacation before it is sent to the luggage dump.

This blue bag had seen Paris, Bali, New York, London and Hawaii along with many other destinations.  I named him Spin, because he was obviously a spinner.  Now, he is officially Curt, for his short bursts of stop and go, well, curtness.  He was purchased where I get all of my bags…Tuesday Morning, but it was actually a Wednesday afternoon on my lunch hour when I first spotted him.  He was just the right size and a nice shade of dark blue.  Not black like all of the other bags, yet not that obnoxious royal blue that you see wheeling around the airport craving attention.

I once bought a 5 piece Samsonite set at Macy’s.  Apparently it was a deal for $600.  I booked a flight and checked the large piece through to JFK.  Waiting at the gate, I was hoping for an upgrade so when my name was called I excitedly made my way up to the desk smiling. A stern agent greeted me with a statement “your checked bag was found with a bullet inside it.”  Dumfounded I asked if it had been shot.

“No, it had a bullet in one of the zippered compartments.”  Then she rattled on about how firearms and ammunition are not allowed on planes.  I know, I protested as I said it wasn’t mine and I don’t own any weapons or ammunition of any kind.  My face flushed.  She looked at me as though I was Annie Oakley and there was nothing more for me to refute.  There was no upgrade for me and I had to slink back to row 33 unable to comprehend how a bullet made it’s way into my bag.  Was there someone walking around Macy’s thinking, ‘oh let me fuck up someone’s trip by placing a bullet inside their luggage’?

I only have one piece left from that set and Mable is starting to show her age.  She’s a carry-on roller bag with a ton of space.  I get stopped periodically asking where I got it, but they don’t make Mable anymore.  She’s covered more ground than any of my bags and she plays defense really well.  Outside of the US, especially in Europe I find that people like to stand very close to one another to the point of breathing on me.  I hate it.  They invade my personal space and they seem unaware they’re even doing it.  I like my American wide open space so Mable helps me immeasurably.  As I stand in line (or is it On line? or the Queue?), I get about two feet from the person in front of me and stop, meanwhile Mable is stretched out at least three feet behind me.  She is protecting my personal space.  A few people have kicked her (accidentally of course) or almost tripped because they see me so FAR, FAR away from them.  Mable is my bodyguard and I hope she can roll along for a few more years.

After the $600 Samsonite bullet set I learned never to buy expensive baggage.  When you travel thousands of miles each year, pretty luggage is going to become ugly very quickly.  I have a cute carry-on set — Longchamps in powder blue with a brown leather trim.  It was a gift and it has a 21” carry-on with a small bag that slips around the handle on top.  It’s so super cute that flight attendants compliment me on the set!  Or at least it was super cute.  I once got on a small plane where the larger piece had to be checked at the gate.  I landed in Phoenix and waited in the jetway for the elegant Ava to be brought up from the bowls of the plane.  When she was placed in front of me I could hardly recognize her, I thought she’d gone on a bender.  She was scuffed and stained.  Her glamour had faded.  She was now Charlize Theron in Monster.

I learned a long time ago never to buy branded bags.  You know the ones — TUMI, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, etc…There was a saying I heard when I was a kid, “handsome is as handsome does.”  Well the named, pretty luggage rarely does much except cause trouble.  A woman I once knew had a large TUMI bag that she took on a 4 day trip to Cabo San Lucas.  This bag came up to my waist and could accommodate at least two large American sized children.  She was going away for FOUR DAYS, not FOURTEEN! So she emptied her closet inside Barbie, including jewelry (yes, jewelry…that’s another story, I just can’t) and checked it to Mexico.  Barbie was never seen or heard from again.  No ransom, nothing.  All the woman got was $400 from the airline and a few neon t-shirts from Cabo.

The label thing really irks me.  Companies pay millions of dollars each year advertising their brand on billboards, TV, radio, the web and in magazines and newspapers, yet someone will spend an exorbitant amount of money on an item emblazoned with LVLVLVLVLVLVLV all over it.  YOU ARE ADVERTISING FOR A BRAND, YET YOU ARE PAYING FOR IT!!!!  Shouldn’t they be paying you???  This drives me bonkers.  I sat on my connecting flight in Miami and watched as Calvin Klein, T-Mobile and Nike all walked past me.  Did the guy wearing the T-Mobile shirt really have nothing else to wear?  He couldn’t find a nice button down in his closet?  Or is he heading home and that’s what he actually packed for the trip?  I admit to having a promotional item or two, but I can’t wear a t-shirt or carry bags advertising in such a garish way.

My black backpack has a small Spider-Man head on it.  It’s understated, not overpowering and it’s a utilitarian piece I have come to rely on with its deep zippered compartments and a padded gut for my laptop.  When my friend and former colleague Ann-Elizabeth, who has impeccable taste, had chosen it for a promo item, I knew I had to have Spidey.  Periodically a true geek will come up to me grinning with white spit around the corners of his mouth to tell me he likes my bag.  At least he had the courage to speak to a girl I think to myself as I thank him.

I also noticed on this trip, where I was on four different planes and in three airports that there are an awful lot of people walking through the terminals with their pillows.  Not the travel neck pillow, but the actual pillow from their beds.  I won’t even get into the disgust factor of placing your pillow on a plane and the God awful germs that will goose step into the stuffing.  My skin crawls thinking about it as it is placed on the conveyor belt in the security check.  No, for me it’s the absolute WASTE of bringing something on board with you.  Remember, you get one small bag and one “personal” item to carry-on.  Why on earth would you choose a pillow?!  Especially one that you should never use again!!!

With Spidey on my back and Mable protecting me, I’ve got everything I need, including a neck pillow.  Computer, iPad, phone, Kindle, sweatshirt, make-up, pens, papers, passport, protein bar, magazines, glasses (reading and sun), you name it, I got it.  I can’ t imagine giving Spidey up for a germ ridden pillow!

The baggage we carry around says a lot about us.  Sometimes we hold onto it for too long, even when it doesn’t serve us well.  It’s label becomes meaningless when the wheels no longer work.  More or less, less is more.  Sturdy, strong and simple is all you need in this life.

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