Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanks a Lot, John Metz

Back in the early 80’s, I left a violent marriage and was on my own with a six year old and two part time jobs. I responded to this change in my circumstances by becoming depressed, although how deeply depressed I only recognized when I finally began to feel better. There were days that I actually got through in ten minute increments. I’d tell myself I’d get up, take a shower and then decide whether to get dressed. I’d tell myself to get dressed and then decide whether I was going to go to work. Then I’d tell myself just get in the car and head for work and then decide whether to stay or tell them I was sick and go back home.

As you might imagine, this was not a good way to live.

My very smart son reacted to the break-up of his family and a depressed mom by having trouble in school. When his troubles were compounded by the death of one of his best friends, he began leaving the classroom and sitting outside “to think about Bear”.

During this depressed and gloomy time, I used to take the two of us to the nearby Denny’s for dinner from time to time. They had (maybe still have) an extremely inexpensive children’s menu, but even better, they had some of the kindest waitresses I have ever known.

Apparently these women could recognize a troubled soul. When I came in and my son immediately began wandering around with the excuse he was going to the restroom, I would hear, “Oh, he’s all right; now what can I get you to drink?” Whenever I needed mothering, I’d dig up stray pennies from under the couch cushions and head there.

One afternoon, I had a parent teacher’s conference before lunchtime. I took one look at my son’s report card and burst into tears. He was so obviously struggling, and I felt like it was all my fault.

After the conference, I went to Denny’s. I ordered a sandwich, I forget what kind, but whatever it was, they were out. I burst into tears again.

“Let me get you something else, no charge,” the waitress said. I tried to explain that I wasn’t crying over the food, but she refused to take payment for my lunch.

My life eventually improved. I got help for myself and my son, I met my husband, my son graduated from high school with honors and from college and has a good paying job he enjoys. When I have to think back on that dark, dark time, the waitresses at Denny’s are one of the few bright spots.

And now John Metz had to go spoil all that. John Metz is the owner of several Denny’s franchises who planned to add a five percent “Obamacare” surcharge onto his customers’ tabs, and suggested that maybe the customers could deduct that amount from his employees’ tips. 

"If I leave the prices the same, but say on the menu that there is a 5 percent surcharge for Obamacare, customers have two choices. They can either pay it and tip 15 or 20 percent, or if they really feel so inclined, they can reduce the amount of tip they give to the server, who is the primary beneficiary of Obamacare," Metz told The Huffington Post. "Although it may sound terrible that I'm doing this, it's the only alternative. I've got to pass the cost on to the consumer."
This did not go well for him. Unfortunately, it also did not go well for other Denny’s owners, even the ones who had no intentions of mistreating their employees or customers. Metz is a one man wrecking ball.
He even managed to wreck some of my cherished memories. Thanks a bunch.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


This year was the first time in a long time we haven’t had an invitation to M’s house for Thanksgiving. M had for years been holding Thanksgiving for her extended family plus friends like us who did not have family nearby and the occasional stranded student. I’m not sure if this year she decided to cut back, if some younger relative has now taken over the big family feast, or whether she just got tired of our faces, but I am grateful for all the past years’ hospitality.

So after weighing the pros and cons of cooking at home versus eating out we decided to drive down the river to Nottaway Plantation in Plaquemine Parish and have Thanksgiving dinner there. Back when my late mother-in-law Eloise lived in Baton Rouge, we would take her there for Thanksgiving dinner.

The reason that we chose Nottaway is that in those days they had menu service (a limited fixed price menu) rather than a buffet, and Eloise did not do well with buffets, as big, bustling spaces made her dizzy. The grounds were pretty, as was the drive there. Nottaway is on the west bank of the Mississippi River, about 45 minutes from Baton Rouge. Every year we would remind Eloise that the restaurant is a 45 minute drive away. Every year as soon as we crossed the river she would ask John if he was sure he knew where he was going. We adopted that cheerful air of false patience that one does with elderly annoying relatives. “She’s getting older,” I counseled myself, “Naturally she is forgetful.”

It wasn’t until several years later that  realized I may have been making a big mistake. By that time, a retirement home was not sufficient for Eloise and she moved to an assisted living facility near her daughter in Tennessee. We visited at Christmas, and all of us picked up Eloise to take her to church with us. As we got outside, she turned to my brother-in-law and asked, “Do you want me to drive?”

The look on my sister-in-law’s face was priceless. She muttered something under her breath about her mother thinking she could drive. I thought to myself, “You mean you really think she is serious? She’s joking, for Pete’s sake.”

And then I flashed back to all those trips to Nottaway, when my MIL asked every year if we were lost. Maybe I was the clueless one. Maybe she was joking, for Pete’s sake. Okay, maybe not the best of jokes and maybe a little repetitive, but why did I ever take it so seriously?

It is a shame the way we stereotype the elderly. It is easy to forget that aging bodies contain the same variety of personality that younger ones do. I have a dry sense of humor myself, and frequently find myself thinking, “How could you think I was serious about that?” So why didn’t I recognize the same thing in Eloise?

And now I am getting old myself, so maybe the joke will be on me.

Meanwhile, as we drove south along Highway 1 approaching the city of Plaquemine, my husband asked, “Are you sure we didn’t pass it? Have you seen a sign?”

“It’s on the other side of Plaquemine,” I reassured him, but reached for a map just to be sure. Just then, we drove by a sign that said “Nottaway Plantation, 9 miles ahead.”

“See that? Nine more miles. Check your odometer,” I advised, as I refolded the map. “Oh, and you are definitely your mother’s child.”

Thanksgiving, 2012

A few of the many things to be thankful for, this year:

Neither of my cats has wandered off and got lost, like last year.

My family up north survived Super-storm Sandy, although my sister’s in-laws’ house was destroyed and they are still living with her.

My husband lucked into a part time job that he hadn’t even applied for (a former co-worker recommended him) and is saving up for new cars for us.

That a new job for him means saving up for new cars rather than finally being able to afford groceries.

My son should be home in a month for Christmas.

My mangy Christmas cactus is still hanging in (although the poinsettia that looked so promising last spring died of thirst while we were on vacation).

Although Hurricane Isaac ruined my plans to attend a friend’s wedding in Denver, I have friends scattered around the country who really did want to see me and were sorry when they didn't.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Since John and I hold season tickets to the LSU women’s gymnastic team meets, we get invited every year to an event at which the team members are introduced. There’s an explanation of the scoring system used at meets and usually food.

This year the event was held in the fieldhouse where the team practices, and they held a mini-meet to demonstrate scoring and introduce their new routines.

The practice facility is decorated with inspirational slogans, such as “WIN: Whatever Is Necessary” and “Who out there FEARS us?” As I looked for a place to sit, I passed by a small bulletin board/white board combo with “Tigers to the TOP” written on it, a letter from Wheels to Succeed thanking the team for helping out at a fundraiser, and two newspaper clippings.

The sign above the clippings says, "Happy people don't have the best of everything, They just make the best of everything."

The clippings were not, as I first thought, about the team. They were stories about Malala Yousufzai, the young Pakastani activist who had been shot. 

Gymnastics is an odd team sport. Every member of the “team” is actually competing against each other as much as against the opposing team at the meet. Furthermore, each team is competing against every other team in the country at each meet. Teams are ranked according to their scores, so it is possible to lose a head to head competition against one team and still move up in the rankings over several other teams. The LSU Fighting Tigers compete at a high level in college gymnastics, having been to a Super Six in the last several years.

Yet you can’t see a better example of sports etiquette than at a meet. Team members cheer for each other, even though they are also competing against each other. They offer comfort for a team member who falls, praise for one who does well, and at the end of the meet, they congratulate (with a hug)the members of the opposing team who win events. I’ve seen gymnasts look disappointed, but I’ve never seen one sulk.

So it doesn’t surprise me that these hard working, competitive young women can stretch their idea of team to include one more young tiger, fighting for her life and for all women, halfway around the world.

Friday, November 16, 2012

That Could Have Been Me

There is been a lot of talk since the election about how Mitt Romney’s supporters, some of them anyway,  seem to have been blindsided by his loss. Dick Morris, Peggy Noonan, and George Will among others were predicting a Romney victory, possibly even an electoral college landslide. (Well, they were half right.) Right-leaning pundits were un-skewing polls. The day after the election, the term “epistemic closure” began slipping into conversations that were also peppered with variants of “yo’ mama”.

I must admit, I started out feeling smug and superior to those righties who had posted how they were going to watch the election results on MS-NBC to watch liberal heads explode as the results came in, kind of the way I felt smug and superior to Alabama fans last year after the Alabama-LSU regular season game.

Except then I remembered how I spent the last three quarters of the BCS Championship game between the Tigers and the Tide hiding from the TV. I have to confess, the only reason I was actually paying attention to the polls, the un-un-skewed polls this go round, is because my guy was the one they favored. 

If the President had been down in those polls, trailing in most of the battleground states, would I have been devouring Nate Silver’s and Huffpo’s predictions every morning? Um, no. I would have been seeking out friendly sites to reassure me that the polls were badly skewed, that my guy was trending, that there would be a big upset in the end. “Epistemic closure”? When I need it, I got it.

I know this because that’s how I reacted in 1980. I knew Jimmy Carter was trailing Ronald Reagan in the polls, but I kept waiting for a turnaround, which seemed to have occurred a week or so before the election. I didn’t pay any attention to electoral college predictions. I reassured myself that the US had never elected a former actor or divorced person before (like that was some kind of guarantee). And when I got home from voting after work to find that President Carter had already conceded to President-elect Reagan, mine was the head that exploded.

I am willing to grant that most of the people criticizing Republican voters for having their heads in the sand and ignoring all the signs of an Obama victory are far more open minded than I am. I’ll take them at their word that they would have clear-sightedly read the signs of an impending Romney victory if one had been in the making, redoubling their efforts to get out the vote and making plans for next time. Everybody is not me. But no matter how much I want to reassure myself that I would be in that number, I know myself. I have many lovable qualities, but an unflinching ability to absorb the truth is not one of them.

So I feel for those voters who clung to reassurances from their favorite right-wing pundits. If things had been different, that could have been me.

Friday, November 9, 2012

My Family Is So Much Nicer Than Me

Update on the home folks in New York:

My sister still has her house guests and no kitchen, and even though her power is back on, she has to do her laundry at the laundromat because there’s a hole in the kitchen floor where the washer and dryer used to be. So is she whining and crying? No, she’s making new friends at the laundromat.

I’ve decided to give her a Williams-Sonoma gift card so she can buy goodies for her new kitchen, once she has a new kitchen.

My niece who had power was doing childcare for another niece who did not. When asked why she didn’t just go to my brother’s house, second niece replied, “Because he’s busy with Mr. B”. It turns out that my brother’s next door neighbor and long-time friend was dying, and my brother had been given power of attorney to handle medical bills and care decisions, because the family is MIA. B died a few days ago, at home with hospice care and at least one very good neighbor.

Meantime, my cousin D has been whining about the lack of gas, but that’s only because she wants to get out and volunteer somewhere. She finally got her power back on and her furnace fixed, so she’s gone on feeding whatever family can make it to her house.

Finally, my cousin S, whose son was murdered last year, and who lives away from NY, has been collecting donated items and shipping them to her old home town, at her own expense, despite the fact that she is also caring for a new baby boy. (Yes, happy news.) 

I donated to Red Cross. Does that count?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Been There

I know I have said this before: I grew up on Long Island. I still have family there. My sister lives on the south shore a few miles from where we grew up, an older brother lives a little further out and not so close to the shore. Three of his four children, their spouses, and their children live near him.

Two weeks ago my sister was posting Facebook pictures of her about-to-be-remodeled kitchen. It was down to the studs and the subfloor. We teased her a lot. 

I don’t know which is worse, sweating out a storm that is heading your way or sweating out a storm that is heading toward your loved ones. In the last two months, I have done both. I am happy to report that my family members made it through Sandy okay. They are without power and gasoline is getting short, but no one is hurt, and everyone’s house is intact.

However, my sister has a sister-in-law, her husband’s sister. K and her husband W live right on the water. The day before the storm, as water was rising around her house, their cat decided to seek refuge under it. My BIL finally had to cut a hole in the living room floor and lower a board so that the cat could climb out. Then his sister, husband, and two cats headed to my sister’s house for the duration. Before it was all over, K and W had five feet of water in their house, and the hole in the floor was the least of their worries.

So now my sister has four adults, two cats and maybe a dog living in her house, and no kitchen. They do have a grill in the back. I imagine if they are at all like me when we remodeled, they also have a microwave and refrigerator in their living room, but with no power, that’s a moot point. 

My cousin D, also somewhere on LI, has just posted that barges are arriving in NY Harbor with gas, and that power should be restored to most of Manhattan by the 3rd and to LI by the 10th or 11th. As soon as D can get gas for her car, she plans to go volunteer somewhere. She siphoned what she had out to run her generator, so she can cook for family and friends without power.

I’m trying to think of something I can send my sister to help her out. Specialty foods are no help. She probably has food in danger of spoiling. A gas card is no help unless gas is available. I’m thinking a restaurant gift card if there is a chain open near her. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


I feel bad complaining about this while on the East Coast there are people sitting without power and some of them without food. I’ve lived through the aftermath of hurricanes and tropical storms before and I know how slow it is to recover. The logistics of getting help to areas that are flooded, covered with debris, and without power, through traffic that is making its own way without traffic signals, while the people doing the helping are often worried for their own families’ safety, are difficult, to say the least. I am safe, dry, and well-fed, and cranky because a package got delayed.

But then I remember that some politicians talk about running government like a business, or even privatizing government services, and my minor complaint with a business that’s being run like a business takes on a more sinister cast.

As I mentioned before, I ordered a coat from LL Bean. LL Bean’s default mode of delivery, the one you get for no extra charge, is to ship UPS, the company that makes a big deal about logistics. The package was due to arrive on October 30, and since it was being shipped from Illinois to Louisiana, there was no reason to believe it wouldn’t arrive on time.

So that afternoon from 2 PM on, I made frequent forays to the front porch to look for a package. No package. By 6 PM I had begun to make dinner, when my husband came in with one of those notices from UPS that say they made an attempt to deliver a package but couldn’t leave it because it needed my signature.

Keep in mind, my husband and I had been home all afternoon. I went to the porch and checked the doorbell, and found it working just fine. We weren’t running the vacuum cleaner or any other loud household appliances that would mask the noise. I had a bad feeling that the UPS driver, rather than having to ring the bell and wait around for an answer and then a signature, just walked up to the house, stuck the already prepared note on the door, made a tentative knock and ran. 

I have already had a bad history with Brown. Several times in the past I have used their tracking site to track packages, read that a package had been delivered, and looked in vain around my porch and yard for it, only to have it show up the next day. So I called their customer service line and complained. I was home; I would have heard the doorbell. They tried to get the driver to come back with my package but he had gone home for the night. It would be delivered tomorrow.

So on the 31st, I stuck the notice of attempt to deliver back on the door with my authorization to leave the package without my signature, just in case, and remained vigilant. Around six I heard the truck coming down the street and ran to the front porch. A truck had just pulled up to my neighbor’s house. I watched the driver walk up to the door, drop (not place) the package, ring the bell, turn and leave in one fluid movement. Little kids who play the old trick of ringing your doorbell and running away would have been envious. I hope that package didn’t contain glassware.

Then he got to my house, handed me the form to sign and then my package without so much as a word.

So what’s the big deal, you ask? You got the coat. You live in Louisiana where it’s going to be 80 degrees this afternoon.

The big deal is, I know why this happened. It happened because businesses cut costs by cutting out a lot of the lowest paid jobs instead of trimming the higher paid jobs at the top. That leaves the drivers with longer routes than they would have if there were more drivers, and that leads them to cut corners. The big deal is, my coat was outside my house a little after 6 on October 30th and I was home to receive it but I didn’t get it for another 24 hours because someone was too rushed for time to let me answer the door, or even have a chance to answer the door. If customers complain about such service, it is just barely possible that Brown might wonder what they can do for me. If drivers complain, who is going to listen?

And this is the model some people want to use for government. This is what we are looking at when we privatize needed government services. Look at New York and New Jersey and ask yourself, what if it wasn’t a coat some old lady in Louisiana didn’t need right this minute? What if it was an emergency delivery of bottled water, or baby formula, or a coat some old lady does need right this minute because it’s cold and she has no heat? Do we want to run emergency relief like a business - like that business?

Like the ads say, it’s logistics.