Archive for May, 2009

#4 in a series… the best of the mary’zine that never made it to print…

May 29, 2009

I couldn’t make it to the May ’09 7-day painting intensive in San Francisco, because it’s so expensive to go (plane fare, hotel, rental car, the whole bit) and business hasn’t been so good this year. But I’ll tell you about my horrible trip home after last year’s intensive.

frumpy, funky, and fried…

I must have used up all my good vibes, good luck, and good karma in the intensive, because my return home was a grueling 2-day ordeal. I was supposed to leave on Saturday at about 1:30 p.m., but the plane that was going to take me to Chicago was late arriving from Australia. As the minutes between our estimated arrival time in Chicago and the departure of my connecting flight to Green Bay (the last flight of the day) dwindled to a precious few, I alternately stood in long lines at “Customer Service” [haha, funny name], pestered the agents at the gate, and called the barely-English-speaking man at United for advice on how to proceed. At one point I left the “Customer Service” counter and walked past the 25 or so people in line, only to hear a young man call “Ma’am? Ma’am!” I walked back toward him, puzzled, and he started to say, “Something is sticking out of…” and I thought, Oh yeah, dollar bills must be sticking out of my pocket, that happens all the time. But he continued, “…your pants, like toilet paper or a seat cover.” Oh God. I pulled out the paper (it was a seat cover) but only got half of it, which I didn’t discover until later. In my humiliation I kept my dignity by thanking the young man politely and walking back to my gate, grateful for the gift of anonymity. (So far, at least, I haven’t seen my sorry ass on YouTube.)

It finally became obvious that the plane was not going to arrive in time, so I decided to stay in S.F. another night. At least I could go back to the Laurel Inn rather than try to find a room in Chicago, a city I know nothing about. I rebooked my flights for Sunday, called the hotel to reserve another room, and took the Air Train to the Rental Car Center to get another car. But when I got there, the line was so long that I decided to take a shuttle to the hotel instead. That meant more waiting and Air Training and walking, and I was already exhausted and distraught. My suitcase and tube of paintings, of course, went on to Chicago without me. I hoped they were having a good time. I, on the other hand, was wearing my last pair of socks, my last t-shirt, and my last underpants. When I schlepped back to the terminal and found the Super Shuttle, I had the worst experience of my trip and possibly of the last 10 years of my life. The driver was Russian, and his entire vocabulary in English consisted of “NO,” “CAN’T,” “GEARY” and “UNION SQUARE.” He also had no idea where anything was. The other people in the van kept shouting at him to take this or that turn, but he ignored all advice and merely repeated his limited English, even arguing with some of the passengers about where they intended to go (“UNION SQUARE! UNION SQUARE!”). I hadn’t taken my Dramamine for the flight yet, so we were on the freeway in a hellish traffic jam when I realized I’d better down it fast or there was going to be a disaster much worse than the toilet paper caper. I quickly swallowed a Dramamine, but it was too late. The driver kept slamming on the brakes and making wild twists and turns through the city, not to mention taking several longer than necessary routes, and I barely made it to the hotel without barfing, for which I give due thanks to whatever Supreme Being or Random Order spared me.

I then had to figure out what to do about my lack of clothing and personal hygiene products. I ended up walking several blocks to Walgreen’s and buying toothpaste, a toothbrush, and some of those little half-socks that I never understood the point of. They didn’t have any underwear. I also bought a cheap t-shirt that was about 2 sizes too small, but I decided to take my chances with the one I’d been sweating like a pig in all day rather than advertise my bulges even more prominently than I already do. Unfortunately, I forgot to buy deodorant and hair gel. The only good part of the day (besides not barfing) was having an excellent dinner at Asqew on California St.—Santa Fe chicken on a skewer over a Caesar salad. Mmmmm.

On Sunday morning, I was ready and waiting by 7:00, when I had arranged for another shuttle (not Super) to pick me up. My flight was to begin boarding at 8:05, but I figured I would have plenty of time because I already had my boarding pass and no luggage. But I hadn’t learned my lesson from the day before. The driver was 10 minutes late, and then we had to drive all over downtown picking up other people. At one stop, the person wasn’t there, so we lost another 10 minutes waiting. As we were driving away, a woman was standing in the street waving, but when the driver stopped, she turned and walked back toward the hotel. When we had gotten several blocks away, the dispatcher called the driver and told him he had “left the passenger behind.” So we had to go back for her, and yes, it was the woman in the street. Believe me, when she got in the van she was greeted with stone-cold silence.

When we finally got to the airport, there was a line of people at security snaking back and forth at least 4 times. I tried to talk several different agents into letting me go ahead, and they all casually (unfeelingly, callously) told me to stay in line. After another agent assured me I had “plenty time,” a woman rushed up and told him her flight was boarding at 8:15. So he let her and several other people through so they could get to the head of a new line, even though my plane had already started boarding! I was crying by this time (thank God for sunglasses). When I finally got to the part where you take your shoes off and put your stuff in the bins (including a half-bottle of water that I knew I couldn’t take with me), one of the agents rushed up and frantically told me (as if catching me with a bomb in my pocket),  “YOU CAN’T TAKE THIS WATER ON THE PLANE!” I yelled back, “I KNOW! TAKE IT!” but at least I refrained from swearing at her and getting arrested. I was in no condition to appear on CNN or YouTube, even without the indignity of wearing a toilet seat cover on my backside.

So… I made it to my gate in time. Since I hadn’t had a chance to choose the seat, I wanted to change my window seat to an aisle. The woman at the gate was all sarcastic and head-shaking—“10 MINUTES BEFORE DEPARTURE??” But she whipped up a new boarding pass for me and told me to get moving, the plane was waiting! When I found my seat, it turned out to be—what else—a middle seat! I just knew the BEETCH at the counter had done this on purpose to get rid of me! I was crying again. Oh, I forgot to mention that, for lack of gel, my hair was completely flat and hanging down my forehead like dork bangs—that was the frumpy part. Fried and funky are self-explanatory, and getting worse by the minute.

In the chaos of everyone trying to get their luggage into the overhead bins, etc. (naturally, we didn’t leave in 10 minutes—it was closer to an hour), I talked to two flight attendants and a “customer service” [there’s that funny name again] agent to see if I could change my seat, but of course the plane was full. Apparently, someone had snagged my window seat in the 2 minutes it took me to get on the plane. Or so they all claimed. So I had to accept my middle seat between 2 large men. I tried not to raise my arms, but I’m sure they got a good whiff of me. How quickly the appearance of the elderly or even semi-elderly can make us seem deranged and destitute if we have even a teensy-weensy hygiene problem that is completely not our fault!

So I resigned myself to my fate, reached for my cell phone to turn it off, and discovered that I had LOST IT. I figured it must have fallen out of my pocket in the van. (It did, and I got it back a few days later for a $60 FedEx fee.)

I must admit, the flight, when it finally got off the ground, wasn’t too bad. But then at O’Hare I had to schlep to a different terminal and then wait around for another hour or so. At the gate I had been directed to by the Departures screen, the words “Green Bay” never appeared on the board. When I asked the gate person if the plane we were about to board was actually going to Green Bay and not Saginaw or North Carolina, which were on the board, she said, in that condescending singsong voice that conveys so much, “That’s corrEHHHCT.”

(p.s. I really don’t care that these people have shitty jobs; we flyers have enough to put up with—the delays, the power-mad security people, the extra fees for every little thing—why do we have to deal with snotty, unhelpful employees and then be expected to have compassion for them?)

So I finally got on the plane, and the final 300 miles were a piece o’ cake.

My luggage, as you’ll recall, had flown out on Saturday, and when I tried to find it at the Green Bay airport it was nowhere to be seen–and no one on duty in the baggage claim section. Finally [is this like the 100th time I’ve used the word “finally”? but that sums up air travel these days] I found someone at the reservations desk to look for it and he found the suitcase but not the tube o’ paintings. After more searching, he found the tube, but it had come in on my Sunday plane. So even if I had made it to Green Bay on Saturday, I would have had to go back for the paintings. Does that make it all worth it? Was that synchronicity’s plan after all? Hell, no!

Finally (again), I schlepped (more and more schleppily) to the far corner of the long-term parking lot with my carry-on bags, rolling suitcase, and painting tube, found my Jeep, it started right up, and I was ON MY WAY. I was even more frumpy, funky, and fried than when I had left S.F., but I was happy to be only 50 miles from home. An hour later, when I turned onto my street, I had this real-life VISION of my IDYLLIC homestead. A misty little rain was coming down, but the sun was shining, and everything was so GREEN—a color I had practically forgotten existed!—the leaves on all the trees had come out while I was gone. There was a rainbow over the bay, and my big beautiful house was the pot of gold. The neighborhood was TOTALLY QUIET except for the chirping of dozens of birds (which I had also seen little of in S.F.). It was like when the movie “Pleasantville” goes from black-and-white to color. How happy I was to be home in my very own corner of paradise. I was a day late and almost $300 short, but I made it.

Brutus and Luther, my twin-brother kitties, were overjoyed to see me; we slept all snuggled together that night, and the next day I periodically heard plaintive little meows coming from a distant room, and I’d call out, “HERE I AM!” and they’d come bounding up the stairs on little cat feet and jump in my lap or just get a reassuring pet before they went off again to do whatever it is they do.

So…. I guess all’s well that ends well for editwell. I must say, the intensive was still worth it, but I hope not to repeat those last 2 days anytime soon. I pinned my two beautiful paintings up on the wall, and now I’m using one of them as my profile photo on Facebook.

[Mary McKenney]

#3 in a series… the best of the mary’zine that never made it to print

May 29, 2009

hi-tek lo-blo lim-bo

Back in the bad old days of dial-up Internet, a working telephone was, obviously, essential. In 1996, I was just beginning my editing business and was desperate for work, which I was getting mostly through e-mail. I had a big clunky car phone, which I could use when my regular phone wasn’t working, but of course it was no use in getting online. Funny how every advance in communications technology creates all new ways for communication to fail.

For months, my phone line had been shorting out whenever it rained. It was torture for me not to be able to check my e-mail. I imagined undelivered frantic messages from friends wondering why I hadn’t answered, or incoming work waiting to land in my in-box like planes circling over SFO. I was at the tail end of a big project and couldn’t afford to lose touch with the publisher’s editor, so one morning I had to call Connecticut from my car phone. Did I feel like a big shot sitting out there in the carport calling my editor back East? You bet—living the California dream I was. To really fit in, I should have taken the Honda out on the freeway and drifted from lane to lane while obliviously conducting my important business.

The car phone was expensive to use when I had to deal with voice mail and stay on hold for minutes at a time, so one day I called Pac Bell’s repair line, 611, from a greasy earpiece’d outdoor pay phone while a guy practiced revving his motorcycle right behind me. The recording took me through a dozen options and finally assured me in a cheerful canned voice that the problem was in my equipment. When I finally reached a human, whom I could barely hear because of the aforementioned motorcycle, she couldn’t find any problem in her computer. She wanted to know if there was someone at my house, because there was a busy signal, and I calmly answered, No—no one’s using my phone right now because IT DOESN’T WORK. I explained that I had been having this problem for a long time and that one of the service technicians had told me that the underground cable needed to be repaired. He had given me all his numbers, including his pager number, and said I could call him anytime. Then he disappeared off the face of the earth and took his pager with him.

So the woman transferred me to Cable Maintenance, which didn’t have a recording, thank God, but the human looked in her computer and lo and behold didn’t see any problem, said I should call 611. I was about to break down in tears at this point, but I kept it together and dialed 611 again. The motorcycle had left, but now another guy was out there rattling garbage cans. I went back through the whole recording, from “If you are a speaker of English, press 1” (because God forbid we make any crazy assumptions) to “If you want to speak to a customer service representative, press 0.” (If you tried to trick the voice mail by pressing 0 first, it refused to comply until you’d gone through all the options.) So once again I receive the news from the cheerful canned voice that I should check my equipment. Finally, a human comes on the line, but of course it’s a different human and I have to tell the whole story again, about the missing service technician (who was probably snuffed out for telling customers it was Pac Bell’s problem and not theirs), and she made some calls while I waited, holding the greasy phone, like am I getting old or what, that I even think about how disgusting it is to hold other people’s ear grease up to my ear, like how often do you suppose someone from Pac Bell comes by and wipes off the receiver?

So the human comes back on the line and is all self-satisfied about how there’s “trouble out,” like what does that mean, and she says there’s a dial tone going out to me, which means there’s some problem between the central place where they keep the dial tones and my condo, and the soonest she can get someone out there is Saturday, between 8:00 and 5:00. So I thank her for that gigantic “window” during which I have to be home, sitting on the edge of my seat waiting, and I’ll be sure to set the alarm so as not to miss the guy when he shows up at 1 minute to 5.

And so my only consolation is that it’ll be like Christmas morning when I finally get my phone back and check my e-mail, though I asked around at the studio when I went to paint, and no one had tried to reach me and I was like oh. Well. Probably Terry or Peggy or Diane is out there worried sick about me, like Where’s Mary? Where’s Mary? and boy will they be relieved when I finally write back and tell them I’m OK.

[Mary McKenney]


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