Thursday, May 6, 2010

Not My Fault. All of the blame clearly lies with Sky Mall and its evil powers.

I have a theory. No, really. This is a good one. Trust me.

I've decided that Sky Mall has tapped into a marketing technique that is only available to a few vendors. Mind Control.

Before you doubt me, think about it.

You know that scene in A Clockwork Orange where Malcom McDowell was strapped to a chair with his eyes held open while violent images were flashed in front of him repeatedly.  Okay, so I know that he developed an aversion to violence, but I think the Sky Mall works the other way.
Instead of being repulsed by horrible images, we are lulled into a state of languid namaste by a combination of white noise, five dollar beers, and lack of movement.
Being strapped to an airplane seat for many hours makes us completely vulnerable to whatever strange mind tricks anyone has in store for us. All of this culminates in a general state of sensory deprivation that renders us helpless.
We're sitting ducks.
An enormous percentage of us will eventually turn to the Duty Free and Sky Mall to help pass the time.

The problem with the Duty Free catalogue is that it's too short. Just as we're about to drink the Kool-Aid, it's over. Sky Mall, on the other hand, is roughly the size of the Vogue September issue. Or a smallish dictionary.

And it's not just the size that matters.
It's the progression.

First, they warm you up to the whole idea of mind control by featuring a game that you play with your brainwaves.

So, now you're already thinking about how cool telekinesis is and how you'll be the hit of every party once you learn to operate a corkscrew with your mind. You're so absorbed in the fantasy of telekinetically bitch-slapping the annoying guy from work from across the room that you don't even notice that with every page you flip, you're gradually losing perspective of what is and isn't a necessary component of a happy, fulfilled existence.

Not that the ping pong ball gun isn't cool, but anyone who's been to Bangkok knows that YOU DON'T NEED A GUN TO SHOOT PING PONG BALLS. (And if you don't know what I mean, a quick Google search should clear that up for you.) Really, ladies, a little dedication and practice could save you twenty dollars and the shipping costs.

About four hours into our last Tokyo-United States flight, Sky Mall convinced me that perhaps my son's education in the particulars of Punjabi cage matches was seriously lacking. How can he be expected to recreate his favorite matches if he doesn't even understand the basics? Enter the Punjabi Prison Match Ring- a delightful gift for all occasions.

What I don't understand is this, are you supposed to fight or escape?
OR is the idea to keep your opponent from escaping? How am I supposed to use this toy during a special parenting moment if I don't even understand how to guide my child's play?

Before I could completely freak over my Punjabi-related parenting deficiencies, a  quick flip of a page allowed the great minds at Sky Mall to usher me out of the stressful world of toys
and into a blissful home decorating trance. I instantly felt calmer and was able to embrace the fact that everything I thought I knew about decorating was completely off base.

See how they do that? Halfway through the catalogue and I'm totally in. I don't just want this. I need colored lights in my showerhead.

You know what's really hysterical?
When you go through the metal detector at the airport and they can't figure out why you keep beeping. So, you double-check and make sure your keys and your change are out of your pockets,
but you still keep beeping, so they get out the little wand and scan your whole body.
 I LOVE THAT! 
The TSA guy laughs.
I laugh.
It's just all-around good fun. I'm almost disappointed when that doesn't happen.
But I'm in luck.
With stainless steel fibers in my wallet, I'm guaranteed to set off every metal detector in every single aiport I go into all summer long.
In all the uproarius fun, I could almost forget that the whole point of this wallet is to prevent identity theft, because apparently today's thieves can steal your information from inside your pocket.

Anyway, about five, maybe six hours into a twelve hour flight,
these things become essential to my well-being.
Things don't get ugly until about hour eight, which is when I'm ready to swipe my credit card through that little phone on the back of the seat and start ordering things to be delivered to our house.
It doesn't help that I don't really remember ordering most of these things. I only remember an intense sense of longing followed by deep tranquility and peaceful sleep.
Clearly, this is not my fault.
Sky Mall gradually pulled me in, hooking me with moderately useful items for which I could genuinely find a place in my life. Once I started, I found that anything could be useful,
or at least interesting. Especially the giant Yedi. No one is going to break into the house with the mutant ape man in the backyard.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.




Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pirates of Harajuku/Part 1

IN WHICH I GET ON MY SOAP BOX IN DEFENSE OF A WORTHY CAUSE

Harajuku is easily one of the coolest places in the world.
Unfortunately, I found out last night that thanks to shameless consumerism, of which I'm usually a huge fan, Harajuku has been rendered just slightly less cool.
Now, when you step off the Yamonote Line, instead of seeing Snoopy Town and The Purple and Yellow Store, there's a GAP the size of the American Embassy.
I have nothing against the GAP, and I'm sure that particular spot is prime real estate, but come on.
I know I'm complaining about one store replacing another. It's not like they slashed and burned the rainforest, but Harajuku shopping is sacred. not that the rainforest isn't, because it is completely sacred and fabulous. Just in a different way.
I not usually much of an activist, but this shit is important.
The Gap definitely doesn't have a Nudy Boy shop with an upstairs Wonder Rocket.
I'm sure the folks at Abercrombie and Fitch would consider it, and probably will after this posts, in which case I want part of the profits.
 And if they put rabbit heads on their Nudy Boy mannequins, I want double.

Here are some more things the Gap needs to consider selling if they want me to stop resenting their presence on sacred ground. 

Only in Harajuku could the outfit on the bottom right look boring. If I walked into a faculty meeting wearing that, people would talk. Unless the meeting were in Harajuku, which would mean our school just got a whole lot more fantastic, but I digress.

But as long as i'm on the tangent of faculty meetings, they would be a lot more fun if we all had to wear these.

 
But that's mostly because I would look great in a samurai kimono.

I hold Gwen Stefani responsible for the invasion of H&M, Forever 21 and Topshop into Harajuku's streets.
When the demise of the last bastion of unadulterated cool comes around, it will be her fault.
I know she was excited to find some cool chicks hanging out and waving their freak flags high.
We all love that.
But she didn't even learn to SAY HARAJUKU RIGHT before she wrote that stupid and song and watered down the whole beauty of the area to little dolls on top of perfume bottles.
Uncool, Gwen. Very uncool.

Pirates of Harajuku/Part 2

IN WHICH WE MEET ACTUAL PIRATES


In an effort to shorten the lifespans of our friends, Rob and I occasionally invite them to join us for an evening of heavy drinking and cholesterol.
Seriously, these are really healthy people. They run and bike and eat well. If someone doesn't do something, these people are going to live forever.
That's where Rob and I come in.
Last night, we went out for Brazilian Barbeque.
You don't order. You just wait until the meat guys stop by to see if you want them to carve a slice of beef, pork, lamb, sausage, or chicken hearts off their giant skewer.

This was taken during that portion of the evening when we were still sober, and therefore civilized.
Luckily, paying a set price for whatever you want to drink for two hours tends to loosen people up.
A lot.
See that green drink in front of Sandy? That's a caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil, made with a sugar cane aclohol called cahaca, sugar and limes.
I think the literal translation of caipirinha is "Where are my pants?"
When we ordered them, the waiter asked, "Are you sure?"
which kind of scared us until we realized he was saying, "Do you want sugar?" I don't know who the hell is ordering these without sugar, but they are a better drinker than I am.

Mark took one drink this concoction and realized that it's about as strong as a shot of lighter fluid, even if you put sugar and limes in the lighter fluid.
He decided to try a Moscow Mule, but it was too fizzy.
So he ordered a gin and tonic.
And a glass of red wine.

Eventually, we started to worry that the waiter was going to come tell us that the bar needed its glassware back, so we helped Mark drink some of the rejects.
All told, we must have collectively consumed at least one cow and the better part of a pig.
Becky got all misty-eyed and called her dinner "a barnyard on my plate"
because she's a huge animal lover.

It all made Dave wax poetic about a similar restaurant in Kenya.
Granted, I was at the other ended of the table, but I'm pretty sure that story went like this.
Dave: They specialized in gay meat.
Rob and Christina (in unison): How could they tell?
Dave: Tell what?
Rob: Whether or not the cows were gay?
Becky: By their horns.
Dave (ignoring everyone): Eventually, Kenya outlawed hunting, so a lot of gay meat places shut down.

OH...
 GAME MEAT!!!

Always on the lookout for special forces, Mark and Becky recognized the guys at the table behind us as members of the Israeli CIA, because everyone knows that the Mossad are crazy for meat.


Apparently the Mossad are completely different from the Masai, which cleared things up for me, because these guys were clearly not Masai.

Later, we learned that they aren't Mossad.
They're PIRATES.
How cool is that?
See the one who's trying way too hard to look sexy- that's Chris.
Apparently, he's the hot pirate.
The moustache guy is the elder pirate.
The rest just stand around saying things like "Aye, matey" and "Scurvy made me teeth fall out."


Then the models came in.
Rob told me this morning that he thinks the guys were famous Japanese athletes, so that would explain why everyone else in the restaurant was fascinated by them and why one of them is trying to cover his face with his hat in the picture that I took, which seemed weird at the time because I didn't care at all about having the guys in the picture.
Our table was much more interested in their stick-armed dates.
We took a shot at guessing where the girls were from, and Dave gallantly offered to speak to them in Polish for us,
which would have been extra awesome since Sandy found out that they're from New York.


I still don't know why Sandy had Flat Stanley in her purse, but it just goes to show that mothers really do have one of everything with them at all times.
I guess she told her daughter she'd find  some exotic place where Stanley could be photographed, and it doesn't get more exotic than real live pirates.

Drunken pirates are really accomodating.

I don't know why Sandy wanted them to hold their arms out like they were flying. It doesn't make sense. They just look like airplanes, not boats.

Years ago, Tracey Ullman did this bit where whe was at a bus stop and no one was talking to each other, so she started singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Strangers bonded as they broke into a choreographed song and dance number.
It was brilliant.
And it totally doesn't work on Japanese trains.

Becky had already attanied seemingly unreachable levels of awesomeness by attempting to orally stimulate the phallic image on her sugar pack.


But it was her attempt to engage the 300 people who were literally smashed into our train car in a sing-a-long that secured her position as the reigning Queen of Amazingness.
We did get a couple of drunk guys next to us try to hang with our effort at social unity and breaking the societal boundaries that isolate us.
Everyone else was completely uncooperative, which means that they just aren't interested in promoting social harmony.
I know it wasn't because they didn't know the words, cause how hard is it to just sing "Owem-away" a hundred times?

Next outing, fried food on sticks.
And we'll have to find something even cooler that pirates.

Who am I kidding?
There's nothing cooler than pirates.
Especially pirates that will make plane arms for a picture like they're pretending to be pilots.
Oh, hell...
I guess pilots are pretty cool, too.
Right?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

January Pictures- A String of Unrelated Thoughts




In an effort to never get my book revised ever, I spent the morning picking out my favorite pictures from this month, starting with the gang from last night. After an evening of gorging ourselves on bacon-wrapped grilled food on sticks, I guarantee that every single one of these folks has the same nasty taste in their mouth that I do today.



Welcome to Tokyo, home of pachinko parlor mascots with oversized naughty bits. Honestly, I wasn't even disturbed by the personified green pea until I realized that for no good reason, they gave him a massive unit.


Not a restaurant, I hope.

***

Max has a Wii game called City Folk, which you make a character and then gradually acquire emotions for him/her as you progress. Until then, the character just walks around like socialite after a Botox party, unable to form facial expressions.
Max's character is now able to express joy, irritation, and anger. Can you imagine if that were how things worked in real life? I would like to express happiness, but I have not yet acquired that expression.
I'm thinking of submitting this expression as an option for the game designers, but I'm not sure what to call it.


This is S, who claims he can't be embarrassed. He clearly as no idea what what it means to say that in front of me.

***

Maya started ballet classes this month. She loves it because she gets to wear a pretty outfit and twirl.

I love watching my defiant three-year-old follow sensei's instructions. She doesn't follow mine- ever- so this is a completely new experience for me.
When I signed her up, my friend C, whose daughter is also in the class, helped me translate the paperwork that had to be filled out. It was all pretty run of the mill until we got to the space that asked what I was hoping to gain by putting Maya in ballet.
 "You mean, like where she's going with this?" I asked.
I had just watched my daughter turn herself into a sideways pretzel and twirl in the wrong direction for an hour. I'm pretty sure she's not headed for a life of dance.
I thought about writing deformed arches, but sensei hadn't been able to get Maya to stand on her toes, so I just wrote an eating disorder.
But the truth is that I have a secret plan to keep her from getting a ballet-related eating disorder. I'm going to teach her to associate ballet class with cake. So when she finishes dancing, she'll always have this urge to fill herself with sweets.


Don't all the top ballerinas follow each rehearsal with a piece of cake the size their head? I thought so. Yep, this plan is foolproof.

After class, Maya and I went to the department store, where she picked out a new pair of shoes for me.

Perhaps I should clarify for her exactly what I do for a living.



Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Day Late and a Laptop Short

Okay, so maybe I'm mildly obsessed. BUT I received a response to my claim to TSA this morning. If you're new to this particular tirade of mine, my laptop was stolen out of my suitcase on my return to Tokyo a couple of weeks ago.

SO, the response from TSA is priceless. It's a whole series of questions designed to let you know that you're shit out of luck. Brilliant. This is all in the guise of  "investigating" the claim, but you don't have to be a genius to read between these lines. Just in case you haven't invested the same emotional energy into this this as I have, I'll walk you through it.

How early did you check in your luggage/s prior to scheduled departure?
(Because if it was TOO early, this is your fault.)

When your checked your luggage at PHL, were you able to view the inspection take place?
(Because if you didn't expect to be ripped off and insist on watching our officers inspect your bag, then this is just plain your fault.)

Understanding that the airlines will not cover loss or damage to any valuables. (i.e. jewelry, electronics, cash, etc.)
(Isn't this tantamount to granting permission for employees to steal and then TSA can just blow it off when they do?)

 Is it typical for you to pack valuables in your checked bags as opposed to your carry on?
(Are you habitually a complete moron, or is this the first time for you? You do know that we steal, right?)

Did you check in at curbside?

Did you watch curbside baggage handler deliver bags to the ticket counter?
(WOW! You didn't? Were you HOPING he would steal your shit?)

Did you experience a delay before boarding your flight?
(Because if you did, this is really your fault.)

If so, how long was the delay?
(You really need to make sure that doesn't happen.) 

Did you have a transfer in your itinerary?
How long were you at your point of transfer?
(Beacause if either of these things happened, we are clearly not responsible.)

Why do you think TSA is responsible?
(Good luck proving it. Yeah, I know we left an inspection notice in the EXACT SPOT where your laptop used to be, but that was just our way of taunting you.)

 Was you bag locked when presented for screening?
(This is the stupidest question of all, since TSA expressly states that you are only supposed to use a TSA lock, so they they can open it. If you use another lock, they're allowed to break it, and if you use a TSA lock, they sometimes just break it anyway.)

So, I have some questions for TSA.

Are agents searched upon entering and leaving the airport?

When is theft NOT the passenger's fault? When is it actually the fault of the person who steals it?

How can I know that an agent who has full access to checked baggage isn't a threat to my security? If an agent can take something out of my luggage, he/she could certainly put something in my luggage.

That should do for starters. I know I seem obsessed, and it would seem to some that now that my property has been retrieved, I should just be grateful and shut up. However, I've spent a great deal of time researching this issue lately, and what I've learned is both disheartening and frightening.

It's disheartening that when we pack our suitcases, we are essentially offering them to airport and TSA employees. It's not just valuables that go missing. Simple things like clothes have been reported as stolen from checked baggage. From the hundreds of accounts that I have read of airline theft, not a single one of those people has reported receiving any help or support from the airlines or TSA.

The frightening part is the idea that our luggage could be used as a carrier for something that endangers our children when we fly.

Kind of makes you want to stay home, doesn't it?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I Can't Seem to Think of a Title That Doesn't Include "Delta" and Various Profanities......

When I woke up this morning, I was greeted by three separate e-mails letting me know that my stolen laptop has been recovered by the Philly Police Department. In our elation, Rob and I both took a moment to imagine how the blog post that recounts the conclusion of this ongoing saga should sound. I think both have equal merit.
Here’s Rob’s version. Hopefully, I’m remembering it correctly because it was pretty great.

Imagine yourself as a young woman on her very first day of college classes. Everything is new and exciting, even the awesome new purple laptop. It was so nice of your mother’s friend who works for the airline to give you such a good deal on it. HMMM, you think, I wonder why an airline employee is selling laptops. Oh well, it’s best not to overthink things. As class begins, you log onto the campus wifi. Moments later, campus security and the Philadelphia Police Department pull you out of class…..

Here’s my version.

Things I want from Delta/Northwest to make up for the fact that they didn’t even respond to my multiple reports of the theft by fax, telephone, and e-mail.


1) Delta should bear the cost of returning my property to me here in Tokyo- don't they have a plane they could put it on? (But on second thought, isn't that just going to get it stolen all over again?)


2) If they mail it, they should reimburse me for the customs I will have to pay in order to receive it.


3) They should reimburse me for the 50 bucks I spent faxing a claim they didn't respond to. International faxes are expensive.


4) The employee who stole my laptop should be fired- twice. Then I get to tazer him/her.


5) The supervisor who let him/her walk out of the airport with my laptop should be fired. I’m kind of picturing employees clocking out at the end of the day and the supervisor saying, “Night, Bob. Nice laptops.”


6) I should either be reimbursed for my flight or be given vouchers for my next international flight- business class for the whole family.


7) I want platinum status for life and access to all Delta/Northwest first-class lounges worldwide.


8) Every Northwest plane that doesn’t have TV monitors on the seatbacks should be refurbished.


9) My daughter wants a puppy.

SO, yeah, they did pull some girl out of class and take my laptop away from her. Everyone says “Poor girl,” but I’m thinking, “Like she didn’t know?” Honestly. She knew it was stolen.

The best part is that the BRILLIANTLY TECH SAVVY thieves deleted all my files and left them in the recycling bin. We’re clearly dealing with the criminal elite. The very friendly police officer in charge of the case has already restored my files for me. He’s completely tickled to have cracked the case this easily. Gotta love LoJack!

It's kind of ironic that on the very flight during which my computer was stolen, I was complaining about people who carry gigantic carry-on luggage. Now I know that they are the smart ones. Anything in your checked baggage is available to any airline employee who wants it, with the airline's full approval.

Guess what I'm buying before we fly again?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Government Stole My Laptop

Seriously, it did.




I think it comes down to karma. On Thursday morning things were going too well. We managed to get our Jersey house closed up and get to the airport on time. We were first in line at Budget, at the Delta check-in, and even at security. We made our connection in Detroit, one step ahead of another snowstorm. Our three-year-old slept for most of the flight to Tokyo. We kept joking about how whenever things go too well, how we somehow get punished later. We thought our penance was the 30 extra minutes of Tokyo traffic on the drive back to our house. We were wrong.



It wasn't until I unpacked that we discovered how the universe was going to balance things out. Instead of finding my laptop in my bag, I found a slip notifying me that TSA had inspected the suitcase. The emotional impact of finding that little slip of paper was just as horrible as it would have been if the guy who "inspected" my laptop had just enclosed a picture of his ass with the words KISS THIS written on it. I'm quickly learning that this is the basic message I'll be receiving from both Delta and TSA as I pursue this.



It took about two minutes of Googling to learn that theft from checked baggage is pretty much business as usual. Any article written on the topic has about a hundred comments from people who have had their luggage raided. The general message from all airlines is that they basically don't give a shit. However, while baggage handlers have been caught stealing, they generally have to be in cahoots for this to happen. They don't have a lot of time alone with the bags, so everyone present has to be either silent or in the stealing. On the other hand, TSA employees have lots of time alone with your bags and absolutely no accountability. They open any bag they please, and are not searched when they leave the airport. The official word on the topic is that it isn't cost effective to take measures to prevent theft or to pursue it when it happens. The consensus amongst the online community of victims and former airline employees is that TSA employees basiclly have permission to take whatever they want from your bags. Comforting, isn't it?



So, I spent this morning making international calls. The Philadelphia Police Department was incredibly friendly and helpful. I don't know if that matters, but I always feel better talking to people who are nice to me. It makes me feel like they're really considering helping me. When people are rude, all I can think is you aren't even writing this down, are you?



Now, I get to deal with Delta and give them the chance to tell me to kiss it. I e-mailed them a friendly note, but I don't expect a response. The company line is that you are supposed to notify the airline of "lost" articles immediately, which means before you leave the airport. When was the last time anyone checked the contents of their bag before leaving the airport? Next, I can download a lost article form and fax it to TSA, who will respond in 3 weeks. They will come up with some variation on the whole kissing/ass/biting/butt line. They will tell me it's my fault that their employees steal.



The good news is that before we left, I e-mailed the rough draft of my novel to myself. Also, I have Lojack, so the first time the thief tries to get online with my computer, the tracking device will activate. I also heard a rumor that my homeowners insurance will help me out.



But it's really not about that. Tell me all day that I shouldn't have put something valuable in my checked luggage, but that's really blaming the victim. The really tragedy here is that we are living in a society where are are told that we should expect and tolerate institutionalized theft by government employees. Even worse, by government employees who have the word SECURITY in their job title. If any other employee at any other company incorporates petty theft into their daily operations, there are consequences. However, airports seem to have created an environment where your personal items can be taken at will and it's pretty much business as usual. How is this possible?



It is true that the United States government did not steal my laptop. However, these are government employees. Type something like TSA steal checked baggage in a Google search. There are many documented cases of these agents being caught red-handed. If an organization knows that the working conditions as they exist are conducive to criminal activity, and they do nothing to correct the situation, don't they share in the accountability? This is an organization that I count on to keep my children safe. So far, they have done this. However, I'd like my computer back, as well.