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.