Monday, August 15, 2016

At Your Service

My mother – the late, great Sylvia Gordon – often said, “I spend half my life waiting for service people.”

Exaggeration?  Maybe not.

You know the drill:  You contact the “Customer Care” folks about your broken, non-working whatever, and after pressing an inordinate number of buttons and wading through countless menus, you eventually get someone on the phone who tells you it is their pleasure to serve you.  Hmmm.  So you make an appointment for repair, and you get “the window.”  Let’s say your window is 1-4 PM.  Here’s how this works.  If you are NOT there precisely at 1 – or even earlier – the repair guy (oops, technician) will show up then.  If you change your plans and race home to be there before or at 1, he will show up at 4.  If you are lucky.

This just happened to me recently, when a large box and two smaller boxes arrived at my door unexpectedly.  Apparently someone followed up with GE about the damaged oven door on my brand new stove.  The manager in my development must have precipitated the shipment, because we discussed this issue at our last walk-through -- maybe 3 months ago. 

Anyway, I called the Customer Care to let them know I had these big boxes and they said someone would be there two days later to install it.  If I hadn’t called them, would they have called me to let me know to stay in for “the window?”  It would be helpful for me to be home to let the guy in, don’t you think?  We worked out a day and time and I returned home promptly at 12:45.  Mike the repair guy arrived at 4.  He opened the box with the oven door (they had sent a new handle and another part that I didn’t need) and noticed it was damaged.  He then proceeded to enter information on his little computer.  I could write my life story in fewer keystrokes.  He ordered the part, said it would be shipped via FedEx and he would be back next week, same time, same deal, to replace the door -- unless it doesn’t arrive, in which case I have to call and cancel the appointment and wait (another 3 months, I suppose) until it shows up.  Then he suggested I open the large box and inspect the door to make sure this one is NOT damaged.  Right, I have so much repair experience that I can take a cursory look and determine the integrity of the part. 

Given this situation, you can understand why we are forced into the “self-service” concept.  You can wander around the supermarket now with a scanner so you check out your shopping order while you shop.  Or you can go to the “self-service” line – because there are few open registers where actual people work anymore – and scan in your own stuff.  God forbid you want to use your own bags.  The machine goes nuts and asks you with each item if you are bagging it because you aren’t using store bags.  Isn’t that supposed to be an environmentally good thing?  I always – always – have to flag down a store employee because the item doesn’t scan or the bag thing is an issue.  It’s always something. 

When the line at the deli is too long, you can buy the pre-sliced meats and cheeses or order at a kiosk and continue shopping.  It sounds good in theory, but I miss the interaction and the occasional sample piece of cheese the deli folks offer.  What’s next?  Will I have to go behind the counter and slice my own meat?

I had to take my car into the dealership for routine maintenance and I thought I would save myself some time and trouble by scheduling the appointment on-line.  That worked fine, except that the process kicked off a series of thank you messages, confirmations and reminders – in e-mail, text and phone – that took more time to process than actually calling for the appointment.  After the car was serviced, I got an e-mail and a text message to thank me, and the promise of a survey to come that I should fill out to let them know how great their customer service was. 

My dental appointments are made 6 months in advance, and I take the little appointment card, but the procedure is that I get a reminder via e-mail.  The problem with that is that the message arrives about a month before the appointment.  What’s the point?  It is so far in advance I could theoretically forget it anyway.  But no fear, because Laura in the office will call the day or two before to remind me.

Even restaurants now call to confirm your reservation.  I understand that they need to be sure their reservations are being kept, but I think I get more calls from these interactions than I do from my family and friends.  That’s because they are all so busy getting calls about appointments they have made that they don’t have time to call me!

We all have stories about contacting the bank, the insurance company (those are fun), Comcast and plenty of other companies with whom we do business to report a service outage, ask a question or try to get some kind of help.  Successful interactions are rarely done on the first call.  Assuming you can explain the problem and the agent can direct you – after you have hit 10 more buttons and been cut off three times, as I was recently with Comcast – you will get the inevitable question, “Is there anything else I can do for you today?”  Actually, you barely helped me with the first thing, so let’s not keep up this new relationship any longer than we have to.

The new trend when you call is to let you know that the wait time is X number of minutes and they will call you back if you don’t want to hold.  I called the Social Security office once and was told they would call me back at 4:06.  Not at 4, or ten after 4, but at 4:06.  The joke was on them.  They didn’t call until 4:08.

Or you can have a “live chat” with the cartoony-looking representative on your computer screen who is happy to help you.  That works, but you have to sit patiently while the rep types, and you read the message that tells you he or she is typing.  Again, I could tell my life story in fewer keystrokes. 
Those of you who live outside of NJ are used to one self-service thing that we here in the Garden State don’t have to tolerate – we don’t have to pump our own gas, which means I don’t have to get out of the car to fill up.  It would be nice if the gas station guy(s) ever bothered to look up or offer a thank-you, but that doesn’t happen anymore. 

I’m so against self-service that I don’t even want to cook my own dinner anymore.  (Ok, you could just say I’m lazy, and I won’t argue with you on that point.)  That’s why I am in love with Panera.  I can order a yummy salad or satisfying sandwich on my phone app, customize it the way I like, and they have it ready and charged to my account by the time I can drive the 2 miles from my house to pick it up.  I don’t even have to speak with a human being.  The bag with my name is waiting for me to pick it up.  Now, that’s what I call customer service!

Let’s get back to my GE experience.  My oven didn’t work when I first moved into my new house last September.  Brand new, and it would not turn on (a good excuse not to cook).  The tech came and said I needed a new control panel and it would be shipped, but when it didn’t arrive, I called my new best friends at Customer Care and was informed that it was on backorder.  And you were going to tell me that when, I asked.  Several weeks later, the part was shipped to me, and I called again to schedule the tech guy.  When he arrived, he also had the part.  I asked him if he could take the extra one back, but he told me it was expensive so I should keep it in case I need it replaced again.

The message was clear to me:  We don’t care if the company makes money, and your oven will probably go on the fritz again, so you might as well keep the spare part for when that happens.  Because it will.

The oven also had a defective light inside the stove, so I called GE about that and was asked – in all seriousness – whether I had an appliance bulb.  I explained that I had a brand new stove in a brand new house, so buying appliance bulbs to replace defective ones wasn’t part of my plan.  The Customer Care woman ordered me a new one and when it came in, I called to schedule the installation.  Instead, she told me how to do it myself, thereby saving the service call and not forcing me to stay in that 1-4 window yet again.

Back to the issue at hand – the defective oven door(s).  Someone else on my street called GE to schedule a repair of her appliance and then called me to say that the Customer Care folks seemed confused by a request for another appliance repair on the same street (two different addresses, names and phone numbers).  She wanted to give me a heads-up in case they cancelled my appointment.  I called the next day and, sure enough, GE had cancelled MY appointment when making HERS.  The part arrived, but I had to wait a few more days for the tech guy to do the installation.  The new door was also damaged, so now we are ordering it for the third time, with the new tech saying he will order it to be packed in a way that it will be protected.  Wouldn’t you think that would be the case anyway?  And I get to kill another day waiting for the arrival of the part and the repair guy.  Maybe I can just go ahead and install that, too, or maybe I can get a part-time job repairing GE appliances. 

Remember the old Maytag repairman?  He was a lonely, forlorn guy whose services were never needed because Maytag washing machines always worked – or so the ads would have you believe.  Now things are expected to fail and no one is supposed to mind. 

My last gas dryer – also a GE – needed a new control panel (you’re sensing an out-of-control trend here, aren’t you?).  This part commonly breaks because you turn the knob.  But how else can you turn the dryer on if you don’t turn the knob?  The repair guy explained that everything is made of plastic instead of metal (cue “the olden days”) and the parts don’t stand up.  So expect to repair or replace a part or an entire appliance every few years. 

And only a dozen calls, texts and e-mails later, things are working again.  I think the system is broken.  Who do we call to repair that?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Tina's July 2016 Movies

July was full of movies, with my usual eclectic mix.  I watched an 11-minute documentary about model trains, a portrait of the notorious Anthony Weiner and a film about Nazis that was worth remembering.  Movies I had not seen previously are marked with an asterisk, and all movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna fish, with 5 being the top rating.  Numbering picks up from the previous month.
71. Tab Hunter Confidential* (2014) – When I think about Tab Hunter (on the rare occasions that I do), I think of a good-looking guy whose modicum of talent led to a largely unmemorable career.  Today, in his mid-80s, Hunter is still a very good-looking guy, and in this memoir, he shares his ups and downs.  As a closeted gay man whose star rose in the 50s and 60s, he couldn’t acknowledge his sexuality.  The fan magazines of the time featured countless pictures of Tab and the leading female stars of the day – Natalie Wood, Debbie Reynolds and others.  A practicing Catholic, Hunter had difficulty reconciling his sexuality with his religion, so he kept his private life private.  There is neither great triumph nor tragedy in his story – much like his range as an actor – but he comes across as a genuinely good guy who got the most out of what he had to offer without giving too much of himself away.  3 cans.
72.  Eddie the Eagle* (2016) – If you appreciate the story of the underdog, look no further than the genre of sports movies.  There are winners, of course, and loveable losers.  Here we have the dramatized story of Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), a Brit with an Olympic obsession.  His lack of athletic ability never stops his yearning to be in the Olympics, and he realizes that since Britain doesn’t have a ski jumping team, he won’t have a lot of competition to get to the 1988 Calgary games.  The awkward young athlete finds a crusty has-been (Hugh Jackman) who first discourages him and then teaches him.  For some reason, Eddie manages to survive and not break his body into bits, and, of course, he realizes his Olympic dream – to compete.  And isn’t that the goal of the Olympics anyway?  I actually remember his “Up Close and Personal” profile from the TV broadcasts, as young Eddie soared into the hearts of fans.  This is no “Rudy,” but, based on the true story, there is more of the thrill of victory than the agony of defeat.  3½ cans.
73.  Remember* (2016) – Christopher Plummer is Zev, an old man who escapes his retirement home to seek revenge on the Nazi who murdered his family at Auschwitz during World War II.  Although he suffers from dementia and wakes up every morning calling out for his deceased wife, he somehow manages (with the help and encouragement of his friend at the retirement home, played by Martin Landau) to get himself across the country in search of the war criminal.  He goes down several blind alleys and has some interesting encounters as director Atom Egoyan builds the suspense.  Like all other movies about war and Nazis, this is one I will watch only once.  Plummer is outstanding, and although the pace is slow (with an octogenarian lead, what else would you expect?), the story is taut and thrilling.  Stay tuned for a twist at the end that I never saw coming.  I will not forget “Remember.”  4 cans.
74.  A Few Great Bakeries* (2015) – There’s nothing like waking up to the smell of fresh, hot bread or pastries.  At least I would assume so from watching this PBS special.  A Few Great Bakeries takes a look at selected bakeries from New York State to Portland, Oregon, most family-owned and operated, and all bring much more than just dough to people’s lives.  One woman runs her bakery in her backyard.  She operates by the honor system, so people take what they want and leave their money.  Another woman runs a bakery from a food truck, baking the yummy items at home and then opening the truck to sell her signature rum cakes.  There are Mexican bakeries, a Japanese bakery and a million kinds of breads and rolls.  I think I gained weight just by watching.  Gone are the days of the cardboard box and the ubiquitous string for most of us, but these places bring back memories most of us can share.  Pass the pastries.  3½ cinnamon buns, please.
75.  Everybody’s Fine* (2009) – Except they aren’t.  When widower Goode’s (Robert DeNiro) adult children all cancel out on a visit to their father with flimsy excuses, he takes to the road, turning up unannounced to visit each of them.  He has instilled values in them and has pride in their accomplishments.  But his visits to them reveal things about each that he didn’t know and which his late wife didn’t share.  There is such an air of sadness about this movie, as the lonely widower tries to establish bonds with his family that somehow have eluded him.  DeNiro looks and seems similar to his character in “The Intern,” minus some of the innate kindness in the latter picture, and, as always, he delivers.  The disappointing progeny are Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore.  All I can say is to immediately call your parents and talk to both of them if you are lucky enough to have them.  3½ cans.
76.  Frost-Nixon* (2008) – It is interesting to me that director Ron Howard (one of my favorites) gave talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) top billing in his account of the 1977 interviews Frost conducted with disgraced President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella).  Frost is in charge, selected to host the interviews and then stuck with selling the program that will pose the toughest Watergate questions.  But Frost is used to banal banter with celebrities, not investigative journalism, so he seems an unlikely choice to go toe-to-toe with the man who remains the only president to resign from office.  And despite hiring a tough back-up team, Frost as first is far too deferential and preoccupied to focus in on the most telling parts of the Nixon story – what did he know and when did he know it.  Frost shows too much respect and restraint, and Nixon at first commands the stage.  But Frost realizes his responsibility to get Nixon to admit his role in the Watergate cover-up, particularly as overheard on the infamous White House tapes.  This movie pits the two men together to parry and it is captivating.  Langella plays Nixon well, although on the close-ups (complete with a glistening upper lip), I thought he looked more like game show host Dennis James than Richard Nixon.  Watergate was a watershed moment in U.S. political history, and Howard brings the Nixon hysteria back with style.  4 cans.
77.  1001 to 1: The Corey Weissman Story* (2014) – OK, I’m a sucker for sports movies, so I slogged through this account of real life basketball player Corey Weissman  (David Henrie), a dedicated baller who suffered a stroke his sophomore season at Gettysburg College.  Weissman is a genuinely good guy who spent all of his free time dribbling basketballs, working out and studying the game.  He had a sweet shot, ability to drive to the hoop, and a weakness in his brain that led to his stroke.  What followed was lengthy rehab and never-ending hope of one day returning to the court to score for the Bullets.  Beau Bridges phones in his part as the firm but kindly coach.  There are the loyal-at-first girlfriend, the supportive parents and the best friend on hand to encourage and help Corey.  I can’t imagine this movie airing in the theater; it had “Lifetime Movie” written all over it.  Yet I watched.  You know it must be off-season and I was desperate for some hoops action.  2 cans for the movie, but 5 for Corey himself.
78.  Don’t Pass Me By* (2014) – As Frank Sinatra sings in my way, “Regrets, I’ve had a few…”  Well, this movie is full of them.  For the main characters, heartbreak and bad timing have forced them to make choices.  One is a ballerina who married the wrong guy too fast and is really in love with someone else (her friend’s boyfriend, no less).    Another finds out in the first few minutes of the movie that she has stage 4 cancer and only a short time to live – and then immediately meets the tall, dark and handsome man of all our dreams (well, most of us, anyway).  The third one is a movie star with a pushy agent who is forced into choosing her career over her life but who rediscovers the guy she was friends with growing up who still has a thing for her.  And then there’s the teenager who is living with her sister and gets pregnant.  Timing, people, timing.  Except for the blonde ballerina, all the other women were brunettes and I had a tough time telling them apart.  The actress is played by Rachel Noll, who wrote the screenplay and produced.  The only thing that ties these stories together – and it is a tenuous tie at that – is that they happen to frequent the same diner.  Nothing outstanding here, but considering that we all go through life changes and experience loss and regret, we all have something in common with this film.  3 cans.
79.  Knuckleball* (2012) – Who else besides me would watch a documentary about the strange saga of the knuckleball and the pitchers who throw it?   This movie focuses on the pitch itself, a non-rotating, slow-moving pitch that seems at times to have a mind of its own.  The men who use it as their primary weapon are a special breed, and they are a kind of fraternity.  They don’t mind sharing secrets about the mysterious pitch with each other and newcomers to the trade.  From the past we have former Yankee Jim Bouton, with Charlie Hough and the Niekro brothers all dispensing wisdom to the newest ace, R. J. Dickey, then with the Mets.  Boston’s Tim Wakefield pitched for the Red Sox for 19 years with that pitch in his arsenal, using it as a starter, a reliever or a long man.  He and Dickey, a career baseball nomad until he mastered the knuckler, are the keepers of the knuckle flame, with Dickey admitting that he wants to stick around long enough to see someone else pick up where he and Wakefield leave off.  I can’t imagine too many people watching this one, but I’ll give it 3 baseballs. 
80.  The Man in the Moon* (1991) – It is hard to believe that accomplished actress Reese Witherspoon has been around for 25 years now, having made her movie debut in this tender story.  She plays adolescent Dani, a 14-year old with older and younger sisters who live on a Louisiana farm in 1957.  Dani is crazy about Elvis and curious about love, and when handsome 17-year old Court (Jason London) and his family return to live at the neighboring farm, it doesn’t take Dani long to be smitten.  Though young himself, Court recognizes that Dani is too young for him and resolves to be just friends.  But when Dani’s older sister Maureen (Emily Warfield) falls for the same guy, sisterly bonds are broken.  Richard Mulligan, who also directed “Summer of 42” and the more intense “To Kill a Mockingbird,” sets the right tone, with stunning shots of the countryside and Dani racing through it to jump into the nearby swimming hole.  This is a beautiful look at the heartaches of growing up, of first love and of the relationships within a family.  Tess Harper, Sam Waterston and Gail Strickland are known quantities who fill out the cast.  And Reese Witherspoon is off and running at the start of a great career in film.  4 cans.
81.  Weiner* (2016) – The first word that comes to mind watching this absorbing but prurient documentary about the rise and fall of politician and would-be NYC Mayor Anthony Weiner is “Why?”  If you are not familiar with his story, it can be summed up as: a passionate politician with a penchant for posing for pictures of his privates is exposed.  There, I said it.  So the “Why?” question addresses Weiner’s peccadillos, but also must be posed to his way-too-loyal and patient wife, Huma Abedin, a highly thought of advisor to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  After Weiner’s swift fall from grace, when the sexting scandal broke and he was forced to resign from Congress, it is Huma who urges him to run for Mayor of New York.  It is Huma by his side as he launches his mayoral campaign.  And it is Huma – albeit with a look on her face that says she wants to pummel him with a cast iron frying pan – who gamely supports him when yet another series of ill-advised texts come to light, these written and sent by her numb-sculled husband under the hilarious pseudonym “Carlos Danger.”  Senor Danger humiliates his wife, sabotages an otherwise promising career and simply does not understand what he has done that is so bad.  I guess you don’t go to jail for humiliating your wife, or for being stupid, but if you did, this guy would be a lifer.  I felt no sympathy for him, just for her, but at the same time I wanted to ask her that one question:  “Why?”  And finally, to both of them, why would you let/encourage/engage a documentary film crew to follow you around when you knew that there were more texts that had been sent AFTER he was forced to resign, after he was caught and admitted the scandalous behavior?  You cannot make this stuff up.  Fascinating, in a let’s-watch-the-trainwreck kind of way.  4 cans.
82.  Some Kind of Quest* (2016) – I have driven past Northlandz countless times but never with a desire to stop in and see the world’s largest model railroad.  Building this unique attraction was a quest for Bruce Williams Zaccagnino, its creator and owner, who took two years to see his vision through.  It features tiny people and trees, realistic buildings, mountains, bridges and, of course, trains.  They travel over miles of tiny tracks, over 400 bridges, past Bruce’s painstakingly made mountains, rivers and city scenes.  At 11 minutes, this brief documentary is certainly the shortest movie I have ever reviewed, but it stands tall.  Well done, Bruce.  I might just have to stop by and see this local wonderland in person.  3½ cans.
83.  Suited* (2016) – We all know how hard it is to find just the right outfit, something “suitable” for a special occasion, something that fits us just right and makes us feel so good.  For people who are transgender, the challenge is real, and the creator of Bindle & Keep brings his artistry and compassion to making a suit that is perfectly suited for each client.  Their clothes are empowering as they find the right fabric, the right cut and the right attitude to serve customers who might never have felt comfortable in their own skin, no less their own clothes.  This moving documentary aired on HBO and is well-suited for viewers.  3½ cans.
84.  Ghostbusters (1984) – Don’t get all excited.  This is the original, not the all-female remake.  This classic comedy starts Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis as the, well, ghostbusters, determined to outwit, outplay and outlast an army of apparitions taking over New York City.  Considering that I don’t like broad comedy (generally speaking) and I have no passion for fantasy, I nonetheless enjoyed this movie way back when and still got a chuckle seeing it again.  Murray is particularly smarmy and smug as he pursues Sigourney Weaver with the same determination as the ghosts.  Ackroyd, the man who made you believe there actually was a Bass-o-matic when he was on SNL, is at his serious best.  Rick Moranis in a supporting role was annoying, and Ernie Hudson was thrown in the mix for unknown reasons.  This romp still holds up. After all, who ya gonna call?  3½ cans. 
85.  Everest* (2015) – They say that men climb mountains because they are there.  Hmm, that’s not reason enough to me to risk life and limb in the freezing cold, on the quite literal slippery slope of a place like Mt. Everest in Nepal.  But in 1996, an expedition that included author Jon Krakauer and a bunch of Americans did just that and met with disaster right near the summit when a ferocious storm struck.  This movie recounts those events.  I watched it on my 60” TV, which was too small to get the full effect of the stunning vistas.  Yet, I couldn’t wait for it to end.  I could barely understand the dialog, much of which was delivered with an Australian accent, I knew doom was near and the whole thing made me cold.  Why did I watch?  Well, because it was on.  2½ cans.
86.  The Thing Called Love* (1993) – As a big fan of the TV show “Nashville,” I decided to watch this movie about young singer-songwriters trying desperately to break into show biz via the local bar, the Bluebird Cafe.  Samantha Mathis is Miranda Presley (no relation, she assures everyone), who arrives in Nashville from NYC and meets a group of other young hopefuls.  Chief among them are James (River Phoenix, in his last performance), Kyle (Dermot Mulroney) and Linda Lue (Sandra Bullock in what might be her first role of note).  Everyone in Nashville seems to have another, real job, and when Miranda doesn’t make the cut at Blue Bird auditions, she becomes a waitress.  All of her spare time is spent writing songs, and there is plenty of heartache to provide material, as she falls in love and marries the talented but unreliable James.  Their sudden marriage doesn’t seem destined for longevity, and sadly, neither did Phoenix himself, a specter that hangs over the movie.  I prefer seeing the cast of Nashville performing at the Blue Bird, because you never know if Deacon Claybourne or the great Rayna James herself will show up.  This low-key story was directed by Peter Bogdonovich, which I never would have guessed.  3 cans.
87.  All Good Things* (2010) – All Good Things almost came to the end before the real action got started.  My future husband, Ryan Gosling, plays real estate dynasty heir David Marks, based on the real-life Fred Durst, who was accused in the disappearance of his young wife Katie (Kirsten Dunst).  David and Katie meet as free spirits and they open a health food store, marry and seem outwardly happy, although David has issues stemming from his witnessing his mother’s suicide as a 6-year old.   He reluctantly takes a job working for his mogul father (Frank Langella) that requires him to collect cash payments from rentals in the seediest sections of NYC (back in the 1970s-80s, before Times Square went through Disneyfication).  Katie doesn’t care about his job, but she is affected by his distance in their marriage.  She enrolls in medical school and leaves David repeatedly, yet returns when he cuts her off financially.  This is a frustrating and chilling story about a sociopath with domestic violence tendencies whose wife disappears.  Eventually, so does David.  Say no more or spoil the plot, Tina.  The best thing in All Good Things is, of course, Gosling, but you knew I’d say that.  3½ cans.
88.  Girlfriends (1978) – As a woman, I can attest to the importance of girlfriends.  Despite the presence of men in our lives, it is our girlfriends who can be our soulmates, our advisors, our supporters – or our disappointments.  In the case of artsy photographer Susan (Melanie Mayron) and her BFF Anne (Anita Skinner), the two women are all set to move into a new apartment together when Anne informs Susan that she is marrying her new boyfriend Martin (Bob Balaban), leaving Susan with more rent than she can afford and without Anne in her daily life.  Susan struggles to survive alone, photographing weddings and bar mitzvahs to make ends meet.  Although she has men in her life, they just don’t have the same depth in their relationships.  As the years pass, the two women remain friends despite leading different lives that afford them little time to reconnect.  The movie is very much of the 1970s, so there were no cellphones, e-mail or social media keeping us updated with every event – significant or otherwise – in the lives of our friends.  I didn’t love this movie, but I appreciate the important role friends play in our lives and how, if the friendship is strong, it will survive lapses and life choices.  3½ cans.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Walk On

“Oy.”

That word is spoken – silently or otherwise – as I haul my butt out of bed, knowing that I need to hit the streets for my morning walk.

My feet, my ankles, my Achilles tendons, my knees, my sciatica – everything hurts.  I’m no more than a litany of body parts that would keep an orthopedist in business indefinitely.  I stretch, worrying that I’ll simply aggravate the offended body parts.  I hear the “snap, crackle, pop” of my knees and shoulders as I get ready.  And I so don’t want to go.  I have other things to do.  Or I’ll go later.  Right, I can walk later.  But I know I won’t, so I go.

I throw on a shirt with some strange logo (where did “Hartford Health Care” come from?).  I check the weather to see if it is safe to wear shorts or whether I’d be better off putting on long pants.  I don the baseball cap I bought during a sudden 10-minute rain storm while visiting St. John.  I grab the phone and headphones, tune into Pandora or Amazon Music (since I will never be able to figure out how to access my 5,500 songs on “the Cloud” from my iTunes account without my iPod), and I hit the streets.  I wonder if there is an Olympic medal for just getting out of the house and walking when things hurt and you don’t want to go.  And then I remember how lucky I am to have the time, to have a place and to have the ability to do something others might want to do but can’t.  So I keep walking.

As I walk through my development, I make a mental note of the houses with generators so I know whose door to knock on in case of a power failure.  I envy the people whose homes have newspapers in the driveways since the Star-Ledger broke its promise to find my house and deliver the paper to me.  (I must admit, not getting a daily paper really cuts down on the clutter and the recycling.)

I dodge the sprinklers and the dogs on long leashes as I sing along (silently), hoping I can still recall all the words to “Love Child.”  I figure that if I can, I have avoided Alzheimer’s, at least for now.  I can actually hear the real words to songs I’ve known for decades, thanks to the headphones, although I still am not sure of the lyrics to “Louie, Louie,” but that, I’m sure, was the Kingsmen’s intent.  I think about the wonders of Stevie Wonder and the marketing genius of Berry Gordy.  I do, really.

Since I have been more stressed out than usual lately, I have even switched up the musical selections to include some New Age or spa music.  The music is soothing, although I find that nature sounds don’t work for me if there is running water in the background.  Saying more would be TMI.  I feel relaxed, but if only I could stop thinking for just a bit, I would really de-stress myself.

I stop periodically to remove tiny, almost invisible stones that somehow find their way into my shoes.  I’m like the character in “The Princess and the Pea:” I feel every little imperfection. I’m such a delicate little flower.

I notice the flowers and the variety of mailboxes from one street to the next.  I check the landscaping for ideas for my own property.  I take in the smells of the plants and the people who appear to have showered and put on clean clothes BEFORE their walks.  They smell like Tide.  I don’t.  I don’t even comb my hair (see baseball cap, above).

Because I live in an “active adult” community, there are plenty of other people out walking, too.  Some are older and some are younger, but very few look like they would be carded if they tried to buy the senior citizen ticket on the train.  There are some people who run, but I assume they are either younger and living with someone here who qualifies as 55 and older or they are visiting.  There’s one crazy woman who walks fast and far.  One morning I spotted her on the dangerous road outside the development.  When I returned two hours later, she was still powerwalking, but this time in another area.  Give it a rest, woman.  I note that no one I see has any kind of “cool factor” that is inherently mine.  Some sport fanny packs – and don’t tell me they are “back in style,” because these folks never gave them up.  I’ve seen people walking with umbrellas for the sun, carrying walking sticks, cross-body purses and wearing slacks and polo shirts, all looking totally dorky and uncool (compared to me, with my hugely oversized t-shirts and aforementioned St. John hat).

Sometimes I venture to a nearby park, where the views include a lake/pond, plants, people fishing, picnicking, riding bikes, walking dogs and playing tennis.  I can walk to Colonial Park, where I can literally “smell the roses” at the wondrous rose garden there.  That route isn’t as practical as noting the houses with generators, but it is much more life-affirming.  Or I walk along the tow path for the nearby canal, looking at the meandering path of the adjoining river.  Mother Nature is one cool chick.

These solitary sojourns give me time to think about the issues of the day.  What’s for dinner?  What’s my schedule for the rest of the day?  Can I get in my 3.2 miles/10,000 steps on just this walk?  Whose call do I need to return?  When can I do this again?  What’s the subject of my next essay?

I guess I have that one figured out.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Tina's June 2016 Movies

I didn't even reach a dozen movies in June, but I achieved one milestone for me: Every movie I watched was new to me.  Maybe I should have added a few old favorites to the list, because there's nothing here I would watch again (the OJ program was excellent, but it is too long to sit through more than once).  Movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the highest.  Numbering picks up from the previous month.

60.  For All Mankind* (1989) – Only 12 men have landed on the moon, and this absorbing documentary features the actual footage they shot of their voyages and of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s landing.  There are plenty of scenes showing items floating around the spacecraft and even a discussion on some – to put it delicately – practical matters.  How does one make a sandwich while floating in space?  The astronauts record their activities and express their wonder at the universe as they peer through tiny windows to capture Earth in the distance.  We haven’t seen a moon landing in decades, but this film brings back that initial excitement.  3½ cans.
61.  Me Before You* (2016) – Book before movie.  Movie = meh.  Maybe if I hadn’t read the book and didn’t know what was going to happen, I would have enjoyed this movie more.  Screenwriter JoJo Moyes faithfully adapted her book, so the story I loved reading is exactly what I saw on the screen, but the lead actress (Emilia Clarke) was just a little too perky for my taste.  The story is about a handsome young man (Sam Claflin) who suffers a tragic accident and the inexperienced but spunky young woman hired by his mother as his companion/health care worker.  Sadly, this potato is twice baked.  3 cans.
62.  The Finest Hour* (2015) – Chris Pine plays a brave young Coast Guard seaman who is charged with the seemingly impossible task of taking a small boat out to sea to rescue the crewmen who are stranded on a tanker that was split in two by a violent storm.  The woman he loves and has plans to marry waits and worries, while the men on the nearly-destroyed ship work ingeniously to keep their half afloat.  This is a movie that is better seen in a theatre than on a TV set, because there is plenty of action, but my usual objection applies:  It is too dark.  Even the scenes not at sea are shot with little light.  In addition, the action takes place off the coast of New England, and the Boston accents are extremely hard to follow.  Pine is stoic, determined and destined to be a hero in this true story.  Maybe a little more light and hearing the dialog would have helped, so I can only give it 3 cans.
63.  OJ – Made in America* (2016) –I was captivated with the FX docudrama on the trial of OJ Simpson that aired several months ago, and this engrossing documentary is even better.  Produced and directed by Ezra Edelman, this multi-part program is one of ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, and probably its best effort to date.  It is a look at the life and times of OJ Simpson – not only his life, but of the culture of sports and celebrity, racial tensions and police treatment of African-Americans in the burgeoning Los Angeles.  And then there’s OJ himself, handsome, winning, an outwardly great guy who eschewed black power and his potential as a leader in the black community in favor of seizing marketing opportunities and fame that came his way because of his prowess on the football field and his affable nature and good looks.  But beneath that veneer is a real sense of entitlement.  And, by the way, he beats his wife.  The documentary asserts that he repeatedly flew into jealous rages and beat his wife Nicole, who called police only to see them downplay the incidents because OJ was such a good guy – right?  Did OJ kill her and Ron Goldman?  The jury said no, but you can draw your own conclusion.  His after-trial life is carefully documented, though we never see OJ fulfill his promise to “track down the real killer(s).”  His fall from grace wasn’t swift, but it was complete, as today he languishes in prison on unrelated charges.  An American tragedy for all parties.  4 cans.
64.  Stuck in Love* (2012) – Greg Kinnear is generally a likeable, low-key kind of actor, and he brings those qualities to this role as author Bill Borgens.  His wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly) left him for another man 3 years ago, but he is convinced she’s coming back.  He still sets a place for her at the table as he shares holidays with his nearly-grown children Samantha (Lily Collins) and Rusty (Nat Wolff), who try to persuade him that their mom is gone for good.  Of course, he should know that since he goes to Erica’s house every now and then and peeks into her windows.  Meanwhile, both kids are aspiring authors and Samantha, a college student, is having her first book published.  Bill hasn’t published a thing since his marriage went south, so he’s a little jealous, and Samantha wants nothing to do with her mother because she abandoned her father.  High school student Rusty smokes too much pot and falls for a girl with a drug and alcohol problem who thinks he can help her.  Samantha is a sassy young woman who unexpectedly falls for nice-guy Louis.  Everyone here is stuck on love, whether or not they have the right partner.  This movie has a good cast, but the story just kept getting stuck in the mud for me.  3 cans.
65.  Renoir: Revered and Reviled* (2016) – Presented by the Barnes Foundation, the owners of the largest collection of the work of Renoir, this documentary takes a hard look at Renoir’s artistic evolution.  Pierre Auguste Renoir was a late 19th century painter and a member of the Impressionism movement, along with cohorts Claude Monet, Edward Manet and other French artists of the time.  This film carefully shows his style and brush strokes, his use of various kinds of painting techniques, and, most important, his shift from strict Impressionism to a more modern approach that was later emulated by Pablo Picasso and others.  In his later years, where much of the focus of the film lies, he painted numerous nudes.  All were fleshy, sometimes out of proportion women, and the question is raised as to his intentions.  Was Renoir misogynistic?  Was he objectifying women?  Many of this subjects have blank faces, which makes the critics think they seem to lack intelligence.  But who knows what Renoir was thinking?  That doesn’t stop the art experts here from either asserting their views on his intentions or speculating on his view of women.  Art criticism, like all criticism, is subjective, so there is no right or wrong.  Watching this movie made me examine the canvases more closely than I might have otherwise, and reminded me how much I love the Impressionists.  I think the title of this movie is inaccurate, because reviled is too strong a word for what is presented here.  3½ cans.
66.  The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain* (2015) – Mitch Mustain seemed destined for greatness.  As a high school quarterback in Arkansas, he was a sought-after recruit who committed to playing for the local University of Arkansas.  This documentary takes to task the recruiting of high school students and the staffing of college football teams.  Despite prolific talent on the field, Mitch was caught in a power struggle between the head coach and the offensive coordinator (who had been his high school coach and who was undoubtedly hired to deliver Mitch and several of his teammates) and he ultimately transferred to USC, where he slipped off the depth chart.  This movie is an indictment of the fame that comes to young men simply because of their youthful achievements and potential and how the public’s expectation of them can turn to anger and derision should they not live up to the hype.  Meanwhile, far too many people have a stake in and a say in this young man’s life.  Today he is no longer involved in sports at any level.  And that seems a shame, given his abilities and accomplishments, but if that is his choice, then he has mastered the game.  3½ cans.
67.  Lovely, Still* (2009) – Martin Landau plays Robert, a lonely old man rambling about in a house clearly too large for him.  He goes to his job at the local market but he just sits there and draws.  One day a vibrant older woman named Mary (Ellen Burstyn) introduces herself to him and they begin a cautious but sweet relationship.  It doesn’t take much to throw Robert out of his routine, which is terrifying for him, but he develops real feelings for Mary.  This movie was so slow in reaching its crescendo that more than once I thought about abandoning it, but I’m glad I stuck around for the ending.  It was heartwarming and worth watching.  3 cans.
68.  The Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club* (2013) – I cannot imagine a cornier or more amateurish movie than this little ditty about three grumpy old men who gather every Wednesday at the local small-town diner.  However, while as treacly as they come, the movie does have a certain charm, as the earnest young waitress Megan (Stacey Bradshaw) works diligently to accommodate their demands (a seat cushion for one, burning hot coffee for another).  She eavesdrops on their conversations, as each man discloses bits of his past, experiences in his native country and in the military.  She learns by listening that one man recently lost his wife, and she goes out of her way to visit when another is ill.  I can’t recommend this movie for most of you, but I did appreciate the reminder that everyone has a story and sometimes it helps just to listen.  And to keep the coffee hot.  2 cans, and no resemblance whatsoever to the Brat Pack’s “The Breakfast Club.”
69.  Maggie’s Plan* (2016) – Maggie (Greta Gerwig) had a plan and she should have stuck to it.  A single working woman, Maggie wanted to have a baby, and she enlisted a former college classmate as a sperm donor.  But when she meets unhappily married professor/author John (Ethan Hawke), her plan abruptly changes, and she and John marry and have a baby.  John is an overwrought author who will never finish that damn book or face his responsibilities, so Maggie is stuck with him, his two kids, their baby and a hopeless future.  Her plan then is to reunite John with his first wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore, with an accent), with whom he has maintained a relationship.  Seriously, Maggie, enough with the plans.  You should know by now that you aren’t good at it and they don’t always work.  The baby is cute, the movie is annoying.  If you are planning to see it, I say you should reconsider your plan.  2½ cans.
70.  The Fundamentals of Caring* (2016) – In this Netflix original movie, the ageless Paul Rudd plays Ben, an unemployed writer desperate for a job who becomes the caregiver for Trevor (Craig Roberts), an 18-year old fatherless young man with a form of muscular dystrophy.  Despite the warnings of the young man’s mother, the two strike up a friendship, and Ben agrees to take Trevor on a road trip – medicines, wheelchair and all – to see some roadside attractions that he finds appealing.  The movie soon becomes a buddy/road movie, complete with the addition of strangers they meet along the way who introduce Trevor to parts of life he’s never experienced.  The two main characters have a grudging bond and affection for each other, but it often manifests itself in cruel pranks and yelling.  I wanted more from the movie, because helping someone with a disability seemed like a different take on the typical road trip movie, but it didn’t end up much different at all.  The last scene, where Trevor gets to fulfill a lifelong dream, is modestly entertaining, but otherwise, this was pretty routine.  3 cans.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mid-Month Musings for June 2016

Let me start this month’s edition by thanking those of you who faithfully read these monthly musings and take time to let me know you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.  You frequently tell me that you can relate to exactly what I have expressed.  Here’s a little secret:  Your random thought ARE the same as mine.  The only difference is that I write mine down.  And here we are.

I will get that gravity-defying crumb that is rattling around in the toaster out of the toaster if I have to take the damn thing apart to do it!

From now on, my criteria for buying a vacuum cleaner will be how well it sucks up sequins and glitter.

Do you know where your tongue is?  Well, of course you know it is in your mouth, but you don’t think about your tongue until you are in the dentist’s chair and are told to relocate it temporarily.  That’s when you feel you have lost all control over the errant organ.  Moving it out of the way seems to be an impossible task since you have no idea where it is situated and what it plans on doing next.  I have a similar issue at the nail salon, where I am always admonished to “relax your hands.”  Who knows where my fingers go?  I feel a little out of control.

You know those flapping batwings all women my age have under their arms?  I guess the only way to get rid of them without surgery is to work out really hard.  I don’t know any women my age who are willing or able to work out that hard.  Michelle Obama is our Shero.

I always wonder how old the potatoes are in the supermarket.  I mean, it isn’t like they have expiration dates.  Bananas go from green to yellow to brown.  Fruit gets mushy.  But potatoes?  Unless you can see the whites of their eyes, who knows how long they have been hanging around, hoping for an adoption?

Just wondering - does Guy Fieri ever go to a diner, drive-in or dive he doesn't like? Or do the producers refuse to air the losers? He can't like everything - or can he?

Who came up with the term “rock and roll” and why?

Let’s face it:  There’s never a day when I don’t want to eat M&Ms.  But I rarely ever do.

If you are like me, you feel pressure when someone asks you for directions.  I might know exactly how to go, but I won’t necessarily remember the names of the streets or the landmarks.  I find myself coming up with instructions to “turn by the old XYZ Diner, or that’s what it used to be called.”  Or I’ll think to myself, “I think that street is where Susie used to live and it is a block past that.”  Actual street names might be more helpful.

Who among us has NOT, on occasion, pulled some garment out of the laundry, given it the sniff test and decided that we could get one more wearing out of it?

What does it say about me that I buy “ultra-strong” toilet paper?  That strong just isn’t strong enough?  What makes it ultra-strong anyway?

I will spend 10 minutes rearranging things in the trunk of my car so that I can carry them all into the house in one trip.  It would take less time to make two trips, but that is against my principles.

It was the beginning of the War of the Weeds in Tina Town recently, and I won the initial skirmish.  But when I wake up the next day with my hips and hamstrings screaming, those weeds will have the last laugh.  And then they will come back and taunt me.

It annoys me that I have to make sure the plants are watered but that the weeds can thrive no matter what conditions prevail.  I just watered the flowers, so expect a downpour to follow.

Speaking of which, I don’t get the thrill of gardening.  The bending over, getting your hands dirty and pulling weeds doesn’t seem like fun to me.  I love to look at pretty flowers, but I think mine will be in pots!

Don’t you hate it when someone you are with takes a bite of something, tells you it tastes funny and then asks you to confirm that by tasting it?  No, thanks.

I don’t know if I require less sleep these days, but I am sure getting less sleep these days.  Yet I am not taking naps – unless, of course, I am at the movies!  I really think I need more sleep than I am getting, but I’m up crazy early and can’t get back to sleep.  Maybe I need an all-night movie theater to cure my sleep woes.

Speaking of which, I wish the world were ready for me when I am ready for it.  When I wake up at 4 AM and cannot get back to sleep, it would be great to be able to go to the library or the dry cleaners.  Around here, the post office doesn’t open until 10 AM, which is way too late.  And wouldn’t it be great to stroll down the aisles at Costco around 6?  Dream on – which I would if I could sleep.

Truth:  The more you shave your legs, the more often you will cut yourself shaving your legs.

If my actual friends and family contacted me half as much as Macy’s and Raymour & Flanigan do under the guise of bargains for “Friends & Family,” I’d feel like I was being stalked.

I have two “potluck” dinners to attend.  The whole concept confuses me.  Will there be pot?  And who’s getting lucky?

My Douglass sisters and I took advantage of a trip to Atlantic City to make a detour to the outlets at Tinton Falls on the way home, where we walked into virtually every store (minus the ones that sell children’s clothing) and contributed significantly to the local economy.  For women, shopping is about the hunt, bagging the big find and paying as little as possible. Debbie won with her purchase of two sweaters for $10 – total – but we all went home with multiple bags.  So we all won.

When I called the sprinkler company about starting up the system, I was told that the earliest they could get to me was May 18th, and I was worried that my grass wouldn’t survive that long.  But the woman at the company said not to worry because we would be getting plenty of rain between now and then.  Sure, I thought.  Meanwhile, it rained practically every day since we spoke.  I wonder if she plays the lottery.

At this age, buying just one sympathy card makes no sense.  I buy in bulk now.

Without fail, every time I go into a sauna, the first thought that crosses my mind is: “Wow, it is really HOT in here.”  Duh.

I am slowly making my way through listening to the 5500 songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order. (I know this sounds like such a Tina thing to do.)  I never realized how many songs there were that started with the word “All.”

Sometimes I just wish there was “left turn on red.”

And finally, already this month we have experienced another senseless tragedy with the murder of 50 people in a club in Orlando and the injuring of 53 more.  Why should anyone in this country be allowed to purchase assault weapons?  The right to bear arms was created when muskets were the weapon of choice.  This slaughter of our own people by our own people has got to stop.