Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ridiculous Accidents

You know what I’m talking about. It happens to all of us. Something moves in a way that one never imagined it would move. A car door, a phone, some other inanimate object, or a part of one’s body, does something entirely unexpected and suddenly one finds oneself in the midst of the most improbable situation. Recently, these ridiculous accidents have been on my mind. I should get a bumper sticker that says ridiculous accidents happen.

Just last month, while picking alstroemeria flowers in my garden, I bent over and a dead dry flower stalk with a sharp end poked me just below my eye. (Luckily not IN my eye.) I then had the pleasure of walking around for a week with a peculiar stab-wound and shadow-bruise on my face. I think some of the plants in my garden develop premeditated attack plans. My ancient apple tree particularly likes to stab me, grab me, and throw me to the ground. That tree should have gone into professional wrestling. A few years ago, while pruning that apple tree, I scraped the top of my head on a sharp apple branch protuberance and bled profusely from a minor scalp wound. That stupid little wound produced so much blood that if I had sold it to a blood bank I would have made enough money to buy tickets to Hamilton on the black market. It frightened my husband so badly that he has demanded that I wear a bicycle helmet to prune the tree ever since. So now I look super bizarre during pruning season.

Remember the proverbial excuse for a black eye? “I walked into a door.” Hold that thought. Once, about ten years ago, Ron and I were running errands, with him driving and me sitting in the front passenger seat. I asked him to stop for a minute for me to drop a letter in the mailbox. He pulled over to the curb. I removed my seatbelt, threw the car door open, and hopped out of the car. Almost. My handbag was on the floor by my feet and my left foot became entangled in the strap from my handbag. With my left foot hog-tied by my handbag and my right foot on the ground halfway under the car, I fell over, landing unceremoniously in the street on my rear end. This happened (as if perfectly orchestrated) just in time for the car door, which I had flung open, to swing back and hit me on my cheekbone. To add insult to injury, it was raining, so my rear end became very wet while I was disentangling my left foot and seeing stars and bluebirds circling my head. Ron managed to find an ice pack for me at the office where we made our next stop. As I iced my shiner, I tried to think up a plausible explanation for the injury, because I doubted anyone would believe me if I said I got hit by a door.

One time my younger brother was not watching where he was going and he ran into a parked car and hurt his leg. He told people he got hit by a car, which was technically true. I’m sure that bizarre car accident stories are extremely common. I have a friend who is a poet, who once ran a red light because she was reading poetry while driving. This was in olden tymes, when we used typewriters and rotary-dial telephones. She was reading an actual poetry book (not a Kindle). Unfortunately, when she ran the light, she was hit by another car. She slammed her nose on the steering wheel, and broke it. Her nose I mean (not the steering wheel), and it instantly spouted blood like a geyser, making the whole accident seem much more surreal and serious than it was. She ruined her dress and upholstery, but otherwise was fine. She narrowly escaped death by poetry.

In the mid-90s, my mother organized a little reunion of some of her cousins and their children at Lake Tahoe. At that time, my parents lived near me in northern California. We planned to drive to Tahoe. My parents had two cars and my dad loaned one of them to one of my brothers (not the same one who ran into the parked car) and his girlfriend to drive to Tahoe from my parents’ house. The only stipulation Dad made was that he asked my brother not to eat food in the car. No problem. So my brother was driving over the mountains to Tahoe when a large bag of potato chips in the back seat spontaneously exploded because of the altitude (it was an air pressure thing I will never understand). Even though they pulled over and spent some time clearing chips out of the car, it still looked like they had been eating chips in there in zero-gravity when they arrived in Tahoe. Since no one could possibly be that messy, Dad believed them when they swore they had not been eating in his car.

In our youth, my husband and I were at a party one night and we both got a headache. I asked the hostess for aspirin. She fetched a bottle of aspirin and gave it to me. I started to unscrew the top on the bottle. This was a much less complicated procedure then because they didn’t put those childproof caps on medicine bottles like they do now. I have yet to figure out how to get a childproof cap off a bottle. I think those caps were invented by the same people who invented wet suits, because I can’t get into those things either. Anyway, you would have thought I could have managed to get the top off a simple bottle of aspirin without incident, but you would have thought wrong. The bottle flew out of my hands. Ron and I both lunged for the bottle at the same moment and smacked our heads together. I do not think this is the way aspirin is supposed to work to relieve a headache. Maybe we should have asked for Tylenol?

My children have managed to destroy their cell phones as a result of a variety of ridiculous accidents. One of them dropped a phone into a vat of boiling spaghetti, one of them yanked the phone charger out of the wall and it plopped in a dog’s water dish (destroyed the charger, not the whole phone—the dog was surprised), one of them put a phone in a back pocket with no bottom seam in it and went skateboarding and the phone fell out (duh) and disappeared into the wide universe, and one time the cord to the charger was chewed by cats while the phone was charging. One of my children lost a laptop computer because he got his leg tangled up in the power cord, tripped, pulled the laptop off the desk, and it hit the corner of a table just the wrong way so that the screen shattered.

My husband tells the story about his worst day at work ever. This happened a long time ago, but he was already an experienced carpenter by that time, and also convincingly intelligent most of the time. We worked as freelance theater carpenters at the time (building stage scenery). Ron was offered a short-term job on a house remodel and he took it since he was between theater jobs. In one day he managed to take a belt sander to sheetrock (he still has no idea what he was thinking), pull a rope through wet mortar on a windowsill, spill a gallon of white paint in the driveway, and lock himself into a half-finished bathroom that had no toilet (without a magazine handy). Fortunately the boss found him before the crew quit for the evening and let him out of the bathroom so he could fire him. My husband who did all this is the same man who singlehandedly built two extensive decks (one for my parents, one for us), installed an above-ground pool, built a perimeter fence around three acres, and replaced the clutch in my Honda (with only three parts leftover and we still don’t know where they belonged, but the car ran for another ten years without them). If he had been stranded on Gilligan’s Island, he would have built a helicopter out of palm fronds, coconuts, and Gilligan’s hat and rescued the lot of them – end of show. Everyone has an off day. And, as my point is here, ridiculous accidents happen.

When I was an undergraduate, I made the mistake of letting my friend Jack drive my car. Jack was a marginally well-known beat poet and a lousy driver. I think he slept with Allen Ginsburg once, which did not improve his driving ability, however. I notice a theme developing here about poets failing at driving. Jack and I went to a party on a country road. When we arrived at the party, there were no street lights and it was hard to figure out exactly where the road ended and the countryside began. Jack pulled my car off the road and drove it neatly into a deep ditch. The car twisted sideways and glided smoothly into a position perpendicular to the road as it came to a stop. My car door was flat on the ground. Jack put the car in park, turned it off, removed his seatbelt, and slid down the seat on top of me because our planet has gravity. We eventually managed to claw our way up the seat and opened the driver-side door like the escape hatch on top of a submarine so we could climb out. It took AAA six hours with a winch the size of Brazil to get the car out of the ditch the following day.

Ridiculous accidents actually make me more inclined to believe in a higher power because they imply that a higher power is laughing at us mortals and our predicaments. Ridiculous accidents seem highly attributable to a higher power with a sense of humor. Well, either that or gravity, I suppose. Take your pick.

Alstroemeria. Beautiful. But beware, sharp stems are closer than they appear in the mirror.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Surprise Videoconference

I work from home as a freelance writer. This means that I spend most of my working hours holed up in my study, surrounded by my beloved books, listening to the sound of my cat snoring gently, watching hummingbirds sipping nectar in the bottlebrush tree outside my window, drinking lemon ginger tea, and tapping away on my keyboard. This may sound idyllic, and sometimes it is, but let me take a moment to point out that it is also nerve-wracking to be self-employed because I never know where my next job will come from or if it will come at all. I have sacrificed security for the ability to be a writer, to work from home, and to put marginal effort into maintaining my social skills. I have had the freedom to cultivate the art of being oblivious, and invisible.

Working from home means I don’t have to comb my hair or wear shoes to work. I can wear flip-flops, house socks that look like Elmo’s pelt, bedroom slippers, Ugg boots, cardboard boxes, watermelons, or nothing on my feet, because no one sees them so who cares? My footwear does not need to match my leggings, dress, or shirt, which also do not need to match one another. I can wear the same comfortable shmata (Yiddish for an old rag) dress every day. I can wear my frayed hoodie, a muumuu, my workout clothes, or even my nightgown if I am so inclined. (I don’t wear my nightgown to work, ever, but my point is that I could if I wanted to.)

I spend a lot of time at work on conference calls with clients and employers who have contracted with me for services, and they call in from all over the country. But I never have to dress for success because no one ever sees me. I can have a cat in my lap or she can be climbing around behind my computer while I am on the phone. I can nibble dark chocolate, roll my eyes, do my filing, read a magazine, spill water all over my desk and mop it up with old towels, read the online news, and watch the foxes in the neighbor’s yard through binoculars. When someone in a business meeting starts spinning their wheels or sidetracks the discussion, I remain calm by looking into my kaleidoscope. I can mute my phone and gargle, sing, eat celery and humus, rearrange my books, or build a chicken coop.

This is why I panicked last week when one of the participants in an upcoming business meeting (let’s call her Cheryl, because that’s her name) emailed everyone just two hours before the meeting to ask if we would like her to set us up for a videoconference instead of a phone conference. Surprise. Panic. Deep breaths. The other dozen participants swiftly replied that a videoconference sounded great. I, on the other hand, realized that I desperately needed a haircut and then I jumped out the window (fortunately my house has no upstairs).

After I climbed back inside, I pretended I was cool with the videoconference. Next I had to figure out how to download the software to run the program to get into the videoconference. Cheryl sent us all a link so we could do that. When I clicked on the link, it took me to a screen that asked for my meeting ID, which I did not have. At first I wondered if I would be deported, but then I emailed Cheryl, who promptly sent the ID to all the people who would be on the call. I typed the meeting ID into the correct box and got a message saying to click on “launch,” however the word “launch” appeared nowhere on my screen (I even looked behind the computer for it). We did not have lift-off. I could not cope with the situation. I had less than 90 minutes left in which to download the software, get the knots out of my hair, select an appropriate outfit, wash the cat, sage the study to remove bad energy, hide the hippie clothing and hats hanging on the rack on the wall behind me, and learn to play the oboe. This was when I panicked and woke up my retired computer tech husband by jumping up and down on the bed, shining a flashlight in his eyes, playing a kazoo, and hollering, “Wake up! I need tech support and coffee!” Ron makes the morning coffee and I have to wait for him to wake up to get a cup. But I assure you that my tech problem was not an excuse to rouse him so he would make coffee. Well, maybe it was a little bit of an excuse for coffee.

My intrepid husband made coffee, handed me a cup, and told me to calm down. As if. Caffeine makes me about as calm as Steph Curry in the fourth quarter (GO DUBS). After supplying me with coffee, my techie husband sat down at my computer, where he immediately choked on cat hair. An important thing to know about Ron is that he emits that mysterious invisible computer tech vibe that scares computers into abject submission. When my computer acts grizzly for me, all I have to do is call Ron into the room and my computer puts its tail between its legs and crawls into a corner at the mere sight of the dominant alpha geek. There is no substitute for this super-power that all expert IT (information technology) folks have.

While Ron was reading the videoconference software program the Riot Act, I took my cup of coffee to the bedroom, where I tried on clothes with a vengeance. I needed to appear passably professional from the waist up (as long as I didn’t stand and reveal any part of my lower body). By the time I had tried on half the clothing in my closet and piled it on the bed in a tangle of hangers, Ron had successfully downloaded the software. I had no excuses. I was going to be visible. I settled on a periwinkle cardigan over an aquamarine shirt and proceeded to comb my hair. Lip gloss? Why not. OK. Should I throw the cat out of my study? She was sleeping peacefully in her little cat bed, but she snores. I didn’t think the videoconference participants would be able to hear her; and if I fell asleep during the videoconference and started snoring I could blame it on the cat. I let her stay.

In the end, the videoconference worked out better than I had anticipated. It was fun to be able to see people. Everyone on the call was intelligent and funny. We didn’t get sidetracked, even though it was distracting to be able to see one another. The upshot of the call was that the project implementation team decided they were not ready to apply for the grant yet, and we postponed the whole grant writing project to next year. I didn’t snore, spill coffee, wake up the cat, look at my kaleidoscope, have to play the oboe, or set my hair on fire, so I think it went well from my end.

After I signed off, I received an email from Cheryl asking if Ron would share with her what he did to download the videoconference software. She said it would be helpful for her in the future when she might have to talk someone through the process. So Ron sent her screenshots of each step of the download. I had never met Cheryl before. When I mentioned to my client contact at their organization (whom I have worked with for many years and know well) that my husband had done this, and that he’s a retired computer tech so he’s available if they want to hire him in the future to provide tech support as a consultant, my contact laughed. “You would think that Cheryl could have worked this out without your husband’s assistance,” he said, “since we have our own IT department here with over 200 staff members.” Go figure.

It took me the rest of the morning to recover from the shock of being visible, but it was all good. I am thinking I should probably swap out the rack of hippie glad-rags on the wall behind me for a set of bookshelves in case I have to videoconference again. Or maybe I should just hang my diplomas there. We’ll see. While today’s blog post may seem like the ravings of a lunatic homebound writer, it’s actually a tribute to my computer wizard and coffee maestro husband, who also happens to be one of the best dads on the planet. Happy Father’s Day sweetheart.

Me and my tech support. (Photo by M. Sophia Santiago)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bearing Gifts

Giving good gifts is an art. The trick is to imagine what the recipient would love, not what the giver would love. It never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t have the ability to think like this, to stand in someone else’s shoes. They are practically in the same category with cats. I say this because of that proverbial image of the cat that brings their beloved owner a dead mouse as a gift. It’s a gift the cat values. My cats become so confused when I scream at the sight of the dead mouse, or the eviscerated bird, or the wriggling snake. My scream is not the reaction they planned. I am anthropomorphizing. Cats are not known for planning ahead. I wonder if they misinterpret and think I am screaming with joy. When I refuse to let the cats bring their gift inside (if they appear at my glass sliding door to the deck in back) or slam the door in their faces (if they appear on the porch in front), I imagine them turning to one another, spitting the feathers out of their mouths, and saying (in Meow), “That went well.” Then they devour the gift as hors d’oeuvres.

I am such a particular person, and apparently so difficult to figure out, that I seem to attract gifts that are entirely wrong for me. I try to accept these gifts graciously, recognizing the loving spirit in which they were given, often when I feel like doing the dead-mouse-scream instead. I could seriously do without polyester sweaters, the Beet Gourmet Cookbook (see my blog post entitled “My Kryptonite is Borscht”), yellow school bus pajamas, house plants (I have a yard full of plants, I don’t need them invading my house), novels about genocide (so cheerful), plastic lawn furniture, a worm farm, earrings (my ears are not pierced), a gift certificate to a seafood restaurant (I don’t eat fish), or a porcelain ballerina with a barometer where her stomach ought to be.

Last week I attended a friend’s birthday party at which her daughters gave her an art project. What a perfect gift for this friend! They provided the paints, brushes, canvases, etc., and organized the guests to contemplate and paint their mom’s favorite walnut tree in the back yard. Thus their mom wound up with a dozen different renderings of her beloved tree. Later, as we ate cake (homemade from scratch by someone as her birthday gift to my friend), I pointed out to the group that the only guy at the party who attempted to paint the tree was my husband. Everyone else who participated was female. The other guys protested that they lacked artistic ability. We cheered for Ron, who commented that he tried to paint the tree, but it came out looking more like a naked woman. That says a lot about how guys perceive the world, but I’m proud of him anyway for painting.

My friend also received an unusual shiny black rock and a polished piece of wood that had grown naturally in the shape of a heart. One of the reasons why I love this friend is that she cherishes these sorts of gifts. I have often given her wood, rocks, shells, feathers, and other natural found objects as presents. Once, when I offered to bring her some wood to throw on a bonfire she was planning to have in her yard, she asked me, “Is it interesting wood?” Thank goodness for friends who appreciate “interesting wood.”

Gifts deeply reflect our values and provide a measure of how much our friends and family share our values. Once, when I went to a family gathering at the home of an elderly distant relative, I brought her herbs from my garden. I gave her bunches of lavender, rosemary, oregano, mint, basil, dill, and thyme. I should have known better. This woman does not garden. She has a gardener come once a week to maintain her yard and she is unable to recognize any of the plants grown there, not even rhododendrons. She does not know how to cook either. Her idea of cooking a meal is buying deli meat and cheese and putting it out with jars of condiments and a basket of white bread. On a good day, a house guest might also get some lettuce to go with that. She could not recognize the cooking herbs I brought her since they were not dried up and in labeled bottles. She asked me what to do with the “weeds” I so lovingly gave her. My bad. I’m sure she wondered if she should put them in water and look at them, plant them, or feed them to squirrels. No clue. The thought of eating them or smelling them would have astonished her. What was I thinking? My dear friend with the walnut tree would have loved receiving those herbs. Oh well. So you see that I am as guilty as anyone of not always thinking through gifts.

When my children were little, we had an eccentric friend who was the quintessential starving artist (sadly, she passed over into spirit before all our children grew up). She never had money, but she had a big heart, which was more important of course, and she always found something special to give the children for their birthdays and Christmas. She would cut tree ornaments out of shiny paper, string beads into necklaces, make outlandish masks, and fill envelopes with brightly colored paper hearts (discarded artwork cut up). She gave them blank books to fill with their imaginings, handmade paper boxes, and, sometimes, her drawings or silkscreen prints (so lovely). Often she gave the children rocks. “This rock will fulfill your heart’s desire if you wish on it,” she would tell them, or, “this rock will keep you healthy,” or, “this rock has crystal energy to make you more powerful.” The rocks were simple amethyst, quartz, mica, tiger’s eye, turquoise, obsidian, and other rocks of little value that were pretty to look at. As adults, my children joke fondly about getting rocks for Christmas from this beloved friend. As children, they slept with those rocks under their pillows while they made their wishes and dreamed of having special powers.

When my older son was a little boy, he sometimes became anxious. Many things scared him, such as ominous music in movies, Santa Claus, strange sounds outside at night, and mannequins in clothing stores (even if they were wearing clothing). A family-marriage-and-child-therapist friend of ours gave him a little box of Guatemalan worry dolls to help him keep from worrying. Worry dolls are teeny-tiny people made from wrapped string and/or fabric. The idea is that you tell your worries to the worry dolls who then hold them for you so you don’t have to hang onto your worries yourself. Our therapist friend told him to put the worry dolls under his pillow so that if he got scared at night he could tell his fears and worries to the dolls. One would think it was a perfect gift for my son. But he was terrified of the dolls. He imagined these tiny dolls would come to life under his pillow during the night and do something to him, like bite him, or strangle him with their tiny arms, or poke out his eyes, or make an evil laugh. He was more worried about the worry dolls than anything else. Consequently, I made the worry dolls disappear. They went to live in my nightstand drawer.

My point is that the simplest, smallest, most original gifts are the very best. I could go for a beautiful piece of wood, a box of tiny dolls that disappear my worries, and a rock that gives me super powers. I would even be willing to accept a dead mouse if it would give me super powers. My cats are pretty smart so I think they might actually be able to find a deceased rodent of this description, however, unfortunately, my cats don’t read my blog.

Worry dolls. Scary, huh?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Travel Comrades

Am I the only one who views sitting next to a stranger on an airplane for hours as awkward? How strange to be randomly thrust into such close proximity to an unknown person for the duration of a flight, be it one hour, five hours, or whatever. Maybe it’s my inner autistic reclusive introvert self talking, but this situation disturbs me. Plus I have to consider the etiquette protocol. I believe that one should introduce oneself, and then leave the stranger in the next seat in peace. That’s what I appreciate. Acknowledge and retreat. I definitely will not be that old lady who takes photographs dating back to the Woodstock Era out of her wallet, produces smelly cheese with crackers from a travel cooler and offers it to everyone within sniffing distance, and gives extended commentary on the book my travel comrade is reading on their e-reader. Nor do I wish to be that woman who glares disapprovingly at the e-reader while I produce my library book from my backpack. (On my flights to and from the East Coast last month, I suspect that I was the ONLY person on the plane reading an actual book that had been checked out of a library.) I don’t want to be rude, but I also don’t want to intrude. It’s a balance.

On our return flight from Philadelphia two weeks ago, we sat next to a 30-something Englishman traveling to San Francisco to represent his employer’s company at a conference. He was an electrical engineer who worked for an innovative audio equipment manufacturer. He engaged us in conversation, and disclosed that he was anxious because he suffers from terrible stage fright and he was going to have to make a presentation at the conference. Ron, who has spent considerable time onstage, suggested that he imagine himself naked at the podium as a way to relax. Wait. I think I got that backwards. I think he was supposed to imagine the audience naked. Yes, that’s it. Although, wouldn’t that destroy his concentration? We made other helpful suggestions, such as dyeing his hair blue the night before as a distraction, doing yoga relaxation exercises on the floor backstage, delivering his speech through ventriloquism while drinking a glass of water, speaking with his back to the audience, hiring Stephen Colbert to deliver his speech instead of him, using a silly voice, and presenting his speech in American Sign Language (unfortunately he doesn’t know ASL). We were full of ideas. He was tolerant. He liked my suggestion that he simply inform his audience at the beginning that he suffers from stage fright, and then ask them to pardon him for reading from prepared remarks and forgoing a more animated and spontaneous delivery. Before we de-planed, he gave us his card, in case we ever need a speech delivered.

I have had many interesting airplane encounters. Once, when I was in my twenties (in the 1970s), I sat next to an Israeli soldier who, after he ascertained that I am Jewish, spent the better part of a flight from New York to London berating Barbara Streisand for making the film Funny Girl with an Arab co-star (Omar Sharif). I never imagined that anyone could get so much material out of that simple grudge, but this soldier had done his research. (“How could she kiss a Muslim?” If this guy is still around, he might have a future on Trump’s campaign team.) I finally had to ask the flight attendant to separate us so I could get some sleep.

During a recent trip to SoCal, a young woman approached me at the baggage claim carousel to tell me that she had enjoyed the scent of my patchouli perfume during our flight. Every time I went down the aisle to the bathroom, she said, she got a whiff of that wonderful patchouli. This tickled me because she was too young to comprehend the full zeitgeist association with patchouli of my generation. I often have people my own age tell me that the scent “takes them back.” I figure this is a euphemism for something like “I am remembering my first orgy” or “I am having a tripping flashback from going to see Fantasia on blotter acid” or “I never remembered where I put my Birkenstocks when I sat down to eat that bowl of bulgur at the Grateful Dead concert.” I’m glad the young woman on the plane went into raptures at my history-dipped patchouli fragrance. Taking patchouli to a new generation.

In 1981, Ron and I flew from London to New York on the day of the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Di, while all the British airport staff were watching the wedding on closed circuit TV, which grossly distracted them from their jobs. When we boarded our plane, we discovered that the seat assignments appeared to have been arranged by Monty Python’s Flying Circus. People traveling together were seated at opposite ends of the plane. The captain asked us to take the crazy seats assigned and buckle up so we could take off, promising that the flight attendants would sort it all out once we got into the air. A toddler seated near me had been separated from his mother, who shockingly did not complain about this. (I would have thrown a tantrum if asked to sit without my child.) A woman sitting next to the toddler attempted to buckle up his seat belt and the child bit her. That probably explains why the mother agreed to the arrangement for take-off. Meanwhile, I was seated back in coach while Ron somehow snagged a seat in first class. Sheesh.

On that same flight, Ron arrived at the plane dripping in sweat after the long trek through the airport to get to the gate. That gate was so far from the entrance of the airport that we should have hired Sherpas to carry us. When he sat down in his unexpected first class seat, he found himself next to a very white, very middle-aged couple from the American Midwest. They were so Midwestern that they still smelled vaguely of barbecued beef even after three weeks vacationing in London. The woman asked him if he was a basketball player. (Obviously he was since he was black and covered in sweat.) Oy. Ron is about as athletic as a bowl of spaghetti. He should have told her he was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and signed an autograph. Fortunately, after the plane took off, he was moved into coach next to Mrs. Bowl-of-Spaghetti (me).

Traveling with young children is mostly a topic for another format; in fact another genre of writing. Like an epic memoir. But I can’t resist sharing a few snippets of that potential memoir here:  one about each of my three offspring. When my daughter was two years old, a businessman appeared to take the third seat in our row on a flight. My daughter gave him her most ingratiating smile and announced, “I’m full of beans.” He immediately asked the flight attendant to move him to another seat (so we got three to ourselves).

The following year I flew with her and her younger brother, who was about four months old. While helping her get settled with a coloring book on her seat tray, I held her brother over my left arm, aimed, unfortunately, at the woman seated to my left, who was sound asleep. When I returned my attention to the baby, I discovered to my horror that he had barfed up a wad of breast milk the size of Rhode Island on the thigh of the woman next to me; a thigh encased in a fire-engine-red pantsuit. I had to think fast. Since she was sleeping, I figured I could mop up the gob before she would see it, but of course this would wake her. I took my chances, aimed a clean diaper at her leg, and scrubbed vigorously. By the time she startled awake and looked at her leg, all that remained of my baby’s lunch was a damp smear. I apologized profusely, explaining what had happened, and hoping she wouldn’t press charges for sanitation harassment. Luckily, the woman took it all in stride. She reassured me, “Oh honey, don’t worry about it, I’m a grandma, I have been spit up on by professionals.”

My last traveling-with-children story is about my youngest son, who was about four years old at the time of this travel incident. On an ill-fated flight from San Francisco to Chicago in the 1990s, United Airlines kept us trapped inside a hot airplane on the tarmac for about two hours before clearing us for take-off. They would not allow the plane to return to the gate or the passengers to get off while we waited. Ron and I were traveling with three young children. Fortunately, I had my big-mom-travel-bag full of food and entertainment so my children fared better than others on that plane. One poor, harried mother at the back of the plane had a baby that would not stop crying. Eventually, after we listened to that baby howl for at least thirty minutes, our youngest son stood up in his seat, turned around, and shouted at the back of the plane, “Baby, don’t make me come back there!” He instantly became the most popular passenger on that plane. (By the way, in over twenty years we have never flown United Airlines again. They permanently lost our business with those shenanigans.)

One of my favorite travel comrade stories is not my own, and it is not humorous. I love it so much I will conclude with it. Naomi Shihab Nye, in her book Honeybee, tells about how she went to the aid of an older Palestinian woman dressed in traditional Arabic garb who was in a panic when her flight was delayed. The woman spoke no English and she could not communicate with the staff in the Albuquerque airport to ascertain what was going on. (Here is the link to Nye’s story printed in Reader’s Digest if you want to read her full account.) Nye translated for the woman and helped her understand the situation. When the woman calmed down, she produced a bag of homemade mamool cookies and offered them to others at her gate; none of whom spoke her language, all of whom accepted a cookie gratefully with a smile and the good-natured camaraderie of stranded travelers who are all-in-this-together. Nye writes, “I looked around that gate and thought, This is the world I want to live in. One with no apprehension. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.”

Mamool cookies