Tuesday, January 27, 1998


The telephone has been a "situation" in my house ever since I moved in about three years ago. Last spring and into summer the noise on the line made conversations difficult- even more difficult than they often can be for me. The line cackled and buzzed until the words were indecipherable. I was told by my perspective roommate not to do anything because they would bring with them a phone we could use. That never happened and I continued to live with the noise and the noise alone. It took me awhile but it reached a point where I finally had enough. I called the phone company.

Meanwhile I did some extensive testing of my inside lines. I tested two different phones on the different phone jacks. I even went out and purchased another phone, albeit the cheapest one I could find. I actually thought I had purchased a very cheap cordless phone but later discovered the way the store displayed their phones was to take the cords off all the receivers for display purposes. The combination of testing different phones on different lines made me, even with my limited knowledge of the communication industry, think with some amount of confidence that my phone problem didn't lie with my own equipment.

But it took multiple visits for the phone company to acknowledge the problem and after each visit I resigned myself to the notion a noisy phone was the way it was supposed to be. I would call in the problem, they would send out a serviceperson to test the outside line and I would come home to a phone sounding just like I'd left it in the morning. Finally I called up and asked if it would help for me to be home when the serviceperson was there. "Sure," the phone representative said with a note of skepticism in their voice. So we scheduled a time for me to take off from work and meet the serviceperson at my house.

That afternoon I sped home from work, got home and picked up my phone just out of habit. The sound was crystal clear. I called up the phone company and asked if the person had already been at my house. "Nope we're scheduled to meet you in a half hour," I was told. I told the representative that my phone was now clearer than it ever was. "Well it won't help much for us to come out because our serviceperson has to hear the noise to be able to fix it." So I canceled the service call figuring as soon as I did the crackle would return.

About a hour later I got a call from a serviceman who told me he had been out that morning and had found the problem. I asked him what he found. "A bad MG cuff link (or perhaps he said coupling)," he reported. "Yes, that's what I thought it might have been," I said assuredly. Whatever he did, my phone never sounded better. It had the crystal clear sound of my best CDs.

But my phone woes were far from over. One of the things I lost when I moved from my apartment into my house was the ability to watch TV and talk on the phone at the same time. My house phone lines are in the kitchen and in my office and that all important 28" Mitsubishi set is in my living room. In a way this is good since I think it rather rude to talk to someone and be watching TV at the same time. However it must be said that often when I'm talking to someone they are watching TV at the same time. I've missed many a People Choice Award moment or sporting event because I've been on the phone. And I've had just as many described to me over the phone while I hear the excitement in the background. The thought of a cordless phone occasionally danced in my head but with the other problems I figured it was a luxury I didn't really need and I should just count my blessings and be grateful that I had a phone that was static free.

Last Sunday I went to the Cheapo Holiday/Anniversary Party hoping to win one of LeAnn's smart looking T-shirts. My wardrobe basically consists of free clothes, stuff others have given to me or that I have won. I thought the new T-shirt would be a nice addition to my collection. But I was pleasantly surprised when my name was picked as a winner of a cordless phone. Consider it destiny. To me it was perhaps a signal I've turned a corner and another of my communication issues is now behind me. A cordless phone after all is such a wonderful device. It's like riding a bicycle without any hands; or like a tasty sucker without any stem. It reminds me of when I was a kid and I used to love my walkie talkie- being able to talk to my brother a whole room away. And damn with that extended antenna I looked like I was up to something mighty important.

Now only one identifiable problem remains: A certain individual who used to call me on a regular basis hasn't called in quite a while. I'm beginning to wonder whether this is a phone problem or whether it is a communication issue of another nature. When I call this person's number I get one of those "We're sorry, the number you have reached has been disconnected. No further information is available" messages. Since the phone company was able to fix my other problem I wonder is this something else they can repair?

Tuesday, January 20, 1998

I'm Getting Dental Mental Over You


The good Lord gave us a pair of teeth. The function of this gift was to help us survive by being able to chew our food to get nourishment. The good Lord was even good enough to provide us the luxury of two sets of teeth so when we aged and got big mouths, the additional room would allow for bigger teeth. It's amazing that even the smallest detail like this was worked out by the one who created the whole universe in just seven days. I sometimes forget to wear two socks.

Somewhere along the line, man and woman developed food that caused our teeth to decay. Thus chemicals were developed to help prevent this decay. A whole profession sprung up to care and repair our teeth. These dentists and hygienists scrape the crud off of, and repair the cavities they find all the while being quite proficient in scolding us for our lackadaisical care, and poor brushing and flossing habits. Used to be we were supposed to visit the dental office once a year. Now it's recommended we see them every six months. So one must ask is this in the name of better health care or just another health scare?

Shortly after caring for teeth became a national pastime, the beauty industry stepped forward and defined what beautiful teeth were supposed to look like. Like every other area of human endeavor people were quickly separated as to the quality of their looks. Beauty in this area meant having straight teeth, no visible gaps, no protruding upper or lower teeth, and above all the teeth had to be white. The whiter the better. Gaps between and crooked teeth were fixed by affixing metal braces in the mouths of young children forcing their teeth to grow into an acceptable pattern.

At first having white teeth was just a function of a visit to the dentist. Polish was a part of treatment along with fluoride to prevent decay. But soon it was determined that wasn't good enough. Soon toothpastes were developed that were advertised as whitening agents to improve the all important smile. With all the advances in medicine and technology a disproportionate amount of time has been spent in developing better and better toothpastes.

Walk into a store to pick up some dental products and you'll find a whole aisle to choose from. First it was fluoride and approval from the American Dental Association. Then it was gel over paste to make the goo taste better. Then it was tartar fighting paste for a deeper cleansing. Then it was a better container for ease of use. Then it was baking soda to freshen the breath. Then it was peroxide to whiten the teeth. Add to this a myriad of different types of toothbrushes with varying sizes, shapes, and textures and the consumer is bombarded with a multitude of choices.

Well, enough is enough. We don't need five thousand toothpastes to choose from. We don't need a thousand different brands each with different pastes and gels that do different things. I'm sick of all these slick toothpaste salespeople who could sell a bunny a lucky rabbit's foot and a non carrot diet.

The industry has learned to reach us early. I was at a birthday party the other day when my three year old nephew walked up to me and told me he had a new Batman toothbrush and toothpaste to fix his brown teeth. And recently I was eating a sandwich and cracked one of my back teeth. My first thought was I was in deep trouble that a broken tooth surely meant unrelenting pain and problems lie ahead. I've been conditioned to react with alarm every time there is a problem with my teeth. Don't want to end up with a pair that soaks in a glass overnight. I have to report it just hasn't been so. Sure the jagged edges feel foreign to my tongue but I can still chew and thus far no pain has shot through me. The sky has yet to fall.

So for me the myth has been forever shattered. I'll still brush 'em and floss 'em on a regular basis. But I no longer give a damn what those four out of five dentists recommend. For what it's worth, they can bite me.

-a dissatisfied customer

Tuesday, January 13, 1998

It's All Showbiz

Whether I'm right or whether I'm wrong, whether I find a place in this world or never belong, I've gotta be me, I've gotta be me. What else can I be but what I am?

When I was a kid I used to have quite the collection of dusty, slightly scratched 45's. My favorite, without a doubt was Sammy Davis Jr.'s I've Gotta Be Me. I played it so often the grooves were worn out, making the sound more hisses and pops than actual music. Didn't matter to me whatsoever. I just sang along louder than Sammy. And damn it I sang it with a lot of conviction.

I want to live not merely survive. And I won't give up this dream of life that keeps me alive. I've gotta be me, I've gotta be me. The dream that I see makes me what I am.

In a way Sammy was my first hero. I thought he was an odd looking man, with his glass eye, flashy clothes and jewelry, and sing out of the side of the mouth style. But he was short like me and that boomin' voice spoke the truth like no other. My sister was given a tape recorder for her birthday and somewhere there exists a tape of all my siblings and I doing solo renditions of our favorite songs. Mine of course could be no other.

That faraway prize, a world of success, is waiting for me if I heed the call. I won't settle down, won't settle for less. As long as there's a chance that I can have it all.

I didn't exactly have the luxury of Sammy's childhood skills. But how many of us can say we picked out the theme song of our life when we were a mere five years old? I knew myself even then. I haven't listened to the song much over the years. I do have a coffee mug with a mob of penguins in the middle of which stands one lone little guy belting out, "I've gotta be me." Makes me chuckle while drinking my morning coffee.

I'll go it alone. That's how it must be. I can't be right for somebody else if I'm not right for me. I've gotta be free, I've gotta be free. Daring to try to do it or die I've gotta be me.

Fast forward twenty odd years (and believe me odd is the correct word here) and quite frankly I'm more of a Frank man these days. That didn't stop me from pulling out my Sammy 45 this past week and singing and dancing in front of an audience of one, Mr. Max and an empty chair. He stared at me rather startled, and I'd like to think it's because he didn't know I was such a fine hep cat entertainer and not because he was annoyed by the volume of my singing and my clunky dance steps.

The words today mean something entirely different than when I was a kid. Back then it was an anthem of self expression, of justifying why I felt and thus acted different than the others around me. I didn't hear the isolation and questioning resignation in Sammy's inspired reading. But the words ring more true than ever before. To succeed is to learn there is only one person you can be and often it is too easy to be one's own harshest critic. You can spend a lot of time running away from a voice from the past that can remind you of a thing or two. The same voice is the one that manages to keep the dream focused and afloat.

A friend recently shared something she read that said that who we are is 10% of the things that happen to us, and 90% how we react to those events. It's a powerful thought because though we can't exactly control our lives we certainly can control how we feel about things and decide how we will act and thus shape the future. So instead of being crippled by the flat tire on the last day of 1997 (symbolism extremis?); the broken tooth suffered this week; the interview that went awry (and that ain't exactly a wry observation) where I failed to mention the single most important qualification I had going for me; I'm going to interpret and react in a manner that I haven't been recently. It was an eventful past couple of weeks, slipping down some slopes but look at it this way, at least I can be grateful that I'm not an actual skier. At least I'm not a twenty year old point guard trying to deal with Minnesota winters while looking for New York City nightlife. And that familiar blast of Arctic air? Just gives me the chance to wear my stylish new but worn before soccer coat.

The lesson being learned is that while the music can change, the singer ain't all that different. As long as there still is a song to sing things will be OK. The profound little singer had it right after all. Who is the only person who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew, cover it with chocolate and a miracle or two? And who can take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun and make a groovy lemon pie? It doesn't have to be the other me. Finally, who can take tomorrow, dip it in a dream, separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream? Listen to the man. Just mix it with love and make the world taste good.

So one more time with feeling: I'll go it alone. That's how it must be. I can't be right for somebody else if I'm not right for me. I've gotta be free, I've just gotta be free. Daring to try to do it or die. I've gotta... BE ME. (Max scampers away.)

Tuesday, January 6, 1998

1997 Woman of the Year

Past Winners:
1992: H. Ross Perot
1993: St. Francis of Assisi
1994: Newt Gingrich
1995: Cal Ripken Jr.
1996: The Dole Campaign

Back in junior high I wasn't the ultra- popular people person that now stands in front of you. The rough edges of my personality had yet to be smoothed off. If there was one word people used to describe me back then it was "eccentric." I was more a social caterpillar than butterfly. But I was still able to enjoy the romance of the century. Too bad she didn't realize it at the time.

I remember one particular afternoon when we were all scampering to find our buses in the middle of a torrential downpour. I passed her as she was trying to cover her head with her books. I was skipping along and I broke into a killer version of my best Gene Kelly imitation. Splashing and joyfully in love I began to bellow, "I'm singin' in the rain, just singin' in the rain. What a glorious feeling, I'm happy again..." She smiled at me and cackled. When around her I often felt like breaking into song. A few days later she wrote in my yearbook, "You're awfully strange but a lot of fun to be around..." which until this past fall was the nicest thing anyone had ever said or written about me.

The defining moment in our relationship however was toward the end of the year in our gym class' track and field unit. We were lined up against one and other as the first runners in the four hundred meter relay. She glanced over at me and said, "Take it easy on me," knowing I was a speedy little runner. When the starter's pistol sounded I was off like a shot and I heard her let out a snort of a giggle. "Geez," she exclaimed. She put her head down and tried to keep up.

I've never run faster on my little Mama Cass legs in my life. I was way out ahead of her and I didn't realize until it was too late that there was something very symbolic about the race. I was running away from her full speed just like I would continue to do all throughout our high school years. I grasped the baton tightly and looked up ahead. It was then I noticed the person I was supposed to hand-off to was nowhere in sight. My opponent's partner stood hand held behind him for the exchange but the second runner on our team was far off to the side talking with her friends. When I got to the spot where I was supposed to be done and my teammate was supposed to begin I just kicked it up a notch and kept running.

Problem was I had not paced myself to run further than 100 meters. I was out of gas and my legs quickly turned to jelly. My "friend" now approaching her hand-off duties began to laugh. I was too tired to realize the life lesson being taught to me: Life is not a sprint, it's more of a marathon where those who pace themselves and endure don't burn out too quickly and are the ones who succeed. Just when you're expecting someone to be there for you sometimes they are not in sight so you just have to keep running and hopefully you may even have someone else by your side.

I shared this tale with the other members of the committee that selects the newsletter's annual Woman of the Year. I tried to convince them that this made me an expert on all matters female. They weren't biting (which is more than you can say about Marv Albert, Mike Tyson and Christian Slater- other members of the committee). Thus my input in the process was limited. I must say this year's list of candidates was impressive. The vast publicity went to Princess Di whose admirers poured out so much emotion that it became both one of the year's saddest and most uplifting stories. There was also Mother Teresa whose death was unfortunately almost overlooked because she happened to choose the wrong weekend to die and didn't photograph as well as Diana. Consideration was also given to Janet Reno who showed she was the only member of the administration who has a backbone despite what her opposition says.

But in the end the choice seemed almost too clear cut to comprehend. Rarely does anything come so easy or obviously to most members of the committee. When the history of the year is written one story will in all likelihood be the longest lasting. The winner of the 1997 Woman of the Year has nothing unique about her. You might go so far as to say she might as well be someone else. But the story of Dolly the cloned sheep represents all that this newsletter stands for: searching for answers that aren't there to be found and are too philosophical to bother to worry about too much. The implications don't matter so much as long as there is a shred of justification to proceed. Why think things through? Just do it. Hello Dolly and congratulations.

A special newsletter thank you goes to the person who sat down and "interpreted" our article of two weeks ago. I was quite touched and more than a little impressed with the effort and that she got into the 'it's only for fun' spirit.