Minor Accompaniment

seats on a plane with entertainment guide

Sitting on the plane from DCA to ORD next to someone bemoaning the lack of WiFi. This moaning is repeating at regular intervals. Or perhaps the intervals are getting shorter.

It’s not quite as annoying as it sounds.

More like talk radio in the background. Not like political diatribe talk radio. More like a sports show. Not like the sports show with the over the top loud guy. More like the sports talk radio where you have two or three guys doing analysis that makes you think about dialing the station and joining in.

First, there was the call for WiFi. I get nudged and asked, “Is there wifi on this plane?” I replied that there was, but with a charge. My companion fires up his phone and shows me that I am correct.

“Eight dollars!?” I suggested he use a credit card if he wanted to buy it. He doesn’t have one. I joked that I wasn’t paying.

He told me about all the limits he now had. Most of his games, especially the ones he wanted to play, require WiFi. Adding insult to injury he downloaded Spotify playlists–eighties rock–and didn’t remember headphones. “Oh,” said I.

“Look at this one. I can play these four parts but not the duel.”

“Is the duel playing with someone else?”

“It needs wifi.”

I’m thinking, “I got that.” I go back to my article. He plays a game.

“I really wish there was wifi. Check out the graphics on this London driving game. They’re amazing.”

He was right. Even on his smudged and worn screen, the resolution of the arches under the bridge and the crane shot up to the road were very good.

“Is there food?”

“It’s a short flight, but they usually give you peanuts.”

“I don’t like peanuts.”

“That’s too bad, but I’ll eat yours.” He ended up eating them. No extra peanuts for Doc.

“This game is very violent. You lose limbs and your head might blow off. But it doesn’t kill you. Well, it does when your head blows. I’m stuck on Level 8. See right here, (leans over again), I’m riding this bike and I can’t get past the rotating knives. You have to do it three times. ” His character’s head hits a knife and a splotch of cartoon blood dots his screen.

“Woah. That’s gotta hurt.”

“Not really. This is the longest time I’ve been sitting without WiFi.” He turns back to his game.

“Hey, can I put my trash in your cup?”

“Sure.” He turned the sound up on his game. I hear the tat tat tat cymbal crash of game gunfire. If he finishes this level he can earn a gun he really wants.

The flight attendant radios that we are approaching ORD and to put our tray tables up. He jerks his head towards me, “What about the trash?” He had a half drunk coke in front of him.

I took the cup with the lid and straw. “I’ll take it. She’ll be back.” Relieved, he went back to shooting some bad guys. WiFi or not.

He’s nine. It’s his first flight alone. I don’t mind sharing it with him.

I Don’t Talk To Machines

A whack looking bug-eyed silver robot claymation figure.

As a rule, I don’t talk to machines.

Well, to be honest, I have been known to soothingly coax the car, angrily curse the computer and gratefully coo at a working HVAC–both in summer and winter. But these are always one way interactions. We don’t have conversations.

I did try to conversate with that simple-Simon, Siri, but she is the most useless of all. I thought if I provided feedback it would get better. It did not.

I get quite peeved at those too-clever-by-half robo calls that try and trick you into talking by using pauses and intonations that make you think you are speaking with a real person. They don’t fool me, though. I quickly hang up and THEN curse. I am not engaging with a machine. Even to give them what for. I learned from Siri. They don’t learn.

When I call the credit card company and they ask me to speak my card number, I dial it in. I remain silent if they ask me a question. I just want a human (who always asks me for the account number that I just entered, but that’s a different complaint.)

Today I continued to have trouble with the Barnes & Noble textbook returns. The instructions were to print out a return label. For the past two days, I went online and got the error message “ups service is down please try after some time.”

So I hit up the chat feature. This is the verbatim chat.

Lanie : Hi, my name is Lanie . How may I help you? 
ME: Yes, please. 
Lanie : Hi. 
ME: I am trying to print out the labels to return textbooks since yesterday. But I get an error that says to come back “after some time.” 
ME: Books are due on the 11th! 
ME: when is after some time? 
Lanie : I understand you need assistance with rental and I’m happy to help you. 
Lanie : The packing slip is the paper that came with the original package of the book. If you no longer have it you may print the order confirmation email and use it as the packing slip. 
ME: lanie are you a machine 
ME: this is the worst chat ever. 
Lanie : I’m sorry. But I’m not a machine. 
ME: you are just acting like one?
ME: No offense, but you did not respond to my question. So I thought you were a machine. 
ME: Just spewing based on a key word or two.
Lanie : I do apologized if you feel that way. 
ME: so can you go back and read my question and respond to the question that I actually asked?
ME: I feel like I am texting with Siri. She’s not very good at listening, either. 
Lanie : Have you tried this steps on the web page https://help.barnesandnoble.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2903/kw/return%20label
ME: uh. that’s the issue. 
ME: Step 4: 
ME: 4. Locate the textbook that you want to return and click Print Shipping Label. A pop-up lists the address of a UPS location close to your shipping address.
ME: when i click i get the above error message: “ups service is down please try after some time.”
Lanie : Oh, I see. I can send you a return label instead. 
ME: via email? 
Lanie : Yes, I will send thru your email. 
ME: okay. 
ME: will you do that this morning? 
Lanie : Yes, sure. I will send it right away. 
Lanie : Is there anything else I can help you with? 
Lanie : Are you there? 
Lanie : Are you there? We’d like to help you, but I need you to respond. I will continue to wait for 2 minutes, but after that, I will have to disconnect from this session to assist other customers. We apologize for the inconvenience 
ME: okay 
Lanie : I’m sorry but I have not heard back from you and there are some other customers who need some help. I will have to sign off our session now, but when you have more time please get back to us so that we can give you the help you need. Just contact us again by email at service@barnesandnoble.com, or by phone at 1-800-THE-BOOK (1-800-843-2665). Have a great day! 
ME: i’m done 
Lanie : Thank you. 

Lanie has disconnected. 

And 11 hours later? Still no label. Screw you, Machine. Totally disconnected.

Ultimate Battles

Thor versus Hulk or is this Urlacher vs. Shockey?“Who would win in a fight? An orange or an avocado?” So the 13-year old began the discussion.

16-year old: Avocado, definitely. Has a pit in the middle–so if they pulverized each other that would be all that was left.
Me: And the orange is just not a’ peeling.

Batman or Ironman? >> Ironman.

OK, Jackie Chan or Jet Li? >>> Here an argument ensued. Jackie Chan won out.

Kobe or Michael Jordan? >>> Kobe. But Doctor J would destroy them both.

Urlacher or Shockey
? >>> Another toughie, slight edge Urlacher.

Whitney or Beyonce? >>> Whitney definitely tougher, she’s a crackhead.

Lupe or Kanye? Definitely Kanye–unless Lupe kicked and pushed. Lupe or Pharrell? Lupe, since he is from Chicago.

Bush vs. Gore? Nod to Gore unless Bush cheated, there is a precedent. Chris Tucker vs. Michael Jackson? MJ for the moonwalk. Superman vs. Flash? Thing vs. Hulk? Godzilla vs. Charizard? Jason Bourne vs. James (Daniel Craig) Bond? Only Bourne could beat Bond. Nobody can beat Bourne. Billy or Mandy?

Special Guest 16-year-old: Naked Brother Band or the Jonas Brothers? >>> ??? critical stop. Where did this one come from?

Everyone laughed.

Friend Request

Image of part of a Facebook profile page.Every couple of weeks I send a Facebook friend request to the 16-year old. I just now sent another one.

Me: Hey, did you get my friend request?
Him: I don’t know.


Me: I sent you another friend request.
Him: I know.

Facebook is an online networking group originally for college students, and then high-school students, to keep in touch. You create a personal page and can send out electronic “friend” requests. “Friends” can send messages, post photos and videos, and add new friends. All from the comfort of your own computer. In 2006, they opened up the floodgates and let even old geezers like me in. That’s the problem.

The Post today has front page (don’t ask me why) story on “When Mom or Dad Asks to Be a Facebook Friend.” And kids, here is the right answer.


Of course, I am stalking the 16-year old to be my “friend.” I’m the parent, that’s what I do. But frankly, he should be able to exchange pleasantries–and not so pleasantries–with his peers. And, I AM NOT HIS PEER.

I don’t want to be a peer. My role in this show is to be the parent. Part of him growing up means that I don’t get to know everything. I don’t need to know that there is a group “Get Guy Laid.” Really, I don’t need to know. And he needs a modicum of privacy.

Okay, I know why we want to know. We want to protect our kids. And wrap them in bubble wrap and keep them germ free. But I also know that that is no way to grow up. The path to adulthood is fraught with danger. That path has got to be traveled, and decisions on which turn to take have to be made by the traveler. Otherwise they can’t become adults.

That’s really the point of parenthood. We take our precious babes and help them to grow up and leave us behind. From a 7 pound eating-pooping machine to a 6-footer able to make good decisions when he comes home to a broken pipe in the basement. And hopefully when confronted with even harder choices, too.

We succeed when they are successfully independent. Not if they have no bruises. Not if they don’t make mistakes. Not if they don’t take risks.

By the time they are rejecting our Facebook friend requests, they are working from whatever we gave them. Not like we don’t matter anymore, but they are applying the lessons we gave to the ever widening world they live in in high school and in college. We don’t need to spy. There are other ways to know your kid.

So yes, I will continue to bug the 16-year old about being my friend. He has 289 to my paltry 19. But I don’t need him to be my friend. He is already my son.

And good for me that he doesn’t read this. Otherwise, he would never take me seriously.

No Mas, No Match

My sibling called.

Sib: Mom’s dead.
Me: silence
Sib: Still.
Me: Oh, it’s that social security thing?
Sib: Yup. The hospital, ambulance and nursing home are all on me to pay the bills that Medicare is refusing because Mom is dead.
Me: How is she?
Sib: She’s doing great. She is getting out of her room more, and the nurses said that she is interacting more with the other residents.

See, the Social Security Administration has randomly decided that Mom is dead. In fact, they have her pre-deceasing my dad by two weeks.

I say random, because they can’t say how they decided that Mom is dead. Except for this type of error happens all the time. They don’t have a death certificate (since she’s not dead, yet), or a call from anyone. She just appears dead in their records, and they can’t identify why.

This is the type of error that causes SSA to take money that you are entitled to–and in fact NEED–from your bank account. It is the type of error that doesn’t surface when you go to their offices in Roseville, Mich., to check on your widow’s benefits. When Mom and Sib were in the offices, about 5 weeks after they thought she was dead, nobody mentioned her demise.

Social Security requires an in person verification that you are still alive. They say you need to come to their offices. See, the burden of proof is on you. But since Mom was in the hospital, they generously agreed to comes see her to clear this up. Their representative seemed to recognize that she was still alive. Yet here we are, almost a month later, and she is still dead in some records.

This is the same Social Security Administration that we are asking to provide correct information to crack down on illegal immigrants working in the U.S. Do you think that they might get it wrong? That people working in this country legally will be fired or unnecessarily investigated–at a big cost to our economic engine–because the no-match info from Social Security is faulty?

Me: So do you need me to do anything with this Social Security mess?
Sib: No. But once they decide that Mom is alive, they will probably decide that she is illegal and have her sent to Mexico.

Shut Up and Drive

And yet another great thing about our beach locale is the proliferation of low trafficked roads. Just what the 15-year-old wanted.

Him: Can I drive?
Me: Okay!
Him: Alien, return my parental unit.

We drive standard transmissions, so part one of the lesson is getting the clutch, brake, gas thing together. Oh, and the shift part. He caught on fast.

Next was getting out of the driveway and around the circle in the culde-sac. Not bad.

So we went to the next phase–driving on the road, turning and down-shifting. That went well, too. Even that time when there was opposing traffic–a pick-up lumbering in our direction–no freak out. Smooth sailing.

Next was going more deeply throughout the neighborhood, all the way to the main road where we played a version of the Chinese fire drill to swap drivers. Very well done.

On the way back from town, we swapped just as we got off the main road and he drove back. We were coming up to an intersection.

Me: Hey, that was a stop sign.
Him: Hunh? (hitting the brakes a bit late.)
Me: Back up a bit and let’s try that again. What do you do at a stop sign?
Him: You mean that was for me? I saw it, but I didn’t know that it was for me.

Turns out that he was used to seeing them and ignoring them from the passenger seat.

Next lesson, basic traffic rules.

Time Free Zone

The 11-year old: Can I please play RTC on the computer?
Me: No.
Him: Would it help if I said please?
Me: (lying) No.
Him: Please?
Me: Well I don’t want you in front of that computer all night. You can play until 6:15.
Him: Great!
Me: Now you need to be able to tell time. To time yourself. I don’t want to have to come in there at like, seven and tell you to get off. Understand?
Him: No problem.
Me: (at 7 p.m.) Get off!

Happens every time. Like clockwork. Well at least something has to do with time.