Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Inheritance. Or, Why I'm Rich and You're Not

Both my parents recently died within 11 months of each other. For some people, that may mean a sudden windfall. For me, not so much. At least, not monetarily, which, if you knew my folks, makes perfect sense. The most valuable item I inherited is a piano. Then there are some sentimental items from childhood that don't need to be enumerated here. Some of the more odd items that I have been able to enjoy from the "estate" are Costco-sized packages of toilet paper and paper towels, a bunch of AA (new, Costco again) batteries, some white wheat and the spices from my mom's kitchen. It's all stuff that's come in handy -- I haven't had to buy toilet paper since February -- but it's not anything to take to the bank.

Luckily for me, other people are more than happy to share their considerable wealth and fortunes with me. I mean, I know they are because I got emails from them, or in some instances from their attorneys, offering me a once in a lifetime chance to get rich.

All I need to do is share some personal data and bank account information with them. The only dilemma I really face now is to decide which one to take advantage of. Because it would be unfair of me to accept all of them, right? I'm sure some other poor orphan somewhere could also stand to get rich quick.

Here are some of the offers: From Dr. Walter Farkas --

Hello my Dear, I am Walter Farkas,the MD. of Swiss Bank Zurich. Am happy to inform you that i have completed the transaction. I have finally received my 20m USD. Because of all you have done for me in the past,i want you to enjoy this me. Please contact my Secretary to get your share; He is; Mr. Terry Ekwe,a british national but is currently at my office in Nigeria where i am currently building an oil company for exportation of crude. His email addresses are: . His office is located in Nigeria. Please make sure you send him the following information complete; Your Full Name: Your address: Your country: Your occupation Your age: Your Phone number: I have forwarded instruction to him and he will be waiting for your mail with information on this. I have traveled to invest my share and i wont be reached for a year. I thank you for everything and God bless you. I do not know how you will feel but please do not reject this gift because its from my heart and i want you to share this joy with me. I cant tell how much happy that i am but God will never stop rewarding you for everything. Regards, PD Dr. Walter E. Farkas

According to this next gentleman, I already have $3.5 million waiting for me. But what I most appreciate about his offer is is fine spelling and grammatical skilz.

I've cashed your draft/cheque in worth of $3.9Million United State Dollars for your overdue payments, due to the expiry I boxed the money and deposited with shipment of BLUE-DART EXPRESS COURIER COMPANY Benin Republic, so to deliver the boxed to you, to avoid another hoax as you were disappointed in the past. So you’re requested to contact the BLUE-DART EXPRESS COURIER COMPANY with your delivery address and your telephone numbers so they shall commence immediately to deliver the box to your nominated address.

Note; The BLUE-DART EXPRESS COURIER COMPANY don't know the contents of the Box. I registered it as a Box of a FAMILY VALUABLE.They don't know that it contents $3.9Million.This is to avoid them delay with the Box.Don't let them know Content of the Box. Please make sure you send this needed information to the Director General of Blue-Dart Express Company DR. BERNARD DEMAS with the address given to you. So contact BLUE-DART EXPRESS COURIER COMPANY today and try to contact them with your personal information listed bellow;

blah blah blah

Some other guy tells me he has esophogeal and prostate cancer and is just looking for someone to leave a cool $46 million to to run some orphanage. Because that's what normal people do.

This last one is perhaps my favorite because it is the most unbelievable.

From: James Madsen & Associates
Managing Partner (James Madsen LLP)


On behalf of the Trustees and Executives of the estate of Late Mr. Frank Pierre, I once again try to notify you as my earlier letter was returned undelivered. I hereby attempt to reach you again by this same email address given to this judiciary office by Mr. Frank Pierre before his death.
I wish to notify you that your contact email address was found on late Mr. Pierre last testament and which automatically means he has nominated you as one of his next of kin hence i am writing you regarding this.
He left the sum of Twenty one Million united states Dollars for you in the codicil and last testament to his will.This may sound strange and unbelievable to you, but it is real and true. Being a widely traveled man, he must have been in contact with you in the past, or simply you were nominated to him by one of his numerous friends overseas who wished you well.
Mr. Frank Pierre until his death was not married and was a member of the Helicopter Society and the Institute of Electronic & Electrical Engineers. He was a very dedicated Christian who loved to give out.
His great philanthropy earned him numerous awards during his life time Late Mr. Frank Pierre died on the 16th day of February 2006 at the age of 90 years and this money is to support his Christian activities and to help the poor and the needy, (may his soul rest with the Lord).
Please if I reach you as I am hopeful, endeavor to get back to me as soon as possible to enable me conclude my job with the following information.

1.Full Name
2.Contact Address
3.Telephone/Fax Number

I hope to hear from you in no distant time.

Yours in his service,
Barrister James Madsen
Office Address
8-10 New Fetter Lane,

I'm not sure what his being a member of the helicopter society and a good Christian has to do with him wanting to leave me his money, but with so much on the line, who am I to argue?

Also, what is it with Nigerians? Is there something in the water there that gives people millions of dollars?

So if I'm unreachable for the next little while, it's because I've responded to these very reasonable and believable requests and have bought myself an island somewhere in the South Pacific. Aloha.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Expert Beginner

I am good at many things. I excel at few. In fact, I can only think of a couple of things at which I am excellent. I know the basics of a lot of stuff, but push me to the next level, and I ... balk.

The other day at tap dance class (have I mentioned this? That's for another post, I guess.) we were learning how to do pullbacks. It doesn't look like it should be that difficult, but to break it down into basics, then train your body how to do it, well, let's just say that I over think body mechanics on stuff I don't immediately get. Which is a basic problem for me and one of the reasons I get as far as beginning to easy-intermediate levels on things, then ... move onto something else.

Holding onto the barre and trying to train my body to do this step, I was struck by two physical memories of instances where I stopped trying to do something because I didn't succeed the first five or ten times I tried. Yep, I give up if I don't get something right after only a few tries. How lame is that?

For a second, I was back in jujitsu class a few years ago, trying to tell my body that it's okay and perfectly natural to do backwards rolls. My body called my mind a liar, and the sad thing is? The body was right. I was lying to it. It's not natural to throw yourself backwards, even if there is a nice, cushy gymnastics mat underneath it. There was no viable reason I could give my body to want to continue trying to learn how to do that. Not even the promise of progressing to the next belt level was enough to do it. "No," my body flatly said. "The only time I would use this realistically is if I were rolling out of a car, and then I will do it instinctively because it will save our life."

So when it came time to enroll for the next term of jujitsu, I didn't. Not if overcoming the obstacle of backrolls was a requirement.

The second physical memory I relived was as a child at the Burnham's pool. My sisters and dad were trying to teach me how to do a back dive. Every time I tried it, my body would bend at some weird funky angle, which hurt my back and made obscene amounts of water go up my nose upon entry. "No more," my body said. "I am not a fish, I am not made of bendy styrofoam, and I can enjoy a day at the pool just fine without thrusting myself at an unnatural angle into gallons of water."

And, that was that.

It looks like the backwards thing is a theme, doesn't it? Back dives, back rolls. And now a pullBACK. A backwards jump. My body just doesn't want to work that way, I guess. Let's eavesdrop again on what my body has to say about it. "Backwards just feels a little unnatural. And scary. And what's the point? We can fake it like we do so many other things." (My body knows me very well -- one of the things that I am excellent in is pretending that I'm good at something. This is how I became an excellent sight reader at the piano. I didn't practice, and when it came around for lessons, I had to pretend I was prepared, so I learned how to sight read. This has come in handy many times as I can actually do more than just fake being able to play music the first time I see it, I can play it. It also saved me from getting hit by my teacher.)

I need to find a way to win this argument with the body. I am determined to make it past a beginning intermediate level at something. Not because I think I'm going to compete with any tap dancing penguins or go on So You Think You Can Dance or anything like that. But because I like tap dancing too much to go back to a beginning level indefinitely for what will definitely be a boring experience. I know how to do that stuff already.

So while I won't be immediately successful at a pullback, I'm not giving up.

Though I may be singing a different tune (tapping a different rhythm?) when it's time to decide if I will participate in the summer recital...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why You're Fat

Last night I went to the movies. It was a late show -- didn't start until 10:30, and it was a school night, so it wasn't very crowded. There were maybe 20 of us in the theater. About halfway through, someone started snoring. Really loudly. Sawmill loud. Sonorous enough that I thought it was a man. It wasn't. It was a young woman probably in her mid 20s. She was leaned back in her chair like it was her own personal barcalounger, head back, mouth wide open, soft tissue rattling like it was in a marathon. The feather in her somnambulant cap was the straw hanging out of her mouth, like her own personal snorkel. I hoped that one good inhale would suck that baby down her larnyx, of only to shut her up. Perhaps even more amazing was her friend who not only didn't care enough about her (or us!) to give her a healthy nudge to shut her up, but had also intentionally left an empty seat between them.

I don't know her, but I know why she's fat. Because fat she was. Undoubtedly she's a lazy slob who shoves whatever food she wants (nutrional information upon request or otherwise) into her face, then sits around on her rather sizeable behind doing nothing to boost her metabolism. She also doesn't have supportive friends who care enough about her to encourage her to do something about her health.

Story number two: Twice a week I teach a spin class at my local YMCA. I am an AFAA certified group fitness instructor, which means I know the mechanics of putting together an aerobics class, understand basic body and muscle physiology and anatomy, and can kick your trash on a bike going nowhere fast. I have the honor of being the instructor of the sole entry-level or beginner class, so I get the full spectrum of experience and fitness levels.

Last week one of my semi-regular attendees smelled a little peculiar. It was obvious he had been indulging in an alcholic beverage (or two) prior to coming to class. It seemed like a strange choice, but okay.

He's one of these middle-aged men (middle-aged = late 40s or so) who has great muscle tone in his legs and arms, but sports a large belly. Some might even go so far as to call it a beer belly. He's a flesh and blood version of the Michelin Man without the mummified toilet paper wrap. He's still at the beginner spin level. He has a hard time supporting his body weight for any amount of time as we're doing standing hills or "jumps" or any kind of isolation drills.

After class that day, he beelined for me, obviously intent on making some excuse as to why he couldn't sustain aerobic activity for 30 minutes. Sure enough, today's excuse centered around his, well, center. According to him, because he has a big belly, his knees don't support his weight. And as any good Californian knows, a good defense is a better offense, so he turned it around on me by asking me how much I had weighed at my heaviest, obviously expecting me to say something dumb like I've never struggled with my weight. He was noticeably startled when I answered his blunt question with a frank answer. Somewhat taken aback, he then wanted to know where I had carried my weight. I told him I had been blessed to be fairly evenly distributed because even at my heaviest I was still fairly active. He then suggested that to be able to truly empathize with him and the rest of the beer belly-toting male population in my classes, I should put a 20 pound backpack around my middle so that I can better tell them how to work out. You know, because somehow it's my responsibility to make sure he loses weight.

I'll give you a moment while the inanity of that sentiment sinks in.

Before moving onto his next brilliant statement.

He had been watching Fox news the night before (much to his chagrin, since it's practically a cardinal sin in Democratic-heavy California to watch a right-leaning news show) where some idiot said that having an alcoholic beverage before working out helps you to get endorphins and makes you want to work out more.

Yep. That's what he told me. And he had obviously been willing enough to listen to his political adversaries since it gave him an excuse to drink. Which then explained the unusual smell, even for a gym, I had detected earlier.

Why is he fat? Because he makes excuses and points fingers. Until he's willing to take responsibility on his own shoulders for how his decisions impact his health and weight, he will sport an extra 20 pounds around his middle.

Go ahead -- judge me if you want. It's only fair since I've obviously been doing my own fair share of snap judging. So why are you fat? I don't know. But you may recongize some tendencies in these two illustrations. I'll tell you why I'm fat. Because I like cookies and ice cream and make all sorts of idiotic justifications about how working out allows me to treat myself -- with food. Dumb, huh? Some people may look at me now and contradict me by telling me I'm not fat, and while it's true that I'm at a healthy weight and have a good aerobic capacity and have a cute, athletic shape, I spent about a decade being overweight, and emotionally still think of myself as that fat chick. I may not physically be fat, but mentally I am. I know what it's like to have a low self esteem due to poor body image. I know what it's like to make excuses and to want to eat more than to get off the couch.

It's why I love The Biggest Loser. I unabashedly call each group of contestants "my fatties," because I really can and do relate to them. And I don't mean it disrespectfully either. I feel a certain kinship with each of them. I am appropriately disgusted and horrified at the jiggling jelly rolls on display at each weigh-in. I cheer when they finish a challenge they didn't think they could ever do, or do one more set of weight lifting, or get the treadmill up to a 15% incline at 8 m.p.h. for three minutes when the week before opening the refrigerator door was a calorie-burner for them. I am delighted when Jillian yells at them and does her Dr. Phillian routine on each of them -- because Jillian understands that behind each double chin and spare tire is a suitcase of emotional baggage that's keeping that weight on. And I love watching their transitions from disgusting couch potatoes to active, fit people with healthy motivations to make positive changes to their bodies and minds.

Season 8 started last night. No, I'm on getting paid by any networks to promote the show, but I got text messages from some friends yesterday reminding me that the new season was starting and did I have my DVR set? I'm even getting my friends to call the contestants my fatties. I was thrilled when the sappy/motivational music started introducing the contestants and the new season, and fairly cheered when Bob and Jillian introduced the season by saying, "These people aren't like you. They ARE you."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Available Upon Request

The other night Lisa and I went to dinner at IHOP. I usually order something called a "Breakfast Scramble," which is some scrambled eggs made with Egg Beaters, with some yummy veggies mixed in, with a side of healthy (possibly) pancakes. I love it. It's tasty and just the right portion size. This night, however, I couldn't find it on the menu. I was looking at the back page where the healthier options reside, but my beloved scramble was nowhere to be found. There were other options, but nothing had the combination of things I like. Available options were pancakes with fruit, or eggs with ..I don't remember what, but not a combination that appealed tome. The waitress ambled over and asked if we were ready. We weren't yet.

Then, I saw it. I had realized that the menu was redesigned, but had been having a hard time interpreting it, and thought it was just because of the new layout. But then I noticed something ... ominous. Ugly. Unappealing. At the bottom of each entry's description were some numbers. A line of numbers. Three to four digit numbers. I couldn't figure out the dawned on me. Calories. Frikkin calories. Not only could I not find something I wanted, but to compound my decision making process, I had to think about numbers. About fat content. About how much exercise I was going to have to do to work off a serving of German pancakes. Or a Denver omelette. Ugh.

The waitress wandered back. I asked some questions about the "healthy options" menu, and she was very uncooperative. She informed me that while yes, I could have pancakes instead of fruit, it would be the same price as if I ordered just the pancakes as a side order. Because, she explained, "this menu is for people who are on a special diet plan." I'm not sure if she meant I had to have a doctor's note to order, or if she was just looking for ways to boost her tip, but it was annoying. So then I asked for a regular breakfast meal with pancakes and eggs, but to please have the eggs made with egg beaters instead. She was going to charge me an extra dollar for that, Just no.

I later found on the menu that I could request egg beaters as a substitute at no additional charge. I pointed it out to the waitress AFTER paying the bill (didn't want my already less-than-desirable meal spat upon), and as I was driving away, saw her perusing the menu with a coworker trying to determine if I was right. I was.

We vowed to not go back to IHOP. Not only was the service less than stellar and I could NOT get what I wanted upon request, (at least not without an additional charge,) but the added pressure of having to choose not only between this and that, but if this or that with having to weigh in caloric options as well, it was just too much. I wanted to just relax and have fun time with a good friend. Instead, I had to do math. And deal with potential food guilt. No matter what kind of math you're doing, those things do not add up to a good time.

Then last weekend I went to the movies. For years we've gotten away with bringing outside food into the theater. There are tons of eateries in the neighborhood and pedestrian malls, and with busy schedules, it's just easier to grab a meal and bring it into the theater. It's not so much a blatant disrespect for the theater, but a meal of popcorn or nachos just doesn't cut it. This time though, I couldn't ignore the MANY signs requesting no outside food or drink being brought into the theater. Okay, fine, I grumbled to myself. I settled for a compromise. I still brought my Chipotle lunch into the movie, but begrudingly forked over a small fortune for a Diet Coke instead of bringing a much less expensive one from the restaurant.

While I was standing in the concessions line (Chipotle bag safely and discretely stowed away in my purse), I scanned the options on the fancy digital menu/price listing. It's certainly not your mom's concession options anymore. They've branched out to offering items like individual pizza and chicken fingers in addition to the traditional movie fare of popcorn and candy. I was looking for prices, but the only numbers I could easily find on the digital readout was...Yes, that's right. Calories.

SERIOUSLY???? I go to the movies to relax. It's not enough that you have to be willing to part with a hefty percentage of your weekly paycheck just to gain entry, and then have to dig into your 401k for snacks. You sit there and mentally go over your budget and financial options instead of fully enjoying the movie. But now, I can't even sit still because I want to do a mini sit-n-tone exercise session to work off my popcorn. I wouldn't have felt like that if I didn't know I was consuming enough calories to get a small child through the day. I don't want to think about that stuff! I just want to relax!

I'm an adult. I have more than a rudimentary awareness of cause and effect. When I eat, there are consequences. I get it. Why must I be reminded of it in the situations I want nothing more than to just relax and enjoy myself?

Today I went through the drive-through of El Pollo Loco. As I was waiting for my order, I saw something in the service window that fairly made my heart sing and stomach soar. "Nutritional Information Available Upon Request."

Thank you, El Pollo Loco. Finally, an establishment that understands I don't want to have to think. I want to put stuff in my pie hole, for a reasonable price, without haggling about my options, and without having to do nasty caloric math.

If I get fat eating there, it's my own darn fault.

Speaking of fatties, a new season of my favorite reality show is starting tonight. Stay tuned to this channel for my next entry about my fatties and the dumbest thing I've ever heard one of my spin students say. And that's saying a lot. I've heard some doozies so far.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stranger Danger

My recent post about bathroom etiquette was strangely popular. Well, maybe not so strange. I mean, we all have bodily functions, but it's not socially polite to actually acknowledge or talk about those functions.

Or at least, not to openly discuss the noises those functions make.

Actually, it's okay to talk about the noises those functions make, as long as we don't acknowledge that it's our own persons making those noises. OTHER people make those noises, but not me! Never! Not that you know about, at least.

But we all know that I don't really follow social norms. It's boring. Or at least, kind of like lying, and I am nothing if not honest. (Why didn't Plato or Socrates come up with that one? Instead of, "I think, therefore I am," it should be, "I'm honest, therefore I am....Even if I'm embarassingly honest about stuff that people only think about, never say out loud.")

Please don't misunderstand -- I am not confessing to any noises coming out of my orifices that are impolite. OTHER people have noisy orifical (heh -- I like making up words) emissions, but not ME. Nuh uh.

ANYway, here's the story. I had to use the little girls' room today. As one does. I chose "my" stall, and proceeded to do my business. Quietly. Politely. Discretely. Because there was someone else in one of the other stalls. Who was neither quiet nor discrete.

She finished, exited the stall, washed her hands, and left.

I was just flushing when the bathroom door opened and someone went into the other stall. I exited my own stall and was washing my hands when I was serenaded by yet another round of physiological symphonic cacophony. In no time at all, the toilet flushed and the occupant exited. It was the same woman who had just been in there moments before.

I applaud her efforts at making sure she was in the right place (toilet) at the right time (tooting and other things). And I understand that sometimes you're not done when you thought you were.

What I can't get on board with is what happened next. She apologized to me. In person. To my face. For her noisy bodily functions. Oh, pffft. Let's call a spade a spade. She farted and apologized.


But then, she explained. I'm sorry, but it's bad enough that you've just apologized to me for nature and her fiendish ways, but you don't need to explain. I have a colon too. And as all good colons do, sometimes air gets trapped. I get it. I don't need to know what's trapping air in yours.

Oh! Too late. "I had milk this morning. I need calcium, you know, and I can either take the calcium supplements or drink the milk, and I choose milk."

On the outside, I was the epitome of polite yet detached interest. "Well, you gotta do what you gotta do."

On the inside though, I was a screaming, horrified ball of, "Take the supplement! TAKE THE SUPPLEMENT!"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How to Avoid HR

Two jobs, two different stories, each of which could potentially put me in trouble with those respective HR groups.

Story one: (My "real" job. You know, the one that pays the bills.) Since this is a very large company, there are groups and departments just full of people that have nothing better to do than to make my life miserable. That's a slight exaggeration. I'm sure they make other people's lives miserable as well. There are those of us who do things -- who make things happen. And everyone else just...manages. Or mucks up processes that already work perfectly well. Our HR department is an example of this. For the past five months, a certain person who I'll call Billy has been trying to take a process that I've whipped into peak performance and HR-ify it. You know, mess it up. He's doing a swimmingly swell job at it, despite my best efforts to belay it.

Every time I get a request from him (or one of his minions) to comply with one of his self-aggrandizing whims, I hem and haw and defer and balk and come up with really good reasons why that won't work. It's been mostly successful, but the sheer act and energy exerted to hem, haw, defer and balk is exhausting and has resulted in a simmering hatred of HR in general and this man specifically.

Long story short (too late!) my manager asked me the other day, "Well, what happens when Billy asks you why you didn't do such and such?" (In other words, what happens on the extremely slim chance that Billy decides that it's not enough to throw processes over processes, but decides it's time to follow up on those redundant processes, thus doubling my misery.)

I shrugged and said, "I'll just say (assumes blank look), 'Oh, I didn't realize that it was supposed to work that way, so I was just doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing.'"

My manager knows I'm not dumb. I'm blonde, yes, but mostly of the bottled variety. The blank look did not work on him, but he appreciated the effort and said, "Yes, just act like a dumb blonde -- pretend like you don't know anything."

I said, "Oh, like plausible deniability?"

...Which, kind of takes away from the whole dumb blonde thing.

Moral of story #1: Either do what HR asks you to do, regardless of how stupid it is, or be better at being a dumb blonde.

Story #2: Job number two -- (the one that I might as well keep just volunteering at, because working 2 hours a week at the local YMCA is not going to make me rich anytime soon).
Spin class fitness instructor. We had just finished doing "jumps," so the classroom was silent as the song finished and we waiting for my iPod to cycle through to the next one. Though musically silent, I could tell I was pushing the participants as hard as I needed to because all I could hear was breathing. A lot of it. Ten people breathing heavily is loud.

So I said, through my own huffing and puffing (I work as hard as I ask my students to do), "Wow, all that heavy breathing is such a great sound! It sounds like a night at my house."

Yes, I'll give you a moment to digest that little gem.


It really did sound as bad as it does as you read it. But I didn't mean it that way! Well, I mostly didn't mean it that way.

I was going to make a joke about having another part time job doing that results in heavy breathing. But I kind of stepped on my own joke. Then it didn't make any sense to explain what I was going to say because now the heavy breathing was replaced by loud laughter.

I bumbled on, thinking maybe I could explain my way out of it, but then realized there was really no way out of it. So I said, "My manager's name is Maryam if anyone feels like they need to complain."

They all laughed and said, "No! We want Laura THREE nights a week!" ... Which made me think they either appreciate my mad spin skilz, or ... Yeah, I dunno either.

Moral #2: Don't inadvertently sexually harass an entire class of people. Well, don't sexually harass anyone, inadvertenly or otherwise, but especially not multiple people at the same time. Although, maybe that's exactly what will protect me from anyone turning me in!