Monday, October 16, 2017

What Does It Take To Get Some Peace and Quiet Around Here?

In a place like NYC, apparently it takes a lot. We New Yorkers live in a VERY noisy city. And sadly, most of the time it becomes the ambient noise, when in reality, it’s the ACTUAL noise. But none of us city dwellers want to acknowledge it. We’d rather pretend it goes along with the chirping of the birds and the rustling of the trees as if it’s something pleasant to the ears… the soundtrack of the city if you will. Well I won’t. Not anymore. It’s NOISE POLLUTION, ladies and gentlemen, and I am quite frankly over it!

Let’s start with the noise pollution in my own neighborhood. In general, I love living in Astoria. I’m still close to the heart of Manhattan, but far enough away to avoid some of the sounds that are unavoidable with midtown traffic. But don’t think we don’t have cars out in these parts. Oh, yes we do. And they are LOUD. Let me repeat… THEY ARE LOUD. I’m not sure why Queens people think having a car that roars at volumes exceeding an airplane at take-off is a good thing, but I assure you it’s not. And my street is one of the few that crosses over Astoria Boulevard and thus becomes a thoroughfare for every jerk who thinks he has a hot car (or crotch rocket). Think you’re cool or hip just because your car can zoom down my street with deafening sounds that practically burst my eardrums? Think again. At the end of the day, you’re just a goomba riding around in your dumb vehicle. (That’s my Italian way of saying you’re a loser who needs to get a life).

And of course we can’t forget about the noise pollution on the subway. Why do certain people think we want to hear ALL the songs stored on their smartphones? “Who Let the Dogs Out” isn’t on my playlist so I truly don’t want to hear it blasting from yours. Also, what about those people who talk on their speaker phones? Hello – where is your headset? Or better yet, just put the damn phone up to your ear like we did in the good old days of landlines! I get that we all feel like we need to be in touch at all times. I’m guilty of having my phone permanently attached to some part of my body, but even I know it isn’t appropriate to be broadcasting both sides of your phone conversation via your speaker for the entire subway car to hear.

I must also mention the noise pollution in our social settings i.e. BARS, though restaurants are by no means exempt from this ruckus. I was recently in a bar with a few friends, hoping to catch up over a few drinks. It was pretty early on a Friday night – 8:30 p.m. But there we were, in a bar SOOOOOO loud, my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head, the beat of the music was vibrating throughout my body, and I had to scream to be heard. The kicker was there were only like TWENTY people in the whole place!  What is up with that? And it’s not a NYC phenomenon. Bars all over the globe LOVE to crank the music up to full blast—the whole “it goes to eleven” for those of you Spinal Tap fans. And when you ask a manager about it, he or she gives you a dumbfounded look, as if the manager has no idea where the offensively boisterous music is coming from. Newsflash bar owners/DJs: This is not a packed club in Ibiza. Turn the music down and let us have our friendly chit chat. My theory is bar owners figure the less we’re able to talk, the more we’ll be forced to drink. All I can say to that is, “For shame!!!”

I won’t even get into the noise pollution of people’s voices. I’m sure you’ve walked down the street and heard two people next to each other bellowing at one another, even though the tone of their conversation is pleasant. I was running yesterday and I had my headphones on with my music cranked up. (I admit I like my music LOUD when I’m running.) Even through my headphones I could hear these two ladies talking about invites to a party. Maybe all the headphones we wear 24/7 are destroying our hearing but it’s annoying nevertheless. But I don’t want to delve too deeply into this topic. Why, you ask? Because I know I contribute to it. Yes, everyone, I’ve been told that my voice… ahem... *carries*, so I’ll just apologize and say I’ll try harder in the future not to contribute to the cacophony of sounds that make our ears bleed!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

If You’re Blind, Let’s Hope Your Seeing Eye Dog Isn’t.

            When it comes to cars, I’m blind. Oh don’t panic, I CAN see to drive the car, but beyond that, I’m basically blind as a bat and have to rely on others to lead me around and show me what to do. Other than knowing where to check the oil level, I know NOTHING about the vehicle I own. Check the tire pressure? Nope. Put air in my tires? Yeah, right. And the truth is, I don’t really want to know either. That is, until my car breaks down and I immediately panic: “What’s wrong? Why isn’t my car working? What do I do? SOMEONE HELP ME!!” (Hence the Seeing Eye dog.) And here we are at the present moment. As I prepare to have my brakes replaced on my car, I must ask myself: “Does the person fixing my car know what the hell he’s doing?” (Answer to be determined.)

            I admit it. I’m not mechanically inclined. (Read here for further proof: I am not the slightest bit interested in how things work, as long as they DO work. When things break down, some people try to figure out what the problem is. And to my credit, I am willing to do a little bit of digging if my iPhone or computer is not working properly. There are enough message boards out there to lead a blind person like me to the light of day. Sometimes. But I usually get bored after a few minutes and would rather just call 555-FIX-THIS. I don’t have the time or the desire to know why it’s broken. Just make it work again PLEASE, pretty please with sugar on top, okay?

            And thus we come to my brakes. While bringing my car into my Honda dealership to change the oil (now I don’t even have to check the oil… a lamp lights up on my dashboard to tell me it’s time to change it), the lovely folks at Honda ran what they called a “100 point inspection”. (It was free, so I really shouldn’t complain.) Lo and behold, they determined I needed to have my front brakes replaced to the tune of $550. WHAT??? The brakes in my brain slammed to a halt as I processed this information. Then, I drove my car right out of there and hoped the brakes on my tires still had enough life in them to do some research on mechanics.

            And that’s where the fun begins. I don’t have a mechanic. I went to my local Citgo station in New Jersey where my dad used to go and discovered it’s under new ownership and they ONLY habla EspaƱol. I don’t even know how to say “brakes” in Spanish! (FYI, it’s frenos.) Somehow I was able to use my high school Spanish well enough to communicate with the mechanic, and he quoted me a price of $300. Phew. That sounds a lot better than $550. But as time went on, I kept wondering, “How do I know if this guy is a good mechanic? Who am I to judge? I only understood every other word he said, AND I can’t even change a flat tire!” Everyone I knew advised me that $550 was way too expensive for a front brake job, but could anyone advise me on where the hell to find a good mechanic? One friend said, “Don’t worry, you’ll know if the mechanic didn’t do a good job on your brakes.” And I’m thinking to myself, “Yeah, when I go careening of a cliff because I can’t stop?” But he goes on to say, “Bad brakes will always make the tires go black.” WHAT???? My tires are ALREADY black! What does that even mean?? I’ve heard of shades of grey, but are there shades of black?

            What I’ve come to realize is that it doesn’t matter how cheap you can get something fixed. The expression “You get what you pay for” applies here. Who cares how inexpensive a repair is, if it DOESN’T WORK? And thus, I’ve gotten some recommendations from friends who have worked with mechanics in the past and know way more about their automobiles than I do. And worst case, I just bite the bullet and pay the $550 at Honda. At least there, I have recourse should something go wrong. So I’m off now, to go see someone named “Jimmy.” According to my friend, he’s genuine. As long as he can GENUINELY fix my car, then hopefully my problem will soon be solved. And away I go!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Everything Is Breaking Down aka Is Mercury In Retrograde?

FYI, it isn’t. Although it WAS in retrograde when I left my cell phone on the airport shuttle bus in Europe so there’s that. But I digress. It seems that everything in my life is breaking down at the moment. First my body, with my never ending cough (which is still holding on for dear life). Then my cell phone disappears into the wild blue yonder without any of my photos from my European cruise backing up to the cloud. (Thank you, yet again, to the folks at Norwegian for having the worst customer service and apparently the weakest WiFi known to man.) Furthermore, my car went in for a simple oil change over the weekend and came out needing new brakes. To top it all off, I came home last night from work to check something on my computer and it WOULDN’T turn on.  Am I being paranoid or is someone out to get me?

Since I returned from vacation, I have made a concerted effort to be more peaceful in my life and not get on the NYC high speed train to somewhere (insert your destination). I’m not rushing. I’m trying my best to take things one day at a time. And it’s made me take a long hard look at my life, and what I hold onto—not just emotionally but physically. Why exactly were all those photos from my European trip so important? Do I need EVERY single photo I took just for memory’s sake? (I currently have 17,000 miscellaneous photos stored in my iPhone if that tells you how camera happy/crazy I am.) Then there’s the other “stuff” in my life, emphasis on stuff. I’ve previously talked about eliminating clutter from my life and have already made progress in that regard. In fact, two friends recently commented how spacious my living room looked. (It’s funny how getting rid of an entire bookcase and its contents can do that.) Still, I have a long way to go and moments like this make me ask myself, for example, why do I have SOOOOO many printed versions of scripts for EVERY play I have written? Do I really need to hold onto a physical script for miniscule changes I’m not even sure I could find if I looked, especially since they are all backed up on my computer? Oh wait, what about my computer? In theory, my computer gets backed up to the cloud every day. What if that backup fails too? (Truth be told, my computer was backed up over the weekend so I should be okay, but let’s see what the Genius Bar tells me later.)

I’m reminded of a friend who is the polar opposite of me. He is a minimalist to the core. Everything he owns fits into a backpack. This friend is an inventor. He hates when I use that word, but I don’t know what else to call him. He creates mechanical devices that do things like launch licorice sticks at you, write in the sand or release a foam layer in the toilet bowl when you do… well, the number that comes after one. (He’s kind of a smartie pants.) He posts videos of his creations on YouTube. However, once he’s finished, he THROWS his inventions IN THE GARBAGE. My clutterbug spirit found that absolutely insane and asked him about it. He said he doesn’t need to keep anything he makes. He knows he made it, he has it documented in writing as well as on video so he could always recreate it if he wanted to.

        There’s no doubt losing a computer is kind of a big deal. Losing your data is even bigger.But there’s something to be said for my friend’s attitude. A computer is certainly replaceable. As for my data, how much of it is relevant to my life now? Do I really need to hold onto EVERYTHING I’ve ever done or seen FOREVER? So as frustrated as I am about everything seemingly falling apart simultaneously, there’s something to be said for the expression: “Shit happens.” So circling back to earlier, I don’t actually think anyone is out to get me. After all, I do have backups of my computer. I may not get everything back, but I’ll get most of it. I posted a subset of my photos from my European trip on Facebook, except for the very last day so I have that. And my replacement brakes are just a simple matter of spending money I don’t have, but will need to find. Perhaps my perpetual cough is a reminder to slow down, take it easy and don’t make everything so precious. By the way, this blog entry was brought to you courtesy of my iPad. At least one thing is working in my life. (Footnote: my iPad ALMOST deleted this entry so perhaps I spoke to soon!)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

When Being Sick Just Makes You Want To Vomit

            I’m serious. I’m officially fed up. I started coughing on the very last day of my European adventure. That was THREE weeks ago. Yet here I am, still coughing EVERY day and feeling that tickle in my chest that just won’t go away. To top it off, I woke up this morning with a case of the sniffles. Maybe those are just allergies, but at this point who the hell knows? Am I just breaking down? I always looked at myself as the Energizer Bunny—I just keep “going and going and going”—but lately I’ve been wondering if it’s more a case of “going, going, GONE”?

            Okay, I jest! I don’t think I’m really GONE… but I am certainly sick and tired of being sick! Someone joked if I’m still coughing in a couple of weeks he would decapitate me and there was a brief moment I considered doing it myself. Coughing is so different than other types of ailments. It can hurt your chest, your throat and heck, my mom has even cracked her ribs from it. I’ve gotten severe headaches as well as nausea from all the coughing I’ve been doing. And to make matters worse, my voice has been in and out (and more OUT these days), which isn’t exactly conducive to pursuing an acting career.

            It’s also the strange effect coughing has on everyone around you. It’s something audible and sometimes it’s VERY audible. Even when someone sneezes, these days we can chalk it up to allergies. We don’t necessarily think the person has come down with the bubonic plague. But the minute you start coughing, it’s this jarring noise that has everyone staring at you as if they want to call a priest to have him administer the last rites (or in my case, a rabbi). It’s embarrassing. I’ve gotten dirty looks on the subway, had people ask me if I’ve been to a doctor (Answer: Yes—twice—and my Chest X-Ray was clear), and had several people ask me, “Are you sure you should be out with that cough?” (FYI, that’s subtext for “Are you sure you should be HERE possibly infecting ME?”) And truth be told, I’ve had moments where I’ve considered not going places. I mean, who wants to hear me hack up a lung in the middle of the performance of a play? I know I don’t.

            And it’s all the advice you get from people—solicited and (more often) UNsolicited. People telling me what herbs and vitamins I should be taking, how much sleep I need or fluids I should drink, doctors I should go to… you name it. And half of the things they’ve mentioned I have already tried or am currently doing. And while I do believe their advice comes from a mostly sympathetic place, I also know a part of it is motivated from a place of : “Please get rid of this already so you don’t infect me with your toxic disease!” I hear ya, people. I’d like to be over it too. No one wants to feel like the leper in the room.

            I don’t remember the last time I was ever sick for this long. It’s debilitating, depressing and frustrating as hell.  And yes, I know I need to take a breath and realize there are much bigger things going on in this world—especially at this very moment. When I think about the devastation from the recent hurricane(s) and the earthquakes in Mexico, I’m ashamed of myself. And I have friends in my life who are dealing with health issues far more severe than my dumb cough. So for that, I’d like to wholeheartedly apologize for my ranting. However, I can’t one hundred percent help anyone else until I get my own health back at one hundred percent. So with that said, I am trying yet another regimen to see if that will get me on the final road to recovery. For anyone else out there that is dealing with these issues, let’s all hang in there. We shall overcome! (Sooner or later.)

Friday, September 15, 2017

I Want To Live My Life Like A Vacation

            Anyone that read last week’s blog (Washy Washy? How About Helpie Helpie???) knows I just came back from a Mediterranean cruise. But the funny thing is, I didn’t actually talk about the trip itself—just the cell phone debacle at the end of my journey.  It was an unfortunate way to end what was otherwise a dream vacation in every other way. It was my mom’s first time out of the country. Watching her face light up each time we reached a new destination was a thrill to see and continues to warm my heart every time I think about it. (I’ll certainly never forget the look on her face as our guide told us about the whorehouse in Pompeii!) Although it was not my first time abroad, it was still exciting to revisit some old places as well as discover new ones. My mom has repeatedly called it, “The trip of a lifetime,” and I have to admit, my mom is right. (They always are, aren’t they?) It’s a vacation where I unplugged completely from the world… I didn’t post to my blog or do any work related to my “real life”. I felt completely in the moment and relaxed. Y’all know how hard that is for me to do! So now the question remains… how do I carry that peace of mind into my daily life? In other words, how do I treat my life like it’s a vacation every day?

            Since returning home, I have been very careful not to jump back into my old routines. It’s been made easier by the nasty virus I picked up at the tail end of my trip. I’ve been forced to stay in bed and get more rest than I’m accustomed to. A byproduct of my downtime is that I have somewhat remained in a vacation-state-of-mind. And guess what? I LIKE IT. I’ve been reading more than I have in years, had more time to reach out to friends, and I haven’t felt stressed or anxious about what artistic pursuit I should be focusing on next. Now I’m not saying that I want to throw in the towel on my career ambitions. I just want to find a way to do it in a more “zen” way.
            I know what you’re all thinking. There IS no way to do that. Life isn’t a vacation. That’s why people take vacations… to escape their lives, right? WRONG. I think it’s sad we need to take vacations to “relax”, “unwind”, “decompress” or whatever de-stressing word you want to use. Since coming home two weeks ago, I have been able to fulfill my real world obligations without having all the normal anxiety and worries that come along with it. The trick will be to add my creative life back into the mix and not lose my mind in the process! And therein lies the problem, but I don’t believe for a second there isn’t a solution. I’ve already been talking to my lovely coach, Tessa Faye, and brainstorming ways to make my life feel less burdensome. I know that much of it comes with my own attitude. The whole “perception is reality” is so true. If I see something as stressful, then it IS stressful. However, the reverse is also true. If I look at a challenge as something solvable, then it will be.

Another part of the equation is pacing. On a vacation we’re not restricted to the schedule that dictates our real lives; you can do things in your own time. My friend recently commented it took him moving to the Midwest to realize how rapidly he had been living his life in NYC. Life in NYC moves so quickly that most of us feel we’ll get lost in the shuffle if we can’t keep up. But is that really true? What about marching to the beat of your own drum… and at your own SPEED??? I simply don’t want to be a passenger on that high-speed-crazy-train anymore. Slowing down might make me accomplish less, but what if it makes me accomplish MORE? Working at a frantic pace can lead to opportunities missed or mistakes made. Slow and steady wins the race, they say, and maybe doing a little less will give me the mental break I need to recharge my battery and actually allow me to accomplish MORE in the long run.  

I’m not sure how this is all going to work out, but I’m going to give it a shot and see how it goes. As Lily Tomlin said, “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.” I  have a feeling that quote is going to become my new mantra. And I’m totally okay with that!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Washy Washy? How About Helpie Helpie???

            Anyone that works in the service industry has heard the term “gracious hospitality”. People use different verbiage to define it, but at the end of the day it means to provide service in a welcoming, caring and genuine manner. As a server, it’s the bar that I hold myself up to whenever I work. It’s not always easy given people’s variable temperaments (including my own), but I always strive to be gracious and hospitable. When my manager recently pulled me aside to say that it was clear how much I cared by watching me serve, I was on cloud nine. Because I DO care. I care a lot, and to know my manager recognized it made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Sadly, not everyone in the service industry actually cares about service. Enter Norwegian Cruise Lines.

            My mom and I just came back from a cruise to the Mediterranean on Norwegian’s ship, the Spirit. We’ve both cruised before and like the relaxing pace and flexibility, especially for a mother-daughter vacation. This was our first time on Norwegian, thus we had no preconceived notions other than to expect good service. From the get go, however, there seemed to be something missing from the energy of the staff. People were certainly polite, but their behavior lacked the little extra something that makes you think, “This person really cares about my needs.” For the most part, it wasn’t a problem because my mom and I didn’t have any issues where we needed that “little extra something”. So, we dismissed it… until the end of the cruise.

            We booked a shuttle bus to the airport through Norwegian. The whole process was like a Chinese fire drill. No one knew where to go, and for a while we weren’t even sure our bus was GOING to the airport. No one seemed to want to talk to us or verify our names to ensure we were in the right place. But finally we were off, and things seemed to be okay. And then we got to the airport and it all went wrong. My mom suddenly felt ill, and we discovered the shuttle bus only stopped at ONE terminal, and it wasn’t ours. Our terminal was a QUARTER OF A MILE away! Imagine my mom not feeling well, and each of us lugging a 40-50 pound piece of luggage with a carry on. Is that a recipe for disaster? Apparently it was, because in the chaos, my phone dropped out of my purse and was left on the shuttle bus. No big deal, I think. Just call Norwegian and have them tell the bus driver to turn the phone into the cruise ship when they returned to the port, right? WRONG.

            If I thought the bus trip to the airport was a Chinese fire drill, what happened next was a three-ring circus. I ran into a friend from the ship at the airport and was able to use her phone to make a shore-to-ship phone call. The person I spoke to in Guest Services on the Spirit seemed like he was practically in a coma. I told him I needed someone to call the bus driver and get my phone. After all, it was a Norwegian shuttle bus. How hard could it be to get in touch with the driver? Well, this man in Guest Services had trouble understanding what I was telling him and kept repeating the same questions while I’m thinking, “Hey buddy, can we hurry this along? It’s costing me $7.95 per minute to talk to you!” And he actually had the audacity to ask me to call back in thirty minutes. How am I supposed to do that? I LOST MY PHONE, REMEMBER??? I never got confirmation anyone would try to contact the driver, nor did he give me the name of the bus company or ask me for my email address as an alternate means of contact. The phone went dead before I could even volunteer the information.

            Thanks to the amazing “Find My iPhone” app, I saw my phone on the map, sitting right next to the name of a bus company (note the time in Rome was 9:48 a.m. instead of the displayed NY time of 3:48 a.m.):

I was able to borrow a phone from a Delta airlines rep and call the bus company, who confirmed they were, in fact, dropping people from the Norwegian Spirit at the airport. Now we’re getting somewhere, I think to myself! When I ask the woman on the phone to please have someone check the bus, she simply replied, “We’ll try.” Try??? Know who Yoda is, lady? “Do or do not. There is no try.” (She clearly needs to watch “Star Wars”.)

            I knew we were going to board the plane soon, so I tried to fire off as many emails to anyone I could think of who could possibly help me, not the least of which was my travel agent. By the time I landed, my travel agent had spent the better part of the day on the phone with Norwegian and gotten absolutely NOWHERE. Well, they DID open a case file on my missing phone, which my travel agent and I found amusing since the phone wasn’t technically missing. We had already told them exactly where the phone was! If Norwegian had simply called the bus driver when I asked them, none of this would even be happening. It was so maddening to me that the company was more worried about filling out a stupid report than actually HELPING me.

Since then, my mom and I have tried to call Norwegian's Lost & Found, but all we get is lost in their mumbo jumbo. It’s like speaking to one of those automated operators who gives you responses based on the prompts you enter. I don’t want to talk to a robot quoting from a script! And someone named Abby refused to give out any information, and was not very polite in doing so, I might add. She told us we have to wait 10 days to get a status on my phone. Isn’t the point of opening a case so that you can be updated as things go along? What kind of insanity is this? Do you have my phone or not? Part of gracious hospitality is putting the guests needs above your own. By telling me to wait 10 days, you are telling me YOUR needs are more important than mine. Maybe that’s why it’s called Guest Relations. It sounds more ambiguous than Customer Service, doesn’t it? Customer service makes it clear that the representative is there to SERVE THE CUSTOMER. Guest relations sounds like we might just get on the phone and have a nice chat over a cup of tea and nothing will ever get resolved. Bingo, cause that’s exactly what has happened up until this point.

Look, I know I’m not blameless. I am the one who left the phone on the bus after all. That I left the phone is on ME. But what happened afterwards, is on THEM, i.e. Norwegian. I did everything I could to confront the problem and help Norwegian solve it. I did ALL the work for them. All they had to do was call the bus company and tell them to get the phone off the bus. How long would it take to make a one-minute phone call to a bus company? I had just spent literally thousands of dollars on a cruise. Doesn’t Norwegian owe me some scrap of human decency in return?

And to make matters worse, Norwegian focuses on the wrong aspects of service. (I’m finally getting to my “Washy washy reference”. Bet you thought I forgot about it. I didn’t.) Good service doesn’t equate to having your staff poised throughout the ship with spray bottles of sanitizer in hand to keep passengers safe from germs. Especially because these folks turn the process into some kind of creepy ritual, akin to a bad production number from a failed musical. They bounce in place as they sing, “Washy, wash-yyyyy!” Seriously? How about simply asking me if I’d like some antiseptic for my hands? No need to sing and hold out the spritzer as if I’m about to enter some BACK ROOM MASSAGE PARLOR! Gross.

After perusing other people’s experiences with Norwegian on the Consumer Affairs website (, I know I am not alone in thinking Norwegian just doesn’t give a hoot about its guests. That said, there are certain people who are superstars on the ship—Raoul, Bariene, Matin, Victor… you reach for the bar everyday, as I do, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for that. But these individuals are sadly too few and far between, and as a result, I’m certainly not expecting much from Norwegian at this point. That said, it still feels good to express myself and make my voice heard to whomever is willing to listen. And if nothing else, maybe it will call to action other consumers who are dissastisifed with THEIR service, whether with Norwegian or some other business. We need to stand up for ourselves and demand good service. It’s what we all deserve. It’s good business, as noted by James Cash Penney, the founder of J.C. Penney: “Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement.” Enough said.