Thursday, June 29, 2017

Cell Phones... Best Friends or Worst Enemies?

            A few years ago, I posted about my 24-hour stint without a cell phone after it had been stolen.  I felt like a fish out of water at the time, obsessing over who was trying to reach me and what supposed earth-shattering news I might be missing as a result. (Truthfully, it was probably just a slew of messages from my mom asking me if I was still alive.) Of course the world kept turning and my life went on during my phoneless day, but I felt like I had learned something by the end of it… somehow I didn’t feel the sense of urgency to reach for my phone once I got my replacement. I felt oh-so-enlightened about “Dina’s day without a cell phone”. I reveled in how I managed to meet up with a friend with no communication at all as if it was the equivalent of rescuing someone from a burning building. But now, three and a half years later, I’m not sure if I really learned anything at all.

            Working in hospitality as I do, you get to observe human behavior up close and personal. As a server, I am the metaphorical fly on the wall, bearing witness to how my guests conduct themselves in a public setting. (And as you can imagine, some do better than others). There are things I see and hear that I wish could be deleted from my memory bank. However, one thing I find universally fascinating is people’s cell phone etiquette, or lack thereof.  It simply astounds me that almost EVERYONE has their phones out on the table at ALL times. Whether the person is a teenager or someone well into their retirement, people seem to be obsessed with being connected at all times.

            We all love our phones. I get it. I love mine too. But I think there’s a problem when your cell phone becomes a better companion than the person sitting across from you. I regularly go into restaurants and see people texting or checking social media instead of interacting with the people at their table. Everyone is so busy looking at what’s happening EVERYWHERE else and what they MIGHT be missing out on, that they’re actually missing out on what’s happening right in front of them. And I know I am guilty of it too. Far too often my cell phone is out on the table, and although my phone is on silent at all times, when I see it light up I just want to see who it is. It’s like a compulsion. And the fact that I run out of data every month tells you that my phone needs to spend less time in my hand and more time in my purse.

            Remember the days before cell phones? I do. When you angrily stood at a payphone in the middle of winter, freezing your ass off in your open-toed platform heels as you called into your answering machine to find out why the person you were supposed to meet wasn’t there? Oh, the plans changed and now said person is at a different bar clear across town? (Insert expletives of your choosing.) Ah, those were the days. Still, things always seemed to work out in the end and my social plans were always saved from disaster. And the bonus was that once there, there were no cell phones to distract you from the real live person you were hanging out with! Can you youngsters picture that? It was glorious.

            I’m not advocating the elimination of modern technology. Before cell phones existed, what happened if your car broke down in the middle of nowhere in the dark of night? Does that scenario sound like the beginning of a Stephen King movie? Well, it happened to my college friend back in the day and there was no payphone nearby—not that she would’ve gotten out of her car to look for one! Lucky for her, a car pulled up with a nice elderly couple inside. True story. They even invited her to stay at their home for the night. In fact, this couple was so good to my friend that she invited them to her wedding! Now that sounds more like a John Hughes film, doesn’t it? We could call it “Home Away From Home.” Suffice it to say, I don’t want to go back to the days without phones. I just want to find a happy medium for myself. As my friend Dee just said to me, “Technology is there to serve YOU. You are not there to serve IT.” (Dee’s a smart lady.) With that said, I’ve decided to keep my phone in my purse in social situations. I think it will be nice to unplug from the rest of the world and just spend time with the people sitting at my table! Of course I will inevitably pull my phone out occasionally to check it. I’m not a martyr. Besides, my mom isn’t the only one who likes to make sure that the people she loves are still alive!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Service... or Selfish?

            I am a HUGE animal lover. Meet me for about five seconds and you will know it’s as real as NYC humidity in the summertime. I’m the gal who regularly approaches restaurant guests and asks them if the adorable dog on their phone screensaver is theirs. I’m that crazy woman who hugs random dogs she meets on the street daily. I’ve owned bunnies, a turtle, a dog, a bearded dragon and lived with my roommate’s cats for over four years. So yes, animals are super cool in my book. I would love nothing better than to have an animal for my companion wherever I go.  But when I heard about someone who gave their TURKEY a seat on the plane next to them, stating it was a service animal, I had to wonder… have we gone a little too far?

            In all fairness, I will say that the gobbler in question had legit papers documenting its role as a “service animal” to provide emotional support to its owner who had a fear of flying. Personally, a duck would probably be my bird of choice, but I digress. Apparently emotional support animals on planes are fairly common. And when it’s a genuine need, I’m ALL for it. Heck, I’ll be the one running down the aisle of the plane to meet the fowl in question! It’s just hard to assess at times… what is the exact need? I was sitting at a restaurant bar the other night, and I noticed a dog sitting under someone’s table. When I asked my bartender friend what the dog was doing there, he said, “It’s a service dog,” as he made air quotes. Apparently you can’t ask people for papers to prove an animal’s status because it’s considered discriminatory. I mean, who seriously wants to be the employee that asks a guest to provide papers for their service animal when it turns out to be legit? Can you say lawsuit? 

But I’m beginning to wonder, how often is the need truly legit and how often does the said person have the papers to back it up if asked? How many fakers are out there? After all, you can readily purchase “Service Dog” vests for your pets on the internet, including on Amazon. And it should be noted that service animals fly for FREE. I read an article about a woman who takes her dog everywhere and has a vest with false credentials for her beloved pooch. She claims she just can’t BEAR to leave her dog at home and the bonus is she doesn’t pay a DIME to take him along for the ride. And the animal lover in me gets it. I do. I am also a dog walker, and I am madly in love with all my canine clients. I dog sit when my clients go out of town and become “surrogate owner” while they are gone. But I would never DREAM of plopping a service vest on one of my fur babies just so I can take them grocery shopping or set them under my table during an intimate dinner at a candlelit restaurant! People, it is a health code violation to bring animals inside restaurants or anywhere food is served! So unless you have a REAL need for your animal due to a physical or emotional disability, you are breaking the law and violating the moral code of being a good person! And now that summer has arrived, you have the joy of sitting outside with your cherished tail-wagger in appropriately designated areas of restaurants. So why not do that instead?

            And organizations that support authorized service animals are not any happier than I am. They state since bogus service animals are not trained, problems can occur at airports and other places where they are taken. A service animal is properly taught to remain calm and stay with their owner. While you may think your dog is the best-behaved dog ever and that he or she LOVES everyone, the reality is dogs are like small children. Dogs like to play and they like to say hello to other dogs (and humans). Issues have arisen at airports where a legitimate service dog is accosted by a faker and havoc ensues for the owner requiring true assistance from their service animal. My mom’s friend has a blind nephew and his service dog is his lifeline. My blood starts to boil at the thought of a fraudulent service dog pouncing on the nephew’s guide dog (even in fun), and inadvertently scaring him or worse. Service dogs have a job to do. If you want to engage in puppy playtime, take off the phony vest and go to a dog park.

            I recently worked a private event for an organization that provides dogs to prisoners as a means of rehabilitation. Hearing prisoners talk about how their dog changed their life was truly moving. And for those of us that have pets purely for pleasure, it’s equally moving and beautiful. Just recognize the boundaries. Loving your animal is what you are SUPPOSED TO DO. There is nothing more heartbreaking than a neglected animal. The commercials where Sarah McLaughlin’s voice rings in the background have taught us all that. But loving your animal to the point where you neglect OTHER PEOPLE’S feelings and needs is just plain selfish. Know the difference and act accordingly.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

If you can’t stand the heat, forget about the kitchen. Buy a freaking AC!

            And in my case, you buy TWO. One for each room of your apartment. Seriously, what is up, you bitchers and moaners who complain about the heat incessantly but then tell me you don’t have an AC? What is WRONG with you? I guess some people enjoy torturing themselves. (There are stores to indulge those kinds of fantasies, you know.) As for me, I prefer comfort, and adore sitting at my desk while a cool breeze blows across my face and keeps my brain (and body) from overheating.

            Whether or not you have an AC, there’s something about the hot weather that makes all of us a bit testier. Perhaps some of it is due to the sights and smells the heat brings out. Remember urine? How could you forget? I do. The arctic winter months lull me into a stupor, during which time I practically lose all my senses. Try walking dogs in below zero weather. You can’t smell their pee or poo, and your fingers are so numb you can barely open the poop bag to scoop it up! But then the first 80 degree day comes along and the rank odor of urine smacks you in the face as you descend the subway steps. And let’s not forget about the multitude of body odors. Newsflash… deodorant  doesn’t eliminate your putrid smell on a hundred degree day! Stop what you’re doing, and head IMMEDIATELY to the nearest Walgreens and pick up some antiperspirant. (And for the record, I’m not interested in your antiperspirant-cancer-causing-rants. I’d rather have my arm fall off from said disease than make everyone on the train vomit from my noxious B.O.) Oh and while you’re at the Walgreens, grab some body spray too. And what about the sights? I’m a firm believer in “letting it all hang out”, but I’m speaking metaphorically. Some people need to invest in a full-length mirror. And make sure you look into it. I don’t care HOW hot it is outside or HOW firmly you believe less is more. It isn’t. Trust me, you don’t wanna see my muffin top anymore than I wanna see yours. (At least I do my best to cover mine up.)

            So strong is my opposition to the heat that when people invite me to their homes during the summer months, the first thing I ask is whether or not they have an air conditioner. If the answer is no, my immediate response is, “See you in October!” Such friends claim they don’t need an air conditioner because it only gets REALLY hot for a few days each summer and they just use a fan. Excuse me, but do we live in the same city? New York City can be like a SAUNA for much of August, and I’m sorry, but a fan that blows all the hot air circulating in my room onto my face is just gross.

            With all that said, I do recognize that people have different tolerances and what’s unbearably hot for some (i.e. ME), is perfectly delightful for others. And in my acting teacher’s case, the AC is NEVER cold enough. Heck, he even throws it on in the winter, while his students sit shivering under their winter jackets, hoping they don’t die of frostbite. Then there’s my best friend from childhood, on the other hand, who adores the heat and says it’s good for her skin. I prefer a non-dewy look to my face, but hey, different strokes right? I think it comes down to balance and recognizing there’s a happy medium between living at The North Pole versus the Equator. You have to figure out what works for you.

            The main thing I want to point out is that we have a choice. Stop whining about your hot bedroom and how you can’t sleep. Don’t tell me about the ice cubes you chew on and the cold compresses you put on your face at night to keep your body cool. Don’t claim the cold shower you take before bedtime makes you sleep like a baby. I don’t believe those fairytales any more than you do. The answer is simple, my friends, and it’s MODERN TECHNOLOGY! Buy an air conditioner! They’re super cheap and most are energy saver friendly so they don’t double your Con Ed bill. There is NO reason to suffer, but if you choose to do so, PLEASE do it in silence. Or come by my place, where it will always be cool as a cucumber!!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Billy Joel or Bust… (One Guess Which One It Was)

            Growing up, Billy Joel was IT. I am of the generation of record albums... CD’s and mp3’s weren’t even on the horizon when I was a kid. I listened to Billy’s album “The Stranger” incessantly. Heck, we sang a medley from it in choir. (Trust me that “Movin’ Out”, “Only The Good Die Young” and “Just The Way You Are” do not sound as poignant when sung by a bunch of 11 year olds.) And then, I got older and kind of forgot about Billy. He seemed to disappear from the public eye. Sure, he had that tour with Elton John and his Broadway show, but he just didn’t seem as hip or cool anymore. I was almost embarrassed to admit I found his music “catchy”. And he always seemed to be in and out of rehab, which made him even less appealing in my eyes. 

            But then Billy did something unprecedented . He announced a monthly residency at Madison Square Garden back in 2014, which is still going strong today. MSG even gave him his own logo to coincide with the ones for the Knicks, the Rangers and the Liberty. (To date, Billy has played more shows at MSG than any other artist.) But still, I wasn’t ready to quite jump back on the Billy bandwagon quite yet. I wasn’t ready to admit he WAS cool and always had been.

            And then a little over a year ago, while on a road trip with my college friend to celebrate another college friend’s birthday, Billy Joel resurfaced. Oh, how we belted out his songs, remembering the lyrics to every single tune. It sparked a newfound love for Billy. The passage of time is such an interesting thing. At first you look back on your past and say, “Oh my GOD, I can’t believe I ever liked THAT.” Then decades pass (yes DECADES) and you look back and say, “Oh my GOD, I can’t believe I ever STOPPED liking that.” Nostalgia sets in and you long for the “good old days”. And thus, Billy’s music—which was stored on a shelf in the far depths of my brain—came permanently out of storage.

            So when I texted three of my college friends (one of whom was the gal I belted out Billy with) earlier this year to see if they wanted to see Billy Joel at one of his monthly MSG concerts, they all replied yes almost immediately. And thus, a reunion was born with Billy at the center of it all. June 6th was the date. We were all so excited. In the days leading up to the concert, we were texting back and forth and my friends and I were joking about all the songs they would sing in the car on the way to NYC. I started hearing medleys of Air Supply, Foreigner and Survivor in my head, and was jealous I wasn’t going to be in the car with them. Who doesn’t want to sing “Hold On Loosely” by 38 Special or “Careless Whisper” by George Michael? Five years ago, I would’ve cringed at the prospect, but now I relish it!

            The day of the concert finally arrived, and we headed into the city for the show. We had dinner first at Virgil’s. It’s a BBQ place in Times Square and my college friend always asks to go there whenever she comes to NYC. Truth be told, I love it too. Hush puppies with maple butter? Sign me up! We caught up on our lives over dinner and before we knew it, it was time to head to the show. It was misting rain, but we hardly noticed. We were going to see Billy! What songs was he going to sing? How long was he going to play for? We could hardly wait to get there and find out!

            We arrived right at 8pm. Perfect timing. Not so much, as it turned out. A security guard was standing in front of a barricade. Huh? He said, “Are you ladies here to see Billy?” “Yes,” we responded practically in unison. Then he said the unthinkable, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but the concert has been canceled.” WHAT????? Was this some kind of cruel joke? Apparently Billy had some kind of “viral infection” and had canceled the show the day before. I hadn’t seen anything on TV or online about this supposed cancelation. We stood around in shock, lamenting that if had gotten to the concert a little earlier, we could’ve at least turned around and bought tickets to a Broadway show.

            So here we are, stuck in midtown at 8:00 o’clock on a Tuesday night in the misting rain. What are we to do? I felt so down in the dumps that I dragged my college friends to NYC for a concert that wasn’t happening. But then something wonderful happened. We just… walked around. And talked. And talked some more. And sure, we went into a few tourist shops so one of my friends could buy memorabilia for her kids. And okay, the bar in the Time Warner Center that overlooks the park where we tried to have a drink was closed for a private event. And yeah, the host from Per Se told us she was “locking the doors” and we had to get up from the couches we were sitting on outside the restaurant. (And no, she didn’t lock the doors. I went back and checked.) That was her pretentious way of telling us she didn’t want anyone in jeans sitting outside the restaurant. But even being expelled from somewhere I had na├»vely thought was a public space was FUN. And in that moment, I realized it wasn’t about Billy at all. It was about being together. And reconnecting as friends.

            The concert was rescheduled for December 20th and my friends have agreed to reunite once again. Take two! And that’s the point of all this, I think. It’s another chance for me to connect with friends who I share an important history with and helped shape who I am today. And what better time to reunite than during the height of the holiday season? Maybe we’ll belt out some Christmas songs on our way to the show. Thanks Billy! We’ll see ya in December!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Up, Up and Away!

Planning a vacation is simultaneously exciting and stressful. “Where should we go?” “Is that a good price for that?” “I want a non-stop flight!” (The latter is my mother’s rant, which plays on a continual loop.)  Yes, folks, I am taking a mother-daughter vacation in August. And for the most part, I feel very blessed to have a mom who is still around to do this with, and whose company I enjoy enough to want to undertake such an adventure. The trick is making sure our trip doesn’t turn into a MISadventure instead.

At first, my mom and I thought we’d go to Alaska. Everyone loves Alaska, right? I watched “Northern Exposure” back in the 90s. I would’ve gladly played “Doctor” with Rob Morrow’s character, Joel Fleischman, any time. (Not to mention my mom would’ve loved nothing better than for me to marry a Jewish doctor—perhaps even a fictional one.) And everyone you talk to seems to rave about Alaska and say how it was the most “amazing vacation they’ve ever had”. I’m thinking, “Ummm… okay… Isn’t it just nature?” And not to say nature isn’t wonderful. I spent years camping every summer in the Adirondacks (And I’m talking where you carry a forty-pound pack on your back and hike four miles into the woods. No showers or bathrooms, my friends.) I’ve climbed Mt. Olympus in Greece and gazed in awe into the mouth of the Grand Canyon. That said, beautiful and eye-catching natural wonders can be found in many places around the globe. Do I really want to go to Alaska in August, where the temperatures can drop to 40 or 50 degrees and it might rain all the time, just to stare at a bunch of glaciers? Sorry, Denali, maybe next year in the small window of time between June and July when we are most apt to get perfect weather.

Somehow, we went in a completely different direction and turned our attention to Europe. I know, Europe—a whole different spectrum from Alaska. My mom has NEVER even left the country. And that’s kind of the point. My parents didn’t get to travel the world together, and now I feel strongly about showing my mom as much of it as I can. And what better way to do that than on a cruise? Memorial Day Weekend is good for two things: barbecues and sales. So there was a super saver sale on cruises and I found an amazing deal on a cruise to the Mediterranean for 11 nights. At first, we were looking at Holland America, but then I remembered that particular cruise line was for people of… a certain age. And my internet research confirmed my suspicion. (Bedtime on Holland America cruises is apparently right after dinner. Yuck.) Well my mom, being of a certain age herself, exclaimed, “I don’t want to go on a cruise with all old people. I’m NOT old!” And truth be told, she’s right. So we found a cruise on Norweigian instead and are leaving out of Rome, departing for destinations in Italy, Spain and Greece! Sure, cruises are cheesy as heck, but that’s kind of what I love about them. You can go sit in a piano bar at 11pm at night and listen to people belt out their favorite Disney song or Billy Joel tune (and I admittedly love both). And my mom gets to hum along VERY loudly to whatever anyone is singing. My mom and I went on a cruise out of Puerto Rico last year (where she lived with my dad for two years when they first got married) and we had a blast. We kept in touch with a couple we met on that cruise, in fact. So despite what people say about cruises, it’s a fun way to travel with someone like my mom, who doesn’t want to drag her suitcase from hotel to hotel on a multi-country trip. And quite frankly, I’m not sure I want to do that right now either. I drag enough crap around in NYC on a daily basis!

After days of painstaking analyzing and tormenting, we booked the trip and it’s too late to cancel. Guess we’re going! Now what? We wait… and in my case, I save money for all the days I will not be working while I’m gone. No vacation pay for this gal. And during this waiting period, my mom has inevitably begun spewing her concerns (please feel free to read with a Bronx accent): “What about the currency? I’ve never dealt with foreign currency before.” “Why do we have a stopover on the way back?” “I’m nervous to leave the country.” “What’s airbnb? Can’t we stay in a hotel in Rome?” The Jewish girl in me just wants to say “Uyyyyyy” and not respond to any of these things. Because I know at the end of the day, my mom is going to have a great time. In fact, she was nervous on the last cruise because she was terrified the ship would sink and she’d drown. Now, she is obviously past that and is all about cruising so her little Jewish heart had to find new things to worry about. So I think the answer is, besides waiting, I will spend the next few months convincing my mom everything will be okay and that it’s going to be a fun-filled, beautiful vacation. As for me, I’ve been to some of the places we’re going, but many will be new for me too. And I feel like a kid in a candy store at the thought of watching my mom experience literally a whole new world she’s never seen before. I’m just waiting for the moment on the trip she says, “Oh my God. It didn’t look like that at Epcot.” Until then, it’s back to the barrage of questions my mom has. Oh wait, I think that’s her calling right now. And away we go!