Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Toastmaster Dinner Proves You Can't Take Me Anywhere

Over the years, my presence at the Toastmasters' high table in District 11 has been an ongoing source of amusement for the crowd. Believe me, it's not where I belong, since I have this magnet for odd things to happen to me.

But my husband continues to get himself elected to leadership positions that land his table card up there, and protocol says his guest is seated at his side. The entire set-up reeks of a king at his banquet: everyone lined up on a pedestal, eating where all the folks in attendance can watch.

There was the time I got the giggles over an inside joke I don't dare detail in public, and couldn't quit laughing. We're talking laughter that bordered on snorting. And since I was the only one up there shaking from head to toe and all but pounding on the table in my hilarity ... well, you had to notice. The year my husband waxed romantic about his love for me during his district governor farewell message left me bawling, with nowhere to wipe the excess snot except on the table linen. (Note to self: Don't wear a strapless dress to these events again.) The next year, I cheerfully struck up a conversation with the lady next to me, critiquing each of the speakers in the contest. Turns out, she was one of the judges scattered around the room.

But this year, I outdid myself. I came within a whisper of setting the carpet on fire during the speech contest.

Proper Toastmaster dinner behavior

It was an innocent mistake. The gal next to me and I were both leaning against the table to watch the speech contestants. We forgot we were on a platform. And just like that, we pushed the end leg into outer space, and the table tipped forward, complete with its plates, coffee pot and burning candles. My partner in crime reacted a bit swifter and managed to catch the edge and save the crash.

Only the surprise of the moment startled one word out of her. It was a name with two syllables. It was not a word Toastmasters has sanctified in its unwritten handbook of acceptable words you should use in public. And she didn't exactly whisper it.

So anyone in the audience who missed the little action drama on the stage had a second chance to whip their heads in the direction of our corner of dignitaries. One of the members quietly walked up, helped us scoot the table back to safe territory ... and blew out the candles.

But you know the saddest part? They STILL haven't kicked me off the platform. If that didn't do it, I'm not sure I have the guts to put on a performance that will.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sports Illustrated Customer Service Sucks

Sports Illustrated is mad at me. They've sent me quite a collection of nasty letters stating that my account is in arrears, pay up now. They're tired of asking.

Now I've had some deadbeat journalism clients in my time, so I understand the frustration. The problem is, their own records say I've paid.

It started when I called in to see what it would take to switch my premium from a t-shirt to the Colts wind jacket my brother wanted for Christmas. "That's our online offer," the customer service rep told me, and she proceeded to walk me through the steps to pay that way. They sent me an electronic receipt on November 8, and the full amount appeared on my credit card two weeks later, which I paid. They mailed me both a t-shirt and the jacket in the same package.

End of story.

Until these "you owe us" duns started pouring into my mailbox. I called immediately after the first, explained my story and was assured they erased it. I ignored the next two, waiting for the database to catch up with mailing. But this week the language was very hostile, so I picked up the phone again. The 800 number asked me to punch in my account code (handily printed in the upper hand corner of the letter), and a recording cheerfully announced I was paid through November 23,2010.

Definitely time to hit 0 and talk to a live person ... in India.

I tell my tale of woe to "Diana," who informs me that the record shows my account is paid up. Yes, I said patiently, so why am I still receiving letters accusing me of welching on the bill? Diana goes into investigative mode big time now, asking me when and how I paid. Sigh. "Online on November 8," I repeated.

"Oh, I'll bet our letter crossed your check in the mail," she replies. "If you get it again, be sure to call us back."

Yah, so I can spend another half-hour of my life getting useless advice of this caliber. I hung up too stunned to ask for a supervisor, whom I'm sure would require American Sign Language to communicate.

It took less than 15 minutes for me to state my case in the most old-fashioned form of all. I mailed a letter to their Tampa headquarters with copies of my receipts, and a threat of my own: Send me another dunning letter and I'm canceling the subscription.

And you'll have to come to Greenwood to get that stinky t-shirt out of my laundry pile.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Best Trip, by Julie Sturgeon

My blogging buddy Michelle put up a challenge yesterday at her site, Blessed Quiver, that I can't resist. Even at 11:30 p.m. when I haven't wandered upstairs to do my treadmill slavery yet.

She chose some prompts at Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop (and yes, it killed me to type cat with a K) and asked if anyone could get something out of this collection:

1.) You’re so vain. You probably think this post is about you…don’t you?
2.) Tell us about your trip!
3.) A difficult conversation.
4.) Can you almost stop time with your words? Write about the fastest ride you ever had, but describe only a few seconds of it…as though it was happening to slow motion.
5.) Who blind-sided you? Write about a time someone caught you totally off guard.

OK, #4 ain't happening. It sickens me to think of all that writing creativity and when I get done, I've described nothing useful. But you want to know about my trip? Well, OK, here's my famous one:

Same camera, same position. Different location.

I was walking across a parking lot in a little quaint shopping area in San Diego where we were killing time before our dinner reservations. My friends and I had split up because they wanted to hunt for Beanie Babies as I recall, and I just wanted to wander around. Like a good tourist, I had my camera around my neck. The Nikon. The one that cost more money than I want to confess to my husband that I spent.

Suddenly I saw one of our friends on the other side of the complex, so I headed toward him, waving my hand and yelling, "Mike!" WHAM! My face was kissing cement. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I tripped over a knee-high barrier. Let that soak in for a moment. Not a pebble or an uneven surface. Not a parking bump, or a log but a big, yellow barrier twice the size of my dog. It takes a special kind of oblivious to make that mistake.

People came running from every direction. Shop owners left their cash registers to see if I needed someone to call 9-1-1. I was woozy, and hearing their advice about a concussion from what sounded like the next state over. When 150 pounds goes splat so quickly you don't even have time to register that you're falling ... well, it's a miracle I didn't break my neck. Not to mention the gentleman I was hailing was a total stranger.

But the really stupid part? Although my brain didn't think fast enough to warn me a hard surface was approaching and it would be prudent to brace myself, it priortized enough to protect the camera. My head took a beating because my hands had pulled the camera out, up and away from danger. Which I suppose was only right. I could take an aspirin for my pains. The camera could not.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Seeing George W. Bush Brings Out the Worst in Some People

I crossed an item off my bucket list today -- I was in the same room with George W. Bush.

OK, so were several thousand other folks. But I had a press pass, which gave me very quick access to walk up to his table and snap a few photos of him greeting the association big wigs shaking W's hand. Even if the Secret Service didn't like it and kept telling me to leave.

Jealous, aren't you? Well, apparently so was the guy sitting next to me at the luncheon. He introduced himself as Steve -- no last name on his name tag -- and said he had traveled to the International Franchise Association convention because he was looking for a business to invest in. Turns out he's been looking for 13 years without any luck.

Such devoted indecision makes you a "Professional Convention Attendee" in my book. Maybe he finds it less expensive than making a career of going to college for 13 years, or investing in a hobby like golf.

He was certainly excited about the fact I had gotten those photos. But Nikon D70 cameras take up a lot of table space when they bring around the rubber chicken meals, so I put it down in the bag at my side. A few minutes later, I reached into that bag to check the time on my phone and ... wait a second. Where's the camera?

I hauled it up to peer closer because with my eyesight, it's possible I didn't see a coal black SLR that takes up 3/4 of the space in a blue tote. I looked on the back of my chair. I looked next to my chair. Nope, not under the chair, either. I checked the table, thinking I'd only dreamed of removing it. My camera was gone. I stood up in a rather panicked voice and asked if anyone had seen it. Steve was the only one who studiously ignored me. The gal to my left suddenly pointed and said, "There it is."

Tucked deeply underneath Steve's chair, with his feet resting on it.

I immediately looped it around my neck and ate with my camera firmly attached to my body. Likewise, I clutched my iPhone in my tight little grip while I recorded the speech. If Steve wanted a souvenir that badly, he was going to have to be able to lift and drag 150 pounds of me out of that room to get it.

Because trust me, I don't tuck underneath a chair easily.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Colts Game Gives Me a Heart Attack

Yes, my heart was racing at the Colts-Jets division championship game today. And it had nothing to do with the play on the field.

I've worked for the event management team at Lucas Oil Stadium this season, so I considered the chance to continue my role as a greeter/ticket checker at the upper suites during the playoffs as a reward, not a job. We have a great time up there, welcoming folks, helping them find their destination and cheering our team.

And I was in the right spot to greet Tony Dungy and his family, and the Mannings, Archie and Eli. We were told that New Jersey governor Chris Christie would be escorted by VIP dignitaries to visit the Jets suite at some point, so when the elevators opened and a group of suits walked off, I assumed I was about to meet one of the new darlings of the Republican party. (Yah, I'm a political geek. I recognize these names.)


Holy mother of ......

A man strolled up to me, holding out his ticket, and I found myself nearly eyeball-to-eyeball with Challenger ... a big, frickin' bald eagle.

Now what makes this hilarious is that I have worked a majority of my adult life to overcome a fear of birds. I've made great progress. I can walk through a bird sanctuary if I take the time to mentally gear up for the gauntlet. I can be in the same room with your pet parrot, if he's in his cage and the cage is locked. (Are you reading this, Perry Meridian grad who once strolled into my house to pay me for a class reunion with a PARROT on your shoulder?) I don't lose my mind when sea gulls fly around the beach where I'm sitting, although I still would prefer they not poop on me.

Challenger, however, was a surprise, and he wasn't caged. I felt myself trying to control three things at once: a scream, my colon and my ability to stay conscious. That was just the first split second. The second one included not using blasphemy at the top of my lungs — because I'm an official representative of the stadium, my supervisor frowns on that kind of thing.

But I managed to breathe through the fear, and not run for my life down the hallway during the photo shoots. Actually, no one in the room figured out how close I was to soiling myself, as one of the escorts had the nerve to ask if I'd like my photo with Challenger. I nearly shook my brains out rejecting that offer.

I will always wonder if my response would have been different if Tony Dungy had made the invitation. Yes, I think I would have taken Tony's photo with the bird.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I Don't Want to Blog Every Day

OK, so the social media experts say I'm supposed to post something every day. If not then, at least three times a week.

I guess they haven't figured out the theme of my blog, have they? Good grief, I don't think I could survive a get outta here moment every.single.day. Especially in January when cabin fever has me on edge anyhow.

So just hang loose and I promise the next silly, stupid, incredulous, dumb, klutzy, weird thing that happens to me, you'll be the second person to know.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Loving Those Fat Cats!

This is another one of those posts without relevant pictures. It's too dark under my house for starters, and for a real show-stopper, it's near 0 degrees outside in Indiana and I'm not crawling around with a camera in there to make it work.

But the guy who came to fix our Direct TV wires today didn't have that luxury. He was being paid to wear clothes to protect you in Antarctica and dig around in that tight, dark space to run new cabling. And he emerged with what he said was bad news: We have a fat cat living under the floorboards.

Well, keep talkin', dude.

You see, a few weeks ago, I heard a horrendous noise in my walls and blamed it on mice. We've subsequently heard it several more times, and my dog, Dribbler, has spent a lot of time sniffing vents and pointing at the walls. I've lived in terror one of those rodents would suddenly shoot across the carpet, and my dog wouldn't be there to protect me.

Do I look like I'm in the mood to catch mice today? That's why we're harboring a cat, you ninny.

Now I have to form a new theory: either I heard this cat all along, or there were mice and he moved in for the easy feasting. I like both scenarios much better.

So the actual bad news is that Mr. Kitty has to go. We found how he's been entering and exiting the premises, and if he can do it, so can a opossum. Or a squirrel. Or (shudder) a raccoon. I double-checked with some cat-owning friends, who confirmed these critters are too big for a cat to kill, so it's not like Mr. Tom can protect his cozy territory under my feet. The last time raccoons invaded our space, we had a $6,000 homeowners claim for the damage.

Sigh. Maybe I can convince State Farm it's worth it to keep the possibility of mice at bay. Because my dog is a poor bet in an emergency.