Saturday, June 27, 2009
Jennifer's ears were "talking" to her. They were making little sounds, like little bubbles bursting. A "bubble" was bursting almost every second. It was not painful, but annoying. She knew the cause.
While she was cleaning the whiteboard after her class ended last night, the fire alarm went off. Instead of leaving the building immediately, she walked around to see what the problem was. The blaring alarm sounded like the busy signal on a phone, but 1,000 times louder. The school seemed to be empty. Then she walked by one room, and saw about seven students inside.
Just then the night supervisor came by. She told everyone to leave immediately. The students were packing their hair-care equipment into their bags. The night supervisor waited impatiently. Finally, after almost five minutes, all the students and their teacher left the building. They apologized for being so slow.
The firemen never arrived. Instead, a school police officer showed up. He walked around the area with the supervisor. It was a false alarm. The officer used his key to finally turn off the alarm.
But it was too late for Jennifer. She had listened to the loud alarm for too long. She should have known better. Even as she drove home, her ears felt strange.
Simon got a monthly bill that he didn’t like. His Internet service provider, Wink, automatically withdrew $15 from his checking account each month. This was called direct payment. It made things simpler for him because it meant one less check to write each month.
In fact, Simon had direct payments with his gas company, his phone company, and his electric company. So that was four fewer checks that he had to write each month.
This month, instead of $15, Wink had withdrawn $75. Simon went online and looked at his account. Part of the increase was because he had switched from a slow dial-up connection to a fast DSL connection. Wink charged him $45 just to make that switch.
Simon thought that this charge in itself was ridiculous. It probably took them about five seconds to make the switch. But any time a corporation can gouge you, they will.
In addition to the $45, Wink had charged him $15 for his dial-up account, but had also charged him $15 for his DSL account. This was a double-charge, since a computer uses dial-up or DSL, but not both.
We’ll see about this, Simon thought, as he searched for Wink’s 800 number.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
It looked like rain. The sky was gray. It was almost noon, but the sun was hidden by a gray blanket. It was cool. There were no birds flying anywhere. A couple of birds sat on the telephone wire. Bob was standing outside talking to Bill. They both had their hands in their pockets. They knew that it was probably going to rain shortly. A sudden breeze blew some leaves off a tree onto the sidewalk.
A young woman wearing a dark blue coat and jeans walked by. She was walking a small dog. It was pure white, and pretty. It sniffed at a tree trunk. The woman waited patiently. Finally, the dog lifted its leg.
Bob said that he liked the rain. It was a nice change from the usual hot Los Angeles weather. And the plants could always use the extra water. Bill said the only thing he didn’t like about rain was that all the motor oil on the streets would get washed into the ocean, and so would all the trash.
"But that never stops the surfers," Bob said. "They don’t seem to care what’s in the water, as long as there are waves to surf on."
An elderly woman told the police that, as she entered a restroom, she was jostled by a woman behind her. A few minutes later, as she was about to pay for a moustache remover at a nearby store, she discovered that her wallet was missing from her purse. Apparently the woman who had bumped into her had cleverly stolen her wallet. This type of theft is called pick-pocketing.
Perhaps an even more personal kind of theft is known as housebreaking, or burglary. After such an intrusion, the victims often report a feeling of violation. They seldom regain the comfort and security level they used to have in their home. They constantly feel like they are being watched; they feel that if they go out, the burglars will again come in. They feel uncomfortable when they are home, and they feel uncomfortable when they aren’t home.
Burglars get lucky or make their own luck. Sometimes homeowners forget to lock all their windows or doors. Sometimes burglars will break a window, cut through a screen door, or force open a side door.
Thieves have no shame. They will steal from anyone that they think is vulnerable. Of course, that means the elderly are their frequent victims. Some thieves are very clever; some are very lucky. All of them make an honest person’s life more difficult. It’s too bad that all of them can’t be caught and converted into honest people.
Imagine that: a world with no larceny, a world where you can park your bicycle unsecured on the sidewalk, or leave your purse unattended in your shopping cart. Is this only a dream? Some say that if you can dream about it, it can happen.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
People joke that no one in Los Angeles reads; everyone watches TV, rents videos, or goes to the movies. The most popular reading material is comic books, movie magazines, and TV guides. City libraries have only 10 percent of the traffic that car washes have. But how do you explain this? An annual book festival in west Los Angeles is “sold out” year after year. People wait half an hour for a parking space to become available.
This outdoor festival, sponsored by a newspaper, occurs every April for one weekend. This year’s attendance was estimated at 70,000 on Saturday and 75,000 on Sunday. The festival featured 280 exhibitors. There were about 90 talks given by authors, with an audience question-and-answer period following each talk. Autograph seekers sought out more than 150 authors. A food court sold all kinds of popular and ethnic foods, from American hamburgers to Hawaiian shave ice drinks. Except for a $7 parking fee, the festival was free. Even so, some people avoided the food court prices by sneaking in their own sandwiches and drinks.
People came from all over California. One couple drove down from San Francisco. “This is our sixth year here now. We love it,” said the husband. “It’s just fantastic to be in the great outdoors, to be among so many books and authors, and to get some very good deals, too.”
The idea for the festival occurred years ago, but nobody knew if it would succeed. Although book festivals were already popular in other US cities, would Los Angeles residents embrace one? “Angelenos are very unpredictable,” said one of the festival founders.
Lina often asked Luke to dinner. Lina loved Luke, but Luke loved Lina’s cooking, not Lina herself. Lina accepted that for the time being. But she felt that, with enough meals and enough time, she would get her man.
Luke rarely stayed more than ten minutes past the last bite of dessert. Lina would ask Luke if he wanted to watch TV, or play cards or chess, or take a walk around the neighborhood, but Luke always declined. He always said, “I’ve got to go.” They both knew that Luke didn’t have to go anywhere. All he ever did was go back to his apartment and read books or go online.
Tonight was probably going to be more of the same. But Lina was a patient woman. She loved to cook, and she loved to watch people eat her cooking. Tonight she prepared shrimp, fresh green beans, mashed potatoes, and asparagus. Luke ate everything with gusto. Then she brought out her homemade cheesecake with vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Luke asked, “Are you trying to fatten me up for something? Every time I come over here, I have to eat celery and lettuce for a week to get back down to my normal weight.”
“Oh, stop exaggerating,” Lina replied. “You enjoy every mouthful.”
“You’re right. I apologize. I love your cooking, and if you didn’t invite me over here, I’d be hurt and hungry.”
Lina watched contentedly as Luke devoured the cheesecake and ice cream. Someday, she thought, I will be his dessert.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Jill answered the phone. It was Jack.
"Jill, will you marry me next week?"
Jack repeated his question.
"Of course not," she replied. She wondered why he was asking her that question. They had already agreed that when people get married, they immediately start to take each other for granted. They don’t do the "little things" like opening the car door or holding hands. They get too comfortable. They treat their partner like an old shoe. And eventually, they get bored with each other and get divorced.
"We already agreed that we don’t want to get married because we don’t want to get divorced."
Jack agreed. But he argued that they were special. They were different from other couples. They loved each other too much to end up in a divorce.
"Yes, that may be true. But still, why next week? Why can’t we think about it for another year or two?"
"Because I had two dreams the last two nights. In both dreams, you left me for another man. In fact, you left me for two different men. I want to get married now so I don’t have these dreams anymore."
"Hmm. What did these men look like?"
Jim went to the thrift shop. He wasn’t looking for anything in particular. He liked to go there just to browse. A big sign on the front door said OPEN. The shop was closed on Sunday and Monday. The rest of the week, it opened at 10 a.m. and closed at 2 p.m.
Two women worked inside. They rang up sales and put the items into plastic bags for the customers to carry out. At the back of the shop was a big room where another lady worked. She sorted the new donations and put price tags on them. At the end of each day, she would bring the new donations out to the main part of the shop.
Everyone who worked at the thrift shop was a volunteer. The only "payment" they received was that they had the opportunity to see, and buy, any items in the shop before the customers did.
When Jim entered, the lady at the register told him hello. He smiled and said hello. She knew Jim because he was a regular customer.
Jim said, "What’s new?"
She laughed and said that nothing was ever new at a thrift shop. "It’s always old and it’s always used," she smiled.
Jim looked at the watches in the glass case. He saw one that he liked.
"Could I look at that one?" he asked.