Sunday, February 22, 2015

When Karma Isn't a Bitch

 

I am prone to losing expensive and/or important items.

I've lost not one but two FitBits - one on the streets of London & another on the mean streets of good old D.C. - never to be seen again. My iPhone was either lost or stolen from a bar on New Year's Eve a few years back, also never to be seen again. I lost a sterling silver Tiffany necklace my grandparents gave me while swimming on a local lake. And I once called the police to (erroneously) insist that someone had stolen my car out of a parking deck.

But I've had good luck, too, even in the face of initial bad luck. I once lost my driver's license in the Boston airport & was surprised when it showed up at my mom's house a few weeks later in a typewriter-addressed envelope. A Days Inn employee called my place of employment when he found my wallet on a city bus & later returned it to me with $180 in cash still inside. And longtime readers of this blog may recall The Great Thanksgiving Miracle of 2011, when a kind US Airways pilot tracked me down on a holiday to return my lost iPad, which he refused to entrust to the airline's shoddy lost & found system.

I try to contribute to good karma & the circle of life & all that hippie jazz by paying it forward whenever possible, & I had the opportunity to do so last week, after I found a lost Garmin Vivo Fit at a bar in Nashville. I spotted the wristband on the dirty, beer-covered floor of a joint called Honky Tonk Central & thought it belonged to one of the girls in my party, so I snatched it up & tossed it in my purse to return to her at a soberer hour. When I learned that her fitness tracker was in fact still on her wrist, I decided to try to track down the owner of the one I'd found.

One afternoon last week, I called Garmin's customer service line, where a rep initially offered to email the owner of the band, who he'd located using the serial number I read him from the bottom of the device. He put me on hold to get things in motion, but when he returned to the line, he reneged on his offer to send its owner my contact info, telling me that Garmin's official policy on such matters is to instruct the finder of a lost device to turn it in to their local police department.

Apparently Garmin feels confident that the cops will go to the effort of returning lost wristbands to their rightful owners. Sending my contact information to the wristband's owner, the rep told me, is a breach of privacy - though I fail to understand how, since they already have her contact info, & I was asking them to share mine. Whatever; he was insistent that they could not contact the wristband's owner on my behalf, & he was actually fairly rude about it, given that I was just calling to do something nice.

Look, I trust the boys (& gals) in blue, but I don't think this is the sort of matter that's worth their time & hard-earned money. On top of that, I recently stopped my local precinct, sobbing, to report a road rage incident & was told that it was "not worth" reporting... so you'll forgive me if I had doubts that my hometown cops were going to give a damn about a lost Garmin from Tennessee. Because that is the most ridiculous policy I've ever heard.

So I hung up. I sent an angry tweet. And then I called Garmin back, hoping for a more sympathetic customer service rep.

And I got one! The second person I spoke to said she would be happy to send my contact information to the wristband's owner, which just goes to show that A) rules are breakable, B) some people don't know (or care) about the rules, & C) if at first you don't succeed, try, try another customer service rep. She thanked me for trying to return the device, then she promptly sent an email to the owner of the lost Vivo Fit to try to make the connection.

The owner emailed me almost immediately, thanking me for getting in touch & offering me a finder's fee &/or the cost of shipping (both of which I turned down because that's not how paying it forward works). She told me I had made her week, & I told her I'll drop it in the mailbox tomorrow, where it should only take a couple of days to reach her... in Cincinnati.

Remembering how grateful I was when strangers returned my difficult-to-replace items - my iPad, my wallet, my driver's license - I'm thrilled to be able to pay it forward & do the same for someone else. It's so easy to do something nice for someone - to try to make someone's day instead of ruining it. They say karma's a bitch, but when it works out, it can be pretty lovely, too.

Take that, stupid Garmin call-the-police policy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ten Years Later: A Story About Hot Water Heaters, Signs From Above, & Making It Through


I keep a "Dave Box" in my closet - that's it, above - & until recently, it had been years since I'd rifled through it. It's too painful, even now, full of his own thoughts written in his own handwriting - notes he passed me between classes, liner notes from mix CDs he made, letters he sent me my first year of college, & my favorite, a Post-It he slipped into my hand during a passive-aggressive discussion with my freshman-year roommate about floor lamps. There are trinkets in there, too - guitar picks, a scorecard from a double-date game of laser tag, hard copies of those CD mixes. And, written on pieces of now-faded construction paper, there is a set of clues to the scavenger hunt he put together for me on my 18th birthday.

The first clue was on the driver's seat of my car, a red 1990 Dodge Colt named Rosebud. It instructed me to follow the clues he'd created, which would lead me to various places around the city - the spot outside our high school where we met during a fire drill, the spot at a nearby park where an elderly passerby yelled at us for throwing rocks at ducks (it was bread, & we were feeding them!), & the spot in the parking lot of a local hardware store where we made up after our first big argument.

The clue for the last one asked, "I wonder if those hot water heaters are still on sale?" It was a reference to a big, hand-painted sign in the hardware store's window that read "SPECIAL TODAY: HOT WATER HEATERS" - but it had been in the window every single day for... well, forever. It became a bit of an inside joke between us, & even after we'd broken up - even after he died - seeing it always gave me a half-smile.

A few years ago, though, the hardware store got a makeover. They redid everything, including their storefront, & they took away the sign. I cried the day I drove past it & saw that it was gone, likely for good, & even now, when I drive past the store, I sometimes feel a pang of sadness at the way things inevitably change over time - that tangible element of certain memories, gone forever.

To be honest, though, I hadn't thought of the sign for awhile. It's easier not to think about the things that remind me of him, & life goes on. But in December, on his 30th birthday, I went back through my Dave Box & found those scavenger hunt clues. Remembering the hot water heater, a long-ago scene I'd all but forgotten, I half-smiled at the memory again, & then I tucked it away in my brain for some other time. It was just one small story in a box full of stories that comprise my biggest story.

After his birthday, the tenth anniversary of his death loomed near. I'd been thinking of him more than usual lately, remembering what life felt like a decade ago - for him, for me, for all of us whose lives were dramatically altered by his death. With him on my mind a few days ago, I found myself stopped at a red light next to that hardware store. "I wonder if those hot water heaters are still on sale," I mused to myself, knowing the sign was long gone but looking for it anyway, just in case.

And then I spotted it: a big box, sitting quietly on a ledge in the corner of the store's window display. Just one of them. There was no sign with it, no special or sale, but there it was just the same: "HOT WATER HEATER," the box said.

My first reaction was to cry, & I started to. But as the first tears fell, I guess I changed my mind, because I started to laugh instead. I laughed & laughed, & I cried while I was laughing, sort of a crazy-person laugh, if anyone else had heard it. It all just seemed so crazy, really, that almost 10 years to the day after the anniversary of his death, I saw this small little sign from the universe, a sign I should've missed but didn't, a sign in the form of a household appliance. A sign that reminded me of a sign.

Do I believe in signs from the universe? I don't know; not usually. But that day, I just laughed & cried & kept laughing & hit the gas when the light turned green & whispered aloud, "Well done," & knew that when today came, I would be OK.

And I am.

Dave Kozak, Dec. 2, 1984 - Feb. 10, 2005

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Time a Guy at AutoZone Made Me Cry in a Good Way

 I'm driving down route 59 in Stow, a few miles away from my house, when I remember that I've got illegal plates on my car. More accurately, it is illegal that I've not yet put plates on my car, the one I bought mid-December, & am still riding around town on dealership tags. My real plates arrived by mail while I was stranded in New York, but I haven't even tried to put them on yet because I keep forgetting. I'm bound to get pulled over soon, though, when I'll be forced to pay an actual price for my procrastination.

I'm about to grab lunch & run some errands, but all of a sudden I'm anxious as hell about these plates. I decide to make a pit stop first, pulling into an Autozone along the way. "I have an embarrassing question," I begin, & the guy behind the counter - his nametag says he's Don - looks at me like he's expecting me to be a total moron. To be fair, I feel like one.

"I just moved back here from D.C.," I explain a little nervously, like maybe Don will take pity on me if I seem like I'm totally new to suburban life. "I just bought a new car, & my plates came in this week, but I haven't put them on yet. I don't know what kind of screws I need, & I don't know where my screwdriver is, & I was just wondering... is that something you could help me with? I know this is sort of crazy."

Don seems a little confused, but he follows me out to my car & takes a look at my plates. It is approximately 20 degrees outside, & Don is wearing shorts. And no gloves. I, on the other hand, am bundled up like an Eskimo & still chattering.

"What brings you to Ohio?" Don asks, striking up small talk as he screws my back plate in. We talk a little bit about where I was & why I'm back here; he tells me about life in Montana, where he used to live, & says it was so rural that it makes our hometown seem metropolitan. Amidst the chatter, I apologize repeatedly for asking him to help me such an easy task, but he never once makes me feel like I'm stupid for it.

"I'm gonna need to sell you some screws," he says, somewhat apologetically, & I follow him back into the store, where he rings me up for a package of $2.99 screws.

"How much do I owe you for helping me put these on?" I ask.

"You don't," he says.

"Come on," I insist, but no dice. He rings me up for the screws - they cost me $3.19 with tax - & then we head back outside, where he uses my new screws to attach my new license plates.

"You're all set!" Don announces, & I thank him profusely while trying to hand him the $15 in cash that I've been clutching in my right hand.

"Will you please let me pay you for helping me with this?" I ask, borderline begging. I am possibly the most thankful person to ever be thankful.

"Not a chance," he says. "Just promise me that the next time you need something for your car, you'll stop at an AutoZone." 

Will do, Don.

I am suddenly overwhelmed by this incredibly kind interaction, one that could have been - should have been? - incredibly embarrassing & would, basically anywhere else, have cost me much more than $3.19. I am suddenly very, very thankful to be from such a good place full of so many good people.

As I thank Don a final time, I choke up a little bit, & I'm sure he can tell that my eyes are a little bit misty.

"Welcome back to Ohio," he says. And that's that.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I Might Be the Next Great Film Critic


I moved back to Ohio so that I could start a life in Cleveland, but, uh, I'm not there yet. "Yet" is the key word, I hope, but it gets discouraging sometimes, living with my mom in my hometown at age 30. I recently realized that I don't even know that much about Cleveland - what's there, what my neighborhood options are, why I like it, if I'll like it. I've been worried lately, to be honest, that Cleveland is just a very distant "maybe someday."

I was really, really excited, then, to have an excuse for a mini-adventure in Cleveland last weekend to raise my spirits a bit. The cause for said mini-adventure? I won a giveaway from Alexa of Cleveland's A Plum: two tickets to the Cleveland International Film Festival's annual Get Shorty short film event.

At $100 a ticket, I probably never would've thought to pay for an event like this. I'm not necessarily a splurge-on-arts-&-culture kinda gal, & that would've seemed like a steep pricetag for movie-watching; after all, that's why I have Netflix, right? But this event turned out to be really, really cool, with a feel that was somehow both exclusive & informal - & it was one that I would definitely pay to repeat next year. On Thursday night, I trekked up to Cleveland & my friend Lindsey & I got a little bit dressed up & headed over to the Capitol Theater despite some seriously inclement weather. We gorged on chocolate chip cookies, enjoyed a few Dortmunders (because Cleveland), & then settled in for film-watching & VIP voting.

Get Shorty attendees had the opportunity to watch a selection of 10 short film submissions &, after watching each film, to cast our vote - a simple "highly recommended, "recommended," or "not recommended." At the end of the night, we learned how the films had ranked, & the top three were guaranteed a spot in the festival in March. Another cool element of the event: The short films that win in the categories of Best Animated Short Film Award & Best Live Action Short Film Award at the festival will qualify for consideration in the Short Films category of the annual Academy Awards. That means it's possible that I just voted on a film that could go on to win an Oscar!

Curious about how we voted? Our winning films, in order, were The Hyperglot, Sequestered, & Dad in Mum. The first two were my favorites of the bunch, & I absolutely loathed the third - but hey, man, that's democracy for ya. Trailers for the two I loved are below (only because I can't find a trailer for the third, I swear). If you have the opportunity to watch them in their entirety anywhere, definitely do so. And if you're anywhere near Cleveland in March, try to hit up the Cleveland International Film Festival. I know I'm going to try!



Sunday, February 1, 2015

We Had a (Snow)Ball Watching the Super Bowl: A Story of Life in the Wintry Suburbs

A few minutes before the Super Bowl halftime show, the satellite TV went out at my friends Annie & Derick's house. The three of us sat in silent unison for a moment, staring at the screen, hoping the problem would self-correct & let us get back to the game without having to arise from our food comas.

No such luck.

The dish was covered in snow, & we couldn't return to our TV-watching unless we could come up with a way to uncover it. Problem? The dish was on their roof, & there was about half a foot of wet, heavy snow both up there & on the ground below.

It didn't seem likely that we were going to get to see the rest of the game.

But Derick wasn't going down without a fight. "I'm going to climb up there," he insisted, despite the fact that the snow was now coming down in sheets & that he wasn't even sure whether they owned a ladder. His wife, naturally, began to panic: "This is going to end in a trip to the ER," she insisted. "Be smart."

So we brainstormed. Could we aim the spray of the hose at the snow-covered dish to clear it off? Derick tried, but he couldn't get a steady stream. Could we stick something out the second-story window beneath the dish, like a broom, to reach it without getting on the roof? But the architecture of their roof meant we couldn't reach around the lip to get at the spot directly above the window where the dish sat.

"What if we throw something at it?" Derick wondered aloud.

But what?

"Snowballs," I said.

So we did.

For 10 minutes, Annie & I created hard-packed, softball-sized snowballs, handing them off to Derick to fling skyward. Some of them missed, careening toward their neighbor's car & out into the street - but thanks to a good eye & a strong arm, many of them hit their target. When they did, they struck the satellite dish with enough force to knock off some of the snow it had collected. About 20 snowballs into our effort, I peeked my head through their back door into the living room, where I saw the pixelated screen begin to reassemble itself into Katy Perry & her dancing sharks.

We took off our boots & ate a celebratory cookie or three, settling back into the couch to marvel at Missy Elliott's hair extensions.

Throughout the course of the game, the satellite TV went out two more times. Both times, we pulled on our snowboots & trudged diligently back outside, returning to the work of snowball-making so that we could then return to the work of Super Bowl-watching. "Bet you didn't think you'd have to work for your right to watch the game," Annie joked. We were cold & wet & annoyed, but I think we all kind of enjoyed an excuse to have a snowball fight with a purpose.

And all I could think was that this was so, so different than what my life has been like for the last seven & a half years - where cities shut down at the thought of a few snowflakes, & where maintenance men cleared the snowy sidewalks & handled all my housing problems, & where I might've had to wait for the bus in the rain but certainly never had to drive my car in the sleet. My D.C. friends all think I come from the sticks, & I know a story like this one isn't going to go a long way in convincing them otherwise - but I had a great time tonight, laughing in the dark at the end of a snow-covered, dead-end street, being Midwestern MacGyvers & making the best of a bad situation. 

And when I got home, I shoveled the driveway, just to prove that I'm an Ohioan. Like anyone doubted me.

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