Defeating the iPhone Daemons

Recently 28,747 ghost emails showed up in my iPhone’s Mail Inbox. Ghosts because they are not really IN my Inbox, despite the notification hovering over the Mail icon saying they are. I managed to turn off the annoying apparition, but the grey number 28K still displays in my Mailbox menu.

These ghosts also haunt my Sent folder. Supposedly it contains 966 sent emails, none of which I can see.

According to my preliminary research, it’s a bug in the software – and it’s been bugging people without any resolution for at least a couple of years.Ghost email

Truthfully, I’ve been unable to read the long, online threads of threatening rants and obtuse explanations for more than a few minutes at a time. My eyes and brain fog over. (I can’t believe I spent 25 years as a technical writer without slipping into a coma.) My heart sinks when I see the same suggestion again and again: delete account and add back in. Sure, simple. Just let me locate my list of server settings and passwords. Of course, if I must do that, I will. But unlike with childbirth, when you forget the pain and do it again, I do remember how long I labored to set up the email account, how many people I had to call to obtain settings, how many buttons I toggled on and off before it magically worked. (Again, I marvel at my perverse ability to write about these maddening mind boggles – as a career!)

And now – another fun, twisting challenge. The ghosts must be pissed off at me for trying to yank them out of purgatory. All my Contacts disappeared! Names, addresses, phone numbers, emails. All my incoming calls appeared as Unknown Number.

This was my fault, as much as I’d like to blame cyber-demons. My fingers became possessed and in a fit of impatience, they pressed the secret code to open the gates to iCloud heaven. Once inside, they mindlessly decided, no we don’t need you anymore. Close down iCloud and take everything away (secretly hoping this might include ghosts).

Once I realized that the ghosts remained, but real people disappeared, I was able to re-open iCloud, bow down and ask for forgiveness. Prayers answered. All my contacts floated down from the clouds and reappeared on my phone.

Plus a few extra. Ones I deleted years ago! For reasons that could be the subject of future essays. I’ll have to be careful scrolling through them to re-delete. One slip of the finger or the stylus and I’m calling that born-again woman who refused to listen when I told her I could edit her book, but not run her personal errands. Or that handyman who became overly hand-y until I invented a boyfriend, a former NYC cop with a pet pit bull.  Ghost emails

As for the mysterious emails, are they real? Are they really emails I’ve sent and received for the last 10 years? Has a server somewhere decided, “Here, I don’t want these anymore, I’m sending them back. You’ll have to hire an exorcist or an engineer to get rid of them.”

I have a few ideas, I don’t give up easily. Did I mention I was a technical writer? And I have a software engineer son.

If the emails are real, and not ghosts, I hope I don’t have to see them again. As with old Contacts, I deleted them for a reason. They are free to die peacefully.

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When Your Best Plans Take You for a Ride

A Facebook friend wanted to know what the best thing was we had planned for our day. And – NO sarcasm, please, only happy ideas.

(She is a rah-rah life coach.)

Geez, coach, my day is not complete without sarcasm, or at least some droll or semi-dark humor. In fact, I wouldn’t have made it this far, a few decades, without laughing at myself hanging onto the frayed, whiplashing rope of my life.

Some days the sun is shining, some days it is not. I have no control over that. I do my best to feel the sun and smell the air on warm days and walk tall and bundled up on damp, shivering days.

My plan for the day, after wrangling finances, was to return a book I didn’t like to the bookstore and exchange it for one I would like.

I had bought “12 Rules for Life” by Jordan Peterson, a Canadian psychologist. I thought I liked his ideas, as much as I understood them on a Bill Maher TV interview as he rattled off suggestions such as “Stand up straight, Pick friends who want what’s best for you …”

I had a crush on his pleasant demeanor and accent, Canadian, being Canadian-born myself. Normally I read reviews before buying or checking out a book, but this time I didn’t, I just jumped in, like a fool in love with superficial good looks and too-good-to-be true ideas.

I was so disappointed! Conservative. In love with mythology. Anti-feminist. Crap!

Reminded me of the arrogant, condescending male poets I ran into at readings. They were so enthralled with their cleverness and intellect they couldn’t see or listen to anyone around them.

I threw the book in the trunk of my car where it lay for a few days. And so, today, an appointment cancelled, was the day to take it back.

I headed south down the road that crosses Mission Bay and the San Diego River. Was just over the first bridge that crosses the bay when I see slowing traffic and a white car turned sideways across the road, blocking access to the second bridge. It’s a Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol (RSVP) car. All cars were being forced to go to the right.

For a few seconds I wondered if it was a mistake and considered barreling straight through. You are not even real police! But because I did not want to hit other seniors or land in the bay, I was swept up in the caravan of vehicles shooting off the main road into a big circle east. The exits and entrances here loop around, diverge and converge quickly, and it’s hard to keep track of what direction you are driving in, especially if you don’t take the side roads often. Soon I was hurtling alongside the San Diego River, past Sea World with its other-worldly new roller coaster rising into the sky. It’s the Electric Eel, due to open in a few days, “… the tallest, fastest roller coaster in Sea World’s history, a multi-launch coaster with high-energy twists, electrifying loops and inversions,” according to their website.

Fly past that and the only way back around to my destination was to head into the beginnings of Mission Valley, turn into the Old Town Trolley Station, slow down for the tracks and pedestrians, and miraculously come out onto the street where the bookstore is located (but not before going down a dead-end street and having to turn around in a junk yard).

Heading home an hour later, I took a chance, hoping the road was clear on the south end. No such luck! This time, real police cars, several of them blocking the bridge over the river. And the only way to go was east on the 8 Freeway, into Mission Valley. I zoom-zoomed past the Mazda dealership where I had taken my RX-8 the day before, waving mentally at the woman service rep and wondered if she was enjoying the mystery novel I’d given her. Traffic was fast and heavy, and I couldn’t get off for a couple of exits, but once I did and got turned around, it was an easy, if long, drive home. What should have been about an hour’s outing took me almost three.

Would I describe this as a happy day with the best of plans? In a roundabout, rollercoaster way, yes. My day/ride took on a life of its own. Picked me up, tossed me around, but brought me safely back to ground zero.

And the new book I got made it all worthwhile: Trevor Noah’s “Born in Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.” Host of The Daily Show, he is known for his satire, surreal humor, black comedy. I was already an admirer of his mind and his looks, but now I’m in love for life. (Is that sarcasm?)

 

Slip Slidin’ Away, Slip Slidin’ Away

We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

Paul Simon

Sears. Fading out after 131 years. Slip sliding into retail obscurity. Founded in 1886 in Chicago by Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck. Started as a mail order business, opening first retail stores in 1925. It was the largest retailer in the United States until 1989, surpassed by Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Home Depot.

Long before I ever saw the store, I was given an old catalog to play with. I was not much of a kid for dolls and playing house, preferred the outdoors, coveting playhouses, swings and pools as I turned the pages. However, I also loved clothes at an early age and so used my little scissors to cut out fashions I admired, filling my imaginary closet.

manekinsAnother ten years before I physically entered a Sears store with my parents and sister, after moving to Los Angeles. We drove miles inland to buy our first television, the only major purchase we needed since our rented beach house was fully furnished.

Another two years and we had our own house, Sears appliances, tools, and a beginning darkroom kit for me that my father helped me set up in the garage.

And then Sears soured in my mind. As a single, working mother trying to establish credit with Sears, I was turned down. Even with my mother co-signing with her 30-year account! A neighbor of hers, an older woman, had worked for Sears forever in the kitchen renovation department. She was gradually pushed out of her position and commission, given worse and worse projects, forcing her to fade away.

I seldom shopped there. A couple of times in 20 years, to buy specifically requested tools for my sons at Christmas or for birthdays.

The nearest Sears was an anchor for our local mall, and a landmark for my friends and family. Name clearly visible on the big stone building from half a mile away. Closest to an easy and spacious parking lot, close to major streets and freeways, next to the university my son attended, a convenient meeting place.

A few weeks ago, I stopped in to use the bathroom. I was shocked at how empty the store was, sales men and women clustering around racks of frumpy lumberjack shirts, directing me upstairs to a restroom hidden behind a maze of stoves and refrigerators.

So, I wasn’t surprised when I soon read the store was closing. Since 2010, Sears has slipped from 3,500 stores to 695.

Yesterday was its last day. And by chance I happened to be in the mall celebrating my birthday week with a friend. We both spotted the flapping plastic Closing! sign above the doors. She had a Sears appliance question, so suggested we go in.

A vast cavern, no answers here. A few rugs, forlorn pieces of clothing and piles of jewelry, mostly store shelves, bookcases, display cabinets, and manikins. The skeletal leftovers. Families and couples hovering and picking the bones. One woman hoisted a rolled rug on her shoulder and strolled out like she was carrying water jugs down to the riverbank. Vans and SUVs lined up outside the automatic doors to swallow the remnants.

The doors first opened in 1977, the year Paul Simon wrote his song about life’s plans slipping away from mere mortals.

Still, Sears had a good run. A flagship leading an era.

Tools for the handymen and busy women, dreams for the workers, immigrants and children.

I hope whatever comes next takes us farther down the highway.

In the News: Fear of Going Mad While Flying

Note: This is a repost from June 2013. Since I posted this essay three years ago, the flying experience has gotten even worse! Hardly a day passes now without some unpleasant airplane incident going viral and hitting the headlines.

The doctor who was dragged off an overbooked flight and injured after refusing to give up his seat.

Parents of a toddler wanting to hold onto his separate seat kicked off flight.

“Chaos erupts at Fort Lauderdale Airport when Spirit Airlines cancels flights.”

And today – “Passengers get into fistfight aboard Southwest flight.”

To be fair, passengers are not always well-behaved and flight crews do not have an easy job. But how responsible are the airlines for creating such stressful experiences? Should the airlines be regulated, as they were here until 1978? After that, several airlines competed for customers. Flying was fun! In the last decade or so, our 10 major airlines have merged or decreased to four. And the four are not fans of making anything fun.Flying

“I feel like shrieking,” I said to the woman next to me on the airplane. She was squirming even more than I was, squished in between me at the window and her husband on the aisle. “But, don’t worry, I won’t.”

We were three hours into our 5½-hour flight, which was an hour late taking off. We sat at the gate and then on the rainy runway at JFK Airport behind dozens of other jets before we were cleared for takeoff. The pilot kept saying, “Another 20 minutes, another 20 minutes …” while cell phones came out and people made calls to change their pick-up times.

She and I had exhausted almost all activities: reading, napping, checking phones and computers, looking out the window, watching a movie (she with headphones, me without, but I was desperate), getting up and bumping down the aisle to the teeny bathroom, drinking, eating.

Eating used to take more time on these flights.  Now that many airlines no longer serve free meals, at least in less than first class, there is not the fun of opening the little packages and trying to figure out what the globs are and gobbling them anyway. On my flight going east a few days earlier, I didn’t catch the flight attendant in time to order anything. (It takes them forever to get down the aisle, but if you look away for a few seconds, they are gone.) And my two connecting flights were so close together I didn’t have time to pick up anything at the airport, like a $10 granola bar.

This time, I was smarter and quicker in the airplane and I scored a $10 turkey sandwich with potato chips. I hadn’t eaten in about 12 hours and it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted in my life. I tried not to wolf it down, instead savoring every bite for the taste … and the filling of time.

The woman next to me whipped out something from her tote that looked and smelled delicious and I wondered where she got it, but I kept quiet, licking the salt and potato chip crumbs from the bag. Sometimes I prefer not to talk to my seatmates. Suffering in silence beats an onslaught of personal drama or incompatible political or religious philosophies. It’s the luck of the draw – or the airline’s software program.

I once sat next to The Bug Man, as his hat said. I asked what he did, thinking he might be an exterminator. Turns out he was an entomologist (bug scientist) and a well-known bug wrangler who works in Hollywood overseeing movies with bugs and insects (such as “Arachnophobia”). He was interesting and single! (But with rooms full of bugs at home, he said, not appealing to me, a bug phobe.) Later, I saw him interviewed on television and wondered why he didn’t fly first class.

Joking with the woman next to me broke the silence and we soon were off and running (mentally, not physically), sharing our love of yoga and how much we were looking forward to getting back to it. She had been away for five weeks, visiting her son in Spain and her daughter in New York. We discussed our work, children, cats. It was a pleasant conversation and before I knew it, the San Diego skyline appeared underneath us and we were swooping in for a landing.

I’ve always loved flying, especially the take-offs and landings. I’ve never had a fear of flying, but now I’m starting to dread it. In the past, I’ve flown to Australia and Europe with less discomfort and inconvenience than I’ve endured recently on shorter trips. These have included cancelled flights, delayed flights, arbitrarily reassigned seats and airport connections and lost luggage. And it gets worse each year as the airlines think of new ways to torture us.

If the airlines are cutting back to be competitive, why aren’t they offering better service, not worse? Fewer flights perhaps, but at least on time and maybe a little meal?

I cannot image a restaurant or store doing business this way and keeping customers. “You have a reservation for 7? Too bad. We won’t be serving dinner until 8:30. You wanted the booth by the window? Too bad. All we have left is the table by the back wall. You want to leave? Too bad. We locked the door and you can’t leave until we say so.”

How many of us would come back? If we want to travel quickly, do we have a choice? Would a covered wagon be better? I’m beginning to think so. There might by dysentery and wild Indians, but at least we could lie down and get comfortable for awhile, gnaw on buffalo jerky.

In the News: Planned Parenthood

Flash back a few decades. Without realizing it, I have chosen an authoritarian (old white male) obstetrician to see me through my first pregnancy and deliver my son. I am very young and new to this business of Ob/Gyn oversight, not to mention marriage and pregnancy. Alone, no friends in San Francisco. No birth centers, a sense of participating, surrounded by family. No, the kindly doctor took over with a paternalistic pat on the head and other parts. Fortunately, it was an easy birth and my son was born beautiful with a full head of blond hair.

So, then I asked for birth control pills. “No, you will have to get them somewhere else,” he said. “I don’t prescribe them.” The good old doc was Catholic.

The somewhere else I went was Planned Parenthood. Visiting my parents in the beach area of Los Angeles, I took the bus 20 miles into downtown LA, to the closest Planned Parenthood. My memory is smoggily vague. Did I have my son with me or did I leave him with my parents? Did I have an appointment? Did I wait long? I just remember lying in a greenish space with curtains and a strange (young) man coming in and examining me and okaying the pills. Did I get them there or go to a drugstore?

I know I was relieved as I rode the bus home. And within months my husband and I had moved to San Diego and I had a new, younger male doctor named Dr. Rights. And birth control for two to three years until I got pregnant with my second son.

Flash forward, recent years. A young woman I know is a student. No money. She goes for a checkup at Planned Parenthood and they discover cervical cancer. She undergoes treatment and is doing okay.

I walk by our neighborhood Planned Parenthood. It is closed! Oh no. But I see it has moved to another location two miles away. Not far. And the new center looks larger. That gives me hope. Government funding may be wavering, but the spirit of the organization is strong, determined, not about to give up after 101 years. Helping women who are between doctors or jobs, without resources. What would I or my friend have done without them? I could have found another doctor, maybe gone to my mother’s, but the delay might have meant an unwanted pregnancy. My friend with cancer may have been able to borrow money, but if not, she would not be alive today.

The conservatives are big on people taking personal responsibility. Planned Parenthood is big on teaching women how to do this with birth control, family planning, health care. So why the gap in logic and compassion? Many religious conservatives are against abortion services offered by Planned Parenthood, even though it is legal in this country. And even though family planning education will reduce abortions, the Planned Parenthood foes would rather shutter all the clinics and kick poor women out onto the sidewalk than continue to support the organization.

This would be like me, a vegetarian, refusing to help a food bank or soup kitchen because they distribute or serve meat. Just because I am personally opposed to eating animals, I don’t think I have the right to impose my viewpoint on others.

The foes of Planned Parenthood, including those in government office, are trying to inflict their religious beliefs on us, in opposition to the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion …”

Vice President Pence the Pilgrim may criticize Muslim sharia law, but he’d be the first in line to brand and stockade a woman with a mind and body of her own if he could get away with it. In his worldview, he cannot even have dinner alone with women. He is more comfortable sitting around a conference table with other old (mostly white) men deciding that women are their vessels and not separate people with rights.

If their wives are okay living that way, that is one thing. But most of us have outgrown the stranglehold of authoritarianism and will resist its being forced on us. By now, my San Francisco doctor is long dead and Dr. Rights, closer to my age, died two years ago.

That means the younger generation, with less restrictive beliefs, are moving into government and medicine and other areas where they can make a difference. Like Planned Parenthood. And, yes, healthcare for all.

Let’s hope they move quickly, with agility and honesty, leaving the tyrannical T-Rexes in the dust.

Where Is My White Blouse?

White blouses are everywhere and, for me, nowhere.

Ubiquitous and yet elusive.

I’ve been looking for just the right white blouse. Once I get an idea for something I think will add to my wardrobe (or household, or garden, or knowledge base), I don’t let go until I find it. Sometimes I change my mind after a tenacious search, but then it’s on to a new item or variation.

Seldom do I find the exact item of clothing I envision. There is always some part – fit, material, color, weird pockets or buttons – that is annoying or off-putting (Take it off, off!) Even once hiring a tailor to make me a pair of palazzo pants for a party did not result in the lovely creation I had in mind. Instead of svelte and sweeping, they were slippery and billowy, like old pajamas.

Anyway, I can see this white blouse. The right one for me, topping jeans, printed pants, skirts, tights, even a bathing suit. Taking me through several seasons and occasions, allowing for a variety of accessories and sweaters and jackets. So, the requirements are:

stylepremiere.com/blog

Not too formal. Simple, to go with my simple, casual life. With sleeves that can be worn long or rolled up, a smallish collar or collarless V-neck, slightly loose but not like a tent. No stiff, stand-up collars or starchy tightness that bark “I mean business.”

Not too informal. For yoga, walks, gardening, and other projects, I have t-shirts. For running errands and getting together with family and friends, I have lots and lots of casual blouses, favoring the boho style, and at least three in white. So, I don’t need another one of those.

Not too stiff. The stretchy fabric does not fool me. Claustrophobic. Linen, while appealing for its purity, and faux casualness, feels like sandpaper and makes my skin itch just looking at its rumpled surface.

Not too flimsy. Not a big fan of chiffon or lace or other sheer fabrics unless I’m buying for a party and it comes with an attached, comfortable camisole.

Not too teeny-bopper, club hopper or middle-aged sexpot. You know what I mean. Eyelet trim. Very short. Teeny straps, one strap, strapless. Shoulder cut-outs, so the sleeves look like they’ve been ripped off and are hanging by a thread.

Not too old and plain. I am old, but I don’t want to look dumpy and frumpy. And sadly, many clothes for older women are too droopy and drapey for me, overwhelming my small frame and height. I tried on one long white blouse at Gap and resembled a nerdy scientist in a lab coat. Another at Express in a soft fabric, tie in front and tail in back style. It looked beautiful on the hanger but not on me, more like I’d crash-landed with my parachute half-open.

Not too fancy. No weird ties, attachments, embroidery. My cats confuse tassels with playtime toys. If I’m going to get a simple white blouse, then it must be simple! Yesterday I spotted one that looked good from a distance. I pulled it down – and there on the simple sleeves were triangular flaps of material sticking out from each elbow. For what reason? To remind us that our bat wings had fallen even farther? To elbow our way around now that we’ve given up stiff collars?

I am just about to give up. People like to say things like the perfect thing (mate? job?) will appear when we give up searching, but I don’t believe that. It could or could not happen.

In the meantime, my mind is shifting … there was that red blouse …

Friendships

Are some relationships just time bombs waiting to blow up? Explosives and a clock wired to detonate at a certain time?

Or are they just balloon fantasies we have blown up that will eventually float away, or lose air and flatten on the ground?

It takes a while to get to know people and sometimes we hate to admit we’ve invested too much time in someone who is too fundamentally different and so we keep going …

… until one day a minor disagreement, light shining brightly, sets off the tick, tick …

… the fadeout … the flyaway …

Would it have made any difference earlier to re-wire, to point out the obvious?

Hard to say. What it comes down to is this. If the relationship is a bomb, you are damned if you do speak up and damned if you don’t. It will blow – sooner or later.

If it’s a balloon fantasy, thoughts hanging in your imagination, the first sharp poking or wind blowing will flatten and send all hopes flying.

********

Lately I’ve seen a lot of articles on friendships. What are the types of friendships? How many friends do most people have? Are we losing the ability and desire to cultivate friendships? More than one article points out that we are connecting less. Families are shrinking but houses are getting bigger. Many people have replaced conversation with compulsive phone checking and texting. I see this myself every time I eat out or attend a gathering.

The articles I read on friendship don’t help me, not really. I’ve had so many friendships come and go, partly because I’ve moved often and had at least 25 jobs. Many friendships are circumstantial. They don’t take hold and last beyond living or working near each other or belonging to some group. I’m more diligent about maintaining connections than most people are. I’ve learned to lower my expectations, to be more realistic about what people can offer, or choose to offer. And to truly enjoy the friends who are in my life now, even if I don’t see them often.

Some articles categorize friendships, generalize about how many we need. I question their accuracy. After all, each of us is different, not to mention at different stages of life or living in different parts of the country or world. Introverts like me prefer fewer, but deeper friendships. Extroverts can never have too many friends. With all kinds of variations in between. People who live in one town all their lives might have more life-long friendships than those who live in transient neighborhoods. Married or living-together couples rely on each other for friendship; students and workers have built-in friendships.

It’s not until we live alone, children gone, retired or working at home, that we realize more fully how fortunate we are to have friends. We should not take them for granted. Nor should we close the door on new friendships. Cultivating friendships – new and old – is an art and a commitment.