Monthly Archives: March 2010

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Breakfast

We were like innocent lambs being lead to slaughter — except we have to take full responsibility for being slaughtered, since the man with the ax said, “Would you like to be slaughtered?  I’ll give you a cookie!” and we said, “A cookie?  Why, yes!  Sharpen the ax!”

What did we know?  All were heard was “cookie.”

Two weeks ago, while checking into my in-love’s (code word for in-laws, in our family) condo in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the nice lady at the front desk tells us she would be happy to invite us to a free private breakfast on Monday that would only last 75 minutes and include 60% off all of our activities for the week.  She said it like that, in a run-on sentence.

I turned to Mike and our guests, the fabulous Casey and Sarah Bueller (you may remember Sarah from her guest post) and said, “I know it’s a timeshare presentation, but all I heard was free breakfast and 60% off.  What did you hear?”

“Same,” they all replied, eager to rip these foolish salesmen off.  If they want to buy us breakfast and activities, they’re the suckers, after all.

“Besides,” I said.  “It’s only 75 minutes.  Just over an hour of semi-torture, but then we have major discounts.”

Oh how I want to go back in time and poison myself so I could never have uttered those words.

Monday Morning:  Free Breakfast

“Please fill out these brief forms and then you can head inside for breakfast,” the lady announces to us.  We dutifully began filling out our forms, until we reached a very personal question:  What is your annual income?

Sarah and I look at each other, indignant, and refuse to answer the question.  We turn our forms in and not 10 seconds later the woman turns to us.

“You didn’t fill in your income,” she says tartly.

“That’s right,” I reply.  “It’s none of your business.”

“It is if you want to attend this presentation,” she says.  “Why would we allow people with low incomes to get the incentives if we know they can’t afford the items for sale?”

We look at her with disdain.  I consider walking out.  But then my stomach growls.  I fill in the form, though purposely check the box two levels beneath our actual income, just to irritate her.

We sit down at the breakfast table and look around the dining room.

No.  No, they didn’t.  In the corner, tucked away, was a breakfast buffet.

“They don’t even serve us!?” I whisper to Siri, who is already irritated.

We fill our plates and then get a table…and the salesperson sits down at the fifth chair.  Let me give you an image of this individual.  She is wearing basic black and tan business casual slacks and a top, but has the makeup, cleavage and spike heels of a hooker on her first day.

After our breakfast, as we rise from the table, she rebukes us, “Please, leave a tip.  For the waiters!”  We all freeze in place as it occurs to us that not only were we her supposed guests, but we served ourselves at the buffet.  You have to be kidding me.

I drop five dollars on the table.

She leads us outside to a veranda and proceeds to pepper us with questions about our lifestyle and vacationing preferences.  We answer her canned questions until she lays it on the table: are you interested in purchasing a timeshare at this resort?

I see no need to make nice.  This was already miserable and it would be better to save us both the time.

“No, we’re not,” I tell her.  She stares at me, trying to remain calm.

“Then why are you here for this presentation?” she asks.

“For the incentives,” I reply, looking her in the eye.

“Well,” she said, after a moment, “that’s honest.  I can appreciate that.”

I’m glad one of us can.

Monday Morning: Post-Grounds Tour, Final Stage of Sales Presentation — 2 Hours In

Enter Mel, the salesman.

“Howdy folks, how ya doin’ this mornin’?” Mel greets us.  We stare in wonder at the figure before us.  He’s 65, portly, wearing a Tommy Bahamas knockoff shirt and more gold chains and rings than anyone outside of the Mob has any business wearing.

We gather at a table overlooking the ocean, and Mel calls for mimosas.  As the waiter pops the champagne bottle, everyone in the restaurant cheers.  It takes all of my strength not to stand up and yell, “Don’t applaud this!  Save us!  Rescue us from this torture!”

Mel proceeds to pull out a yellow legal pad of paper.  He begins explaining the premise of a timeshare, and uses the most unbelievable condensation any of us has ever experienced.

“When you buy a vacation space instead of renting one, you build something we call ‘equity,'” he explains.  Mike glances at Casey with a look that says, “Is this a joke?  I filled out on the form that I’m a BANKER.”

“You ever been deep-sea fishing, Siri?” Mel says, but he looks directly at Casey.  Oh my word, he thinks Casey is Sarah.

“No,” Casey replied.

“Why not?  You scared?” asks Mel.

I finally lose it and burst out laughing.  Yes!  He’s just insulted his potential clients!  It can’t get worse!

“And uh, you, Casey,” he says, looking at Sarah.  “You’re a lawyer, right?  Are you still articling?”

“I’m sorry, ” Sarah replies.  “Am I still what?”

“Articling.  You know, where you write articles for the first two years after you pass the bar,” he explains.  “I’m from Canada and that’s what we do.  It’s called paying your dues.”

Sarah stares at him.  No words come.

Mel goes back to his legal pad.  He tells us that Cabo is the most desired vacation destination in the world, nothing is better —  it’s a fact.  I immediately think of three greater vacation destinations that I’ve been to, but say nothing.

We soon realize that Mel’s main thrill in life is to write down the nouns of every sentence he says, and then circle or underline them once or twice to really drive the point home.  For instance, as he says, “You want to be an owner so you can build equity, and create memories with your families for a lifetime,” it ends up looking like:

owner                              equity                     memories                                        families                                      lifetime

I stare at the ocean trying to block out the insanity before me, and sip my mimosa.  I think of puppies and balloons and ice cream cones…anything but Mel’s legal pad.

I think of lying on a beach somewhere, warm and tropical.  That’s when it hits me that I am on a beach somewhere warm and tropical, but I am definitely not lying on it.  I am wasting precious hours of a week in Mexico with Mel, his legal pad, and his poor people skills.

“So,” he concluded. “What do you think?  Are you interested?”

We didn’t hesitate, but we weren’t rude either.  “I don’t think so,” we each replied.  “But thank you so much for your time.”

“That’s OK,” he said.  “I didn’t think you could afford it anyway.”

That’s when I spotted a nearby bird and whistled it over in the hope that it would peck my eyes out.

Tuesday, Mid-Morning

The four of us sailed high above the water in a 60% off parasail ride, gleefully shouting, “Thanks, Mel!” into the warm ocean air.


Filed under AwkWORD (Humor)

Oh the Places You’ll Go!

My friends Katie and Jimmy have the most romantic love story, and I just have to share it.

After graduating from university a couple of years prior, Katie was hard at work as an occupational therapist, helping people who’d had strokes or severe accidents rehabilitate their lives.  She was doing exactly what she’d gone to school for, was making great money, and would be considered a success by any account.

One problem:  she was incredibly bored.

Despite the success in her career, she knew she was missing an essential element of life — adventure.  She was single, had never traveled overseas, and suddenly felt an intense need to abandon her current life and explore the world.

She grabbed her friend Eileen and booked a trip to Ireland, taking three weeks off of work.

Since this was her first time abroad and she had absolutely no idea how to get around, she and Eileen booked a tour, something like Rick Steves would host: the bus, the sights, the strangers.

Ah, the strangers.  Katie wasn’t one to gab with every person she met, but three weeks with just Eileen would be a long three weeks indeed, so she chatted with the fellow tourists from time to time.

One man in particular felt the need to give Katie some advice.  His name was O.B., and he was an adorable elderly man who worked as a judge in the States. She told him about her big adventure and how she didn’t want to return home to her occupational therapy job.  She wasn’t ready to settle down yet.

“Why don’t you head to Sun Valley, Idaho?” he asked her.  “Gorgeous ski resort.  Plenty of work.  Head there for a few months just to get through winter and then you can see how you feel.”

Katie listened to his idea, but quickly dismissed it.  She’d never even been to Idaho.

Upon returning to the States, Katie reconsidered Sun Valley.  She didn’t want to return to work, so she quit her job.  She asked a friend to join her for a winter in Idaho, and they jumped in the car headed west.

Sun Valley turned out to be a bigger adventure than Ireland.  She got a job working in a restaurant at the top of the mountain, but after a month of 25 degree mornings riding a chairlift up a mountain plus falling from that chairlift once, she quickly realized she needed a job that didn’t involve upper-mountain transportation.  She soon started work at a single-lane bowling alley.  It would seem that luck was not on her side, as even though she made it through a chairlift fall, a chubby 12-year-old boy skiing out of control crashed into her — breaking her back.  She then worked at the bowling alley on crutches.

But it didn’t stop her social life.  She was going on three dates a week with fun men she met.  She met celebrities who were in town to ski.  She was having the time of her life.

After those three winter months passed, she was convinced this was where she was supposed to be and told her friend she wouldn’t be returning with her.  Her friend needed the job she had left, so she headed back alone.

…meanwhile, a year before Katie arrived, Jimmy had made nearly the exact same decision.  He had just graduated from college and was ready to leave responsibility in his dust.  Just like Katie, he decided to head to Sun Valley for a few months.  And just like Katie, he decided to stay indefinitely.

He got a job at a catering company, pulling double-shifts and working late hours to make rent and have some beer money.  He had a blast for a year.  He dated, but he didn’t meet the girl for him.

Not long after Katie decided to stay in Sun Valley, some mutual friends suggested to her that she meet Jimmy.

“Have you met my buddy Jimmy?” one asked her.

“Jimmy who?” she replied.  It was a small resort town, after all.

“Jimmy Carter,” he answered with a straight face.

“Oh right,” she replied sarcastically.  “Yes, I’m very close with the president.”

But it turns out that was his actual name, so she got over it.  They went on a date.  And another.  And another.

Jimmy claims that the moment he first kissed Katie on a street corner after a date, he knew without a doubt that she was the one.

One year to the day after their first date, they got married.  Ten months after that, they had a baby girl.  Three years after that, they had another baby girl.  And four years after that, they had their last baby — another girl.

I am that second baby girl.  You see, I lied, a little bit.  This isn’t the story of my friends Katie and Jimmy.  It’s the story of my parents, Alyson and Warren.  And 30 years ago today, they promised to stay together for as long as they both shall live.  I think they’re well on their way, wouldn’t you agree?

Happy 30th Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

(Here they are in Venice in summer 2009.  PS – for those of you too young to know, Warren Burger was the US Chief Justice when my parents met, which is why my mom thought my father’s name was a joke.)


Filed under The WORD (Faith)

“I Give You Two Weeks.”

Please welcome my newest guest blogger, Amy Hofmann.  Amy lives and works in Philadelphia, PA at Penn Wood Middle School where she inspires seventh and eighth graders with her brilliance as a librarian.  She has a dry sense of humor, likes a good beer, and is a proud member of the redheaded population (see photo at bottom of article).  Amy and I met as neighbors in Lancaster, PA shortly before I moved to Seattle.  We have been friends for almost 13 years, despite 12 of them being spent on opposite sides of the country.

Here she shares her shocking entry into life as an inner-city school librarian.  Names, except Amy’s, have been changed.

Fact: The Philadelphia school system is one of the worst in the nation.  The Southwest region, in particular, contains some of the poorest schools in a largely failing district.  The statistics on school violence, poverty, inept teachers and failing students are vast.

True or False:  Fresh out of graduating with a degree in library science, I got a job in the Southwest region Philadelphia school system.

Answer:  Undeniably, this is very, very true.

Allow me to regale you with some of my real life experiences working in the trenches.

My Introduction to William F. Harrity School

I started work at Harrity in early February of 2009.  I walked in the first day and was promptly told that I would have to pick up the 7th graders from the playground and bring them to their classroom to teach them, since the library was being used by a second grade whose classroom had flooded a few weeks before.

Sure, that makes sense: teach library and research skills in a classroom where there are no books, encyclopedias or computers to support the lessons.

So I made my way up to the third floor with 30 children who were, for the most part, much larger than me and most definitely more street smart than me.  We tolerated each other pretty well, until one of them walked himself out of the classroom.

I followed, telling him to come back in.  He turned around.

“Who you?” he said.

“I’m Ms. Hofmann, the new librarian, why don’t you come on back into the classroom?” I replied.

“Pshhh.”  He looked me up and down.  “I give you….hmmmmm….two weeks.”  And he was gone.

Seriously?  Is this Dangerous Minds?  What in the world have I gotten myself into?  Ahh yes, but then I was still fresh, un-jaded, and ready to take on the kids the rest of the world had already cast aside.  “I’ll conquer this,” I thought, “no big deal.”


Flash forward to the end of March.  I have regained control of the use of my library, it’s a Friday afternoon, and I once again have the 7th grade giants (I say giants because I’m now teaching in a school with real, age-appropriate 7th graders.  I’ve concluded that I was actually teaching 17-year-old 7th graders at Harrity.).

In order to keep everyone calm, I told them that they could have free time.  This lasted for about 30 minutes, until Marcus came over and told me he needed to tell me something in the hallway.  Well, I may have been brand new, but I wasn’t stupid.  I told him whatever he needed to tell me, he could tell me in the library.  He compromised with talking to me in the back of the library, where, “it was private.”

The next thing I knew large, wooden chairs were flying through the air, tables were being pushed up against the book shelves and a full fledged girl-fight had erupted.  I quickly ran to my phone to call the office– where of course, no one picked up.  After three frantic calls with no response I grabbed my cell phone and called 911, shaking the whole time.

Finally, our lone security officer arrived with a principal in tow.  As soon as they showed, I hung up on 911 and ran to the aid of a teacher who’d tried to break up the melee and found herself sliding face first across the carpet and missing a shoe.  Administration lined the students up and then called for more principals (we had three).  Then they personally escorted each student out of the building and off of school grounds.  Meanwhile, I was shaking and 911 was still calling me back asking me about my emergency.

You’d think that the large-and-in-charge 7th graders would be the worst of my problems.  If only that were true.  Instead, the biggest thorn in my side came in the form of one of the smallest children in the school.

My Introduction to Saif

Saif Halston was the fastest, sneakiest, and one of the smartest third graders in the school.  The first day I taught his class he decided he wanted nothing to do with the reading of How to Eat Fried Worms and decided instead to clean out his desk.  I responded by removing his desk from his reach.  Of course, this display of authority made him really happy, so he got up and ran out of the room.

I thought that was a problem.

Turns out getting him to leave when I wanted him to was even harder.  His class was one of the worst in the school and constantly spent their library period running around the room, crawling under tables and generally wreaking havoc.

(I would have said they were the worst, but that honor goes to the 4th grade class who lost library privileges altogether for throwing large dictionaries across the room at each other.  They’d been through  three teachers by the time I showed up in February, the first of whom had been incapacitated due to a stroke at age 40…you put the rest of the pieces together.)

Saif often terrorized me by refusing to leave when his class’s time was (finally) up each day, choosing instead to climb up the book shelves and run around the perimeter of the library on top of them.

Reread that last sentence and then think back to your experiences in a library.

One day as I dismissed my final class and walked them outside, I forgot to lock the door to the library.  I came up to find the projector on, displaying some sort of music website, with the speakers blaring hard core rap.  Saif and his little crony were jumping from table to table and of course, refusing to leave.  After several failed attempts trying to get them to leave, I decided it was time to default to my last resort:


That’s right.  I spied Saif’s silent little brother, a kindergartner, and also probably the most precious thing in the world to Saif, taking in the insanity from a corner.  I walked up to him, held out my hand and said, “Come with me.”  He said nothing, but reached his tiny little hand up to mine.  We headed out the door.

“GET YOUR HANDS OFF MY LITTLE BROTHER!!!” I heard Saif shout. Victory was mine.  Saif was off the tables and out the door after me faster than I thought possible.  I quickly released Kumar’s hand and ran back in the library, pulling the locked door quickly shut behind me.  They slammed their bodies into it a few times, but eventually tired of it and went home.

This was my real life, folks.  My “normal” day-to-day.  I had resorted to kidnapping small children in order to get what I wanted.

Saif spent most of his time at school “running the halls.”  Because of this, he was often suspended from school for breaking the rules.  However, because he was, at age 8, pretty much solely responsible for his 5 year old brother, he came to school every day anyway, to drop him off.  Then he’d sneak into the building and hide out for a while until the halls cleared and then would start running around again, causing chaos in just about every classroom.

Eventually, the administration realized that Saif’s daily runs were actually a problem.  Since he was pretty much the fastest creature on Earth, they came to the decision that instead of wasting their time trying to catch him, they would send the 7th graders who had a penchant for wandering out after him.  Besides, those boys could pick him up and sling him over their shoulders, kicking and screaming, without fear of a lawsuit against them.

Makes perfect sense, right?

I am sad to report that Saif didn’t make it through until the end of the school year.  About two weeks prior, he was once again suspended for cutting class and running the halls.  The following is an excerpt from an email I sent to a friend regarding the incident:

Best Harrity news of the day?  Saif was suspended today…showed up…like always…and they found him…

On the roof.

I heart Harrity.

I guess he wanted to make sure I’d never forget him.

He succeeded.


Filed under AwkWORD (Humor)