Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Haunted House

When I was a little girl, I was scared of everything. I would lie awake at night and wonder when The Things in the closet and under the bed would come out. I knew they always waited until I was asleep, and if Mom or Dad came in, they would cleverly disappear into another dimension, but they were there: No doubt about it.

Halloween was always an especially trying holiday because of my ability to scare easily. I loved the excitement, however, which was always mixed with a tiny bit of terror, too. My grandmother was a sewing genius, and every year she would sew us children costumes that would regularly win Halloween contests. One year I wore a gorgeous yellow ballroom gown from the late 1800s that would rival any professional Hollywood production. Of course I won that year: It would have been hard for the judges to give out first place to anyone else. I stood out in a sea of cheap, store-bought costumes.

One Halloween, this same grandma decided to take my little brother and I to the mall on some errand or other. In the middle of the mall, in front of a large department store, a haunted house had been set up. It was still early in the morning, and there were very few people in the mall, so there were no customers, no lines, and all was still except for the gruesome ticket-taker.

"A haunted house!" said my grandmother, clearly delighted. "You kids should go!"

My brother was two years younger than I, and just as much of a scaredy-cat as I. We both shook our head violently, but Grandma persisted in insisting that we should enjoy the 'delights' of the season. How we ended up getting bullied into it, I'll never know, but suddenly we found ourselves enterering the dreaded haunted house without Grandma, cautiously looking about at the entrance and slowly tiptoeing in.

My memory dims as to what we saw there, but I'm certain that it really didn't amount to much, according to modern-day standards. We probably had the usual things popping out at us, and saw the ordinary vampires and ghouls. But what made it especially unnerving is that we were the ONLY people in the entire haunted house, and we'd never been in one before, and we didn't have an adult with us.

About halfway through, completely terrified and with the dreadful belief that we were never going to get out, my brother and I finally decided we would crash down an entire wall to get out (like something out of Scooby Doo). We kept thrusting ourselves repeatedly and futilely against this one plywood wall, amidst screams and flashing lights, until I was tapped on the shoulder.

I turned and saw a mummy looming over us. I screeched as well as Jamie Lee Curtis could ever hope to screech, and the mummy motioned placatingly toward the exit. You could tell it felt keenly sorry for the two trembling, bewildered children that kept trying to claw their way out. I'm sure the actor underneath the rags was wondering if we were residents of a local asylum out on day passes.

We bolted for the exit and ran so fast that once we were out we couldn't stop the momentum. We fell and skidded across the marble tiles, tangled up together, arms and legs flailing as we sailed along. A baseball player sliding for home couldn't have done any better. Our long skid ended at the feet of our grandmother, who was laughing so hard she could barely stand up.

I've often wondered if anyone else has ever seen such a neurotic reaction and if so, how it was handled.

I recently took my son to ZooBoo, the Lowry Park Zoo haunted house extravaganza. We went through some pretty lame haunted houses, with an exit halfway through so that children who are easily scared could quit the show. What a great idea! Of course we didn't need it: My son sauntered through with calm amiability.

I look back with fondness on my wonderful, crazy grandmother who is the Patron Saint of Halloween and April Fool's Day. She added humor and adventure to our lives. Now that I recall my first Haunted House, I admit we must have been quite a comical sight... but it took me years to see the humor in the situation.

I wonder if the mummy ever fully recovered.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Hemingway Home in Key West

As many of my faithful readers know, I recently went on a trip to Key West. During that trip, I visited Ernest Hemingway's home. Here are some pictures that we took when we were in the home.

Notice the cat, who is The Cat used in much of the marketing literature for the home. He is voice-trained and will readily leap onto Hemingway's bed on command. He is one many of the six-toed cats that roam the property; all of whom are descendants of Hemingway's beloved pet.

Friday, October 26, 2007


I walk into the billiard hall, glancing about for my good friend, Trace. He's a brilliant pool player, and he's invited me to stop by tonight to watch everyone play.

Trace and I go a long ways' back. We have a romantic past that has grown to a deep, affectionate friendship. We know each other, sometimes too well. I know what he's thinking when I look at him, and when he walks up to me with that overstudied air of casualness, I know he's glad to see me. I feel that I stand out like a daisy in a factory parking lot, so it eases my anxiety a little.

We sit down and chat for a minute. Trace had warned me of the cigarette smoke and wow, is he right. Everyone but Trace and I are virtually chainsmokers, slamming a beer between each cigarette and only giving up both when it's their turn at the pool table. The smoke is almost overpowering, and my eyes start to water.

We are waved over by the rest of Trace's friends, who make room for me to sit and watch. Throughout the entire room there is nothing but pool tables and players. There are at least 10 pool tables lined up, with players shooting back-to-back with each other. It's a place for fun, it's a place to get serious about pool, it's a place for amateurs and pool sharks.

Trace is at home here.

Trace's friend Vicki is a tough-talking, wise-cracking woman from up north. She wears glasses and her hair is pulled back tightly into a ponytail and I am guessing it's to keep her hair out of the way when she shoots. She sits to my left, and Trace is to my right. Vicki and I discuss a variety of unimportant things, and decide that we're going to like each other. She fills me in on the rest of the group between swigs of beer, drags on her cigarette, and easy banter with the others around us.

Everyone has a 'level' that shows their expertise. Trace is pretty high, and he has told me privately that he keeps it as low as possible so that he's never under much pressure to perform. Most of the players range lower than he is, anyway.

Hank is a very friendly, flirtatious businessman. He's a decent guy, and quite bright. He's older than the rest of the group, and he sees pool as a mathematical challenge that he hasn't mastered yet. As the night goes on, he drinks more and more until he confesses to me that he's wasted. Still, he shoots a good game of pool and beats his opponent.

Two heavyset women sit on the other side of Trace. One of them has very badly-streaked blond hair. She makes it obvious that she's interested in Trace, desperately doing what she can to keep his attention. She is squeezed tightly into jeans and a shirt that is at least two sizes too small, which displays her boobs with as much alacrity as an Ace bandage.

Blondie won't make eye contact with me, apparently fearing that I'm a dreaded rival. She tries to strike up a conversation with Trace about his favorite band and even suggestively mouths lyrics to a couple of the songs as they blare throughout the pool hall.

I don't care. Trace doesn't belong to me, and he is on his own here. Trace remains uninterested but polite, as he always is with most women. Trace lets very few people get to know him. He is an island unto himself.

There are a couple others there, but I don't get a chance to say more than hello to them.

My eyes water the whole time. I wonder what I could possibly look like, and then Trace gets up to play and Hank sits down next to me. "You have VERY beautiful eyes," says Hank. I thank him for the compliment. Hank says "So, what's up with you and Trace?"

I don't know how to explain us, so I say "We've been friends for many years. At one time, we were more than friends."

"Ah! So you're back together again? The make-up sex has to be great," says Hank.

"It's not like that," I assure Hank, but I can see that he wants it to be like that, so I let it go.

"You know," says Hank, "Trace is a great favorite with the ladies. They're all attracted to his dark, mysterious nature and his love of music. I'm not saying he goes home with any of them, but they'd sure like him to!"

I know. I know Trace, and I tell Hank that Trace has always been like that. He has this magnetism that even he isn't fully aware of. Sometimes it's been to his detriment. But Trace is a good guy and a romantic at heart. He's very picky, and doesn't do one-night stands.

As we talk, Trace is playing against his opponent. I watch him, and knowing him as well as I do, I see he's completely disconnected from the game, from the pool hall, from everything. Hank says "Trace keeps losing! This isn't a good night for him."

I joke about bringing him bad luck, but I know better. I even say to Hank "Look at the way he stands there - Trace isn't into this at all tonight." Hank doesn't pay attention.

Trace loses for good, everyone congratulates his opponent, they shake hands, and the evening is over.

As Trace walks me out to the car, we talk about little stuff and I thank him for inviting me along.

"You saw that I threw that match on purpose, didn't you?" asks Trace. I nod, and then ask "Why?"

"I wasn't into it," Trace says dismissively. "And besides, I wanted her to win."

Again, I ask why.

"Because it will let her go up to a higher level, and it'll make it easier for me to beat her the next time," says Trace. "And remember, I never want to score out too high."

Monday, October 22, 2007

My Trip to Key West

I went with a friend to Key West for part of this weekend, and I didn't take a single picture. Why? Because it rained the entire time, with a few brief interludes of sunshine.

But rain or shine, I was quite unimpressed.

Although I'm a Florida native, I've only been to the Keys twice: Once was seven years ago, when I did a little snorkeling and saw the sunset off Key West as I was looking toward Cuba. The other time was this weekend.

Despite the valiant efforts of their tourist board and a few intrepid citizens, there really isn't much to do in the Keys that you couldn't do (and enjoy as much or more) in Miami.

You see, the Keys are beautiful: I mean gorgeous. Their water is an incredible blue or blue green (depending on how deep it is). It's crystal clear and an absolute treat to scuba dive or snorkel in. The fishing is wonderful, the animals are incredible, and there are shipwrecks to see. So, if you like water activities, you really need to visit the Keys.

But don't expect to be entertained.

Oh sure, there are some quaint shops and at least 3 drag queen (DQ) shows on Duval Street in Key West. Being as the drag queen shows are apparently the ONLY shows in Key West, if you want to have a couple of drinks and take in a show, you have to subject yourself to at least one drag queen show.

The first one we saw at Aqua was pretty offensive. Every drag queen had to grab every straight man's crotch in the entire nightclub, so that by the end of the show, there wasn't a single male crotch that remained unmolested. After accosting the clientelle, the DQs would make comments about how large (or small) their victim's really were. After a while, such puerile 'jokes' grew stale.

I'm amazed that Aqua hasn't been sued for assault and battery yet. However, the wait staff was nice enough and the drag queens DID put on a highly energized and entertaining show. That is, if you are OK with having your penis caressed by another man while you're both under the spotlight. Interestingly enough, they never tried that with any of the gay clients there. I guess the DQs were afraid they might like it and attempt to return the favor.

We left when the show dragged on interminably and the raunchiness grew as rancid as a piece of fish that's been rotting in the trashcan for three days.

The second drag show was further down the street at Lateda (pronounced 'la-ti-da'). It was so boring that it wasn't worth staying through, either (although we paid over $50 for the unique experience of being bored at a drag show). The two men in the show rehashed some trite and dull Broadway tunes. Unlike the DQs in Aqua, these guys attempted to sing themselves, rather than lip synch. It was a wasted effort, the tunes dragged on (pun intended) and I was almost asleep at the bar before I voted that we cash in early for the night. My friend agreed, and so off we went.

Strangely, one of the DQs in the Lateda show is a performer named Randy Roberts. His site shows him as thinner and more attractive, with a variety of interesting costume changes. Like Britney Spears, apparently he's grown more fond of food and less fond of work. There were no costume changes (he wore a simple red evening gown), and Randy was more fond of ranting on and on about gay marriage than he was on impersonating anyone or anything. He's apparently slated to go on One Life to Live soon. Oh joy. He will really liven it all up, won't he. *yawn*

The only thing worse than Randy was his partner, who had less sex appeal and voice talent than Ethel Merman.

On the other hand, the food in Key West was generally good, and sometimes great.

The famous Sloppy Joe's (once frequented by Hemingway) was still serving their signature Sloppy Joe (it was quite tasty) as well as all other types of standard, crowd-pleasing fare. Their conch fritters with lime-mustard dipping sauce is a sure-bet.

Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurant was quite similar to Sloppy Joe's, and served a rather mundane cheeseburger in tribute to his famous song. If you want a margarita, go to Jimmy Buffet's. If you want to eat, find something elsewhere. It's not as if you'll suffer, but why waste the money and calories when there's something better to be found?

The Hog's Breath Saloon was a very typical type of bar. How it gained a reputation of being a 'biker bar', I'll never know. All types crowded in there, and as the evening wore on, you could see and hear the bikini contest going on in the outdoor portion of the bar. This is another example of a bar with the standard food and the usual drinks you will find elsewhere. The only distinctive features are the name and the (apparently undeserved) reputation. But as Key West is the ultimate destination for alcoholics, it's probably comforting for them to know that there is seemingly no shortage of alcohol at the Hog's Breath Saloon.

The Hard Rock Cafe in Key West is a cut above some of the others. The food is quite excellent. My friend declared their pulled pork sandwich to be the best ever, and I found their bacon and bleu cheese burger to be exceptional (as is their service). They have the added attraction of being located in an old, haunted house where the original owner hung himself many years ago, so the second floor's women's bathroom is sometimes given to cold spots, knockings, and repeated door slammings. I went up there myself to meet the ghost, but he apparently decided not to put in an appearance that evening. Maybe he was at a drag show.

An unexpected exception was a restaurant that all the locals repeatedly recommended: Alice's. Their food was light, interesting, creative, and exceptional to the usual fare. Their breakfast menu ranged from a smoked salmon eggs benedict to light and fluffy omelettes. Their dinner menu looked fascinating, but we didn't have a chance to try it out. However, don't wear anything that you want kept clean: Alice apparently doesn't believe in cleaning. The seats were filthy, as were the cushions adorning them. I would like to believe the kitchen doesn't follow suit.

There are many nice little shops up and down the street, some showcasing amazing artistic talent. There is also jewelry of all types and descriptions, for any budget. I picked up a couple unusual things while there, and I'm still enjoying looking them over.

I also had a chance to look over a gorgeous handmade, hand-painted silk blouse for $4,500. I was indulged by the owner and his wife, who apparently have many connections in the artistic community (and buyers, too!). The wife hand-looms many of her materials, and their shop houses contributions from other skilled textile craftsmen and women.

The Mel Fisher exhibit, the Hemingway house (and the lighthouse nearby) are interesting and worth a brief visit. However, in typical Key West style, there is truly not much to be seen and you can see everything in each exhibit within 1-2 hours, max.

So, if you are going to visit the Keys, go with the intent to spend a day in Key West (don't forget to see the sunset celebration in Mallory Square). Then spend a couple of days on another key where it will be cheaper to stay and you can try many of the water sports available. That is what *I* intend to do the next time that I visit there.

(Incidentally, I rented a car from Avis via Priceline (undoubtedly the cheapest way to get a car) and had a wonderful experience. What a far cry they are from Enterprise Rent-A-Car!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Enterprise-Rent-A-Car ( ERAC ) Nightmare

My mom was in a terrible car accident some time ago. She was hit by a drunk driver, and although she was OK, the car ended up in the shop for a month and a half. Why the insurance company didn't total it, I'll never know.

So, when Mom asked me to recommend a rental car company to her, I recommended Enterprise-Rent-A-Car (ERAC).

I should have known better.

Mom asked me to find out about rates, so I called the local branch near to us, explained the situation, and asked the manager how cheap we could get. He told me he could get me a car for about $10 a day! I considered this to be a great kindness on his part, and thanked him greatly for it. I even went there with a witness the next day, and he reconfirmed the offer. Mom also called, spoke to the manager, and was told the same thing that we were told. So, naturally, Mom chose to give her business to ERAC.

Mom had the car for a month and a half. When she finally returned it, she was hit with a bill for $1,100!!! In a panic, she called me to sort it all out. I was sure there had been some mistake.

There wasn't.

The manager had Mom sign a contract full of numbers and small print. What Mom thought she was signing for was a car for $9.99 plus taxes, which would come out to roughly $15. Since her insurance company covered rentals up to $30 a day, she thought there would be no problem.

However, Mom had actually signed for a car for $36.99 a day! The additional charges were unnecessary insurance charges on top of that. And, apparently it's the additional charges that Mom believed to be the charges for the car itself.

Now, since the insurance company only covers up to $30 a day, Mom is responsible for a minimum of $7 a day, plus unnecessary insurance, for 30 days. But it gets even better! Mom's insurance company won't cover the rental after 30 days, so Mom is stuck with additional charges of $36.99 a day plus the unnecessary insurance! Although Mom had known they probably wouldn't extend the coverage, she never expected that she was paying more than $15 a day.

And this is how we reached the total bill of $1,100.

So, Mom asked me to step in.

I went back to the branch last Friday, and asked the manager to cut her some slack. Mom and Dad are not young any more, and they can't afford to drop that kind of money around. Mom was a victim already - why would they make her a victim twice? Besides, everyone knows that ERAC is flexible with their pricing. But the branch manager wouldn't budge. He even told me that I should know better than to believe that a car could be rented for only $9.99! I was insulted that he would imply that we were lying or being manipulative, and I told him so. But we were unable to continue our conversation: He was so swamped with customers that he begged to call me back.

He didn't call me back that Friday.

He didn't call me on Monday.

He didn't call me on Tuesday.

So, on Tuesday afternoon I went with a friend to that ERAC branch to get some answers. We were told that the manager was currently in interviews, so we asked for the name of his boss instead. We were given the name and told where his office was, so we drove to see him. He wasn't there. Where was he? Behind closed doors with the branch manager, interviewing employees.

So, we drove back to the original ERAC branch and insisted on meeting with The Boss. A girl went back to deliver our message and came out to tell us that he wasn't available at the moment but would be out in 30-45 minutes. As I own my own company, I couldn't sit around cooling my heels forever. So, I left my number and asked for him to call me.

He never did.

I also left a message for The Boss's Boss. He did call me. And, he gave me the usual run-around. He also made the same insulting insinuation: *I* should know better than to hold them to their word! After all, who would believe they could get a rental car for only $9.99 a day?!

Well, WE would believe that, obviously, since were were told that.

But The Boss's Boss continued to insist that they were going to hold Mom to the contract which she mistakenly signed. I pleaded for him to at least drop the rates to $30 (which I know they can do) so that most of the charges would go away or be lessened. He finally resignedly said he would call Mom in the next day or so and try to work something out with her. I had a witness to this phone call, incidentally: I had him on speaker phone the entire time.

An hour later, I got a call from the branch manager. I was honest, and told him whom I had spoken with. I emphasized it was nothing personal, but perhaps some good would come out of it, since The Boss's Boss had told me he was going to call Mom and try to work something out with her.

"Um, when did you speak to The Boss's Boss?" asked the Branch Manager.

"About half an hour ago," I replied.

"That's odd," said the Branch Manager, "he just wrote a note in here to proceed with the charges."

Was The Boss's Boss lying to me to merely placate me then? Apparently. Since he was intending to blatantly lie, he certainly should have brought the Branch Manager into the deception. Obviously his goal was to make the nuisance go away, and promise anything to get me off the phone.

This is a simple game of bait and switch, and I am greatly disappointed. It is now obvious that the customer comes dead last, and the branches will do anything to make a profit off a helpless customer who goes forward on what they are verbally promised.

Because there are so many witnesses to the Branch Manager’s promise of $10 a day, I am amazed that anyone persists in insisting that my mom pays the full amount that he has chosen to charge her.

I stumbled across a website called Failing Enterprise. There you can read of similar scams and atrocities which ERAC perpetrates on their unsuspecting customers. Their employees don't fare any better. And to make matters even worse, ERAC just purchased Alamo and National. So, our ability to find quality customer service in a rental car environment is lessening.

Avis, anyone?

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Unnecessary Sadism in Halloween

It wasn't in my time, but there are people who remember a kinder, gentler Halloween.

Halloween was once far removed from it's pagan origins. Children dressed up as their favorite characters, and the scariest thing you saw on Halloween night was your next-door neighbor dressed as a wicked witch with green face paint. They walked, unaccompanied, door-to-door throughout their neighborhood. They were given apples and homemade cookies and other treats and could eat them without worry.

Many of us long for those days.

But a new trend started in the 1960s. With the onslaught of some truly gory movies, Halloween began to take on an unsettling edge. And in the 1970s, we began to hear of children getting razors and needles in apples, and poisoned or drug-laced treats. Suddenly we could no longer accept Mrs. Bunicetti's homemade cookies, and we had to trick-or-treat in packs or with an adult.

Haunted houses began to take a darker turn. No longer were there merely ghosts, goblins, and witches... now there were demons and demented serial killers, blood, and gore.

The costumes began to reflect this as well. Now the peaceful ritual of Grandma giving out candy was brought to a screeching halt when she opened the door to see a little ghost, a goblin, and... a bloody Freddy Krueger with entrails waiting on her doorstep.

"Oh buck up, it's a brave new world," you might say scornfully. "Who takes this stuff seriously, anyway?"

David Rudd of Texas Tech University actually sees such things as a benefit. "If exposed repeatedly to a fearsome stimulus, the brain will get used to it and no longer experience it as frightening. This is a key behind cognitive therapies for anxiety dysfunctions such as phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, where a person's system overreacts to perceive something as threatening when it is not, Rudd said. When such cognitive therapies are combined with medicines, their success rate at improving symptoms "is 80 percent," he added," according to Pravda, the Russian government's news machine.

But this has a much more worrisome side to it. As David Rudd admits, we (as humans) grow used to such atrocities with repeated exposure. Is it any coincidence that we also have grown more inhumane?

According to The Disaster Center, "The United States Crime Index Rates Per 100,000 Inhabitants went from 1,887.2 in 1960 to 5,897.8 in 1991.

By 1991 the crime rate was 313% the 1960 crime rate.

In 1996 your risk of being a victim of a crime in the United States was 5.079%, and of a violent crime 0.634%. In 1960 these rates were 1.89% of being a victim of a crime and 0.161% of becoming victim of a violent crime."

I recently went to Bush Garden's Hallowscream, and I was very surprised to see how young some of the children were who were there, gleefully walking through haunted houses dripping with blood and gore. I have a friend who recently took his daughter (I didn't approve). You see, these weren't simply scary things to see: They all had a decided and studied sadism to them. In one venue, we saw people operating on someone who was awake (torture). In another, we saw someone dismembering a corpse in bloody glory. And these venues weren't the exception.

I took my own son to Zoo Boo, a haunted house adventure at our local zoo. There were some delightfully scary haunted houses without gore. We declined going through the one haunted house that did have it.

I am not calling for a Halloween removed of it's sadistic trappings. The horse is out of the barn, and there is no getting it back inside again. But I am calling for all parents to rethink what they are exposing their children to. If enough parents refuse to allow their children to participate in viewing gory movies or wearing viciously depraved costumes, the market would dry up.

And, perhaps if the sadism was reduced from Halloween, we might be surprised to see what Grandma would say is merely common sense: A reduction in crime statistics, too.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Mistaken Driver's License Suspension

My friend, Esme, has an unusual arrangement with the father of her child. She pays him child support, although they largely split the time spent with him, and share many of the responsibilities. This has worked out well for them both, and they're both dedicated parents. Although it hasn't always been easy, they get along relatively well.

But recently the State of Florida has changed the way they collect child support and it's causing havoc among those who pay it. Let me give you the rest of the story from Esme's perspective:

Saturday morning, I was driving down the road after a trip to the grocery store. My trunk was full of frozen food, and my boyfriend and I were happily discussing our plans for Sunday. Suddenly I saw a police car in my back mirror. As my tags were up to date, my insurance was paid, I was driving the speed limit and obeying the laws, I didn't think I had a thing to worry about, so I paid no attention.

Suddenly, the police car's lights began flashing, and I realized I was being pulled over! When the policeman came up to the window, I asked him what I was being pulled over for. Perhaps, I thought wildly, I am being pulled over due to my car missing a couple of hubcaps that had been thrown off on the highway somewhere during a long trip down the coast.

He asked if this was my car, and I said that it was. Now I began thinking that someone had somehow reported it stolen and it was all a mix-up which could be easily solved. But no - he then told me that he had pulled me over because according to his records, my driver's license had been revoked.

I was shocked and gasped "What?! Not AGAIN?!" as my boyfriend echoed me.

"You didn't know of this?" asked the cop.

"NO!" I said forcefully. "They've done this before, and I had to go to court to prove that it was a mistake the FIRST time! THIS time I have paid two months in advance, got a notice in the mail, and called them to verify that it was indeed a mistake and the suspension wasn't happening. But of course, it's happened AGAIN!"

The policeman actually believed me, but had to still issue me a citation that he said could be addressed in court and, if I could prove I wasn't guilty, I could settle it with the judge. In the meantime, I couldn't drive and the entire weekend was before me.

My boyfriend switched seats with me (I was thankful that someone was with me or I would've had to pay for a taxi to get home). Upon arriving home, I tore apart my house to find the information proving what I'd said, and also downloading history of payments made from the computer. The rest of the weekend was overshadowed by the fact that I couldn't drive and had to rely on others to get me where I needed to go.

On Monday, I walked into the child support office armed with my information. Now, picture the friendly environment of the child support office for a moment: Every employee is bored and resents you. They all feel that if you're there, you are undoubtedly a deadbeat of some sort, and it's their job to punish you. You could sum up the aura that they give out as mere derision: You're just a waste of oxygen on planet Earth. To enforce this feeling, they all deal with you from behind bullet-proof glass. There are little openings to shove paperwork and (presumably) bribes through, but that's as close as you'll get to any human contact. All interraction involves you peering blurrily at them through the scratches and smears which are never cleaned from the glass on either side.

Another little trick they have is the interminable wait. Everyone starts in room number 5. You wait there until someone comes in (your wait can sometimes be upwards of 15 - 30 minutes before someone shows up), then they take your basic information and either send you back to the waiting room or into another room where you repeat your wait. Due to the bulletproof glass, you can't leap across and strangle anyone, and all complaints fall on deaf ears, so the waiting room is full of resigned victims.

I went up to the receptionist at the window with my boyfriend in tow. "Reason you're here?" she asked loudly and flatly.

"Er, I'm here because my license was suspended incorrectly," I said hesitantly through the bulletproof glass. I resisted the urge to duck down and speak a little more clearly through the hole at the base of the glass.

She gave me the skeptical look that they're all trained to give you there. "Siddown," she instructed. "Someone'll call you when they're ready." A moment later, she said "Yer in luck! She's ready to see ya in room number 5."

So, we trudged back to room number 5.

We waited the standard minimum of 15 minutes before an elderly woman tottered in, carefully balancing a jelly donut and a cup of coffee. "OH!" she said, startled by our unexpected appearance, apparently. She almost spilled her coffee.

"Did anyone tell you we were here?" I asked.

"NO!" she said. "If I'd known you were here, then I wouldn't have stopped for coffee and a donut."

I began to tell her what was going on, but my boyfriend wisely stopped me. "She's only the information gatherer, hon," he said, grimly.

"Well, I'm not ONLY..." but then the woman trailed off and pushed a form to me to fill out with my name, address, and the reason for my visit. Yup, she was ONLY. She then referred us to Room #4.

We sat in Room #4 for at least another 15 minutes. During that time, we stared at a poster of a determinedly cheerful blue-skinned blond who is supposedly representative of the people who help you with your child support problems. I tried to match her with anyone in the office. Failing that, I tried to match her with my mental picture of anyone I'd spoken with in the main Tallahassee office. Finally I gave up. Maybe it was simply the blue skin (possibly due to a printer's error?) but I think it was the cheery demeanor that threw me. Incidentally, this blue-skinned blond is posted in each room, leering at the victims as they wait.

Finally a very nice man popped in, telling us that he'd already faxed a request to retract the driver's license suspension.

"Well then, you already have realized that this was a mistake," my boyfriend piped up.

Yes, they had. The man informed me that this mistake is very common now that a new system has been institutionalized. In fact, some people have been hauled away in handcuffs, all due to a mistaken suspension. And, since you can't sue the State of Florida, you must simply bend over and take it.

"We've been trying to get Tallahassee to listen," the harried man explained. "We see this constantly now. But they think this new system is "it" and they don't want to hear about it."

By now, an hour of my time had expired while I corrected their mistake. Happily, I didn't have to go get my license reinstated because the cop hadn't taken it from me. However, as this representative pointed out to me, if I had to replace my driver's license with a new one, it would have been another $50! Apparently I was luckier than many have been.

I've thought about calling Tallahassee and complaining, but what good would really come out of it? First, I'll have to wade through an exceedingly defective voicemail system. Second, the phone lines are staffed with attendants who only work from scripts and will not deviate from them except to politely tell you that whatever you really need help on is simply not their job and they can't give you an answer. If you ask to speak to a supervisor, they say the same thing.

I have begun to realize why they all work behind bullet-proof glass.

Monday, October 01, 2007

New TV Show "Aliens in America" Created to Lower our Resistance

Our modern liberals face some problems as they battle their way toward power. One of the primary ones is Islamic terrorism.

We can see how tainted America has become when we acknowledge that the vast majority of terrorists look "different" from us. But, instead of allowing bag checkers at airports to focus on middle easterners in particular and paler-skinned people in general, we (in our classic "don't sue us" mentality) have decided to simply randomly scan people, including grandmothers whose worst sin is making a burnt chocolate chip cookie.

Liberals are scurrying to re-invent the Islamic terrorist, and the only ones that will ultimately profit from this are the terrorists. But the reasons the liberals are so hell-bent on this vary. One reason is that they may not truly believe that the threat exists, despite all evidence to the contrary. It's the classic bury-your-head-in-the-sand-and-it-will-go-away mentallity.

Another reason may be that Liberals feel even if a threat does exist, it only exists with the few extreme Islamists far away overseas: Liberals don't believe that Islamists in our country could possibly agree with the extremists philosophies. Why they believe that, I don't really know, since our newsmen and politicians have been crying out for moderate muslims to show themselves and yet only a handful have appeared, glancing furtively over their shoulders.

And let us not forget that liberals want to win the White House. Until Liberals remake the threat to our country to be less than what it really is, people traditionally elect Republicans in times of war. This would ultimately doom Hillary's campaign.

Whatever the reason may be in this case, Hollywood is now producing a show for our viewing pleasure called "Aliens in America." The premise is simple: A prejudiced white family asks for an exchange student thinking that they'll get an Aryan male. Instead, they get a boy from Pakistan. He goes to school and is immediately accused of being from the same group that participated in the 9/11 attack.

It's supposed to be a real laugh riot: A "hilarious, smartly crafted comedy", according to the New York Daily News. Perhaps the liberals are hoping that this spoonful of sugar will help the medicine go down easier.

I can already hear the disclaimers: "Well not all Muslims are terrorists and not all Muslims are bad!" I'm sure this is completely true: Not all snakes are poisonous either. But frankly, I don't want to get too close to one until I can identify it, as many of them look very much alike.

However, terrorists are not visually identifiable, and the Islamic religion teaches all Muslims that it is OK to pretend to be peaceful and even lie about what religion you are until it's time to strike.* Ultimately, the goal of the Islamic faith is world-domination through whatever means necessary. There currently is no other religion that has this belief system.

Americans have grown mentally lazy: Our lowered educational standards repeatedly show this to be true. Most people would rather waste time in front of a television set, absorbing whatever is set before them, focusing on what is pleasurable even when the wolf is at the door. Do we really want to encourage a lax attitude toward Islamic terrorists? Do we really want to hasten the demise of America?

* Bukhari, vol. 4, book 56, no. 3030; Muslim, vol. 4, book 32, no. 6303; Qur'an 3:28; Ibn Kathir, vol. 2, 141-42