Showing posts with label generic weirdness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label generic weirdness. Show all posts

October 18, 2016

Two Brains

Today at Support for Special Needs:
I love Schuyler's brain, which might seem like an odd thing to say, given her own uneasy relationship with it. Schuyler's brain isn't like yours or mine, or anyone else's. It's broken, dramatically so, but that's not even close to the main point. The story of Schuyler's brain isn't that it's broken, but rather the extraordinary things she's accomplished with it regardless. Schuyler walks and dances and sings, and she laughs three distinct different laughs, including the one that I love most, the one I call her troublemaker laugh. Schuyler plays percussion in band; every autumn Friday night I watch as she plays the suspended cymbals, and I see her play at exactly the right moments, contributing the rising metal shimmer as the musical phrases of Carl Orff's epic Carmina Burana (music that originated inside his gooshy German brain, too) crest and ebb. Schuyler operates an iPad; her brain translates her thoughts into words on a screen, or in a text message with a dizzying array of digital stickers attached, because she's moved so, so far beyond emojis. Schuyler's brain drives her creativity, and it makes her go a little crazy for the boys, and sometimes the girls, at her school. Her brain gets sad, it becomes paranoid, and it makes extraordinarily poor choices from time to time. But it also contains all the love she has, a love that is big and fat and boundless and childlike and complicated all at once. I describe Schuyler as having the biggest heart in the world, but of course it's her weird but wonderful, inexplicably broken but beautiful brain where that love resides, right there next to her confounding little monster.

May 20, 2011

Just another manic Doomsday

"No man has learned anything rightly, until he knows that every day is Doomsday." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's a popular trend at the moment to make fun of all the folks (a surprising number, honestly, although I don't believe I know any of them personally, perhaps not so surprisingly) who believe that tomorrow will bring the End of Days. And I'm not going to lie, I've been enjoying it just as much as the next smartass. Large scale kookery is a gift for snotty people like me.

But then, it's worth noting that I get a pretty regular stream of email and comments from Christians who seem to take it personally that we're not raising Schuyler to be a Christian. Some of you take it almost as a given that this represents a failure in parenting. I am challenged regularly on whether or not it's fair to Schuyler, denying her a Christian life or a church family. Oddly, I never get emails from Jewish or Islamic readers asking why I am denying her the experience of their faith. But there are more than a few Christians who behave as if they are entitled to take a stab at bringing my child into the flock.

It even happened at Schuyler's school recently. I caught some grief from Christian readers a couple of years ago when I expressed displeasure because a teacher gave Schuyler an angel sticker, leaving us to explain what that meant. Those same folks will be equally irritated to hear that we were deeply annoyed a few weeks ago when one of Schuyler's public school teachers told her that when people die, they turn into angels and go to Heaven.

"What's the harm in that?" I can already hear it. We're overreacting, they'll say, just like they did before. They can't see that it's problematic for us because suddenly we are put in the position of having to address issues of religion and faith with Schuyler, not because we think she's ready (because she's absolutely not), but because someone else decided she is. It doesn't matter that we are her parents. A higher power is calling, after all. And to a Christian who believes all this, it doesn't seem unreasonable at all, I suppose.

If you've grown up with it, the basic points of the Christ story seem perfectly plausible. I keep reading how mainstream Christians are upset about this rapture thing because it makes their religion look ridiculous or even cult-like. The Bible says we can't know the day or the hour that the Apocalypse will arrive, after all. Christians don't want their perfectly reasonable faith being tarnished by silliness.

But here's the thing. To those of us who aren't believers and who aren't raising our kids as Christians, it's no more or less silly than the rest of it. It's hard for us to distinguish how a virgin birth or a resurrection story are perfectly believable, but the end of the world? That's just crazy talk.

The difference with the rapture, particularly when you attach a date to it, is that unlike the rest of the stories, this part is empirically disprovable. If you're reading this on Sunday, you already know that it was bogus. (If you're actually waiting until Sunday to declare its goofiness, I salute your objectivity.) It's uncomfortable for some Christians because it's easily dispatched with.

We are an agnostic family. That's how we're raising Schuyler, which (in addition to not being a threat to Christianity) is our choice and our privilege, just like any other family. That we are doing so in a very Christian community is a challenge that we've knowingly taken on, but non-Christian families do the same thing all over the country, and they all face this kind of thing on some level or another. It's not a tragedy. It's not a burden that we bear. It's a pain in the ass, at the very worst.

But if the idea of the holiest of you flying up into the air tomorrow strikes us as amusing, that's just the price you're going to have to pay. You've made your choice, which to us looks no more or less valid than choosing to worship Odin or Zeus or a character on a box of breakfast cereal. To you, my choice seems sad. To me, yours looks silly. I don't see that changing any time soon. Maybe on Saturday, but I'm not holding my heathen breath.

October 16, 2009

Wild Things

Schuyler had a day off for parent-teacher conferences today, so Julie and I took the day off as well. After a brief and painless meeting, we went to see Where the Wild Things Are.

And now I have a few thoughts on the film, which was not at all what I expected.

I can't say that Schuyler loved it, not with the wild abandon she has loved other monster movies or kids' movies. She was fascinated, and she wanted to discuss it after, which is always a good sign, but I get the sense that she's still trying to decide how she feels about it. I certainly wouldn't describe Where the Wild Things Are as a monster movie or a fantasy film, but as for whether or not I would call it a kids' movie, I'm not so sure.

It's not a children's movie in the sense that the Wild Things themselves are in any way fantastical or entertaining as mythical creatures. They are very human, in some vaguely neurotic but very familiar ways. But I think that Where the Wild Things Are is VERY much a kids' movie in that it perfectly hits some emotional truths about what childhood is really like, and especially how horribly and confusedly we treat the people we love the most. That these truths come from the mouths and the actions of weird Sendak monsters makes the perspective feel new, and yet totally familiar.

It's easy as adults to forget that childhood can be in large part a scary and frustrating experience, full of insecurity and fear, and that like Max in the film (and to a lesser degree the book), often the only course available to kids who find themselves feeling powerless and afraid is to act out. Not in cute, "rambunctious" ways, but with an intense, feral energy that leaves them even more conflicted and fearful after it's spent.

When Max lashes out, it's a little shocking, not because we've never seen it before, but because the emotions that drive him remind us of our own long-buried childhood experiences. His issues stem from his own complicated family relationships. He loves the people around him, but his young emotions are complicated by his worry for their sadnesses which he cannot fix, and his rage at the complexity of his own place in their lives, and in a world where things aren't fair and the sun will one day die. Max is confused by his own anger, as if the choices he makes are inexplicable to him. You don't have to be ten years old for that to feel real.

When the Wild Things misbehave or simply express their own neurotic impulses badly, it also feels weirdly familiar. If you don't know someone in your real, adult life who can be represented by just about every one of the Wild Things, then I suspect you don't know very many people. More to the point, if you don't recognize significant parts of your own personality in each of the characters, I don't know. Maybe you're just more well-adjusted than I am, but there's also the possibility that you might be living a somewhat unexamined life. If you are open to the experience, I think Where the Wild Things Are presents a rare opportunity to examine that inner self.

Is it the book? No, it's not. If you are wanting to see the book, Where the Wild Things Are is not your movie. (Although really, the good news for you is that the book didn't suddenly cease to exist the day the film opened.) Like the best adaptations, the film takes a starting point from the book and becomes something alive and relevant in its own right.

For little kids, the ones for whom the original book is age-appropriate, this film probably isn't a good choice. Not because it'll be too scary, I don't think (except for one or two sequences, if your kid is especially sensitive), but because it is probably a little more introspective than they are looking for. The Wild Things might be cool monsters, but they're still mostly just talking things out.

Kids who are a little older may take to Where the Wild Things Are, however, in ways that may surprise parents who might fear that it's too dark. If I'd seen this movie when I was ten, I think it would have resonated with me like crazy. It certainly did now.

October 12, 2009

On Columbus Day

I just realized that today is Columbus Day, and in doing so, I remembered writing about this holiday once. When I went and looked it up, I realized that it was actually six years ago. I can't believe it's been so long; I actually wrote this shortly after Schuyler's diagnosis, when we lived in New Haven, Connecticut.

Anyway, I remembered it as being amusing, and you know how I live to amuse, so here it is, along with a short followup.


October 8, 2003

I was looking ahead on Schuyler's social calendar and realized that her day care is going to be closed on the 13th. (Child-nappers, take note: not a good day to grab her.) When I did some probing investigation (i.e. asked someone), I was surprised to learn that the center (and presumedly a bunch of other stuff) will be closed because of Columbus Day.

Columbus Day? I was sort of surprised to learn that Columbus Day is still a national holiday, much less one where people get to stay home and drink beer. I guess I figured that Columbus had been tossed out in a blaze of political correctness, which actually would be fine with me. I'm not sure many of the indigenous populations he "discovered" would be inclined to throw a barbecue in his honor. I can't imagine that "Smallpox Day" is a popular holiday in the Bahamas.

I'm not sure why we even bother with Columbus Day, really. He's not much of a role model, after all. He mooched money off of swishy inbred monarchs in order to finance his expeditions. He was a failure as an administrator of the lands and peoples he subjugated. He was famous in his day as a visionary and a skilled mariner, but history has judged Columbus as a greedy, ruthless imperialist, a bit of a religious kook, and the earliest vanguard of the European plunder of the New World. He was brutal to the native population, even trying at one point to introduce them as slaves to Spain. Perhaps most importantly, he never actually set foot on the North American mainland and was never shaken from his belief that he had reached Asia.

So it would seem that Columbus was a bit of a doofus. ("Hi, I'm Columbus, your host. Welcome to Japan!") But of course, the main problem with celebrating Columbus as the European discoverer of America is that he was beaten to the punch by about five centuries.

We shouldn't be celebrating Columbus Day. We should be celebrating Viking Day.

Vikings reached North America around the year 1000, probably led by either Leif Ericson or his son, and for a decade or so they stomped around and presumedly set shit on fire and engaged in lots of indiscriminate recreational killing. The Vikings even tried to establish a colony for about three years before getting sick of fighting with Indians and returning to pillage boring old Europe again.

Vikings in America! How cool is that? I imagine them getting out of their long Viking boats, with their big beards and their horned helmets and furry boots and big giant monster axes and swords. They jump out of their boats, look around menacingly, and then say "YAR!" and start killing everything and setting shit on fire. They run around killing bears and and biting the heads off of rabbits, and then they see some gentle Indians walking out of the forest bearing gifts of welcome. The Vikings say "YAR!" again and start killing all the Indians. They pillage and burn and destroy, then they sit around a big fire eating some of the animals they slaughtered, wiping their big greasy hands on their new pelts.

I imagine the Indians looking out of the woods at them and thinking, "Oh man. White people. This isn't going to end well."

So yeah. I think Vikings are a much better representation of the American spirit. They sailed around and invaded other countries, burning stuff and killing people and generally being a pain in the ass. They were primitive barbarian badasses who drank wine out of human skulls. And unlike Columbus and the "explorers" who followed him, Vikings didn't pretend like they were doing their victims a favor. They pillaged, but they were up front about it, at least. I think that as Americans, we've sort of lost our way in that respect.

Viking Day. Think about it. Yar!


June 9, 2004

I'm always interested and amused at the unexpected things that draw people's ire from my writing.

Do you remember the entry (one of my favorites, honestly; it's one of the very few times that I managed to crack myself up) where I wrote about Columbus Day and the Vikings? I wrote about how the Vikings beat Columbus to the New World by about five centuries and made better role models for Americans anyway.

Now, this wasn't an entry that I expected to receive much irritated email about. If anything, I thought I might get some sort of "what's a mattah YOU?" email from some proud Italian-American out there (remember that episode of The Sopranos?), but what I DIDN'T expect to get instead was a stern correction from a Viking re-enactor (I swear to God) who wasn't happy about my representation of Vikings. They didn't wear horned helmets, she said, and didn't rape and kill indiscriminately, and CERTAINLY didn't drink wine from skulls. (She could have been right about that last part, I might have made it up.)

I guess my point is that I never know what's going to piss someone off, and it is honestly one of the reasons I keep writing online. It's like some sort of wacky social experiment that I'm carrying out on YOU, my Slobbering Minions. (I did have someone unsubscribe from my notify list because she didn't like being called a Slobbering Minion. That was perhaps less surprising than the Viking thing, now that I think about it.)

Incidentally, I'll admit that the wine drinking from human skulls thing was probably bogus, but I'm standing firm on the horned helmets. I mean, how else would people know that the barbarians burning down their village were actually Vikings? It's not like you'd want to go to all that trouble, only to have someone ask you, "Hey, who are you guys? Visigoths?"

It's all about the uniform.

October 9, 2009

The Boomtown Curse continues (or "Why does Jay Leno hate America?")

You know, sometimes I hate being right.

NBC Cancels Well-Regarded ‘Southland’

Today, NBC canceled one of the best-reviewed shows of recent years, the police drama “Southland,” before it had a chance to get on the air for its second season.

The show, which premiered in the spring and had a strong start in the ratings, though it struggled in its later episodes, had six new episodes produced for the new season. But NBC delayed its start date from mid-September until Oct. 23. NBC has been filling that hour — 9 p.m. on Fridays — with the newsmagazine show “Dateline NBC.”

Now NBC has dropped “Southland” altogether. Ratings for Friday shows have become universally low, and expensive dramas seem to be faltering especially on Fridays. “Dateline” can be produced for a fraction of the cost.

“Southland” started as a 10 p.m. show on Thursdays, and its style was consistent with others that have played there for decades. But NBC no longer has any 10 p.m. periods for drama because it has moved the new “Jay Leno Show” into that slot every weeknight. The style of “Southland” was largely distinguished by gritty police work and sometimes dark, troubled characters — not unlike previous NBC hits like “Hill Street Blues.”

The rest of you can get all worked up about Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize today. All of my tinfoil hat-wearing outrage is directed at NBC, the network which is, if I hadn't made this clear yet, DEAD TO ME.

September 3, 2009

Insult + Injury

So I've been having a pretty sorry run of luck in recent years where television is concerned.

This past year or so has been particularly bad, with the (planned) ending of my favorite show, Battlestar Galactica. (The new, bleak, 9/11-metaphor version, obviously, not the goofy Tribute to Feathered Hair from 1979.) I didn't like having to deal with BSG going away, not at all. But almost as bad was the cloud of doom that seemed to be hanging over my other favorite show, a phenomenally well-written and well-acted cop drama on NBC called Life.

My worst fears were realized when NBC decided to give Jay Leno his own show five days a week during prime time. Not being very industry savvy, apparently, I was confused. Doesn't Leno already have a show five nights a week, conveniently programmed at a time when I can easy avoid it? Ah, yes, but this new show will air at 9pm Central, during the time that was usually reserved for dramas. Sure enough, NBC cancelled Life after only two seasons.

It occurs to me that NBC and high-quality L.A. cop dramas are not a match made in heaven. (Look out, Southland, which is a great show but one that I am trying not to fall for, lest it break my heart, too.) First came Boomtown, easily the best show I have ever seen on television, after one season. I've still never gotten over that one. Then came Raines, also done by the same writer and producers of Boomtown and Band of Brothers. Raines only lasted for seven episodes, even though it starred Jeff Goldblum. Come on, NBC. Jeff Goldblum? You don't cancel Jeff Goldblum. Jeff Goldblum cancels YOU.

Anyway, I recently ordered the newly released box set of Life: Season 2, and it arrived yesterday. It was bittersweet, of course, but I decided to make the best of it, right up until I opened the case and saw the ad that NBC included with the set.

Dick move, NBC. You are dead to me.

June 16, 2009

Calling Mister Furious

My apologies for the length of this post. Sometimes it's good to get things on the record.

So Julie received a call this morning from a "legal mediation" company with a Very Serious Legal Issue to discuss with her. The person leaving the message on voicemail said "I don't even think you're aware of what's going on!" So, you know, very scary, and before breakfast, even.

(UPDATE: Apparently they called Julie's parents this morning, too.)

She called the number and got a high strung, angry gentleman at "the Office of the CRA". She was informed that she has an old credit card outstanding debt of over $9000, and unless she gave him her bank information RIGHT THAT INSTANT, the matter was going to go to court and the debt would be reported to the IRS as additional income, and no, we won't send you anything in print, and no, you can't have a moment, you need to give us that information right now now nownownownow!

Julie, not suffering from a head injury, declined to give Mister Furious our bank account numbers, thereby denying the Office of the CRA a sum so vast that they might actually be able to invest in not one but two tacos from Taco Bell. (But sorry, no beverage.) She did, however, keep talking, or rather she tried, but mostly she just listened to this guy with his unresolved anger issues. A few interesting points came out of his frothy rage, however:
  • The credit card on which she had supposedly defaulted on $9000 in debt was one that was closed out a very very long time ago. Years ago, in fact, and the debt had been settled. More importantly, and this will perhaps not surprise you, the limit on that card was nowhere close to $9000. It might have been a thousand. Because, you know, credit card companies may not be smart, but none of them are dumb enough to give the Fabulous Rummel-Hudsons a $9000 line of credit. Certainly not way back then, during our wilder, dumber days.
  • The contact address they had was that of Julie's childhood home, where her parents still live. It may have been listed at one time as a reference address, but it hasn't been listed as her home address since back when she was receiving lunch money.
  • He repeatedly called her "Julie Hudson", which has in fact never been a legal name of hers. You can try a bunch of different combinations, but that's actually the only one that won't work.
  • The most interesting piece of information came when Mister Furious heard me talking to Julie (probably suggesting creative and possibly physically challenging anatomical activities she should suggest to her caller), he said, "You can listen to me, or you can listen to your boyfriend there..."
That's right. Despite their claim to have her comprehensive credit and personal history in the file open before them, the Office of the CRA didn't know that Julie was married. In fact, it appeared that all the information they had on her was pieced together randomly and in most cases wildly inaccurately.

After Mister Furious hung up on Julie, I called them back to try to find out who they were and where they were calling from. I got Mister Furious again, except now he was using a different name. He refused to give any information and said he could only talk to Julie, not me. When I handed the phone to her, she was told that if we called them back again, it would be considered harassment. (Really? Because on this saved voicemail message, it really did sound like you were rather insistent that we call you.)

So there you go.

Here's the thing about this. I think this company is operating under an outdated business model. I suspect they're not entirely unaware of the issues at play since they demand payment information right then, during the call. Because if you have time to go online and start Googling their information, particularly the phone numbers from which they called and which they asked for a return call, you might find some interesting tidbits of information, both from other consumers and from legal websites.

So in order to help "the Office of the CRA" improve their procedures and have more success in scaring the crap out of unsuspecting marks, here's just a sample of what turns up in about two minutes of Googling.

Google: 866-553-0428

CRA Collection Company, Inc.
1150 Lancaster Boulevard
Mechanicsburg, PA
(866) 553-0428

"does anyone know who this company is?? they somehow got my sister's number and is asking for me, claiming to be a law firm."

"who is this company? they are looking for someone who is not at my number and had even called my son in OK looking for this person. They say how important it is and that it is a very serious matter which needs immediate attention. Does anyone know who this is?"

"Paul from CRA called looking for me under a name I have not used in years. I have been divorced, remarried, and 3 kids since using this name. My oldest is in high school now. I live in a new state and number is unlisted. This is just crazy."

"I got a call from this number at my moms house. I have not lived at home for over 16 years. A Ms. Thompson is the caller and she tries to be very intimidating and almost a bully, but she will not give any specific details. My mom is ready to turn it in to the authorities."

"I just got a message from a Mrs. Karis at 866-553-0428. She left a message saying that she was looking for "RO" (married name) from "the city I grew up in." Which was strange because I haven't lived there in over 10 years. And I wasn't married when I lived there. I just felt it was very strange since any account I have with my married name I know is up to date. Do you just ignore this type of call? Or should I call back and find out what's going on? I would hate to think that they will be after my family members next."

Google: 831-274-2477

"A lady called wanted me to relay a message to someone that's supposedly left our phone number as a contact. She just gave a six-digit case no. When I asked for what matter is it related to, the lady started yelling and became extremely rude and said it's none of my business. Caller ID showed the call was from 831-274-2477. She wanted the person to call back at 1-877-407-9274 with just a case no. What a rude scammer!"

"I just received a call (on the cellphone I use for the company that I work for). I do not know how "Kristin" got my phone #. She says she is with CRA company. She was rude and obnoxious and said that she had an urgent call for me, though I never identified myself. She also threatened that she would report me for not identifying myself or my company name. I don't have any debts that need collection, so I don't know why anyone would be phoning me- especially on my company cellphone."

Google: 877-407-9274

"This has never happened to us! I'm glad I wasn't being too gullible tonight! They call from the same phone number 1-866-460-4260. The guy said he name was John Shelton. The guy said that he needed to speak to my husband urgently concerning a legal matter. My husband called back and spoke with a female (sounded white). We had to ask for a company name = CRA. They were unable to tell us what that stood for. They were very on edge, argumentative, and sounded threatening at times...claiming they would turn us into the IRS, if we didn't settle this now. They said that this was a last attempt to collect on a credit card debt before legal action would be taken. They stated that this was on his credit report and needed to be taken care of now. They said they only take credit/debit payment (Go figure). The card/debt they were referring to has been taken care of and the card has been canceled for many yrs, and we know for a fact that it is not on the credit report. My husband hung up on the woman, and she called right back from a different #. She said, "Mr. XXXXX, I can't help you with this, if you keep hanging up. What other legit company would ever do that. She was asking for his SS# and all kinds of stuff! I just want to turn these low life losers in, so they can get caught! It's a shame!"

"Calling all of my daughter's relatives, threatens to serve paper's, she is going to be arrested, calling her elderly grandparents, parents, says it is on excessive debt on a non existant credit card debt of a limit that she was never approved for. The woman "FLIPPED" out, was YELLING, CALLED my daughter CRAZY, would not confirm any information. "

"CRA woman became agitated when i asked for her address, refused, said she'd only been calling for a month, that they were not a collection agency but a 'mediation service.' supervisor Stephanie Martin came on line, said they'd never called me before today, i'd be taken off list. i said i'd been trying to stop calls for a year and a half. also refused address then hung up."

"866-452-9518 called my neighbor advising her that I gave them permission to contact them to get info about me. My neighbor knew better than this and told them she has nothing to tell them. They then proceeded to advise her that they are going to press charges if I do not call them back. I called them to tell them to NOT call looking for me ever again & I Never gave them authority to call my neighbor advising them that I said they could. The guy started yelling at me sayibg he wouldn't have to call if I paid his client monies owed. I asked what client? What monies? He refused to answer and continued yelling. I hung up the phone. I will be reporting them to FTC as well."

"These people called my Uncle\'s ex- wife from 1988 and initially stated that they wanted to deliver a package and needed to verify the address. That did not work so the called again and stated that they were calling from the office of CRA and some investigators needed to speak with him immediately. I called them back multiple times and they hung up on me whenever I asked what CRA stands for and what type of company were they. Finally they advised me that they were the Consumer Recovery Associates."

"These people caled me 8 months ago, had the wrong first name, middle initial and SS#, told me it was a mistake. They have since reported nick name, alternate SS# to the credit bureau and are now harrasing me again. I think these people are scum. They also stated I made the last payment from an address I had 9 years ago just 6 years ago so it is within the statute of limitations, what idiots! I complained to the FTC and the VA Attorney General! I hope the hard inquiry comes off my credit report and they leave me alone for good. This account is apparently outside the SOL anyway."

Here's a big one:

"If you receive a call from this number, you have been called by junk debt / collection agency that buys debt from original creditors that has been written off or settled and is beyond the statute of limitations in most states. They are trying get the money for themselves, not the original creditor.

They are reportedly a serial violator of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). They may be illegally using credit information obtained from Experian or other credit reporting agencies.

This company has been known to contact and harass people they believe may know the person they are trying to reach including distant relatives, ex-spouses and possible former co-workers.

NEVER answer these calls if you see this as a caller ID. NEVER return these calls. NEVER give them ANY information about the person they are seeking or refer them to others.

Any "positive" comments you read in these notes about the company may have been written by employees of the company.

The company is:

Consumer Recovery Associates
2697 International Parkway #4
Suite 270
PO Box 2916
Virginia Beach, VA 23450-2916

The following is the most comprehensive information gathered about this company from various sources on the Internet.

***If you've been called by a number not on this list or by someone using a different name, please copy this list, add the number/name in the correct order and repost it in its entirety.

Company Names that CRA reportedly uses:

CIA and Associates
CC Associates
Consumer Credit Association
Consumer Recovery Associates
Court Company
CR Associates
CRA Associates
C&R Associates
C & R Associates
Farm CIA & Associates
J Lamb and Associates
and possibly GC Services

Phone numbers that CRA reportedly uses:

(list redacted because it is crazy long.)

Individual names that CRA reportedly uses:
(also redacted for length, but the woman who left the voicemail, Mister Furious and his Furious Twin are all on the list)"

And finally...

Pennsylvania Consumers Challenge CRA Security Systems' Collection Practices

Bradley v CRA Security Systems, Inc.
CASE ID: 3131 | CREDIT / DEBT | 02/06/2004

A statewide class action has been filed in Pennsylvania against CRA Security Systems, Inc. and their parent company, Capital Recovery Associates, Inc. The action is brought on behalf of all Pennsylvania residents who received a form type collection letter demanding immediate payment of the consumers' alleged debt. The action is brought under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and seeks statutory damages as well as injunctive and declaratory relief.
According to consumers, CRA used language in its initial collection letters that was confusing and deceptive. Federal law requires that all collection services include a notice in their initial collection letters that informs consumers of their right to investigate the validity of a debt within 30 days. Although CRA's letter contained this notice, consumers allege that other language in the letter overshadowed the notice and rendered it ineffective. Specifically, the letters requested immediate attention by remitting payment. Consumers allege that by demanding immediate attention and payment, they were unable to determine if they were given 30 days to investigate the validity of the debt, or if they were required to pay immediately. Additionally, the letters were allegedly "signed" by Richard Lyons. According to consumers, there is no viable evidence to suggest that a Richard Lyons reviewed their debt or that Richard Lyons is even employed by CRA. However, consumers claim this "signature" is meant to convey to them that the debt had been reviewed by an actual person. According to consumers, CRA also routinely charges allegedly illegal fees for returned checks. Finally, even after repeated attempts to dispute the validity of the debts, many consumers claim that CRA never provided them with validation.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, any unfair, misleading or intimidating language is forbidden in collection letters or other forms of communication. The consumers allege that the language used by CRA fulfills this standard. They claim that CRA's language overshadows and renders ineffective the 30 day notice of disputing the validity of the debt. They claim that CRA's use of a signature that is allegedly bogus conveys a false and misleading impression that an actual person has reviewed their account, when in fact the letters are "form" type and mass mailed. Finally, consumers claim that CRA typically ignores all attempts to dispute the validity of the debt and continues with coercive efforts designed to elicit immediate payment. According to consumers the potential class is quite numerous, numbering in the thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands.

So there you go! Best of luck, Office of the CRA. Also, we filed reports with the Attorneys General of Texas, Virginia and Pennsylvania. You really should check out this Internet thing. I didn't even have to put my pants on!

January 19, 2009

Izzie Redux

Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
It wasn't a huge surprise. She'd been slowing down a lot lately, which is probably why I was moved to write this post a couple of weeks ago. I didn't notice anything unusual when I gave my dwarf hamsters their favorite little yogurt treats yesterday; Isolde took hers from my hand and held it in her gimpy little paws, while Tristan took his and scurried suspiciously to the other end of the tank. Being unable to run, Izie had long ago decided to trust.

But when I checked on them this morning, I knew something was wrong. Tristan was up and moving around by himself, seeming a little out of sorts. But Izzie was nowhere to be found. I poked around in the bedding and found her curled up in the corner. She'd died in the night, apparently in her sleep.

Well, I'm a forty-one year-old, supposedly grown adult who probably shouldn't be overly sentimental about a hamster, but yeah, I'm pretty bummed. Izzie was a tough little critter, and her passing feels, I don't know, portentous.

More to the point, Schuyler likes to come and see the hamsters, mostly because she likes Izzie so much. Tristan is too twitchy and quick-footed for her, but Izzie would let Schuyler reach in and pet her and even hold her. As I said, when she lost her mobility, Izzie had long ago learned to trust the big hands.

When Schuyler woke up, I told her I had some bad news. I took her into our bedroom and showed her Tristan. She noticed immediately that he was alone; he was never without Izzie, not in the past year or so. I explained to her that Izzie had died in the night. Schuyler gave me a long hug, and for a moment I thought she might cry. But instead she just watched Tristan for a moment.

She looked up at me. "He's sad," she said, signing sad to me. "He needs a new friend."

So I suppose I know what we're doing today.

Goodbye, Izzie. For a tiny, broken rodent, you were weirdly inspiring.

Update, 3:45pm

Izzie is dead. Long live Zizzy.

(Schuyler's naming protocol is pretty straightforward.)

January 2, 2009


Longtime readers will know that I love dwarf hamsters. I once even ran an information site about them, which just goes to show you that everyone loves something weird and has a secret passion. Mine, as far as you know, is dwarf hamsters. There's weirder stuff to like out there than dwarf hamsters. Trust me.

My favorite dwarf hamster is the Roborovski hamster, and not just because of the name. Roborovskis are the smallest of the hamsters, and they're quite a bit different from their cousins. They live about twice as long, they don't mate as often, and while they are much more active and twitchy, they are also much friendlier than other breeds of hamsters. I've never been bitten by a Roborovski hamster. They're not very cuddly except with each other and don't really like to be handled, but they are otherwise very sociable little guys and I just love 'em.

There is a special mutation that has recently been bred in Roborovskis that results in white-faced hamsters, and when I found one and brought it home with a normal Roborovski mate, I was as happy as I could be. The brown hamster I named Tristan, and the white girl Isolde. I quickly came to call her Izzie.

A few months after she came home with me, I found Izzie one morning, lying on her side in her cage. Her eyes were open and she was alert, but it was clear that something was terribly wrong. She could barely walk and dragged herself on one side. I was heartbroken. Strokes are fairly common in hamsters, and there's not much you can do for them when they strike, except just make them comfortable. I didn't know what else to do for Izzie; I certainly wasn't going to try to put her out of her misery. I mean, how would you do that, anyway? So I watched her sadly, and I waited for the end that seemed sure to come.

Over a year later, I'm still waiting.

This isn't the story of a poor dead hamster; she's still around and still kicking. This is the story of a pretty little thing that suddenly became a twisted, skinny little scrap with bugged eyes and a funny walk. Izzie didn't die, and while she didn't exactly get all better, she did figure out how to walk around fairly quickly, and how to keep herself steady when she drank from the water bottle. Tristan became very protective and nurturing to her, hardly ever leaving her side, and so for the past year or so, I've watched these two hamsters, named after famous but doomed lovers. They've written their own story, however, and so far, it's been a happy one.

Every day, I go to their cage and I find Izzie sleeping, curled up grotesquely like a dead bug, her eyes half open. She looks dead every time, and so I remove the lid to the cage and blow gently on her. I can't help myself. And every time I do, she pops up, rudely awakened, and looks up at me with her bulging eyes as if to say, "Dude. Fucking quit it already." She is unmoved by my concern.

Izzie's not a metaphor for some larger issue, as tempting as it might be to try to turn her into one. She's simply a tough little hamster who refuses to die like she was supposed to, and her fat little mate seems to love her without limits. Every day I watch them, and I wonder about this world in which it is the broken and the seemingly forsaken that fight the hardest, for an existence that the rest of us take for granted. So I don't know. Perhaps she is a pretty good metaphor.

She still hates it when you blow on her, though.

September 9, 2008

The best job ever

Seriously. Getting to chase kids around the museum? I'd only require the assistance of someone to keep me from slipping in the little pee puddles left behind.

Also? I'd be Schuyler's hero. For life.

(My apologies if you came here looking for political content. If it makes you feel better, you can pretend it's John McCain at a campaign stop.)

May 22, 2008

Because everyone LOVES to read about dreams

Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
In my dreams, Schuyler almost always does the same thing. She talks to me. She's always sitting next to me, and she's usually holding my hand. And she always says the same thing, or some variation of it. She always tells me it's going to be okay.

Last night, I had a different dream about her. In this dream, we were outside, and she was running across a field, or a park. Every so often, she turned and called out to me. "Come on, Daddy! Hurry up!" Then she kept running, and I couldn't catch up to her or call out to her.

And in front of her, the sky was dark except for lightning flashes, and a tornado was beginning to form.

I woke up before the alarm this morning from this dream, and I tried to go back to sleep, but my mind was in that "Oh, fuck THAT" mode that it goes into when it wants nothing to do with the delights that my subconscious is serving up.

I'm not one to give much credence to dreams as prophecies, although in the past I have had a few that turned out to be wickedly accurate. I still believe that when our dreams do come true, it's because our subconscious minds have picked up on clues that we might not be processing consciously just yet. I don't believe in "Watch your ass!" messages from the Great Beyond.

And I certainly don't think Schuyler is doomed to be eaten by the weather.

Things have gone so well for us for the past few months, and if anything, I suspect my subconscious mind is saying "Okay, so what's the catch?" (As if the first five or six years of Schuyler's life weren't the catch.) So I'm not going to read too much into whatever sort of metaphorical bugbear my mind is trying to call up for me.

Still, though. That wasn't much fun, and it's been bugging me all day.

April 15, 2008

I have macho cred

Shut up, I do!

(By the way, the macho tv watching behavior I engage in is actually those police chase video shows. Seriously, if I'm channel surfing and I come across one of those shows, I am powerless to NOT watch it. Dash cam or helicopter POV, it doesn't matter. If loving the spectacle of drug-crazed teenagers driving stolen cars into oncoming traffic or over those spike strips that make their tires EXPLODE is wrong, I don't want to be right.)

March 6, 2008

Jasper 2.0

Either I got away with it, or she doesn't particularly care one way or the other. Welcome to the fam, Jasper the Second.

March 5, 2008

Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi.

The Jaspers
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
It was perhaps tragically fitting that my last post included a photo of Schuyler with her beloved friend Jasper. If you've read the book, or if you've been around for a while, you know that Jasper is Schuyler's oldest inanimate friend.

He was originally purchased while Julie was pregnant so that he could ride around in my car with me and let me see if I could ever get accustomed to the name "Jasper" in case we had a boy. I couldn't, of course (could you?), but the name stuck, and after a period of rejection by Baby Schuyler, he eventually became one of her most treasured friends. She even insisted on a girlfriend for him. (They have a baby bear, too.)

Julie and Schuyler fell asleep on the big floofy chair in the living room tonight, and at some point, Jasper slipped from Schuyler's grasp and fell to the floor, met by the gaping, slobbery maw of Max, Schuyler's very very very bad little dog. The rest you can probably figure out.

I looked over and saw the tragedy unfolding before it could get very far, and I managed to snatch poor Jasper up and take him to the other room before Schuyler could notice. The damage wasn't horrible, but it was bad enough. Ears chewed, one foot stripped of its fur, and most horribly, an eye completely missing. Jasper had been disfigured to an extent that couldn't be fixed.

Well, this is one of those parenting moments where they don't exactly tell you what you're supposed to do, now isn't it? What's the right thing to do here? Let Schuyler face the ugly truth and see what her nasty little hellhound had done to her best friend? Or run to the mall and pray that the Gap (Jasper's port of origin) would carry another that looked like him and try to slip a new Jasper 2.0 past Schuyler? In general, I am all about letting Schuyler see the world in all its grandness and all its pain at the same time, but tonight, I just couldn't do it. Ten minutes to drive to the mall, five minutes in and out of the store, and a sly switcheroo after she had crawled into bed in which she accepted the doppelgänger under darkened conditions, and the deed was done.

We'll see if it worked in the morning. These little Gap bears all seem to be a little different (lovingly hand-crafted by Chinese slave labor, no doubt), and Jasper Mark II looks a little different from his now one-eyed predecessor. Julie and I aren't in agreement on this, by the way. She feels like Schuyler is tough and could deal with the truth. I guess I agree, but then, I feel like she gets to handle the tough truths a lot. I will say that if Schuyler isn't fooled and notices the difference, then I'll come clean with her.

As for poor old Jasper, I think I'll take him on the book tour with me, one last hurrah for the little guy, and then maybe get him an eye patch and seal him up for the future, to be given to Schuyler when she's older and ready for a foolish, sentimental gift from her old man.

This was a tough call. There are times for me, I suppose, when honesty in parenting takes a back seat to the preservation of the fragile world that Schuyler creates. I'm not sure myself if this was the right thing to do. I only know that there's a lot I'll do in this world, right or wrong, to make Schuyler happy.

Happy trails, Jasper...

January 7, 2008


I'm jumpy today, and it's just not getting any better.

The day started with Schuyler's return to school after two weeks off. This meant that all our usual morning rituals kicked back into gear, including my favorite, singing the theme to Kenny the Shark with Schuyler, but it also meant watching her get onto the school bus again and watching it drive away while trying to suppress the agita and the mental images of various bus-related disasters running through my mind.

A quick look in the mirror before heading off to work revealed that I had something in my hair, something light-colored, maybe shaving cream. Only it wasn't. I tugged at it and ran my fingers through it, only to discover that what I was seeing was in fact grey hair. That's AWESOME.

I got to work just in time to be interviewed over the phone for the upcoming Wondertime piece (and I do not envy the poor intern whose job it will be to transcribe my um-filled babble). Not half an hour later, I received the nice review from Publishers Weekly (it did contain the word "stupid", but they were quoting me, so I have no one to blame but myself), and I was feeling much better about my day.

And that's when the university began testing the tornado warning system.

There really is only so much "BLAT!!! BLAT!!! Severe weather! Take cover! You're all going to die!!! BLAT!!! BLAT!!!" that I can handle today. It's going to give me grey hair.

Oh, wait a minute. Shit.

December 31, 2007

And a happy new year...

Tough girl
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
It's weird, 2007 felt like it lasted about thirty minutes.

You know, this time last year, I had a pretty good idea what I'd be doing a year in the future. Turns out, I'd be doing exactly what I was doing then: waiting for the book to come out.

(Forty-nine days, yikes.)

Today, as we get ready for 2008, we have less of an idea what the next year will bring than we have in years. The last time this family's future was so uncertain, maybe five years ago or so, it was because Schuyler's monster was still unidentified and romping through her world with impunity. Back then, we would watch the new year roll over with something akin to dread, with no idea how or even if Schuyler would find her way. We'd sit watching the celebrations on TV, silently pushing down the fear at what the new year might have in store for Schuyler.

On the whole, I like this kind of uncertainty much better. Happy new year, everyone, and thanks for sticking with me this long.

December 27, 2007

Ho Ho Hum

At last, ultimate power
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
Have a nice holiday, whatever flavor you celebrate? We had a good one, which is nice for us but boring for you. Sorry. I could make some stuff up, because I don't anticipate the next week or so to be filled with much more than relaxation and more children's programming than any adult should be expected to endure without alcohol.

So for the next few weeks, as we get closer to the book release (fifty-three days and counting, by golly), I'm going to feature the videos that Julie and I put together a few months ago for the book site. The production values are pretty bad, but there's love in them videos, you hear me? Love!

I hope everyone's having a nice holiday break. Brace yourself for the new year. I have a feeling that 2008's going to be crazy time.

December 10, 2007

She's here about the reaping.

Two Jaspers and a pug
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
Well, okay, enough of the PajamasMedia idiocy. I'll just have to be more discriminating when choosing what part of the Internet lawn to step in next time. I feel like I just ruined a good pair of shoes.

Besides, as someone pointed out to me, the opponents of inclusion lost their war. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is the law of the land and it protects the rights of about six and a half million kids from the assmonkeys who would ghettoize them. (Although I do not believe that assmonkeys are explicitly named in the legislation. So, you know, watch out for loopholes.)

So two little things tonight instead.

First of all, if you go to my book's Amazon page, you'll see that the cover is finally showing up. (While you're there, why not buy a few copies for all your friends? You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss fifteen dollars and sixty one cents goodbye... Okay, I'll stop.) One more step towards the big day, which is now only seventy days away. I have no idea why that little "tent" is still there, however.

The other small item tonight is sort of weird, but like most things that Schuyler conjures up out of the Martian atmosphere, I just ran with it. For the past few weeks, Schuyler has been asking about death. She originally brought it up in a question about my father (whom she now believes resides in every cemetery we drive past), but after I answered her questions honestly, she's become fascinated by the topic in general.

Tonight, while we were playing, she told me that I was dead. (She even made up a sign for it; her hand touches her forehead, similar to the ASL sign for sick, but then it flies off like, well, your soul, I guess.) She instructed me to lie motionless on my bed while she concocted a ceremony of her very own, singing a jaunty little tune to herself as she went back and forth from her room to fetch supplies and mourners.

If you should attend my funeral in the hopefully distant future, here's what you might expect from Schuyler. First, she ritualistically waved various pieces of plastic jewelry over my head. (The gesture seemed oddly Catholic to me, heathen that I am.) She then took a play fork and offered me invisible food. But if I tried to eat it, she gave me a stern "No!"

"Daddy, you're dead," she reminded me.

After I explained to her that at a funeral, someone gives a speech to say goodbye to the person and tell why they'll be missed, she wisely selected Jasper, the elder statesman of her toy animals, to put my life in perspective. He chose to deliver my eulogy in Martian, of course.

I know this all sounds wildly creepy, and I must admit, it wasn't my first choice of a game to play, especially not two weeks after my fortieth birthday. But I'm proud of her for asking about such a rough concept, and for continuing to turn it over in her head as she tries to make sense of it. Like so many other things in her life, she doesn't find it sad, only puzzling.

At the end of our game, Schuyler decided she wanted to be dead, too. I'm not sure real corpses giggle that much, though.

November 1, 2007

All Hallows Eve for Monsters, broken and otherwise

I had a pretty good Halloween, as evidenced by what arrived from Fed-Ex:

(I've been coveting them like the Gollum with my Precioussssss...)

As for Schuyler, she had a great time as well, like she does every Halloween.

This year, she opted for a sort of vampire-y, Goth-y chick look. The tattoos were a gift from a cool friend when we were in New York, and it would be no exaggeration to say that she loves them with something bordering on obsession. The one on her face? Still there when she went to school this morning. I suspect she's the only girl at her conservative little Plano school with art on her face today, although I also suspect that she's the envy of every little Hannah Montana-wannabe in her class.

Even though it's a sort of punky look, we agreed to this costume for the simple reason that it was a long dress, with sleeves and no bare belly. If you're the parent of a little girl, you know just how hard it is to find a costume that isn't either goofy ("Look, I'm a Care Bear!") or something from the Li'l Prostitutes Collection(TM). Half the girls we saw looked like they were part of a child molester sting operation. If looking at an eight year-old with low rise hot pants and a bare midriff doesn't make you uncomfortable, then you might want to check yourself in for treatment somewhere.

And just like that, railing against the wicked ways of Kids These Days, I became an old man. Just in time for... that birthday, too.

This year, Schuyler trick-or-treated with her best friend from her Box Class. I don't know why we never did it before. In years past, Schuyler either did the candy rounds with a little neurotypical friend of hers whom she loved unconditionally and heartbreakingly but who was frankly a toxic little bully to her, or she went by herself, accompanied only by her fussy, boring, smelly old parents.

This year, tearing from house to house with her best friend, laughing hard and communicating wordlessly, there was no imbalance between a talking child and her, no bossy kid treating her like some sort of plaything or mascot. There was only fun, and crazy amounts of sugar, and scary displays to scream at. They had the time of their lives, and not only did not of the people handing out candy have a problem with a mute little goth girl and her Supergirl friend, I'm not actually sure that anyone noticed anything different about them.

It's extremely important for Schuyler to present her difference to the world with unflinching courage and without hesitation or apology. Nevertheless, much of the time, maybe even most of the time, she moves across the face of this planet incognito, her freak flag flying but unnoticed, like a visiting extraterrestrial who walks among us.

In that sense, I sometimes wish that every day could be Halloween. For Schuyler, in a way, every day is.