Pay it Forward

At the Starbucks drive thru she orders a Mocha Frappuccino, 410 calories, 425 pennies. When she arrives at the window, a smiling barista informs her that the car in front of her has paid for her order.

Pay it forward, she thinks.

She’s ready to pay for the car behind her. But when she looks in her rear-view mirror, she sees a Mercedes occupied by two thirsty suits. She decides she’ll not pay it forward. She takes her Frappuccino—paid for with her momentary guilt—and leaves.

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A Dog Named Spot

Today I had to prove that I actually am who I say I am. And I had to do it twice. First, online. Then in person.

It started when I called my cell-phone provider about a phone upgrade offer; it ended when I visited one of their stores to complete the transaction.

Here’s what happened.

I told the “helpful” online sales rep that I was qualified for an upgrade and had some questions. I gave him my name and my phone number so he could verify my status, but it wasn’t enough. I was going to have to do this in person…

At the store, the sales rep needed to confirm that I was who I claimed I was. He asked for the pin number for my account. You know, one of those numbers you’re never supposed to write down. But one you’re expected to remember.

Of course, it would be easy if you could just use a number you already know, but they warn you against doing that. No 1234, no street address, no part of your phone number, or any of your other numbers. It should be a random number. A number that is difficult to remember. It worked—I couldn’t remember it.

We moved on to the security question.

“Your first dog’s name,” he asked.

“Spot,” I replied.

“Spot,” he said.

“Spot,” I repeated.

“Oh-kay…” he said.

I watched him as an afterthought formed, no doubt spawned by a recent customer service seminar he’d attended. At least, that’s what I surmised.

“What kind of dog is it?“ he asked.

I wasn’t sure how to reply. We’ve had many dogs over the years: Benji, Denny, Zoe, Mr. Bill, Buffy, Augie Chloe, and Dahle, and those just since we've been married!

But we've never had a dog named Spot.

My guess is he was asking what breed the dog was. But I wasn’t sure. Maybe he’d have been satisfied with the size. Or maybe he wanted to know about the dog's disposition. Was Spot friendly? Did he bite? Did he jump on strangers and give them big juicy slobbering kisses? When he asked what kind of dog, did he mean well trained from which he hoped to glean something about me? I finally decided that telling him the breed was the best answer to his question.

I have a confession, something I need to get out of the way before I continue with the story. I’ve never really had a dog. There have been, and currently there are, dogs in the house I live in but to be accurate, they never belonged to me. It was always my brother's dog or my sister's dog or my wife’s dog. They were also family dogs, but that fact was secondary.

The only thing I was sure of was that choosing a dog’s name for a security question had seemed daunting at the time, and so I had chosen “Spot”.

I then realized I still hadn’t answered his question. I started picturing the dogs we'd owned, trying to decide which one looked most like a Spot. I didn’t want to disappoint him.

The problem was he seemed impatient and frustrated. And that added to my building tension. I had to say something…

“A Shih Tzu!” I blurted out rather unconvincingly. “My dog… Spot… Is a Shih Tzu! Spot’s a Shih Tzu…”

He looked puzzled. And then disappointed. His face said, “Who names a Shih Tzu, Spot?” He tried to smile, but it was as awkward as our whole dog conversation had been.

Fortunately we finally got back to business.

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The Recall

I got a postcard the other day informing me of a recall on my car, the Elantra, and promptly forgot about it. I meant to call. I meant to appoint a time for fixing whatever needed fixing.

The recall notice said the steering might go from power to no power, from the 2015 technology to pre1950s technology, in the blink of an eye. I believe it; my life from then till now also passed in the blink of an eye.

Later a call from the service department again reminded me of the needed recall. I made an appointment and took my car, its power steering still working and waited the hour it took to make the “repair.”

Today I received another call from the service department asking me about my experience. The repair, they asked, was it satisfactory?

I didn’t know how to respond. My car’s power steering both before and after the “repair” worked.

“It’s too soon to tell,” I said.


As far as I know it’s fine. There was nothing left to say, so I hung up.

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It’s Not a Date

She called. He was surprised. He figured she’d dialed the wrong number, but no, she wanted to talk to him. To him! But why? All he could figure was that she needed help with her schoolwork. They sat next to each other in fifth-period biology, a subject she struggled with, so it couldn’t have been about biology… or could it?
She was sweet, sexy too, but she was way out of his league. He’d only ever spoken to her in class—over a dissected frog—and now, here she was, on the phone.
She got straight to the point: she was going to see the Kingston Trio, and he was going to take her.
“It’s not a date,” she said. “Just as friends.” She told him that the concert was on Friday night and that he was to pick her up at her parent’s house at 7:00 p.m.
He didn’t understand; but he didn’t need to understand.
He arrived at 7:00 p.m. Half expecting her not to be home, he was ready to be disappointed, but she answered the door. And even though she didn’t invite him in, this was starting to feel more like a date than “just friends.”
He was driving his dad’s Chevy Impala convertible (she liked that). They talked about school, friends, and how much they liked the Kingston Trio. It was awkward, but getting easier.
Dry martini, jigger of gin. Oh, what a spell you’ve got me in. Oh, my, do I feel high.
She looked over at him and told him how happy she was to be there. He noticed she was sitting a bit closer to him.
A couple of her friends from school walked by, and she introduced him as her friend. She asked if he’d mind if she went and talked to them for a bit. She left without waiting for an answer.
He imagined what it would be like when they were back at school. He’d have stories to tell. His friends would be astonished.
People won’t believe me. They’ll think that I’m just braggin.
They had played all their songs and were in the middle of an encore, but he had stopped listening—he was worried he’d be leaving on his own. They finished their encore, and there she was.
She told him it had been fun, thanked him for bringing her, and said, “I’ve got a ride back with some friends.” She could see he was hurt. “I haven’t seen them for a long time,” she said, “if that’s okay.” She put her hand on his shoulder, bent forward, and gave him a rather chaste peck on the cheek, and then, before he could answer, she was gone.

The concert was over, the moon was full, and the stars were bright. Back in his convertible, he pulled the top up. He didn’t want to be seen sitting alone, and he could still hear the singing in his head.
Hang down your head Tom Dooley, Hang down your head and cry.

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I’m reading: at the beginning of each story, below the country of origin and above the title is a line with a squiggle through it. It looks like this:


The squiggle is darker than the line and the left half of the squiggle is thinner and lighter than the right half, though my lack of drawing talent may give you a different impression.

I don’t like the squiggle. It looks like a piece of hair on the screen of my Kindle®. I sometimes try to brush it away and then blush when I realize my mistake. You won’t see me blush because I’m reading alone.

The stories are short, done in a flash, so there are lines and squiggles every few pages. It’s more annoying than you might imagine.I’m taking a break. I’m listening to Schubert’s Fantasia in C minor, it helps.

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Reflections on Earth Day

When a friend asks, “What’s wrong with the world?” You reply, “I am.”1

There was a Trader Joe’s orange juice carton on the corner of Boysenberry and Forbush. I walked past it for weeks wondering why nobody picked it up.

I like to consider myself green, an environmentalist, but I don't do it well. My wife is much more dedicated to the process than I am and my small successes I owe to her playful nagging. She often reminds me that the can or the box or the plastic I’m putting in the general trash bin belongs in the recycling bin.

Every time we go birding we see white plastic bags. We mistake them for owls and swans and geese. I tell my wife that we should make a point of picking up at least one of those bags each time we bird and put it in a recycling bin. But all we’ve done so far is talk about it.

I’m not alone, the Trader Joe’s organic juice carton that I finally picked up after weeks of walking past it is, a case in point. Was I just trying to burnish my environmental credentials, or make the neighborhood a better place? Perhaps it was a David Sedaris’s essay that was the catalyst for my good deed.

David, who lives in West Sussex England, combines a Fitbit fetish with trash collection in his essay Stepping Out He spends hours each day collecting trash on roads near his home, and now his local council is naming a garbage truck after him.

Recycling isn’t walking the same mile and a half every day and looking at the same Trader Joe’s organic juice carton on the corner of Boysenberry and Forbush nor is it mistaking white plastic bags for birds.

Recycling is when you bend over pick it up put it in a recycling bin.

Maybe I'm a nascent environmentalist. If I’m green, it's a pale green not the forest green I want to be.

  1. David Shields and Elizabeth Cooperman
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Take a Load Off

A strange thing happened at our monthly cousin’s lunch.

After we all had arrived, Dave, Doug, Wayne, Janna, Jerry, Jeff, and myself, a waitress came and asked what we would like to drink. She could have offered suggestions, a menu of drink options, but she didn’t increasing the cognitive load1 on each of us.

She started with Doug. He usually just has water, and so It was no surprise when he confirmed that water was all he needed.

What happened next was surprising. Doug had made it easy to avoid the additional mental effort needed to decide on a drink with his choice of water. Wayne seated next to Doug also ordered water and then Jerry joined them “Water,” he said. Janna sitting next to Jerry echoed his choice of water. Jeff, Jerry’s son, paused but kept the water flowing.

I couldn’t believe it. Did they believe the eight glasses of water a day myth? Had they forgotten that coffee has water too, and a nice little kick of caffeine. Iced tea and diet coke are also mostly water, hell even a potato is mainly water. Maybe they were trying to save a buck. The water is free.

I was having none of it. “I’ll have a diet coke and coffee, and a beer,” I said.

My order lightened the cognitive load and opened the floodgates.

I’ll have coffee with cream,” Janna gushed.

Jeff seized the opportunity and ordered a diet coke.

David, amused by the unexpected turnaround, began requesting order changes from others. Jerry decided tea would be dandy.

The waitress looked confused, it had gone from the simple cascade of water orders to an out of order babbling of other beverage choices. My work done, I canceled the beer and the diet coke and confirmed that I take my coffee black.

Jerry, seeing the waitress panicking, promised to sort out the orders when they arrived. She looked relieved.

The difficult work of deciding on drinks behind us we relaxed.

cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in the working memory. ↩

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