The Patdown

I took public transit all the way back to Germany - it actually worked! Metro-North train down to Grand Central Station, out on 42nd Street and up across from Starbucks was the NY airport shuttle service. The busses looked very old, but $16 was better than $45 + tolls for a taxi. I only waited 10 minutes before a rickety bus drew up with a very cheerful driver. He loaded our suitcases in the back, and we got on. Despite the looks of the bus, every seat had an electrical outlet (!) and there was free Wi-Fi on the bus.

Okay, they saved on shock absorbers, and our driver drove at breakneck speed, but we were at JFK in just over 30 minutes. It was early and there was no line, so I got my suitcase checked in in no time and headed off to security.

I removed all my stuff - coat, vest, things in pocket, money belt, laptop, etc. and headed for the metal detector. Except they had just determined that I was one of the lucky ones to go into the full body scanner (called "naked scanner" in German). I didn't realize this until they asked me to clasp my hands above my head. I asked if this was a full body scanner. The lady said "yes". I stated that I did not want to be irradiated. "It won't do you nothing," she said, "it's harmless."

Well, the problem is, there is NO research about whether or not this actually is harmless or not. Prominent scientists in the US have warned against using this technology, stating that the calculations of the irradiation are not calculated correctly. Whatever, I don't want pictures of the outline of my body floating around, as has happened in the US. So I insisted on an alternative.

With a mildly threatening "Well, Ma'am, you're going to have to have a pat-down" I was told to step aside. My things were now through the scanning system, and I did not feel very comfortable with my money belt on top of the pile of stuff, out of my reach.

I asked if I could go through the normal metal detector. No, I had to have a full putdown. "Of EVERYTHING," they noted. They really didn't want to have to do this. I preferred this to irradiation, however, although they kept telling me that the machine is "harmless". Finally one of the women who had been standing around pulled out some gloves and had me come with her.

I had to point out my stuff and someone else carted that off to the side. Did I want a private putdown? No, let's have the indignity in public. She launched into a long tirade, learned by heart and spoken in rapid-fire NYC accent. In particular, she wanted to know if I had "sensitive parts" that would react strongly to pressure. I said "We'll see, won't we?"

She put some stuff on her gloves (and it's all over my shirt, left a stain) and started in. She started on my head, looking under the hair. Then she traced down my back - not a very good massage, really - and grabbed into the waistband of my pants. She bitched at me for having a piece of paper (!) in my pocket, that had to be take out and she felt the pants again.

She then went down the front, and around my breasts - that was really quite violating, I felt. She then felt down my inner thighs and inside the front of my pants. She checked my socks (I hope they smelled) and told me to take my "items" and get going. So I slowly got dressed again and as I was doing so, I realized one bizarre thing: She didn't find the USB-stick necklace I was wearing. It was *between* my breasts, not underneath. I wonder if that would have made me a terrorist, if she had found it?

I think the US is freaking bizarre out of their minds with all of this security theater. It just costs money - isn't a simple metal detector good enough?


Blue Bottles

My Mom had a favorite painting of blue bottles that she picked up somewhere decades ago. It was the last of her personal belongings that she had with her in the hospice. My brother shipped it up to his place, and I set it on to Germany today - at a very dear price.

I started out at FedEx - they wanted $575 to ship it. I carried it on to the USPS post office and waited in line, listening to the surly postman behind the counter deal with all the people in line before me. He ran through his litany "do-you-need-stamps-stationary-or-a-passport-renawal-form-sir-will-that-be-all"? so fast, I didn't understand it until the third time.

No, the box was too big. He measured it twice. I pointed out that it had been mailed TO my brother, so it should be possible to mail it on. No, 108 inches was the MAXIMUM. I needed to go to UPS.

I went outside and sat on a bench, having no idea if there was a UPS in the area and no mobile phone with internet connection to find out. The lady after me came out, saw me sitting and offered to drive me to UPS. They were very nice there, but it was going to be $580. For $5 I was not going back to FedEx to send it.

When I got home, I googled. And yes, there is an oversize rate for packages. Mine was 125 inches, 130 was the max for this kind of parcel. So I wrote an email to USPS - they need to train their people in the rates they offer and in being friendly.

At that price, I could have reserved an additional seat on the plane for the picture...

Update: The USPS answered within 24 hours - for international packages, the postman was correct, 108 inches is the max. So he was just surly.

And now for something completely different...

I was speaking with a brother about a funny Monty Python sketch and we dug around on the fancy TV with an Internet connection and found it on YouTube. We played it, dissolved in laughter, and the princesses laughed with us. At the end they asked for more. We showed them more. They asked for even more, and their dad purchased a whole season worth of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

They spent all weekend watching. It was gorgeous weather outside, I finally managed to convince 2 out of the 3 to take a walk with me. And how did they walk? Silly walks, just like Monty Python, repeating bits and pieces of the sketches.

I'm afraid we got them infected. I suppose my brother will have to buy the other three seasons as well. There are worse things on the tube.


The Memorial Service

I first thought I had landed in the wrong place. After a very agreeable transatlantic flight with Air Berlin (including good-tasting meals!) we landed early at JFK, despite leaving about half an hour late. JFK - oh my, I have traumatic memories of long waits here and surly inspectors. We were greeted by smiling (!), courteous people showing us which line to get in. The inspectors were also welcoming, friendly, and efficient, actually joking with people in line before me. When my inspector tried a joke with me and I noted I was here for a funeral, he immediately became solemn and offered his condolences. I proceeded to Customs and again there was just a short line and an efficient inspector.

I was outside the door at the time that was scheduled for landing.

Wow! My brother was waiting and we sat in the snarled New York rush hour while chatting about work, on our way to pick up our other sibling. Expensive, gas-guzzling SUVs, limos, and functioning junk heaps, all honking and cutting lanes along a decrepit highway, accompanied us. But luck was with us, and we made it back home in time for the first concert of a niece who is learning to play the viola.

This morning we had a memorial service at my brother's church. We were sitting around the gas fire relaxing when the rector came in, sat down and asked: When are the ashes to be coming? It was 20 minutes before the service was to begin, and since we had already had one service without ashes we didn't really want to have another one. My brother sat up in his chair with a start. "I telephoned with the funeral home on Monday and they asked if I wanted the ashes delivered to the church right away and I said yes!".

Okay, at least the ashes are in town and not in the clutches of the US Postal Office. The rector tells us to be calm and goes to call. He returns, saying that he's glad it's not his fault, and that the ashes will be here promptly. And indeed, we were able to start the memorial service only a few minutes after the appointed time.

We had traditional readings, and then we began the family remembrances. We read a letter from her sister and then I spoke about her life. She had a master's in mathematics and taught math, computer science, and physical education. She was fascinated with tesselations. She was born in Canada, living in many states as she followed my engineer father around. She loved to sew, to make things, to shop, to do jigsaw puzzles, and to swim. Alzheimer's started eating at her brain in 2000, she had to be admitted to a memory care unit in 2007.

My middle brother played one of Bach's Goldberg Variations and then improvised. It was fascinating following him down the emotional strands he was weaving. It was somehow quite fitting, and very special to hear this music played only once, for this special occasion.  My younger brother then spoke, as did two of his children, before we continued will all three of the girls participating in the prayers.

After the ceremony the ashes were stored in a special niche under the altar. My younger brother will drive them out to Pennsylvania this summer to bury them next to our father's ashes.

It was good to have come together as a family to celebrate our mother's life, no matter what issues we might still have had with her. It is time to move on.