Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Would You Do for $5.84?

Take a moment and think about it. I'll wait...

Would you spend countless hours on the phone? Would you wipe out reams of paper sending letters requesting said $5.84, not to mention the postage? Would you retain the services of legal counsel to get it? Ok, I'll stop baiting you and tell you what's up. Two months ago, I paid off and closed an account with a bank I'll call, say, "HSBD". The person I spoke to was not proficient in English, leading me to believe she was in an overseas call center. She was, however, quite pleasant. She gave me the amount needed to pay off the account in full and close it, which is what I paid. My next statement showed my final payment of $101.74, and then a balance of $5.84. What the? Looking below, I saw that these were finance charges they were trying to add; a dollar here, two dollars there, etc. I called "HSBD" to inform them there was no way they were getting another dime from me. I spoke to someone who told me that, in so many words, I'd have to pay the $5.84. I ignored their letters and phone calls for weeks until I answered the phone without looking at the caller id. The conversation went a little something like this:

Friendly Customer Rep: Mr. Alan Simmons?

Me: Yep.

FCR: This is (some name) from HSBD regarding an outstanding balance of $5.84 on your account.

Me: I've already paid this account off. It should be closed.

Friendly Customer Rep: No sir, it shows you have a $5.84 balance that will need to be paid first.

Me: No, those are finance charges you added after I paid the balance.

FCR: You've paid the balance?

Me: Yes! $101.74.

FCR: I don't see a balance of $101.74... I do see that a payment was made in that amount on the 4th of January...

Me: (Sigh) That's it. That was the balance I was given to pay off. And I paid it. And now I would like my account closed.

FCR: Well, sir, there's still the matter of the $5.84 on your account.

Me: That's not going to happen. I'm not paying you any more money. The $5.84 on the account is $5.84 that your company is going to have to eat. I've paid off my account.

FCR: Well, then it will have to go to our collections department, sir.

Me: Really? You're going to involve your collections department for $5.84? And if they don't have any luck, I suppose you'll take legal action against me?

FCR: Well, we wouldn't want to, but if you didn't pay collections you'd leave us no choice, sir...

Me: So now you've got all the folks in legal on board with this as well? Do you realize how silly that's going to sound to an attorney with a six-figure salary? Do you, um...what's your name again?

FCR: Nathan.

Me: Nathan, do you understand that you can't even retain an attorney for the amount you'd be asking him to retrieve? Don't feel compelled to answer, Nathan, because if you understood we wouldn't be having this conversation. So here's what I propose. You tell your supervisor that you have a customer who refuses to pay $5.84 in bogus finance charges and you feel that, in light of the small amount in question, it's in the company's best interest to—are you writing this down, Nathan?

Nathan: (shuffling paper) Um, yes...

Me: You feel that it's in the company's best interest to credit me for the $5.84 and close the account so that you don't waste the company's valuable resources over such a petty amount. Did you get all that, Nathan?

Nathan: Yessir...

Two days ago I recieved this letter:

Way to go, Nathan. Way to go.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Letters from Home - Uncle Thelbert's Birthday

My family has never been what people would consider sophisticated. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has described rednecks as having "a glorious absence of sophistication". Though I wouldn't necessarily put my family in the redneck category, the rest is true enough. Don't get me wrong—they are fantastic people and would do anything to help anyone in any way they could, but erudition has still managed to elude them. Simplicity notwithstanding, they are some of the funniest people I have ever known. The Simmonses are storytellers by nature, so when I get the occasional letter from home, I know some event has taken place and has been chronicled for me. I thought I'd share these letters with you as I get them. If you enjoy them, comment and let me know. Here's the first one...


Dear son,

Hey there, how have you been? We’re doing real good. We just got off the phone with your cousin Ardell. He was calling to tell us thank you for taking them to dinner the other night for your Uncle Thelbert’s birthday. We took your suggestion and went to that Japanese place where they cook right there in front of you. We didn’t have to take our shoes off or sit on the floor, either. It’s a good thing, too. We never would have got your daddy back up, much as he ate. We had a real good time. It was us, your daddy’s cousin Junior, Uncle Thelbert and Aunt Vernell, and Ardell and his girlfriend Ruby. Vernell was her usual self. She’s not happy unless she’s miserable, bless her heart.

When we got there, this little gal (she didn’t look oriental, and I didn’t ask, but I’d have thought you’d have to be oriental to work there) anyway, she seated us at a table that already had some other folks at it, but we were spread out pretty good, so that was okay. Then this other little gal came and took our drink orders. She was definitely oriental. Vernell ordered coffee, and this little gal said, “Sorry, no coffee.” Vernell shot her a look and said, “What do you mean no coffee? You mean to tell me y’all don’t serve coffee?” The little oriental gal nodded and apologized again. Vernell threw her hands up and said, “Fine. Just bring me some water. Cold as it is outside and I’ve got to drink ice water.” The gal got around to Thelbert. He had been eyeing them big umbrella drinks with pineapple and cherries and whatnot all in them. He ordered one, and Vernell rolled her eyes and told him he didn’t need one. She just doesn’t have much of a sense of fun, and when other folks enjoy themselves, it annoys her something terrible. We told her, “Vernell, it’s his birthday. If he wants one, let him get it.” She made a face and told him to just get whatever he wanted. When the drinks came out, everybody ooohed and ahhhed over Thelbert’s big old umbrella drink. The top of that thing was a high as the top of his head! Vernell was just steaming, but she managed to keep her mouth shut. We ordered our food, and then we sat and chatted for a little bit.

Pretty soon this young man came rolling a cart of food into where were sitting. He had a big old chef’s hat on and couldn’t hardly speak English. His little name badge said ITSUKI. I don’t know how in the world you say that. He went around and pointed at each of us and told us what we were getting. I couldn’t understand well enough to know if that’s what I ordered, but he had a great big old butcher knife in a holster so we just agreed. Then he commenced to flinging that knife around and banging it on the griddle along with a fork he pulled off his cart. Vernell looked at me and said, “What in the hell is he doing?” I told her I didn’t know, but he was good at it. Then he squirted some kind of oil or something on the griddle there and said something that sounded like “big fire”. He put his lighter down there to the griddle and the whole thing went WHOOOMPH and caught fire. Vernell screamed, the plate in Junior’s head shifted and he wet himself, and the retired firefighter in your daddy kicked in and he got up and started beating the fire out with his coat. I wish you’d have warned me that the fire was “part of the show” as they said. And you really ought to offer to get your daddy a new coat, by the way.

After everything calmed down, Suzuki cleaned the griddle and started cooking the food. He dumped a pan of rice on there big enough to feed an army. Then he got to twirling his spatula around and banging it against his little salt and pepper shakers. He cooked a few shrimp and was flipping shrimp tails around and flipped one up and caught it in his hat. He told Thelbert, “Now you catch”. Thelbert had had a second drink by that time, so he said ok. Vernell wadded up her face, but she didn’t say anything. We had to laugh when Thelbert started emptying out his shirt pocket. Lord have mercy, he had three pens, his glasses, two gas receipts, and a tube of Blistex in there. He pulled his pocket open and Isuzu flipped that shrimp tail right in there on the first try. Then he wanted your daddy to catch one, but I said he couldn’t because he’d forget it was in there and I didn’t want to find it in the wash. Vernell had just about had it. She leaned forward in her seat and said, “Are you about done playing, son? I need to eat so I can take my medicine!” That brought the little oriental girl back over, and she asked him if everything was okay. He said something in Japanese to her and she hung around. Then he bowed at Vernell (I guess that’s how you apologize in Japanese) and started serving up the rice. While he was dishing it out, Vernell got to looking around and said, “Wait, is that all you’re going to cook is rice? Where’s the rest of what we ordered?” Suzuki told her, “Rice first. Then vegetable. Then meat.” That did it for Vernell. She crossed her arms and starting braying like an old mule. “You mean you don’t cook it all together? Why in the Sam D. hell would you cook just one at the time?” She shook her head and got up and grabbed her purse and said, “Well, I’m going next door to the Dixie CafĂ© where I can get all my food at once.” Then she shot that little oriental gal a look and said, “And coffee.”

I felt a little bad because none of us went after her, or even tried to convince her to stay. But with her gone, we really had a good time. Poor old Kawasaki looked like he was about to cry, so Thelbert told him, “Son, don’t you worry about her. I’ve been married to that woman for forty-eight years, and I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen her smile or laugh.” That seemed to cheer him up, and he did a little bow to Thelbert and got to flinging his knife and fork around again. He made some real good vegetables, and the best steak I’ve ever had. We sat there as we ate and talked and laughed and had the best time. And when the folks working there found out it was Thelbert’s birthday, they all gathered around him and clapped and sang something. I guess it was their version of Happy Birthday, but it was in Japanese, so I just couldn’t say for sure. They even brought out a big chunk of pineapple with a candle in it. Thelbert was just like a kid, making his wish and blowing his candle out. I’m glad he got to enjoy a little time without Vernell fussing about every little thing he does. We sat and chatted a little longer until they cleared the dishes away and left the check.

About that time, we saw Vernell come back in and make her way over to us. She was a little quieter, but you could still tell she was upset. She said, “Well, are y’all just about done?” We told her we just had to pay the check and we could go. She nodded and looked around and said, “Well, let’s get the ball rolling. Who do we pay, that little Chinese girl or the fella that was out here making all the racket?” Once we got the bill paid, we headed out to the parking lot. Thelbert told Vernell, “Mama, you missed a real good dinner.” She said, “Hmmph. I did no such thing. Y’all were the ones who missed a real meal. And next time y’all come to this place, y’all can just leave me at the house.” Thelbert leaned over to me and whispered, “I just got my wish.”
Well, I guess I’ve about talked you ear off, so I’ll go for now. You take care and we’ll holler at you later.


Mom & Dad

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Tractor

It was Saturday morning, between the time that cartoons went off and Tarzan came on. Dad was working and Mom was finishing up some business at the monastery, leaving my older brothers, Steve and John, to care for me. That could only mean one thing: it was tractor time. The one time during the week when parental supervision was at its weakest, providing my brothers the opportunity to launch my tubby carcass down our fifty-five foot hardwood hallway at speeds that would make Jeff Gordon scream like a girl. The year was 1975 and I was the proud owner of a John Deere toy tractor. And it wasn’t some molded plastic pansy toy. It was metal, baby. And I didn’t wear a helmet or pads on my elbows or knees like these sissy kids today do. My accessories were simple—my father’s workshop goggles served as racing goggles and mom’s yellow dishwashing gloves were the perfect driving gloves. As I pushed the tractor to its starting position in front of the back door, my brothers readied the course, first running a dust mop along its length, then making sure that all bedroom doors were open. This would be important later.

I positioned the goggles on my face—they covered my entire face, not just my eyes—and slid the yellow latex gloves on my hands, snapping them for emphasis. My brothers stood behind me, each with a hand on the tractor’s rear frame. I grasped the steering wheel intently, adjusting my clumsy-looking yellow fingers to get the best grip. My feet would rest on the frame behind the front wheels, not on the pedals—at the speed I would soon be traveling, those pedals would be spinning like the blades of a wood chipper. I drew a deep breath and nodded; the signal that I was ready. In the next instant I was propelled forward, my speed quickly increasing. One final thrust meant that my brothers had given their final push and I was now on my own. The hallway blew past me, a blur of pictures and knick-knacks and light fixtures. My optimum speed had been reached; my next challenge would be to wait for my brothers’ command to turn into one of the bedrooms off the hallway. The object was to make the turn in such a way that no part of the tractor struck the doorway, as that would leave irrefutable evidence of our behavior, the punishment for which would be for Dad to either “knock a knot on our head” or the more-feared “jerk a knot in our tail”. The only thing I was allowed to hit was the bed, as any damage could be easily covered up by proper placement of a quilt or blanket.

As I flew along the hall, I neared my doorway and the command was given: “TURN!!” my brothers shouted in unison. I wrenched the wheel violently to the right and the tractor swerved and fishtailed through the doorway without a scratch. However, once I made it through the doorway, I got cocky and took one hand off the wheel. As soon as I realized what I had done, everything went into slow motion and it was as if I were watching myself from above. The tractor began to spin. I tried to turn out of it (or was it into it?) but I couldn’t control it. I was headed straight for the cedar chest. Dear God, not the cedar chest! That was Grandma’s cedar chest that she had given to Mom. If I put so much as a tire mark on it, there would be no knots knocked on my head or jerked in my tail. I would be sold to a gypsy family or a passing carnival and be forced to eat fire or dance for the entertainment of strangers and I didn’t know how to do either of those things. I remember thinking Dear Lord, if you will keep me from hitting the cedar chest, I’ll never do this again. I promise with all my heart, Lord, please just dont' let me hit the cedar chest. With one last effort, I yanked the wheel with such force that my goggles flew off. I remember my body being airborne for what seemed like a half hour—apparently it was only a second or two—and landing upside down in my closet in a tangle of clothes and wire hangers. The tractor lay on its side, one wheel still spinning, just inches from the cedar chest. Thank you, Lord. My brothers burst into the room a la Three Stooges and helped me out of the closet. Stumbling to my feet, I was still covered in the contents of the closet, making me look as if I had been attacked by a dry cleaner. We sat the tractor up and then inspected the cedar chest for damage. Not a scratch. We cheered and high-fived, exuberant in the triumph of a near-perfect execution. They asked if I was ready to do it again. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said, “Help me find my goggles.”


Saturday Errands

It’s 1974 in Memphis, and my mother and I are getting ready to do Saturday morning errands for the monastery. That’s right; we work for a monastery. The Monastery of St. Clare, to be precise. One of only a few monasteries in the US where nuns reside and carry out their daily duties and prayer. Think Sound of Music without the Nazis and that gives you a basic idea. We live on the grounds in a house provided by them and, in exchange for rent and utilities, we run errands for them, take care of custodial issues, and other odds and ends. And yes, this is true. Our house sits across a parking lot from the monastery. So each Saturday, we take their station wagon around town and pick up groceries and general supplies that are donated by shop owners, most of whom are Italian. I wish I had known then to appreciate the rich culture to which I was allowed access. Most of the places we went looked as if they could be locations for scenes from The Godfather. Our first stop was Delicious Foods Bakery off McLean. There we picked up large cardboard boxes overflowing with breads and pastries wrapped in clear plastic bags. I still remember the intoxicating smell of fresh bread, sweet rolls, Danishes, and cookies that we had to endure for hours as we drove from place to place. The old lady behind the counter at Delicious Foods, Mrs. Salvaggio, always gave me one of their behemoth sugar cookies, reaching her wrinkled, jeweled hand across the counter to place it in my chubby little mitts. This was in the days before you had to wear gloves to handle food. The people who manned the counters in those days were likely either the owners or somehow related to them, so there was always care to make sure hands were clean because their reputation was at stake. Word of a stray hair or, God forbid, booger on a cannoli cake or pasticiotti would travel like wildfire through those small communities. Now the gloves are due to (a) the fact that many in the food service industry simply don’t care whether a wayward snot rocket finds its way onto your food, and (b) the assumption that most food service employees are, in fact, carriers of avian flu or some other equally communicative disease. But, I digress. Back to my cookie. Almost the size of a dinner plate, it was the perfect combination of chewy and crumbly, with large crystals of sugar that would melt on my tongue and take up residence in the corners of my mouth. I could lick my lips hours later and still taste the sweet residue left behind by that beautiful confection. That? Was living.

Our next stop was Oglesby’s Flower Shop at Kerr and Clancy. We’d drive in through the front gate and the crunch of gravel under the tires would keep us company as we wound our way to the front of the shop. There were two buildings on the lot; the flower shop and the house where the Oglesby family lived. Both were a pale gray, the color of gravestones. The perimeter of the property was surrounded by layers of tall trees, overgrown azalea bushes, and a dense canopy of foliage that shut out the noise of the surrounding neighborhood, along with much of the sunlight. The result was an almost eerie darkness and silence that always made me wonder if the place was haunted. Making our way inside, we’d walk through the display floor directly to the work room in the back where a large, long box of flowers waited for us. The makeshift work tables, constructed of plywood and two by fours, held spools of ribbon in every color and size, containers of floral picks and wire, rolls of green tissue paper, and clumps of green floral foam. The floor was littered with discarded stems, wads of tissue paper, flower petals, and the occasional puddle of water. A small radio chained to a beam in the center of the room crackled with easy listening music that was barely audible over the hum of a huge walk-in cooler. Mrs. Oglesby always seemed to be at the same table, busying herself with an arrangement while a younger man that worked there loaded the flowers for us. I would “help” him get them out to the car while my mother and Mrs. Oglesby chatted briefly. Once loaded, we said our goodbyes and headed back out into the noise and sunlight of South Memphis.

Next, we headed to Liberto’s Produce on Webster for fruits and vegetables. It was a warehouse, the entrance to which was in an alley, and the sight of our station wagon backed up to the dock with the larger delivery trucks always drew a few stares. Most of the people there knew us, especially Mr. Memoni. He was a wiry old man with dark but lively eyes who always wore a newsboy cap and a sweater. He would greet us as we came up the concrete stairs to the loading platform. “Ay, look who’s-a-here! Mrs. Simmons, you bring-a you little helper, today, eh?” He’d always shake my hand and pat me on the back. I liked that. It made me feel like I was important. Like I wasn’t just a kid in the way. Like I mattered. He’d motion for a couple of workers to help him gather a few boxes of fruits and vegetables for us. My job was to stand on the ground and put the boxes in the back of the station wagon as they were stacked on the dock. By now the back of the car was filling up, and with one more stop to make, space was a precious commodity. In went a case of apples, a case of bananas, and a case of vegetables. Mr. Memoni always put together a nice mix of what the nuns liked: squash, eggplant, carrots, potatoes, and broccoli. When I had arranged the boxes just so, I would close the back door and climb onto the dock while my mother signed the paperwork. Just before we left each week, Mr. Memoni would toss me an apple or banana and say, “You take-a-this, ok? For all-a-you help, eh?” I would thank him and enjoy one final handshake and pat on the back before we climbed back into the car to make our final stop for the day.

Evangelisti’s Market on Vollentine was our final destination. It was a small mom and pop corner grocery. For some reason, when I was at that young age, I didn’t realize that Evangelisti was the name of the owner; I thought perhaps it was a store for people who had been saved by evangelists, like evangelistees, you know? Being brought up Baptist while working for a Catholic monastery can be very confusing for a seven year old. A bell on the top of the door announced our arrival and departure. The register was right in front of the door, and usually manned by Mr. Evangelisti, who would always offer a hearty “Buongiorno!” At the time I wondered why he called me that when my name was Alan. I never did ask, I just smiled and waved. The store’s concrete floor was cracked in spots, but its glossy coating reflected the shafts of sunlight pouring in through the transom windows. The wooden shelves were lined with canned and boxed goods, sacks of rice and flour, and soda in one liter glass bottles. The meat counter was at the rear of the store and displayed hanging shanks of beef, pork, and lamb, draped with a festive garland of sausage links. A single long cooler bin in front of the butcher’s window held freshly cut and packaged meats. I never knew the butcher’s name, but he was a kind older man with the patience of a saint. While my mother went through the list of needs with Mr. Evangelisti, I would badger this poor man to what would have been, for some, within an inch of sanity. But every question I asked, he gently answered in a thick, raspy Italian accent. As my little fat fingers would point to one, then another of the curious meaty treasures, he would name them for me: “Dhat’s-a-the-prosciutto…dhat-ees-a-called-a-bracciole. You can-a get it wit-a-beef or wit-a-pork…Dees-ees-a-pepperoni, like on-a-de-pizza, you know? An-a-dese? Dese-are-a-called-a -sopressata. Dees-a-one ees-a-sweet, an-a dees-a-one ees-a-hot…” Soon my mother would call for me to go, and he would reach to a nearby table and grab a small piece of oily, fragrant pepperoni and hand it to me with the kind of smile only old Italian men can smile, and say, “Here you go, you take-a-dees wit-a you, ok? Arrivederci, piccolo amico!” (Goodbye, little friend). What a neat old man. I know he has long since passed on, and I sincerely hope that he lived a long, enjoyable life and died peacefully in his sleep. Arrivederci, amico.


A Little Background

I grew up half Baptist, half Catholic. That's our family joke. We were Baptist and attended a Baptist church. But my parents worked for a Catholic monastery. You know... nuns. Twenty-four of them, to be precise. We lived on the grounds in a house provided by the monastery. In exchange for rent and utilities, my father handled the custodial issues and my mother handled transportation. She drove the nuns to doctors appointments, to the shoe store, and, on the rare occasion that one traveled home to visit family, to the airport. They quickly became my other family, and they doted on me just as if I were a nephew or grandson. Most people will nod and smile when I tell them about it—you've seen it, the I-don't-believe-a-word-you're-saying-but-I'll-go-along-just-in-case-you're-a-psychopath nod—but I assure you that I could not make up anything nearly as entertaining. We moved there when I was about two years old, and I lived there until I got married at twenty-seven. I know, I know, I lived with my parents too long. But even with all the crazy things that happened there during those twenty-five years, I wouldn't trade it. I was exposed to a whole other religion, a whole other culture, and I have some great memories. Most of the folks that visited the monastery on a regular basis were, as you might imagine, of Italian descent. There were the Giaccottos, the Bellacerras, the LaBrascas, and many more I don't remember. A lot of them worked for businesses that donated items to the monastery on a weekly basis. The next post is about us picking up those donations every Saturday and all the beautiful people we were privileged to know.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cloak and Dagger

I responded to a job posting the other day for a legal assistant. Turns out it's the same place I applied a few months ago. The "interview" back then was actually a timed twelve-minute test asking me if there is a difference between similar words like "miner" and "minor". Um, ok. Then they had me complete a personality test that took two hours to complete. Which I did because I need a freakin' job. I never heard a single word back from the firm. I called back to follow up, and the little teenie bopper answering the phone informed me that, "Um, they've like, filled that position already..." Ok, fine. So when I found out this was the same place, I was concerned. But this time I got a voice mail from Judy, a very nice-sounding lady, asking me to call her to set up an interview. So I promptly called back to set up a time with Judy.

Teenie Bopper Receptionist: Thank you for calling (Law Firm), how may I help you?

Me: Hi, I'm trying to reach Judy.

TBR: Um, we don't have anybody here by that name.

Me: Is this (telephone number Judy left)?

TBR: Yeah...

Me: I'm returning her call, and this is the number she left.

TBR: Sorry, we don't have a Judy here.

Me (confused): O....k... uh, this is going to sound dumb, but... are you sure?

TBR: Are you, like, a client?

Me: No, I'm responding to a job posting for a legal assistant, and Judy called me to—

TBR: Hang on, I'll transfer you...

Me (What the?): Ok, thanks...

So I finally reach the elusive Judy and, deciding to take the high road and not question her about her apparent secret identity, I explain that I had already been through the testing gauntlet, passed, and also completed the personality testing, to which she replied, "Well then, you know how it works." No, but I'm getting a pretty good idea. So I went today for the "interview", and, just like before, all the applicants were herded into a conference room to decipher the enigma of the difference between words like "affect" and "effect", "altar" and "alter", and, the most challenging of all, "aisle" and "isle". Fortunately, the personality test had been significantly shortened and only took a half hour. As we were leaving we were told that we would hear something either way within just a few days. I'm not holding my breadth.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

What a Woman

Have you ever known someone who is just obstinate enough to never give up? That's my wife, Mary. Ever since I was reorganized out of a job in April, 2008, she's been my support system. I've been able to talk to her about how worthless I feel for being out of work for so long and not being able to land a job. Even with 200-plus jobs applied for and two dozen or so fairly promising interviews. I'm sure there are a lot of wives out there that are supporting their husbands during this economic Suck-a-Palooza. But Mary's extraordinarily strong, for a lot of reasons that I won't go into. It's part of what made me fall in love with her. When we lived in Memphis several years ago, her doctor diagnosed her with Lupus. Or Fibromyalgia. He couldn't decide, so he let the weight of anxiety hang over our heads while he assured us it was one or the other. Yeah, thanks. A year or so ago, her doctor here in Northwest Arkansas did some very comprehensive bloodwork and testing and determined that yes, it was indeed Lupus. If you're not familiar with this disease, it's a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood, and kidneys. It can be fatal in some cases. I get a knot in my stomach just typing that. I can't imagine a day without Mary. When she used to travel for work, she would be gone for days at a time and I would literally be miserable. But when I'm with her, I'm the very best version of myself. And she inspires me every day. And, though there are times when she finds it hard to even move because her joints are swollen and stiff, she'll just make a joke about being an old fart and charge ahead. But she's not an old fart. She's not even forty yet. There are also times when our current situation gets the better of her and she cries and wonders when and how and if it's going to get better. This disease has tried, unsuccessfully, to sideline her, but she's having none of it. Every day she gets up and goes to work as a reading specialist. Helping kids who are having trouble reading learn to make sense of the jumble of letters in front of them, while she faces a jumble of unexplained and seemingly unfair events in her own life. And she keeps going, chipping away at those obstacles until she finds a way through or around. For that, and for a million other reasons, I am hopelessly, unequivocally, and immutably in love with her.