Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Bank Is The Fraud

My bank alerted me a few days ago to a fraud committed against my account. But with a balance of $8 and no overdraft protection, they told me, everything is okay. The transactions were stopped.

I was so happy. And proud. Proud to have an account at a bank that was looking out for my interest. A bank that knew, without being told, that because I live in Los Angeles, chances are I was not in Montana this past Shabbos trying to fill up my car at three separate gas stations one right after the other.

Bliss. Until yesterday, when I received a letter from the bank notifying me that despite the lack of overdraft protection, they had processed the transactions anyway. I was now formally on the hook for $541.77 worth of charges accrued in the great state of Montana.

Woe to me. So this morning I went into my bank, sat down with the representative and poured out my heart, beginning with, how, with no overdraft protection, could this happen? He assured me that he didn't know, and that I would not be held to the charges. But first, they had to call the fraud department and arrange paperwork.

My turn to talk to the fraud department attendant came, and as I questioned him, I got the feeling I was speaking to a telemarketer. You know, the delayed responses and the slight click on the line. So I asked him if he were in India. No. He was in the Philippines.

Is there any reason why I should be talking to a bank employee in the Philippines? Is there any sane reason why, when they charge you $35 for bounced checks and overdraft fees, I can't be speaking to someone here in America?

Enough outsourcing. Time for some serious in-sourcing. Time for my bank to get its story straight - either my lack of overdraft protection stopped the purchases or it doesn't really matter what your account status is - the bank does whatever it wants.

In the end, the gas stations and restaurants are on the hook for the money. Not the bank. Not me. As far as the criminals are concerned, as the saying goes, they're laughing all the way to my bank!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ode To Joy

These past weeks I've had more than my share of good times. Not that I'm complaining. First, an engagement party for a nephew and soon-to-be niece. Then a visit from another niece's family. Add to that a trip to see my brother and his family on the east coast. And finally, my son's Hanachas Tefillin.

It is the custom of Lubavitchers that two months prior to a boy's 13th birthday he puts on tefillin for the first time. Today was my son Mendel's turn. Menachem Mendel, that is.

Born on the Rebbe Reshab's birthday, Chof Cheshvan (November 20, 1997), my husband and I were in a quandary as to what to name him. First of all, he was son number 4 and I was, well, in my very late 30s at the time. We weren't anticipating any more children after him and we had yet to name a son after the Rebbe.

On the other hand, the Rebbe Reshab's name was Shalom Dov Ber, which is three names. My husband has three names, and doesn't care for it much. Plus, son number 3 is Shlomo, which is pretty close to Shalom, another strike against it.

Hence, our Menachem Mendel came into his name. However, I might add at this point that we did have another son after him, Moshe Dov Ber, and a daughter, Devorah Esther. Which gives credence to the saying: it ain't over 'til it's over.

In terms of joy, let it be. Ouch, I'm obviously having some musical moments!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Flying High

I am here in Boston visiting my brother for a few days, just in time for the rain. Oh, no - stuck in the house spending time with my brother and his wife, my sister and her husband and the two most adorable twins ever!

What began with over sleeping and a mad dash out of the house to the airport ended with an incredible airplane trip with an amazing seat mate. Her name is Laura, a microbiologist and native Bostonian, and we spent some 4 ours in conversation. Instant friendship, lasting memories.

New England has a different look and energy than Los Angeles, but seeing my brother is all that matters. I have, thank G-d the most attentive and kindest sister-in-law, and it brings me to tears that I can't live nearby.

But snow is snow, and I can't handle it. So when my education is done in two years and it's time to settle into a career, I will keep my mind open as to where to live. Open, that is, to anyplace with a Mediterranean climate and no snow. As the saying goes, man plans and G-d laughs. Got the feeling He's laughing right now.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Here Comes the Hors-d'oeuvres

My dry run to school by bike was a success yesterday, and before I left for home I dropped by my department say hello. I mentioned to the staff that I was kinda hungry and couldn't wait for a wedding I planned to attend that evening. I could taste the hors-d'oeuvres already.

The department secretary looked at me and asked, "you have hors d'oeuvres at a wedding?" Well, I thought to myself, all the Jewish weddings I've ever gone to had them, but the secretary isn't Jewish. I looked at her, completely in character, and answered a question with a question.

"You mean, you don't have hors d'oeuvres at your weddings?" "No," she said, "we have the ceremony in Church and then the meal afterwards."

Oh dear. Jewish weddings are one long eating feast with intermittent breaks - including the actual ceremony itself, although I've seen people drinking their way through that as well.

So I took pictures of all the food tables at the Kabbalas Punim, where I filled up on sushi, hot corned beef, puff pastry pareve pizza and salad. I passed on the roast beef, turkey breast and the open bar, although I underestimated the strength of the wasabi and nearly fainted before I got my hands on some water.

By the time dinner was served, I was done. In lieu of flowers, a two-tiered wedding cake sat on each table, and I dived into that. Oh yeah. What a great idea.

No doubt, the words Jews and foods rhymes for a reason. It's our job to take the mundane and make it holy. Now, if we were to split it up, I'll take the mundane cake and do my part everyday!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Picking Tomatoes

I attended a seminar not far from home yesterday on how to be a teacher. That's right, yours truly will be teaching a high school class in physiology this fall, which goes to show you how desperate the Jewish school system is here in Los Angeles. I took one class in physiology a few years back because I had to, and passed, with an A, through serious prayer and extra credit.

Afterwards, I decided to walk down the street and pick some tomatoes. The Jewish community in Los Angeles has quite a few websites for current events, but my favorite is called Hilly's List, a daily advertisement for the orthodox of what's happening here. On Friday last, I noticed a listing for free tomatoes - just bring your own bag and pick 'em.

When I got to the address in the ad, I realized, much to my delight, that it's the home of my husband's cousins. So I picked tomatoes, schmoozed, was brought up to date on extended family news and then walked home.

I got as far as the end of the street before I called me husband to come fetch me. It was too hot, my back hurt from the bending, and I needed a nap. I was this side of grouchy, but had to smile for spending time with two truly kind people (to me and mine). Thank you G-d, for life's little surprises. Just keep them all this good.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I Quit

Somehow, without my consent, I was elected Shabbat Kiddish Queen. I took it in stride, smiled and said okay. I'll help out. I'll take charge of setting up the women's kiddish table after Shabbat prayers. I must have been out of my mind.

Week after week, it was my job to ask about 20 women, the same 20 women, to move out of the way and take their chairs with them so tables could be set up and all that delicious food can be served. (For the most part, we're taking herring in oil, crackers, and cholent.)

But something snapped inside of me this past Shabbat. I just decided, I can't take this anymore. I can't keep asking the same people to move. It's not right. So I quit. Made it clear that I was no longer responsible for moving tables, and more important, moving people.

I'm sorry. I know I'm not right, but I also know my limitations. All I ask is that Hashem forgive me for running out of patience, and beg, indeed, implore, that He not treat me, or any of us, the same way.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Taking A Bike

In my never-ending quest to lose weight by exercise, I have taken up riding a bike. My husband enjoys putting bikes together, beginning from the frame and adding parts to customize it. I chose one he had put together that fit my frame, asked him to inflate the tires, and away I went.

The plan is to take a bike to school, as I will be attending late night classes, all of which end at 10 pm. I will disembark from the the Hollywood/Highland subway and coast downhill, all the way home.

So today I decided to take my bike on the bus. That involves lowering the bike rack on the front of the bus, lifting your bike onto it, and then locking it in. I've never done that, and like all things I've never done, I was a little nervous and felt a dry run before school starts was is in order.

When the bus came, there was already a bike on the rack, so all I had to do was lift it up and put in on. But I didn't know how to lock it on and a kind, old black man got off the bus to help me. I rode the bus down the street, got off, and crossed the street to catch the bus back. This time, I loaded the bike myself, locked it on, and rode all the way to the Hollywood/Highland station to practice the ride home. I barely had to pedal, as the ride is truly downhill all the way.

How fun! But truth is, I live in fear of getting a flat. I don't know how to change a tire, and would hate to have to drag a bike around because of it. Well, one issue at a time.

Next week: I take my bike on the subway to practice that end of the trip. Is my life exciting or what?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Afternoon With Al

I finally convinced my husband to come to school with me. I needed to go to the career center, stop by financial aid and then visit my office to drop off stuff.

I loaded up my stuff (a Costco box filled of paper clips, pencil holder, waste basket, photo of the Rebbe, and metal stacking file) only to find, when I got there, that I forgotten my key. Oh my gosh. Freak out. I am always going to forget my key and I can't duplicate it. Okay, one issue at a time.

So I worked on my resume with the counselor there. A word on Broom Hilda, and I say that in a loving way. She's about 70 years old, from an undisclosed European country (when they won't say, I just guess Germany) and she likes to talk. Helpful as all get out, but just really slow and right now, I'm too hyper to deal with slow. (Yes, I did have 20 Oz of home-brewed coffee, and I'm sure that has something to do with it!)

I rushed out of there as fast as I could (30 minutes), ran over to financial aid, found the information I needed, and then we left for my office in the library. When you forget your key, the library staff opens the door for you, so we got in.

Truth be told, when I first saw my cubicle office a few weeks back, it looked bigger. Now I realize that my big plans for it (fold up foam chair-bed, comfortable chair, mini-frig and coffee maker) are not going to work out. First, they don't allow mini (or otherwise) frigs or coffee makers, and there really isn't enough room for the bed and chair.

Also, there's a window in the door that anyone walking by (granted, they would have to go out of their way, so basically, this is staff and friends) can see in the room. You are not allowed to cover over the window, or they will open your door and remove whatever is blocking the line of sight.

To make a long story short, my husband moved around the one piece of furniture to afford more privacy, while I worried about someone crawling over the partition and stealing stuff.

Even though my husband made fun of the obvious pride I have in my school, we had fun. Yes, I can live without him talking to EVERYONE, but he is very helpful and we enjoyed our time together. Before long, I will be back in school, and hopefully working. There won't be much time for this kind of fun.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Going to Costco

When my husband said he was going to Costco, this mega-outlet of bulk buying, I jumped at the chance to go, even making him wait for me to shower, get dressed and make coffee. I could only dream about getting into that amazing warehouse of stuff, and finding just the right stuff to take home.

When we got out of the car, my husband made it known that this was his shopping experience, not mine. I asked if he wanted me to get my own cart, but he said that was not necessary as long as I don't interfere with him. You see, unlike me, with my studying and plans for more studying that keeps me out of such places, the trip Costco is a standard monthly one for my husband, who has the aisles he needs already planned out.

So I meekly followed behind, dropping stuff in the cart when he wasn't looking, and oohing and ahhing at everything. But my husband doesn't just buy stuff, he talks to everyone. Finds out where they are from, what their opinions are on items, asks them to help figure out how much individual items cost in bulk orders. All the stuff I never do.

It makes shopping that much more fun for him, and usually for the people around him. However, it's not my comfort level to interact with people that way. I have the friends I love, and call them with such questions (except the cost of individual items in bulk). It's just a matter of personal style and how we differ. It's all about complementing each other as well.

Weighing In

Last week, I responded to my dear friend's facebook posting about the current illegal immigration situation in America. Not surprising, Arizona was singled out as having dubious motives for passing their "anti-immigrant" law, which can also be seem as a "pro-state's rights" law. Either way, Arizona has taken federal immigration law and made it state law. I pointed that out, explaining that while there is a human component, understand that it is the duty and mission of the nation-state to defend it citizenry at all costs. Now the battle begins.

The only dog I have in this fight is the desire of my nation to have secure and defensible borders, which I truly feel everyone agrees on. But because I live in a state and city with a heavy Hispanic population, the debate tends to get emotional, as it is not unusual that the person sitting next to you is actually from south of our border or their parents were. Disagreements tend to be reduced to the charge of racism.

They are all, in my opinion, welcome. This country is surely physically big enough for everyone, and I think, emotionally big enough as well. Meaning, we are all trained early on to accept differences, even if we don't personally like everyone we meet. Just like needing a light on when you sleep or a certain lucky charm around your neck when you work, I need diversity. I need all those ethnic groups around me. It makes me feel alive.

But that doesn't mean people have the right to break the law. And the reports of open lawlessness on the part of drug cartels in Arizona is unacceptable. It is the duty of the federal government to protect its citizenry, and that can only be done by clearly defending those borders and defining not just who, but how to become a citizen.

As I mentioned in one of my facebook encounters with Carlos, who took up my call for defensible borders by, among other things, invoking the Torah, illegal immigrant proponents are demanding rights basically for one ethnic group - theirs. I asked him if another cultural group from another part of the world came in illegally by the millions and worked for less, would these same illegal immigrant proponents support them? Of course not.

At the end of the day, we need something we can agree on. It breaks my heart to see we are not even close to getting there.