Kiki Programs Her Cell Phone

Note: Names have been changed to protect the guilty.  

My friend and long-time roommate Kiki was a cell phone pioneer.  She got her first one very early on in the wireless revolution.  Frankly, I’m convinced she was talking to herself on the thing — no one else had one,  so who the hell was she calling? (Please forgive me if it’s actually supposed to be “whom the hell.”  I am a bit of an idiot savant with certain grammar matters.)

By the time I procured my first cellular device, Kiki was already on her second or third, and an expert on all things Sprint. Her vast knowledge was a little intimidating, but the fact that my mobile number started with the coveted 917 area code while hers started with the much gaucher 646 comforted me a smidge.

One afternoon, I opened the front door to our swinging bachelorette pad and found Kiki calling out random names and phrases.  For the past few days, she’d been threatening to program her new cell phone’s voice-activated dialing feature — I assumed that’s what she was doing.

“AL-LEE.” Kiki pronounced her friend Ali’s name slowly and deliberately.

The robot lady who lived in her phone indicated that the name “Ali” sounded too similar to another name she’d already programmed.

Kiki tried, “AL-LEE-GOLD-BERG.”

Robot Lady still couldn’t differentiate between Ali and the other entry. 

Slightly exasperated but committed to the cause, Kiki persevered, attempting to outsmart Robot Lady. “AL-LEE-GOLD-BERG-WHO-IS-MARRIED-TO-SCOTT- GOLD-BERG.”

Denied. Damn, Robot Lady was a bee-atch!

From the living room, I could tell that Kiki was starting to lose her patience. There was a long pause and I thought for a minute she’d given up.

But no.  She took a deep breath, more determined than ever to triumph over Robot Lady. 


“Even if that one works,” I wanted to know,  “Are you really going to sit in Starbucks and scream that into your phone when you want to call Ali?”

It was a valid question, but the answer proved to be irrelevent because it was still 1998 and Robot Lady’s micro-chip brain hadn’t evolved enough to process a name like that.  Kiki’s shiny new phone shorted out and she had to exchange it for a less sophisticated model.  There was nothing more humbling than walking into the apartment the next day and seeing Kiki — brace yourself — dialing.    

Kiki Programs Her Cell Phone


For the record, Jan has just chided me for “giving out” her phone number in this blog. 

Please note that this is not even her current phone number, and I didn’t include an area code.  The number has been disconnected for more than two years, and belonged to my parents when they lived in another state. 


They’re Not Your Grandmother’s Macaroons

French Macaroons

They look, on first glance, like a morph of a shrunken, pastel-hued Mallomar and a bite-size hamburger that has been inexplicably dyed pink or mint green.  I began to notice these mysterious little puffs putting in cameos at upscale bakeries around the city last summer. I didn’t know what they were, but they fascinated me — not so much because they looked tasty (I actually imagined them to be very dry and a total waste of calories) but because they were a form of junk food I had never before encountered. It didn’t seem possible.

But it was, and as the months passed, they began to taunt me from behind the glass. Finally, culinary curiosity got the better of me. It was a dreary Sunday on the Upper West Side.  H and I were enjoying a hot beverage at Georgia’s, and I asked the waitress what the hell these things were.

“French macaroons,” she replied.

I would have sworn that the words “French” and “macaroons” had never, ever been uttered together.  The only macaroon I’d ever known was that of the Manischewitz ilk, came in a thin cardboard canister and was eaten strictly at Passover — in desperation. (The chocolate-covered coconut specimens were adequate and were a suitable accoutrement for the ultra-savory boiled chicken often served at festive seders, but come on. They had no business wearing the badge of dessert.) I felt it was my moral obligation as a connoisseur of baked goods to try this so-called French version. 

So we did, and as it turns out, French macaroons are quite “dee-licious,” as a certain furry blue monster I know would say.  They came in classic flavors like vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and pistachio.  They were nothing like I’d thought they’d be — and even less like the Passover macaroons I’d grown up with. Their texture was perfect — like a very moist cake, but with a hint of stickiness and a hint of bounce. They were sweet, mildly almond-y and offered just the right ratio of filling to cake. I was sold.

And a little obsessed, apparently. The next day, I happened to attend a breakfast meeting at Madeline’s on West 23rd Street. Madeline’s was actually the first place I’d noticed the French macaroons, but knowing their true identity gave me a whole new perspective.  I couldn’t believe the vastness of the flavor selection! It was as if the previous day’s selection was a box of government-issued primary-colored crayons and this was the 64-pack of Crayolas.  I had never seen anything like it.  The macaroons were bright pink, pale pink, light turquoise, dark turquoise, buttercup yellow, mustard yellow, deep burgundy, and rich lavender. I would bet there was even a raw umber specimen in there somewhere. 

As such, the bakery’s chalkboard listed fabulous flavors like Cassis, Dulce de Leche, Strawberry-Coconut, Port Wine, Mocha and my personal favorite, Champagne-Apricot. My friend K and I gazed longingly at the macaroons, trying to match up the exotic flavor to the Crayola shade. They were absolutely beautiful, each perfectly shaped and sprinkled with a light dusting of metallic gold or copper powder. We had to have them.

I bought four for us to share, not realizing at first that they were about double the size of the ones at Georgia’s.  There was no choice but to eat them all; far be it from me to let a French macaroon go to waste! K and I had them after lunch and since then, my life has not been the same.

Quite simply, Madeline’s French macaroons are absolutely divine. They blow the ones at Georgia’s away (although I certainly wouldn’t kick those out of bed). They blow every cookie I have ever had away (with the possible exception of the chocolate chip masterpiece from Levain, on West 74th Street). I warn you: DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT try these macaroons if you have an addictive personality and a sweet tooth. You’d be better off just heading straight to the methadone clinic.

They’re Not Your Grandmother’s Macaroons

Jan Goes to the Dry Cleaner’s

My mother believes that if she utters her phone number in public, something bad will happen. What, no one knows. But something very bad. This makes certain tasks — going to the dry cleaner’s, for instance — a bit challenging.

The dry cleaner asks for her number innocently enough.

My mother, a.k.a. Jan, looks to her left, and then to her right, then to her left again. Everyone is suspect. The skinny guy on line in back of her — clad in dorky white Reeboks and a Members Only windbreaker, holding his toddler’s hand — could very well be the Upper East Side’s most cunning burglar. How does he find his next victims? Naturally, he waits at the dry cleaner’s for some poor, naive customer stupid enough to reveal his or her phone number; can tell from the two sevens that the customer hides cash under his or her bed; looks up the phone number in his handy criss-cross, reverse directory; then gets ready to pounce. 

And who’s to say that 90-year-old Sylvia Schwartzbaum, leaning on her walker while she pretends to wait for her freshly starched housecoats, isn’t really an al-Qaeda operative who just needs ONE American phone number to carry out the group’s latest attack? I shudder to think of the death and destruction those two could wreak if only they had Jan’s digits.

So understandably, my mother looks right again, in case anything has changed. Reluctantly, she then starts to provide her number in a barely audible whisper.

“Seven five thr…” She stops herself. Perhaps she has revealed too much. She scans the store again, noting the pizza-faced teen who has just come in to pick up his mother’s clothes. Boy does he look unsavory.  She leans in closer, whispering so softly now that the dry cleaner would have to read lips in order to understand.

The dry cleaner indicates that she does not hear my mother.

Sweat is forming on Jan’s brow as she eyeballs the teen she’s sure she’ll be picking out of a line-up soon.  Now she mouths the numbers entirely: Seven five three …

By now all three of the perps are staring at her intently, not because they’re waiting to steal her identity, but because they want their damn khakis. 

The kindly dry cleaner, unaware of how dangerous her other customers are, decides to help my mother by reciting the number back to her at what seems like the top of her lungs.


The dry cleaner smiles proudly, glad she could assist her customer, who obviously had laryngitis.  With her phone number echoing in the air, Jan — horrified by this breach of security — races home to change the locks and cancel her credit cards. You can’t be too careful “in this day and age.”    

Jan Goes to the Dry Cleaner’s

Oxford Circle

At all the jobs I’ve ever had, there has been – at one point or another – a meeting about health insurance, after which I’ve been unable to look most of my co-workers in the face without gagging a little.  Far too many of them seem to think that this is an appropriate forum for asking questions that blatantly reveal to your bosses, colleages and underlings every single itch, infection, goiter, dysfunction, episode, tingle, sensation, syndrome, -emia and -itis that has ever befallen them or their family.

Most of the time, the details of the new or updated plan are spelled out in the brochure you’re given ahead of time, so there really shouldn’t be any questions.  It’s as clear as the heel on a Bada Bing! stripper: whatever procedure or treatment you need isn’t covered. Whatever prescription drug you take is not on the formulary, and whatever doctor you use doesn’t accept this plan.  It’s really the epitome of simplicity!

Yet over the years, many of my colleagues have been confused by the statement “not covered.”

Like the gigantic, overly chirpy girl whose picture appears next to the dictionary listing for “eager beaver,” who wanted to know if her acupuncture would be covered at all. This was important because she had forged a very strong bond with her current acupuncturist out in Syosset and didn’t know if she could live without his healing touch. [Actual quote.] People might scoff at the concept, she realized, but the ancient Chinese practice had saved her from a lifetime of pain after she hurt her back in a cheerleading accident that could not possibly have occurred because she could not possibly have made any cheerleading squad, anywhere in the world. From then on, whenever I saw her, she was merely a spherical pillow shoved into adult Mary Janes with acupuncture pins sticking out of her limbs. And don’t think I didn’t fantasize about pulling one out and then re-puncturing her in a more lethal spot.

“What kind of pregnancy care coverage is there?” a male employee once asked.  

As if the room were full of really impressed smurfs, I heard a collective “OOH! AHH!”

This was followed by a less smurfy barrage of comments like, “Awwwwwwwwwlright man!” and “Woo hoo! Your boys can swim!”

“Calm down.  We’re just TRYING,” said the would-be impregnator. 

Aw! You’re trying! That is just so cute. A+ for effort. Think you can you try REAL hard?

I don’t know why, but whenever I hear that expression, I picture the following scenario:  you’re 3 and you’re fairly sure you don’t have to take a leak, but your mother tells you to “try” because the ride to Grandma’s takes 40 minutes. In this case, all it really means is that you’re having regular, unprotected sex with your partner, which is something I would rather not think about when you’re asking me to reboot my computer or telling me I have a call on line 2.  

Would-Be Impregnator’s inquiry prompted a thickly accented customer service rep to ask about coverage for abortions. No one was really sure about her country of origin, so it’s possible she came from a place where a question like that was perfectly reasonable. Here, not so much.

The sleazy insurance rep turned red and, unsure of how to respond, offered to speak with her privately after the meeting.  We, her supportive colleagues, chuckled to ourselves because we knew there was nary a chance in hell she was pregnant or had ever done anything that might have left her in that condition.  We were also pretty damn sure she had no reason to ask about STD screening, but she felt otherwise. And, as a public service to us, she made sure we all found out how often she liked to get pap smears and which gynecologists may or may not have felt her up during exams.

Then there’s the recurring 50-something woman (usually from Accounting) with a bum knee. Did you want to know how she hurt her knee? No? Too bad. She’s going to tell you in real time. And what a shocker! The physical therapy she needs can ONLY be performed at one place in the suburbs that doesn’t appear on the list of approved facilities. Isn’t there anything the cheap-suited insurance rep can do? No.

Also from the middle-aged injury department comes the man who has been involved in a freakishly horrid accident. He was walking down the street on a sunny day when he noticed a Baby Grand piano falling from the sky. It came within an inch of him, but he managed to jump out of the way just in time. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in the process, causing his leg to give out, causing him to fall and land on a pile of foot-long nails that stuck his ass in seven places. The nails had been heated to temperatures of about 700 degrees because they were part of a “Fear Factor” stunt being filmed on that block, so he also sustained third-degree burns on his intestine. Turns out he’s deathly allergic to steel, so he went into anaphylactic shock at the hospital. He’s fine now, and it didn’t really hurt that much, but there are some residual issues, and maybe their treatment is covered? Maybe. But probably not.

I’m also a fan of the official spokesperson from Irritable Bowel Sufferers of America, who seems to follow me from job to job.  Don’t get me wrong — stomach woes are one of my favorite topics! But not at this particular juncture.

“Let’s say you have irritable bowel syndrome, you’re on a business trip, and you start pooping pebbles,” Arlene from Purchasing posed.

“What’s your question?” replied Oxford Bob.

“Is it covered?”

“Is what covered, Ma’am?”

“The pooped pebbles!”

I have to admit I did wonder whether or not Arlene was literally emitting pebbles in the crappair.  If she was, I had just discovered a fascinating new medical condition to research. 

But seriously, what part of “not covered” do you NOT UNDERSTAND? 

Then one day, not that long ago, I learned that my employer would be taking us all off Oxford and putting us on a different plan my beloved (and expensive) therapist did not accept.  I could feel the inner rage boiling as I listened to Insurance Man tell us how wonderful the new plan was, and how lucky we were to work for people who would choose it for us.  A co-worker stood up and bravely admitted that he saw an out-of-network shrink.  How much would the new plan reimburse him for?

Insurance Man adjusted his tie and said, with a fine New Jersey accent, “It’s a great, generous plan. Yuh benefits fuh dis type uh service will be comparable to duh ones you had wit Oxford.”

I could no longer sit back in silence. I said, rather loudly, “That’s actually not true.”

“Shuh it is! Yuh get 12 whole visits uh year, and the new insurance pays fuh fitty puh-cent! You guys uh lucky!”

That was it. I stood up and explained in great detail how much Oxford had paid for mental health care — both in- and out-of-network — and how little this plan covered by comparison. I expressed my disdain for a society that placed so little emphasis on those of us with ill-firing synapses and low neurotransmitter levels.   I had become Michael Douglas in “Falling Down.” I had become … ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE.

Special thanks to PG for sharing his tale!

Oxford Circle

I Do Not Need to Hear This

If you follow the pressing issues of the day as closely as I do, you know that a stomach virus is “going around.” There is no question that having such an ailment truly sucks.  It is, in my book, among the worst non-lethal conditions you can contract.  As a proud hypochondriac and severe barf-o-phobic, I truly feel the pain of those who suffer. However, it is NOT — repeat NOT — necessary for you to share, in graphic detail, what happens to your GI tract during this contaminated time in your life.  Really. It’s very nice of you, but I GET IT. Is there anyone among us who thinks the main symptom of a stomach virus is a rash?

A few weeks ago, I was getting my tresses cut at the Dramatics near my abode. Why I get my haircut at Dramatics on the border of the ghetto is another story, but let’s just say that I once paid almost $200 for someone with the initials F.F. to seriously botch my bangs beyond forgiveness, so I now refuse to enter fancy salons.  Anyway, while I was undergoing a coiff by a stylist named Topaz, a gentleman sat in the chair next to me. His stylist, Blossom, was about 6 feet tall and 300 pounds. While Blossom certainly did not appear to be starving, I heard her tell the gentleman that she had not eaten in three days because she been unable to keep anything down. That’s too bad, I thought, wishing Topaz would hurry up and start blow-drying.

I imagined that Blossom would shut the fuck up at that point, but she did not.

“On Wednesday night I ate veal parm for dinner. Puked the whole night. Thursday, my boyfriend brought me soup. Puked. That night I ate half a baked potato. Puked. The next day, half a bagel. Puked. This morning, cereal. Retching like a dog.”

I wanted to swivel around and say a few things including, Blossom, how is it possible you have a boyfriend?, You shouldn’t be eating ‘veal parm,’ You obviously HAVE eaten in the last three days so stop lying, and above all, If you are that sick, WHY are you at work, breathing right into the face of your clients?

The good news is that she’d obviously made her point. Her customer and most of the salon now knew she didn’t feel well and I, for one, could spend the rest of the weekend worrying about her germs. But Blossom had more to say on the subject. I’ll spare you the gore, but suffice it to say, I learned, the strain of stomach virus Blossom had also prompted frequent, unpleasant trips to the bathroom and a hefty supply of toilet paper. Blossom, that is just FANTASTIC.

A similar incident transpired a few days later at my office, where one of our freelancers felt a moral obligation to chronicle not only her own intestinal plight, but that of her two small children.

“Well, I felt fine on Christmas Eve but started to feel sick around 10. I thought, ‘Oh crap I hope I’m not getting sick.’ But I was. GOD was I getting sick. I don’t think I’ve ever vomited that much.”

Clearly, she had mistaken me for someone who worked for the Guinness Book of World Ralphage. And I HATE the word “vomit.”

“Then the next day, after throwing up A LUNG, I thought I was okay and went to the store to get wrapping paper. MISTAKE! BLEH — all over the Shoebox Greetings shelf.” [Insert the laughter of an unstable woman.]

She really was a beautiful storyteller. When the shocker ending came — she recovered a day or two later — I was just so disappointed that there was no more.

But wait, there was! Little Dylan Taylor and Jackson Rose (not sure which was the daughter and which was the son) ALSO got sick! Can you believe that?

Sadly, her husband was able to fight off the virus.

You might ask why, if I am so opposed to stories like these, I’m writing one. It is my responsibility to do so. For the love of god, if you are barfing for any reason other than overindulgence in alcohol or morning sickness, KEEP IT TO YOURSELF.

Thank you.


I Do Not Need to Hear This

Welcome to “The Letter T”

February 2008

Welcome to my new blog, “The Letter T!”

I shall use this virgin post as if it were an empty notebook page on which I am testing a very satisfying new pen.  I fully understand that I am talking to myself right now.

I am not yet sure what I will do with this blog. It may be a chronicle of the many, many things that annoy, chafe, irk, irritate and/or induce bitterness in me.  Or, it may be the place where I attempt to actually write — it seems less menacing than a blank Word document for some reason.  Most likely though, it will be a place I visit obsessively for a few weeks and then forget about.  In any event, I will do my best to protect the names of the guilty.

I chose this color theme because, when viewed on my home computer, it reminded me of the Sea Green and Melon Crayola crayons I loved as a child. On other computers, the Sea Green parts are clearly Sky Blue, but either way, it’s nostalgic.

I chose the name “The Letter T” because “Spot of T” was taken.  I wanted the name of this high-profile blog to include my initial, and I liked that “The Letter T” has, on occasion, brought “Sesame Street” to you.  


Welcome to “The Letter T”