Thursday, February 22, 2018

Amazon Adventures

I lost the Five Crowns championship to Tim last night, and I’m not happy about it.

The only thing different about being in my Third Third is that I’m still a sore loser, but I’m a self-aware sore loser. I know that it was “just a game” and that it was more a matter of chance rather than skill. I know that I still love my husband and that I’ll probably play games with him again. I know that playing games is way more fun than doing dishes, shoveling the driveway, or sitting and moping…

But maybe it’s time to retire Five Crowns for a while and pull out the Rummikub [pronounced rummy-cube] again. I’d never heard of Rummikub, but I read an interview with someone famous, and she said her family played endless games of it. Then I received newsletters with stories about Rummikub and its Jewish origins. Suddenly, Rummikub was everywhere. Rummikub may have been the top-selling U.S. game in 1977 – there are international Rummikub championships! – but I’d never heard of it.

I had to check it out on Amazon.

The thing about Amazon is The Choice. It brings out the worst in my Conscientious Consumer self. I have to read every description for every variety, every review. If I am about to make consider a Purchase, it has to be the Right One. Do I want the Original Version, the Deluxe Version, or the Classic Version???

I am not alone. Rummikub’s Amazon Q&A are filled by people like me. There are more than 3,114 Rummikub customer reviews!

Reading the reviews on Amazon is only a bit like reading the online comments on newspaper articles. No, they’re not evil-spirited – people are trying to help you make the best purchase – but yes, they give you an insight into the reviewer’s personality.

So what would you say about this reviewer:
I’ve been playing Rummikub for 30 years with my grandmother’s (now mother’s) beloved set of what feel like (but isn’t) solid ivory tiles, with engraved numbers, heavy, easy to maneuver and pick up. [This one is] absolute junk. … I was looking for another heirloom set – I am so disappointed every time we play that it is almost ruining the game for me.
And despite what you may think about that reviewer, would you still want to buy that version of the game?

The big deal apparently has to do with the tiles. Are they substantial? Can you distinguish the colors? Do the numbers last? One Rummikub has red and orange numbered tiles and it’s hard to tell them apart. Another has blue and green numbered tiles and it’s hard to tell them apart. One version doesn’t have recessed numbers on the tiles so they rub off, and one makes it hard to tell 6s from 9s.

Oh, no! This is the harbinger of hours and hours of product reviews. If sets become “beloved” and “heirlooms” to pass down to the next generation, it has to have the right numbers!

Or does it? This reviewer won’t let anything ruin the game for her:
My elderly mother and her neighbors couldn’t distinguish the yellow tiles very well so they painted over the yellow with a green magic marker – probably a Sharpie. Lasted for years. If the colors start chipping on yours, just keep painting with Sharpie or magic marker.
When my siblings “ruined” a Scrabble game because someone noticed that one of the Ds was dark (D Dark), we just put all the pieces in a bag and had to draw them blind. That same paper bag has been in the box for 50 years. It’s an heirloom.

Ultimately, I checked out the Rummikub LARGE Numbers Edition. They corrected the orange problem, the flimsy racks problem, the wouldn’t-it-be-smart-to-have-a-tile-bag problem, but it’s the LARGE numbers on LARGE tiles that scored the hit:

“Nice large tiles – you don’t have to search for reading glasses when you play.”

“It’s easy to learn and convenient to handle (unlike cards which many seniors cannot shuffle or deal out).” Who knew?

Baby Boomer market influence! I bought it, I love it! I’ll challenge Tim to a game tonight.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Barbara vs. the Machines (Round 3)


Victory over technology! I fought the scanner and I won! (It just took a few rounds, but I’m back.)

There are three things that can cause stress and anxiety in my life, and the last two weeks have been the perfect storm of all three:
  • Logistics (as in flight arrangements, tickets, and lodging)
  • Income Taxes and other Bureaucratic Forms
  • Inexplicable Technological Failures
All three conspired to make blogging difficult, but it was the last that made it impossible. The first made me a basket case, the second amplified the hysteria, and the last left me vibrating.

The Logistics Nightmare
       I scored Hamilton tickets on Broadway. Through an elaborate process of being designated a Ticketmaster “verified fan” (meaning I don’t scalp tickets), receiving a secret code at 4 a.m. Alaska time, and getting online with a bazillion others; I scored Hamilton tickets. I was going to take another month in Manhattan.

Which, of course, meant Logistics. I began with Airbnb, which meant hours of looking at other people’s apartments. I had never used Airbnb before and I was haunted by things like this:
Less than three days’ notice! Yikes, yikes, yikes! So after I found a lovely spot, I emailed back and forth with the host, seeking reassurance that she’d never do anything like that. She promised.

And then she did it. After I’d already matched my flights to her dates.

Okay, that’s worth some tension. That’s worth about five more hours on the Internet and more emails with prospective hosts, seeking reassurance (in a situation that offers no reassurance). The most I could achieve – until I show up in Manhattan and get a key for an actual apartment – is temporary relief. So we move on to:

Income Taxes and other Bureaucratic Forms (such as Medicare enrollment)
       I went to an information session, I ordered explanatory booklets, I talked to friends. I was ready. I signed up.

And then the bill came: $402 dollars when everyone else is only paying $134! $402 a month is $4,824 a year. That is more than I’ve ever paid for health care. My budget is blown!

I phone friends, I Google things. I freak out (because, of course, I’m already in the midst of the Logistics Nightmare). Only much later do I see that the bill is quarterly.

But then assorted IRS documents show up in the mail. In my efforts to declutter financial accounts, I now have to research things like “basis” and “automatic reinvestment” and the inches-thick file I have on an account I’ve had since I was 23.

I haven’t even faced this problem. At this point, I’m so notched up – didn’t I just return from vacation?!? – that it’s even interfering with my ability to avoid, to zone out with Netflix.

Inexplicable Technological Failures
       But our Internet has suddenly become so slow that a single Netflix show is buffered 17 times. Watch for a minute, wait for a minute. Watch for a minute, wait for a minute. The Internet Service Provider says nothing has changed; they continue to deny reality. They change our password.

Now the HP printer-scanner won’t scan. It needs the new password, but it tells me:
What does that mean?!? I turn to the HP Support Forums … again. If I were to make my contribution to the world, I would re-do Support Forums. This is how they work: random person has a problem, random person poses a question, not-so-random people pose solutions. Many, many people have my same problem, and they all post the question so there are zillions of the identical question. The not-so-random people who answer only answer the one they see, so you end up with zillions of potential solutions which are hidden like needles in a haystack.

Let’s say my problem shows up 57 times. Answerer #28 answers Questioner #47 and Questioner #47 says it works. Hooray! Except that Answerer #28’s answer is buried underneath Problems #1-57, and those other Answerers were wrong, communicated in Klingon, or missed the point. But you have to look at ALL of them, try ALL of them until you happen to stumble upon Questioner #47. Where you discover that you must have been given a WPA2 security protocol with a WPA2 password … and your printer-scanner was manufactured before they invented WPA2! The Internet guy says, “Whoa, your scanner is OLD!”

No, it’s just in its Third Third.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Time for Nothing

At first, I panicked.

Tim and I had just arrived in Caye Caulker in Belize by water taxi. The roads are dirt, and there is very little town. But there is also very little beach. In fact, there is no beach, no surf. You access the water off docks.

I leave Alaska desperate for daylight and warmth, and the second I actually arrive in sun and warmth, I realize sun and warmth is usually too sunny and too hot and that’s why I live in Alaska. Where will I hide from the sun? How will I get in the water?

I had three library books, four crossword puzzles, and a pack of Five Crowns (the card game). I had no laptop and two whole weeks.

This is the stuff of terror. The terror of … Nothing. Capital-N Nothing. No body-surfing, few little shops to explore, oh-my-god, I should have brought more books! What would I DO?!?

I realize it is hard to feel sympathy for a person who’s facing two weeks in Belize, but Caye Caulker seemed so EMPTY compared to our last time in Belize on the mainland. There are only three roads, no cars, and 14 days just LOOMED in front of me. (One week would have been enough; why did we decide on TWO?!)

And then it rained. The wind roared, slamming rain against all the windows. Thank goodness we were in a lovely guest house with a living room or we would have felt trapped in a cell. No one ventured out. We were all confined to quarters.

Well, at least the rain meant I didn’t have to worry about the sun.

Little by little, we discovered … activities. We kayaked around the island, bicycled, snorkeled, tossed bean bags into holes. We discovered the little bakery and went there every day for the cookie with the jam spot (me) and the cookie with the chocolate spot (Tim). The lunch special at Happy Lobster restaurant – stewed chicken with dirty rice, cole slaw, and plantains – was so good, I could have it every day. Most days, I did.

We would sit on the porch of Happy Lobster and spend hours on our Coke Zeros, people-watching, and playing Five Crowns. There is NO LIMIT to the number of Five Crowns games you can play when you’re sitting at the Happy Lobster and just … sitting.

Because Nothing expands to fill the time available.

Nothing means that a visit to the bakery, a walk down to the Split to jump in the water, maybe buying some bananas from the fruit lady, maybe having a conversation with folks who turn out to be from the place you used to live in New Jersey, fills your whole day. And then you take a shower which is beyond pleasurable because you are hot and sticky, and cleanliness is so totally delicious you revel in it like it’s heaven. Showers are a wonder of the world; showers are worth swooning over.

The days are filled with less and less but are filled more and more. A big excursion is to find the place where seahorses hang out. That can take hours … and it’s only a five-minute walk away. No wonder the motto of Caye Caulker is “Go Slow.”

Because Nothing expands to fill the time available.

It rains every day, but you realize that as long as you’re in a bathing suit, it doesn’t matter. It is perfectly easy to swim in the rain, even to get caught in a downpour in a bathing suit.

And when you made a mistake and left the umbrella at the ice cream lady, your to-do list the next day is only “walk down to ice cream lady.” If she’s not there till 4, somehow your day moves along till 4. Maybe you were watching seahorses or pelicans or wondering why the mud on that one road is green, and next thing you knew, it was 4:00.

Because Nothing expands to fill the time available.

Now that I’m back in the land of This Thing and That Thing and Too Many Other Things, I appreciate the true value of Nothing. I need to keep it in my life.

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