The One With the Shakedown

It’s difficult to live in New York City for any length of time without being on the receiving end of a shakedown. I had a few doozies when I first moved to the city, but since then I’ve honed my Spidey-sense. I thought I’d long passed the point of being bribed by deliverymen, plumbers, contractors, and the like. Oh, was I wrong.

This time, the culprit was a charitable organization. You can see how a person could be fooled by that. The charity was coming to pick up a desk I wanted to donate. I made an appointment through the organization’s website. I entered a special note: No elevator in building. Fifth-floor walk-up.

The day before, I received a voicemail from a guy at the charity to confirm the appointment. No mention of a specific arrival time or restrictions. In late afternoon the drivers arrived and I buzzed them in the building. They came trudging up the stairs, mopping their brows and complaining about the climb. This kind of complaining is like a dentist being annoyed over having to fill a patient’s cavity. I was so glad they showed up at all and I’d finally get the desk cleared out that I missed the first clue. This is NYC and walk-ups are not uncommon. These guys move furniture all day long. For a living.

Now let’s go to the actual conversation.

Guy #1(We’ll call him Henry): Whoo-wee! There’s no elevator in this building? This is crazy.

Me, trying to keep it light: It’s a good workout.

Guy #2 (We’ll call him Johnny): You think I can sit for a minute? I gotta catch my breath.

Henry: We got a bit of a problem here, ma’am. He shakes his head in sympathy. My boss says we can’t move anything from higher than the third floor.

Johnny takes a bandana from his pocket and wipes his face.

Me, my heart sinking: What? it doesn’t say that on the website. I even wrote it in the special notes.

Johnny looks at the print-out of my information: Yep. It says that right here…No elevator in building. Fifth-floor walk-up.

Me: So, if that’s a problem, why wasn’t I told yesterday when the appointment was confirmed?

Henry and Johnny both shrug.

Johnny reviews the print-out again: Looks like you made this appointment….

Me and Johnny simultaneously: Two months ago.

Johnny: I bet you need to get this desk out of here. He taps Henry on the shoulder. I hate to leave you in a situation, but if I tell my boss we took this desk, we could get in trouble.

Henry: Lots of trouble.

Like a babe in the woods, it’s slowly dawning on me.

Johnny: But, look, I want to help you out. We’ll do you a favor; you do us a favor.

There are only two choices in a shakedown:

  1. Pay up to get your 80-pound desk moved four flights of stairs and into the home of someone who could really use it.
  2. Don’t pay up and take a hammer to your desk (thereby freaking your dog out) so you can move it downstairs piece by piece to leave it on the curb for trash day.

Me: Fine. Just move it.

Henry, jumping up with new found energy: All right! I’ll go get my hand truck.

I could have told him from experience that the hand truck wouldn’t be of any use. The turns in the stairwell are too narrow. But he had to learn that on his own. Thirty minutes later, they decide, instead of lifting the desk and carrying it down the stairs—admittedly a difficult proposition, but they are movers, FFS!—they decide to slide the desk down on its top. By the time it reached the moving truck, the desk was scratched and battered, doubtful anyone could use it unless it had a fresh coat of paint and missing screws reattached.

But I went back into my apartment, my wallet a bit lighter, and I did a little happy dance in all that extra space.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a shakedown? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With Entitlement

Elizabeth Cady Stanton stood at the front of the crowded church. Every pew was filled and people were still trickling in. Some were there out of sheer curiosity. What was a “Women’s Rights Convention” anyway? But most were there because they felt it was time for women to gain equal footing with men, and they were waiting to hear what Stanton, one of the convention’s organizers, had to say.

She started by explaining that women were not trying to become men (a oft-expressed fear by men). They liked being women, but they wanted a voice. And in order to be heard above the cacophony of  those who would rather not listen, they needed the vote. She lamented that all (white) men, regardless of whether they were ignorant of the issues of the day or thugs or liars, could vote while upstanding women were denied access to the polls. Her voice carried like a preacher’s across the stunned attendees, many of whom thought this was too much, too soon. This was 1848. Women in the US couldn’t even own property or keep their own salary. To ask for the vote? No one would take them seriously.

Then, Stanton said something that I love. It was so simple yet packed the punch that was needed. “The right is ours…Have it, we must. Use it, we will.” The right is ours. Those four words encapsulated everything because in those four words she was saying that this already belonged to women. And women were entitled to it.

Entitlement has become a bad word in recent years. We use it as a way to describe people who expect special treatment or demand advantages without “earning” them. Entitlement has been blamed on
entitledeverything from creating passive children to mass shootings. There is something (a lot of somethings, actually) to be said for this. It’s pervasive and it can be a problem. But entitlement isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

There is certainly a difference between being entitled to equality and being entitled to the latest iPhone.  I think the murkiness lay between believing we have a right to be here (sanctioned) and believing we are owed something because we are here (narcissism).  It’s a subtle distinction.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic, she says that creativity requires a certain amount of entitlement. Without it, you won’t be able to push out of your safe zone and create something new and meaningful. “I believe this is the good kind of arrogance—this simple entitlement to exist and therefore express yourself…”

I say we take back the word entitlement and use it for good. Entitlement is what rights wrongs. It is the parting shot between creativity and change. At its most basic, entitlement challenges stasis. Without entitlement, could Elizabeth Cady Stanton have demanded so audaciously to be given what she should never have had to fight for? Without entitlement, would there have been a Martin Luther King, Jr? Harvey Milk? Students in Tienanmen Square? An Arab Spring?

We can and should feel entitled to personal freedom, to equality, to have our basic needs met. That kind of entitlement fosters empathy and compassion. That’s the kind of entitlement I can get behind.

What do you think? Is there room for a “good” kind of entitlement?

Have a great weekend, everyone. 

The One With Acadia National Park

Reggie and I followed the path to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak in Acadia National Park. The term mountain is relative, of course. At about 1,500 feet (460 m), I know many of you would call this more of a large hill  Still, it’s tall enough that the wind swirls every which way and the temperature drops a few degrees at the summit. And it affords terrific views, like this one.


The top of Cadillac Mountain — Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park near along the Maine coast, is spread over three islands with the largest part of the park on Mount Desert Island (confusingly pronounced des-sert by locals).

The island is dotted with lakes and ponds. There is an easy trail that rings Jordan Pond, below. I took my time strolling along the path until a Boston terrier, who wheezed like an asthma patient, passed me. Then I knew I had to step it up a notch.

Jordan Pond

Early morning at Jordan Pond

Otter Point

Otter Point. I did not see one otter.

The most unique aspect of the park is the carriage road. John Rockefeller, Jr. financed and oversaw the creation of the carriage road and stone bridges between 1913 and 1940. Rockefeller wanted to ensure safe passage for horses without encountering any cars, so he created about 50 miles of roads and 17 bridges, which he then gifted to the park.

Despite previous experiences to the contrary (remember the incidents with the Goddess Pele and the Everglades?), I promptly decided I was going to rent a bike for a day and pedal the carriage road. Luckily this time I returned unscathed, though a close encounter with this snapping turtle nearly left me minus one digit. (Do not let anyone convince you turtles are s-l-o-w.)



I did encounter more placid wildlife. Below is a double-crested cormorant in his signature wing-drying pose. He is perched atop a beaver lodge built on a marsh pond. The beavers were not home.


At the southern end of Jordan Pond, there is a clearing in the trees which makes a great resting spot for bikers and hikers. In the distance you can see a set of peaks, both of which offer reasonably steep hiking trails.(People have a lot of fun names for these peaks. Feel free to leave your guesses in comments.)


In case you needed it, here is a close up. I tackled the peak on the right. It is about two miles from the pond to the top, winding in switchbacks. Some parts of this trail were more like rock climbing than hiking where I had to hoist myself up hand over hand around boulders. Heart pounding and sweating, I stopped for a water break. Around the bend came an older couple, fresh as daisies.

“Did you hike the trail?” I asked, a bit surprised given the difficulty level and their arthritic hands.

“Trail?” the woman said. “We walked from the parking lot about a quarter mile down the road.”

“Yeah, thanks for that.”

Bubbles 2

That hike warranted a treat. It was time for popovers! Popovers are light rolls, nearly hollow inside, and served with jam and butter. They are a specialty at the Jordan Pond House.


There is one beach in Acadia National Park, named, appropriately enough, Sand Beach. While most of the coastline is rugged and rocky, this is the spot with easy access to the ocean. Reggie enjoyed the sand, but would not venture in the water. Not even one paw.

Reggie-Sand Beach

Have you been to Acadia or Maine? Did I miss anything? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

A Sneak Peak

The city girl has taken off for a week in nature! I’m in Acadia National Park in Maine. Next week, I’ll have more about my trip, but for now, here’s a sneak peak.


Have a great weekend, everyone! 

Friday Five (or More)

Some happy links and cool clips for you this week!

This was posted a while ago, but it bears repeating. Neil Gaiman on why our future depends on libraries, reading, and daydreaming. “…reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do.”

Mindy Kaling’s guide to killer confidence.

The best of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I miss him already.

Even if you don’t follow sports, this feels momentous: the first female coach in the NFL. This season, Jen Welter will be coaching the linebackers for the Arizona Cardinals. The players call her Dr. J because she has a Ph.D. in psychology. Apparently she leaves little notes in their lockers.

Vivek Menon is developing an innovative approach to protect elephants and allow them to co-exist with people in his native India

I wish this seminar had been offered when I was in college. The course is designed to “help freshmen identify their goals and reflect systematically about various aspects of their personal lives, and to connect what they discover to what they actually do at college.”  The students reflect on questions like, Where am I headed and what is my ultimate personal dream? and What are my responsibilities, if any, to my community and to make the world a better place? I’m (ahem) a few years out of college, but I thought the exercises presented were valuable for people of any age.

I haven’t been this excited for a movie release in a looong time. The Martian.

Side note to you writers: Author Andy Weir started this novel as a serial on his blog. It was really well received, so he decided to self-publish it as an ebook. The response was so tremendous, the book was picked up by Broadway (Random House), and now it’s a movie starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott. Wow!

Have a great weekend, everyone!