An Open Letter to U.S. Airways in Which I Admit to Two Mistakes, but in Which They Are Mean and Inconsistent

As many of you know, Arden and I were looking forward to a nice long trip home for the holidays this year. I'd put in a lot of hours at work just before we were to leave and wasn't really thinking through all of my details, which led us to

MISTAKE 1: Not reserving pet airfare early enough.

Did you know there are a limited number of pets allowed on board an aircraft? It was news to me, since my dog also counts as my "carry-on baggage," which is not limited except to 1 item in other circumstances. I mistakenly assumed we would be in the clear.

Tory at U.S. Airways phone support corrected me and said there was no way I could take my dog on my flight from National Airport to Sky Harbor.

I almost broke down and cried (if this were America's Next Top Model, you'd be keeping track of this) right then. But after several minutes of begging Tory for any other option, she said she could check other flights from Baltimore. She found one for me leaving the same time and arriving slightly earlier with pet vacancy. I took it and paid the $300 change fee and pet airfare.

I then changed my SuperShuttle reservation to take me to the different airport at the same time. My return flight would still be National.

Then, Arden and I went to sleep, nervously awaiting our trip.

SuperShuttle came and got me at the appointed time and took us to the airport. Just as I approached the check-in kiosk, a stern ticket agent looked at me and said, "You can't take a dog on a plane like that. That carrier's too small."

I was like, "WHUH-HUH??" Arden was in the carrier she used when we flew U.S. Airways from National to Sky Harbor for Thanksgiving. I thought back to the myriad U.S. Airways employees who looked right at her and said things like, "Awww, what a sweetheart!" and "She looks so comfy in there."

Okay, so I started getting a little irate. "What the f---?" I asked, except it wasn't he f-word. But it felt like the f-word, if you know what I mean.

Then I almost cried again. I turned beet red and I demanded to know what I was supposed to do, citing our earlier trip on their airline. They did not care. "You'll have to take her home," they said plainly. "Or go over to United and see if you can buy a larger carrier."

I trundled my enormous suitcase over to the United counter and explained my situation to the very kind gate agent there. She pulled out their duffle carrier, but it wasn't much bigger than mine. The other option was a kennel, a huge one, that would need to be checked. But since U.S. Airways doesn't check animals, it didn't matter unless I changed airlines.

I went back and coerced a gate agent into going over to the United counter with me to examine the other carrier. She demurred, saying it was also too small. She then offered to go get her manager so he could tell me know, so I waited patiently for fifteen minutes until he came out.

MISTAKE 2: Read carefully, and frequently.

Throughout this ordeal, I was insistent that I had followed the guidelines on their website, which I thought I had. I told this to the manager, and he came out five minutes later with a print out of the website, where it said pets needed to be able to stand up.

I immediately opted to take a full refund of my fare rather than change my flight to the next day. At this point, I did not want to fly their skies ever again. I'd been flying U.S. Airways for eight years almost exclusively, had their credit card, and had racked up a bunch of miles with them.

I thought back to my Thanksgiving trip, floating blissfully through check-in, security, the gate, and wondered if everything would have been different if I'd simply gotten my pet airfare earlier.

I wandered back over to the United desk, where I knew I could check her in the baggage compartment. "I'd like a ticket to Phoenix." The gate agent--not the friendly lady who helped me--looked at me bemusedly, crackled his fingers over his keys and said, in understatement, "This is not a great day not to have a reservation." Nothing.

Arden and I wandered around the Baltimore airport together. I tried to make a plan. I was stranded at the airport. I had no ticket. I had few options. I called my parents, but they didn't pick up. For the next twenty minutes, I juggled the following phone calls in various succession: my brother, Beau, my sister-in-law, my friend Joe, and Joe's dogsitter. My brother was scanning pet air travel guidelines, Beau was offering support, my sister-in-law was running the phone between my brother and me while also calling my other brother's girlfriend (a U.S. Airways flight attendant) for support.

It boiled down to this: Arden was not flying again. Today or any day. U.S. Airways said the "stand-up" rule was a federal regulation, and my brother said checking her was too dangerous. Thanks to Joe, I got connected with his dogsitter, who sounded very kind on the phone and agreed to take her. My brother got me on a flight today--on Southwest, who doesn't take animals, but who also doesn't intermittently enforce their policies.

I'll also flesh out this story by adding that all I'd eaten by this point, by 5 pm, was a bowl of cereal. All day long. That was it. My head hurt, I was dehydrated, defeated. I had been sweating. I had been emotional. I had been driven to the brink of what I could handle in a single 24-hour period and I was ready to drop.

Arden and I lumbered down to the SuperShuttle counter, where I paid another fare to go back home, where I would then cancel my return airport shuttle in January and sign up for two more with my new airfare. We sat for half an hour, rode for half an hour, and then ended up back in the apartment.

Since then I've been trying to tell her to be a good girl and behave, and sorry she can't go home with me for Christmas.

What kills me is that my dog, who is otherwise treated as "luggage," has to be able to stand up, but babies can sit in laps....? It kills me because babies are less well-trained and are far messier than my little girl. And yet.

Thanks, U.S. Airways! You ruined Christmas.

At least we got that part of the holiday out of the way.

Happy Trails

Not that kind. The other kind.

Arden and I, after much wrangling with the airlines, are planning to fly out this afternoon for AZ's not-much-warmer weather, family, and much relaxation.

I'll be checking in, mostly as I succumb to the utter boredom that is having no work to do, including my annual end of the year post on my favorite albums, and possibly an overdue review of Milk.


My Biography As Told in a Series of Facebook News Feed Updates

Charles Jensen is now online.

Charles joined the group "Bipeds."
Charles turned on his chat feature.

Charles joined the Eagle Elementary network.

Charles kissed a girl, and he liked it. (Sort of)

Charles RSVPed for the event "Moving to an island." So far, 0 of his friends are attending.

Charles RSVPed for the event "Moving off an island." So far, 0 of his friends are attending.

Charles is skipping class for the first and only time!!!!1! w00t
Charles was tagged in the album "Prom."

Charles wrote on Palmyra-Eagle High's wall. "Peace out, bitches."
Charles has joined the University of Minnesota network.
Charles is no longer interested in women.
Charles is now friends with Dorothy.

Charles was tagged in a note: "Alcohol: the cause of and solution to life's problems."
Charles and Marlboro have made it clear on Facebook they are in relationship.

Charles has joined the group "Summa cum laude/unemployed."
Charles is bleeding maroon and gold. And rent money.
Charles now lives in the Downtown neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Charles now lives in the Falcon Heights neighborhood of St. Paul.
Charles is no longer friends with snow.

Charles became a fan of saguaro cacti, Sparky the Sun Devil, and sweltering heat.

Charles is writing and reading poems.
Charles and Marlboro have ended their relationship.
Charles became a fan of yoga.

Charles was tagged in the album "Hot Pants Halloween 2004."
Charles has updated education info: MFA Arizona State, 2004.

Charles posted a link: Little Burning Edens.
Charles was tagged in the album "Hot Pants Halloween 2005."

Charles has welcomed Arden to his family using the Dogbook application.
Charles updated education information: MA, Nonprofit Studies, 2008.

Charles joined the group "Gay Retirement: 30+"
Charles sent a drink to Beau using the Smooth Seduction application.
Charles is moving to a new apartment for the 17th time since 1995.
Charles now lives in the Avalon neighborhood of Phoenix.
Charles was tagged in the note "New chapbooks from New Michigan Press."

Charles is ready to be done with school forever.
Charles tagged Arden in an album: "Moving to DC."

Dark Clouds

Gossip Girl goes into reruns starting this week, with no new episodes until after the new year. It'll be hard to manage, but I'm glad something finally happened this season.

Jenny is my favorite character. Although I love me some Blair and Serena, I really like Jenny's moxie. She stood up to the girls at school and beat them at their own game, then set off to take the fashion--and philanthropy--world by storm with her guerilla fasion show. Yes, you heard me--there was a guerilla fashion show.

Then Jenny considered emancipating herself from her parents.

Now she generally just has punk-rock hair and wears cute clothes. She doesn't raise hell unless somebody goes looking for it. I relate to that.

Well, loyal readers, this week represents my final work week before retreating west for R&R with the fam and the bf. I probably won't put in another 60 hour week, but it'll be busy. Posts will be sparse, their depth debatable. But while I'm out there working it, I hope you'll be working it too, poetically speaking. Write me something nice. Bonus points if you use the word "coal," because that's what some of you'll be getting this holiday season. Might be a good investment in these tough economic times!

You know you love me.



From Deborah at 32p

Age when I decided I wanted to be a writer: I never said I wanted to be a writer.
Age when I wrote my first short story: 13
Age when I first got my hands on a good word processor: 10
Age when I first submitted a short story to a magazine: 21
Rejections prior to first short story sale: Never sold, but never had a story rejected either.
Age when I sold my first short story: Laughable.
Approximate number of short stories sold: They're still for sale...
Age when I first published a poem: 20
Poems published: I don't know..maybe 50?
Year I first published a book: 2009 (chapbook 2005)
Books published or delivered and in the pipeline: 4 (including chaps)
Number of titles in print: 1, I guess.
Age now: thirtysomething


Everyone Should Read This Important Cultural List

"15 Most Ridiculous Women"

It's a beautiful thing.

Who's your favorite? I might go old school and say D. Ross. That's what she likes me to call her, D. Ross.


Book list for my class

Reading Emerging Poetries

It was nearly impossible to distill this down to just seven titles...I was going to have the class pick on the first day, but I was encouraged to choose in advance since books can be difficult to get.

Want, Rick Barot
Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced, Catherine Barnett
Bouquet of Hungers, Kyle G. Dargan
Lit Windowpane, Suzanne Frischkorn
Crush, Richard Siken
American Spikenard, Sarah Vap

so I added Legitimate Dangers, Michael Dumanis & Cate Marvin, eds., as well so we could cover a lot of emerging poetry ground in six weeks.


In Tom Cruise's Crosshairs

Stray Cat Theatre, Tempe Performing Arts Center
Tempe, AZ

Stray Cat Theatre delivers an unusual holiday show ever so cleverly. “A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant” looks at the Church of Scientology and its wealthy founder, L. Ron Hubbard, as a funny and very satiric parody of the Nativity. Author Kyle Jarrow presents his comic slams and thoughtful questioning where Hubbard’s birth and his search for religious truth are compared to Christ’s.

The entire show is presented by a talented ensemble of 8- to 12-year olds as a school pageant. Huge praise goes to director Gary Minyard who crafts miracles with these young but amazingly polished troupers.

Minyard asks a lot of his cast. They must learn Jarrow’s tricky satiric puns and off-center comic barbs and deliver them with non-stop but slyly skewed humor kids this age rarely understand. The audience laughed uproariously at the performance I attended. Minyard also expects them to learn cuttingly savage songs that further question the religion, some tricky but cute choreography, clever but intricate staging, handle myriad costume changes, shift scenery, and use endless props. That the cast brings this challenge off with nary a misstep is quite an achievement.

Jarrow picks and pokes at Hubbard, his teachings, and how Hubbard’s religious thinking has turned him into a wealthy man. The script asks all the questions you have ever had about Scientology. That this young cast can deliver this tongue-in-cheek commentary with such delicious abandon is quite a credit. That this young ensemble probably doesn’t fully understand the heady satire makes this exemplary production even more amazing.

Maxx Carlisle-King is poised and always in control as L. Ron. This young actor’s theatrical spark and comic flair suggests a long and successful stage career. No less sharp is Brittney Peters’ Angelic Girl. This character functions as the show’s narrator as she guides the ensemble through its questioning and probing of this unusual religion that inspires its followers by removing their emotions and relying on their analytical ability that uses weird and twisted logic. Everyone in the cast, though, has at least one standout moment.

“A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant” isn’t for those who want a traditional holiday show but if pointed but thoughtful comic probing delivered by talented troupers is your thing, this show will delight. “A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant” continues through December 20 at the old Tempe Performing Arts Center in downtown Tempe. For tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-820-8022 or go online at www.straycathteatre.org.

Grade: A
Posted on 08 Dec 2008 by Chris Curcio


Bring Out Yer Dead (Chapbooks)

I was just thinking on Sunday how sort of tragic it was that the chapbook was such a quickly-expiring literary form. And then this arrived in my email today:

SEVEN KITCHENS PRESS is excited to announce a new chapbook series: the ReBound Series will further expand our mission to bring new and/or underappreciated writers to a broader audience by reprinting out-of-print chapbooks in select new editions. Each title in the series will feature an introductory foreword by a nominating writer (who will be given the opportunity to edit the introduction); self-nominations will not be accepted. As with all our titles, the authors (if available) will work closely with the editor in the production process; each chapbook will feature a full-color cover and ISBN, and will be printed in an initial set of 125 copies. (Subsequent printings will follow if the initial print run sells out.) Complete guidelines are below:

The ReBound Series from Seven Kitchens Press will select one to two out-of-print chapbooks each fall to publish in new editions the following calendar year. Each chapbook submitted for consideration must be accompanied by two- to five-paragraph nomination, completed by a writer other than the author. This nomination may be sent separately, and will be edited to serve as the introductory foreword to the winning chapbook(s).

The annual reading period will extend from September 21 - December 21, and the selected title(s) will be announced the following February.

Each winning author will receive fifty (50) copies of his or her hand-trimmed, hand-tied chapbook. Additionally, the publisher will distribute ten review copies to reviewers, libraries, and organizations at the author's recommendation.

Nominated chapbooks may not exceed 27 pages in length (excluding front matter). Chapbooks published within larger bound works (i.e., as a section in a literary journal or as part of an omnibus volume) are eligible. Chapbooks published online are not eligible: we are looking to revive out-of-print work.

Submit an original copy of the chapbook, along with a cover letter of nomination by a second writer. [NOTE: The nomination letter may be sent separately, but must be provided for the winning title(s) as part of the editorial process.] Chapbooks may be submitted by either the author or nominator, but must be accompanied by a $12 reading fee, payable by check to Ron Mohring or via PayPal to sevenkitchens at yahoo dot com.

Do not include SASE or SAS postcard for acknowledgment; work received will be publicly logged by title and manuscript number on the Seven Kitchens blog.

Manuscripts will not be returned. If you do not wish to send a rare copy of the chapbook, please send a clean, legible photocopy of all pages, including the front and back cover.

Each manuscript must be accompanied by a signed statement from the author, nominator or literary executor, attesting that the work is out of print. Winners will be responsible for securing reprint permission from the original publisher within three months of 7KP's winning announcement.

Each entrant will receive one copy of the winning chapbook (if more than one winning title is selected, entrants may choose which title they would like to receive). Entrants are responsible for keeping the press apprised of changes in address or contact e-mail.

The judge for this series is Ron Mohring. Because of the nature of this contest, it is impossible to exclude work that may be previously familiar to the judge; however, every effort shall be made to select the finest representative titles from a wide aesthetic range. The goal of the ReBound Series is not to reward friends and acquaintances, but to bring deserving poetry titles back into print, where they will gain an extended readership.

Send all materials, in one envelope, to:

Ron Mohring; Seven Kitchens Press; PO Box 668; Lewisburg PA 17837.


Related and Weird

If You Seek Britney

"There's only two types of people in the world," Britney Spears opines on her new album, "the ones that entertain and the ones that observe." From her perspective, I don't doubt for a second that this is the truth, seeing as she's one of the most oft observed people in American culture (or should I say surveilled?).

You knew it was only a matter of time before I wrote about Circus, her second release in twelve months. Like 2007's Blackout, Britney's playing again with "grown-up" rhythms and arrangements, toying with "adult-oriented" lyrics, and essentially doing a great impression of a mature person.

The album's standouts include "Phonography," which meditates on the joys and considerations of phone sex; "Kill the Lights," addressed to the prying paparazzi; the syncopated "Trouble"; and even the dirty-dirty innuendo of "If You Seek Amy" is sort of fun ("All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if you seek amy"--when you say it out loud it makes more sense). But for me, the best track is "Unusual You," an ethereal, harmonized dance piece that evokes electronica wizzes like Imogen Heap. Simple, sparing, and with apparent unflinching honesty, the lyrics are well-suited to the music. The song's so good it's hard to believe it's really a Britney Spears song.

As many wins as there are on the album, there are a bunch of missteps. The clunky, accusing "Womanizer," aside from resurrecting a ridiculous term, sounds like a rewritten attempt at Blackout's "Ooh Ooh Baby," which was about as exciting as you might expect by that title. "Mmm Papi," while fun, feels like it would have suited Britney about five years ago, prior to making babies. The beat in "Shattered Glass" sounds so much like the song preceding it that it's hard to tell they're two unique tracks. Finally, "Lace and Leather" promises the Joan Jett side of Britney but delivers Elvira in her place.

We don't turn on any of the Fox sitcoms expecting Chekov; we shouldn't expect the sense of craft and styling from Britney that we would a singer-songwriter. It doesn't mean that "depth" and "Britney Spears" are mutually exclusive, but there is a sense of authenticity lacking in this album. Aside from its moments approaching greatness, her producers are still reluctant to let Britney go all-out into Kylie Minogue's territory, where pop music is fun, interesting, and irresistible.


America and the Culture of Surveillance

After writing my post yesterday, I got to thinking about how unremarkable the idea at the heart of Gossip Girl really is these days. Why we aren't shocked or surprised by the concept, why we say it couldn't happen (or even why it shouldn't happen), or more importantly, why we don't look away.

We live in a world where we are routinely privy to the private and intimate conversations of those around us, particularly the cyborgs roaming the grocery stores and airports with their unnerving Bluetooth earpieces. We are encouraged to join social networking websites and share detailed and organized information about ourselves, our relationships, our friends, our jobs. We build websites that promote our writing, as we must, but they reveal who we are in ways that are accessible by everyone with an internet connection 24 hours a day.

We are a paparazzi culture where knowing a celebrity's underwear size and preference seems like data we can justify pursuing. We know the sex lives of our presidents now. We can't always prove it, but we're pretty sure who's gay, who's stealing scarves from Sak's and exactly how Angelina wrestled Brad away from Jen. More than that, we know what Angelina was thinking and feeling when she did it.

Although I engage and participate in the boundaryless culture, I don't necessarily support it. I am a private person at heart--although you read this blog, consider how much you know of my aspirations, my dreams, my fears--even my boyfriend--as opposed to what TV shows I watch and which political movements I support. Because I know you're watching me. And listening. And don't ever think for a moment that you're surveilling my thoughts. I'm handing them to you, carefully selected, pre-approved.


The Only Thing Worse than Being Talked About

One of the more intriguing facets of Gossip Girl's narrative structure is its reinforcement of the idea of the panopticon.

The panopticon, originally conceived by architect Jeremy Betham, is a circular prison structure in which prisoners can be watched without them seeing the person watching them. Michel Foucault famously deconstructed the philosophy behind the panopticon in Discipline and Punish, but many people will recognize it in a more literary context—that of George Orwell's Big Brother.

In Gossip Girl, it's not Big Brother who's watching, it's Big Sister, speaking to us (the audience) in the purring, confidential voice overs provided by Kristen Bell. But there are a few important differences between Big Sister and the panopticon:

1. Gossip Girl doesn't actually watch anyone herself
2. Gossip Girl doesn't report what she sees, she reports what she knows.

It's true. Gossip Girl is the twenty-first century version of Big Brother because she deals in knowledge, which in the reality of the show is the ultimate currency, trumping even the enormous trust funds of its denizens. Gossip Girl's free influx of information comes from her army of watchers—her loyal readers—who can be anyone.

Although Gossip Girl is the enforcer of what is "good" behavior and what is "bad" (although her definitions tend to be in alignment with contemporary society's), she isn't simply an enforcer. She is also a tool, an elegant, sophisticated form of punishment various main characters use to serve their own sense of justice. Blair is the most notable user of Gossip Girl as a tool for retribution, sending her juicy tidbits on her friends to pay them back for their perceived misdeeds. Unlike Big Brother, Gossip Girl doesn't just enforce societal codes; instead, she enforces justice.

Justice is a malleable ideal. It's more than simply "wrong" or "right." As a friend of mine once told me, evil people never conceive themselves as committing acts of evil. The human conscience requires justification—a ha! justice—in order to act. Jacques Lacan referred to this as "passage l'acte" (permission to act); the lack of it is essentially what keeps "good" people from stealing, committing murder, etc.

In Gossip Girl, justice often entails facilitating someone getting their comeuppance for being too upwardly mobile, too downwardly mobile, too self-righteous, or too hypocritical. It's this last crime, the crime of hypocrisy, that is most widely enforced. In the world of Gossip Girl, there is no greater transgression than to criticize one person's behavior and then commit it yourself.

And really, what's so wrong about that?


I'm back and better than ever.

There's nothing quite like a holiday, complete with eleven hours of travel (door to door) to get you feeling rejuvenated and ready for work again. Especially when you start that first day back with a parking ticket and some really disconcerting news at the office.

But I've shaved today, a semiannual ritual of sorts, and look twelve years old. I'm wearing a new houndstooth blazer I got on sale. I'm drinking a cup of that strong Writer's Center coffee. And I'm ready, world, for what's next.

I spent a good chunk of the break revising the full-length version of the Living Things manuscript. I hadn't looked at it in ages and was, for a while, thinking about chucking it. (I chuck a lot of work.) I cut some poems, rewrote a few others, and am still tinkering with the title piece, which has been really difficult to nail down.

I think it's getting there.

I also started rewriting a fiction piece I've been working on for a while called Musical Theatre in Hell.

And I read all of the second Gossip Girl novel, You Know You Love Me.

You could say I'm a little obsessed.