Vituary: Nicole S.

Because of my selective memory, I often remember things more by the way they made me feel than exactly what happened. I remember feeling apprehensive about having quit my job and the move to New York. I realized immediately that I could not live without both friends and a TV. And since I had no friends yet, I went to the Kmart in White Plains, New York to get an electronic friend of sorts, a TV. Luckily, the TV was not my only friend for long. In the first week of law school I met my friend Nicole.

We have the same name. Her mom thought our voice mail for our house line should have said, “If you want to speak to Nicole, press one. If you want to speak to Nicole, press 2.” We were so poor when we lived together, we did not have a house line, so this was a moot point.

Our first road trip together could have ruined our friendship. I made her ride with me in my little Jetta to my storage unit in Maryland. We got caught in traffic on the New Jersey turnpike. You discover quickly how you really feel about someone stuck in traffic. I liked her a lot. She must have liked me too, because I think my car was so full of my possessions (read: crap), she had stuff at her feet and could barely move.

I have never seen her use her black belt in tai kwon doe, but I know she could kick my ass. But you can’t really tell that at first glance. Behind her glowing smile and vaguely Texan accent, lies a person of great depth with a unique way of seeing the world and processing it. I think this is one of the things that drew me to her, because I, too, often lack the ability to see the world like everyone else does.

The day I drove off in my car, planning to leave New York for a year, Nicole started crying. Sometimes I don’t realize, or try not to think about leaving the people I love. Nicole knew I would be gone for a year, and I appreciated her expression of this. I, too, would miss her, and our bantering, and her continued efforts to get me to eat better, and my continued efforts to get her to eat crap.

Last weekend she threw the perfect wedding shower for me. My close friends from law school came together for an afternoon of un-rushed enjoyment of each others company. No one had any place to be and we could talk and lounge around the pool to our heart’s content.

These are a few of the events we have shared. I know there were many more, even if the only real memory I have of them is of the feeling of comfort. That comfortable feeling that comes with friends who are more like family, who you don’t mind seeing you without your bra on, who you know will keep loving you wherever you are. This is the feeling I associate with Nicole: comfort.

I am lucky to have such a good friend to share my life with. Thank you Nicole. Love, Nicole

Movie Review: Mama Mia

Starring: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan SkarsgÄrd, Collin Firth

I get why Meryl Streep did the movie Mama Mia: she gets to make out with Pierce Brosnan, and it all takes place on a beautiful island in Greece. What I don’t get is why it sucks. The idea was cute, but the movie lacked that zing, that thing that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Maybe it was because the people playing the parts were too old. I know they are acting, but that only gets you so far sometimes. And boy can Meryl move. She does not look like she is 59. She looks great. But she is supposed to be playing the mom of a twenty-year-old. Mind you the movie never mentions how old she was when she had her daughter, but because her mom would not let her come home after she got pregnant, I would guess she was around 20. That makes Meryl, even in great shape about twenty years too old for the part.

I think the other thing missing from the movie was a little more back-story about the daughter. Ostensibly, all of her mom’s ex-lovers are in town because of the daughter’s wedding. (Neither the viewer nor the daughter know which one is her dad.) Then we learn she is only 20. Oh and her best friends have British accents while the daughter sounds like an American. And what about college? I guess I don’t know where the daughter is coming from or where she is going or why she is getting married.

And just one more horrible thing: the singing. Meryl can. Pierce can’t. And the painful thing is that they have Pierce keep going and going. The man has a terrible voice and even with support from Meryl, it is a flop. Oh and he starts singing at the end of the movie. Everything is resolved and everyone is having a nice dinner. This song should have been left on the cutting floor, which I gather from the Wikipedia site about the movie is where a lot of the other ABBA songs in the movie ended up.

The best part of the film comes when the credits are rolling: Meryl, Pierce, and Collin, with the other three adult characters, all sing ABBA songs on a stage wearing typical ABBA outfits. They all look great. In fact, Collin Firth turned out to be the one with the biggest gut, and he is the youngest!

I would only recommend the movie if you are going with a group of good friends and are interested in a good laugh, at the movie.



snig·gle: [snig-uh l] verb, -gled, -gling, noun.
1. the act of inadvertent tickling of a partner while snuggling.
2. to lie or press closely, as for comfort or from affection; nestle; cuddle, coupled with inadvertent tickling.
[Origin: 2008, snickle.]



This profile embodies to me what a Vituary should be all about. You have to use the down arrow to see more.
Click here: Days With My Father


Book Review: Nudge

Who couldn’t use a little help accomplishing a pesky goal every now and again? I know I need help sometimes to get going on a story or making it to the gym. Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (of the University of Chicago) wrote the book as a manifesto to “improve decisions about health, wealth, and happiness.” Seeking to foster what they call a new movement of “libertarian paternalism,” the idea of the book melds individual freedom with the promotion by government of socially optimal decisions, so that the citizen and the society both benefit.

If this sounds a bit different from the University of Chicago’s reputation as a libertarian, free-market school, the authors have no trouble admitting their lone-wolf status in the Economics department. According to them, because the people are only “nudged” into making better choices, their personal liberty (a paramount concern for economists) is preserved. The authors apply the Nudge model to a host of complex and seemingly intractable issues like Social Security, prescription drug coverage, and preserving the environment. For each issue, an alternative solution is explored and the reader is giving a glimpse of what life would be like if only we could be nudged into doing the right thing.

For example, how to get American workers to save more for retirement? Forget the intricate discussions on how people understand their disposable income or how America’s retirement system allocates costs to take care of the elderly; Nudge world simply makes retirement savings automatic, and forces people to opt out of the plans. Presumably, those too lazy to save (note the assumption) now would be too lazy to opt-out under the Nudge system.

The authors also show how people can use the Nudge model in their own lives. My personal favorite is their advocacy of the website stickk.com. It allows people to effectively nudge themselves. Say you want to lose 10 pounds and you think it will take a month to do so. Well, you go to stickk, sign-up for free, and set up your nudge. To motivate yourself, you offer to pay a friend of yours $10 week every week that you don’t hit your weight loss goal. After setting up a profile and putting $40 in your Stickk account, you weigh in once a week. If you make your goal, you get $10. If not, your friend gets a nice gift. Naturally, there are many permutations of this nudge. The key is making the nudge hurt enough so you feel beholden to it.

A quick read, the book offers some new and innovative ways at looking at public policy problems. Take this as your nudge to check it out from your library. For a counter view of the Nudge theory, check out Brent's blog at: LookBehindUsJane.



this is actually looking down on

the Statue of Liberty.
Photo by: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times



So this is one of the stories I want to use in my book...enjoy...

Pennsylvania is a big state. Really big. People don’t give it its due. New State Slogan: “Pennsylvania: It takes a long time to drive through our state.”

As I am driving, and possibly breaking the law by talking to my friend Ramona on the cell phone, I look down at my windshield and yell, “There is a mouse in my car!”

“There is a mouse in your car?!” she says rather calmly.

“Yes there is a mouse,” I say, sounding a bit like the mouse I bet.

“In your car?”

“In my car.”

“At your feet?”


“Where in the car?”

“In the car.”

“Yes, but is it running around inside the car.”

“No, it is in the car.”

“Nicole, where is the mouse? Inside of the car?”

“No outside, on the windshield.”

“In your car or outside of the car?”

“Outside of the car.”

“Pull over.”

Right. I will call her back.

Who knows where this little guy came from. I started driving in Montana and now I was in Pennsylvania. The mouse was cute. It looked up at me while I was driving, turning its head around at me, and smiled with the wind rushing through his fur. Ralph the Mouse could not have been cuter, had he been in my car riding his motorcycle. The mouse then turned his head back around and, with ears back, looked happy to drive along sitting there. I swear he grabbed on. I wish I had a picture. No, no mice in the car, even cute mice.

I try to shoo it away.

I get back in the car. There the little guy is again, popping back up and looking up at me all innocent and happy to be sitting in my engine riding along.

I repeat the pull-over and try the shoo away exercise two more times. At one point a couple in a very large RV drive by and ask if they can help me. No, thank you, I have a cell phone, AAA, and it is only a mouse.

The reason I have AAA and a cell phone for driving across the country is not because I planned well for this trip or prepared at the beginning.

I had left Missoula around 4 in the afternoon three days earlier. I wanted to get on the road. My brother and sister tried to persuade me to stay home for another night: “you won’t get that far, just hangout with us.” I left anyway. The drive was not bad, even though I had not done much driving since I’d been in Germany and I therefore arrived in Billings late, around 9:30. It should have taken me only five hours. My Jetta was doing great. Before the drive someone had asked if I thought my eight year old, 125,000 miles already driven VW would make it across the country. Of course it would make it, why not?

I pulled up to the fuel station, went to put in some fuel, and noticed the gas cap cover needed a key. While in Germany for the year, I had loaned my brother Montana my car. I looked at the key chain, no key to the gas cap. Hum, not good, I think. He must have lost the gas cap over the year someplace. So I go inside and look to see if the fuel station sells these gas cap covers.

I ask the girl at the counter, “Do you sell those gas cap covers with the keys? I have lost my key and want to try one.” She replies, “No, but I have an idea, why don’t you just use your key?” I am not making this response up. I ask the biker dude and truck driver outside having a beer if they have any ideas. Biker: “Well, I would take a flathead screwdriver and jam it into the key slot and turn really hard while doing it. That might work.” I’m not making that up either.

I call my brother who had been driving the car for the year.

“Montana did you forget to give me something when I left today?”


“Something to do with the gas?”

“Gas money?”


“Oh Shit! Oh SHIT! Oh shit!”

“Ok, so we need a new phrase,” I tell him.

“Call me back. I will look on the internet for a solution.”

I drive on to the Flying J Truck Stop. Very cool places, for the uninitiated. You can shower, eat, buy a TV and do just about everything else you might think of at this chain of truck stops found throughout the US. One of my friend’s truck driving stepfathers wanted to setup their driveway to look like one.

No gas cap covers with keys there, but I am offered a phone book. I call AAA and decide to join, at the pay phone. I’m at the pay phone because I did not think the sales rep at the cell phone store in Missoula, Montana was giving me a good enough deal. I wanted a free phone, she said they did not give out free phones anymore. What did she know? So, I don’t have a cell phone for my drive across the US with the early model VW. What could go wrong?

I finally get an AAA guy on the phone.

“Hi, I am in Billings, Montana and I need to join AAA and get a locksmith.”

“Ma’am, what is your address?”

“Which address?”

“Your billing address.”

“Stevensville, MD”

“I am sorry ma’m, I believe that office is closed, this is the national office and I do not think we can sign you up right now.”

“I need to join AAA and get a locksmith.”

“I am really pretty sure we cannot sign you up right now.”

“I really need to join.”

“Don’t you think calling to join AAA right now is a lot like trying to get homeowner’s insurance when the house is on fire?”

“Well, now I need to join AAA, get a locksmith and talk to your supervisor, because what I don’t need right now is a lecture.”

This was one of the few times in my life when the snappy response came to me when needed. Nice.

After a moment on hold, I am signed up and a locksmith is on the way. The locksmith mentions that I do not look like a big city attorney. Because I am not. He put law student with New York together and noticed right away that I did not seem to be what should have come out of that equation.

I get back on the road the next morning and everything goes well all the way to St. Louis. Yes, this is a detour. My grandmother lives there. I am shifting, not 15 miles from my grandmother’s house, when the car dies on the interstate. I pull over and notice the huge approaching summer storm. Thinking someone will stop to help, I sit there…watching the storm get closer. Realizing no help is on the way, I get out, a guy in a car stops. I hesitate for a moment, reminded of my mom telling us over and over never ever to get in the car of a stranger. I take the ride to the Cracker Barrel near by, and pray that if it comes to it, my mom can pull some strings to save me if this dude is an axe-murderer.

The tow truck driver is a trip. Young, nice, portly. He tows my car to a Ford dealership where the AAA people told me they could fix the Jetta. I paid $45 extra because it was outside of the 3 mile free AAA towing range.

I call the next morning, and the conversation with the Ford dealership goes something like this:

“Hi! Nicole Harkin here. I dropped off my Jetta. So how long will it take you to fix it up.”

“Well, we can’t fix it. This is a Ford dealership. But even if we weren’t a Ford dealer, it would be awhile, because all of the mechanics in St. Louis are on strike.”


“The mechanics are on strike.”

Right. Right. AAA comes through once again. Why didn’t they mention this problem on the phone? And who has ever heard of unionized car mechanics?

I call around, finding the one VW dealer open. AAA pays to tow Jetta there. The general manager tells me he will try to work me in. I mention law school starts on Monday and, as this is Friday, I really need to go.

I get the call late Friday night that the car is done. I pick it up the next morning with Grammy. Naturally, the Jetta has a flat tire. It is sitting there on the lot with a flat tire. It did not have a flat tire when I brought it to them. After waiting two hours they fix that too, but for free. Oh and by this time, Grammy has decided that I cannot drive any further without a cell phone. I get one because she is mostly correct.

Back on the road.

Oh and I finally ended up using the windshield wiper fluid to encourage the mouse to get out of the car. I never saw him again, but felt bad. I hope nothing happened to him.