Letters to the editor

Confessions (and tips!) from a wine-toting overhead bin hog Plus: Do algebra flashcards and soccer practice create thumb suckers? In defense of John Rocker.

Published January 6, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

'Tis the season to be pissed off



I'm one of those wine-totin' crazies your airline-attendant author loves to hate -- carry-on slung over the shoulder, crammed with precious bottles winging their way home from Stellenbosch or Sonoma. No way they're prying this baby out of my hands to gate-check!

Sure, it's easy to procure spiffy padded wine shippers that zip through as checked baggage and emerge unscathed at the other end. And I use 'em all the time -- after all, why pack that silly second change of pants or spare pair of shoes when they're taking up space in a check-through piece far better occupied by a case of Cote-Rotie? But come crunch time, check-through space inevitably runs out with at least another dozen bottles that still need repatriation. And what happens next separates the pros from the rank amateurs, like the fellow on Elliott Hester's plane. So herewith some tips:

1. Pick the appropriate airline when you plan to carry wine. You're likely to find a more sympathetic ear from an attendant on Air France than, say, Saudi Arabian Airlines. (Corollary: Make sure the attendant knows the bag holds their national product. "But, Monsieur, I have a dozen bottles of your magnificent Burgundy in this bag. Quelle tragedie if they were to break before being properly aged.")

2. In a pinch, a seat-back pocket squeezes exactly two half-bottles of Sauternes. To hell with the in-flight magazine and vomit bag.

3. Ditto the under seat. A fold-up bag at the ready allows you to quickly stash at least three or four bottles.

4. Turn to your fellow passengers: "Who's willing to give me their overhead space and check their bag in return for a bottle of Chateau Chundra?"

5. Never bluster. Attendants deal with lots of frequent flyers and high rollers, so you're unlikely to impress them.

6. And never beg. Attendants are overworked, overstressed and low in the airline pecking order. They just love someone over whom they can exercise arbitrary authority -- and that means you.

7. But don't hesitate to resort to bribery. Start by offering the attendant one bottle, then two. Don't cry -- just remember that these are bottles that will be shards of glass at the other end if you have to check them. And an attendant always knows about a little extra space -- if you make it worth his while.

So watch out, you flight attendants on the Argentina run -- I understand that Mendoza Valley is lovely during the March harvest festival. I'll be seeing you on the return leg!

-- Joel Goldberg

As a frequent passenger on airlines it makes my blood boil to see morons get on with huge overstuffed bags, or two bags and a box, three bags and lamp, etc., ad nauseum. This bizarre sense of entitlement needs to be quashed right now. If the passenger in your story had bothered to show up early like everyone else, there would have been no problem.

A first-class seat has all the room needed for one bag. Instead it's everyone else's fault and everyone else suffers. The passenger you described in your story behaved like a baby who had dropped his rattle.

I am thrilled that the airlines are putting in Plexiglas sizers to help with this problem, although sometimes I sense that some flight attendants are enabling these people -- the worst being Southwest Airlines. "Got five bags? No problem. What's that -- a live chicken? Sure, as long it likes to listen to our jokes and have peanuts thrown at it." Still, ultimately it comes down to personal responsibility. I don't envy today's flight attendant. It can't be easy.

-- Barry Enderick

San Diego, Calif.

Elliott Neal Hester's description of a selfish airline passenger and his wine collection illustrates both sides of the overhead baggage problem: the selfishness of a few passengers and the arrogance of the airline industry. The airlines and their employees constantly exhort passengers to check their bags, but do nothing to make that option more attractive to them. Bags frequently miss connecting flights, fragile belongings are destroyed and passengers almost always have to wait in long lines to check and retrieve their bags. Faced with the likelihood of delay or mishap, who wouldn't carry on as much as possible? The solution to the overhead baggage problem does not lie in haranguing passengers or making examples of the occasional idiot, but in making it as easy and safe as possible for passengers to check their baggage.

-- Paul Bain

It seems to me that the airline missed another possible remedy. They could have asked the rest of the plane for a volunteer to check a bag or two, perhaps offering an incentive to compensate the volunteer for the delay at the destination airport (assuming that the volunteer had not checked any bags). Asking a passenger to check a bag with fragile contents is simply not a reasonable action, and I believe that the passenger is entitled to full compensation for the bag -- wine, ruined clothes, and all -- as well as punitive damages.

-- Mark Dulcey

I was a closet thumb sucker until I was 11

Good for you! Keep the thumb police away.

I sucked my thumb until I was 7. I had "Thumb" painted on it, and was chastised by both my parents and my maternal grandparents who lived with us. It all had no effect at all. I persisted. One day, it just didn't seem fun anymore and I stopped, cold turkey. Of course, shortly thereafter, I started biting my nails. In third grade, I was pulled out of class, paraded into the first grade class with two or three other nail-biters and displayed as "bad examples." In the middle of high school, I stopped that "bad habit," too. I just didn't get anything out of it anymore. Then in my second year of college, I began to smoke a pipe. I did that for 24 years, then one night realized it was no fun anymore and stopped.

What does it all mean? Damned if I know. As an adult, the dentists always complimented me on how straight my teeth were. I never needed any braces or orthodontia at all.

-- Al Schlaf

I wanted to say thank you for the piece on thumb sucking. My eldest child is a thumb sucker, and, like the author, I am waiting for her to find a time that is right for her to quit. She sucks primarily at night, and continues to do so despite requests from her father to stop, as well as dire warnings from a dentist (whom we no longer use) that she would develop a gap between her teeth "big enough to put a football through." I know when it's time for her, she will quit. Until then, if thumb sucking brings my sensitive and emotional child some comfort at the end of the day, it is the least I can do to let her do so without criticism.

-- Elizabeth Mata

Granted, the sight of a small child of 6 sucking on a bottle or grubby thumb in public is nauseating, especially if the kid wanders around with drool on their chin, clothes and hands while the bottle dangles from their clenched teeth. I can nearly see what author Pamela Gordon is trying to say: "If it won't kill them, and if it gives them comfort, let 'em do it!" However, if such behavior "is comforting and centering" after the age of 2, maybe she should start taking a closer look at the lives her children are leading. If infantile behavior is comforting, what in their environment is causing them to need such behavior? Is the life she provides them upsetting? Is she pushing them into things they aren't ready for, like algebra flashcards and nonstop soccer practice? Perhaps she should look at how her household is run before defending such behavior. She may just be perpetuating a lifestyle from her own childhood that caused stress and inflicting it on her own children.

-- Chris Geary-Durrill

Former Disney exec dodges a bullet


In his article about Patrick Naughton, Sean Elder suggests that Naughton's questionable actions spring out of an intensely focused lifelong quest for approval. Maybe so. Unfortunately Mr. Naughton has acted in such a way as to ensure that from now on he is not going to get that approval, except from such men who share his proclivities and from children who are very young and very innocent indeed. Nobody really likes a wannabe child molester: An adult woman will invariably describe a baby-chaser as a loser. An adult man will come right out and call a pedophile a pervert. No doubt Naughton remains a very fine fellow in many ways, but by now, who cares? He has conclusively proven himself a creep. Case closed.

-- R. Warner

Keith Richards -- Like a thief in the night?



John Rocker's comments, while offensive to many, are still his point of view and he is entitled to it. In fact, I agree with some of what he says -- although not all gays have AIDS, and not everybody in New York has purple hair, just got out of jail and is a single mom. It's unfair to lump everybody in the same category. But it's his opinion, and if the media doesn't like it, then they should stop publishing his views.

-- Robert Turner

Dear Mr Blue: It's too late, baby


In his response to your readers [about a letter from a woman signed "Knocked Up"], Mr. Blue (Garrison Keillor) stated, "The simple fact is that the guy has no connection to this woman. He ejaculated once and that's the extent of their relationship." Excellent! Clearly Mr Blue agrees with the idea of "my body, my choice." Obviously those children conceived without paternal commitment (i.e., out of wedlock) are the mothers' responsibility. Mr. Blue would, of course, agree that "my body, my choice" means also "my responsibility." It's nice to see a man who stands up to the "deadbeat dad" money-grabbers who would subjugate men for women's irresponsible behavior.

Fortunately, men like the nice guy in Knocked-Up's story who either can't find a willing wife or aren't ready for the responsibilities of marriage would rather allow the baby the opportunity to be raised in a good home by two loving parents. It's too bad Ms. Knocked-Up is not responsible. She should give up the child so a childless couple can have the joy of parenthood.

-- Lloyd Gorling

Founder, Ex-fathers

Williamstown, Ontario

I think that Keillor's response to Knocked-Up's letter is terribly irresponsible and extremely biased. Keillor dimly colors a story about a woman and a "casual friend with whom [she] had a drunken one-night stand," transforming the man whom the woman describes as "a gentle and good-natured person," into a someone Keillor describes as "His Lordship" who "took her to bed, had unprotected sex with her, enjoyed a sweet conquest and moved on."

Apparently Keillor believes that women, invariably, are victims in one-night stands. Based on this erroneous belief, he tells the woman that she should not inform the father since the father is merely a sperm donor. Someone should wake Keillor up to the sexual revolution. It apparently has been a long time since he has been in the dating world. Since sex was consensual, they are both responsible for the child that they created together. Actions always carry consequences, for both men and women.

-- Nathan Stein

A Jew for baby Jesus


Mixing the holidays


I know this is going to make me sound like a Scrooge, but I don't find Jewish people bragging about celebrating Christmas either cute or amusing. I find it sad. As most moderately observant Jews can tell you, there is a major Jewish holiday almost every month. The most important and to my mind the most beautiful Jewish holiday of all falls each week, Shabbat. Preparing and celebrating for these holidays, even in a modest, less-than-orthodox manner, leaves me no time or desire to celebrate Christian holidays. Its sad to me that so many Jewish people are unaware of the richness and joy to be found in their own traditions. It would be my ideal that these Jewish women who spend so much time baking Christmas cookies used their time and energy to make a richer Jewish life for their families. Its my belief that Christmas envy will dissipate.

-- Maddy August

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