G is for Good Job


J.K. Simmons in Growing Up Fisher. I hope he told his doggie costar “Good Job” once or twice. From Dogster.

Have you seen Whiplash? Remember what J.K. Simmons’ character says about the phrase “Good Job”?

I’ll let J.K. tell you, using some colorful adult language, so I can stick with my goal of using all positive language.

I rather enjoyed Whiplash and this scene sums up its theme. Maybe that is how a great artist becomes One of The Greats.

On the other hand, I believe that to raise a Great Dog, the two most beneficial words are “Good job.”

Leo jumped onto this raised dock in a parking lot with just a little encouragement, and you bet I cheered him on.

“Good boy!” I gave him cheese. Mia hopped right up beside him and was happy to be rewarded with her rubber ball.

Would throwing a cymbal at Leo’s head help him jump onto the next metaphorical dock he encounters? Or will he remember how good it felt to make his people so proud they smiled and cheered and gave him cheese?

For the A to Z Challenge, I’m using all positive language in my posts. Find out how I discovered the benefits of positive reinforcement training in my book, Bark and Lunge!


After checking out some of the other A to Z Challenge bloggers, how about visiting some Wordless Wednesday blog hoppers and telling them “Good Job”?

BlogPaws Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop

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Getting rich quick on TV

I used to think Rob and I would kick ass on The Amazing Race. I’m an extremely savvy world traveler and he’s superhumanly athletic. However, I worried that my lack of strength and endurance might hold us back, coupled with the fact that I wouldn’t respond well to several sleep-deprived stressful days in a row. Plus, I don’t eat meat and he’s averse to strange food textures, so we wouldn’t excel at the weird eating challenges.

For that reason, I didn’t think Fear Factor would be our show either. We watched an episode the other day where the contestants had to drink a Crappaccino: Blended bugs topped with live bugs. Blech. Neither one of us could stomach much of that.

As the contestants approached the Crappaccino challenge, I asked, “What is it they’re hoping for? They know it’s going to be some gross eating challenge. Are they thinking, Gee, I hope this is one where we just have to sit in a tub of cow’s blood and carry beef hearts in our mouths, because I don’t think I’d be able to eat live scorpions.” I actually think I might be able to choke down live scorpions, and while beef heart is gross, I’m familiar with it; I feed it to my dogs.

The episode we watched today contained MY event. One partner had to sit in a vat fill with hundreds of live snakes while the other transferred snakes to another container using only their mouths. I’ve had pet snakes and kissed them. I could do either of those things easily, and Rob says he’d be able to lie with the snakes, so we would have killed at that challenge.

Plus, Fear Factor’s got these other stunts I think we’d enjoy. During each of the shows we watched recently, there were stunts that made me say, “Fun! I want to do that!” (Even if there weren’t a cash prize.) I totally want to put on crash gear and fly up through a five-floored structure. Catapult onto a rope grid suspended high off the ground? Sign me up. Can we get one of those so I can practice at home? Of course, I’ve also jumped out of an airplane three times and “fear was not a factor” for me then either. Guess I’m more of a thrill-seeker than I thought.

We’ve seen ads for another episode where some girl is crying while her head is being shaved. That happens a lot on America’s Next Top Model. I mean, I’ve cried over a bad haircut before, but if someone were paying me for it? I’d get over it.

I turned to Rob and said, “Something you should know: I’m not at all afraid of snakes, and I would totally shave my head for money.”

Don’t cry for me, Ipanema

A few months ago, we were watching an episode of the International Sexy Ladies Show (yes we were). This stimulated a discussion about wanting to go to Brazil.

I went into full trip-planning mode. February tends to be a glum time for me, so we should go then. Oh, except I’m signed up for a weekly writing class that meets through March 1. So we’ll go March 2, and be there for Carnaval! Ignoring the nagging feeling that really, we can’t afford two airline tickets to Rio, let alone the travel between regions, I proceeded to come up with a great itinerary.

Five days in Rio, where Rob will train at a Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ) studio. Fly to Pantanal for wildlife viewing. Fly to Iguassu Falls for waterfall viewing. Visit the Amazon.

One of my fantasies was that there would be a BJJ camp like the Muay Thai camp we went to in Thailand. It provided lodging and two meals a day for cheaper than most hotel rooms. This would solve the problem of hiked hotel rates and lack of vacancies during Carnaval. Unfortunately, BJJ in Brazil is a bit more expensive than Muay Thai training in Thailand. While camps like that do exist, they’re very expensive.

I had to get real. We can’t afford it this year. Which makes it all the more painful to listen to the four Brazilian music CDs I uploaded onto my work computer.

Ethics test

I just completely forgot what side of the car my gas tank was on. I know this happens to a lot of people. You pull in, get out of the car, and whoops, you’re on the wrong side.

I guess my excuse is that I drive another car for work sometimes and its gas tank is on the opposite side from mine. Last Saturday, I filled up the gas tank in the work car twice – in Portland and near the office – and then switched back to my own car and had to fill it up too before driving home.

But today’s gaffe wasn’t the whoops, silly me, variety. This was, I got out of the car, swiped my Safeway rewards card and credit card, put my hand on the pump and turned around, completely astonished not to see the gas tank door. I had been certain it was on that side.

I hit cancel and drove my car around to the other side, where the gas pump told me, “Steven Wilson, your gas discount is 10 cents a gallon!” I was about to, with a clear conscience, mooch Steven Wilson’s gas reward (mine is only 3 cents a gallon. I don’t actually shop at Safeway, just buy gas there) but the pump was insisting I lift the lever and pump without swiping my own credit card. I hit the cancel, clear and stop buttons, but it wouldn’t clear. Kept telling my to lift the lever and pump my gas. There was just a hair of an instant when I thought, “Well, if the gas pump is telling me to steal from Steven Wilson, I guess I’m meant to do it.”

But of course I got back in my car, drove around again, and pumped gas with my sad, little 3 cent discount.

Me: 2 / Vancouver: 0

An e-mail regarding a Canadian parking ticket:

It seems I was refunded the $45 fee twice, in one $90 check. I am happy to pay the city back … but I live in Washington. To pay back $45, it winds up costing me money, in foreign exchange fees and postage, or the gas in my car should I choose to drive to Vancouver and pay the ticket in person. If I pay by credit card, I pay a finance charge in addition to the foreign exchange fee.

The correspondence below confirms that this relates to the reimbursement for a wrongful tow on Dec. 3. I was parked perfectly legally and in fact had paid the meter, yet my car was towed. Through no fault of my own, I found myself stranded in a foreign city at 11 o’clock at night. I paid a cab $10 to get to the impound lot, where I discovered that the tow truck had damaged my bumper.

So you can see that this incident already has cost more than the inconvenience and the price of the tow and parking fine.

I think I was pretty understanding at the time that the parking sign was confusingly worded and parking enforcement simply had made a mistake. Everyone at the city was quite polite and it seemed that the problem was getting resolved.

I had charged the $45 fine to my credit card, so I thought the charge would just be reversed, in which case, Bank of America also would have reversed the finance charges and foreign exchange fee. Instead I received a check, which is a further inconvenience because I don’t live in Canada. I actually opened an account at RBC to deposit the reimbursement check for the towing, which I received in February.

This too cost me the gas it took to get across the border twice: to open the account and again to deposit this $90 check that apparently was issued in error. Now I’ve received an invoice for $45, to correct the city’s mistake in my favor. Did the city also correct the mistake(s) made in its own favor? Did you contact and refund money to all the other drivers whose cars were towed that night and every other night until parking enforcement learned (from me, it seems) that they had interpreted their own sign incorrectly?

As a journalist, my instinct is to find out how many other accidental tows there have been. I’m wondering if there isn’t a class action lawsuit here. For a city the size of Vancouver to have this kind of incompetence in its parking enforcement and revenue services is, frankly, offensive.

Again, I do not have Canadian checks, but I do have an RBC savings account. With an e-mail address or RBC account number, I think I can transfer money online to the revenue services division. However, this too costs an additional fee. So I’m not even sure how much I owe the city of Vancouver, after the $10 cab ride, credit card fees, an international phone call this afternoon, damage to my car bumper, and so forth.

What do you suggest?


This was quite the trip you had coming to Vancouver, BC. I would like to extend my apologies for our errors. I am preparing to write off this request that you pay back the city $45.00. I think you have been through enough inconvenience and therefore please disregard our invoice this debt has been removed.

Well played, Nature Conservancy

So a letter arrives in the mail, telling me I have been selected to participate in an important environmental survey and could I just check a few boxes about how concerned I am about global warming and how often do I recycle and do I think nonprofit groups should play an active role in spearheading change, yadda yadda…

The final question is, “Will you join us in protecting the earth … if so, please check the box next to the dollar amount you’d like to pay for your membership.” Good one! Get me thinking about how environmentally concerned I am, and then ask me for money.

Gee, I can’t very well send back this survey that says I shop organic sometimes and not send them a donation other than the 42 (43? what is it now?) -cent stamp I planned to put on the no postage necessary box to save them much-needed funds

Maybe I would have caught on sooner had I read the address on the envelope: “Gift Processing Center.” Hey, why would the gift processing center be collecting these very important surveys?

I’m sure this will be no different than giving to the Humane Society, which sends me more return address labels, notepads and umbrellas than my $15 donation was worth, in the effort to get me to give more.

Guess I’ve changed my tune since I blogged about this quite angrily in 2004. I do so enjoy those return address labels.

Rob busts the cons

On the boat to Elephanta, a very helpful fellow warned us not to ask anyone on the island to show us a cave, because they’ll charge us 2,000 rs. Then he sold us a guidebook for 260 rs. He told us it was the guidebook recommended by Lonely Planet.

I swear to Shiva, I need to sharpen my scam-dar.

Because if I’d opened my Lonely Planet Best of Mumbai book, I would have seen that it said the guidebooks cost 50 rs on the island, but con artists sell them for 250 at the dock.

Guess there’s been a 10-rupee inflation since publication. Rob went up to the guy, who was still on the boat targeting another white guy, and told the con artist that he would be buying back the guidebook. He said no, but then Rob said that he was going to tell the other white guy not to buy from him, so the con artist gave him back 200 rupees. It was a 60-rupee lesson.

Earlier, Rob bought a pirated DVD of Rambo on the street. He’d had a 75% success rate with Thailand’s street DVDs and was optimistic. We borrowed (rented) a DVD player from our hotel, and whaddya know, Rambo was shot hand-held in a theater, half the screen was blocked and the other half was out of focus. You could see heads of people in the theater.

We went back to the street stand and Rob told them he wanted his money back. They guy said no, and insisted that this other DVD, which he had said the day before was not as good as the one Rob originally bought, would be better. He even went down the street and pretended to test it in an electronics store.

So we took the second DVD to the same store where the manager looked at us like we were criminals for wanting to test a pirated DVD on his machine. The second DVD was worse.

Rob told the DVD pirate that he had four options.

1) Rob would stand there the rest of the day and tell people not to buy his DVDs.
2) Rob would sic the tourist police on him (we decided this was a good form of intimidation after seeing some bongo salesmen at the Gateway to India run away when the Tourist Police car approached).
3) Rob would upturn the table of DVDs, spilling them on the street.***
4) The DVD pirate would give Rob his money back.

The pirate reluctantly reached into his pockets and pulled out 100 Rs. Rob said, “I think I paid more than that.” The guy pulled out another 50. Sad to say, we couldn’t remember how much he paid. Pirates don’t write out receipts.

***Addendum: For those who don’t know Rob, he says these things in a perfectly calm, cheerful voice with a smile on his face. I think the only time I’ve heard him with anger in his voice (like, ever) was when he told a little boy near the Gateway to India to turn around and walk away when the kid wouldn’t leave us alone as we tried to hail a cab. We didn’t know why he was trying to assist us in this task, and didn’t want him to know where we were staying.

Bombay cab

So, we’ve stopped being so generous with cab drivers. Mostly because we are confused. Our hotel had an airport car service that would have cost 900 rs, but our tour guide had told us it should cost 400-500.

Upon arrival in Mumbai (Bombay, whatever), we walked to the cab stand where the dude in charge said it would be 500 rupees. He directed us to a driver who said it would be 600. I took my bag out of the trunk and said never mind, someone else would take us for 500. Already, I thought I probably should have haggled the 500 down, and now the driver was going in the wrong direction.

He said, “OK, OK, 500 rupees.”

Or, that’s what I thought he said, because he threw a fit when we arrived at the hotel (after he stopped one time to ask a friend directions and another time to buy something from a roadside stand) when I handed him the 500 Rs note. He demanded 600 because it was so far. Dude, you’d have more sympathy if you’d brought us directly here.

I said, “We agreed on 500.”

He stamped his foot and said no, we said 550. I’m flashing back and thinking, when he said “500 rupees” was he actually saying “five hundred fifty”?

Regardless, I only had 500 Rs notes handy so we held firm. In the lobby of our hotel, for all to see. Scaring the staff into submission, no doubt.

Next day, we took a cab to Gandhi’s house. 100 rupees he said, which was way too much, so when he said he’d take us back to the hotel, or wherever we wanted to go, “same price,” I figured that was a better deal. We had him take us to a Jain temple, a Hindu temple, some kind of sacred Hindu swimming pool and Thieves Market. He added the Hanging Gardens on and desperately wanted to take us to the Dhobi Ghats, but it was hard to get psyched about a giant outdoor manual laundromat. We’d seen people washing clothes in the Ganges in Varanasi already.

At Thieves Market, I meant to hand the driver another 100 note. Generously doubling the only fare he’d quoted. I accidentally handed him two 100 notes together, and still he practically spit at me. 600, he demanded. He took us all these places! (Uh, yeah, but one of them we didn’t even ask to go to.) I asked Rob if he had any 100 notes, because I did think it would be fair to pay 400 or 500 if that’s what he expected.

With 400 rupees in his hand (plus the 100 Rob gave him at Gandhi’s house) he still wanted another 100. 500 was reasonable, we said. He still wanted 600. We gave him another 50, and I wound up feeling like we cheated him somehow. He was so nice and here we were stiffing him. Or did he drive away thinking, “Awesome, I got 550 out of those suckers. Nice haul.”

Later I counted. Gandhi’s house, two temples, the tank and the market. Five places. At 100 rupees each, that was totally fair. Let’s call the 50 rupees a tip for suggesting the Hanging Gardens.

In the afternoon, we took another cab to Colaba Market (for 50 rupees, I think). The driver, wearing a white hat and beard that made me think he was Muslim, asked us why Americans have such big noses. I told him mine was long because I am a liar and Rob said his was broad because he got punched in the face. The driver asked about the scar on Rob’s lip. Up front, this dude. Rob said he was a boxer, and the driver said “You don’t look like a boxer. They should be big. And taller.”

Still, he was our favorite so far.

Global economics

I feel like we’re spending more money on this trip than we could be.

We refused to give more than 40 rupees ($1) to the barefoot rickshaw runner, because that’s what we agreed upon. Then, feeling guilty about that, I’ve started overtipping waiters, cab drivers and the houseboat-arranging guy, who probably don’t need the money as much as the barefoot rickshaw dude. I don’t have the heart to bargain down when the price is so cheap to begin with. Someone on our tour said that meant I was contributing to inflation in India, but I can’t remember why that seemed like a valid reason to pay a guy only $1 to wheelbarrow us to our hotel (and not get us lost on the way).

In all likelihood, we could have negotiated a better price on our houseboat, but who cares. We had the money, and didn’t have the energy or time to shop around. We liked the tout who approached us at the bus stop. Not least because his name was Shboo Boney (spelling of first name is approximate). Always happy to reward personality with some baksheesh.

One website recommended staying in Alleppey for several days checking out boats. I doubt we could have landed a better experience if we had. If we could have paid less, oh well. It’s the experience we’ll remember, not the price.

Looking out for me

I just booked a flight from Mumbai to Delhi on the internet. That may have been a trifle hasty on my part. I’ve been emailing a travel agent and I wanted to see if I could get a better price by searching the airlines myself. This particular flight was showing up as 500 rupees for the both of us, which if my monetary conversion website is correct, is $12.67.

Thinking I might as well try to book this one flight, I started filling in my info on the page. I don’t recall if there was a confirmation page before I completed the sale, but I found myself looking at a receipt and ticket number. The ticket was in fact 500 rupees, but the taxes were 4000 rupees!

What the hell? Have I been ripped off before I even get to India? Perhaps, but this grand total of about $128 is still less than what the travel agent quoted me.

I printed out the receipt and my cell phone rang. It was an automated message from my credit card, fretting about some unusual charges. Could I confirm the $128 charge to Air Deccan, and the $62 charge at Fred Meyer and the $30 at the gas station…Um, that domestic Indian airfare was legit, but I suspect fraud at my neighborhood Fred Meyer and the gas station at the end of my block.

Seriously, though. That call came within minutes. They got some kind of system in place. I better call them before our trip in April to prepare them for more unusual charges in Kathmandu and Dharamsala.