Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I really thought things were finally starting to settle down stress-wise but apparently I was wrong. Putting together this trip to Russia has been one headache after another, and I just got the latest headache today.

Late last week, I got a phone call from SATO, the travel agency here on post, saying that Dertour, the German agency we booked our tour with, had tried to put the balance of our trip on my credit card and had been denied. They had used my German address as verification with the bank, and we use our APO address for banking. No problem, I thought, and gave the lady at SATO my APO address to pass along to Dertour.

Then yesterday I went to use my credit card when I picked my car up from the shop (oil change and minor repair work), and the card was declined. I was horrified! I knew that the charge from Dertour was going to be huge, but it shouldn't have put me over my credit limit.

When I checked the account online, I found that the balance of the trip had not, in fact, been charged to my card yet. A quick call to USAA revealed that when the travel agency tried to put through such a big charge, it was automatically declined (and would have been even if they had had the correct billing address) and the account flagged by the fraud department.

To make matters even peachier, at first nobody at USAA wanted to talk to me because--get this!--I'm not "on the account." Ha! I have my very own card with my very own name, and I have spent more money on that card than Fred could even dream of spending. But no, they wanted Fred to call them and take care of it because technically his is the only name on the bill. Finally, I got a very sympathetic representative, and she and I collectively played the Iraq card in a big way to get the people in the fraud department to pull the flag off of my account.

So here's what I have to do tomorrow. Amy and I will go back to SATO in the morning and have one of their agents call Dertour and tell them to put the charge through again, with the understanding that it will be automatically denied--again. Then I have to call USAA and tell them to authorize the charge, and then Dertour needs to put it through again. I just hope that Dertour hasn't written us off as no-shows and sold our tickets out from under us. I feel sick when I think about that possibility.

I am so mad in so many different directions right now. First, while I appreciate that USAA is trying to look out for my best interests, wouldn't it be nice of them to get in touch with me and say, "Hey! We think your card is being used fraudulently, so we've frozen your account." That would have saved me a little bit of mortification at the AAFES Car Care Center yesterday afternoon and have alerted me last week that there was a problem. I'm also mad at Dertour if they didn't go back to SATO when the charge was denied a second time. And if they DID go back to SATO and SATO somehow neglected to contact me about it, I am going to go positively postal on them.

Meanwhile, I'm still suffering from low-level rage at the Visadienst, the agency that took care of getting our visas for us. The visas wound up costing twice what we had been led to believe they would, which we found out yesterday when (thank goodness--the 1 happy item in this saga) our passports were delivered back to us along with our Russian visas.

In happier news, I went to see The Stepford Wives this evening with 6 friends from my neighborhood. It was in English at our local Kino. I haven't laughed that hard in ages!

Fahrenheit 9/11 opens here in Germany on Thursday, and I want to go see it too. I'll probably just watch it in German, as I don't have the patience to wait for them to show it in English and much of it appears to be in English with German subtitles anyway. Also, I think it will be interesting to watch it with an audience of Germans instead of Americans.

And in weird news, while Mike was mowing the lawn today he happened to find 2 bumble bees that were . . . um, "expressing their love." Naturally, I ran inside and grabbed my camera, even though I felt a bit like an insect pornographer. I had a tough time getting the focus right, as the camera wanted to hone in on the blades of grass just above the true subjects. This is the best I could get:

The scene reminded me of a review I heard ages ago on NPR for a book called Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson. It's a collection of odd tales of animal sexuality, written in advice-column format. One that I've never been able to shake from my mind is this:

Dear Dr. Tatiana,

I'm a queen bee, and I'm worried. All my lovers leave their genitals inside me and then drop dead. Is this normal?

Perplexed in Cloverhill

Dr. Tatiana offers the following reassurance to Perplexed:

For your lovers, this is the way the world ends--with a bang, not a whimper. When a male honeybee reaches his climax, he explodes, his genitals ripped from his body with a loud snap. I can see why you find it unnerving. Why does it happen? Alas, Your Majesty, your lovers explode on purpose. By leaving their genitals inside you, they block you up. In doing so, each male hopes you will not be able to mate with another. In other words, his mutilated member is intended as the honeybee version of a chastity belt.

Now isn't THAT special? I observed the bees for quite a while to see if bumblebee boys come to the same sad end as their honeybee cousins, but if there was any exploding going on, I couldn't tell. I could have sworn though that later I saw them enjoying 2 tiny cigarettes . . .

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