Saturday, February 22, 2014

Remembering Donna



When I hired into the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works on May 1, 2000, Donna Guyovich was the senior staff member of the Public Affairs and Special Services Section of the Personnel and Public Affairs Division. Jean Granucci was the Section Head, Ida Ramos was Division Chief, Chuck Adams was the Deputy Director above Ida, and Harry Stone was Director, only the second person to hold that title. I had been brought on to fill the spot created by the retirement of Cindy Adams. Also on the team were Melinda and Natalie, and making everything run smoothly through secretarial excellence were Araceli, Ana, and Jan. Araceli and Ana were working directly for Ida, but since we were all sitting in the same part of the 12th Floor, they were always quick to help us out, just as Jan was quick to back them up. The Classification Section of PPA was there, too.

I was surrounded by women in a Department that was traditionally male-dominated. The Director, Chief Deputy, Assistant Directors, and Deputy Directors were all men, the woman who'd broken the glass ceiling having retired. Considering Public Works consisted of civil engineers and laborers (think road work, flood control, building inspectors, waterworks), two kinds of work that were traditionally male-dominated, it wasn't surprising. Of course, at Disneyland, I had worked under several women.

Jean was already heading for retirement, less than 10 months from my first day. For her party we ended up putting together a video in which we acted out parts, recounting Jean's career. Donna was great, but then what would you expect from someone who was a member of the Screen Actors Guild by age 5?

Donna had been the Public Information Officer for DPW, and since she knew just about everything and everyone, that was appropriate. She had been there her entire adult life, having started work with the Flood Control District, which merged with other County operations to become Public Works in 1985.

Before Jean retired, Donna transferred many PIO responsibilities to me. The day Jean cleaned out her office, Donna moved in, and Donna was promoted into Jean's position. With Jean's retirement and Donna's promotion, we had a vacancy. There were other staffing changes, too. For example, Melinda moved to another Division. I can think of a couple of ladies who came and went. All this time later, I am still friends with True and Marina, who had been my peers in that section.

Jean and Donna had very different personalities but had been friends since the day Jean hired in, a year after Donna. Donna's leadership continued most of the tone and practices I had experienced under Jean. Of course, Ida was still Division Chief. Any Division Chief, anyone in Administration, whether Deputy Director or Director, could and would stroll in at any time. We had nothing to hide and we welcomed the informal contact. Donna would keep the Director's favorite light handful-snack stocked at her door to encourage visits. And, at any time, we were also welcome to walk over to Administration to talk with the secretaries, and if available, the Director or anyone else.

It was a great time, at least for me. Donna adored me. Everyone knew it. That came in handy on one day in particular. We had a staff meeting in Donna's office. Donna was sitting behind her desk, and the four of us were sitting in chairs facing her desk or to the side. I was struggling to stay awake. There was a period I would  routinely be working late at the office, and I think that was already going on. Since we were on a 4-day schedule, the days were already long. Thankfully, I lived a short drive away. In addition, I was working at Disneyland on my weekends, usually all three days. There were also writing projects, and I was a single man in those days, so there was associated socializing. Bottom line: I was tired. So there we were in Donna's office, and I'm struggling to stay awake as Donna was talking, because I was used to being at a computer screen and/or on the phone, multitasking, which never let me have a moment to feel tired.

Then, I noticed silence.

Next, I realized my eyes were closed.

I open my eyes, lifted my head, and I saw four women, including Donna, staring at me. Natalie's expression was especially memorable.

"Am I that boring?" asked Donna, feigning hurt.

I assured her it had nothing to do with the importance of her words.

Then there were the times I'd go out for lunch with my peers. DPW HQ was surrounded by places to grab lunch, some within walking distance, some requiring a drive. We officially had 45 minutes for lunch. One day, we had been delayed in getting back, and my peers remarked that they'd avoid any negative fallout from Donna for taking a long lunch because they were returning with me.

Donna was known to take a long lunch or two herself, especially in conjunction with Ida. After all of the years they had put in, and being hard workers in general, I figured they had earned a little wiggle room on the length of their lunches, so there was no resentment on my part. There was one time in particular my peers had to drive something time-sensitive to them to be signed. The Barkley at the northeast corner of Fremont and Huntington in my hometown of South Pasadena was the favorite lunchtime hangout for the team of Donna and Ida. There were times we'd be out and about, such as for an event, and on the way back to the office Donna would pull into a restaurant and buy us lunch.

Donna was the kind of person who'd pay to treat her dog's cancer rather than give up and put her down. She was the kind of boss who, if she was happy with your performance, would be a Momma Bear advocate. She was also the kind of long-timer who knew where the bodies were buried.


It was in Donna's office that I watched the attacks of 9/11/2001 continue to unfold, along with my coworkers, before our Director made the decision to evacuate our building and send everyone home.

Donna was passionate about some of the annual events we put together, such as Employee Recognition and the headquarters Holiday Party, complete with the very popular raffle. To me, her enthusiasm helped offset some of the stress of pulling off the events.

Working under Donna was a special moment of time in my life. Things changed a lot more after Donna retired. The structure at the office changed, with our section becoming part of the Public Relations Group, independent of what was, by then, the Human Resources Division.

Donna became a widow last year. Her husband, Ray, was significantly older than her and she cared for him as his health declined. However, she had her own health issues to deal with, and on January 23, 2014, Donna passed away in her sleep at the too-young age of 68.

On February 7, many of us gathered to remember Donna in a service. Jean and Ida both spoke and did very well. After the service, we met back at Donna's desert home to share some fond memories, and, true to the spirit of Donna, some good food.

This picture is of Ida and Donna at my wedding.

Donna was the second of many direct bosses I've had at the County. That alone would mean she was likely to have a lasting influence on me, but throw in her strong personality, her attention to detail, and her respect for legacy, and I couldn't forget her if I tried.

So thank you, Donna, for what you passed on to me and for the good times we shared. I stayed awake during your memorial service. I can't say I stay dry-eyed.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why Weird Al Yankovic Should Be An American Idol Judge

I originally posted this back in February of 2010. Things have changed a bit, but my points are still valid. As the television show American Idol seeks to regain higher ratings and bring in new judges, they should serious consider Yankovic. Read on. -Ken



The Fox television show American Idol is reaching a critical stage. Original judge Paula Abdul left before the current season. Original judge Simon Cowell will be leaving after the current season – and who knows about the last original judge, Randy Jackson? The show, which has catapulted dozens of artist careers and generated crazy money through ad sales, music sales, and texting/call charges is getting stale and is in danger of dying sooner rather than later.

There is much speculation of who could be a new judge on the show.

I think the show should bring in “Weird Al” Yankovic as a permanent judge. I’m not kidding. I know – funny music doesn’t get the respect it once did; as a result, some people dismiss Yankovic or mistakenly think he’s not all that talented. But they are wrong. Very, very wrong.

What is the job of an American Idol judge? From what I can tell, the judges must:

1. Be able to distinguish those who have singing talent and pop star potential from those who don’t – from a pool of 16-28 year-olds.

2. Be entertaining on both heavily edited and live television, mostly through comments, facial expressions, and body language.

3. Be able to offer constructive criticism and mentoring to aspiring contestants and actual contestants.
I think it is safe to say that Yankovic can do all three well.

Here are specific reasons why Yankovic would be good on AI.

1. He’s multitalented. He has lasted for almost three decades so far as a popular recording artist, songwriter, concert performer, and musician, also working as a film and television actor and writer, and a director of music videos. He does more than his well-known direct parodies of current hit songs (which he does very well). He also does original songs, many of which are done in the style of well-known artists. He also has experience in taking hit songs and translating them into another style (see his polkas), as some AI contestants attempt during their weekly performances.

2. He has closely studied pop music artists for decades. To be good at his main bread and butter, he’s had to scrutinize music artists, and carefully evaluate what they do and how they do it.

3. He recognizes talent in others. Ever see/hear his band at work? In his movie “UHF”, Michael Richards was cast pre-Seinfeld and Fran Drescher was cast pre-The Nanny. Enough said.

4. He has proven staying power. He has outlasted many of the acts he’s parodied.

5. He knows the music industry, and what is like to struggle through recording and touring and struggling for respect. He has not only had to deal with his own record company, but the record companies of acts he has parodied.

6. He is respectful of other artists. For example, he will not sell a direct parody without an artist’s blessing, even though he legally could. His parodies are more like a tribute instead of a mean-spirited dig.

7. He appreciates different musical styles and genres. Just look at the music he records and performs!

8. He is used to dealing with crazy people (record execs, artists, fans), so he can handle the crazies that show up during auditions.

9. He’s funny.

10. He’s intelligent.

11. He’s fun to watch. His facial expressions, body language, and quick wit would work well on AI. (He would also be good in interviews promoting the show.)

12. He’s family-friendly, both in his material and personal life. You won’t read about Yankovic driving drunk with a car full of strippers.

13. He has a daughter who is growing into the target audience of AI.

14. He has a highly professional, perfectionist work ethic.

15. He goes out of his way to be fan-friendly.

If not AI, then The X Factor or some other show should get Yankovic as a judge. I am NOT kidding.

Full disclosure: I do not make any secret of being a huge WAY fan.
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UPDATE: I meant to do a search before I posted this. Sure enough, someone else has proposed this idea... they suggested it last year when Abdul announced she was leaving the show. Also see here.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Hitting the Sweep Spot

I've been working and doing the family thing, but I haven't completely abandoned my Disney hobby.

I continue to write columns for LaughingPlace.com, and you can get to them by visiting Kenversations.com.

I'm also a frequent guest on The Sweep Spot. It is a podcast by two (when I'm on it, three) former Disneyland Custodial Cast Members talking about... Disneyland.  Check it out.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Has Marriage Changed "Weird Al" Yankovic’s Music?

I’ve been a fan of "Weird Al" Yankovic (WAY) for almost my whole life. And being the obsessively analytical guy that I am, I have analyzed his music many ways. His Al-bums typically have a polka-arrangement medley of recent hit songs (interesting how funny the actual lyrics of "serious" songs can be, especially with the WAY treatment) and the rest of the songs are an even balance of direct parodies of hits and original compositions by Yankovic, though often meticulously done the style of a famous musical act.

Some common themes of Al's lyrics, either for the direct parodies or the originals, have been...

television (and now emerging communications technologies),
food/eating,
...and...
dating/love/attraction/relationships.

I perceive that there has been a change in that last theme since Al finally got married (to a very lovely woman) and became Daddy to a girl.

Recently (7/25/2011), the Grammy Museum hosted Yankovic for an interview, followed by Q & A, and my wife and I were blessed to attend. Although this wasn't the usual WAY public event (concert or al-bum signing), the typical Al crowd, albeit only 200 of us, was there: people of very shape, size, color, age, style, and I'd guess religion, too. I wanted to ask him a question I haven't heard him answer before, and I think I succeeded in asking him something he hadn't even considered before – whether or not he perceived a change in his lyrics since marrying.

At first, Al thought maybe I was accusing him of going soft, because he mentioned that he's always been fairly family-friendly. But that wasn't what I was talking about.

Here's what I perceive. Sometimes the female characters in his songs were the ones who were dysfunctional or horrible people, and sometimes the males were. Since getting married, it has only been the males.

Let's go chronologically through the relevant songs...

Al-bum: "Weird Al" Yankovic

Song: "Such a Groovy Guy"
The song is about a guy who thinks he's all that, and he treats women like crap.


Al-bum: "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D

Songs: None relevant.


Al-bum: Dare to be Stupid

Song: "One More Minute"
About all of the painful/irritating things he would rather do than spend one more minute with the woman who has dumped him.

Song: "Girls Just Want to Have Lunch"
Women want nothing other than men to treat them to lunch.


Al-bum: Polka Party!

Song: "Good Enough for Now"
He tells her that he's not all that into her, but he'll use her for now.


Al-bum: Even Worse

Song: "Melanie"
He's a delusional, rejected, suicidal peeping Tom and stalker.

Song: "Alimony"
She's taken everything and is bleeding him dry.


Al-bum: UHF – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff

Song: "She Drives Like Crazy"
She's a very, very bad driver.


Al-bum: Off the Deep End

Song: "I Was Only Kidding"
His professions of commitment and love were lies, and he rubs it in her face, mocking her.

Song: "Airline Amy"
He's delusional and thinks he has a relationship with a flight attendant because she's doing her job.

Song: "You Don't Love Me Anymore"
Despite her repeated attempts to kill him, he thinks she loves him.


Al-bum: Alapalooza

Song: "She Never Told Me She Was a Mime"
He was clueless about how annoying she was.


Al-bum: Bad Hair Day

Song: "Since You’ve Been Gone"
He is miserable... but it was worse with her.

Song: "I'm So Sick Of You"
She's repulsive and annoying and clueless.


Al-bum: Running With Scissors

Song: "My Baby's in Love with Eddie Vedder"
His girlfriend/wife is obsessed with an unobtainable other man.


THEN....***Al got married.***


Al-bum: Poodle Hat

Song: "Wanna B Ur Lovr"
He offers a series of horribly lame and tacky pick-up lines.


Al-bum: Straight Outta Lynwood

Song: "Confessions Part III"
He forgets her name, is an unhygenics, disgusting liar who confesses to cheating and making a child with his "skank".

Song: "Close but No Cigar"
He doesn't think any woman in the world good enough for him, so he stupidly rejects women who are both highly attractive and intelligent women.

Song: "Do I Creep You Out"
He's an obsessed stalker.


Al-bum: Alpocalypse

Song: "If That Isn't Love"
He's self-centered, inconsiderate, clueless, but thinks he's helpful and loving.


Bad Hair Day is my ultimate example, as there are two songs strongly and clearly about lousy women and none about the man being bad. Dare to be Stupid is a close second, but Bad Hair Day is much stronger in this regard. Other songs that depict the female partner in a negative light are: "Alimony", "She Drives Like Crazy" (and there’s no counterbalance on UHF), and "My Baby's in Love with Eddie Vedder".

Contrast Bad Hair Day with Straight Outta Lynwood, which has three songs about the male partner being horrible, but, none about a female partner. It is noteworthy that he gives tribute to his daughter on the cover.

Now, the anomalies or exceptions would be the first, eponymous Al-bum, and Polka Party!, each of which have the one song about the bad male with none about a bad female. Off the Deep End has two bad male songs to the one bad female song, but the bad female in that song is homicidal.

I consider "She Never Told Me She Was a Mime", the one love song on Alapalooza, a wash.

Notice that since he married, there hasn't been a single song on any of his three Al-bums in which the woman has a problem; only the male.

This could be because when Al was a longtime bachelor, he (and his buddies) dealt with a lot of bad dates or difficult women, and that changed when he married. Now, the woman he loves has probably told him about some of the horrible dates and men she dealt with over the years. And as a father to a daughter, he's no doubt thought of what social scene his daughter is facing in the future.

Fortunately, WAY's songs as funnier than ever.

If anyone wants to pay me to lecture about subjects like this, I'm definitely open to making money.

 There I am, with Mrs. Yankovic.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dropping Someone Off at Disneyland

I am going to note again that this disclaimer applies to things written on this blog.

Once upon a time, Disneyland (Anaheim, California) had this big, flat parking lot in front of the theme park entrance. If you were spending the day there, this is where you would park (presuming you drove there). If you were dealing with a disability, you were able to park right there in front of the entrance of the park. If you were just coming in to buy tickets or something at the outside souvenir counter, you could come it and use the 15 (10?) minute parking without paying. Same thing applied if you were dropping someone off or picking them up.
It was very convenient.

But in order to expand Disneyand from a park/hotel into a... ***RESORT*** ...the parking lot had to go. It was repelaced with Disney's California Adventure, a theme park themed around California, which is now Disney California Adventure, a theme park themed around... Disney... stuff. Also, there's the (Disney's or Disney... not sure anymore) Grand Californian Hotel/Resort/Spa/Whatever and Downtown Disney, which has shops and restaurants and live performers... like the theme parks do... but it doesn't have rides or the admission prices.
A large parking structure and several outlying parking lots have replaced the Giant All Inclusive Parking Lot (where many Disney cast members parked, too).
Now, if you're just dropping someone off or picking them up, you are presumably supposed to use the 15 Minute Parking Lot located along Harbor Boulevard, near where the entrance of the Giant All Inclusive Parking Lot used to be.
But there's a problem.

At least as half of the instances I have tried to use that lot, it has been closed off with orange cones. It wasn't closed for the day... as evidenced by the vehicles already parked there. But it was closed at the moment in time I was able to pass by in the thick Harbor Boulevard mix of vehicle and pedestrian traffic. This means I (and anyone in the vehicle with me) wasted time, gas, added to our carbon footprints, and added to Anaheim Resort area traffic... needlessly.

My guess is that the lot is temporarily closed so as to note which cars are still there fifteen minutes after it was closed, so those vehicles can be issued tickets.
I can't be sure, though, because apparently nobody is responsbile for the parking lot. I had long presumed Disney owned it. But Anaheim officers (police?) will be standing in there during the closures. When I've asked them, they have said it is Disney's responsibility... even though they are standing there... in unform. When I've asked Disneyland Guest Relations, I have been told it is the City of Anaheim's.
Ooookay...

I guess that means nobody owns the lot. Which would make it a great place for Disney enthusiasts to set up tents and squat, or maybe build a house. Or protest something or other, or advertise for a nearby gentleman's club. Bet you'd find out who owns the lot if you did any of those things!

This brings me to my ultimate point: Pretend that the lot doesn't exist.

If you are dropping someone off at the Resort, or picking someone up, I recommend clogging up the entrances to any of Disney's three hotels, the closest (and most expensive) being the Grand Californian. When you are approached by a friendly, helpful cast member (they are still Disney cast members, right? Or has that been outsourced), just let them know you are dropping someone off or picking them up. If they ask if you're checking in, say, "Not right now." It is the truth. If they notice you doing this on a regular basis, and ask you about it (has yet to happen to me), and they recommend the 15 Minute Lot, nod, don't argue. They don't make the rules, after all. Nod, and keep doing the same thing over and over again. Because if Disney really wanted people to use the 15 Minute Lot, they'd keep it open. They don't need to close it to do enforcement of the parking. I can think of three different ways to enforce the 15-minute limit off of the top of my head that have to be no more expensive than using a uniformed Anaheim officer.

You can also use Downtown Disney parking for dropping people off or picking people up, clogging those lots up and taking up cast member time, but the Grand Californian is closer, and a nicer atmosphere.

I'm not bothering to write directly to Disneyland about this. I know from past experience that if I rant about something online, enough people in power there will read it. Maybe Disneyland Resort Transportation and Parking is actually responsible for the 15 Minute Parking Lot, and maybe they will change tactics. Or give me a real explanation. I wouldn't be bothered as much about this whole thing if Disneyland was typically a poorly run operation. But it is usually a very well designed and operated place, and I like the Anaheim Resort upgrade in general. That's one reason why this matter irks me so much. It is an annoying, ugly blemish on an otherwise beautiful masterpiece. It shouldn't be an ordeal to drop someone off there, or pick someone up.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Observations of a First-Time Pollworker

Several years ago, the County of Los Angeles decided to boost the number of people willing to volunteer as pollworkers by 1) letting County employees who are also registered California voters (regardless of where they are registered) serve as pollworkers in Los Angeles without taking personal time from their jobs, and 2) promoting said program. I was at Public Works when that began, and promoting and tracking Public Works employee participation of this program was assigned to me. I had that as one of my responsibilities until I took a promotion to come to Department of Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures, but I'd never served as a pollworker.

I've been a registered voter in Orange County for quite some time, and have been a permanent vote-by-mail voter for a couple of years now, so my experience with voting at the polls in Los Angeles is a distant and outdated memory.

This time around, my boss encouraged me to volunteer, and I did. I attended a two-hour training session on a day off (pollworkers get some compensation for attending training), and I served all day at a polling place within Los Angeles County yesterday.

It's a long day. We were told to arrive by 6 a.m. to set up, as the polls opened at 7 a.m. I was slightly early, but so were others, so we were able to begin setting up. I was given a 1-hour lunch break, but I decided to return after 30 minutes away. The polls closed at 8 p.m. and then after taking everything down and doing the ballot organization procedures, I was released a little after 9 p.m. There were a few voters who thanked us for volunteering, and that was a nice touch.

We were a "Neighborhood Voting Center", meaning we had three precinct polling places in one room. All three had their own check-in tables, ballots, polling tables/stands, and ballot box. Fortunately, I was teamed with three women who were longtime veterans of pollworking and lived in the local neighborhood.

I was mostly dealing with the address list, which had the names and addresses and party affiliation of each voter registered in that precinct, listed by address. It was my job to keep copies of the list updated with who had voted, and keep a copy tacked to the wall for anyone to check. I also, at times, handled the alphabetical list where people were asked to sign their signature, and a bit of handing out ballots, and answered a lot of questions. Every vote – absentee, vote by mail, provisional, whatever - in Los Angeles County gets counted, even if the races are decided because there aren't enough ballots left to make a difference in the outcome.

Los Angeles County uses an inking system. The ballots are sent through a machine before they are dropped into the box to 1) count the number of ballots and 2) check for "overvotes" and other errors on each ballot – according to the election officials, the machines DO NOT count actual votes, as in tallying how many people are voting "YES" vs."NO". Someone who has overvoted or had some other error who doesn't want to fill out another ballot is allowed to deposit their ballot anyway – the pollworker simply overrides the machine, and ballots such as the provisionals can be slipped in the box without going through the machine.

Here are some observations:

1. If the votes really aren't being tallied by the machines, then most votes are not even arriving to where they ARE tallied until 9:30 p.m. or later, and THEN they have to be removed from the sealed containers and tallied. So when outcomes are announced at 8 p.m. or even 10 p.m., those announcements are based almost entirely on previous polling and exit polling. Some early voting might be part of that, but how many people really go vote early using one of the electronic machines? Our ballots were not sent in throughout the day. All of them were turned in together at 9:30 p.m. or later. That is standard.

2. I.D. is almost never required. Anyone can come in and claim to be one of the people on our list and vote. Yes, they'd be breaking the law, but how will anyone know?

3. I was told by more than one person that two of the people on the list were really one person – themselves. For example, Jim Smith at 123 Main Street and James Q. Smith at 123 Main Street. Jim could have easily brought along someone else and claimed that James was his son. Or, Jim could have come back later and voted as James.

4.Voters also told me that there were people on the list at their address who have moved away or never lived at their address in the first place. Those people, or someone pretending to be them, could have come in and voted.

5. Given observations 2-4, why is it standard to post the updated name and address list? I know it aids those who want to check to see who has not voted yet and call people to get out the vote, but why should election officials care about helping partisans in that way? Seems to me that fraud prevention would be more important. Wouldn't it?

6. There was at least one instance where I’m almost positive someone committed voter fraud. A distinctively dressed young man came in to vote, and noted his sister listed just after his name, and asked if she would be able to vote, given that she was in another city that day – a city that was sufficiently far away that it would take hours for her to come back. I explained what her voting options had been. I thought maybe she was a student attending college in this other city, or something like that. No, she was only there for a week. The young man voted, and maybe an hour later, he returned with his “sister”, who voted as his sister. I wasn't the only pollworker at our precinct who noticed this. If there was a way we were allowed to challenge this, we were unaware.

7. Despite this, and the long hours, overall, I enjoyed the experience. But then I'm the kind of guy who was happy to see people voting, even if I could tell from their party affiliation that they were likely voting in opposition to the votes I’d made. I believe in having a democratic republic, which means that people who disagree with me have just as much right to vote and just as much of a vote as I do.

8. Single people who want to get married and are politically active should consider volunteering as pollworkers. Why? They can ask to be placed in their own neighborhoods and they might meet someone who lives close to them who they don't bump into during their daily routines. They'll already know the person votes, and they can see their party affiliation (if that is important). Or, ask to be placed in a more upscale neighborhood, where sometimes it is hard to find enough pollworkers. You just might marry up!

It was a tiring day, and a disruption of my weekly routines. But unless the way we vote is radically changed, volunteers are needed, and I'm glad I was able to do my part to continue our democratic republic.

Friday, August 20, 2010

In Memoriam

AuntVicky

I noticed that the booklet for her memorial service listed the date of her death, and her birthday, but not the year of her birth. That was so Aunt Vicky. Very few people knew exactly how old she was, and that was the way she liked it. She even argued with paramedics who came to her home, not wanting to reveal her age. There are sources, including some “official” sources that got the year of her birth wrong.

Having a ceremony for the recently deceased is a unique rite in that the celebrated isn’t alive, and none of those who are present have had one of these rites in their honor; none of them have died. But every single one of of them will - barring anything of Biblical proportions happening. The same can’t be said of retirement parties, weddings, graduations, birthdays, or any other religious ceremony.

Aunt Vicky hated to be thought of as a grandmother. She was “Aunt” Vicky to quite a number of people of a wide range in ages. However, she did marry a grandfather, and thus became a grandmother. And even before that, she was like a grandmother to various kids, including me and my siblings. Heck, one of my sisters was named after her.

She was supposed to die two years ago.

That’s what the doctors said. She was in the hospital and it wasn’t looking good. They wanted to do a tracheotomy. It was time for the Last Rites.

But she made it out of the hospital. Without a hole in her neck.

And then there were other times it looked like the end would come any day. But she always managed to recover enough to make it clear she could be around for a lot longer. It was quite remarkable, and we joked that she would outlive us all. Unfortunately, recovering somewhat also allowed her to do things like fall down – something that can’t happen when you’re in bed, not moving.

And so the sharp downs and gentle ups that never quite got her back to where she was before the downturn finally came to an end on June 8.

Until that end, she kept up her appearance. That was the way she was.

On Friday, July 23, there was a church service for her that brought together family and friends. I was honored to be one of three “family” members who people who spoke about her. Her brother spoke, and another “nephew” from my generation spoke.

Afterwards, we gathered for a luncheon in her honor at the California Institute of Technology.

Aunt Vicky was one of those women who could tell a quite a story,and carry on a conversation about almost anything. She could make her opinions about everything very clear – from the state of the economy, to food at a restaurant, to how that other person was driving, to your weight and how it was going to kill you, to what you were wearing. She also wouldn’t discourage you from erroneously assuming she was a member of your ethnic group. She might even encourage that belief by drawing upon some of her vast knowledge of different customs.

She was one of those women who shattered glass ceilings, opening the way for women to follow. She did that at General Motors until she was recruited to come to NASA’s JPL in Pasadena, where she served on a committee that sought to reach out and recruit women and minorities.

When I came along, she was joined at the hip to my mother’s uncle. That’s how she became my Aunt, even though they didn’t make it official for many years. They would come to family dinners at our house, and have us over to their separate homes.

Aunt Vicky would even have me and my second cousin/best-friend/partner-in-mischief/younger-by-mere-weeks Shannon spend nights at her place and leave a pile of dirt in her bathtub after a day of playing. We couldn’t have been more than nine or ten when she had us dress up with jackets and ties and she took us to some fine dining lunch at what was then the Huntington Hotel. She wanted to show us how to do this as proper gentlemen, so she had us be the ones to approach the maitre d’. She ordered a hamburger and ate it with a knife and fork, though she didn’t allow us to order burgers.

A picture she took of us on that day is one my most treasured possessions, as Shannon was tragically killed not long after that, along with his maternal grandfather and only maternal uncle, when their small plane crashed in the Canadian wilderness.

With the passing of Aunt Vicky, all of my grandparents, both actual and honorary, are gone. It is the end of an era in my life. I miss them all. And I miss Aunt Vicky’s rice pilaf.