What a PI Can Learn from Thanksgiving

In honor of Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend, I’m re-posting this – because crazy family drama is timeless! After living in Los Angeles, London and New York I’ve spent Turkey Day with a constantly changing cast of friends, family and total strangers – and all of them have taught me valuable lessons in the art of investigation.

I don’t dwell on my ideological differences with my ultra religious Tea Party family member, because that would make my host uncomfortable. Instead, I steer the topic toward survival techniques. Last year I learned how to pick a lock and survive for a week in the woods with no water. Thanksgiving has taught me that everyone, no matter how diametrically opposed his or her viewpoint, can teach us something about life.

As a detective, I know that finding common ground with the subject of my interviews will help them become more comfortable.  So with the militant vegan, I talked juicing and yoga over Tofurkey – he didn’t need to know that I  keep my grandmother’s mink coat in my closet for extra-cold days.

Holidays are also a crash course in the art of diffusing drama, which is a crucial skill for a PI. Often, I will have to soothe a client’s nerves during an infidelity investigation, or be a shoulder to cry on when they are looking for a missing relative. So when someone’s wife is on her third Bloody Mary and joking about her husband being impotent, I can turn the table toward a different topic.

Thanksgiving has definitely helped me hone another hugely important investigative skill: The art of good research.

When the turkey gets burned and everyone is scrambling, my fact-finding skills are suddenly very much in demand for locating a grocery store that has pre-cooked birds – or at least a pizza joint that delivers.  Does applesauce work as a recipe substitute for sugar? Will a raisin give my dog the runs? Why do people kiss under mistletoe? Does that woman Uncle Frank brought have a criminal record? Everyone turns to the detective to find answers. With the help of Google and a few trusty databases, I can entertain and save the day.

Research also comes in handy when avoiding the angry hordes on Black Friday by figuring out which stores bring their sales online. Instead of worrying about which member of the angry mob will Tazer me over a TV, I can sit around and shop in my pajamas.

Thanksgiving has taught me the importance of making a backup plan. During a surveillance, I always make Plans B and C in case I lose my subject. I map out his entire routine for the day so that I can get through the assignment as smoothly as possible. The same rules apply when traveling: Before I get to the airport, I have checked my bag online, emailed myself a boarding pass, checked lounge access and verified the weather report at my destination.

Then when a flight gets cancelled, I use apps like Flight Tracker to make a list of alternative airlines  – and if there are none, to book a rental car before they are all sold out.

I’ve spent some holidays in huge mansions; others serving food to homeless veterans in the cold. Some were with friends and family; others totally alone. Holidays, for me, are a time to remember that even though I can’t always control the outcome, I can appreciate the people around me and be thankful for small things. Learning to be patient, roll with the punches and never give up even when things get tough is perhaps the most important lessons of all.

New Year’s Resolutions, Sherlock Holmes style

Happy New Year everyone! Going into 2014 I want to share one of my favorite quotes from Sherlock Holmes writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He said: “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

Think about your brain attic: Is it cleaned and streamlined, and filled with only the things and people who are most important to you? Or does it look like an episode of ‘Hoarders’?

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but as I start 2014 I plan to give more serious thought to the careful construction of my mental attic.

Happy New Year from The Love Detective!

– Time traveler from 1970s walking in present-day Beverly Hills

Why Dogs Are Better Than Babies

Over the holidays, I traveled with my rescue chihuahua, Winston. While we were boarding the flight to Aspen, the woman in the row in front of me started bitching very loudly about how ‘ridiculous’ it is that dogs are allowed in the cabin.  During the flight, while my dog was absolutely silent in his bag and her little ‘angel’ screamed non-stop, I had plenty of time to think about the reasons why–for some of us–puppies are better than babies.  Read more

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