Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Toys 'Were' Us

Another Internet casualty is hardly news, but this one hit me hard. Toys 'R' Us has filed for bankruptcy because of their increasing mountainous debt, just two years after they were forced to close the magical FAO Schwarz flagship store (which they owned) on New York's Fifth Avenue due to sky-high costs. The mega-giant retailer, unable to compete with online shopping, has suffered tremendous financial losses, not seeing a profit since 2013.  Part of the problem is that instead of making time to drive somewhere to actually see and feel the fantastic array of toys available, busy (or lazy?) parents are simply opening their laptops and surfing the net. Note to parents: It's not the same.

My own son is on the brink of turning 30, but I still remember the fun and excitement of taking him to our local Toys 'R' Us several times a month. We made the outing all the way from infancy to about age twelve, when suddenly he wanted only books and sports equipment instead of toys. But until then we spent countless hours wandering the aisles of that fabulous emporium, inspecting and choosing things he might want for an upcoming birthday or Hanukkah, or just for the pure fun of it. I'm not ashamed to admit that on days when I was feeling low, like when Zack was away at summer camp, I would go there alone to cheer myself up. And of course there were tons of gifts to be bought for the children of friends and relatives. It was the one errand I never shirked.

While the stores are still open for now the handwriting is on the wall, written in a black Sharpie. My advice to young parents is put down the cell phone, grab your kids and get over there while you still can. Childhood experiences magnify over time, and I doubt many adults will hold cherished memories of Mom at the computer, ordering stuff from Amazon.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Maine's Dark Underbelly

Yesterday morning, rushing to get to his office a few miles away, my husband left something at home that he needed. Being the wonderful, compassionate, dutiful and adoring wife that I am, willing to put aside my own needs for the fulfillment of his at a moment's notice, I dropped everything and ran out to deliver the item with nary a thought to how I looked, which has become my habit the longer I live in Maine. Dressed in flannel pajamas -- hey, it was still early -- I threw on a yellow rain slicker and stuck my feet into a pair of pink plastic Crocs. A quick glance in the mirror revealed an escapee from a mental hospital, but I figured Mitch would meet me at the car and nobody would be the wiser.

Once at my destination I threw caution to the wind and walked right in the front door of the office building, up a flight of steps and past several businesses. I was seen by no less than five people (three women and two men), none of whom raised an eyebrow at my attire. Having delivered the goods to my husband, I returned to my car. Eager to test the limits of this who-gives-a-damn look, I stopped at the post office for the mail. Again, nobody seemed put off by my outfit, not even one of my neighbors who usually sees me looking quite stylish.

Now drunk with power I took it a step further and went to the supermarket, since I was low on coffee and planned to stay in all morning working on a story. Walking up and down the aisles and passing at least a dozen other shoppers, it was apparently no big deal that some lady was running around in her PJs. In fact, I barely looked any different from many of the other women.

There's no punchline. In fact, for the first time in my life I can honestly say "it is what it is."

Monday, September 18, 2017

How Far Is Heaven?

Neighboring Fairy Houses available for rent in Cathedral Woods on Monhegan Island.
My husband and I spent the last three days out of this world on an island twelve nautical miles off the coast of Maine. The talk of the tiny town was the particularly dense fog and whether or not it would rain. It was heavenly. With no movie theaters, TV or shopping malls, but several art galleries and open studios, there's nothing to do there but read, look at art, go birding or hike through the dense forest searching for Fairy Houses.

This rare respite from reality was all but ruined by a group of loquacious lefties seated near us at dinner in our inn. I tried not to listen but they were quite loud, and phrases like "the New York Times" and "Obama never would" and "Trump this" and "Melania that" wafted over our table like a swarm of angry bees. Even worse, early the next morning on the front porch, amidst nature's abundant glory, the same group was at it again, apparently oblivious to their surroundings.

It's sad that some people don't know Heaven even when it smacks them in the face.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Finding the Good in Halloween

This year's happy pumpkin faces to brighten up your snail mail.
Since the pumpkins and candy are already being shoved down our throats by merchants hoping to score big this Halloween, I figured I might as well write my Halloween post right now instead of waiting until October. Besides, the ways things are going in our chaotic world these days, I may not even make it until then.

Once I was done with making costumes for my son and getting drunk at neighborhood parties, I continued to celebrate Halloween by carving jack-o'-lanterns. Sadly, last year I was even bored with that, finally coming through about an hour before dark on the big day with a sad entry: just eyes and nose and mouth, not even any teeth or eyebrows. It was obvious I was turning into that old person who rails about the holiday being bad for your teeth and devoid of all meaning. I was finished with the whole thing, heading down that path leading to a bowl of candy out front with a sign saying "Take one."

But then yesterday at the post office, the clerk announced that the first holiday stamps had arrived, and they are for Halloween. He brought out a strip of twenty orange jack-o'-lanterns on a black background, all with big grins. Of course I had to have them. My purchase engendered a lengthy conversation with the postmaster, a man roughly my age, about how far Halloween has fallen from "our day," back when you got all sorts of interesting things, not just the same boring wrapped candy bars and lollipops. "What's it for anymore?" I asked.

He had a great answer, pointing out that Halloween is the only time people will open their doors for strangers and greet them with a smile, and a treat! It's also the only time children are encouraged to approach strangers, and they do so without fear. People talk to one another on the streets, and it's all very happy and festive, with almost nobody looking down at their cell phones. Really, when you think about it, Halloween is pretty much how life should be all the time. Except for the costumes. And the candy. (And maybe the pumpkins. )

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

One good thing you can say about the current volatile hurricane season is that it's given the hungry reporters something else to prattle, chatter, jabber and babble about besides the president and his family and his hair and his staff and Melania's shoes and anything else remotely Trump, at least for awhile. Sadly, it involved the destruction of property for millions of people, some of whom lost everything, but still, for those of us who were not directly impacted it's been a welcome respite.

Another perk is watching all the reporters getting pummeled by the driving rain and hurricane-force winds, each trying to out-tough the next guy (or gal). Even though their giant-logo L. L. Bean rain slickers have hoods attached, the most macho stand out there minus hats or hoods, as if wetter hair equals better reporting.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

On Cops and Cat Sitters

It's annoying, unpleasant and, to be blunt, a real pain in the ass to be distracted by childish silliness while the world is in chaos. Yet here I am, so consumed with a nasty encounter with a neighbor that I'm wondering if it's safe to start up my car this morning.

The dispute began over the need for someone to feed our cat for an upcoming weekend away. I contacted a teenage girl in the neighborhood who I had never met but whose parents attended our holiday open house last December. She responded with a voice mail message saying she could do it, but said little else. Then she never returned my second call asking her to come over and see the house, meet the cat and learn the details of the job requirements. After a full day of silence, and with our trip a day closer, I asked a different neighborhood teen if she were available. She said yes and in short order came over to meet the cat and learn the scope of the job being asked of her. I hired her on the spot.

Even good cops get a little testy after awhile.

After I called the first girl to tell her I had found someone else, her father went ballistic, if one can be said to "go ballistic" in an email. The worst part is that he's a cop, and his clearly bizarre and off-kilter reaction helped me understand the string of questionable murders by several of our Men in Blue that gained national attention over the past couple of years. Many in the law enforcement field really do have a short fuse, and this particular neighborhood cop is surely one of those. His inappropriate and volatile reaction to us choosing another 16-year-old girl over his daughter to feed our cat for three days was a chilling reminder that you never know whether someone's simply got a screw loose or is all the way to a loose cannon.

My advice for survival in today's jittery culture echoes that given to me by my grandmother years ago when I was a college student riding the subways of New York City: Keep your head down, avoid all eye contact, go straight home and lock your doors.                                          

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hurricane Joyless

Joy Behar operating her big mouth.
The deadliest hurricane in U.S. history hit the Upper Texas coast in 1900. It didn't have a name, but it took out Galveston and that's a fact. Yet this morning Joy Behar, surely the least talented of all the talent-less hostesses on TV's post-menopausal talk show, The View, gave her personal assessment of Hurricane Irma as "The worst storm we have ever had," and naturally attributed it to global warming, that evil invention of Republicans. She added that hurricanes should henceforth be named after people like Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, and "all the other climate change deniers."

But Joy is so wrong! If she had just checked Wikipedia (like I did) before she put both her feet in her huge mouth, she would know that. Following are just a few key facts I have plagiarized, for anyone who is remotely interested:

The list of Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes encompasses 32 that reached Category 5 strength. 
In fact, during the 1932, 1933, 1961, 2005 and 2007 hurricane seasons, more than one Category 5 hurricane formed. In 2005, more than two Category 5 hurricanes formed, and in 2007 more than one made landfall at Category 5 strength.
Between 1924 and 2017, 32 hurricanes were recorded at Category 5 strength.

Officially, the decade with the most Category 5 hurricanes is 2000–2009, with eight Category 5 hurricanes: Isabel (2003), Ivan (2004), Emily (2005), Katrina (2005), Rita (2005), Wilma (2005), Dean (2007), and Felix (2007).

The previous decades with the most Category 5 hurricanes were the 1930s and 1960s, with six occurring between 1930 and 1939,  before naming began.

Eight Atlantic hurricanes reached Category 5 intensity on more than one occasion; that is, by reaching Category 5 intensity, weakening to a Category 4 or lower, and then becoming a Category 5 again.  Camille, Andrew, Dean, Felix and Irma each attained Category 5 status twice during their lifespans. Allen, Isabel and Ivan reached Category 5 intensity on three separate occasions.