Monday, January 31, 2011

I Miss Childhood

When the world gets too crazy--what with Egypt in flames and governments being overthrown and Muslim gangs in Nigeria and  Somali pirates and let's not forget the regular old wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, unemployment and falling home prices nationwide, at least we can count on The Weather Channel to calm our jangled nerves. Here are a few quotes from this morning's forecast, which is repeated every ten minutes all day long:

 "Tuesday and Wednesday is going to be absolutely horrific"
"it's going to be really scary out there"
"the worst we've seen yet"
"has the potential to be really bad for almost everyone"
"a colossal storm and major ice event"
"things will get really icy"
"dangerous travel conditions"
"severe weather components everywhere"
"massive, historic, crippling storm"
"a nightmare"
"dangerous and far-reaching"
"paralyzing ice"
"damaging and severe winds"
"things will get really ugly"

Whatever happened to a nice cup of cocoa with a marshmallow on top, Frosty the Snowman and "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow"?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hoosiers: Who Knew?


Quick—tell me everything you know about Indiana. If you’re anything like me, that will take about two minutes. Here’s what I came up with: The natives are called Hoosiers. They have a team called the Indiana Pacers. It is the home of a famous racecar race, the Indianapolis 500. I think they grow corn there, but don’t quote me—could be soybeans or wheat. (Definitely a vegetable.) “Gary, Indiana” was a catchy tune from "The Music Man," a Broadway show. That’s all I got.

Forgive me, but I was born in Brooklyn, raised on Long Island and educated at NYU in Manhattan. If this set of circumstances, or something similar, did not happen to you, then you might not know this ugly truth: Children growing up in New York are told that everything else pales in comparison! “If you can make it here you can make it anywhere” is a standard lullaby. No place else matters. Truly, this is what they tell us. And we believe it.

With this undercoating of sophistication--a pedigree, so to speak, guaranteeing me lifetime hipness no matter where I am--I then moved to Washington, D.C. and Salt Lake City and Berkeley and Baltimore and ultimately Freeport, Maine.  Still, people have always asked, are you from New York? I proudly answer yes, even though they are probably thinking, “what an asshole.” (I know New Yorkers are not universally loved, although we are feared, which has its own advantages.)

Long story short: I’ve never been to Indiana. Not only have I never been there but I never even wanted to go there--why would I? I’ve traveled outside the country many times, but nobody ever suggested Indiana as a vacation destination. I am not even exactly sure where it is although I suspect somewhere in the middle. So it was with very few, and admittedly low, expectations that I accompanied my husband to dinner with a couple of Hoosiers the other night: a colleague and his wife, all of us in Chicago for a “work thing.” 

I sort of expected hayseeds-- like I would not have been stunned if the wife was wearing something gingham. Instead, she had on some wild fur vest which I immediately coveted, and she was way cooler-looking than me. In fact, the two of them were extremely cool and very friendly, very smart, very fun people. I enjoyed them immensely, so much more than about a million people I can think of, some from sophisticated places like Chicago and Detroit and New Jersey!  They are my new best friends.

I decided that maybe my whole problem in life thus far is that I have never been to Indiana. Who knew? God only knows what else I’m doing wrong.

Friday, January 28, 2011

No More City Girl

It's hard to tell which has changed more: me or Chicago. I last visited the city about five years ago, in the spring, and had a glorious time. I remember thinking it was the pinnacle of what man could achieve as far as city-building. I took tons of pictures of stunning skyscrapers, each more ethereal than the last. At the time I was living in Washington, D.C., and Chicago seemed much more exciting. Aside from a slight pain in my hip from years of running, I was healthy.

Now I'm here again, but in winter. It's cold and snowy. Noisy traffic clogs the streets. Everywhere there are signs warning you to watch for falling ice. (One wonders what to do should you see some.) The homeless people huddled in doorways, the beggars slumped in wheelchairs with cups outstretched, and the ranting lunatics shouting obscenities are all ignored by the passing throngs of office workers, each in his own cell phone world. I now take daily medications for high blood pressure.

In the interim, I moved to Maine. There's no traffic, no beggars, no ranting lunatics--at least none on the streets of Freeport. Lots of trees and water. All is calm. I sometimes wonder, is this still America? My husband explains that there are more people living in the city of Chicago than in the entire state of Maine. Since it's a free country, I choose Maine.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Travel is So Broadening

I am in Chicago, having accompanied my husband on a business trip. It is snowing, which is a nice touch considering it is January and this is Chicago.

We are staying in a large hotel on Michigan Avenue, which is known as the Magnificent Mile. Within walking distance there are many stores, each selling outrageously high-priced items. According to the hotel website, this locale is "one of the top ten hospitality, fine dining and retail districts in the world, making it one of the Great Avenues of the World." Just for the sheer experience of it all, I had to dip my toes into the vast ocean of high-end consumer goods. After all, in just two days I'll be back in the land of outlet shopping and L.L. Bean.

First I entered Ralph Lauren's three-story mausoleum/boutique. I was instantly intimidated by the over-the-top merchandising: There were fireplaces with real fires burning! Bookshelves lined the walls, which were covered in rich fabrics! Plaid curtains, chintz-covered couches, framed prints of hunting dogs, and actual hunting dogs! I felt too Jewish and ran for the exit.

Next I went into Saks. I saw right away that the salespeople were dressed better than I was, and thus they ignored me, assuming I was just seeking shelter from the storm. (What works fine in Maine looks like a bag lady in Chicago.)  All the saleswomen--and one man--in Cosmetics sported colorful eye shadow, lush mascara, pink blushers and bright red lips. They must have found my lack of makeup appalling; a few asked, suggestively, if I wanted "help." I said no thanks, just looking. Wandering through Accessories, I inspected and rejected handbags that cost as much as our monthly mortgage. (Not kidding.) I tried on hats I couldn't afford. Feeling dowdy, I left.

In Neiman Marcus I at least felt like I was the right religion, even if most things were out of my league. A bored sales clerk took pity on me and actually smiled and said hello. I rewarded her by purchasing a pair of gloves for $135.00. Ha, bet she didn't see that coming!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Over My Head

I am not political, mostly because I never paid attention in high school and missed a lot of the groundwork necessary to understand today's complicated international relationships. For example, Iraq and Iran and Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and even Egypt and Jordan: friend or foe, to us and one another? You got me. I mean, everyone tells me Saudi Arabia is our friend, except those 19 bombers on 9/11 who were from there obviously did not like us one bit.

This is why much of the political rhetoric swirling around is way over my head, like recently when Obama said, "We're going to need to go all in. We're going to need to get serious about winning the future." Whoa! Who knew he had such fire in his belly? Think of it: We, Americans, are going to win the future! That is huge. Can one country even do that?

Meanwhile, here in Maine, which has just been named the "dumbest state" because of having the lowest SAT scores in the nation, Obama bumper stickers adorn almost every vehicle. Add up those facts however you like.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The State of the Union: Just Plain Silly

A quick turn of the TV dial or glance at a newspaper today divulges almost verbatim what the president will say in his upcoming speech tomorrow night. It's called The State of the Union, but a more accurate name would be The Posturing of Politicians.

Here's what will matter most: Who will be sitting where? If the democrats and republicans are sitting next to one another, will that help Obama get re-elected in 2012? How many times will our fearless leader be interrupted by applause? How many sound bites will come from the speech, written by somebody else and tweaked by another somebody else?  Will Obama look presidential? Will Joe Biden be caught yawning? Most important, of course: Who will be sitting next to Michelle? A survivor of the Arizona tragedy, no doubt, catapulted to instant hero status just for not dying that day at the Tucson Safeway. Or maybe even Gabby Gifford's husband!

Our elected officials appear more juvenile every day, reminding me of kids in the schoolyard at recess. I'm not sure if this is because I'm getting older or they're getting younger. Either way, it's just plain silly, not to mention a total waste of time since every detail will be spun to death on CNN and MSNBC and FOX and in newspaper editorials across the country, to watch the parade of frozen smiles and handshakes of our "leaders" as they enter the hallowed halls of the Capitol. And while it is sort of fun to count how many of the women wear red in hopes of standing out from the crowd, I'll pass anyway.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Cat Tale

I have two cats. They don't speak, of course, and our interaction is confined to me catering to their every need. They are getting on; both are 15. Gizmo is a male and wants only to be sitting on me in any way possible. Once he achieves that, he's happy. He then purrs loudly until I can't stand it anymore and throw him off, at which point he begins the stalking process again, with the same goal of sitting on me in any way possible.

Daisy, a female, is more aloof. She spends her days in seclusion, showing up for meals and an occasional petting session in front of the TV, seeming to prefer reruns of "Everybody Loves Raymond" to the nightly news. Recently she spoke to me. To be honest, it was such a clear communication, it was scary. Here's what happened:

Two litter boxes are located in an upstairs bathroom, away from the public. A powder room on the first floor of our house is the one visitors use. In there, on the floor, is a large basket full of newspapers and reading material, just in case of an extended stay. One day last week, suddenly and within my view, Daisy entered the powder room, settled into the basket, quite noisily I might add, and relieved herself of excess bodily fluids. I was shocked, stunned, depressed, dismayed, alarmed, and freaked out, fearing this loss of bladder control signaled the onset of her eventual decline.

Rather than rushing to judgment and getting her kidney pills or diapers or whatever one gets for cats with such problems, I decided to replace the basket with a litter box, thinking--hoping--that maybe she was simply tired of going upstairs to pee. After all, cats get arthritis too, and if "cat years" are anything like "dog years," Daisy is 105 and probably feeling it in her knees--and she's got four of them.

Since then, all has been well, and Daisy now uses the downstairs litter box only. I swear she smiles at me every time she comes out of there.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What a Co-in-ka-dink!

Keith Olbermann was fired yesterday. Sometimes the powers that be really do hear the little people.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why Blog?

I recently asked my old friend Alan, who lives a good distance away, why he hadn't ever read my blog before last week, when he did in fact read the only entry ever to make a splash in the "vast ocean of words in the blogsphere." (His words; I would have said blogosphere.) His answer was surprising: 

"Don't be absurd. EVERYONE has a blog.  Everyone I know, every student, every colleague. Plus Facebook pages, twitter feeds, etc.  Everyone wants to be heard and read.  We would be drowning in opinions, rants, and statements except that no one with any life at all has time to read all that. I can barely get through Ulysses (which I'm reading on my iTouch) let alone the vast ocean of words in the blogsphere. A three year commitment to yours? You've got be kidding."

Several thoughts came to mind. First, I was stunned to learn that in his world, which is New York City where he lives and New Jersey where he works, so many people are bloggers. Here in Maine, where I live and work, I know of only one other within my circle of friends and acquaintances.

Next, I was seriously depressed: Who needs to write a blog if every Tom, Dick and Harry is doing it too? As a professional writer with a paid humor column and feature writing on my resume, I sincerely thought I was adding something of value--to someone, somewhere. Besides offering an occasional laugh--and let's face it, I can be funny--my cynical but honest take on societal trends and Death with a capital D often contain several nuggets of truth and a decent helping of food for thought. But according to Alan, I'm a drop in the ocean!

Finally, I realized: Blogging is free--anyone can do it--and those loquacious New Yorkers, of which I am one, always have something to say.  I guess I'll keep going until A, my mind's a blank, which could happen any day, or B, my laptop crashes. And besides, reading my blog is so much more fun than reading Ulysses, doncha think?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

High Blog Pressure

Suddenly I am worried about dying. I don't mean someday, I mean today or tomorrow. It is quite alarming, and makes me wonder what to do first. Clean my cupboards, empty those old mystery jars in the fridge? I mean, if you can't tell what the stuff is, why keep it? I personally go for simple condiments, but my husband never met a hot sauce he didn't like. If the label is red and has a picture of a Mexican in a sombrero with a big mustache being kicked off a donkey, he's in. Our refrigerator door holds all these oddities and includes mustards, kimchee, wasabi, ghee, cocktail sauce, Major Grey's chutney, horseradish, mayo and various jams and jellies. Their lids get sticky and soon enough you can't even open the jar, at which point it becomes garbage. All those are going today.

But I digress. Two days ago, completely out of the blue, I experienced a sudden and severe attack of overwhelming panic accompanied by very strong heart palpitations, intense dizziness and vertigo. I was on the phone at the time, and quickly hung up and went for my blood pressure pills, since this had to be related to my chronic high blood pressure. Grabbing my monitor, I saw that my numbers were indeed high: 200/140 or something like that.  Naturally I called the doctor, who said "take a Valium." The numbers went down, but not way down.

Later in the day they rose again and stayed there. Another Valium, down they went. Take two Valium, and I can barely stand up, but my blood pressure is out of the danger zone. And by danger zone I mean sudden death. I am waiting to see a doctor tomorrow who might be able to find a new solution before I have a stroke. I hope so, if not this could literally be my last blog, so I feel like it should at least be funny or helpful or something of value. Oy, the pressure, no pun intended.

Here's the funny part: Just in case my home is invaded by mourners or at the very least EMTs, I am planning to clean my entire house and throw away anything damning, including emptying the trash on my computer, so that after I'm gone nobody can learn my secrets, except the other people who participated in them. I will take my chances there. I will discard all old underwear and food journals recording my weight losses dating back to 1987, which is when my son was born. All unflattering photos of me. Bad paintings I have been planning to rework, but it's too late now, they take months to dry. Clean all bathrooms, change cat litter....there will be enough gossip about my death, I certainly don't need whispering about dust bunnies during my eulogy.

I will shower and put on clean underwear. Dress in a flattering outfit, natch. I might pin a note on my sweater or dress that says "DO NOT EMBALM. P.S. Mitch, you have four shirts at the dry cleaners ready to be picked up. Rufus gets his pill twice a day, put it inside one of those Pill Pockets. Call the vet about his surgery next week. Tell Zack I love him,  although I did call him to say that the night before last and told him what was going on with my health and have not heard back from him, so maybe he can't handle it."

Here comes the helpful part; do these things while you still can:
Apologize to anyone you have hurt.
Tell anyone you care about how you feel.
Eat well.
Stop living dangerously.

I did that years ago, and look at me now.
Why now? Are we ever ready?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Everyone Matters, Not Just the Famous

The relative value of lives seems to fluctuate wildly on the open market. When 5,000 people are buried in a mudslide in one fell swoop, there is barely a blip on the radar screen of the Internet. But upon hearing that one particular woman, who happens to be the current poster child for the Democrats and is stuck in an ICU, has opened her eyes, hundreds of people go wild amid thunderous applause. (Lord only knows what will happen when she actually stands up and gets out of bed! I imagine the schools will be closed for a day, at least in Tucson.)

I am not being cynical, I am being sensible: People die every day, every minute...oops, there goes somebody...to little fanfare. This bugs the hell out of me. I am still pissed that nobody made a big deal when my mother died; ditto my father. They were great people, they mattered, yet there are no memorials erected in their honor because they were not killed by madmen or terrorists but by common germs found around the house. Who knows, maybe even your house.

So when you get all riled up over the next shooting and mourn the wounded or dead, each of whom is always the greatest person who ever lived according to their neighbors and surviving family members, I ask you to remember Harriet Keller, one-time Rockette and early pioneer of Alzheimer's who died at 62, and Zachary Schamis, dry-cleaner extraordinaire who did a heck of a comedy routing sewing his fingers together with imaginary thread. He was never sick a day in his life, which is why he died of colon cancer at 72.

Oh yeah, and don't forget the mudslide people.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Whither the Weather?

This morning I turned on The Weather Channel to see what's in store for us, and there was Al Roker, once fat and jolly and now slim and spiffy, all decked out in a tuxedo or something very much like a tuxedo, gushing over last night's  Golden Globes. Huh? Where's the map? What about the snow? Nope, Al was all aflutter over the fact that he was broadcasting from the site of last night's glittering awards show in LA. And guess what! He was standing in the original studio of the long-defunct Johnny Carson Tonight show! How fun!

A few questions: Why do I care? Does anyone? How does it help me to plan my week? Did Al really need to tell us he only got two hours sleep last night because he was partying with the stars? His on-air partner, stuck back in the Georgia studio but also dolled up to the max, seemed very excited about Al's big night.

The Weather Channel debuted in 1982 as the epitome of service journalism. You could turn it on at any hour and find out what you needed to know about the weather, hence the name. Now it's just as likely to have some celebrity fluff as the other TV stations. There's nowhere to hide, it seems, from the news of how the beautiful people party.

Inquiring minds still want to know: Is it gonna snow or not?

Keith Olbermann: Still A Bad Dude

Keith Olbermann is making nice now, publicly ending his popular (with radical liberals) feature of naming the Worst Person of the Week and saying everyone should just get along. He wasn't always this way--just since the Arizona massacre occurred and he seized it as a way to increase his ratings and avoid the wrath of the twittering blogosphere.

Olbermann’s own history includes a June 2006 case in which he showed an image of conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh as a target of gunfire, and in October 2008 when he showed a cartoon image of Bill O’Reilly being beaten bloody by the Stewie Griffin character from a Family Guy DVD extra scene. And just in November of last year, Olbermann bemoaned the fact that President Obama would likely negotiate with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over tax policy "instead of kicking him in the ass."



Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Cesspool Known as the Internet

I now have first-hand proof that much of what appears on the Internet is false. Its denizens, mostly idiots, spread innuendo, propaganda, outright lies and laughable slurs.

For example: By searching my name online, one finds that I am a Palinite! A Tea Partier! I endorse violence! I am an idiot! I am a terrible writer! I am a right-wing conservative nut job! None of this is anywhere near correct. The most hurtful lie is that I am a terrible writer, since, as we all know, that is simply just not true. In fact, as writers go, I am pretty damn good. As for endorsing violence, I have been a pacifist since I can remember. I do not kill bugs. I don't even rubberneck when passing car accidents. Hell, I was tear-gassed protesting the Vietnamese War. Had I been there, I might have been killed at Kent State, changing it to "five dead in O-hi-o."

I have never been to a tea party, political or otherwise. I am on record as saying that Sarah Palin is an idiot.

Not bothering with an ending, I'm done.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Shaggy Dog Story

As I drove onto my street at about 4 PM today, returning from a quick errand, I encountered a police officer standing in the road and holding out a treat to a neighbor’s dog. In his other hand was a harness used for collaring animals. Since I know the dog well, I stopped and asked if I could be of some assistance.

The officer said he had received a complaint against the dog, who goes by the name of Sage, and was preparing to impound her. I offered to call the owner on my cell phone, which he approved, but there was no answer. I next furnished the officer with the names of Sage's owners, as well as their phone number and clear directions to their home.

At this point he asked for my name, address and phone number, all of which I cheerfully supplied.  He then asked my date of birth. I asked why he needed that, and he said it was for “his report.” I said, “I don’t tell my age,” only half-joking, and he then demanded to see my driver’s license. Things were turning nasty, and by "things" I mean the cop. I then said I wanted nothing further to do with the situation and that I had only been trying to help. 

I returned to my car and drove home, annoyed by this young officer’s poor attitude and total lack of respect for a “senior citizen.” (I am, by the way, 64.) Sage, no dummy, followed my car and went to my back door, which she does all the time in hopes of getting a treat.

The officer, who bore a striking resemblance to the T-1000 in "The Terminator," followed me home in his patrol car and sat out front for about four minutes. He then came to my door. I saw him through the glass panes and refused to open it, asking what he wanted. He became adamant, saying I had to “come outside,” that I had to “deliver the dog to him,” and that he needed to verify my identity, saying, “You are an unknown person.” He had just watched me enter my own home using my own key, he had all my personal information, and yet he demanded me to come outside because he wanted “to talk to me.” He refused to leave my doorstep and continued to glower at me through the glass. I was literally afraid of him and so I retreated further into my home and called the police. Only after I saw the officer's patrol car leave the neighborhood about ten minutes later did I feel safe enough to venture outside and walk my own dog.

The bottom line: The officer was threatening in tone and demeanor, far beyond what was necessary. I sincerely hope he gets a few sessions with a good psychologist; at the very least, he needs training in how to deal with the public in a less threatening manner. Having met him, I feel less safe about living in my community, and this is a tiny town in rural New England; I can only imagine the level of police intimidation that goes on in our inner cities.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What Are the Odds?

About that little girl who was born on 9/11 and died in violence in the recent shooting in Arizona: what gives? Are there hidden meanings from God in everyday life? While I haven't had first-hand experience, I have heard enough credible stories from other people to think maybe the answer is yes.

One in particular comes to mind, a sad but true story concerning people I know: On the eve of her twenty-third birthday, a woman went camping with two close friends. During a thunderstorm, they sought shelter in their tent and fell asleep. Sometime during the night, a tree fell on the young woman, killing her and leaving her friends unscathed. Her parents mourned, and two years later erected a memorial bench in her favorite park. Within weeks, a storm blew up and the memorial bench was struck by a falling tree, splitting in half.

Discuss.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Living With Paleo Man

The brain has only so much storage space and no more. Thus, when you introduce new information into one that is already full of facts about history and literature and math and science and football and the arts, something's gotta go.

I have witnessed this phenomenon up close in my husband, who joined an exercise cult called CrossFit a year ago. Since then, normal discourse with him has become impossible; now it's all about how many reps he did in how much time. He has replaced much of his formerly extensive vocabulary with the following words: Burpees, lunges, thrusters, deadlifts, pull-ups, box jumps, tire flips, knees-to-elbows, toes-to-bar, push-ups, heavy squats and air squats. These words now pepper his conversations with all who will listen. He mutters to himself about Angie, Fran and Cindy, who turn out not to be hot women I should worry about but the names of challenging exercise routines.

He looks for excuses to move heavy things. He is very proud about the fact that he can now jump onto kitchen counters and climb ropes, things he might need to do in the jungle, he explains. Often he forgets his own strength; for example, when he hugs me, I flash on the last scene of "King Kong." He has yet to run up the side of the Empire State Building, but if they posted that on the CrossFit website as the next workout, he'd do it, or die trying.

Just last week, dressed in full business attire, Mitch reported that he ran four blocks through downtown Atlanta to a business meeting he was late for and was not winded at all! Which just goes to show you that the ability to bench press your own body weight has little impact on your punctuality.